View from The Hill: Morrison’s Gilmore candidate is the man who’s been everywhere

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

Scott Morrison’s controversial move to install former Labor party president Warren Mundine as Liberal candidate in the ultra-marginal NSW seat of Gilmore has triggered a local implosion.

As members of the Liberal state executive were voting on Tuesday to admit Mundine to their party and nominate him as the candidate for the marginal seat, Grant Schultz, who had been selected by the locals in December, was exiting the party, as were some of his supporters.

South Coast state Liberal MP Shelley Hancock (who is Speaker in the NSW parliament) pointedly observed: “Only recently Scott Morrison was talking about the importance of grassroots processes when preselecting candidates”.

Schultz, son of the blunt-talking former MP, the late Alby Schultz, told the South Coast Register that his dad would be “rolling in his grave in utter disgust and anger” at what had happened.

“He would take the same view of mine that the leadership of Scott Morrison has taken the party to the days of Eddie Obeid and the faceless men of Labor,” said Schultz, who is a local real estate agent. “To turn their backs on the democratic principles of this party is quite frankly extraordinary and without precedent in this party’s history.”

Not quite. Late last year Craig Kelly, who helped bring Malcolm Turnbull down, was protected from his locals who wanted to deselect him. The Prime Minister feared that unless Kelly’s future was guaranteed, the maverick backbencher could defect to the crossbench.

Read more: Turnbull versus Morrison in Liberal crisis over Craig Kelly

Morrison and senior party figures have been in negotiations with Mundine for months, and party research has tested his popularity. Gilmore is currently held by Ann Sudmalis, who last year announced she wouldn’t stand again, alleging branch stacking and bullying against her.

Read more: Morrison tells Liberal organisation to act on bullying after second woman flags she’ll quit

Gilmore stretches along the NSW coast from Kiama in the north to Tuross Head in the south. It takes in popular resort and retirement areas and farming land.

The government’s grip on the seat is wafer-thin – less than 1%. In the present climate, it is likely to be lost to Labor whoever the Liberals put up. With this kerfuffle, and Schultz declaring he will run as an independent, their chances could simply be further diminished.

To complicate the picture, the Nationals are considering whether to enter the race, with local branch members wanting former state minister Katrina Hodgkinson to stand.

Philip Ruddock, president of the NSW party, explained the refusal to accept Schultz in a brief statement. “Mr Schultz nominated against a sitting member who later withdrew and given these circumstance the party has elected to not proceed with the endorsement. The party should be able to consider the best candidate to represent voters, their aspirations and concerns in each community.”

Mundine doesn’t live in the electorate, although he has family connections there. He has been quoted as saying, “I love the place. I feel most comfortable in that area, for me it’s like going home.”

ABC election analyst Antony Green describes Mundine as “a brave choice” (in the Humphrey Appleby sense), pointing out that “it’s the sort of regional seat where personal vote matters.”

In 2001 Mundine ran unsuccessfully in third place on the ALP Senate ticket. Later he failed to get Labor preselection for a lower house seat.

He was ALP national president in 2006-07. But his public profile has come through his role as an Indigenous voice. He was a member of John Howard’s Indigenous advisory council, and chaired that of Tony Abbott, a position he lost under Malcolm Turnbull. (In late November Mundine tweeted “I wish Malcolm Termite would crawl back into his little hole he come from.”)

Mundine left the ALP in 2012 and became increasingly identified with the conservative side of politics. He has also built a media presence on Sky, where he has a program “Mundine Means Business”.

As he weighed his future in recent months, Mundine has been double dating.

In 2018 he joined the Liberal Democrats, and was being considered as a potential Senate candidate for them.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says he spoke to Mundine late last year about reports that the Liberals were courting him.

Mundine played down the speculation as media talk, Leyonhjelm says. But he said he had some issues with section 44 of the constitution through his business interests which needed sorting out, and he suggested leaving the discussion about the possible Senate spot until the new year.

That’s where matters lay until last week when the president of the Liberal Democrats received a letter from Mundine resigning from the party. Leyonhjelm wasn’t totally surprised: he’d been watching Mundine’s recent pro-Liberal tweets.

The Prime Minister will appear with Mundine in Gilmore on Wednesday. Morrison on Tuesday wouldn’t be drawn on Mundine’s candidacy. But he said that he’d been “a friend of Warren for some time” and described him as a “top bloke” who had “a lot to offer”.

Be that as it may, this is shaping as a very inauspicious start to the campaign of someone who will carry the tag of a captain’s pick candidate.

ref. View from The Hill: Morrison’s Gilmore candidate is the man who’s been everywhere –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How a default union membership could help reduce income inequality

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mark Harcourt, Professor, University of Waikato

A more equal society with less income disparity is good for well-being.

In their latest book, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue people living in more equal societies empathise more and worry less about income, possessions and social status.

But income inequalities have been increasing, notably in New Zealand, and research suggests this growing economic gap is associated with a range of social ills and political instability.

