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Newsletter: New Zealand Politics Daily – November 7 2018

Newsletter: New Zealand Politics Daily – November 7 2018 Editor’s Note: Here below is a list of the main issues currently under discussion in New Zealand and links to media coverage. [caption id="attachment_297" align="aligncenter" width="640"] The Beehive and Parliament Buildings.[/caption] NZ’s Banking sector Gordon Campbell: On the Aussie banks and their profits Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Bank conduct report finds differences with Australia, without explaining why Jenée Tibshraeny (Interest): Are the banks the problem, or the rules we’ve given them? Derek Cheng (Herald): Hit the banks with a $100m annual levy, says Shane Jones after review Moana Makapelu Lee (Māori TV): Consumer NZ pushes for bank regulations to protect consumers Rob Stock (Stuff): Bank staff exposed for privacy breaches and repeated accessing of customer files Herald Editorial: Bank inquisitors looked hard and found little wrong 1News: ‘An issue of competition’ – Jacinda Ardern discusses bank conduct review, Kiwi banks’ profits John Anthony (Stuff): Kiwibank ‘not doing its job’ to counter big bank profits 1News: ‘The banks are going to have to pull their socks up’ – what yesterday’s banking review means for consumers National Party Dominion Post Editorial: Turn away from the train wreck 1News: Fed-up Simon Bridges tries to avoid further Jami-Lee Ross questioning by reporters Derek Cheng (Herald): Simon Bridges shuts down questions on Jami-Lee Ross Stacey KIrk (Stuff): Simon Bridges: ‘I’m done talking with Jami-Lee Ross’ Democracy 1News: The Story with John Campbell: Is China interfering in NZ’s political system? Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): ‘Serious storm clouds’ threaten NZ democracy – report Simon Chapple (Victoria University of Wellington): Building democratic resilience No Right Turn: Limiting democracy is not the answer David Farrar: Some good, some bad ideas Michael Macaulay (Newsroom): Fake news the result of cognitive bias Parliament Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Multiple scandals keeping parliament preoccupied RNZ: David Seymour on Japan junket: Trevor Mallard ‘a well-known sports fanatic’ 1News: Cheeky Labour MP says Mallard and Browlee wouldn’t have gone on $24k Japan ‘junket’ if they had a choice – ‘they’re both old men’ 1News: Analysis: Punters ‘aren’t quite buying’ explanation for $24k Japan rugby trip, Benedict Collins says Chris Bramwell (RNZ): PM defends taxpayer-funded trip to Japan Derek Cheng (Herald): MPs’ trip to All Blacks game in Japan defended as trade promotion Collette Devlin (Stuff): MPs attacked for watching All Blacks on taxpayer-funded trade ‘junket’ to Japan Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Trevor Mallard, Gerry Brownlee defend $24k two-day trip to Japan Anna Whyte (1News): ‘Long range air travel has no romance for me’ – Speaker defends $24k Japan trip Derek Cheng (Herald): Speaker on Japan trip: I would have preferred to watch the All Blacks game on TV at home Phil Smith (RNZ): The coming week in the Parliament Jason Walls (Herald): Ruth Dyson and Damien O’Connor celebrate 25 years in Parliament Karel Sroubek residency decision, migrant workers, immigration Jason Walls (Herald): National MP cancels fact-finding mission to Czech Republic, says he has all the info needed Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Catastrophic error – Why Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway must lose his job Lucy Bennett (Herald): Family ‘forced into witness protection as a result of Karel Sroubek’, says Simon Bridges Collette Devlin (Stuff): Armed police planned to protect witness in Sroubek trial, family seek witness protection 1News: National says Czech kickboxer’s actions forced a whole family into witness protection Alice Webb-Liddall (Newshub): Czech drug lord Karel Sroubek forced family into witness protection – Simon Bridges RNZ: Family put into witness protection after Sroubek case Jenée Tibshraeny (Interest): Government to research temporary migrant worker exploitation; Stays quiet on election promise to ‘take a breather on immigration’ Herald: MBIE to research temporary migrant exploitation RNZ: NZ boosts RSE scheme cap Kiri Gillespie (Bay of Plenty Times): More migrant workers to ease ‘acute’ kiwifruit labour shortage Anuja Nadkarni (Stuff): Waikato cleaning company and owner to pay $37,500 for staff exploitation Matthew Littlewood (Timaru Herald): Family frustrated by immigration red tape Smoking Scott Palmer (Newshub): Hone Harawira says tobacco companies should be shot Scott Palmer (Newshub): Smoking main cause of preventable child death – Plunket Alice Webb-LIddall (Newshub): ‘Overwhelming feedback’: Govt must listen and ban smoking in cars with kids – Duncan Garner Scott Palmer (Newshub): ‘Man up’: Jacinda Ardern challenged to protect children from smoking in cars Lucy Warhurst (Newshub): Asthma nurse explains the effects smoking in cars has on kids Health David Galler (Spinoff): NZ faces a daunting health gap. Damned if we’re going to sit and watch it grow RNZ: Caregiver shortage: ‘We just can’t find NZers to do the roles’ Sandra Conchie (Bay of Plenty Times): Bay of Plenty beneficiaries being trained to work in the aged-care sector 1News: Kiwis over 50 drinking more than adults in nine other countries, study finds Mandy Te and Hannah Martin (Stuff): Northland DHB warned of W meningococcal strain in May, but did not tell public until November Jessie Chiang (RNZ): Deadly strain of meningococcal disease raises alarm for doctors 1News: ‘Fed up’ and stressed out midwives to strike, demand new pay scale, union leader says RNZ: Midwives say rejected offer doesn’t acknowledge big responsibility Katarina Williams and Cate Broughton (Stuff): More than 1100 DHB midwives to strike Megan Sutherland (Newshub): Midwives reject DHBs’ pay offer and vote to strike RNZ: DHB-employed midwives vote to go on strike Herald: More than 1000 midwives vote to strike Amy Nelmes Bissett (RNZ): Inside New Zealand’s unregulated sperm donor network Kate Nicol-Williams (1News): On 100-year anniversary of influenza outbreak that killed 9000 Kiwis, fresh concerns arise Phil Pennington (RNZ): Porirua, Ōtaki sudden deaths: Authorities slammed for lack of response Oliver Lewis (Stuff): Year-long wait for youth mental health appointment criticised Simon Shepherd (Newshub): John Kirwan promotes digital humans to fight mental health ‘pandemic’ RNZ: A Star Is Born: Hollywood blockbuster with suicide sparks NZ censorship concerns Cecile Meier (Stuff): A Star Is Born: Chief censor adds warning after young people ‘severely triggered’ by movie Catherine Shoard (Guardian): A Star Is Born classification changed after New Zealand teens ‘severely triggered’ Housing Jane Clifton (Listener): How KiwiBuild turned into a PR disaster Stephen Keys: A radical idea for low income housing in New Zealand Brian Rudman (Herald): Housing crisis no respecter of class Isaac Davison (Herald): More first home-buyers in Auckland snapping up deposit subsidy as market slows Hamish McNeilly (Stuff): New Dunedin plan to cater new homes – and climate change Jo McKenzie-McLean (Stuff): Proposed Wanaka development includes town’s first workers’ village Justice, corrections, police Jarrod Gilbert (Herald): Let’s make our criminal justice system the envy of the world Victoria University of Wellington (Newsroom): Justice system grim despite reputation Leigh-Marama McLachlan (RNZ): Māori King and Corrections to build centre for mothers Jason Walls (Herald): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launches appointment process for a new Chief Justice Stacey Kirk (Stuff): The hunt for New Zealand’s next chief justice begins Mere McLean (Māori TV): Rotorua NCEA Police Studies programme a success Benn Bathgate (Stuff): Court staff to walk off the job today in further strike action Synthetic drugs Newshub: Decriminalise synthetics: Health expert’s call as death toll rises Anna Bracewell-Worrall (Newshub): ‘People will continue to die’: Warning to Govt over New Zealand’s synthetics crisis Education Laura Walters (Newsroom): Our racist education system Katie Fitzgerald (Newshub): Secondary teachers ‘more likely’ to reject Government offer, strike on the cards Zoe Hunter (Bay of Plenty Times): Watches banned from this year’s NCEA exams 1News: NCEA, Scholarship exams start for about 140,000 young Kiwis, some online Dan Dalgety (RNZ): Proposed polytechnic merger would spell job losses Aaron Leaman (Stuff): Wintec spends $150,000 on latest probe Tourism Tess Brunton (RNZ): Tourism strategy: ‘There’s never enough, but it’s a start’ Amanda Cropp (Stuff): Government’s ‘long overdue’ tourism strategy to handle 5m overseas visitors  Gia Garrick (RNZ): $40m of tourist tax to fund conservation efforts Talisa Kupenga (Māori TV): Māori culture a priority in new tourism strategy Local government RNZ: Council’s second-generation plan shapes Dunedin’s future Laura Dooney (RNZ): Historic Wellington wharf recommended for demolition Brent Barrett (Stuff): Peace and protection are why we have a Defence Force Nikki Preston (Herald): Council reneges on promise to provide code of conduct training to councillors Viriginia Fallon (Stuff): Mayor’s loyalty to city questioned after family remains 432 kilometres away Christina Persico (Stuff): Hydrogen debate gets explosive at New Plymouth council meeting Evan Harding (Southland Times): Shadbolt grilled by councillor Emma Dangerfield (Stuff): ‘Perverted’ council camera in public toilet removed after Privacy Commission complaint Auckland Steve Kilgallon and Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff):Auckland speedway stadium to be funded by millions from city’s parks Tim Murphy (Newsroom): No such thing as a free stadium Simon Wilson (Herald): Stress testing the Auckland waterfront stadium proposal Rowan Quinn (RNZ): Downtown Auckland stadium: ‘I am confident this proposal will fly’ Bernard Orsman (Herald): Rising levels of ‘black carbon’ in Queen St heighten health risk for Aucklanders RNZ: Auckland Council issuing new consents after botch-up John-Michael Swannix (Newshub): Judith Collins on National’s vision for Auckland, transport and standing for Mayor Transport Thomas Coughlan (Newsroom): Car importer should be prosecuted — Faafoi Gia Garrick (RNZ):Japanese car importer warned over purchase of vehicle inspection firms Phil Pennington (RNZ): Vehicles approved under suspended worker risk having ceritification revoked Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Consumer warns car buyers: Save your money Janine Rankin (Manawatū Standard): New east-west highway to swerve historic sites Media Rhonwyn Newson (Newshub): Why we should all be worried by Stuff’s proposal to slash community news RNZ: Stuff to slash community reporting jobs after merger plan fails Pete George:Journalism versus political hit jobs Environment and conservation Cherie Sivignon (Stuff): Select committee recommends Waimea dam local bill be passed with amendments Newshub:‘Innocent people will be hurt’: Warning as anti-1080 protesters threaten violence Tova O’Brien (Newshub): PM Jacinda Ardern, DoC staff get death threats from anti-1080 extremists John Boynton (RNZ): Calls to prosecute trampers who ignore Waitākere Ranges rāhui Amber-Leigh Woolf (Stuff): Powerful new supercomputer ready to provide glimpse into NZ’s climate future Primary industries Kate Nicol-Williams (1News): Three more farms infected with mycoplasma bovis, MPI find Heather Chalmers (Stuff): Farmers question carbon sink tree planting plans Guy Trafford (Interest): Shareholders make choices different to candidates put forward by Fonterra Board, and a further election will be needed for the final position Angie Skerrett (Newshub): Farmers vote for changes to Fonterra board Gerard Hutching (Stuff): Leonie Guiney ‘delighted’ at Fonterra comeback, McBride also voted in Zane Small (Newshub): Government declares hemp seed ‘safe to eat’ Angie Skerrett (Newshub): Green light for hemp industry good news for producers Tim Murphy (Newsroom): Man in kiwifruit smuggling case named Eric Frykberg (RNZ): Zespri sues for $70m over trademark breach in China Defence Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Crack SAS troops, navy deployed to trouble prone PNG for Apec RNZ: NZ to send Defence Force personnel to APEC Craig McCulloch (RNZ): ‘Unlikely’ that IS fighters would target Kiwi soldiers – NZDF Ratana Leah Te Whata (Māori): Jacinda Ardern to return to Ratana Laurel Stowell (Whanganui Chronicle):25,000 people converge on Ratana for centenary celebrations War commemorations Kurt Bayer (Herald): The Big Read: Old soldiers and why we remember them Dominic Harris (Stuff): Lessons for today, 100 years on from the armistice Tax Leicester Gouwland (Herald) Directors could pay the price over proposed tax changes Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): IRD to spend almost $4m to explain ‘biggest tax change in a generation’ Rob Stock (Stuff): House price ‘windfall’ tax suggested to pay for trains, roads Gender and identity 1News: ‘It’s absolutely huge’ – as Tasmania considers dropping gender from birth certificates, should NZ follow? Lynn Williams: Identity Theft Huawei Juha Saarinen (Herald): Why Huawei’s biggest problem is China David Farrar: Nonsense about Huawei Foreign Affairs Zane Small (Newshub): UK high commissioner in New Zealand Laura Clarke to learn te reo Sara Vui-Talitu (RNZ): The curious case of the West Papua diplomatic desk in Auckland Other 1News: Watch: ‘I can’t do everything’ – Jacinda Ardern talks campaign promises Damian George (Stuff): Wellington priest who removed sexual abuse protest ribbons has change of heart Megan Sutherland (Newshub): Hastings charity reeling as horse dies after Guy Fawkes Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Power retailer Payless Energy to stop selling electricity due to wholesale electricity market volatility Liam Dann (Herald): Market Watch: What just happened to my KiwiSaver balance? Robin Martin (RNZ): Proposed development would extend life of Tui oil field – operator Herald: Career public servant Debbie Power appointed as MSD chief executive Ryan Boswell (1News): Government investigates whether to restrict Kiwis’ access to internet porn Tom Furley (RNZ): Calls for initiatives to prevent construction boom from piling up waste Alice Webb-LIddall (Newshub): Spark pleads guilty to charges from Commerce Commission Thomas Mead (Newshub): Take a look at Christchurch’s new $400 million convention centre Herald: Top commercial Russell McVeagh lawyer Pip Greenwood leaves for governance roles Tim Miller (ODT): Door almost shut on cave urban myth 1News: PM to meet Erebus families as plans for memorial progress – ‘We’re taking on board their views’ 1News: Te Karere: ‘The most precious place on the face of the earth’ – Welcome to the marae in Chicago Graham Cooke (Herald): It’s time to beef up NZ’s meat industry Nicholas Boyack (Stuff): The long and painful limp home after a big Wellington earthquake 1News: Kaikōura’s earthquake recovery wins prestigious engineering award Jacqueline Rowarth (Herald): Is pricing holding back Fair Trade? Māori TV: Fletcher Building takes on Māori and Pacific Island values Phil Pennington (RNZ): NZ family face hefty $70k fee for autistic 3yo to attend Aus preschool]]>

Why Scott Morrison’s white male music playlists matter

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Catherine Strong, Senior Lecturer, Music Industry, RMIT University

On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in his latest attempt to brand himself a “man of the people”, released a Spotify playlist of his favourite songs. His fair dinkum credentials, however, quickly took a blow as the lack of Australian artists in the list was pointed out. Only one of the 146 songs was by an Australian band. (This was, randomly enough, Stimulation by Wa Wa Nee.)

In response to this criticism, Morrison drew attention to another of his playlists, an Australian one (with a smattering of overseas artists). But, like the Liberal Party more generally, it featured a lot of white males, mostly a bit past their use-by date.

Indeed this second “Oz” playlist from the PM has exactly one woman in it, Martha from Martha and the Muffins (a Canadian band). It draws heavily on what might be called “classic pub rock” from the 1970s and ’80s, with bands like INXS, AC/DC and – bizarrely, given their politics – Midnight Oil dominating. The few songs from the 1990s by the Cruel Sea and You Am I are in the same vein musically. There is nothing on the list more recent than this.

These lists are significant as they give us some insight into what our prime minister sees as valuable in popular culture.

Firstly, he doesn’t even think of Australian content. Then, when pushed, he includes a very narrow selection of a specific type of music that represents only a small proportion of the population, or of the nation’s creative output. Women – not to mention First Nations artists, and young people – don’t get listened to (at least musically) by the PM.

This list – and the previous one, which is also man-heavy, with just 15 of its 92 acts featuring one or more woman in the line-up – is a very telling reminder of what it is that women are up against in the music industry. We know that currently Australian women represent only around one-fifth of those making money from music.

A lot of attention has been placed on this enormous imbalance over the last few years. Activists and forward-thinking industry players have been trying to find ways to turn this lack of representation around, from holding to account festival promoters who book mainly men, to running workshops and mentorship programs for women, to implementing new policies to try to get more women into decision-making positions in the industry.

This type of action has helped bring to light the incredible music being made in Australia today. From Mojo Juju’s work grappling with what it means to be Australian, to Camp Cope’s campaigning to make the places where live music happens safer for everyone, to electronic artists like Alice Ivy, we are witnessing a new wave of powerful, innovative creators claiming space.

However, such waves have come before, and ongoing work is needed to prevent the music industry from getting bored with the “women issue” and reverting to its masculine status quo.

One of the things that has made it hard for women in the past is the male-dominated rock canon that tells us that all the “great” works of popular music are by men (while conveniently writing many pioneering women out of history).

Lists by powerful men, whether cultural critics or prime ministers, that only call out to other men reinforce this canon, and the idea more broadly that women don’t make art of worth. The fact that Morrison didn’t include acts such as The Divinyls or Renee Geyer – artists from the 1970s and ’80s who fit well within the pub rock genre he is focusing on – speaks to this erasure.

Furthermore, in his desire to mythologise a very specific version of Australian culture, where beers and blokes reign supreme, Morrison is closing his ears to so much that is new, exciting and points to a different future than the past he is holding on to.

ref. Why Scott Morrison’s white male music playlists matter – http://theconversation.com/why-scott-morrisons-white-male-music-playlists-matter-106522]]>

Let’s not focus on graduate incomes when assessing the worth of education

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Hurley, Research Associate, Monash University

The link between educational attainment and income has long been known. Now Australians have more information about what graduates earn from different universities and courses.

A recent report shows graduates from NSW universities generally have the highest median income. Unsurprisingly, so do graduates from dentistry and medicine courses.

It’s tempting to think these results show how some degrees and universities are inherently better than others. But just using wage outcomes is a poor way to judge education’s worth. There are several reasons for this.


Read more: Five myths about Australian university graduate outcomes


First, how education results in higher wages can have little to do with the content of an education experience. Second, there are many different ways education is valuable to an individual and to society beyond earning capacity. We should remind ourselves of this when we examine why we continue to invest our time and energy into education.

Why do some graduates earn more?

The conventional wisdom is that it’s what we learn that produces higher wages. Employers pay a higher premium to access the skills and knowledge an individual acquires while studying. This is why many people might think there’s something special about the teaching and learning at NSW universities that means their graduates earn more.

But more students studying at NSW universities will not guarantee them all the same higher wages. Education is sometimes known as a “positional good”. This means educational attainment makes one person more attractive to employers relative to another.

It also means education does not necessarily make someone more productive. But it does make it easier for them to access the better, higher-paying jobs.

Some of the value of education will show up in your pay cheque, but there are also many non-monetary benefits. from www.shutterstock.com

It’s factors outside of education that often make the difference to what we earn, such as the size of the job market or living in an area where there are higher wages. It has also been shown high status professions can create what is known as social closure. Licensing regimes restrict access to occupations and enable those that are licensed to charge higher fees.

This is why dentistry and medicine are so high up the median income food chain.

What else is valuable about education?

Education is associated with a huge range of non-monetary benefits. For instance, more active citizenship, lower crime rates, and better health outcomes. Early childhood education, in particular, is singled out as providing many benefits later in life.


