FactCheck: did more people buy their seventh home than bought their first last year?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Whelan, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Sydney

Last year, more people bought their seventh home than those buying their first.

– Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni, media statement, November 22, 2018

Housing affordability remains a serious issue in many cities across Australia.

Federal Labor has promised to make negative gearing reforms if elected in 2019. In Queensland, Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni announced a A$2 billion housing scheme he said would create more affordable housing in the Labor-held state.

De Brenni said that “last year, more people bought their seventh home than those buying their first”. The statistic attracted attention after being published in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) article on Saturday.

Is the claim correct?

Checking the source

In response to a request for sources and comment, a spokesperson for Mick de Brenni told The Conversation:

The statistics referenced in that quote were misinterpreted from a Misha Zelinski article for the Huffington Post.

The quote has now been removed from [a December 6] ministerial media statement, and we have contacted the ABC to get it removed from their article.

Housing affordability remains a significant barrier for first home buyers. As Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen recently said:

“Last year, for the first time in history, more than 50% of all new home loan approvals were for investment purposes.”

The spokesperson said the November 22 media statement was in the process of being amended. The original ABC article has now been amended.

Verdict

Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni’s statement that “last year, more people bought their seventh home than those buying their first” is incorrect.

A spokesperson for the minister acknowledged the error and amended a relevant ministerial statement in response to The Conversation’s FactCheck. A media article containing the assertion was also amended.

Lost in translation

As acknowledged by the Minister’s office, the statistics quoted were a misinterpretation of information published in a Huffington Post article.

There is no data available to support the claim.

In response to The Conversation’s request for information, a media spokesperson for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said while the agency does collect information on individuals’ ownership of a rental property:

… the data is only for those who rent out the property (based on numbers of schedules with a unique address). We don’t have anything on all properties an individual owns.

Therefore, we don’t have data comparing proportion of first home buyers to second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh home buyers.

Keeping in mind the caveats above, you can see some of the data the ATO does collect in the table below. It is drawn from the ATO’s Taxation Statistics report 2015-16.

To collect this data, the ATO sampled 2% of all individual tax returns filed in 2015-16.

Individuals – interest in a rental property, by overall net rent outcome, 2014–15 to 2015–16 income years. Australian Taxation Office, taxation statistics 2015-16

A media spokesperson for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) told The Conversation the ABS does not have the data to make any comment on this claim.

Likewise, a spokesperson for property data firm CoreLogic said the company does not hold data to support the claim.

ABS Housing Finance figures for October 2018 indicate that the value of housing financing provided to investors exceeded that provided to first home buyers in that month.

First home buyers represented 18.1% of all loans made, and generally take out smaller loans than other borrowers (see Table 9). In comparison, loans made to investors represented around 33% of all housing related loans in October 2018.

Nonetheless, it is not possible to identify how many dwellings an investor owns. – Stephen Whelan


Blind review

I agree with the conclusion of the FactCheck: there isn’t any data available to support the claim.

While ABS data on housing finance show that investors had taken out a higher share of loans in October 2018 than first home buyers, it is not sufficient to justify a claim that more people bought their seventh home than those buying their first in the last year.

Indeed, my calculations from the unit record files from the most recent household wealth module in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, for the year 2014, indicate that among property investors, less than 2% held seven or more properties in that year. – Rachel Ong ViforJ


The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit was the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

Have you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

ref. FactCheck: did more people buy their seventh home than bought their first last year? – http://theconversation.com/factcheck-did-more-people-buy-their-seventh-home-than-bought-their-first-last-year-108492

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

UN official defends West Papuan rights – free speech, peaceful assembly

UN’s OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani … “there are many West Papuan grievances, and we’ve seen this in many parts of the world where grievances are unaddressed, or there’s a suppression of dissent.” Image: UN interview screenshot

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

West Papuan rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been defended by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a response to the mass arrests of Papuan protesters during flag raising ceremonies earlier this month.

“These are indigenous people at the end of the day,” says spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“So they are trying to defend their rights to be able to pray and to be able to retain their culture, their links to their land, but also the Papua region of Indonesia has not benefitted from all the economic development that the rest of the country has had.

LISTEN HERE: The full interview with OHCHR’s Ravina Shamdasani

“The rates of malnutrition are quite high.”

Shamdasani said in a radio interview with UN News that while President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had been initiating development projects, “the problem here is that the people haven’t really been consulted.

-Partners-

“There haven’t been meaningful consultations [with] the people who are actually affected by this.”

In the interview, Shamdasani put into context the recent arrests of nearly 600 citizens who were detained for participating in West Papua’s national day, December 1, a global event for commemorating the first raising the Morning Star flag – banned by Indonesian authorities.

She also answered questions about development, armed conflict, and trying to gain access to the region.

Behind the West Papuan protests
The UN interview transcript:

[UN NEWS] The mass arrest of demonstrators in Indonesia who were attempting to mark a national day for indigenous people in the east of the archipelago, has been condemned by the UN human rights office, OHCHR.