Read more: Distress, status wars and immoral behaviour: the psychological impacts of inequality

In our research, we argue that making union membership the default option would help reduce inequality while protecting workers’ rights to opt out.

Unions and inequality

Unions have traditionally played a key role in reducing income disparities. They negotiate higher pay for virtually all workers, but especially the low waged.

In the United States, evidence suggests the union pay premium has been a consistent 10% to 20% since the 1930s, and is as high as 30% to 40% for the lowest paid. Countries that have higher union membership levels and collective bargaining coverage usually have lower income inequality. Those that have declining membership and coverage usually have worsening inequality.

In the US, research suggests the decline in union membership since the 1960s explains up to a third of the growth in male wage inequality since that time.

Read more: What income inequality looks like across Australia

Preferences for union membership

Despite widespread de-unionisation, surveys show roughly half of all workers across richer Anglophone countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, want to be union members but a majority cannot exercise their preference because they belong to a non-union workplace.

Recruitment of members was less of an issue in the past. Unions, once established, could negotiate closed-shop clauses in their collective agreement. Such a clause means an employer agrees to employ only workers who are already members of a particular union or agree to join once employed.

But more recently, governments in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US have increasingly adopted a policy of voluntary unionism, banning the closed-shop clause or declaring it unenforceable. In the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, in the Sorensen and Rasmussen v. Denmark case, declared the closed shop was a breach of the freedom not to associate.

Read more: Unions can’t just rely on promises of favourable laws to regain lost ground

How, then, can employees retain the freedom to choose while reaping the benefits of union membership in reducing inequality? In our research we propose an innovative solution, drawing on insights from behavioural economics, which involves defaulting employees to union membership in workplaces where unions already have some members or a collective agreement. Once employed, employees would be automatically enrolled in the on-site union, but retain the freedom to opt out at least after some time.

Union default and increased membership

Our work indicates a union default would likely increase union membership in four main ways. It would lower the costs of joining, membership would become the norm, inertia would keep workers in the union and they would not want to lose the benefits of unions.

The cost of union membership would be significantly lower because, for the union, it would be solely associated with establishing an initial presence and collective agreement. The cost of recruiting additional members would be effectively zero. For members, enrolment would be automatic.

Once enrolled, employees would be more likely to remain members through inertia. Making decisions can be difficult, especially when the choices are complex. This is certainly true of unions, given the broad range of their services and the difficulties in forecasting whether these services will be needed (for example, in the case of a dismissal). If membership is the default, inertia means workers would stay with the status quo.

A union default would also help to normalise union membership. It would send a clear signal to employees that the state approves of union membership as the right thing to do and that it’s commonplace. Beyond that, a union default would set a reference point for employees’ assessments of gains and losses, with losses typically given more importance in any decision to leave a union.

It’s difficult to predict how much union membership would rise with a union default, but the extensive empirical research on default effects in various contexts would suggest a lot.

ref. How a default union membership could help reduce income inequality –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Coastal seas around New Zealand are heading into a marine heatwave, again

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Craig Stevens, Associate Professor in Ocean Physics, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

As New Zealanders are enjoying their days at the beach, unusually warm ocean temperatures look to be a harbinger of another marine heatwave.

Despite the exceptional conditions during last year’s heatwave in the Tasman Sea, this summer’s sea surface temperatures to the north and east of New Zealand are even warmer.

The latest NIWA climate assessment shows that sea surface temperatures in coastal waters around New Zealand are well above average. Marine heatwave conditions are already occurring in parts of the Tasman Sea and the ocean around New Zealand and looking to become the new normal.

Read more: Marine heatwaves are getting hotter, lasting longer and doing more damage

Changing sea surface temperature anomalies (conditions compared to average) in the oceans around New Zealand during the first two weeks of January – comparing 2009 to 2019. Source: NIWA

What’s in a name

Currently, marine heatwaves are defined as periods that last for five or more days with temperatures warmer than the 90th percentile based on a 30-year historical baseline. Given we are likely to experience many more such events as the oceans continue to warm, it is time to understand and categorise the intensity of marine heat.

The names Hurricane Katrina, tropical cyclone Giselle (which sank the ferry Wahine 50 years ago), tropical cyclone Winston give a malevolent personality to geophysical phenomena. Importantly they get graded into categories, so we can rapidly assess their potential impact.

Read more: Winston strikes Fiji: your guide to cyclone science

An Australian team has developed a classification scheme for marine heatwaves. The team used an approach similar to that used for hurricanes and cyclones – changing conditions can be slotted into to a sequence of categories. At the moment it looks like we are in marine heat wave category one conditions, but potentially entering category two if it continues to warm.

Turning the heat up on marine life

A marine heatwave is potentially devastating for marine ecosystems. It is also an indication that the hidden buffer in the climate system – the fact that the oceans have absorbed 93% of the excess heat – is starting to change. Individual warm seasons have always occurred, but in future there will be more of them and they will keep getting warmer.

The Great Barrier Reef has already been hit hard by a succession of marine heatwave events, bleaching the iconic corals and changing the structure of the ecosystem it supports.