Read more: Does it pay to graduate from an ‘elite’ university? Not as much as you’d think


It seems education can even improve your outlook on life. One American study showed those with higher educational attainment reported higher levels of well-being. And this was after controlling for factors such as income, health, age, stress, divorce rates and even the weather.

Why this happens remains the subject of considerable debate. What’s clear is many valuable aspects of education will not be captured by graduate outcome surveys.

Education and the benefits to the public

Education is sometimes described as a public good. This refers to the wider benefits of education to society. In particular, our education institutions play a major role in the creation and dissemination of powerful bodies of knowledge.

Education can improve your outlook on life. from www.shutterstock.com

The functions of education go beyond the shaping of an individual. Because of the opportunities associated with education, it can help make us a more mobile, equitable and democratic society.

It’s important to remember this is a double-edged sword. What makes education a tool for advancement can also entrench disadvantage. Students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are in the best position to access education’s rewards, while students from disadvantaged backgrounds can be locked out. It’s one of the reasons there’s such a strong focus on equity in education policy.

What should we value in education?

Using earning capacity as the main way to measure the value of education is a relatively new phenomenon. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle distinguished the gaining of skills and knowledge from a deeper form of worth where the fulfilled person was an educated person.


Read more: Surveys are not the best way to measure the performance of Australian universities


At the start of the 20th century, philosopher John Dewey considered democracy to be the central ethical imperative of education. He wrote that, if done right, education means “we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious”.

Maybe some of what is “worthy, lovely and harmonious” will show up in how much someone earns after they finish a course. But there’s a lot that won’t. Too much focus on employment outcomes can distract from all the other aspects of education that can make it so valuable in the first place.

ref. Let’s not focus on graduate incomes when assessing the worth of education – http://theconversation.com/lets-not-focus-on-graduate-incomes-when-assessing-the-worth-of-education-106168]]>

Morrison and Shorten reveal their positions on key foreign policy questions

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

It might be tempting to characterise back-to-back foreign policy speeches delivered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as the work of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

In other words, policy prescriptions advanced by the two on challenges facing Australia in one of the most difficult foreign policy environments since the end of the Vietnam War may seem very similar.

But there are differences. These are significant and in a political sense are to be welcomed, because it is important that debate be had on how to manage these challenges.


Read more: With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy


What should be given ample scope is the question of Australia’s positioning vis-à-vis its cornerstone security ally, the United States, and its principal trading partner, China.

Engagement in that debate should be separated from the left-right shibboleths of whether those engaged are pro- or anti-American. Tempting though it might be for one side of politics to dust off the old wedge issue of fealty to the alliance, we need to move beyond that sterile discussion.

The foreign policy speeches delivered by Shorten and Morrison just days apart both addressed the issue of the triangular relationship between Canberra, Washington and Beijing. Both trod carefully.

In Morrison’s case, he did not seek to provide a new template for such a three-cornered relationship. Rather, he emphasised the enduring importance of the alliance and the desirability of the US remaining engaged in the Indo-Pacific.

The alliance with the United States is a choice we make about how best to pursue our security interests.

And US economic engagement is as essential to regional stability and prosperity as its security capabilities and network of alliances … A strong America – centrally engaged in the affairs of our region – is critical to Australia’s national interests.

Morrison did, however, acknowledge risks for Australia when he said it was “important that US-China relations do not become defined by confrontation”.

The period ahead will, at times, be testing but I am confident of our ability to navigate it. And once again our values and beliefs will guide us.

Morrison’s speech was heavy on “values” as a guide to Australian policy under his administration. In this regard, he might have been echoing earlier statements by Labor’s foreign policy spokeswoman, Penny Wong, who has pursued a “values” theme in her foreign policy speeches over the past several years.

Morrison and Shorten revealed different approaches to the US-Australia alliance. AAP/EPA/David Maxwell

Shorten, on the other hand, provided more grist beyond a “values” statement about Australian priorities under a Labor administration. In the process, he edged cautiously towards a posture of greater independence from an America under Donald Trump and future presidents bound by an “America first” mindset.

Australia’s interests will obviously be different from those of the United State in some areas; our national focus is different, our relationships with our close neighbours are different, our economies have different structures.

And indeed differences in perspective and opinion are one of the many valuable qualities we bring to our alliance with the United States.

The Labor Party opposed the second Iraq war – and in view of the consequences, we were more responsible allies for doing so…

We can – and will – express any differences within the enduring framework of our close relationship.

Many Australians, including a plethora of Labor supporters, will be hoping a transactional and opportunistic Shorten lives up to this declaration.

His reference to Labor’s opposition to the Iraq war oversimplifies the party’s position, in fact.

Commendably, then leader Simon Crean decreed Labor would not support Australia’s involvement without a United Nations-sanctioned process. But there were those in the party, including then foreign policy spokesman Kevin Rudd and former leader Kim Beazley, who were squeamish about this position.

Shorten himself was not yet in parliament.

The Iraq experience, in which Crean courageously asserted an independent position on the rush to war in Iraq, should be regarded by its latter-day leaders as a template for relations with Washington.

In some respects, it proved to be Crean’s finest hour. The Iraq invasion contributed to the destabilisation of the entire Middle East. It has involved expenditures of trillions of dollars, and counting, by the US and its allies.

Among various negative consequences of the march of folly in Iraq is the emboldening of Iran and its increased ability to assert itself more widely in its region. This is a story that has far from played itself out.

Both Morrison and Shorten dwelled, as might be expected, on relations with China. Shorten was both bolder and more nuanced.

The next Labor government will not deal with China purely through the prism of worst-case assumptions about its long-term ambitions.

Pre-emptively framing China as a strategic threat isn’t a sufficient response to its role and increasing influence in our region…

We will deal with China on the basis of the actions it takes – and in our own national interests.

Shorten was both bolder and more nuanced in discussing Australia’s relationship with China. AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter/Pool

Morrison was more matter-of-fact. This no doubt reflects to a degree that he is feeling his way in his early days as prime minister.

Australia has also a vitally important relationship with China … We are committed to deepening our comprehensive strategic partnership with China.

Of course, China is not alone in being a force of change in our world.

But China is a country that is most changing the balance of power, sometimes in ways that challenge important US interests.

Inevitably, in the period ahead, we will be navigating a higher degree of US-China strategic competition.

What can be said about the Shorten and Morrison world views is that the former’s thinking has developed further than the latter’s, as might be expected given that the Labor leader has been in the job for five years, and Morrison just a few months.

However, it is also possible to detect doctrinal differences that point to a shift in Australian foreign policy under a Shorten-led government to one where Australia seeks to enlarge its room for manoeuvre in a region undergoing wrenching change.

Inevitably, this is leading to a change in tone. Whether this also results in a repositioning of Australian policy remains to be seen.


Read more: Turnbull pushes the ‘reset’ button with China, but will it be enough?


In Morrison’s case, it is less likely a Coalition would seek to put much distance between itself and Washington.

Where Morrison and Shorten converge is in their approaches to Australia’s engagement in the southwest Pacific in response to Beijing’s overtures to Pacific island states.

Both have pledged to step up Australia’s involvement. In his speech, Morrison noted Australia would build a naval base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Given that Australia has long been the metropolitan power in the southwest Pacific, it could be said that pledges of engagement by both sides are belated.

But it might be also be observed that it’s better late than never.

ref. Morrison and Shorten reveal their positions on key foreign policy questions – http://theconversation.com/morrison-and-shorten-reveal-their-positions-on-key-foreign-policy-questions-106452]]>

Curious Kids: Are there living things on different galaxies?

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky!


Are there living things on different galaxies? – Annabel, age 6, Turramurra.


That’s a fantastic question, Annabel – and one scientists are desperate to answer. The short answer is that we simply don’t know. Many people suspect there must be life beyond the Earth, but we haven’t found any evidence yet.


Read more: Curious Kids: What plants could grow in the Goldilocks zone of space?


The fact that we haven’t found life elsewhere yet doesn’t mean that such life does not exist. Searching for life is really hard, even in the Solar system, so it could be that there is life very near by. We just haven’t found it yet.

My own guess is that there probably is life elsewhere in the Universe – and the reason for that is just how ginormous the universe is.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do stars twinkle?


In our Solar system alone, there are lots of places life could exist

Let’s go for a tour of the Universe, starting at home, in the Solar system

When you learn about the Solar system at school, you’ll learn about the eight planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – and that’s probably about it.

In fact, the Solar system contains an immense number of objects. We know of hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and think there may be more than ten trillion comets, held in cold storage around the Sun, halfway to the nearest star. Ten trillion is 10,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of comets, all made of ice and dust!

Comet McNaught is one of an estimated ten trillion dirty snowballs, all circling the Sun. ESO/Sebastian Deiries

Of the many objects in the Solar system, we think the best places to look for life are those that have liquid water, or had it in the past. Why? Well, on Earth, everywhere we find water we find life, so it seems natural to search where liquid water is present!

Mars is our main target, and we keep sending spacecraft to try to find out if there was ever life there.

But there are a growing number of other targets – moons orbiting the giant planets that have vast oceans of liquid water, buried deep underground.

Around Jupiter, we know that Europa, Ganymede and Callisto have oceans, each of which has more water than the Earth. Saturn’s moons, too, have oceans – with tiny Enceladus perhaps the most surprising place that we’ve found liquid water.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus – a surprising target in the search for life. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

So, in our Solar system alone, there are loads of places that we think life could exist – and we’re busy looking to see if it is there.

A Universe full of planets

But the Solar system is just one of an immense number of planetary systems. The Sun is one of around 400 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. That’s 400,000,000,000 stars. And since I was a kid, we’ve learned that almost every star has planets.

What does this mean? Well, if we guess that each star has eight planets (like the Sun), then if there are 400,000,000,000 stars in the galaxy, there will be 3.2 trillion planets (3,200,000,000,000, which is 200 billion groups of eight).

We now know that every star has planets – so there could be 3.2 trillion worlds out there in our galaxy – lots of room for life to thrive! ESO/M. Kornmesser

That’s a huge number of alien worlds to search, places where there could be life.

A Universe full of galaxies

But that’s still just the start. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a single “city” of stars, all clustering together.

When the Hubble Space Telescope stared at an ‘empty’ piece of the sky, it saw galaxies everywhere – just a tiny fraction of all those spread through the Universe! NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

But there are many more galaxies out there. In fact, scientists think that there could be 3.2 septillion (3,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) planets, just in the bit of the universe we can see.

How big is that number? Well, that means there are more than a million planets in the universe for every single grain of sand on our planet.

What does that mean for life?

With so many planets, it’s hard to imagine that there is no life beyond Earth. There are simply so many places that could have life that I, personally, think there must be a ginormous number of inhabited planets through the universe. Probably billions, trillions, or even quadrillions!

But will we ever find out?

I’d really like to think so – but space is enormous, and the search will be really hard. If we find life in the near future, I’d bet on us finding it close to home, somewhere in the Solar system.


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. You can:

* Email your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
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Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.

ref. Curious Kids: Are there living things on different galaxies? – http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-are-there-living-things-on-different-galaxies-98562]]>

MSG backing Kanak independence ‘on the quiet’, says campaigner

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Kanak pro-independence official Victor Tutugoro talking to journalists outside the FLNKS headquarters in Noumea on Sunday. Image: David Robie/PMC

By RNZ Pacific

A leading New Caledonian pro-independence politician, Victor Tutugoro, says governments of Melanesian countries have quietly supported the New Caledonian independence cause.

Tutugoro, second vice-president of New Caledonia’s Kanak-ruled Northern province and a Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) representative, said that this had been muted in part because of their bilateral links with France.

He said support for the Kanaks had been channelled through the MSG.

NEW CALEDONIA INDEPENDENCE VOTE: WHAT NEXT?

“The government of Fiji has been very discreet but generally speaking it’s been the organisation. With governments it’s a different story, they have to be more reserved towards France given their bilateral relation.”

Tutugoro, of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), said he was yet to speak to delegates of the the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), who visited Noumea for the weekend’s independence referendum.

The forum defied France in the 1980s by facilitating New Caledonia’s re-inscription on the UN decolonisation list.

-Partners-

French police yesterday reopened the main road between Noumea and the south of New Caledonia after a blockade by protesters had caused tension throughout Monday, the day after the referendum.

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

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

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How we wiped out the invasive African big-headed ant from Lord Howe Island

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ben Hoffman, Principal research scientist, CSIRO

The invasive African big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) was found on Lord Howe Island in 2003 following complaints from residents about large numbers of ants in buildings.

But we’ve managed to eradicate the ant completely from the island using a targeted mapping and baiting technique than can be used against other invasive species.

Up to 15% of Lord Howe Island was thought to be infested with the ant. CSIRO, Author provided

A major pest

The African big-headed ant is one of the world’s worst invasive species because of its ability to displace some native plants and wildlife, and adversely affect agricultural production.


Read more: In an ant’s world, the smaller you are the harder it is to see obstacles


It’s also a serious domestic nuisance. People can become overwhelmed by the large number of ants living in their buildings – you can’t leave a bit of food lying around, especially pet food, or it will be covered in ants.

It remains unclear how long the ant had been on Lord Howe Island, in the Tasman Sea about 770 km northeast of Sydney, before being found. But it is likely to have been present for at least a decade.

Because of the significant threat this ant posed to the conservation integrity of the island, an eradication program was started. But on-ground work done from 2003 to 2011 had many failings and was not working.

In 2011, I was brought in to oversee the program. The last ant colony was killed in 2016, but it is only now, two years later, that we are declaring Lord Howe Island free from the ants.

No African big-headed ants have been seen on the island for two years. CSIRO, Author provided

A super colony

The ability to eradicate this ant is largely due to its relatively unique social organisation. The queens don’t fly to new locations to start new nests – instead, they form interconnected colonies that can extend over large areas.

This makes the ant’s distribution easy to map and treat. The ant requires human assistance for long-distance transport, so the ant will only be found in predictable locations where it can be accidentally transported by people.

From 2012 to 2015, all locations on the island where the ant was likely to be present were formally inspected. Priority was given to places where an infestation was previously recorded or considered likely. The populations were mapped, and then treated using a granular bait available at shops.

In the latter years we found 16 populations covering 30 hectares. Limited by poor mapping in the early years, we estimate that the ant originally covered up to 55 hectares, roughly 15% of the island.

Stopping the spread

The widespread distribution of the ant through the populated area of the island is thought to have been aided by the movement of infested mulch and other materials from the island’s Waste Management Facility.

To prevent any more spread of the ant, movement restrictions were imposed in 2003 on the collection of green waste, building materials and other high risk items from the facility.

The baiting program used a product that contains a very low dose of insecticide that has an extremely low toxicity to terrestrial vertebrates such as pet cats and dogs, birds, lizard etc. The toxicant rapidly breaks down into harmless chemicals after exposure to light.

No negative impacts were recorded on any of the native wildlife on the island.

Importantly, the African ant usually kills most other ants and other invertebrates where it is present, so there are few invertebrates present to be affected by the bait.

Ecological recovery of the infested areas was rapid following baiting and the eradication of the African ant.

Another ant invader

One of the main challenges was getting the ground crew to correctly identify the ant.

It turns out there was a second (un-named) big-headed ant species present, also not native to the island, that created a lot of unnecessary work being conducted where the African ant wasn’t present.

CSIRO and Lord Howe Island Board team tackling the African big headed ant problem. CSIRO, Author provided

Like numerous other exotic ant species present, this second species was of no environmental or social concern, so there are no plans to manage or eradicate it.

The protocols used in this program are essentially the same that are being used in other eradication programs against Electric ant in Cairns and Browsing ant in Darwin and Perth, because those two species also create supercolonies.


Read more: We’ve got apps and radars – but can ants predict rain?


It is highly likely that those programs will also achieve eradication of their respective species, the first instance where an ant species has been eradicated entirely from Australia.

The fire ant program in Brisbane has many similarities, but there are distinct differences in that the ants there don’t form supercolonies that are so easy to map, and the area involved is far greater.

ref. How we wiped out the invasive African big-headed ant from Lord Howe Island – http://theconversation.com/how-we-wiped-out-the-invasive-african-big-headed-ant-from-lord-howe-island-106447]]>

The curious case of the missing workplace teaspoons

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peta King, PhD candidate, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

Welcome to the series This is research, where we ask academics to share and discuss open access articles that reveal important aspects of science. Today’s piece looks at a fun piece of research, a unique longitudinal study – and explores what this type of research can and can’t tell you.


Once upon a time, a group of disheartened scientists found their tearoom bereft of teaspoons. Despite dispatching a research assistant to go purchase more – so sugar could be stirred and coffee dispensed – the newly purchased teaspoons disappeared within a few short months.

Exasperated by the disappearance, the scientists decided they would measure the phenomenon. Do the teaspoons really disappear over time?

The answer was a resounding yes: spoons in research institute tearooms seem to have legs. While good fun, the research is a good example of a study design referred to as “longitudinal”.


Read more: How do we decide which disease to prevent next? Long-term studies help


What is a longitudinal study?

A longitudinal study uses continuous or repeated measures to follow particular individuals – in this case, teaspoons – over prolonged periods of time.

The studies are generally observational in nature: the scientists simply watch and collect data over time. Typically, no external influence is applied during the course of the study.

Beyond just working out where all the teaspoons have gone, this study type is also useful for evaluating the relationship between risk factors and the development of disease (for example, heart disease), and the outcomes of treatments over different lengths of time.

Tracking teaspoons

In this study, the main questions posed by our researchers were to determine the overall rate of loss of teaspoons, and to work out how long it took for teaspoons to go missing.

They purchased 70 teaspoons (16 of which were of higher quality), each one discretely numbered and then distributed throughout the institute. Counts of the teaspoons were carried out weekly for two months, then fortnightly for a further three months. Desktops and other immediately visible surfaces were also scanned for “misplaced” spoons.

After five months of covert research, the study was revealed to the institute, and staff were asked to return or anonymously report any marked teaspoons which may have found their way into desk draws or homes.

Good study design

This type of data collection provides a simple example of what makes a good longitudinal study.

If we break it down, a longitudinal study needs to:

  • take place over a prolonged period (this study was done over 5 months)
  • be observational in nature (teaspoons were observed and counted, there was no intervention)
  • conducted without external influences (teaspoon users/thieves were not aware they were being studied until the conclusion of the study itself).

Read more: I’ve always wondered: why does lemon juice lighten the colour of tea?


What did the data say?

The results show that 56 (80%) of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study, and that the half life of the teaspoons was 81 days (that is, half had disappeared permanently after that time).

The study also showed the half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in research group specific tearooms (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons’ value.

Teaspoons disappear faster from communal tearooms than tearooms linked with specific research programs in a research building. Megan Lim and coauthors (BMJ), CC BY

All of these pieces of information directly answer the main question posed by the researchers.

What the study can’t say

A longitudinal study is terrific at following individuals or teaspoons over a period of time and observing outcomes. But, by definition, the design means there can be no intervention (as we are just observing a phenomenon).

The researchers could not employ a tool or an intervention to prevent spoons from being “misplaced”, and the researchers could only report a spoon missing. As the study is observational only, there is no way of finding out what has happened to the spoon, just that it is lost.

The authors were able to conclude that the loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, and their availability in the tearoom was constantly under threat.

Perhaps you should think about bringing your own teaspoon to work, and keeping it in your pocket.


The open access research paper for this analysis is The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute.

ref. The curious case of the missing workplace teaspoons – http://theconversation.com/the-curious-case-of-the-missing-workplace-teaspoons-103989]]>

If we’re serious about supporting working families, here are three policies we need to enact now

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Leah Ruppanner, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Melbourne

As any parent can attest, the birth of a child unravels life into chaos. Babies – adorable little creatures – bring a whirlwind of nappies to be changed, bellies to be filled and often baffling demands to be met. In many households, mothers assume the bulk of this added labour, in part due to gender norms emphasising mother-as-best care.