More than 500 activists were detained at the start of the month – though they’ve since been released.

Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani explained to UN News’ Daniel Johnson what’s behind these latest developments.

Ravina Shamdasani (RS): Last weekend there were peaceful protesters in the Papuan region of Indonesia who were celebrating what they call the “West Papua National Day,” and some 500 of them were arrested, detained. They were all subsequently released within 24 to 48 hours, but this does not take away from the fact that they should not have been arrested in the first place, and that this is not the first time this has happened.

It happens year after year and on several occasions during the year as well.

Daniel Johnson, UN News – Geneva (UN): What exactly are they protesting for apart from the fact that it’s their national day?

RS: Quite often these protests are protests for independence from Indonesia and of course we understand that the situation is complex. The Indonesian government is certainly not happy with these protests, but these people have their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. So there was really no reason to arbitrarily detain them.

UN: As a minority what particular rights are they trying to defend and what are they trying to say is being threatened?

RS: Well, these are indigenous people at the end of the day. So they are trying to defend their rights to be able to pray and to be able to retain their culture, their links to their land, but also the Papua region of Indonesia has not benefited from all the economic development that the rest of the country has had. The rates of malnutrition are quite high. Now the current president of Indonesia has been initiating development projects. The problem here is that the people haven’t really been consulted. There haven’t been meaningful consultations of the people who are actually affected by this.

UN: Why is that? What structures are there in Papua, in Indonesia, to do this or not?

RS:The president has his analysis that the problem is one of economic development, um so he is trying to tackle that. But what we have emphasised, and what our previous High Commissioner during a visit to Jakarta in February of this year emphasised, was that development can of course bring with it access to many fundamental goods and services that can vastly improve people’s well beings, but if they cannot voice their concerns, and if they can’t participate in these decisions, the resulting development may not really increase their welfare, because it doesn’t really address the problems that they have.

UN: Ok, and what is your presence on the ground in this part of Indonesia given that it’s a huge country archipelago?

RS: We do not have a presence in Indonesia but we have a regional office in Bangkok that covers Southeast Asia – So we are, you know, in close contact with human rights defenders, civil society, government officials as well.

We have actually been seeking access to this region for quite awhile now. In February the High Commissioner was promised access, and we are still in discussions with the government of Indonesia to make that happen.

UN: This issue is not one that I’ve seen very often having been here what four years now. What’s your hope for the follow up and how many other similar cases are there that go really beneath the radar of international mainstream media?

RS: Too many international mainstream media tend to focus on the big conflicts. However there are many places like Papua, which are quite small, which have historic kind of long standing structural issues and unfortunately may not come up to the radar until there is an outbreak of conflict

What our office tries to do is try to ring the alarm bells early on, before the situation rises to the level of an armed conflict.

UN: You’re not suggesting it’s at that level now? Of course.

RS: No we’re not suggesting it’s at that level now, but there are many grievances, and we’ve seen this in many parts of the world where grievances are unaddressed, or there’s a suppression of dissent. And then people take the law into their own hands because they feel they are not being heard.

This is actually happening at a very low level in Papua at the moment. There are armed groups that are operating. In fact, just this week I believe a number of people were killed. These were government contractors who were there doing a development project.

They were killed by armed groups which of course is unacceptable, but you have to understand the root causes and you have to address the root causes.

UN Office of Human Rights defends Papuans right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Keith Rankin’s Chart for this Month: Crisis Postponed

Chart for this Month: Crisis Postponed

By Keith Rankin

Another financial crisis coming? Graphic by Keith Rankin.

There will almost certainly be another major financial crisis, just like there will be another big earthquake (or, as the Australians would instead say, another big bushfire). We can do much to improve our monitoring of systemic stresses, our awareness of critical-state dynamics, and our before-and-after mitigation processes. Wilful blindness is not a strategy that works well.

In the pre-World War 1 capitalist era, financial crises happened approximately every ten years. Some were worse than others, and they became increasingly global in reach. Melbourne’s massive financial crisis of 1893 was initiated by the financial failure of the Buenos Aires Water Supply and Drainage Company, and the ensuing bank crisis in London. But the economy of Victoria in general and Melbourne in particular was in a critical state then, and would have suffered a financial collapse in the 1890s regardless of those particular precipitating events.

The ‘Long Depression’ of the 1880s in New Zealand was triggered by the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1879; a collapse that was largely caused by that bank’s unsupervised exposure to rampant land speculation in Canterbury.

This month’s chart suggests that, while there is more than enough unspent income to fuel a financial crisis, the global financial system is not presently in a critical state. We still have learning time.

The chart shows global financial balances for the private (non-government) and government sectors from 1981 to 2017. As can be seen clearly, the normal state of the world is for the global private sector to run financial surpluses (ie spending less than its total revenue; this is the ‘private urge to save’), which means that the combined governments of the world must run accommodating deficits (ie spending more than their global total revenues). It’s a zero-sum system. The financial balances of all sectors combined add to zero. This means that the private sector persists in striving for substantial surpluses AND governments persistently seek to avoid deficits, then the capitalist economy finds itself in a state of collapse.