Read more: The 2016 Great Barrier Reef heatwave caused widespread changes to fish populations

Further south, off Tasmania’s east coast, a number of species that normally occur in tropical waters have extended their range further south. A number of fish species, lobster and octopus species have also taken up residence along the Tasmanian coast, displacing some of the species that call this coast home. Mobile species can escape the warmer temperatures, but sedentary plants and animals are hardest hit.

In New Zealand, aquaculture industries will find it more difficult to grow fish or mussels as coastal waters continue to warm. If the same trends seen off Tasmania occur here, areas with substantial kelp canopies will struggle and start to be replaced by species normally seen further north. But the impacts will likely be very variable because the warming will be heavily influenced by wind and ocean currents and different locations will feel changes to a greater or lesser extent.

NIWA’s research vessel Kaharoa has deployed Argo floats in the Southern Ocean and in waters around New Zealand. NIWA, CC BY-ND

Predicting the seasons

As important as it is to identify a marine heatwave at the time, reliable predictions of developing conditions would help fishers, aquaculture companies and local authorities – and in fact anyone living and working around the ocean.

Seasonal forecasting a few months ahead is difficult. It falls between weather and climate predictions. In a collaboration between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, we are examining how well long-term forecasts of ocean conditions around New Zealand stack up. Early forecasts suggested this summer would not be as warm as last year. But it now looks like this summer will again be very warm in the ocean.

Read more: This summer’s sea temperatures were the hottest on record for Australia: here’s why

One of the important points to keep in mind is that when we are at the beach, we are sampling only the surface temperature. The same is true of satellites – they monitor less than the top millimetre of the ocean.

Sea surface temperatures are several degrees above normal at the moment. But in deeper waters, because of the high heat content of water, even a tenth of a degree is significant. Temperature in the deeper ocean is monitored by a network of moored buoys on and off the continental shelf along the Australian coast. New Zealand has almost nothing that would be comparable.

Measuring temperature in real time

What we can look to, in the absence of moored buoys, is a fleet of ocean robots that monitor temperature in real time. Argo floats drift with ocean currents, sink to two kilometres every ten days and then collect data as they return to the surface.

These data allowed us to identify that the 2017/18 marine heatwave around New Zealand remained shallow. Most of the warmer water was in the upper 30 metres. Looking at the present summer conditions, one Argo robot off New Zealand’s west coast shows it is almost four degrees above normal in the upper 40 metres of the ocean. On the east coast, near the Chatham Islands, another float shows warmed layers to 20 metres deep. To the south, the warming goes deeper, down to almost 80 metres.

Our work using the Australian Bureau of Meteorology forecast model highlights how variable the ocean around New Zealand is. Different issues emerge in different regions, even if they are geographically close.

The research on categories of marine heatwaves shows we will have to keep shifting what we regard as a heat wave as the ocean continues to warm. None of this should come as a surprise. We have known for some time that the world’s oceans are storing most of the additional heat and the impacts of a warming ocean will be serious.

ref. Coastal seas around New Zealand are heading into a marine heatwave, again –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Why we don’t know if Irukandji jellyfish are moving south

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Kylie Pitt, Professor, Griffith University

Reports that Irukandji jellyfish might be moving south may be panicking people unnecessarily. It’s almost impossible to tell where the tiny jellyfish are along our coast, but that could change with new technology that can “sweep” the ocean for traces of DNA.

Read more: Will venomous Irukandji jellyfish reach south-east Queensland?

Since the Christmas period nearly twice the usual number of people have suffered the excruciating consequences of being stung by Irukandji. The stings are rarely fatal, but can require medical evacuation and hospitalisation.

These reports of southward movement are almost a yearly tradition, often sensational, and accompanied by varying expert opinions about whether climate change is driving these dangerous tropical animals south, towards the lucrative beach tourism destinations of southeast Queensland.

But simply counting the number of Irukandji found, or the number of reported stings, tells us very little about where the species can be found.

A simple question but difficult answer

“Where are Irukandji located, and is that changing?”, might seem like a straightforward question. Unfortunately, finding the answer is not easy. The only definitive way to determine where they are is to catch them – but that poses many challenges.

Irukandji are tiny (most are about 1cm in diameter) and transparent. Along beaches they are usually sampled by a person wading through shallow water towing a fine net. This is often done by lifeguards at beaches in northern Queensland to help manage risk.

Irukandji are also attracted to light, so further offshore they can be concentrated by deploying lights over the sides of boats and then scooped up in nets. The problem is they’re are often very sparsely scattered, even in places we know they regularly occur, such as Queensland’s north. As with any rare species, catching them can confirm their presence, but failure to catch them does not guarantee their absence. Collecting Irukandji in an ocean environment is truly like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

A sense of scale: an Irukandji Jellyfish next to a two dollar coin. Source: WA Department of Parks and Wildlife/AAP

Another method is to infer their presence from hospital records and media reports of Irukandji syndrome, the suite of symptoms caused by their sting, but this method has major pitfalls. There is often a delay of around 30 minutes between the initial sting, which is usually mild, and the onset of Irukandji syndrome. Hence the animal that caused the symptoms is almost never caught and we cannot verify the species responsible.