Yet, as more mothers are entering the labour market and gender norms are shifting, questions about how mothers are faring in these changing conditions are increasingly pressing. Families are increasingly calling for solutions to the gendered carer problem.


Read more: Honey, I hid the kids: Australia’s screen industry is letting down carers


Having spent the last three years studying this issue, I propose some policy solutions that can help address it.

The motherhood gap: what happens when the baby comes?

It is important to acknowledge that fathers are increasingly involved in childcare and reporting strong preferences for spending more time with children over work. However, it is difficult for fathers to be as engaged in fatherhood as they would like. After taking leave to care for children, they often face a “flexibility stigma” that can result in lower earnings and shorter career ladders.

These institutional barriers, taken together with social norms which equate “good” parenting with motherly love, mean mothers often remain the primary caregivers.

Thus, it is no surprise that gender inequality increases when children are present. New Australian mothers report twice as much pressure on their time as new fathers following the birth of their first child. This pressure only doubles after the birth of the second child, further widening the gap between heterosexual parents.

Lessons from Canada show that mothers, more than fathers, view their parenting load as unfair and as a consequence are more dissatisfied with their marriages. Swedish women take gender inequality even more seriously, separating from their partners if the domestic load remains unequal.

In an age where children are expected to be carted from ballet to cello to soccer practice, having multiple children requires superhuman strength. It is no wonder, then, that the pressure from taking care of children and inequalities in home lives can damage mothers’ mental health, well-being and marriages.


Read more: No more ‘leaning in’ – the neoliberal myth of the superhero businesswoman holds us all back


To address the gender gap in motherhood and to allow fathers to more easily engage in child-rearing, my research recommends the following policies:

Universally accessible high-quality low-cost childcare

The availability of low cost childcare varies significantly between countries. Swedish parents pay an average of 17% of their childcare fees, with the government subsidising the rest. By contrast, the Australian government subsidises just 50% of childcare, leaving the rest to be paid out-of-pocket by parents.

High childcare costs can cripple family budgets and force mothers to reduce work to avoid forking out expensive childcare costs. Research from the US has found that expensive childcare is a major reason why mothers do not start working again.

Public childcare enrolment benefits working mothers through lower family-work conflict, which may allow mothers to remain employed.

As a barrier to mothers’ employment, a lack of affordable childcare options can lead to a drain on the economy. When highly educated mothers reduce employment to care for children, the Australian economy is losing out on high skilled labour. If working-class mothers experience multiple bouts of unemployment, the Australian government may also subsidise these family incomes. Either way, universal, low-cost high quality childcare is an important investment in Australian families, the workforce and the GDP.

The employer link: offering employees flexible work

Employers also play a role in supporting working families through providing flexibility such as movable start and stop times, autonomy in organising their daily work and flex-time to deal with unexpected family or personal demands. Living in a country where more people have access to such options helps mothers maintain work at times that suits them in more satisfying and higher quality jobs.

Workers at firms that mandate shorter work weeks and fewer hours report better attendance and creativity with equivalent productivity. Parents in countries with shorter work hours are more likely to report that work and family are in conflict. They also say they would prefer less time at work. In these countries, putting in long hours at the office becomes less important, indicating a shift from a workaholic culture.

Lessons from others countries suggest that we need to discuss whether long work hours and overscheduled kids is good for our long-term health, well-being and collective sanity. If not, reducing work hours and introducing flexible work may offer a solution.


Read more: Women are satisfied with ‘women’s work’ but not with the pay


School’s out, now what’s a parent to do?

For many Australian parents, the incompatibility of work and family schedules comes into sharp relief during the dreaded school holidays. School holidays require parents to dig deep into their powers of persuasion – either taking time off to care for children or working up magical solutions to keep children entertained and safe for ten hours a day.

School is most beneficial to parents when school days are long and after school care is widely available. But the gaps in school schedules – whether through short school days, limited after school care or long breaks – highlight that work and school need to be better synchronised.

It’s in all our interests to ensure school and work schedules are consistent, that parents aren’t penalised for leaving work to pick up children and that children can be cared for during school holidays in ways that are innovative and inexpensive.

As more families are balancing competing work and family demands, innovative policy solutions must be found. Otherwise, the consequences for failing our families are great.

ref. If we’re serious about supporting working families, here are three policies we need to enact now – http://theconversation.com/if-were-serious-about-supporting-working-families-here-are-three-policies-we-need-to-enact-now-105490]]>

Weekly Dose: quetiapine, the antipsychotic ‘sleeping pill’ linked to overdoses

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Julaine Allan, Senior research fellow, Charles Sturt University

Quetiapine is a drug designed to reduce hallucinations and delusions experienced by people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The most common brand name of quetiapine is Seroquel but it’s also known by the slang names quell, Suzi-Q, baby heroin and Q-ball. Q-ball refers to a combination of quetiapine and cocaine, or sometimes heroin.

Quetiapine was developed by the ICI chemical company in England and patented in 1987. Scientists were trying to find a drug that would help reduce the symptoms of mental illnesses without the distressing side effects caused by the antipsychotics developed in the 1950s.


Read more: Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients


How does it work?

Quetiapine works by attaching to the brain’s dopamine receptors and altering serotonin levels.

Short-term effects include feeling sleepy, a dry mouth, dizziness and low blood pressure when you stand up. These effects lasts about six hours.

The product information for quetiapine includes a warning not to drink grapefruit juice while taking the medication because it stops the drug being metabolised in the intestines and could increase the effects of the drug.

Longer-term effects of quetiapine use include weight gain, high blood sugars and a greater risk of diabetes.

People who take quetiapine regularly will experience withdrawal when they stop. Symptoms include nausea, insomnia, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting, dizziness and irritability.

Use as a sleeping drug

Quetiapine is often prescribed by doctors at low doses for things other than mental illness. This is mostly because the main side effect of it is making people feel sleepy.


Read more: I can’t sleep. What drugs can I (safely) take?


As doctors have realised that benzodiazepines cause dependence when used regularly, other options to help people sleep or calm down have been sought and quetiapine has filled the gap.

Doctors report prescribing quetiapine because they were not sure about a patient’s mental health or they had a lot of personal problems.

War veterans are a group who have found quetiapine useful for sleeping. Soldiers first using it reported relief from nightmares and anxiety. Some said it was the first time since returning home from war that they had more than six hours sleep.

Veterans shouldn’t bypass talking therapies. Andrik Langfield

However, several deaths related to quetiapine were reported in the United States.

Concerns have also been expressed about prescribing quetiapine to Australian soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) instead of providing talking therapies.

Recreational use

The reasons people use quetiapine recreationally are the same as for other drugs, for example, they like the effect, it enhances the effect of other drugs, or they want to experiment.

Other uses include managing the symptoms of withdrawal from other drugs, including helping with sleep.

Drug information websites describe quetiapine as good for the “comedown” because it puts people to sleep very quickly.

People using amphetamines can regularly experience psychotic symptoms. Quetiapine has been recommended around networks of people who use drugs as helpful way to reduce those symptoms.

Rising popularity

Since 1997 when quetiapine was approved in the US, prescribing rates have increased dramatically all over the world. It’s the fifth-biggest selling prescription drug in the US, with sales over US$6 billion.

In Norway, prescriptions for quetiapine have increased over time from 584 in 2004 to 8,506 in 2015.

In 2010, AstraZeneca – the US pharmaceutical company that makes Seroquel – was fined US$520 million for promoting “off-label” uses of Seroquel to doctors.


Read more: Explainer: why are off-label medicines prescribed?


This means it was promoted for conditions it was not licensed to treat, such as anger management, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia, depression, mood disorder, PTSD, and sleeplessness.

The company denied the allegations but had to pay the fine.

Overdose and dependence

As prescribing of quetiapine has increased, so have reports of overdose and problems with dependence on the drug.

A study of ambulance call outs in Victoria found substantial increases in the number of calls for quetiapine overdoses and that most overdoses are in areas with high prescribing rates.

The United States Drug Abuse Warning Network reported a 90% increase in quetiapine-related emergency department visits between 2005 and 2011. The people most at risk of overdose were those using other drugs and women.

Men in their mid-thirties are the largest group of non-medical quetiapine users but it’s also common among some teens. A NSW Justice Health report found that 16% of 14- and 15-year-olds in juvenile justice centres had used quetiapine they weren’t prescribed.


Read more: Explainer: what is Seroquel and should you take it for insomnia?


Studies of quetiapine misuse have found most people are using other drugs as well – mostly benzodiazapienes or prescription opioids.

A study of people in a substance treatment program found 96% of people had used quetiapine, which they got from doctors or family and friends.

A packet of 60 quetiapine tablets costs A$22-$45 (A$6.40 concession). In 2015, the street value of one quetiapine tablet was reportedly A$5.

ref. Weekly Dose: quetiapine, the antipsychotic ‘sleeping pill’ linked to overdoses – http://theconversation.com/weekly-dose-quetiapine-the-antipsychotic-sleeping-pill-linked-to-overdoses-105047]]>

Drugs in bugs: 69 pharmaceuticals found in invertebrates living in Melbourne’s streams

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Erinn Richmond, Research Fellow, School of Chemistry, Monash University

Pharmaceuticals from wastewater are making their way into aquatic invertebrates and spiders living in and next to Melbourne’s creeks, according to our study published today in Nature Communications.

We found pharmaceuticals in every bug we sampled – over 190 invertebrates – from six different streams. These included caddisfly larvae, midge larvae, snails and dragonfly larvae. We also found pharmaceuticals in spiders living in stream-side vegetation.

We found 69 different drugs in the bugs, including fluoxetine and mianserin (anti-depressants), fluconazole (an anti-fungal), and non-steroidal anti-inflamatories (NSAIDs), often used to treat arthritis.

While we don’t know how these drugs are affecting these invertebrates, we know from other studies pharmaceuticals do affect the lifecycles of other organisms.

We also calculated that animals that eat these aquatic invertebrates, such as platypus, would be receiving half the daily recommended dose of anti-depressants for humans.


Read more: How antibiotic pollution of waterways creates superbugs


Drugs everywhere

We know wastewater is a contributing factor to pharmaceutical contamination in aquatic organisms, so we sampled from a range of streams with different wastewater inputs. These included a site just downstream of large-scale wastewater treatment facility, and areas with ageing septic systems.

Sassafrass Creek, one of the streams sampled in the study. Erinn Richmond

We also included a stream within a national park to attempt to obtain samples we thought would be free of pharmaceuticals. We sampled aquatic invertebrates and stream-side spiders and tested them for 98 pharmaceutical compounds.

To our surprise, we found up to 69 different pharmaceuticals in aquatic invertebrates and up to 66 in riparian (streamside) spiders. Contamination was greatest downstream of the high capacity waste water treatment plant.

Moreover, every insect we sampled contained pharmaceuticals, including at the site in a national park, possibly due to septic systems in the drainage area of the stream that contribute small amounts of waste water.

The fact we detected drugs, admittedly in very low concentrations, in this seemingly pristine site suggests finding places “free” from pharmaceutical contamination may be difficult. Recent studies by other researchers detected pharmaceutical contamination in surface water in Antarctica and in national parks in the US.

We also found spiders living on the stream edge (the “riparian zone”), also contain a wide variety of pharmaceuticals in their tissues. These animals primarily consume adult insects and are an indication other animals that eat adult aquatic insects, such as birds, reptiles and bats, may also be exposed.

Spiders living in stream-side vegetation take up pharmaceuticals from the insects they eat. Erinn Richmond

The dark side of our pharmaceutical use

We take and are prescribed pharmaceuticals to improve our quality of life. These medications are designed to be biologically active – they are meant to treat us; for example, we take paracetamol to alleviate a headache. For all the benefits drugs afford us, there is an often overlooked dark side to our extensive use of them.


Read more: Environmentally friendly pollutants – what your detergent does to waterways


When we take a pharmaceutical, our bodies do not always use all of the drug and we excrete drug residues into our waste water and the drugs then move into our sewage system. Unfortunately, waste water treatment facilities are not always designed to, or are capable of, removing pharmaceuticals. So they’re often discharged into our streams, rivers and coastal waters.

Lead author, Erinn, sampling invertebrates in Brushby Creek. Keralee Brown

We have known from many studies over almost two decades that the drugs we take are found in waterways around the world. There are thousands of drugs available, but very little is known about their occurrence and movement through aquatic food webs.

Our research team has previously studied the effects these pharmaceuticals have on organisms living in streams. For example, we found fluoxetine, a common anti-depressant, increased stream insect emergence (the important phase of an insects’ life where it metamorphoses from a stream dwelling larvae to an aerial adult).

We also found this antidepressant, and other drugs, alter the rates of photosynthesis in algae, the important base of stream food webs.

Happy platypus?

Platypus and trout live in or nearby the streams we studied. These animals feed almost exclusively on aquatic invertebrates. Although we did not directly sample trout or platypus, we were able to use previous studies on the feeding rates of these animals to estimate what proportion of a human daily dose of drugs they may be exposed just by eating the aquatic invertebrates we did measure in the streams we studied.

Based on these calculations, a platypus living in a creek receiving waste water could be exposed to over half of a human daily dose (per kg body weight) of antidepressants, just by eating aquatic invertebrates. Trout, too, would be exposed to these drugs, but would be exposed to a lower dose.

Studies have shown single drugs can alter the behaviour of fish, but just what consuming 69 different pharmaceutical compounds might do to a fish or platypus remains unknown and worthy of future research.

Global pharmaceutical use is increasing, with many benefits to humankind. However, our recent publication makes it clear pharmaceuticals are accumulating and moving through stream food webs and expose spiders, and likely birds, bats, fish, and platypus to a wide array of drugs. We are yet to fully understand the broader ecological consequences of this type of pharmaceutical contamination.

We know in humans, there are health risks associated with taking multiple drugs because of drug interactions. Is the same true for animals? Like so many studies, our research leaves us with many unanswered questions.

The one thing that is abundantly clear is the drugs we so frequently use are ending up in nature and are moving through food webs.

This article was co-authored by Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

ref. Drugs in bugs: 69 pharmaceuticals found in invertebrates living in Melbourne’s streams – http://theconversation.com/drugs-in-bugs-69-pharmaceuticals-found-in-invertebrates-living-in-melbournes-streams-106331]]>

Chinese migrants follow and add to Australian city dwellers’ giant ecological footprints

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Newton, Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology

This is the third article in our series, Australian Cities in the Asian Century. These articles draw on research, just published in a special issue of Geographical Research, into how Australian cities are being influenced by the rise of China and associated flows of people, ideas and capital between China and Australia.


Political debate about a “big Australia” has re-emerged in response to high levels of immigration, increasing congestion and high property prices in Sydney and Melbourne, where 90% of migrants settle. In 2010, China overtook the United Kingdom as Australia’s largest source of permanent migrants (a position now held by India). Since then, China-born migrants have averaged around 15% of the annual intake. That’s a significant contributor to the “Asianisation” of Sydney and Melbourne that Peter McDonald pointed to a decade ago.

In this context, our research focused on the much-neglected dimension of the environmental impact on cities of population and immigration. Australian cities are world-leading – in the worst sense – in terms of the size of their ecological footprints, a measure of their resource use and greenhouse gas emissions. And we found China-born residents more than triple their average levels of consumption compared to when they lived in China, even surpassing Australia-born residents’ consumption.


Read more: No sustainable population without sustainable consumption


What did the study find?

We were interested in understanding the urban consumption behaviour of China-born 21st-century migrants (as measured by their ecological footprint) when they settled in Box Hill. This is a middle-class middle-ring suburb of Melbourne with the greatest concentration of China-born residents. We compared their consumption to their pre-migration footprint (when living in China) and to that of Australia-born residents in the same suburb.

Our findings are based on an extensive face-to-face survey of 61 China-born and 72 Australia-born residents. The main findings were as follows.

Within a decade of arrival in Melbourne, China-born urban consumption patterns were more than three times their consumption before their migration. They even surpassed the consumption levels of other residents of the suburb. Their housing consumption was 5.4 times higher than when in China, food consumption 4.7 times higher and carbon footprint 2.7 times bigger.

In part this is due to higher incomes, settling in a city with housing sizes and costs among the highest in the world and where the private car is the dominant form of transport. But cultural influences are also in play.

Figure 1. The gap in the CALD Index between residents born in China and in Australia suggests a strong cultural influence on consumption behaviours. (Click to enlarge.) Ting, Newton & Stone (2018), Author provided

It is apparent that consumer acculturation is the major process by which Chinese migrants have come to mirror the host society in Australia. Cultural integration is less evident – it lags consumer acculturation. This was clear from a comparison of scores on a Cultural and Linguistic Difference (CALD) Index.

The index incorporated measures of birthplace, English proficiency, religion, food preferences, participation in entertainment and festivals, avenues of social interaction and engagement with neighbourhood communities. The gap between the China-born and Australia-born groups’ scores on the CALD Index was significant (see Figure 1). This suggests a strong cultural influence on the China-born group’s urban consumption behaviours is likely.

Figure 2. China-born residents in Melbourne tend to have much larger housing in all categories than they had in China. (Click to enlarge.) Ting, Newton & Stone (2018), Author provided

A comparison of the different components of the ecological footprints of China-born and Australia-born residents was also revealing. Housing footprints measuring the size and type of dwelling occupied by the China-born residents were 18% larger overall.

This may be due to the role housing plays in reflecting an attained status (mien-tzu, or “to save face”) within the host society. Consumption levels that outstrip those of Australia-born residents indicate the potential danger of housing consumption being used to indicate “successful” settlement in Australia.

Food footprints of the China-born were 16% larger than the Australia-born. This reflected higher consumption of meat and dairy products and lower consumption of home-grown vegetables.

Carbon footprints of the China-born were 37% bigger, mainly as a result of more frequent overseas travel.

A rising burden on the planet

The global implications of these findings are potentially huge. The rise of incomes among China’s population into the range of those in developed countries can be expected to unleash new levels of urban consumption as this population aspires to the urban liveability enjoyed by people in Australia and North America. In these countries, however, city liveability ratings are closely related to ecological footprints that are almost triple those of China.

Based on the rate of growth of the mainland Chinese middle class and the increase in consumption by the China-born middle class now living in Australia, the ecological footprint of China’s population of 1.4 billion can be expected to more than double over the next 10 to 20 years. This has significant consequences for planetary ecosystems and geopolitics.

ref. Chinese migrants follow and add to Australian city dwellers’ giant ecological footprints – http://theconversation.com/chinese-migrants-follow-and-add-to-australian-city-dwellers-giant-ecological-footprints-103921]]>

Why we should worry less about retirement – and leave super at 9.5%

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brendan Coates, Fellow, Grattan Institute

It’s conventional wisdom that Australians don’t save enough for retirement. Most workers themselves think they won’t have enough to retire on, and their concerns are rising.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Our new report, Money In Retirement: More Than Enough shows that most people who are actually retired feel more comfortable financially than the Australians younger than them who are still working.

Retirees of today tend to slow their spending as they age, tend to keep saving in retirement, and often leave an legacy almost as big as the nest egg they had on the day they retired.


Read more: The myth of the ageing ‘crisis’


When surveyed today the retirees of the future might be worried about their retirement, but economic growth means they will almost certainly be on even higher incomes than retirees today.

These findings might seem surprising: they contradict the repeated messaging from the financial services industry that Australians won’t have enough for retirement.

But that industry’s claims are based on research that overlooks two important points.

Retirees spend less over time

Much of the research assumes that retirees need to save enough to enable their incomes to keep climbing throughout their retirement in line with general wage growth.

Implicitly, it assumes that a retiree needs to spend 25% more at age 90 than at age 70, after accounting for inflation.

But our analysis shows that retired Australians tend to spend less over time, even those who have money to spare.