Capitalist collapse is avoided by governments accommodating the private urge to save (Japan’s government provides our best example of accommodating deficits), or by us having periodic private debt‑fuelled spending binges (which enable governments to collect more taxes and run surpluses for a while); binges which lead to acute financial crises within the private sector. Or by our addressing and countering the unsustainable accumulation of financial assets, thereby rendering financial crises unnecessary.

The chart shows three of these private-sector ‘binges’, in the mid-late-1980s, in the late 1990s, and in the mid-late 2000s. The chart shows a different pattern in the mid-late 2010s. The banks struggle to get private households and businesses to spend more, despite record-low interest rates.

Following the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC), the private sector responded to its insolvency by paying down large amounts of debt, and by taking on much less new debt. This private sector objective was partially accommodated by unusually high government deficits (‘fiscal stimulus’) – governments taking on new debt, and running down (or halting contributions to) sovereign wealth funds.

This objective and was somewhat thwarted, however; fiscal stimulus in most countries was never more than a partial accommodation to extreme private caution. The thwarting intensified in 2010 through government ‘fiscal consolidation’ programmes, otherwise known as ‘austerity’. The most egregious example of ‘thwarting’ was the European Union (EU) programme to balance government budgets in the Eurozone countries. Fortunately, governments in the emerging and developing economies were able to increase their deficits, helping the government sector to effectively offset private surpluses in the mid‑2010s.

We can get a sense, from the chart, that world private surpluses (especially those in excess of economic growth rates) represent fuel to be consumed during future crises. A dramatic fall in private balances represents the beginning of an acute financial crisis. In the 1987-92 period, the crisis happened in two parts; New Zealand and the United States (and others) mainly experienced the 1987 shock, while Australia, Japan and Scandinavia experienced their financial crises in 1991. In the 1997 financial crisis, east Asia was most affected, while the United States was little affected until late 2000. In 2008 the crisis was global, although Europe descended into its more chronic crisis around 2011.

The chart also tells us that an early-decade pattern of falling private balances has halted; debt-enabled spending looks unlikely to accelerate in 1919 or 1920. The next major crisis may not occur until the 1927-31 period. And a crisis then likely will be different in character to both the 2008-09 GFC, and the Great Depression of the early 1930s. There may be a critical mass of accumulated private surpluses to fuel the crisis of 2029 (the midpoint of 2027-31), a new ‘yuppie’ generation with little memory of the GFC, and an academic establishment no more equipped to anticipate a sudden change of circumstance than there was in 1928 or in 2007.

The chart shows only one form of dichotomous interconnection – that between private individuals/organisations and governments. There are other financial dichotomies that may prove to be equally as important in the twenty-first century, but generally are much harder to get data for. These include households versus businesses (before the GFC, business surpluses were accommodated by household deficits), advanced current account surplus economies versus developing deficit economies (data is plentiful in this case), young versus old (older persons’ financial surpluses are accommodated by younger persons’ deficits), and rich versus poor (richer persons’ [eg world’s wealthiest five percent] surpluses need to be accommodated by the deficits of the remaining 95 percent as well as the deficits of governments. The cessation of any of these present accommodations can be expected to precipitate financial consequences that we are unprepared for. Unknown unknowns; so long as we persist in a bubble of wilful ignorance.

As private surpluses accumulate (the blue columns in the chart), the tension builds. As the tension builds, accommodating sectors cannot (or, unwittingly, choose not) to play their necessary deficit roles. Debtors default, or otherwise stop spending in favour of debt ‘deleverage’. Asset values diminish as sellers of goods, services and assets struggle to find buyers. Deflation sets in. Real interest rates need to be negative to restore a semblance of balance, meaning that interest rates actually should be more negative than inflation rates. (Negative interest rates since 2014 have already substantially eased financial tensions in non‑Eurozone Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark.)

What can we do today to avert a crisis of liberal capitalism in about ten years’ time?

Governments can commit to long-run deficit targets of two‑three percent per annum. (This is contrary to the fiscal accord that all parties currently in the New Zealand Parliament have signed up to.) Younger people can continue to borrow, and purchase goods/services rather than assets, and then turn to bankruptcy as an accommodating mechanism. (The bankruptcies of persons without assets does represent a systemic rebalancing, albeit an unpalatable one.)

Or other new methods of containing the growth of income inequality (with a view to reducing inequality eventually to 1960s’ levels) – methods other than higher wages, which coexist with unsustainable economic growth – should be adopted. Such methods do exist. It is up to each of us to learn about them; to be willing to see. Don’t wait for the politicians, nor the entrenched political left or right. We, in civil society, need to reclaim our public equity.