Indeed, we do not know whether Irukandji are the only marine organisms to cause Irukandji syndrome. For example, the Moreton Bay Fire Jelly, a species of jellyfish related to Irukandji only found in southeast Queensland, and even bluebottles, which in the past couple of weeks have stung more than 10,000 people along Australia’s east coast, have also been suggested to occasionally cause Irukandji-like symptoms.

eDNA to save the day

Emerging technology may be the key to properly mapping Irukandji distribution. All animals shed DNA in large quantities into their environment (for example, skin cells and hair by humans). This DNA is called environmental DNA) (or eDNA) and genetic techniques are now so powerful that they can detect even trace amounts.

In the sea, this means we can determine whether an animal has been in an area by collecting water samples and testing them for the presence of the target species’ DNA. This technology is exciting because it provides a major upgrade in our ability to detect rare species. Moreover, it is relatively simple to train people to collect and process water samples, the results can be available within hours, and the equipment needed to analyse the samples is becoming increasingly affordable.

Read more: The blue bottles are coming, but what exactly are these creatures?

This means an eDNA monitoring program could be easily established in Southeast Queensland to monitor the occurrence and, importantly, changes in the distribution of Irukandji jellyfish. This is because Irukandji leave traces of their genetic code in the water as they swim.

Developing the eDNA technology for use with Irukandji would cost a few hundred thousand dollars – a relatively small price to pay to improve public safety, to provide stakeholders with some control over their ability to detect Irukandji, and to create some certainty around the long-term distribution of these animals.

The authors would like to acknowledge the significant contribution to this article by Professor Mike Kingsford (James Cook University).

ref. Why we don’t know if Irukandji jellyfish are moving south –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Three Charts on who uses illicit drugs in Australia

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

To demonstrate the failure of the war on drugs, NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann came out this week about about her own drug use:

Since my 20s, I’ve occasionally taken MDMA [ecstasy] at dance parties and music festivals. I know journalists, tradies, lawyers, public servants, doctors, police and yes, politicians (most well into their forties), who have done the same.

When asked by journalists on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he’d never taken illicit drugs, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he couldn’t rule out using cannabis while at university.

But what about the rest of Australia?

Nearly half have tried drugs

Some 43% of Australians aged 14 years or over have used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime.

Nearly 16% have used an illicit drug at least once in the last year; around 75% of those use infrequently, between once and 11 times a year.

By far the majority of both lifetime and recent use is of cannabis (around 35% lifetime use), with other drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) (around 11%), hallucinogens (around 9.5%) and cocaine (around 9%) much less commonly tried. Methamphetamine (including “ice”) is the fifth most commonly used drug at around 6% lifetime use.

Age and gender

The highest rate of lifetime use is among 30-39 year olds (around 55%), closely followed by 40-49 year olds (just under 55%), then 20-29 year olds (49%) and 50-59 year olds (48%).

But recent use (in the past year) is concentrated among 20-29 year olds (28%), dropping off after 30 to 18%.

Read more: Drug use can have social benefits, and acknowledging this could improve rehabilitation

Only 7% of people over 60 and 12% of people over 50 say they have used an illicit drug in the last year.

Most people who try drugs typically do so for a short period in their lives (mostly in their 20s). There is natural attrition over time, probably as people gain more responsibilities, at work and home, which are incompatible with drug use.

Recent illicit drug use among teens has been in decline over the last eight to ten years, and has remained stable among people in their 20s.

In all age groups, men tend to have a higher rate of both lifetime and recent use than women.

Education and occupation

People who have post-school qualifications (such as university and TAFE) have a higher rate of lifetime drug use (47%) than those with no post-school qualifications (34%).

The rate of lifetime cannabis use among people who have post-school qualifications is around 40%, compared to 26% of people with no post-school qualifications.

People in the paid workforce have a higher rate of lifetime drug use (51%) than unemployed people (43%).

Read more: FactCheck Q&A: are rates of drug use 2.5 times higher among unemployed people than employed people?

About 45% of people in paid employment say they have used cannabis in their lifetime, compared to 39% of unemployed people. For ecstasy it’s 15% and 12% respectively.

Illicit drug use is reasonably equally distributed across socioeconomic groups, but the most advantaged tend to have a higher lifetime use (44% compared to 39%) and the more socially disadvantaged have a slightly higher rate of recent use (16% compared to 14%).

This suggests those who are more advantaged are more likely to try drugs but less likely to continue to use them.

There are no recent published analyses of which occupational groups tend to have higher rates of lifetime use. The last analysis was from 2004 data and only looked at use in the last 12 months. That data showed workers in hospitality (32%), construction (24%) and retail (20%) had the highest rate of recent use.