Young retirees might chalk up frequent flyer points, but they do it less as they get older.

Spending tends to slow at around the age of 70, and falls rapidly after age 80, to just 84% of what was spent at retirement age.

Even the wealthiest retirees spend less as they age. At the other end of the scale, pensioners receive discounts on everything from car registration to rates.

Our research finds that retirees spend less over time on food, alcohol, tobacco, clothes, furnishings, transport and recreation.



They spend more on health care as they age, but Medicare largely shields them from the full costs. The modestly higher out-of-pocket costs they do pay rising premiums for private health insurance.

Not only do most retirees not draw down their savings throughout retirement, many add to them.

Even among pensioners, one recent study found that the median (typical) pensioner still had 90% of what he or she retired on after eight years.


Read more: Poor and rich retirees spend about the same


This means that calculations about the adequacy of retirement savings ought to be based on whether they are enough to maintain buying power (at best) rather increase it in line with wage growth.

Many prominent studies also ignore non-super savings, which are material, especially for wealthier households.

They lead to misguided calls for ever-higher super contributions in order to ensure reach the point where super alone is enough to provide an adequate retirement income, even though many households will have income from other sources.

Most will have enough super

Our modelling shows that people starting work today will have adequate retirement incomes: workers of all income levels will retire on incomes at least 70% of their pre-retirement earnings – the so-called replacement benchmark used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Mercer Global Pension Index.



In fact the median (typical) worker can expect a retirement income of 91% of his or her pre-retirement income.

This means that many low-income Australians will actually get a pay rise on retirement.

Even workers in their 40s and 50s today – many of whom didn’t benefit from the present high rate of compulsory super contributions for their entire working lives – can expect a retirement income of about 70% of their pre-retirement incomes.

So compulsory super can stay at 9.5%

It means that that there is no obvious case to lift compulsory super contributions from 9.5% to 12% of salary as presently legislated.

Doing so might further boost retirement incomes (especially among those low and middle earners unable to compensate for the higher contributions by winding back other savings), but at the expense of providing lower incomes while working.

As the Henry Tax Review noted, higher compulsory super contributions are ultimately funded by lower wages than would have been the case, meaning lower living standards while in work.

As it happens, higher contributions would do little to change the retirement incomes of low and middle income Australians. Their extra superannuation income they provided would cut their age pension payments.


Read more: The superannuation myth: why it’s a mistake to increase contributions to 12% of earnings


Higher compulsory contributions would also damage pensions in another way.

The age pension is indexed to wage growth which would be lower if employers diverted a steadily increasing proportion of their employee budget to super.

It means the most fervent opponents of a lift in compulsory super contributions from 9.5% to 12% ought be those people presently on the age pension.

The government ought to oppose it as well. Diverting more of what would have been wages to more lightly taxed super will strain its budget. Scrapping the proposed increase would save it an impressive A$2 billion a year.

We can find better ways to help retirees

Even if governments did feel it necessary to boost retirement incomes, lifting compulsory super contributions would be one of the worst ways to do it.

Loosening the age pension assets test taper could boost retirement incomes of around 20% of retirees, climbing to more than 70% over time. It would cost the Budget just A$750 million a year – less than half the cost to it of the proposed increase in compulsory super.

The real priority – by far the biggest bang for the buck in alleviating poverty in retirement – should be boosting Commonwealth rent assistance by 40%, providing an extra $1,410 a year for retired singles and $1,330 for retired couples.


Read more: Renters Beware: how the pension and super could leave you behind


Senior Australians who rent privately are much more likely to suffer financial stress than homeowners. And renting will become more widespread as younger generations on low incomes find themselves less able to afford homes.

Australians have been told for decades that they’re not saving enough for retirement. Such claims are inconsistent with the facts. Most of today’s workers can already expect a comfortable retirement. Forcing them and future workers to save more money for retirement that they’ll never spend is simply a recipe for larger bequests.

ref. Why we should worry less about retirement – and leave super at 9.5% – http://theconversation.com/why-we-should-worry-less-about-retirement-and-leave-super-at-9-5-106237]]>

David Malouf’s An Open Book is poetry to sit with

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kevin Brophy, Professor of Creative writing, University of Melbourne

Book Review: An Open Book, by David Malouf (UQP)


A new book of poetry is offered to a world of readers where very few of us have or take the time to read poetry. Most of us are skeptical about it, suspicious of it for asking of us so much of our time and attention, and possibly giving us little back but puzzles.

Nevertheless I open the book. The first word of the book is “Parting”, printed twice: once as the title of the book’s first poem and again as that poem’s opening word. Parting, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean an ending, for it is essentially what every new life requires.

“All things new/move us”, David Malouf observes part way through this opening poem (playing again on a word that carries several layers of conflicted meaning), uniting reader and poet in a common understanding of partings as beginnings. This is a clever, wise and benign manner of reminding the reader that they have left something in order to arrive here where this very act of holding an open book becomes an aspect of the rhythms of a wider cosmos.

UQP

The stance of the poem is characteristic of Malouf, with its poised consciousness of a speaking self on display through reference to the poem’s presence on the page and the poem’s witness to the act of writing. In a Malouf book it is rare to find the direct personal pronoun, “I”, but there is always somewhere the presence of a writer, a voice, a reflection of someone present at the occasion of the poem.

This reticence about saying “I” might be coyness, it might be a natural shyness, it might be to do with a conviction, along with T.S. Eliot and many before him, that the poetry in a poem is rarely best served by making the poem personal. Or it might be the realization that so much more is possible by way of allusion, insinuation, investigation and imagination if one comes at the truth in a poem slant — as Emily Dickinson demonstrated so well.

Lessons for a destructive world

The neat couplets of this first poem move confidently through free verse lines constructed sometimes on the swing of the phrasing, sometimes on the drama of the imagery, or on a turning thought. Gentle rhyming and near-rhyming run through the poem (e.g. distinction-perfection, moon-room, lost in-begin), along with repetitions of certain words when the rhetoric lifts a little towards what might be an utterance meant to be heard across the room.

This quiet neatness of execution too is characteristic of Malouf’s poetry, and perhaps increasingly so recently. Even a more ragged poem in this collection, such as Aubade.com, reminiscent of From the Book of Whispers in Malouf’s Typewriter Music, comes to the page with a coherent grace, wit and rhythm. The impression of control — of never putting a foot wrong — might have to do with Malouf’s superb feel for bringing a poem to its point, often through a sensual gesture.

I read on. The fourteen poems following, titled Kinderszenen — scenes from childhood — are named after Robert Schumann’s 1838 melodies, which he called “small droll things” composed in response to his wife observing that he could be like a child. These poems are brief and mostly playful reflections on childhood, on imagery in language, and on the possible stances of poetry towards a wider world where poetry can, perhaps, hear what is not yet here —

From a clear sky
the whine, beyond human ears,
of a long-distance missile. History. (from Eavesdropping)

History is a ‘long-distance’ missile in Malouf’s poem Eavesdropping. Shutterstock

From this series, Dancing with a Giant is as much about reading with a child’s engaged imagination as it is about being a child in a grown-up world — a world where, in a game of “gleeful terror”, each child will soon enough find themselves “Already/in up to the neck.”

It might be that in a Maloufian world every object and phenomenon of nature takes on a human face just as in ancient Greece the Gods were as human in their impulses, rages and jealousies as any of us are; or it might be that in the Maloufian world we manage to share with nature its relentless, rhythmical inhuman moods. Whichever way one turns these poems to the light, there is in them a sense of connection between all things (a poetry that can “span a Beurre Bosch pear/in a fruit bowl to the planet”), and that is perhaps the great lesson poetry offers to our fragmented and catastrophically destructive contemporary world.

Yearning for permanency

Still with this series, Fifth Column shares a sensibility with Sylvia Plath’s famous Mushrooms, though in this case it is time not the cloned mushroom that arrives as a sly invader sending its agents out. The poem begins with a childhood wartime memory (Malouf was five or six when the second world war began) and quickly dances through decades of change, then back like Plath’s poem to the ironic solidity of domestic details.

Less political than Plath’s poem, Malouf’s (like hers) is buoyant and hopeful:

… Time, that sly
invader who sent his agents
out, who looked
like us and talked like us,
through all the rooms of
the house to change the coins
in our pockets, the oaths we sealed
with spit or blood, the weights,
the measures. On kitchen shelves,
and tables, set for lunch
and dinner, the plain thick serviceable
crockery for china.

Where Plath’s poem breathes foreboding and prophecy, Malouf’s is one that opens awareness to an ongoing unheeded upheaval within everything. He notes that what we have recourse to when we yearn for permanency is whatever seems “serviceable”. Here too, there is a place for the poem, particularly those that are at least on first appearances serviceable — or as Wallace Stevens put it, are at least “what will suffice”. I think that this is the kind of poem Malouf is trying to find himself writing as he goes.

David Malouf has authored three recent poetry collections. Conrad Del Villar

Malouf’s poetry is not quite an open book, for “books/like houses have their secrets”, as he notes in a poem that responds to his mother’s claim that she could read him “like a book”. This poem is one his rare first-person poems, though it slips into the third person before the ending. Fittingly enough it is focused upon his attempt not to be simply the “open book in his mother’s lap” but rather to be one who is far enough apart to see and dream and wait for the plot to thicken.

Another first-person poem much later in the book seems to me to bring into itself most of the themes and images and preoccupations of the entire collection. And on top of that it is a charming, spellbinding poem, one that deserves to be anthologized well into the future. Incident on Myrtle Street brings scents, scariness, night, death’s angel, domestic attention to detail, and self-consciousness over the act of writing all together in a narrative that is not only charming but hauntingly told. I will leave you to purchase the book, or browse it in a shop, and go straight to it (it’s on page 56).

The power of presence

I can’t leave the book without noting that the words “presence” and “present” recur across the poems. One is even titled In the Presence. Among these poems of presence, The New Loaf is one that fills its moment with a presence that includes somehow all of human history and all the knowledge we might need to be kin, while offering us a loaf of bread in such light that Vermeer might be considering painting it. It’s another poem worth the price of the book, and that’s a bargain really — two poems in one book that make the purchase worthwhile, and promise an abundant return in pleasure for your time spent reading in that strange art of poetry.

Malouf’s poem The New Loaf offers a loaf of bread good enough to paint. Shutterstock

If poetry served Malouf as an apprenticeship on his way to becoming a novelist, then this late return to poetry in three recent collections seems to bring him back in a new way to steadying poems that do justice to the open gaze, the sly wit, the swift imagination and the poise he has in spades.

This might be a quiet kind of poetry with little bitter irony, little engagement with the world of technology and social media, few linguistic pyrotechnics, and no confessional stripping of the self, but it is something special to have read it and found in it much that is genuine, graceful, true, surprising and delightful.

I read the poems through for the second time (I confess to reading the book three times now) at a table in a café with a group of deaf children and women beside me. They were surprisingly noisy, tapping the table, slapping parts of their bodies in exclamation, letting out brief bursts of involuntary laughter, and moving around, leaning into each other, touching each other, lifting an eyebrow at each other or sticking out a chin.

I was distracted by them and convinced by them all over again that we are creatures of deep abilities when we want to communicate with each other. I love poetry that moves towards the kinds of inchoate communications words and text can’t usually manage. Malouf’s poetry has this quality, if a reader can sit with it for a little while.

ref. David Malouf’s An Open Book is poetry to sit with – http://theconversation.com/david-maloufs-an-open-book-is-poetry-to-sit-with-105572]]>

New Caledonia blockade tension fails to mar French PM’s talks on future

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French security forces arrive in force to deal with protesters demonstrating over the independence vote defeat near St Louis, Noumea. Image: Screenshot – Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes

By David Robie in Nouméa

French security forces moved in today to clean up the main road near an indigenous Kanak tribal area after a day of tension and rioting failed to mar a lightning visit by French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and post-independence referendum discussions.

Philippe flew in yesterday morning from Vietnam for a day of meetings with political leaders, customary chiefs and voting commission officials to take stock of the historic referendum on Sunday.

While the people of New Caledonia voted to remain French with a resounding 56.4 percent of the vote, it was a lower winning margin than had been widely predicted in the face of an impressive mobilisation by pro-independence groups.

NEW CALEDONIA VOTE: WHAT NEXT?

The yes vote was 43.6 percent but Kanak voters were already a minority of the restricted electorate for this vote that included Caldoche (settlers), descendants of a French penal colony for Algerian and Paris commune dissidents, and people of Asian and Wallisian ancestry.

A record 80.63 percent turnout with 141,099 voters in a largely calm and uneventful referendum day has opened the door for serious negotiations about the future of New Caledonia.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe speaking to pool journalists on Nouméa television last night after his national address. Image: Screenshot of Caledonia NCTV

After meeting a range of leaders during the day and flying to Koné to meet President Paul Néaoutyine of the pro-independence stronghold Northern province, Philippe made a televised address to the territory last night.

-Partners-

Praising the people of New Caledonia for the peaceful conduct of the referendum, he called for a “meeting of the signatories” next month to consider the next step.

The breakdown of the New Caledonian independence vote. Graphic: Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes

‘Absolutely unique’
“It is absolutely unique,” he said on television. “There is no other example in the history of France, and there are probably not many examples in the history of other nations of a democratic process of this quality.

“It’s admirable. The question is what brings us together. What shall we do?”

After the prolonged series of clashes in the 1980s known locally as les Evénements” – culminating in the Ouvéa cave massacre when 19 Kanak militants were killed on 5 May 1988 with the loss of six gendarmes and the assassination of respected Kanak leaders Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeiwene Yeiwene a year later – New Caledonia has enjoyed 30 years of relative peace and progress.

The Matignon Accord in 1988 and then the Nouméa Accord a decade later paved the way for Sunday’s referendum

Prime Minister Philippe indicated that a fresh approach was now needed with a greater emphasis on social and economic development than political structures and to address “inequalities”.

The prime minister had lunch with students at the University of New Caledonia. Following his TV address and evening “pool” interview with media, he flew back to Paris last night.

Under the Nouméa Accord, up to two more referendums can be held in 2020 and 2022 with one-third support from the territorial Congress.

Scrap extra votes
The anti-independence parties want to scrap the provision for further referendums while the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) coalition and UNI want the votes to go ahead as planned.

The small Labour Party is also pro-independence but chose a tactical “non participation” approach to the referendum which it criticised as “dishonest”.

The pro-independence hand has been strengthened by the success of mobilising young people and showing the world that they “are serious” about their vision of a new nation, Kanaky New Caledonia.

“Édouard Philippe was here to listen to us,” said FLNKS president Rock Wamytan. “Despite the opposition crowing that they were going to dominate 70/30, we have spoken of dialogue and negotiation. I have remained as prudent as the Sioux”, referring to the First Nation people of Dakota who resisted US state oppression in the 19th century.

Anti-independence Rassemblement leaders Pierre Frogier said the referendum result “anchors New Caledonia in France” and there was no need for further votes.

He criticised the referendum process, claiming that it had created a “divided Caledonian society”.

Saint Louis rioting … front page news in les Nouvelle Caledoniennes today. Image: LNC

The clashes on the RP1 road near St Louis tribal area of Nouméa yesterday when protesters set fire to tyres on the main road, burned cars and pelted police with stones wracked up tension. The skirmishes sparked angry talkback sessions on loyalist radio stations and frontpage headlines of “violence” in the conservative daily newspaper Les Nouvelle Calédoniennes today.

However, security forces were deployed to the area in a show of force yesterday and were trying to regain control.

There have been other sporadic incidents too, but the referendum result has been largely accepted peacefully.

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Mānuka honey: who really owns the name and the knowledge

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jessica C Lai, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington

Adulterated honey and fake mānuka honey have repeatedly made headlines in recent years.

The arguments around adulterated honey are relatively simple. These honeys are diluted with cheaper syrups and their lack of authenticity is unquestionable. The discourse around mānuka honey is different, as there are serious questions about what authentic mānuka honey actually means.


Read more: ‘Honeygate’ deepens as new tests reveal 27% of brands are adulterated


Two warring families

The term mānuka carries with it a premium. Mānuka honey is made from the nectar of the Leptospermum scoparium flower. This plant is native to New Zealand and south-east Australia. It is, thus, not surprising that much of the war around the term mānuka has played out between Australian and New Zealand producers.

There are many registered trademarks in Australia and New Zealand that include the word mānuka and relate to honey-based products. In July, the Australian Manuka Honey Association filed to protect its name.

The parallel New Zealand entity, the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society Inc, has filed for a certification trademark for the term mānuka honey. If granted, traders in New Zealand would only be able to market their products as mānuka honey if they satisfy a certain standard and are certified as such.

The Mānuka Honey Appellation Society Inc sought the same certification trademark in Australia and the UK. The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries has a definition for authentic mānuka honey, which includes a certain DNA marker and four chemical compounds. Comvita have separately filed patent applications for marker compounds to identify true mānuka honey.


Read more: What is fake honey and why didn’t the official tests pick it up?


What’s in a name

Despite the value embodied in the term mānuka, Māori interests are often left out of the discussion. Similarly, little attention is given to the disagreement within Māoridom about who has jurisdiction over mānuka.

This is despite the glaringly obvious fact that mānuka is the Māori term for L.scoparium. Put another way, a war of words is playing out. And, while the war is over a Māori word, Māori are not seen as a key player. Instead, it is industry and government that we see on the field.

The fact that Māori are often left out from the conversation around the authenticity of mānuka honey reflects a long history of western law and science ignoring indigenous peoples, at best, or treating them as non-stakeholders or sources to be mined for information, at worst. The issue runs deeper than simply the use of a Māori word.

Māori have long used the mānuka plant for medicinal purposes. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny

L.scoparium is near endemic to New Zealand. Māori have long used the plant and honey derived from it for various purposes, from brewing beer to multiple medicinal purposes. The latter includes the treatment of urinary complaints, fevers, burns, dysentery, skin and muscle inflammations, eye and mouth problems, pain relief and as a sedative. Teas were made from the leaves of the plant to ease fevers, or from the bark to treat dysentery and diarrhoea.

The use of Māori traditional knowledge to further western science is not new. In a recent study of patent applications filed in New Zealand, 25 applications were identified that used some aspect of the plant, honey or ingredient as a major component.

Half of the inventions were in the pharmaceutical industry. Many of these used the antibiotic properties of mānuka honey and were compositions including the honey or an extract. Several applied the antibiotic properties of the essential oil in L.scoparium. Three of the applications related to food or beverages. Two inventions were in the cosmetic industry.

I take thee at thy word

In 2013, New Zealand passed new patent legislation, which created a Māori Advisory Committee. This has the role of advising the Commissioner of Patents on whether an invention is derived from Māori traditional knowledge or “indigenous plants or animals” and, if so, whether “the commercial exploitation of that invention is likely to be contrary to Māori values”. The commissioner uses this advice to determine whether the “commercial exploitation” of an invention would be contrary to “public order” or “morality”.

These provisions have the potential to introduce te ao Māori (the Māori world) into a western legal paradigm. It has yet to be seen if they will truly meet Māori concerns. Of the 25 inventions identified in the study, 13 appeared to be derivative of a known Māori use. However, only four of these came under the Patents Act 2013.

At the time of writing, none of the four had gone through full examination by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand. Two were open for public inspection and two were recently filed. Indeed, no applications had gone to the Māori Advisory Committee. Thus, it remains to be seen what exactly the committee’s role will be and how it might affect applications for patents over inventions pertaining to mānuka in the future.

ref. Mānuka honey: who really owns the name and the knowledge – http://theconversation.com/manuka-honey-who-really-owns-the-name-and-the-knowledge-105508]]>

Note to governments: sports stadiums should benefit everyone, not just fans

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jessica Richards, Lecturer Sport Business Management, Western Sydney University

Reading through the hundreds of community submissions about the redevelopment of the Sydney Football Stadium, it is clear there is strong opposition to the new venue. It has been called a “drain on the public purse”, with the existing stadium considered to be still “in fine working order”. Public outcry also saw the NSW government back down from its plans to spend A$2.5 billion redeveloping three stadiums. They will now spend only A$1.8 billion.