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How low will Bitcoin now go? The history of price bubbles provides some clues

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lee Smales, Associate Professor, Finance, University of Western Australia

Nearly 170 years before the invention of Bitcoin, the journalist Charles Mackay noted the way whole communities could “fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit”. Millions of people, he wrote, “become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first”.

His book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published in 1841, identifies a series of speculative bubbles – where people bought and sold objects for increasingly steep prices until suddenly they didn’t. The best-known example he cites is the tulip mania that gripped the Netherlands in the early 17th century. Tulip bulbs soared in value to sell for up to 25,000 florins each (close to A$45,000 in today’s money) before their price collapsed.

The Bitcoin bubble surpasses this and all other cases identified by Mackay. It is perhaps the most extreme bubble since the late 19th century. In four years its price surged almost 2,800%, reaching a peak of US$19,783 in December 2017. It has since fallen by 80%. A month ago it was trading at more than US$6,000; it is now down to US$3,500.


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


That’s still a fantastic gain for anyone who bought Bitcoin before May 2017, when it was worth less than US$2,000, or before May 2016, when it was worth less than $500.

But will it simply keep dropping? What makes Bitcoin worth anything?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand what creates the values that drive speculative price bubbles, and then what causes prices to plunge.

The above chart shows the magnitude of the Bitcoin bubble compared with the price movement of Japanese property and dot-com bubble from four years prior to their peak until four years after.

When asset values diverge

We typically think about bubbles in financial assets such as stocks or bonds, but they can also occur with physical assets (such as property) or commodities (like tulip bulbs).

A bubble begins when the price people are willing to pay for something deviates significantly from its “intrinsic value”.

The intrinsic value of an asset is theoretical, based its “fundamental” value. Fundamental value includes: the ability to generate cash flow (e.g. interest or rental income); scarcity or rarity value (e.g. gold or diamonds); and potential use (e.g. silver and platinum are used in both jewellery and industrial operations).

A house may have fundamental value owing to the scarcity of land, its use as a home, or its ability to generate rental income. A tulip (or Bitcoin) has none of those things; even the presumed scarcity does not exist when you consider all of the alternative flowers (or cryptocurrencies) available.

Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Younger portrayed tulip speculators as monkey in his ‘Satire on Tulip Mania’ dated to circa 1840. Jan Brueghel the Younger / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Price bubble preconditions

A bubble tends to occur after a sustained period of economic growth, when investors’ get used to the price an asset always increasing and credit is easily accessible.

To these conditions something more must be added for a bubble to form. That is typically a major disruption or innovation, such as the development of a new technology. Think of railways in the 19th century, electricity in the early 20th century, and the internet at the end of the 20th century.

Initially most investors tend to be cautious and “rational” about a new technology. For instance, early investment in railways took advantage of limited competition and focusing on profitable routes only. It was gradual and commercially successful.

This creates higher growth and profitability, leading to positive feedbacks (from greater investment, higher dividend payouts, and increased consumer spending), which raises confidence further.

If conditions allow, this develops into a period the economic historian Charles Kindleberger described as “euphoric”: investors become fixated on the ability to make a profit by selling the asset to a “greater fool” at an even higher price.

South Cryptocurrency values are displayed in the Seoul shopfront of Bithumb, South Korea’s leading cryptocurrency exchange, in January 2018. Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

That is, they are attracted not by “fundamental” motives – the benefits from potential cash-flows such as dividend or rental income – but by “speculative” motives – the pursuit of short-term capital gains.

Higher prices attract a greater number of speculators, pushing prices higher still. Uncertainty around the significance of the new technology allows extreme valuations to be rationalised, although the justifications seem weaker as prices rise further.

The virtuous cycle of ever-rising prices continues, often fuelled by credit, until there is an event that leads to a pause in price rises. Kindleberger suggests this can be a change in government policy or an unexplained failure of a firm.

When asset prices stop rising, investors who have borrowed to finance their purchases realise the cost of interest payments on their debt will not be offset by the capital gain to be made by holding onto the asset. So they cut their losses and start to sell the asset. Once the price starts falling, more investors decide to sell.

Bitcoin’s bubble

Observers of the cryptocurrency market will find this story familiar. Bitcoin emerged following one of the longest economic expansions in history, with easily accessible credit, and global interest rates at their lowest levels in 5,000 years of civilisation.

The surge in price attracted speculators into the Bitcoin market, helped by intense media attention. There are cases of individuals paying for Bitcoin by using credit cards or by re-mortgaging their homes. The rationale for higher prices became more fantastical, with claims the price could rise to $100,000, despite more sober warnings.


Read more: A history of Bitcoin – told through the five different groups who bought it


The possible triggers for a pause in Bitcoin price rises included concerns about increased government regulation of crypto-assets and the possibile introduction of central bank digital currencies, as well as the large theft of assets and collapse of exchanges that have dogged Bitcoin’s short history.

Going down

In liquid markets such as stocks (where it is inexpensive to buy and sell assets in large values) the price decline can be steep. In illiquid markets, where assets cannot easily be sold for cash, the fall can be brutal. Examples include the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) that led to the Global Financial Crisis.