Read more: Here’s why doctors are backing pill testing at music festivals across Australia

ref. Three Charts on who uses illicit drugs in Australia –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Curious Kids: how is water made?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Emma Kathryn White, PhD Candidate, Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne

Curious Kids is a series for children. Send your question to You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.

How is water made? – Clara, age 8, Canberra.

Hi Clara. That’s a really great question. If we could make large quantities of water cheaply, cleanly and safely, it would solve a lot of the world’s problems. Unfortunately, it is not that easy.

Read more: Curious Kids: where do clouds come from and why do they have different shapes?

What is water and where did it come from?

Water is made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard of atoms, the tiniest building blocks of all matter in the Universe. We are all made of atoms stuck together (or, as scientists would say, “bonded”). Atoms bonded together form molecules.

A molecule of pure water is made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. As explained in a previous Curious Kids article, scientists think the water on Earth may have come from melting of water-rich minerals during formation of the planet and icy comets that, billions of years ago, smashed into Earth and melted.

Scientists believe water may have come to us from rocks melting during formation of the Earth and icy comets. Flickr/barnyz Follow, CC BY

Why can’t we just make more?

While making small volumes of pure water in a lab is possible, it’s not practical to “make” large volumes of water by mixing hydrogen and oxygen together. The reaction is expensive, releases lots of energy, and can cause really massive explosions.

While the total volume of water on Earth stays about the same, water continually changes location and state. That means sometimes it is a liquid (like the water we drink), a solid (ice) or a gas (water vapour such as steam).

Scientists call this process of change the hydrologic (water) cycle, which is where water constantly moves around the world by cycling between the air, the ground and the ocean.

Round and round

The cycle begins when water is evaporated from the ocean (or lakes, rivers and wetlands) and enters the atmosphere (the air all around us) as water vapour (gas).

As warm, water-rich air rises, it cools down and can hold less water.

As a result, clouds form. Eventually, the water vapour changes back to liquid water and falls to Earth as rain. Rain that’s not immediately evaporated back into the atmosphere, either flows into the ocean as runoff or, is absorbed into the earth and becomes groundwater – water stored underground in the tiny spaces within rocks

Plants can suck up groundwater with their roots, and push water out through tiny holes in their leaves (this is called transpiration).

Groundwater flows slowly through the earth to the ocean and the cycle begins again.

This is the water cycle. Shutterstock

The hydrologic cycle is sensitive to changes in temperature and pressure, for example if it is hot and windy, more evaporation occurs. Therefore, climate change impacts the hydrologic cycle. Regions that were once wet can become dry (and vice-versa) because clouds drop their rain into the ocean instead of upon the land where it can be collected and used.

Two tiny drops of drinking water

We drink fresh water, but most water on Earth is salty. And the vast majority of available freshwater on Earth is actually hidden underground as groundwater.

In fact, if you imagine all the water on Earth could fit into a one litre milk carton, it would all be ocean water except for only two tablespoons of fresh water.

Of the two tablespoons of freshwater, slightly less than three quarters would be frozen solid into ice and most of the rest would be groundwater.

The freshwater we see and use in rivers, swamps and lakes would only amount to less than two drops of the water in the world.

Therefore, protecting large freshwater sources like groundwater is very important because removing salt from ocean water can cost lots of money and energy.

Most water is salty and is found in the ocean. Flickr/beana_cheese, CC BY

The atmosphere, Earth and ocean are interconnected and things we do in one place can affect the quality of water in other places.

Chemicals poured down the sink or pumped into the atmosphere can eventually end up in the groundwater, which means less available fresh water for us to use.

Although we can’t “make” more water, we can make the best of the water we have by conserving and protecting it.

Read more: Curious Kids: How was the ocean formed? Where did all the water come from?

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
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
* Tell us on Facebook


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 is water made? –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Video games could teach spatial skills lost to a society dependent on devices

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lloyd White, Lecturer (Geology), University of Wollongong

Video games have long been criticised for encouraging violence and antisocial behaviour. And parents often express concern that they could have detrimental effects on their child’s learning abilities.

But research has shown that off-the-shelf video games can also aid learning – particularly when it comes to the development of spatial skills.

These issues have arisen once more with the most recent release from Rockstar Games: Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2). The game certainly contains a lot of violence, but it might inadvertently aid development of spatial skills – perhaps even more so than other video games.

What are spatial skills and why do we need them?

Spatial skills refer to our ability to rotate and conceptualise 3D objects, and to decipher maps, graphs and diagrams. These are essential skills within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector.

One spatial skill that is common to several engineering and science disciplines is the ability to visualise a 2D cross-section through a 3D object.

The development of spatial skills is particularly relevant to the field of geoscience. We use these skills every day when we graph and interpret results of various measurements and experiments, and when we create traditional 2D maps.

These skills are also incredibly important when it comes to extrapolating the 3D geometry of rock layers beneath the Earth’s surface. Take for example the below 3D geological model, which was created using Minecraft. This image shows the layers of rock beneath the ground and how these interact with the surface of the landscape.