Not helping the cause is the A$38 million spent on a walkway to the existing Sydney Football Stadium that only 5% of fans currently use. In the UK, £323m was spent to convert the London 2012 Olympic Stadium for the use of West Ham United Football Club. Developments like these create a sense of wasteful spending when it comes to stadium development, which sits uncomfortably with the tax-paying and voting public.

At the same time, the allocation of resources and the adequacy of local sporting venues for high participation community sport and recreation remains contested and highly variable. In such situations, it is typically the marginalised members of society that are forced out by governments to make way for largely commercial sporting developments.


Read more: Pushing casual sport to the margins threatens cities’ social cohesion


It is timely to ask whether public funding would be better allocated to the creation and improvement of publicly available spaces rather than the continued development of sporting arenas that are infrequently used by a minority of the population.

Can sport stadiums bridge the great diversity divide?

A recent forum hosted by Western Sydney University brought together a panel of experts to discuss the value of the new Western Sydney Stadium and its benefit to the people of Parramatta. The panel included representatives from Populous (the lead architects), Venues NSW (stadium operators), Netball NSW, Western Sydney Wanderers and Football Supporters Australia.

Parramatta is demographically diverse. The most common ancestries of residents are Indian (26.9%) and Chinese (16.3%). With nearly 80% of residents in Parramatta having both parents born overseas, the issue of the benefits of the new stadium, particularly for those who do not traditionally follow rugby league or soccer was a key question for the forum.

The most popular organised sports for children aged five to 14 years born overseas is swimming. The demolition of Parramatta Swimming Centre to make way for the new Western Sydney Stadium was, therefore, contentious. As a community facility, the pool boasted 160,000 users per year, and averaged 1200 visits per day on days above 30 degrees Celsius. A replacement pool is not due to open until 2020.

At issue is whether the stadium is viewed as an accessible community asset. The panel and forum persuasively explored issues of how the stadium embodied the principles of inclusive and safe design, addressing the requirements of fans and clubs. What was less clear was the question of how governments and highly monetised sports reconciled stadium expenditure against the unmet resource demands of community sport.

The quality of stadium facilities for elite sports, including netball, that are not funded through media rights was also questioned. The requirements of elite women’s sports are relatively invisible in stadium discussions. Somewhat ironically, this is often defended on commercial grounds, yet where the commercial basis of stadium funding is opaque and highly contested.

What’s in it for non-sports fans?

Typically, stadiums focus on one or two sports, which in Australia may see the facility used for around 50 days per year. Yet they have the potential to transform urban environments and can incorporate community facilities.

Modern stadium design is placing greater emphasis on community development and engagement. Club-led developments in the UK have created affordable housing, and generated jobs and other economic benefits for the area. As examples, the construction of Emirates Stadium also included day nurseries and new community health facilities. Similarly, the redevelopment of White Hart Lane (also in London) will include a new community health centre and a 180-bedroom hotel with a dedicated training program for the hospitality industry.


Read more: Sydney’s stadiums debate shows sport might not be the political winner it once was


SunTrust Park in Atlanta USA boasts the tag line “Dine.Play.Shop.Stay” and aims to be an entertainment precinct catering for a wider section of the general public. The precinct is activated beyond their average of 81 game days per year. It incorporates 18 dining options, 14 retail venues, a 264 room hotel, co-shared work spaces and hosts a variety of events.

A blueprint for the future

We are calling on those who determine to publicly fund stadiums to ensure that design briefs include spaces and facilities that are socially inclusive. There should be benefits for more than just (major) sports fans and social elites. When public money funds new constructions (either fully or partially), it is entirely reasonable to expect that there would be advantages for all members of the local community.

Government investment in stadiums should work to foster grassroots sports, be less gendered and offer benefits to non-traditional sports fans in the form of recreational spaces. Creating a sustainable sporting precinct around a new stadium provides vibrant hubs of activity which better utilise spaces for wider sections of the community.

ref. Note to governments: sports stadiums should benefit everyone, not just fans – http://theconversation.com/note-to-governments-sports-stadiums-should-benefit-everyone-not-just-fans-105956]]>

We asked five experts: are light dairy products better?

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

There are always two options on the shelf when we reach for the milk, cheese or yoghurt: normal or “lite”. Less fat is better, right? But what about the goodness found in dairy – is it all there in the reduced fat version?

We asked five experts from various fields if light dairy products are better for our health.

Three out of five experts said yes

Here are their detailed responses:


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


Disclosures: Caryl Nowson has received consultancy funds from Meat and Livestock Australia, Dairy Australia DRDC (Dairy Research Development Corp) and and Nestle. Malcolm Riley worked for Dairy Australia from 2006-2010. In his current role, he has worked on projects commissioned by the dairy industry and companies manufacturing dairy foods.

ref. We asked five experts: are light dairy products better? – http://theconversation.com/we-asked-five-experts-are-light-dairy-products-better-103991]]>

Why do vegans have such bad reputations?

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tani Khara, PhD student in Sustainability, University of Technology Sydney

More and more people are adopting plant-based diets in Australia and other western nations. But also seemingly on the rise is resentment towards vegans and vegetarians.

This can range from ridicule on social media sites (“Nobody likes a vegetarian”) to bumper stickers (“Vegetarian is an old Indian word for bad hunter”). Recently, the editor of the UK Waitrose magazine, William Sitwell, stepped down after he called for a piece about vegans that would “expose their hypocrisy”.

There has been a term coined for this backlash: “vegaphobia”. There are even self-help books, such as Living among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook which offers advice to those whose dietary choices might be under attack.

So what is it about vegans that is so annoying?


Read more: Why you should eat a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean being a vegetarian


On their high horse

One reason vegetarians and vegans are the target of this negativity may be thanks to their sometimes overtly moral behaviour, in the same way that a “goody two shoes” might annoy us. In one US study nearly half of all participants already felt negatively towards vegetarians. They became even more resentful when they felt that vegetarians considered themselves to be morally superior to omnivores.

These findings are echoed by the results of my interviews with omnivores in Australia, which have shown that plant-based eaters are deemed, by some, to be “snobbish” and “elitist”.

The perception of a moral reproach can also trigger resentment in others. For example, an ad from PETA suggested that “feeding kids meat is child abuse”. While such advertisements may attract attention, the use of strong guilt in messaging like this may also backfire.

This might explain the attitudes of the residents in a town called Aargau, in Switzerland, who in 2017 called for the denial of citizenship to a foreign vegan resident. She was deemed “annoying” and critical of local Swiss customs, which include hunting, piglet racing, and cows wearing cowbells.

Another source of annoyance may be the so-called “militant vegan” who tends to use tactics of admonishment and intimidation, such as the vegan activists who splashed fake blood on French butchers’ displays. Another recent example are the negative comments made by some plant-based food supporters after the death of omnivore chef Anthony Bourdain. There were subsequently criticised by vegan activist Gary Francione for their moral insensitivity and intolerance.

Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, advocating for meat-free days or a ‘reducetarian’ diet may be more appealing to omnivores. Shutterstock

Bloody awful

A key reason people adopt a plant-based diet is concerns about animal cruelty and suffering. Several activist organisations, in a bid to encourage people to reduce meat consumption, highlight the mistreatment and slaughter of animals by showing graphic and often shocking images which can trigger strong emotions.

This tactic, while effective in attracting attention, can also backfire. For one, exposure to animal cruelty can be overwhelming to the point where the audience may block out the information. It can make people avoid taking further action.


Read more: Do vegetarians live longer? Probably, but not because they’re vegetarian


When exposed to the plight of an animal suffering, many people get upset and wish for the cruelty to end. This is all well and good, but there is a risk that such communications will foster negative attitudes towards the message sender as well. Repeated exposure to messages about animal cruelty may also, in the long run, result in the audience getting accustomed to such messages and they may eventually begin to ignore it due to emotional numbing or apathy.

Sudden awareness of animal cruelty may also create pain and loneliness while others may feel powerless, especially if denied the psychological benefit of helping others.

Extending kindness to omnivores

On the other hand, there are messages vegans and vegetarians can use that may be received better. These include incremental changes such as promoting meat-free Mondays, or becoming a “reducetarian”. These would give the audience a vision to aspire to and motivates them to attain it.

Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation, highlights a similar message to many vegan campaigns today, that meat-intensive diets are worse for our health, the environment, and for the animals we eat.

But while many vegan campaigns messages advocate an all-or-nothing approach, that only eliminating meat is the answer, realistically it might not be possible for everyone to do so. Hence, reducetarianism might be a more achievable middle ground.

Despite the growing popularity of the plant-based food movement, it seems that the respect and empathy for animals which lies at the very heart of this movement could perhaps also be extended towards others who make different choices and, in doing so, open the doors towards greater acceptance.

ref. Why do vegans have such bad reputations? – http://theconversation.com/why-do-vegans-have-such-bad-reputations-103683]]>

Where are Chinese migrants choosing to settle in Australia? Look to the suburbs

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Thomas Sigler, Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Queensland

This is the second article in our series, Australian Cities in the Asian Century. These articles draw on research, just published in a special issue of Geographical Research, into how Australian cities are being influenced by the rise of China and associated flows of people, ideas and capital between China and Australia.


In the iconic book The Lucky Country, author Donald Horne described Australia as the first suburban nation. Half a century later, the moniker is perhaps truer than ever. We calculate that the five largest metro areas now house 64% of Australia’s population. And the greatest population growth is in peri-urban fringe areas.

Most new housing is built in the suburbs, and detached dwellings are a staple of the “Australian Dream” of home ownership. So it should come as no surprise that Australia’s most rapidly growing ethnic group, migrants born in mainland China, is choosing to settle in the suburbs.

Our research finds that the residential patterns of China-born migrants in Australian capital cities are becoming both more diverse and more suburban.


Read more: How Australian cities are adapting to the Asian Century


Chinese migration to Australia dates back longer than the Commonwealth itself, with the first wave tied to the 19th-century gold rushes.

In the 1980s and 1990s, ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the “Nanyang” countries of Southeast Asia (e.g. Singapore, Malaysia) came to Australia along with migrants from mostly southern mainland China.

Since 2000, Chinese migration to Australia has been more geographically diverse in its origins. These migrants have also been increasingly advantaged in socio-economic status and often driven by tertiary education.


Read more: What we know about why Chinese students come to Australia to study


Australia is now home to more than 1.2 million people of Chinese ancestry, 41% of them born in mainland China.

Diversity in dispersal patterns

Just like most Australians, these China-born migrants are concentrated in major cities. The Chinatowns in cities like Sydney and Melbourne remain as important cultural icons. Yet the reality is that, just like cities such as New York, Toronto and Vancouver, there has been an obvious trend of China-born migrants dispersing to live in the suburbs.


Read more: Sydney’s Chinatown is much more of a modern bridge to Asia than a historic enclave


In our study covering the three census periods from 2001 to 2011, China-born residential patterns became more diverse over time. There has been greater dispersal in the large cities (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) and clustering in medium and smaller cities (Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin and Canberra).

In other words, as the local population of China-born migrants gets larger and more complex, multiple Chinese enclaves emerge. These include Hurstville and Campsie in Sydney, Burwood and Clayton in Melbourne, and Sunnybank and Sunnybank Hills in Brisbane.

Campsie is one of the Sydney suburbs popular with China-born migrants. Victor Wong/Shutterstock

In the smaller capital cities of Adelaide, Hobart, Darwin and Canberra, residential clusters appear to emerge near major universities in inner cities. Here, housing markets and planning initiatives play a strong role as well. Clustering appears mostly in and around inner cities, which may be tied to the construction of high-rise unit blocks.

Interestingly, the diversity of this suburbanisation - particularly in Melbourne and Sydney - runs counter to the narrative of the “straight line” assimilation model. This is based on the idea that migrants and their children simply amalgamate into the population at large. Unlike what such “traditional” models predict, the integration of China-born migrants has been accompanied by concentration growing stronger over time, mainly in the outer suburbs, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The association among residential improvement, individual advantages and entry into mixed White neighbourhoods may be weakening. This is reflected in the growing tendency towards living in Chinese-dominated communities with the benefits of easy access to Chinese-owned business and services. Formation of ethnic concentrations is voluntary, which runs counter to the idea that a lack of options forces migrants to segregate.

A new look for suburbia

With about half of Australians born overseas or having an overseas-born parent, migration has rendered Australia one of the world’s most diverse countries. While television shows such as Neighbours and Home and Away still depict suburbia as the preserve of the moneyed Anglo-Australians, the composition of today’s suburbs mirrors the diversity of the nation. Just remember that next time you are trying to find a good acupuncturist!


Read more: The rise of the super-diverse ‘ethnoburbs’


ref. Where are Chinese migrants choosing to settle in Australia? Look to the suburbs – http://theconversation.com/where-are-chinese-migrants-choosing-to-settle-in-australia-look-to-the-suburbs-103920]]>

Initiative Q is not the new Bitcoin, but here’s why the idea has value

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brendan Markey-Towler, Researcher, The University of Queensland

Could free units of a new digital currency end up being worth thousands of dollars?

Initiative Q, which is aggressively marketing itself on social media, wants you to think so. It urges you to sign up now, and get your friends to do so as well, to maximise the value of your free “Q” currency. This has invited comparisons to pyramid schemes and suspicions about its legitimacy.

It’s not a scam. It also won’t make you fabulously wealthy. It is, nonetheless, an interesting idea.

I want to use institutional cryptoeconomics – the study of the basic rules governing emerging economic systems such as cryptocurrencies – to show you how Initiative Q is an interesting experiment, criticisms of its marketing methods aside. If you sign up, you might help the world discover a remarkable new payments system.

Cryptocurrency basics

Initiative Q’s marketing explicitly draws comparisons with the best-known cryptocurrency: “Think of it as Bitcoin seven years ago.” The implication is this is the next Big Thing in internet money.


You might think of it as Bitcoin, but know it is not like Bitcoin in most important respects. initiativeq.com

Yet Initiative Q also states it is not developing a cryptocurrency.

The basic definition of a cryptocurrency is simply any form of digital money consisting of entries in a cryptographically secure virtual ledger, rather than physical coins and notes. In this sense “Q” can be thought of as a cryptocurrency.

However, cryptocurrency is increasingly defined further as using a decentralised system to manage and secure the virtual ledger that records transactions.

Bitcoin, for instance, uses blockchain technology to “distribute” the virtual ledger across a network and “decentralise” the process of coming to agreement on how to update it.

Blockchain protects a cryptocurrency from manipulation by hackers or governments, but it comes with costs.


Read more: Bitcoin turns ten – here’s how it all started and what the future might hold


What makes Q different

Initiative Q is not like Bitcoin in most technical respects.

It will not use blockchain but control the “true” ledger centrally. This makes blockchain enthusiasts uncomfortable, because it cuts against the cryptoanarchist aversion to any one group holding power over a system. But it will avoid some costs of Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies.

One is the feared environmental cost of energy-intensive “proof of work” algorithms that prove to the whole network a blockchain is compiled correctly.

“Q” will avoid that by the company deciding what is the “true” ledger. That also allows the company to counter fraud and resolve disputes by “reversing” transactions, where blockchains can typically only do this with an intensely difficult “hard fork”.

By design the Q won’t fluctuate wildly in value, either. The goal is a stable private currency for payments processing rather than a vehicle for speculation. It is clearly designed with the current “stablecoin” trend in mind.


Read more: Four factors driving the price of Bitcoin


Lawrence White, who helped design “Q”, is known for advocating systems where money does not fluctuate wildly in value. He has clearly built Initiative Q around monetarist theory, which says the money supply should be controlled to keep prices stable.

So the value of “Q” will not fluctuate wildly like many cryptocurrencies.

All of this makes Initiative Q unlike Bitcoin, although it creates a private digital currency.

Experiements in institutional technologies

My colleagues at RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub call cryptocurrencies “institutional technologies”. Anyone who wants to use the system has to act within the institutions it creates – that is, obey its fundamental rules.

These systems can be privatised. Any private citizen with a laptop can write a protocol that administers large-scale institutional systems like money, which historically only the centralised state could enforce.


Read more: Rise of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin begs question: what is money?


For example, Bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, is said to have belted out the source code for the cryptocurrency on a laptop at home during spare time. Now millions of people around the world use the system to interact every day.

What’s exciting is that this allows people to invent all sorts of different institutional systems to see which ones work best – feeding a process my colleagues have called “institutional discovery”.

From this perspective, what is interesting about Initiative Q is that it creates a novel blend of institutions oriented around streamlined payments processing. It is supposed to take all the good things about PayPal and improve on them.

Not the new Bitcoin, but still interesting

One can understand why Initiative Q’s marketing strategy has caused it to be dismissed as a “pyramid scheme”. But like any payments system, it faces “network externalities”. It needs lots of people to use it. The more people do, the more value it has.

If it does succeed, though, it won’t make you fabulously wealthy. You’ll get something more like a gift card. The value of “Q” is designed to be stable, so you shouldn’t be expecting to become a crypto-billionaire.

If you do sign up, you might at least enrich the field of institutional cryptoeconomics. Experiments like this are how we improve our institutions, through a process much like scientific discovery.

ref. Initiative Q is not the new Bitcoin, but here’s why the idea has value – http://theconversation.com/initiative-q-is-not-the-new-bitcoin-but-heres-why-the-idea-has-value-106148]]>

Found: the earliest European image of Aboriginal Australians

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Liz Conor, ARC Future Fellow, La Trobe University

The earliest found European image of Aboriginal Australians, engraved in 1698, depicts them resisting their enslavement. Recently discovered in the Hamilton library of Honolulu University it is an apocryphal image for its times, intending to portray the Indigenous people described, “New Hollanders”, as “unfit for labour”.

Seen today it unwittingly shows their resistance to the very first incursion by the English on Aboriginal land.

I found the image recently while I was researching in the rare books Pacific collection of the Hamilton library at Honolulu University. Until now the earliest printed image has been considered to be that by Sydney Parkinson, published by his brother (after a dispute with Banks) in 1773. Parkinson’s image, importantly, is still the first image from direct observation. It shows two Gweagal warriors challenging Cook’s landing at Botany Bay.

Sydney Jackson’s 1773 image of two Indigenous men. State Library of NSW

The new image, from 75 years earlier, was drawn from textual description, and comes from a little known edition of the explorer William Dampier’s journal, published in the Netherlands.

Dampier’s journal

William Dampier’s journal of his first circumnavigation of the globe was published in London in 1697 as A New Voyage Round the World and became a sensation, running to five English editions by 1706 and numerous translations. His exploits – roving, mutinying, sacking, scuttling and pillaging for 12 years throughout the Caribbean and beyond – captivated an increasingly literate public at the dawn of the Enlightenment, ravenous for descriptions of exotic species and “savage” peoples.

The image comes from an illustrated edition published in 1698 in the Netherlands. It took passages from Dampier’s unvarnished description and engraved them into copperplates.

These included a ship being tossed in high seas, a marooned “Moskito” Indian being rescued some years later, a live burial, a beheading, and “New Hollanders” refusing to carry barrels (p. 340) aboard the ship Dampier crewed, the Cygnet.

The image from William Dampier’s journals. Courtesy of the Pacific Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa

This remarkable visual vignette – now the earliest known printed European image of Indigenous Australians – was incised by an Amsterdam engraver and draughtsman Caspar Luyken for the printer Abraham De Hondt. The public was agog for accounts of the New World and particularly any reports of Terra Australis Incognita, the Great Southern Land first hypothesised by the Roman scholar Ptolemy in the second century.