Bitcoin is particularly illiquid. This is due to a large number of different Bitcoin exchanges competing; often substantial transaction costs, and constraints on the capacity of the Blockchain to record transactions.

A Bitcoin ‘mine’ in China. Miners are rewarded with new currency for solving the complex math problems required to validate and record Bitcoin transactions. It requires a massive amount of computer-processing power. Liu Xingzhe/Chinafile/EPA

The aftermath

The aftermath of a bursting bubble can be brutal. The stock market crash of 1929 was a prelude to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The collapse in Japanese asset values after 1989 heralded a decade of low growth and deflation. The dot-com crash of 2000-01 destroyed US$8 trillion of wealth.

The effect of a crash depends the size, ownership and importance of the asset involved. The effect of the tulip crash was limited because tulip speculations involved a relatively small number of people. But sharp declines in property values during 2007 led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Bitcoin is more like tulips. The entire market valuation was about US$300 billion at the peak. To put this into context, the US stock and housing markets are currently valued more than US$30 trillion each (the equivalent Australian markets are valued at A$2 trillion and A$6.9 trillion respectively). Relatively few investors own the majority – it is estimated that 97% of all Bitcoin are owned by just 4% of users. This suggests the effects on the wider economy of the Bitcoin crash should be contained.

Estimating Bitcoin’s intrinsic value

The true value of cryptocurrencies is widely debated. Bitcoin entrepreneurs suggest a much higher price is justified. Others, such as Eugene Fama (a Nobel Prize winner) and Warren Buffett believe it is close to worthless. The Bank of International Settlements has described it as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.


Read more: What is the real value of a bitcoin?


Obtaining a realistic estimate of Bitcoin’s intrinsic value is tricky because it is not an asset that generates a periodic cash flow, such as interest or rental income.

For such an asset, value ultimately depends on what others are willing to pay for it. This often relates to scarcity.

This does not provide a positive story for Bitcoin. Though the total number of Bitcoins is limited, there are many competing, virtually indistinguishable cryptocurrencies (such as Ehtereum and Ripple).

Bitcoin also fails to meet the criteria of a currency. Its the price movements are too volatile to be a unit of account. The transaction capacity of the Blockchain is too limited for it to be a medium of exchange. Nor does it appear to be a good store of value.

Since it produces no income, has limited scarcity value, and few people are willing to use Bitcoin as currency, it is even possible that Bitcoin has no intrinsic value.

ref. How low will Bitcoin now go? The history of price bubbles provides some clues – http://theconversation.com/how-low-will-bitcoin-now-go-the-history-of-price-bubbles-provides-some-clues-107596

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Going travelling? Don’t forget insurance (and to read the fine print)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David Beirman, Senior Lecturer, Tourism, University of Technology Sydney

Over the past year, Australians took almost 11 million international trips. We’re among the world’s leading international travellers on a per-capita basis.

Australians took more than 3.5 million trips to Asia in the past year. Indonesia (especially Bali), Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Cambodia are the most popular destinations in the region. This is especially the case for young Australian travellers, who are attracted by low prices, the range of activities, and the easy-going lifestyle.

However, all international travel involves risks. You may have an accident or illness that lands you in hospital; you may even need to be repatriated to Australia. So it’s important to take out appropriate insurance for your trip.


Read more: What to claim for lost, delayed or damaged bags on overseas flights


No, the consulate won’t pay

In the late 1970s, travel insurance companies struggled to convince 50% of Australian international travellers to purchase travel insurance. Now around 90% purchase health insurance.

Travellers aged under 30 are much more likely to travel without insurance cover than any other age group. Around 82% of international travellers aged 18-29 have insurance.

Young men are more likely to refuse travel insurance than women. This is concerning because young men are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as riding motorbikes or risky drinking, and the peer pressure to take a dare remains strong. Some men, particularly those travelling in groups, imagine themselves to be bulletproof.

Young Australians are less likely to travel with insurance. Goh Rhy Yan

Some Australians still naively believe their government will bail them out if they become sick or are injured and aren’t covered by travel insurance.

But while Australian diplomatic legations can provide details of local doctors and hospitals in an emergency, they won’t pay for medical or psychiatric services or medications.

Check the fine print

Some insurance claims run to hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if the person requires extensive treatment in an intensive care unit.

Most reputable travel insurance companies offer substantial medical coverage. They generally provide unlimited cover for any illness or accident experienced overseas. This includes covering the costs of treatment, hospitalisation, medication, surgery and, if necessary, evacuation or repatriation.

Some cheaper policies may require travellers to pay an excess on their premium for unlimited medical coverage.

Travellers are covered for tropical diseases such as Malaria, Zika and other conditions which can be contracted while travelling.

Many adventurous travellers engage in high risk activities but these are not necessarily covered by travel insurance policies. Travellers who plan to ski, bungee jump, mountaineer, abseil, trek or engage in other risky activities, should choose your insurance cover carefully.