The British Geological Survey created 3D maps of parts of Britain using the game Minecraft. This example shows how the landscape surface (topography) interacts with layers of rock (light green and purple) beneath the surface. British Geological Survey

My experience teaching undergraduate geology and field-based mapping classes in the UK and Australia has shown me that students really struggle with the higher-level spatial skills. This is not a new problem, but it is perhaps more challenging for today’s students who have grown up navigating using Google Maps rather than a street directory.

Research has shown that our dependence on satellite navigational systems, such as those in our smartphones, is having a long term detrimental impact on spatial awareness and our ability to navigate. So, we need to consider other means to help students develop these skills.

How does RDR2 teach spatial skills?

In RDR2, you play the character of an outlaw in a fictional part of the Western United States in 1899. During the game, the outlaw protagonist struggles to find his place in a society that is increasingly introducing more law and order. The protagonist embarks on numerous missions, which guide the player through a linear story line.

The game also allows and encourages players to freely explore and interact with a virtual open world before, after or between the story line missions.

The virtual world in RDR2 is incredibly detailed because it is derived from 3D laser scans and drone imagery of real-world landscapes.

This complex landscape requires players to navigate using a detailed topographic map. A topographic map is a map with contour lines that show places of equal height. Closely spaced lines indicate a steep slope, and widely spaced lines indicate a gradual slope.

Players constantly use this map to visualise the terrain as they move around, allowing them to navigate and avoid obstacles – like falling off a cliff.

The virtual world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is incredibly realistic as it was built using landscapes found in the real-world. Screenshot/Lloyd White

Moving from place to place in the game can take considerable time because the player typically travels to most places on horseback, or on foot. But players can save time by deviating from roads using the topographic map to plot out a faster route.

This saves time getting from A to B, so players are rewarded for learning to read the map.

Players are also encouraged to look for treasure and seek out unique hunting and fishing locations. Players need to use a series of clues and interpret mud maps to find these special locations. These experiences likely simulate the same thought patterns we use examining and interpreting maps of the real world.

An example of the topographic map used in Red Dead Redemption 2. Players need to use this map to navigate. While the game will suggest a path between two points, this often isn’t the fastest route, or may not even be a possible route. Players can figure this out for themselves by reading the map. Rockstar Games/Lloyd White

Exercising our map reading muscles

While RDR2 is certainly a violent game (rated M15+), I hope parents and players might both appreciate the potential learning benefit relative to other games.

It’s safe to say we should expect future video games to match or better the level of detail within RDR2. This level of realism combined with detailed maps will hopefully help to develop those spatial skills we’re losing by our dependence on location-based technology.

Another potential positive is that the entertainment industry will need to recruit future STEM graduates to help them build factual and increasingly realistic virtual worlds.

ref. Video games could teach spatial skills lost to a society dependent on devices –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

The Liberal Party is failing women miserably compared to other democracies, and needs quotas

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Wallace, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

Look around the world this week and you see women exercising power and influence everywhere. In the United States, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is wrangling US President Donald Trump over his shutdown of federal government. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May doggedly pursues Brexit. Yvette Cooper, chair of the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee and described by some as the Labour opposition’s “alternative leader”, is bringing forward legislation to try to head off a “hard” Brexit.

In Germany, CDU leader and likely Angela Merkel successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer co-authored a public letter to the British people urging them to remain in the European Union. And from New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote a comment piece for the London Telegraph expressing solidarity whichever way Britain goes.

Read more: As she prepares to leave politics, Germany’s Angela Merkel has left her mark at home and abroad

And in Australia? Reportage involving senior women in politics is dominated by Morrison government cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer quitting her prime Melbourne seat of Higgins, fellow Liberal Senator Jane Hume ruling out running for it, and speculation about whether or not former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will, like O’Dwyer, quit politics at the forthcoming federal election too. It is a sharp contrast. What is going on?

Read more: View from The Hill: O’Dwyer’s decision turns the spotlight onto Bishop

The UK has already had two female prime ministers in May (since 2016) and Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) – the latter, after Winston Churchill, the most significant British prime minister of the 20th century. This is not to say politics is easy for women in Britain – far from it. Political attacks on May are three-times as likely to be gender-based as those on Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Claims Corbyn called May a “stupid woman” in parliament got traction because of the widely perceived implicit sexism of Corbyn-era Labour, which tends to be overshadowed by controversy over its more blatant antisemitism. Female MPs come under sustained social media attacks of the most violent and reprehensible kind, something Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips have campaigned against prominently again and again.

It is in this climate that Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by white supremacist Thomas Mair during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016.

But while politics is incredibly tough for women in Britain, they hang in and fight on, across the political spectrum. This is because in Britain women’s presence in politics has been normalised. There’s no sending them back to the kitchen. To an extent which should not be necessary, they are battle-hardened. Male opponents know they will not go away.

Equally in the US, women in politics will not be seen off. The pronounced misogyny of President Donald Trump stirred rather than cowed women who stormed the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, creating an all-time high in congresswomen’s numbers.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi prevailed against significant internal challenge and external opposition to be elected Speaker. From this position she is prominently calling Trump’s bluff and, since the government shutdown, bettering him in the rhetorical struggle for decent government.