Dampier had been searching for any sign of the Tryall, an English vessel which had been shipwrecked in 1622. He was one of 42 European landings and sightings along the Australian coast prior to James Cook (not to mention the Macassans, Sulawesi trepangers who traded with Aborigines along the northern coast as early as 1700).

Dampier had returned to London bereft of the spices and treasures by which other privateers enriched themselves. But he had with him a slave named Jeoly from the island of Miangas (an outlying island of now Indonesia) dubbed the Painted Prince Giolo, whom he displayed at the Blue Boar’s Head in Fleet Street, London. Jeoly and his mother had been bought by Dampier in Bencoolen, or British Bengkulu, in Sumatra. They had been brought in by one Mr Moody, a trader in “clove-bark”.

Dampier was clearly sanguine about slavery. He had previously worked on a plantation in Jamaica with more than 100 slaves and later lamented a lost opportunity of acquiring “some 1,000 Negroes” – “all lusty young men and women” – to enslave in a mine at Santa Maria.

‘New servants’

When Dampier imposed himself on the land of the Bardi-Jawi in King George Sound WA in January 1688 he experimented with the Indigenous people’s capacity to labour. This first known image of Australian Aboriginals is accompanied by a highly derogatory description.

It tells how the men were clothed (“to one an old pair of breeches, to another a ragged shirt, to the third a jacket that was scarce worth owning”) and made to carry barrels of water – “about six gallons in each”. The “new servants” were brought to the wells, and a barrel was put on each of their shoulders for them to carry to a canoe:

But all the signs we could make were to no purpose for they stood like statues without motion but grinned like so many monkeys staring one upon another: for these poor creatures seem not accustomed to carry burdens; and I believe that one of our ship-boys of 10 years old would carry as much as one of them. So we were forced to carry our water ourselves.

The men then took off the clothes and laid them down, “as if clothes were only to work in. I did not perceive that they had any great liking to them at first, neither did they seem to admire anything that we had”.

Poor creatures indeed – a life unencumbered by burdens. We can surmise they were more likely unaccustomed to assigning labour to others that they were perfectly capable of carrying out themselves, and in exchange for items of no value to them.

Aboriginal people did not enslave nor exploit. Dampier did capture “several” of the people here, giving them “victuals” before letting them go. And he wondered they would not “stir for us”.

With this description Dampier created a stereotype of Aboriginality that persists to this day, that of indolence. I’ve traced the entrenching of this trope through reprints of Dampier’s description into the 1950s, but I never imagined I would find it as the first printed European image of “New Hollanders”.

The image and Dampier’s journal attempts to enshrine Aboriginal people as “unfit for labour”, as this passage is bannered in later editions of Dampier’s journal. Instead the very first image of Aboriginal Australians is testament to their resistance by refusal, from very first contact with English to take up their burdens.

NB: This research will be presented at the Graphic Encounters Conference Wednesday to Friday this week, all welcome.

ref. Found: the earliest European image of Aboriginal Australians – http://theconversation.com/found-the-earliest-european-image-of-aboriginal-australians-106176]]>

Curious Kids: How do we smell?

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rodrigo Suarez, ARC DECRA Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


How do we smell? – Audrey, age 6, Brisbane.


Audrey, you have asked a question that humans have wondered about for centuries. And it’s only pretty recently we have started to really understand the answer.

Whenever we smell something, our nose and brain work together to make sense of hundreds of very tiny invisible particles, known as molecules or chemicals, that are floating in the air. If we sniff, more of these molecules can reach the roof of our nostrils and it is easier to smell a smell.

The fact that we have two nostrils allows our brain to detect small differences in the number of molecules that reach each one, so we can follow a smell trail just like tracker dogs. Have you ever tried finding where a smell is coming from? See how hard it gets with one nostril blocked.

The sense of smell also help us taste food. That is why food tastes bland whenever your nose is blocked.

Inside your nostrils, there are tiny things called neurons that “talk” to each other using electrical messages (our brains are mostly made of neurons too, by the way).

Olfactory neurons (green, blue and red), located at the roof of the nostrils, recognise molecules and send electrical signals to neurons in the olfactory bulb (yellow). R. Suárez.

Smell memories

These type of tiny cells, called olfactory neurons (olfaction means smell), have long cable-like connections that send electrical messages to a spot at the front of the brain, known as the olfactory bulb. Each olfactory neuron connects with a different neuron in the olfactory bulb, which then sends this information to other areas of the brain.

The parts of the brain that get these signals also do other things, such as storing memories or provoking emotions. That is why some smells can bring back old memories.

Even some older adults can remember the smell of their kindy class, or their grandparent’s house. Also, some smells can make us feel scared or happy, such as the smells of smoke or flowers. For example, the smell of freshly mowed lawn can help us relax.

Do you have nice memories of a place or food that you have smelt in the past?

How animals smell

The sense of smell is very important to almost all animals, as it helps them find food, recognise family members, and avoid danger.

For example, the nostrils of fish and sharks let them smell underwater, even though they breathe water through their mouths and gills. Some animals, like dolphins and whales, have lost the sense of smell as, over millions of years, their nostrils have moved to the top of their heads and evolved into blowholes.

The way smells are felt by the nose and brain is very similar in all animals. Even the way olfactory neurons work is also very similar to that of insects (but insects smell using their antennae, not with nostrils).

The sense of smell works in similar ways in both vertebrates (mouse olfactory bulb in orange) and invertebrates (moth antenna in orange). R Suárez.

The way the brain deals with smells is very different to how it deals with other senses, such as seeing and hearing. For example, we can identify the different instruments playing in a band, or the different shapes and colours in a painting. But it is very hard for us to tell the individual parts of a smell mixture.

We can feel the smell “orange” or “coffee” as a single thing, but have trouble identifying the many different parts that make up those smells individually. However, it is possible to get better at this with practice. Professional wine-tasters or perfume-makers can detect more parts of a smell mixture than most people.


Read more: Curious Kids: what’s it like to be a fighter pilot?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. They can:

* Email your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au
* Tell us on Twitter

CC BY-ND

Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.

ref. Curious Kids: How do we smell? – http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-how-do-we-smell-104772]]>

Three charts on: representation of Australian, New Zealand and Sudan born people in Victorian crime statistics

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University

One of Victoria’s most senior judges has warned the current media reporting and political rhetoric around crime committed by people from South Sudanese backgrounds in Melbourne is “dangerous” and “skewed”.

Interviewed by ABC Four Corners as part of an investigation into the issue, County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd said there had been an inaccurate portrayal of how much crime is committed by people from the community.

Kidd told reporter Sophie McNeill:

If you are an African offender, and certainly if you’re an African youth of South Sudanese background from the western suburbs of Melbourne, rest assured your case will be reported upon.

The media choose to report upon those cases. That creates an impression that we, that our work, a very significant proportion of our work is taken up with African youths from the western suburbs of Melbourne. That’s a false impression.

I can say that in general terms, most of our work, the vast, vast majority of our work does not involve Africans.

Earlier this year, then-Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane made the point that while Sudanese Australians were over-represented in criminal offending in Victoria, they were “not the only group”.

We have Australian born and New Zealand born offenders over-represented in crime statistics in Victoria, too.

Here are some statistics.

What does it mean to be ‘over-represented’ in crime statistics?

The term “over-represented” is used when the level of offending by a particular group is greater than the group’s representation in the general population.

In this case, to determine whether a group is over-represented, we can cross reference general population numbers and country of birth data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and unique alleged offender data provided by the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency (CSA).

A “unique alleged offender” is one person who is alleged to have committed a crime. One unique alleged offender may be involved in more than one alleged incident during the reference period. But in the unique alleged offender data, no matter how many incidents a person may have been involved in, they are counted once.

Which groups are over-represented, and to what degree?

At the time of the last Census (2016), Victoria’s population was 5.9 million. CSA unique alleged offenders data from April 2015 to March 2018 show that on average over those three years:

  • People born in Australia accounted for 64.90% of the Victorian population, and 72.57% of unique alleged offenders (a unique offender rate to population share of 1.1)

  • People born in New Zealand accounted for 1.57% of the Victorian population, and 2.23% of unique alleged offenders (a unique offender rate to population share of 1.4), and

  • People born in Sudan or South Sudan accounted for 0.14% of the Victorian population, and 1% of unique alleged offenders (a unique offender rate to population share of 7).

While people born in Australia and New Zealand were over-represented in the alleged offender population of Victoria, people born in Sudan were over-represented to higher levels.

The two charts below show the numbers of unique alleged offenders by country of birth for the period April 2017 to March 2018, and the principal offences committed.




The CSA notes that crime “seems to be committed at different rates at different stages of life”, and that therefore, “if a particular group of people are much younger or older than the general population, comparisons may not be as valid”.

According to Dr Mark Wood of Melbourne University, the South Sudanese population in Victoria is “very young”, with 42% of the community under the age of 25, compared to one-third of the Australian general population.

The chart below shows Sudanese born alleged offenders tend to be younger than those born in Australia or New Zealand.



The bigger picture about crime in Victoria

The latest federal Report on Government Services (2018) does highlight a significant drop in perceptions of public safety in Victoria. But it’s often the case that public perceptions do not match the reality.

The number and rate of all criminal incidents in Victoria have been at higher levels in recent years than they were in the period before the Andrews Labor government came to power in 2014. However, crime has declined in the last 12 months.

ref. Three charts on: representation of Australian, New Zealand and Sudan born people in Victorian crime statistics – http://theconversation.com/three-charts-on-representation-of-australian-new-zealand-and-sudan-born-people-in-victorian-crime-statistics-101308]]>

View from The Hill: Katter waves Section 44 stick in a ‘notice North Queensland’ moment

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

On the day independent Kerryn Phelps was officially declared the winner in Wentworth, a shot was fired across Scott Morrison’s bows to remind him of the challenge of managing a now-hung parliament.

It came not from Phelps but from a longstanding crossbencher, the maverick Bob Katter, who holds the north Queensland seat of Kennedy.

Katter is a politician who creates a fuss in search of a reaction. And what better time than when Morrison is heading north, in his bus, on a campaign journey through Queensland, making announcements as he goes?

“Don’t think you have my vote,” Katter declared in the headline of Monday’s press release.

He said he would “not rule out” voting to refer Chris Crewther, Liberal member for the Melbourne seat of Dunkley, to the High Court to determine whether section 44 of the constitution catches him. Dunkley is a marginal Liberal seat that becomes notionally marginal Labor at next year’s election, under the redistribution.

Crewther’s issue is a shareholding in a biotech company, Gretals Australia, that is said to have received a benefit from the Commonwealth via grants. The now notorious section 44, which has caught a plethora of federal parliamentarians over citizenship issues, also says someone shall be incapable of being chosen for or sitting in parliament if they have “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth …”

The eligibility of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has also been questioned under this provision, in relation to issues around a family trust.

Katter said he was “considering” his position, declaring he thought the Crewther situation was “a lot different” from that of Dutton.

But the giveaway was Katter’s segue. “I’m not impressed with the government in their three months in office running around pork barrelling”. In particular, the government was not dealing with North Queensland issues, he said.

“It seems that there is little point in working with a government that has had three months to do something for the north when all they are interested in is pork barrelling to secure votes. Clearly this indicates they have no interest in really helping North Queensland.”

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Katter is thinking less about the Crewther situation and more about what he might extract for North Queensland. After all, only on Friday he dismissed backing sending either Crewther or Dutton to the High Court, declaring “politics is not about this sort of rubbish.”

Phelps earlier on Monday told the ABC she was wanted to get more information of the Crewther and Dutton cases. On her own position Phelps, a doctor, said that she had “high level legal advice” that she didn’t have a problem in relation to Medicare, because the rebate went to the patient not the practice.

Labor says both Crewther and Dutton should go to the High Court. The opposition would need to round up the votes of all six crossbenchers to have the numbers for referrals.

But a referral doesn’t mean the person has to resign while the case is on.

Given the closeness to the election, even if there were a referral followed by an adverse decision, it would not trigger a byelection.

In any event, Sydney University constitutional expert Anne Twomey doubts Crewther has a problem.

Twomey says that, on what we know, it appears Gretals Australia doesn’t have an agreement with the Commonwealth – any connection appears relatively remote.

“While Gretals may be a participant in an Australian Research Council linkage grant, it is the University of Melbourne which has the agreement with the Commonwealth and receives the funding, not Gretals,” she says.

ref. View from The Hill: Katter waves Section 44 stick in a ‘notice North Queensland’ moment – http://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-katter-waves-section-44-stick-in-a-notice-north-queensland-moment-106348]]>

New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Denise Fisher, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

The November 4 referendum in New Caledonia was a breathtaking example of democracy in action, with new consequences for the French territory, France and our region.

The vote had been long-deferred, long-awaited and for some, long-feared. It took place peacefully, a major and poignant achievement that was unimaginable 30 years ago, before the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed. They were designed to end civil war, promising the hand-over of a number of autonomies, to be followed by this referendum.

The result favoured staying with France by 56.4% to 43.6%. Key characteristics were the strong turnout, especially by young Kanaks, the relatively strong vote for independence, and bitter division between the two sides.


Read more: Explainer: New Caledonia’s independence referendum, and how it could impact the region


Voting queues were long, with many waiting two hours to vote. Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, and the turnout was an extraordinary 80.63% of those eligible to vote (all Indigenous Kanaks, and a large proportion of those from other communities with longstanding residence in New Caledonia). This is the highest in recent history, with levels at the last French national elections 37% (2017) and provincial elections 67% (2014).

As French President Emmanuel Macron noted hours after the polls closed, France has fulfilled its promise and delivered a transparent process, legitimised by the unprecedented high turnout, the attendance of 13 UN observers and a Pacific Islands Forum observer team.

What does it mean for New Caledonia?

This relatively close result is probably the best all round for stability. The campaign has been bitter, and even commentary between leaders in television coverage of the results saw strong denunciation, particularly by loyalists.

While potentially stoking fear among loyalists for the future, the sizeable independence vote nonetheless may give pause to their tendency to triumphalism, challenging opinion polls and their own belief that they would win at least 60% and possibly 70% of the vote.

In their confidence, just days before the vote, the loyalists declared that with a massive win, they would seek to reverse the Noumea Accord guarantee of a second and potentially third referendum, an inflammatory step for independence supporters.

For independence leaders, the result vindicates their careful strategy of negotiating under the Noumea Accord for potentially two more votes in 2020 and 2022 in the event of a “no” vote, automatic participation for all Indigenous Kanaks, and mobilising the young.

Young Kanaks voted in large numbers, peacefully, and apparently for independence. This was so even in mainly European Noumea, which returned a surprising 26.29% “yes” vote.

With natural population growth, their numbers will increase as 18-year-olds become eligible to vote in 2020 and 2022. In contrast, the number of voters from other long-standing communities will vary little during this time-frame.

Independence leaders can also work to improve the vote from Kanak island communities, whose turnout remained at traditional lower levels, and those who may have responded this time to one independence party’s call for a boycott.

What does it mean for France?

The relatively close result means both sides may be more likely to participate constructively in the ongoing dialogue process set up by France.

Macron has urged New Caledonians to overcome division and continue the 30-year process “in favour of peace”, emphasising dialogue. He referred to a future within France and the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the territory on November 5 to continue dialogue and urge calm.

The task of France remains delicate: to manage, impartially, a process respecting the positions of both sides. It’s complicated by the fact the 43.6% favouring independence are largely Indigenous Kanaks. They are not leaving, they have regional support, and their interests must be considered in any long-term future.


Read more: Rebel music: the protest songs of New Caledonia’s independence referendum


On the positive side, positions canvassed by independence and loyalist parties alike threw up areas of shared interest that can form the basis of future cooperation. Provincial elections in May 2019 will clarify their support, but risk being undermined by extremist parties on both sides.

What are the implications for the region?

The result guarantees continued regional and international interest in the next steps. Reports of the Pacific Islands Forum and UN observer teams will be considered by their organisations. New Caledonia continues to be represented by the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Separatists in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), set for their own independence referendum next year, and West Papua, both the subject of MSG attention, will take heart.

Macron’s invocation of his Indo-Pacific vision engaging New Caledonia specifically to counter China gives a new edge to the interest in the referendum process by regional countries and partners.

Australia, meanwhile, will continue to retain a close interest in stability in our near neighbour, respecting the process while continuing cooperation with France.

ref. New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart – http://theconversation.com/new-caledonia-votes-to-stay-with-france-this-time-but-independence-supporters-take-heart-106329]]>

How to beat exam stress

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michaela Pascoe, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Exercise and Mental Health, Victoria University

Young people around Australia are currently undergoing end of secondary school exams, which can be a very stressful time. Nearly half (47%) of Australian students report they feel very tense when they study, and 67% report feeling very anxious even if they are well prepared for a test.

All this stress can have an impact on mental health and well-being as well as a negative impact on grades and motivation. It’s important to have some strategies to de-stress during this overwhelming time. Mindfulness-based practices have been shown to reduce stress, and make our negative thoughts seem less threatening. Here are some you can try.


Read more: Three reasons to get your stress levels in check in 2018


Meditation

When doing a meditation, it’s useful to make sure you’re in a conformable environment. Try sitting in a quiet and comfortable place, perhaps crossed legged, or any position comfortable enough to remain still for a few minutes. A meditation session can be a long or short as you like.

Studies from the US and India show mindfulness-based yoga programs in secondary schools have many benefits.

Some people like to meditate with their eyes closed, but this isn’t a requirement. If you want to keep your eyes open, try to maintain a relaxed gaze, and avoid moving your gaze around for the duration of the meditation.

Meditation apps

There are a number of free apps that can be used to guide you through a meditation including ones made by Reachout, Smiling Mind or Headspace.

Using the breath

Paying attention to the breath is a widely used and effective meditation method. This can be as simple as noticing the breath entering and exiting the body. It can be helpful to feel the belly rise and fall with the breath, or to pay attention to the sensation of the breath entering and exiting the nostrils.

It’s normal for your attention to wander. Every time you notice this happening, gently bring your attention back to the breath. Try to make your breath slow and steady. You might like to breathe out of the mouth for the first few breaths, and then continue by breathing both in and out of the nose.


Read more: I have an exam tomorrow but don’t feel prepared – what should I do?


If you want to add to this, you might try counting your breaths. See how many you can reach before your mind wanders and you lose track, and then simply bring your attention back and start again.

Don’t be hard on yourself if your attention wanders. Noticing your attention wander and bringing it back is part of meditation.

Another option might be to count the length of your breaths. Exhaling longer than you inhale can help you relax.

Four-seven-eight

This is a breathing technique that can help you to centre yourself and calm down when you feel stressed. It helps by focusing attention on the breath and also tricks the body into feeling more relaxed by reducing an accelerated heart rate. You can use this any time, anywhere:

  1. exhale deeply through your mouth

  2. take a deep breath through your nose for four counts

  3. hold the breath for seven counts

  4. exhale through your mouth for eight counts

  5. repeat four to eight times.

Using mantras

Using a mantra, which is a phrase repeated over and over, can be helpful to quiet the chatter of the mind. You might try repeating a phrase such as “I am here,” “I am safe,” or “I can do this”. The phrase can be as long or short as you like and can be repeated aloud or in your head.

It can be very useful to pair the repetition of the phrase with the breath. For example, you could say “I am” on your in breath, and “here” on your out breath.

Mindfulness using the senses

Using the senses can be a helpful way to pull your attention to the present moment no matter where you are, centre yourself and engage with your environment. You can practise throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

Here is an exercise you can do to play with paying attention to things you might not usually notice. Try to notice five things:


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Mindfulness using the body

Going to a yoga class can be a great way to explore mindfulness of the body in a supported environment.

Studies from the US and India show mindfulness-based yoga programs in secondary schools can improve grades or mitigate decreases in grades across the school year, improve emotional regulation, improve memory, anger control and fatigue, improve mood and decrease anxiety. Many local studios will provide free or heavily discounted offers for introduction classes.