This Choice guide is a good place to start. It explains traps and exclusions that may apply to insurance cover for loss, injury or illness.


Read more: Mobile apps might make you feel better about travelling alone, but they won’t necessarily make you safer


Few travel insurance companies will cover policy-holders for treatment related to pre-existing medical conditions, including pregnancy or heart attacks at any age.

Travellers who need medical treatment from injuries incurred while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol may also have their claims rejected.

Australians who are injured in a motorbike accident abroad may find their claims rejected if they don’t have a motorbike licence in Australia and especially if they aren’t wearing a helmet (even if it isn’t required in the country they’re riding in).

If you’re over 75, you might need to shop around for the right policy. Yichuan Zhan

Insurance companies’ definition of a senior can range from age 50 to over 80, but in many cases premiums will rise from age 75.

Some travel insurance companies have more stringent fitness requirements and require more medical documentation for senior travellers, especially those who have previously had a heart attack.

Reading the fine print of an insurance policy or obtaining expert advice is one of the least glamorous aspects of travel planning but it’s an essential part of minimising risk for your trip.


Read more: Bali tourism and the Mt Agung volcano: quick dollars or long term reputation


ref. Going travelling? Don’t forget insurance (and to read the fine print) – http://theconversation.com/going-travelling-dont-forget-insurance-and-to-read-the-fine-print-107961

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Labour rally in Jakarta, Fiji march highlight global human rights issues

How UN agencies strive to put human rights at the centre of their work. Video: UN

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Hundreds of workers from the Confederation of United Indonesian Workers (KPBI) held a protest march at the weekend in the capital of Jakarta and Fiji’s Coalition on Human Rights staged a march today to commemorate World Human Rights Day.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian workers marched from the Farmers Monument in Central Jakarta to the nearby State Palace on Saturday, reports CNN Indonesia.

During the action, the workers highlighted the problems of corruption and the failure to resolve human rights violations.

READ MORE: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70

“This action is a reflection of the regime that is in power, Jokowi [President Joko Widodo] has failed, particularly in cases of corruption and human rights violations in Indonesia”, said KPBI secretary-general Damar Panca.

The Jakarta rally for human rights at the weekend. Image: Rayhand Purnama Karim/CNNI

-Partners-

Panca said that during Widodo’s administration corruption had become more widespread as had human rights violations. Trade unions had also suffered human rights violations when holding protests.

Panca said that not long ago during a peaceful demonstration, workers were assaulted and had tear gas fired at them by security forces.

“Not just that, 26 labour activists have been indicted. So we are articulating this now because it is the right moment – namely in the lead up to Anti-Corruption Day (December 9) and Human Rights Day (December 10),” he said.

Social welfare demands
In addition to highlighting human rights violations, they also demanded that the government take responsibility for providing social welfare for all Indonesians and rejected low wages, particularly in labour intensive industries, low rural incomes and contract labour and outsourcing.

Panca said that Saturday’s action was also articulating several other problems such as inequality in employment, the criminalisation of activists and the need for free education.

The KPBI is an alliance of cross-sector labour federations. Saturday’s action was joined by the Indonesian Pulp and Paper Trade Union Federation (FSP2KI), the Cross-Factory Labour Federation (FBLP), the Populist Trade Union Federation (SERBUK), the Indonesian Harbour Transportation Labour Federation (FBTPI), the Indonesian Workers Federation of Struggle (FPBI), the Industrial Employees Trade Union Federation (FSPI), the Solidarity Alliance for Labour Struggle (GSPB) and the Greater Jakarta Railway Workers Trade Union (SPKAJ)

“This action is not just in Jakarta, similar actions with the same demands are also being organised by KBPI members in North Sumatra. In Jakarta they have come from across Jabodetabek [Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, Greater Jakarta],” he said.

According to CNN Indonesia’s observations, the hundreds of workers wearing red and carrying protest gear continued to articulate their demands from two command vehicles near the State Palace, directly in front of the West Monas intersection.

They also sang songs of struggle and followed the directions of speakers shouting labour demands. The protest was closely watched over by scores of police officers.

Fiji rally for rights
In Suva, Fiji, the NGO Coalition on Human Rights organised a march for today to commemorate World Human Rights Day.

The march will begin at 10am from the Flea Market ending in a rally at Sukuna Park and is the culmination of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence from November 25 to December 10.

World Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on December 10 to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

This year is a significant milestone for the UDHR as it marks its 70th Anniversary.

Human Rights Day is a day to celebrate and advocate for the protection of Human Rights globally. Since its launch in 1997, the NGOCHR now includes members such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Citizen’s Constitutional Forum, FemLINK Pacific, Ecumenical Centre for Research and Advocacy, Drodrolagi Movement, Social Empowerment and Education Program and observers, Pacific Network on Globalisation, Haus of Khameleon and Diverse Voices and Action for Equality.