In New Zealand, women in politics has long been business as usual. Ardern, elected in 2017, is the country’s third woman prime minister after Helen Clark (1999-2008) and Jenny Shipley (1997-1999). One could go on and on, citing the normalisation of women in politics in Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Iceland, Denmark, Pakistan, Indonesia, Canada, Germany and elsewhere.

Women have, often with the help of quotas, been accepted as regulars in political battle in all these places, sometimes rising to the political equivalent of generals and supreme commanders just like the men, many of whom might not like it but know it is an inescapable – and, in fact, reasonable – part of contemporary life.

Read more: Quotas are not pretty but they work – Liberal women should insist on them

The military metaphor is unfortunate, but in this context useful to explain through analogy what is going on by contrast with women in the senior levels of the Morrison government.

May and Pelosi are playing the long game – operating strategically – in pursuit of specific political outcomes irrespective of the extra, gendered-tier of political attack to which they are subject. They do this in the confidence that women in their parties and parliaments are political “regulars”, in the business of politics for good.

In Australia, the presence of women in politics has been normalised other than in the Liberal and National parties. Labor’s Julia Gillard was prime minister from 2010 to 2013. If Labor’s sustained poll lead holds through to election day, Opposition deputy-leader Tanya Plibersek is likely to become deputy prime minister this year. The Greens have been, and before them the Australian Democrats were more often than not, led by women. Australia’s flagship far right-winger, Pauline Hanson, is a woman.

But to be a woman in the Liberal or National parties is still to be a political “irregular” – one of a group of resented interlopers, tiny in number, whom many male colleagues hope can be driven away.

Female LNP leavers manifest this – not just O’Dwyer and, likely, the prominently-snubbed Bishop when her decision finally crystallises – but those like Julia Banks who have left the Liberal Party and gone to the crossbench, and Liberal fellow travellers like Cathy McGowan and Kerryn Phelps who sit as independents alongside her.

It seems the position of women in the Liberal and National parties is too fragile, too brittle, for them to stand and fight like regulars. Rather, like guerillas on the wrong end of the power asymmetry women face within the Morrison government, they are withdrawing from the battlefield. It will be up to others to stand and fight another day.

That fight cannot be won without critical mass. Women in the Liberal and National parties need to embrace quotas and they need to do it now. They will never be numerous enough to achieve the status of “regulars” reached by women in most of the rest of the democratic world otherwise.

ref. The Liberal Party is failing women miserably compared to other democracies, and needs quotas –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

What’s behind the increase in bowel cancer among younger Australians?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Suzanne Mahady, Gastroenterologist & Clinical Epidemiologist, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

Bowel cancer mostly affects people over the age of 50, but recent evidence suggests it’s on the rise among younger Australians.

Our study, published recently in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, found the incidence of bowel cancer, which includes colon and rectal cancer, has increased by up to 9% in people under 50 from the 1990s until now.

Our research examined all recorded cases of bowel cancer from the past 40 years in Australians aged 20 and over. Previous studies assessing bowel cancer incidence in young Australians have also documented an increase in the younger age group.

Read more: Interactive body map: what really gives you cancer?

Bowel cancer includes cancer of the colon and rectum. Wikimedia Commons

This trend is also being seen internationally. A study from the United States suggests an increase in bowel cancer incidence in people aged 54 and younger. The research shows rectal cancer incidence increased by 3.2% annually from 1974 to 2013 among those aged age 20-29.

Bowel cancers are predicted to be the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia this year. In 2018, Australians have a one in 13 chance of being diagnosed with bowel cancer by their 85th birthday.

Our study also found bowel cancer incidence is falling in older Australians. This is likely, in part, to reflect the efficacy of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, targeted at those aged 50-74. Bowel cancer screening acts to reduce cancer incidence, by detecting and removing precancerous lesions, as well as reducing mortality by detecting existing cancers early.

This is important, as bowel cancer has a good cure rate if discovered early. In 2010 to 2014, a person diagnosed with bowel cancer had a nearly 70% chance of surviving the next five years. Survival is more than 90% for people who have bowel cancer detected at an early stage.

That is why screening is so effective – and we have previously predicted that if coverage rates in the National Bowel Screening Program can be increased to 60%, around 84,000 lives could be saved by 2040. This would represent an extraordinary success. In fact, bowel screening has potential to be one of the greatest public health successes ever achieved in Australia.

Why the increase in young people?

Our study wasn’t designed to identify why bowel cancer is increasing among young people. However, there are some factors that could underpin our findings.

The increase in obesity parallels that of bowel cancer, and large population based studies have linked obesity to increased cancer risk.

Read more: How obesity causes cancer, and may make screening and treatment harder

Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, such as increased intake of highly processed foods (including meats), have also been associated with increased bowel cancer risk. High quality studies are needed to explore this role further.

Alcohol is also thought to be a contributor to increasing the risk of bowel cancer.