Read more: Why we should put yoga in the Australian school curriculum


Another option might be to try to some gentle mindful stretching on your own or with a friend. You can try any stretches you like, while paying attention to what is happening in your body as a result of the stretch.

Pay attention to how the muscles feel, both during and in the few seconds after the stretch. Be aware of how the stretch might affect your breathing. Try to maintain a steady, calm, breath throughout the practice. If you mind wanders, just bring it back to the sensations in your body.

You can practise these measures at home around exam time, while you’re lining up to enter your exam, or even in the middle of your exam if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Taking a moment to slow your heart rate and calm your thoughts will pay off in the long run.

ref. How to beat exam stress – http://theconversation.com/how-to-beat-exam-stress-106065]]>

Sutra brings a state of grace to the stage

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By William Peterson, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Flinders University

Review: Sutra, OzAsia Festival.


Sixteen boxes, open on one side and lined up on stage, start flipping toward the audience – the heart-stopping, thunderous crashing of giant wooden boxes larger than a coffin. A dancer pulls a Shaolin monk from one of the boxes with a long pole, the delicate tension and release between them animating the monk. Suddenly, robe-clad monks fling themselves out from a sea of prone boxes, two at a time.

Children in the audience squeal with delight. We are witnessing magic.

Sutra, presented in its Australian premiere as part of Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival, more than merits the critical acclaim heaped upon it. Touring in its tenth year, this spectacular work features 19 Shaolin monks flying, leaping and moving gracefully and purposefully across the stage along with giant boxes that become dramatic characters in the action.


Read more: Dancing Grandmothers offers a moment of communion


Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s fusion of the choreographic universe of contemporary dance with the kung fu techniques of the famed Shaolin monks is both masterful and unexpected. The 19 monks in Sutra are extraordinary acrobats, and we take great delight as they fly, spin, kick, leap, and somersault across the stage.

OzAsia Festival

Many have seen the iconic, famous moves of these monks from China’s famed Shaolin Temple in action films. But here we see those moves — the rapid, virtuouso work with sticks, the fight between two monks with poles topped with shimmering blades, the high kicks and near misses of flying bodies in combat — in a new way.

The boxes are equally the stars of the show. Shifted about by the monks from inside and behind, the boxes walk, crawl, slide, fall, moving much like humans. They are repositioned in an endless number of variations, at times with the complexity of a gigantic Rubik’s Cube. Occasionally they border on the terrifying, as, for instance when they fall forward like dominoes, fanning out in two diagonal lines to the very lip of the stage.

Cherkaoui, with his fluid gestures and Gumby-like body, offers up a series of gentle, quirky choreographic intrusions into the sometimes frantic world of moving boxes and flying monks. Paired with him in a number of ingenious and occasionally lighthearted interventions was a boy monk, who possessed a cheekiness that clearly charmed the audience. While the boy skillfully imitated the movements of the older monks, he also played the part of a boy with his attention-seeking antics and sense of wonder. Indeed, Cherkaoui and the boy grounded what could have been a serious, technical performance in a world of play.

OzAsia Festival

Symon Brzóska’s music, which accompanies much of the onstage action, also offers a different way of seeing. His spare and understated score, played by offstage musicians, at times supports a tension line between dancers with the single vibrating string of a violin or a cello. At other moments, the strings give way to a piano melody that ambles like Erik Satie’s so-called “furniture music,” in turn directing the action, responding delicately to movement.


Read more: While I Was Waiting captures the tragedy of the Syrian civil war in Damascus


In one such moment Cherkaoui and the boy dance together in the box, clinging to the sides, repositioning themselves in an impossibly small space, the boy coming to rest hanging down from the top of the box, bat-like, as Cherokaoui assumes a mediation position below.

OzAsia Festival

Sutra is work of movement, sound, and light, not colour, and both the walls of Antony Gormley’s set and the functional costumes are in shades of grey, the only contrast being the golden hue of the wooden boxes. Directing our attention is his masterful lighting. This was a work with hundreds of moments when tight illumination is required not just on the stage, but well above it. At one such moment we see the interior of sixteen boxes, each in stacks of four, lined up like coffins along the back of the stage. And in each box is a prone monk, clearly and seemingly miraculously illuminated.

In Buddhism, the religious tradition that anchors the spiritual and kinesthetic practices of the Shaolin Monks, sutras are generally short, sacred texts that focus on a particular teaching. They are the collective threads of sacred knowledge.

Thus, this work can be seen as a choreographed sequence of threads, a segmented but seamlessly unified work in which every gesture is completed. We are taken in not just by the skills of these monks, but ultimately also their gracefulness. One does not have to be a Buddhist to feel that this collection of choreographed sutras collectively brought us into something that felt like a state of grace.


Sutra was staged as part of the OzAsia Festival, Adelaide.

ref. Sutra brings a state of grace to the stage – http://theconversation.com/sutra-brings-a-state-of-grace-to-the-stage-106337]]>

Tinkering can achieve a lot. Politics isn’t broken

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Emily Millane, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

One of the key themes in politics this year has been that the political system isn’t delivering. In the economy, we are told we need big “reform”, like in the days when Keating floated the dollar, Hawke slashed tariffs and Howard taxed goods and services.

They were big, bold economic changes, so the story goes.

Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott is the latest of many to make the call.

We have become complacent, she said. “The longer we wait to regain our enthusiasm for reform, the fewer options we have left on the table.”

It has become the consensus at repeated conferences. While we need fresh rounds of reform, the days when our leaders simply got things done are behind us.

Yet not nearly enough time is spent considering the reasons why those reforms were successful, and what constituted success.

Big reforms are aberrations

It’s easy to bemoan that big reforms are not being repeated. There are things history teaches us about the nature of policy change. One is that big changes are aberrations.

Another is that change happens all the time, less perceptibly, over increments.


Read more: Eight charts on our growing tax problem: what abandoning tax reform means for taxpayers


As commentators Jessica Irvine and Ross Gittins each pointed out in recent columns, many of those who lament the lack of reform have barrows to push, often because of their own vested interests.

Nevertheless, there are good arguments for reform, and frustration that it seems to have been replaced by theatre, such as a debate over whether the goods and services tax should be applied to tampons, something Professor Miranda Stewart of the ANU and Melbourne University described as a “great example of how the big picture gets lost in a fight about narrow issues of marginal benefit”.



Yet only big reforms seem real

For a long time, the way political scientists, historians and public policymakers conceptualised change was to focus on big change.

Think of revolutions, the fall of regimes, the introduction of entirely new systems. These “critical junctures” were the examples we used to understand what constituted change.

But more recently there has emerged a growing body of thought that suggests incremental change can have similarly transformative effects.

Incremental change can take the form of new rules that are layered on top of existing systems, of policy being applied differently by different administrations, of the piecemeal displacement of existing rules, and of experiments.

Most reforms start with tinkering

Liberal backbencher Trevor Evans has been talking up experiments, small ones.

In a recent comment to journalists Evans said:

We can defeat the incrementalist paradigm by using incrementalism as a way of proving that things work.


Read more: Speaking with: Andrew Leigh on why we need more randomised trials in policy and law


Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh has written a book about the virtues of small scale experiments to determine what works entitled Randomistas.

Former Treasury and Reserve Bank head Bernie Fraser said last month that when faced with bad policies or programs that governments were unwilling to change the best course was usually “to hammer away at what are seen as the flaws and damaging consequences of particular approaches and hope that over time desirable changes will come”.

And keep growing

The transformative power of hammering away means we need to pay close attention to small changes and their implications for fairness and efficiency. Over time they might grow into big ones.

Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme took years of campaigning, of building coalitions of support, of working out and re-working the detail. With Medicare, it involved reintroducing a system that had been abolished.


Read more: NDIS: a step out of the dark


The Hayne Royal Commission is considering the removal of all commission-based fees in financial services.

This is after two major investigations into financial services, the one that led to the Future of Financial Advice Act in 2012 and the Financial Services Inquiry in 2014, opened the door while permitting commission-based sales to continue in some parts of the industry.


Read more: Explainer: the new future of financial advice


Consider some of the big economic policies introduced in Australia in the last 30 years, such as the introduction of the goods and services tax in 1999 or compulsory superannuation in 1992.

Both took years of unsuccessful attempts to introduce them, by both sides of politics.


Read more: How changes noted in the 1992-93 cabinet papers affect our super today


My own as yet unpublished research into the history of compulsory superannuation found it has roots that extend back much further than its introduction in 1992.

Labor’s shift to accepting the principles of a government-run compulsory scheme under Whitlam in the early 1970s made it easier for the party to pursue a shift to a union and private enterprise based scheme from the late 1970s onwards.

Which makes details matter

Since the decision to introduce superannuation under the Accords in 1985, new rules have been layered on top of the idea of superannuation, among them the decision to introduce a flat tax of 15% on contributions and earnings in 1988.

The structure of these tax arrangements has had implications for the fairness of the scheme and who it rewards.

They are examples of the sometimes-profound effect of incremental changes.

ref. Tinkering can achieve a lot. Politics isn’t broken – http://theconversation.com/tinkering-can-achieve-a-lot-politics-isnt-broken-105819]]>

FactCheck: does Victoria have Australia’s highest rate of crime?

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Don Weatherburn, Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research; Adjunct Professor, School of Social Science, UNSW

But sadly, under Daniel Andrews Victoria has won the unenviable title as the state with the country’s highest rate of crime.

– Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party Matthew Guy, speaking at the party’s election campaign launch, 28 October, 2018

The Victorian Liberal Party has promised to take a tough stance on crime if elected on November 24, with proposals including mandatory minimum sentencing for repeat offenders of serious crimes (including murder, rape, aggravated home invasions, aggravated burglaries and car-jackings) and an overhaul of the bail system.

At the party’s election campaign launch, Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy said Labor had presided over a “law and order crisis”, adding that under Premier Daniel Andrews, “Victoria has won the unenviable title as the state with the country’s highest rate of crime”.

Is that right?

Response from Matthew Guy’s office

The Conversation asked a spokesperson for Matthew Guy for sources and comment to support his statement, but did not receive a response before deadline.

Nevertheless, it is possible to check the statement against publicly available data.


Verdict

Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party Matthew Guy said that “under Daniel Andrews, Victoria has won the unenviable title as the state with the country’s highest rate of crime”. The assertion is incorrect.

The Andrews government was elected in November 2014. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Crime Victimisation Survey data, between July 2014 and June 2017 (the latest figures), Victoria did not top the nation in terms of crime rates for any but one of the 11 measured categories of personal and property crime.

Looking at the Crime Victimisation Survey results for three years up to and including 2016-17, Victoria showed the highest rate of sexual assault in two of those years. However, the ABS said the sexual assault data must be used with caution due to the small sample size.

For the other ten crime categories, the Victorian crime rate was lower than at least one other state or territory in each of the three years considered.

ABS Recorded Crime data show that between 2014 and 2017, Victoria did not have the highest rate of murder in the nation, nor did it have the highest rate of criminal offenders proceeded against by police at any time between November 2014 and June 2017.


Comparing crime rates between states and territories

Making comparisons between recorded crime rates in different states and territories is fraught with difficulty, due to the differences in police practices and counting methods across the nation.

The most reliable data set for this task is the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Crime Victimisation Survey. Published annually since 2008-09, the national survey collects data on people’s experience of violence and household crime.

The survey records both reported and unreported crimes. Given that not all crimes are reported to police, this provides us with a bigger picture.

The questions asked in the ABS Crime Victimisation Survey are the same for all states and territories. The victimisation rates represent the prevalence of selected crimes in Australia, expressed as a percentage of the total relevant population.

Personal crime statistics

This part of the survey records experiences of crime across: physical assault, face-to-face threatened physical assault, non-face-to-face threatened physical assault, sexual assault and robbery.

The Andrews government was sworn in on December 4, 2014, and the latest ABS Crime Victimisation Survey data are for 2016-17.

In the years 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, Victoria did not have the highest rate in the nation for physical assault, face-to-face threatened physical assault, non-face-to-face threatened physical assault, or robbery.

Victoria did have the highest reported rate for sexual assault in 2015-16, and equal highest in 2014-15. However, the ABS warned that the data for Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia should be treated with caution due to the small sample size, and a relative standard error of 25% to 50%.

In addition, the data for Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory had a relative standard error greater than 50%, and was considered too unreliable for general use.

The most recent Crime Victimisation Survey data are presented below.



Property crimes statistics

The property crime element of the ABS survey covers home break-ins, attempted home break-ins, motor vehicle thefts, thefts from motor vehicles, malicious damage to property and other theft.

At no time in the years 2014-15, 2015-16 or 2016-17 did Victoria have the nation’s highest rate of victimisation on any of these measures.

The chart below shows the latest available data:



Murder and homicide

We can look to a different ABS data set – ABS Recorded Crime – Victims – to assess the murder rates across the states and territories for the calendar years from 2014 to 2017 (the latest year for which data are available).

However, there are missing data points in this record: no data were collected in the Northern Territory in 2016, Tasmania in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015, or the Australian Capital Territory in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Even with the missing data points, we can see that Victoria did not have the highest recorded murder rate in any of the years from the election of the Andrews government to 2017.



The terms homicide and murder are sometimes used interchangeably, but in fact they mean different things. Homicide is a broader term that includes some counts of manslaughter, murder-suicides, and other incidents.

The Australian Institute of Criminology publishes data from its National Homicide Monitoring Program. The latest report, published in 2017, shows information between July 2012 and June 2014, before the Andrews government was elected.

But as you can see from the chart below, the Northern Territory had a higher homicide incident rate than Victoria (and all other states and the Australian Capital Territory) every year between 1999-2000 and 2013-14. You can explore an interactive version of the chart here.



The issues with recorded crime data

The ABS publishes “Recorded Crime” data on the number and rate of crime victims (with the latest data reporting on the 2017 calendar year), and offenders formally proceeded against by police (with the latest data reporting on the 2016-17 financial year).

These data sets aren’t ideal for comparing crime rates between states and territories, for a few reasons.

The data come from state and territory police administrative computer systems. Each state has subtly different recording methods and police practices, and this affects the comparability of data.

In addition, people’s willingness to report crime to police can differ across the states and territories. As such, the crime victims data are less reliable for measuring crime rates than the Crime Victimisation Survey.

The ABS introduced rules to guide the recording and counting of criminal incidents for statistical purposes, to enable consistency across the states and territories. But there remains some variability in the interpretation of the rules.

The offender data are considered to be a reliable indication of legal actions. But they’re not a direct indicator of crime rates, due to the issues outlined above. Different jurisdictions also have different crime “clear up rates” (the percentage of a category of crimes that are solved).

The number of people arrested and proceeded against, and the types of crimes they are arrested for, can have as much to do with changes in legislation, police policy and practices in different jurisdictions as the number of criminal incidents committed.

It’s very important to keep those caveats in mind when looking at the data in the following chart.



What’s the picture for Victoria?

The data in the chart below is published by the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency, and relates to crime in Victoria only.

The offences shown were chosen as their recorded incidence is generally considered to reflect their prevalence in the community, and the recorded rates are not overly impacted by law enforcement initiatives.

The recorded rates of drug offences and justice offences, by comparison, can be heavily affected by discretionary police decisions.



– Don Weatherburn, with Jackie Fitzgerald, director, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research


Blind review

This FactCheck is accurate and based on reliable data. The verdict is correct: Victoria does not have the highest rate of crime.

It it worth observing that the latest federal Report on Government Services (2018) does highlight a significant drop in perceptions of public safety in Victoria. Often the public’s perceptions do not match the reality.

It is also noteworthy that the number and rate of criminal incidents in Victoria have been at higher levels in recent years compared to before the Andrews government came to power. – Terry Goldsworthy

ref. FactCheck: does Victoria have Australia’s highest rate of crime? – http://theconversation.com/factcheck-does-victoria-have-australias-highest-rate-of-crime-105846]]>

How to tackle NZ’s teacher shortage and better reflect student diversity

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ruth Boyask, Director of Postgraduate Programmes in Education, Auckland University of Technology

New Zealand is facing a major teacher shortage. At least 850 new teaching staff are needed to guarantee that all primary and secondary school children have a teacher next year.

Teachers are poised to take rolling strike action next week over pay equity. School principals and teacher unions say low pay and lack of equity are significant contributors to the escalating teacher shortage. The sector claims realistic pay increases will address teacher recruitment and retention problems.

However, the New Zealand government has chosen to respond with an urgent drive to recruit teachers from overseas as part of a package of initiatives.

My research into the unintended consequences of policies for equity and diversity in schools suggests this strategy to import teachers from the UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Fiji risks creating a mismatch between the ethnic diversity among school children and the teaching workforce.


Read more: Fixing the shortage of specialist science and maths teachers will be hard, not impossible


A short-term fix

The government’s main initiative is to recruit teachers from overseas to New Zealand schools to ensure they are fully staffed. According to Secretary of Education Iona Holsted the short-term solution is to “buy ready-made teachers for 2019”.

Schools and unions are not so sure the government’s plan will ease the teacher shortage. They say the money going towards the recruitment campaign would be better spent by raising teacher pay for both recruitment and retention.

Changes in education policy can have unintended consequences, especially short-term initiatives brought in to solve immediate problems. Longer-term policy solutions for teacher recruitment and retention would consider the teacher workforce in context, including its demography and purpose.

Fundamentally, the question of how many teachers we need cannot be separated from the role we want them to perform, and who is best suited to this role.

The education ministry’s recruitment package has tried to mitigate unintended consequences by targeting teachers whose qualifications are similar to New Zealand, including in the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Fiji.

The ministry states they are working with the Teaching Council on support for these overseas-trained teachers to induct them into the cultural context of New Zealand.

Diversity in New Zealand schools

Taking a longer-term view raises the question of whether the selected countries can deliver teachers who fit within the New Zealand context better than those in other countries.

For a decade, I have been monitoring data on student ethnicity, collected by the Ministry of Education from New Zealand schools. These data indicate that school rolls are getting steadily and consistently more ethnically diverse.

What the statistics in the following chart show is a consistent decline in the percentage of European/Pākehā students, and increase in Māori, Pasifika and particularly Asian students in New Zealand state schools since 2003.

In 2017, 74% of teaching staff were European/Pākehā, compared with 50.9% students. The total number of European teachers in primary and secondary schools increased from 45,198 in 2004 to 51,117 in 2017.

The greatest percentage increase in students is in the Asian category, yet teachers of Asian ethnicity represent only 4% of the teacher workforce.

In 2004, 9% of teachers were categorised as Māori. While it increased to 11% by 2017, this is still well short of the 24.4% in the student population.

The list of countries from which the New Zealand government is seeking new teachers is likely to further increase the number of teachers with a European background.

Even in the case of South Africa where Black Africans are significantly in the majority, most South African migrants to New Zealand are white. In 2013, just under half the graduates of initial teacher education programmes in South Africa were white, even though they represent only about 8% of the population.

Challenges for the long term

The strategy to import teachers from the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Fiji will do little to improve representation for indigenous Māori in the teacher workforce. This should be a priority in keeping with the state’s commitment to the protection of Māori interests through the Treaty of Waitangi. It is also unlikely to provide better cultural recognition for New Zealand’s many Asian migrant communities.

There is a possibility that the campaign attracts teachers from Fiji who identify with Pacific ethnicities. Pasifika teachers presently represent only 3% of the workforce.

If the numbers of teachers brought in through this scheme follow general migration patterns in New Zealand, we are likely to see the majority come from the United Kingdom. Indeed, RNZ’s reporting of the teacher recruitment campaign has focused on British teachers.

While China and India rival the United Kingdom as the main sources of long-term arrivals and migrants, both countries have been excluded from the scheme. There may be grounds for excluding them from this particular scheme, but it is the scheme itself that should be questioned. There are long-term implications of making the teaching workforce more ethnically similar when the student population is diversifying, especially when the ethnicity in question is the group in decline in the student population.