The Indonesian report was translated by James Balowski of Indoleft News. The original title of the article was “Ratusan Buruh Berunjuk Rasa di Istana, Soroti Pelanggaran HAM”.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Curious Kids: Where do dreams come from?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Shane Rogers, Lecturer in Psychology, Edith Cowan University

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.


Where do dreams come from? – Winifred, age 4, Selby, Victoria.

Hi Winifred. People have wondered about where dreams come from for a very long time. To be honest, scientists still don’t fully understand where dreams come from. But we have a few ideas.

Dreams are like imagining stuff while you are asleep, so you could say dreams come from your imagination. As you know, our imaginations can be very powerful – if you try imagining your favourite food, your mouth might even start watering.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we need food?


Going to sleep is like putting a computer into “sleep” mode. The computer is not completely switched off, it just is not working as hard. When we go into sleep mode, we can rest and save our energy but we don’t fully turn ourselves off.

When we are asleep our brain does not switch off. It keeps working, but not as hard. But the part of the brain that helps us make decisions when we are awake? It is resting. That’s when our imagination can run wild.

What is she dreaming about? Flickr/Jon Huss, CC BY

Why do we dream?

People who have done research on why we dream have found most dreams people have tend to be about common stuff that happens in our lives (like playing with a friend).

Or we dream about stuff that might be important to us (like an upcoming party).

We think this is the same for animals who dream, too. Cats seem to commonly dream about chasing things, because that’s what cats think about doing a lot when they are awake.

Scientists have found out that when we dream about stuff, it might help us to remember that stuff better when we are awake. So maybe our dreams help us make stronger memories.

It’s a good idea for kids to get a good sleep each night to help you remember what you are learning about each day.

Solving problems

Other scientists think that maybe dreams help us to solve problems.

Let’s say you are learning how to ride a bike or a scooter. You might dream about riding. Maybe you are trying out different ways to ride, get the balance right, and not crash. It’s like you are practising while you are asleep. Then when you are awake, you might even have an idea about how to get better at riding.

Have you ever dreamed you were in a strange place? Flickr/marco, CC BY

But what about strange dreams? Well, it might be that our brain is just trying to make sense of some strange thoughts that come to us while we are asleep.

Maybe nightmares are the brain trying to replay scary experiences in an effort to make sense of them. Researchers have shown that some people might be able to make their bad dreams less scary if they imagine and write down different endings for their dreams and “practise” them before bed.

Some people think dreams might keep the mind busy and entertained, allowing the body to have a good rest.

The truth is, nobody really knows for sure where dreams come from. Maybe the answer will come to you in a dream.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do our brains freak us out with scary dreams?


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

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: Where do dreams come from? – http://theconversation.com/curious-kids-where-do-dreams-come-from-105130

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Newsflash. The government doesn’t need to break up power companies in order to tame prices. The ACCC says so

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

Who wouldn’t want cheaper power?

And who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of a stoush between the big bad generators and the government, trying to break them up on our behalf?

Even if it was largely tangential to keeping prices low.

The “big stick” of forced divestiture, where the government through a court could order an energy company to sell off bits of itself, never made it to a vote in the final chaotic fortnight of parliament just finished.

It will be the subject of a Senate inquiry that will report on March 18. After that, parliament is set to sit for only seven days before the election, so its possible it’ll never happen, under this government.

The government’s bill is good in parts

Parts of its Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill are uncontroversial.

The main trigger was the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s June report, Restoring Electricity Affordability and Australia’s Competitive Advantage.

It found against forced divestiture, but thought along similar lines to the government in some respects.

The legislation presented to parliament this month bans three types of misconduct:

  • electricity retailers’ failing to pass on cost savings
  • energy companies’ refusing to enter into hedge contracts (agreements to buy and sell at a particular price) with smaller competitors
  • generators’ manipulating the spot (short term) market, for example by withholding supply.

It imposes civil penalties for the first, forces companies to offer contracts for the second, and provides for divestiture orders for the third, after they have been recommended by the government and approved by the Federal Court.


Read more: Consumers let down badly by electricity market: ACCC report


There are good reasons for the government to act on the three behaviours, although each of the its proposed solutions raises concerns.

The ACCC wants something similar but different

Firstly, the ACCC did not identify the legislation’s first target as a major cause of high prices. They did observe that it is complicated to shop around and the offers are confusing, and sometime next year Australian governments will force retailers in some states to offer fairer default offers at an affordable price.

But it unclear why the energy sector has been singled out as an industry whose retailers have to pass on cost savings and not supermarkets or banks or airlines or petrol stations or any other kind of industry.

Secondly, the ACCC most certainly did raise concerns about dominant generator-retailers preferring not to enter into hedge contracts with competitors, particularly in South Australia.


Read more: FactCheck Q&A: are South Australia’s high electricity prices ‘the consequence’ of renewable energy policy?


It recommended that the Australian Energy Market Commission impose a “market making obligation” forcing large, so-called gentailers to buy and sell hedge contracts.