Alcohol is thought to contribute to an increased risk of bowel cancer. from

So, should we be lowering the screening age in Australia to people under the age of 50?

Evaluating a cancer screening program for the general population requires a careful analysis of the potential benefits, harms, and costs.

A recent Australian study modelled the trade-offs of lowering the screening age to 45. It showed more cancers would be potential for detected. But there would also be more colonoscopy-related harms such as perforation (tearing) in an extremely small proportion of people who require further evaluation after screening.

A lower screening age would also increase the number of colonoscopies to be performed in the overstretched public health system and therefore could have the unintended consequence of lengthening colonoscopy waiting times for people at high risk.

Read more: Needless procedures: when is a colonoscopy necessary?

How to reduce bowel cancer risk

One of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer is rectal bleeding. So if you notice blood when you go to the toilet, see your doctor to have it checked out.

A healthy lifestyle including adequate exercise, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake and eating well, remains most important to reducing cancer risk.

Aspirin may also lower risk of cancer, but should be discussed with your doctor because of the potential for side effects including major bleeding.

Most importantly, we need to ensure eligible Australians participate in the current evidence-based screening program. Only 41% of the population in the target 50-74 age range completed their poo tests in 2015-2016. The test is free, delivered by post and able to be self-administered.

ref. What’s behind the increase in bowel cancer among younger Australians? –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Forest soil needs decades or centuries to recover from fires and logging

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Elle Bowd, PhD scholar, Australian National University

The 2009 Black Saturday fires burned 437,000 hectares of Victoria, including tens of thousands of hectares of Mountain Ash forest.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of these fires, we are reminded of their legacy by the thousands of tall Mountain ash “skeletons” still standing across the landscape. Most of them are scattered amid a mosaic of regenerating forest, including areas regrowing after logging.

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

But while we can track the obvious visible destruction of fire and logging, we know very little about what’s happening beneath the ground.

In a new study published in Nature Geoscience, we investigated how forest soils were impacted by fire and logging. To our surprise, we found it can take up to 80 years for soils to recover.

Logging among the charred remains of Mountain ash after the 2009 fires. David Blair, Author provided

Decades of damage

Soils have crucial roles in forests. They are the basis for almost all terrestrial life and influence plant growth and survival, communities of beneficial fungi and bacteria, and cycles of key nutrients (including storing massive amounts of carbon).

To test the influence of severe and intensive disturbances like fire and logging, we compared key soil measures (such as the nutrients that plants need for growth) in forests with different histories. This included old forests that have been undisturbed since the 1850s, forests burned by major fires in 1939, 1983 and 2009, forests that were clearfell-logged in the 1980s or 2009-10, or salvage-logged in 2009-10 after being burned in the Black Saturday fires.

We found major impacts on forest soils, with pronounced reductions of key soil nutrients like available phosphorus and nitrate.

A shock finding was how long these impacts lasted: at least 80 years after fire, and at least 30 years after clearfell logging (which removes all vegetation in an area using heavy machinery).

However, the effects of disturbance on soils may persist for much longer than 80 years. During a fire, soil temperatures can exceed 500℃, which can result in soil nutrient loss and long-lasting structural changes to the soil.

We found the frequency of fires was also a key factor. For instance, forests that have burned twice since 1850 had significantly lower measures of organic carbon, available phosphorus, sulfur and nitrate, relative to forests that had been burned once.

Sites subject to clearfell logging also had significantly lower levels of organic carbon, nitrate and available phosphorus, relative to unlogged areas. Clearfell logging involves removing all commercially valuable trees from a site – most of which are used to make paper. The debris remaining after logging (tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees) is then burned and the cut site is aerially sewn with Mountain Ash seed to start the process of regeneration.

Fire is important to natural growth cycles in our forests, but it changes the soil composition. David Lindenmayer, Author provided

Logging compounds the damage

The impacts of logging on forest soils differs from that of fire because of the high-intensity combination of clearing the forest with machinery and post-logging “slash” burning of debris left on the ground. This can expose the forest floor, compact the soil, deplete soil nutrients, and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Predicted future increases in the number, frequency, intensity and extent of fires in Mountain Ash forests, coupled with ongoing logging, will likely result in further declines in soil nutrients in the long term. These kinds of effects on soils matter in Mountain Ash forests because 98.8% of the forest have already been burned or logged and are 80 years old or younger.

To maintain the vital roles that soils play in ecosystems, such as carbon storage and supporting plant growth, land managers must consider the repercussions of current and future disturbances on forest soils when planning how to use or protect land. Indeed, a critical part of long-term sustainable forest management must be to create more undisturbed areas, to conserve soil conditions.

Read more: New modelling on bushfires shows how they really burn through an area

Specifically, clearfell logging should be limited wherever possible, especially in areas that have been subject to previous fire and logging.

Ecologically vital, large old trees in Mountain Ash forests may take over a century to recover from fire or logging. Our new findings indicate that forest soils may take a similar amount of time to recover.

ref. Forest soil needs decades or centuries to recover from fires and logging –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media