Considering the ethnic and cultural make-up of 21st-century New Zealand, we should be asking why education policy continues to associate a good education with a Euro-centric, and especially British, education. Social justice for New Zealand children includes recognition and representation of their different cultures in public institutions, including schools.

ref. How to tackle NZ’s teacher shortage and better reflect student diversity – http://theconversation.com/how-to-tackle-nzs-teacher-shortage-and-better-reflect-student-diversity-105804]]>

Some diseases, like mine, deteriorate rapidly – disability services need to keep up

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Justin Yerbury, Research Fellow in molecular genetics of Motor Neurone Disease, University of Wollongong

Many people living with the cruel and often rapidly progressing motor neurone disease (MND) are going underfunded during what is likely the most stressful time of their life.

An independent evaluation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) by researchers at Flinders University found the scheme is failing to take into account the progressive nature and short life expectancy of participants with degenerative diseases.

I’m a molecular biologist and study of the origins of motor neurone disease. I have also had the disease for a little over two years.


Read more: What we know, don’t know and suspect about what causes motor neuron disease


Many researchers around the globe are frantically searching for a cure, myself included. But the slow grind of lab-based medical research and the seemingly impossible task of translating this work to positive clinical trials is in stark contrast to the relentless and rapid progression of the disease.

I told my story in March on ABC’s Australian Story, and will feature on the program again tonight.

Remind me again, what is MND?

MND is the name given to a group of neurological disorders in which the nerve cells that control the movement of voluntary muscles, known as motor neurons, selectively die.

Shutterstock

A progressive paralysis ensues as the muscles of movement, speech, swallowing and breathing no longer have nerves to activate them.

MND affects each person differently, as do the initial symptoms, rate and pattern of progression, and the survival time. The average life expectancy is two to three years from diagnosis but some people with MND can live for up to ten years or longer.

There is currently only one drug approved for use in MND. Sadly, the benefits are modest: studies suggest it may extend life expectancy by three months.

While the hunt for new, more effective drugs goes on, research shows the quality of care a person receives can not only increase quality of life but also increase life span. Access to multidisciplinary care – involving medical, nursing and allied health professionals (physiotherapists, dieticians and occupational therapists) – has been reported to improve both quality of life and survival, by seven to 24 months.

The survival advantage experienced by patients attending a multidisciplinary clinic can be in part explained by access to non-invasive ventilation. Studies have shown that use of a Bi-PAP machine – a small ventilator that helps with breathing – can prolong life by up to 14 months.

But this is only part of the benefit. The increased survival also relates to the complex decision-making processes that occur within a multidisciplinary team and the focus on proactive intervention, and early, holistic care.

This might include, for example, addressing weight loss with dietary supplementation and managing saliva secretions with botox injections, while tracking lung function and neurological changes. Importantly, such care teams also have provisions for rapid access to care when symptoms quickly change.

Quick progression, slow access

The NDIS, for those who have been able to access it, is having a positive, life-changing impact. For me, access to a plan supported my return home from hospital to live with my family. It has allowed me once again to thrive at work.

But my road to approval was not straightforward and the process placed undue stress on my family at an already traumatic period of our lives.


Read more: The NDIS is delivering ‘reasonable and necessary’ supports for some, but others are missing out


Others with MND continue to experience a protracted planning process and struggle to receive NDIS plans that take their progressing and complex needs into account.

To understand one of the major problems we need to examine the juxtaposition of a slow, cumbersome NDIS approval process with the rapidly progressive nature of MND.

While NDIS plans are usually for 12 months, within a three to six month window of time, it is very possible that a person with MND may progress from being able to walk independently, to needing a powered electric wheelchair.

My rapidly changing needs meant that while waiting for approval for a ramp or lift to access my home, it became unsafe for me to leave the house. Rather than see me house-bound my father-in-law built a ramp from kindly donated materials.

Others are not so fortunate. Another person I know with MND, Mary, has to shower under a hose in the laundry as she continues to wait for approval for bathroom modifications, and Helen fell and broke her spine during her 12-month wait for an electric wheelchair. Sadly, Adrian died before his wheelchair was even delivered.

‘Value for money’

A problem at the core of all MND-related difficulties with the NDIS is that the projected short lifespan of those with MND makes the NDIS baulk at funding high-cost items and modifications.

We are not perceived as being “value for money”. Multiple times during my approval processes, I was asked to prove I was going to live long enough to make a purchase value for money. Other people with MND have had similar experiences.


Read more: Explainer: how much does the NDIS cost and where does this money come from?


Decision-making about costs must not come at the expense of the dignity or safety of people living with MND.

There is an urgent need for systemic changes to address the slow and stressful planning process for people with rapidly deteriorating conditions like MND in light of their complex and changing needs and limited life expectancy.

The Australian Story episode No Surrender featuring Justin Yerbury will be broadcast on ABC TV tonight, Monday 5 November, at 8pm or on iview.

ref. Some diseases, like mine, deteriorate rapidly – disability services need to keep up – http://theconversation.com/some-diseases-like-mine-deteriorate-rapidly-disability-services-need-to-keep-up-106157]]>

Curious Kids: Why do people grow to certain sizes?

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anna Vinkhuyzen, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome: find out how to enter at the bottom. You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


Why do people grow in certain sizes? – Audrey, age 6, Brisbane.


About 150 years ago, there was a very curious English person who asked the same question. His name was Sir Francis Galton.

One day, Sir Francis Galton looked at his friends. He saw that most of his taller friends had taller parents and most of his shorter friends had shorter parents. Francis Galton was one of the first scientists to do some tests to work out why this was the case. He published his findings in a book. Not all of his ideas were correct, though. Some of his ideas were actually very wrong. But he made a start on what we now call “genetics” or the science of genes. I’ll explain what that means.

Children and parents

Children with brown hair often have parents with brown hair. Children who are good runners, often have parents who are very good runners. Children who are a bit shy often have parents who can be a bit shy.

Like parents and children, brothers are sisters are quite alike too.

Do you look like your brother or sister? Have you had grown-ups saying to you: “Oh, you look just like your mum (or dad)!”

The reason behind all this is a thing called DNA. That stands for “deoxyribonucleic acid”, but don’t worry, everyone just calls it DNA.

Humans have a special code, and it’s called DNA

Every human carries an instruction booklet with a very special code. Actually, we carry trillions of instruction booklets. In each booklet, the same special code is written. The code, called DNA, is made out of only four letters, A, C, T, and G. This looks simple, but it is very cleverly set up.

Our eyes can’t read the code, but our bodies can. The code tells our body what to do and how to look. For example, it tells our hair to grow curly or straight, or to make our eyes brown or blue. But also, how much to grow and when to stop growing. Some people have instruction booklets with a code that tells their bodies to grow tall. Other people have a code that tells their body to grow to a smaller size.

Did you know that DNA code is unique for every person? That means there is nobody in the entire world with the same code as you – unless you have an identical twin brother or sister.

Only your identical twin has the same DNA as you. michaelross/flickr, CC BY

Read more: Curious Kids: How do we get allergic to food?


Your code is very similar to your biological parents’ code. This is because they pass on their code to you. You share half of your DNA code with your mother and half of your code with your father. If you’re adopted – or your parents used a donor egg or donor sperm – then you share half your DNA code with the person whose egg and person whose sperm were used to make you.

So your code that tells your body what size to grow in is similar to your biological parents’ code on what size to grow in.

Even though our DNA code is very similar to our biological parents’ DNA code, we all still turn out a little bit different. This is because you have your own experiences.

Experiences are a part of being human

Every human being has experiences. An experience is something we do, or something that happens to us. Eating is an experience.

Some experiences we share, others we experience on our own.

For our body to follow the code in our instructions booklets, it needs energy. Energy comes from eating food, and more importantly, eating healthy food. If we don’t eat, we won’t grow. Even if the code in our instruction booklets is telling our body to grow tall. Some children get to eat lots of food that makes them grow. Other children may not get enough food or don’t eat healthy food.

Getting sick is also an experience. Some diseases may make you grow less. These days, we are getting sick less than humans did in the past and have more healthy food than the people who lived a long time ago. That’s why we are all a bit taller than the people who lived a long time ago.

So, both your DNA code and your experiences make you grow to a certain size.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we have bones?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. You can:

* Email your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
* Tell us on Facebook

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Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.

ref. Curious Kids: Why do people grow to certain sizes? – http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-why-do-people-grow-to-certain-sizes-105131]]>

Dressing up for Melbourne Cup Day, from a racehorse point of view

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

Melbourne Cup is upon us and racegoers will dress in their finest, with prizes awarded for the smartest fashions on the field.

Just like the punters, the equine stars of the track may also be wearing a range of gear in the hope of gaining a winning edge.

Racing Australia’s list of approved gear covers more than 100 items that can be used in horse racing.


Read more: Why horse-racing in Australia needs a social licence to operate


We’d like to help you identify what any racehorse you see may be wearing, and to distinguish between winkers and blinkers, nose rolls and nose bands, ear plugs and ear muffs.

So, let’s take a look at some of these items available in thoroughbred racing.

From blinkers to bandages

Blinkers, visors and winkers are cups or padding attached to the head to limit a horse’s vision in various ways. With their extraordinary wraparound vision, horses can normally see across 320 degrees without moving their heads.

The use of this type of equipment is thought to minimise distractions from other horses in the race, enabling the horse to focus on running rather than on other runners (or indeed the crowd).


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Pacifiers are mesh cups sewn onto a fabric bonnet to protect the eyes from debris kicked up by other runners, something that is believed to cause some horses to slow down.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Ear muffs are sock-like and encase the whole ear. They are worn in the mounting yard and throughout the race, reducing the effect of the noise from race crowds which can frighten some horses. Ear muffs can be used in combination with blinkers, pacifiers and winkers.

Ear plugs, which are inserted into the ear, must be removed once the horse enters the barrier.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

A nose roll is a thick sheepskin sausage that is used to stop horses being distracted by objects in their immediate foreground such as shadows.

Nose bands are straps added to the bridle and encircle the upper and lower jaws. They can be used to prevent horses from opening their mouths, giving the jockey greater control.


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


Tongue-ties involve looping a piece of elastic band, strap or nylon stocking around the tongue and securing it to the lower jaw. They are also thought to improve control as well as prevent displacement of the soft palate that can interfere with airflow to the lungs. A metal or rubber version called a tongue clip can also be used.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Germany has banned tongue-ties in racing and they are banned in most other horse sports around the globe.

RSPCA Australia is keen for tongue-ties to be banned in Australian racing due to concerns including the tightness with which they are applied.

Boots and bandages are used to prevent injuries to the legs, notably self-inflicted injuries in horses that can accidentally strike one of their legs with another, and also to protect recent skin wounds.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The bit

More than 60 different designs of bit are permitted in racing. The main purpose of a bit is to apply discomfort on the tongue and lower jaw of the horse to motivate it to change its speed or direction.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Many of the bits on the approved list are simple, ancient designs, whereas others are complex pieces of engineering with flanges, clips and jaw-encircling structures.

These are intended to address specific behavioural problems such as lugging (veering to one side) or over-galloping (galloping with a high head position while straining at the bit).

Relatively little is known about how bits function inside a horse’s mouth but radiographic studies back in the 1980s on live horses have shown that many bits do not work as believed.

The tail chain

The tail chain is a short length of metal chain secured to the top of the tail by a rubber band and then hangs between a horse’s buttocks.

Anecdotally, it is believed to dissuade the horse from taking air into its rectum as it gallops, thereby preventing abdominal pain and associated poor performance.

However, given the anatomy of the horse’s gastro-intestinal tract, it seems unlikely that such air intake could affect performance in this way, or alternatively that a tail chain could reduce any such effect.

It is possible that the chain hitting the soft tissues of the perineal area may motivate the horse to gallop harder, which could be seen as performance-enhancing.


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Does the gear make a difference?

A fascinating study of the behaviour and apparatus that horses wear when racing revealed associations with horse performance on the day. It showed poor performance was associated with boots, bandages, jaw-encircling nose bands, nose rolls, and pacifiers.

But this study was published in 1997 and since then there has been little published independent research on the use of any racing gear and its effect on racehorse performance.

The potential for gear to affect performance is fundamental to the integrity of racing. The rules of racing state that permission to use any piece of approved gear other than basic snaffle bits has to be given by the stewards before the horse starts the race.

Once permission has been given, the horse must continue to race in that gear unless the stewards grant permission for it to be changed. Form guides and starters lists detail gear changes to enable punters to assess the potential effect on the horse’s performance.

Understandably, trainers will swear by particular items of gear for horses with certain tendencies, especially if that item was worn on the day of a horse’s best performance, even though there is no relevant empirical evidence.

More research needed

The scientific community has only recently begun to put ancient and modern theories on horse handling and training to the test in a bid to identify which techniques and devices work and why.


Read more: The Hendra vaccine has no effect on racehorse performance


This discipline of equitation science is disclosing in research (involving one of us, Paul) how many horses are asymmetrical when racing.

An example of asymmetry is when a horse preferentially gallops with either the right or left leg leading. This has implications for the direction of the track which, for example, is clockwise in New South Wales and anticlockwise in Victoria.

Other research (also involving Paul) has looked at whether whips actually work on tired horses and how we can maximise our safety when working with horses.

Given time and the right level of funding, equitation scientists will use evidence from the years of racing records to show what works best and what doesn’t. Until then, we must trust trainers to prioritise their horses’ welfare when making selections from the register of approved gear.

ref. Dressing up for Melbourne Cup Day, from a racehorse point of view – http://theconversation.com/dressing-up-for-melbourne-cup-day-from-a-racehorse-point-of-view-104771]]>

The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple

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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

From afar, the US midterm elections might seem to be all about Donald Trump, and there is some truth to this. The man, as has been the case for some years now, is unavoidable.

More than 700 days after the host of The Apprentice was elected to lead the world’s largest military and economic power, this will be the first chance for Americans to express buyer’s remorse at the ballot box by potentially giving the Democrats control of the House (and less likely the Senate) in order to rein in the president.

Trump himself is not up for re-election, though. Voters will be making decisions about local and state representatives, so it would be a mistake to presume the outcome will be entirely dependent on questions of federal leadership.


Read more: Calculating the odds of a Trump impeachment: don’t bet the house on it


However, Democrat Tip O’Neill’s famous claim that “all politics is local” is not entirely true here; this election has local, national and international implications.

This is why, once again, non-Americans are taking such an interest in an American election. Many believe that Trump and his Republican Party represent much of what endangers the world.

Who is up for election?

Members of the US House of Representatives serve two-year terms, and senators six-year terms. This means that all 435 members of the House and 35 out of 100 senators (33 plus two empty seats due to resignations) are up for re-election on November 6.

Due to the Democrats’ success in the 2012 election, just nine of those 35 Senate seats are Republican-controlled. So the Democrats’ chance of taking the Senate is slim – around 1-in-7, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – despite the fact Republicans currently hold only a narrow 51-49 majority.

Even with Trump’s outrages, the Democrats’ chances of taking control of the Senate are slim. Justin Casterline/EAP

For those outside the US, this may seem remarkable, given the profoundly unethical decisions enacted by the Trump administration, and the parade of misogyny that surrounded Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court.

And yet, there are a number of plausible scenarios in which the minority party could actually lose ground.


Read more: When Trump comes to Australia, let’s hope protesters get more creative than the baby blimp


To forge a path to victory in the Senate, Democrats will need to retain seats in states that Trump won easily in 2016 – North Dakota, Montana and Missouri – as well as in Florida, where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson faces a tough race against multimillionaire Republican Governor Rick Scott.

They’ll also need to pick up a seat or two in the traditionally Republican states of Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi (listed in order of likelihood). The fact that Mississippi and Tennessee are even in play for the Democrats is noteworthy because Trump won both in 2016 by over 15 percentage points.

Texas is one of the seats Republicans need to win to retain their hold on the Senate. Larry W. Smith/EAP

But given the circumstances, the Democrats remain unlikely to win a Senate majority.

A Democratic victory in the House is far more probable, with FiveThirtyEight.com giving the minority party a 6-in-7 chance to take back control.

Because all House seats are up for grabs, this is the contest that many will view as a national referendum on the Trump administration. And the results will be shaped by voter turnout.

Typically, turnout for midterm elections is older and whiter than it is for presidential elections, and this is a demographic that favours Republicans. The Republicans have maintained or taken control of the House in every midterm election since 1994, with the exception of 2006, when President George W. Bush’s popularity had plummeted to the mid-30s due to his mishandling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

According to recent polling averages, Trump’s approval rating has been hovering at just over 40%.

Why is gerrymandering significant?

This election is consequential for far more than the future of the Trump administration. Republican victories in state legislatures and governors’ races, which occur alongside the national election, will provide another opportunity for the party to consolidate its power through gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the underhanded process whereby elected politicians redraw federal and state electorate boundaries to group voters by demographics and improve their chances of success at the ballot box.

These lines are redrawn every 10 years, following a nationwide census. The next census is in 2020, so the lines will next be redrawn in 2021. This year’s midterm election is therefore crucial in determining which party will control each state during the upcoming redistricting process.

Gerrymandering tends to be a tactic of Republicans, who currently hold the majority of seats in 32 of America’s 50 state houses. Furthermore, the task of gerrymandering is more straightforward for Republicans, as Democratic voters are typically packed together in urban centres, while Republicans are usually spread out across states.

In a number of states, Republicans have engineered things so Democrats are sure to win just a few seats with massive majorities, while Republicans are favoured to capture far more by closer margins, for instance a 55% to 45% majority.

However, there is a catch. In a wave election, as this one may well be, those Republicans who would normally expect to get elected with 55% of the vote could be vulnerable. This may occur in this year’s House races in North Carolina.

What is the effect of voter suppression?

Further impeding the Democrats’ chances is the systematic and widespread strategy of voter suppression, which is typically utilised by Republicans to prevent likely Democrat voters, such as African Americans, from voting.

One particularly alarming example has been happening in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the country’s first female African American governor.

Stacey Abrams (right) is attempting to make history in Georgia. Tami Chappell/EAP

Her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, also happens to be Georgia’s secretary of state. His office had been strictly enforcing a new law known as “exact match”, under which voter-registration applications are dismissed for absurdly minor discrepancies, such as missing hyphens or slightly mismatched signatures.


Read more: Six types of ugly American, and Donald Trump is all of them


A judge recently halted this practice, but over 53,000 registration applications have already been suspended. African Americans comprise 32% of the state’s population and nearly 70% of the rejected applications.

This kind of behaviour is not confined to a few rogue states. Other methods of voter suppression, such as felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws and reductions in the number of polling booths in African American communities, are routinely used across the country to disproportionately target minority voters.

Even the fact that voting takes place on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend, marginalises people who cannot get off work. These people are likely to be poorer and less likely to be white.

Will Trump be impeached?

As was proven on the evening of November 8, 2016, while polls can show likelihoods, nothing is guaranteed. However, the polls currently suggest that the most likely outcome of these midterms is a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

What this would mean for Trump is more frustration. The Democrats would be able to investigate the president’s questionable financial deals, potential fraud related to Trump University and possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 election. They could also push for the release of Trump’s much sought-after tax returns.

It seems likely the House will find grounds to impeach Trump. But, hold your breath – that would be only step one of a lengthy process.

Dismissal of a president requires 67 of 100 Senate votes, a threshold that makes such an event unlikely. Given the president’s propensity for mendacity, it will be intriguing to see whether he is able to avoid any perjury charges that might arise from Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. But again, such charges are unlikely to lead to his removal from office.

Yet who can say? Whatever the outcome on November 6, there is much about the future of US politics – and the global ramifications – that remains entirely unpredictable.

ref. The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple – http://theconversation.com/the-us-midterm-elections-are-being-billed-as-a-referendum-on-trump-but-its-not-that-simple-105133]]>

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