Its recommendation has the same intent as the one proposed by the government, although it has the advantage of being administered by a regulator that already exists.

Thirdly, the ACCC also concluded that concentration in the wholesale market means higher prices. Its report focused on the bidding activity of the Queensland government owned generator Stanwell Corporation.

Manipulation isn’t a major price driver

The Grattan Institute identified market manipulation by generators as a contributor to higher prices in our July 2018 report Mostly working: Australia’s wholesale electricity market.

But we found it made a much smaller contribution than high gas and coal prices and the closure of ageing coal generators.

We recommended a rule change to constrain generators’ bidding practices in specific circumstances.


Read more: Why the free market hasn’t slashed power prices (and what to do about it)


The ACCC recommended giving powers to the Australian Energy Regulator to investigate and fix such problems.

It considered a divestiture mechanism of the kind in the government’s leglislation, but rejected it as extreme.

Its own less extreme recommendations would “if implemented, be a better means to restore competition to a level which serves consumers well”.

Breaking up corporations is a broader question

There may well be a case for breaking up corporations whose size prevents or substantially lessens competition. It happens overseas.

The government cites the example of the United States Sherman anti-trust legislation. It has been in place since 1890 and has been famously used to break up Standard Oil and AT&T. The ACCC does not have this power.

There is debate about whether it would work in the much smaller market of Australia.


Read more: Uncomfortable comparisons. Why Rod Sims broke the ACCC record


Allan Fels, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a believes it would.

But quite sensibly he argues it should apply across the board, including sectors such as banking in light of the findings of the royal commission.

Ian Harper, who led the government’s 2015 competition review, is less convinced. However, he says if a divestment power is introduced, it should be introduced broadly.


Read more: Harper Review: a mixed basket for Coles and Woolworths


It’s worth considering divestment powers broadly, rather than rushing to introduce them in one sector of the economy in what was to have been the leadup to Christmas because of a concern that its prices were too high.

The ACCC has already delivered a comprehensive report on the means to bring them down.

The government would be better served acting comprehensively on its recommendations.

ref. Newsflash. The government doesn’t need to break up power companies in order to tame prices. The ACCC says so – http://theconversation.com/newsflash-the-government-doesnt-need-to-break-up-power-companies-in-order-to-tame-prices-the-accc-says-so-108333

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How researchers assess whether medications work

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Yasmine Probst, Senior lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong

This article is in 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 explains how clinical trials assess drug effectiveness.


Ear infections, or “otitis media”, can cause of a lot of pain and discomfort in youngsters. In some children, persistent infections result in hearing loss.

But what sort of treatment should these children have, and how can doctors work out what is actually effective?

Here’s where a type of research called a clinical trial is useful.

Let’s take a look at the “OSTRICH” clinical trial, which investigated the impact of a short course of oral steroids (prednisolone) in children with persistent ear infection leading to fluid build-up in the ear, and hearing loss.


Read more: Bulging ear drums and hearing loss: Aboriginal kids have the highest otitis media rates in the world

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are the favoured type of study for showing cause and effect. They sit near the top of the study pecking order, only outdone in importance by summaries of lots of clinical trials put together.

Clinical trials can assess impact of a medication on a disease or condition. Researchers generally test a particular treatment, and compare the outcome to a different treatment or no treatment (if it’s ethical to do so).

The ideal design is one when the researchers and participants do not know who is assigned to the different treatments being tested. This is referred to as blinding.

Blinding may not always be possible. In food trials for example (where we do most of our work), it is very hard to blind a participant from a food they need to eat. Measures can be taken to minimise the impact of this, though.


Read more: Randomised control trials: what makes them the gold standard in medical research?


The OSTRICH trial

The OSTRICH trial used an approach where they tested a real medication, in this case a steroid, and compared it to a treatment that was almost the same but without the active ingredient – called a placebo.

The researchers worked with 389 children aged two to eight years with ear infection symptoms, fluid build up for at least three months, and with confirmed hearing loss in both ears. Two hundred kids were allocated to received oral steroids, and 189 to receive placebo for seven days.

With this approach they recorded the impact of the treatments on the ear canal and middle ear, and also conducted clinical tests for hearing. The parents kept a diary of symptoms, and completed questionnaires.

The children were followed up five weeks weeks, six months and 12 months after completion of the treatment. The primary outcome for the trial was acceptable hearing confirmed by an audiometry test at five weeks.

Both the families and the researchers did not know who had the real medication until the study was finished – this is called double blinding. This time period meant that researchers had to be careful with the information they collected to avoid potential errors.

Kids are unpredictable

Even with the best laid plans, children are hard to predict. As well as looking at the effect of a medication on a disease, the number of study participants who follow all instructions and finish the study as per the plan is an important outcome.

Not all of the starting 389 kids finished the full 12 months of the OSTRICH trial, and this was due to a variety of reasons. Some families withdrew consent to take part, some children didn’t meet the hearing loss criteria at the outset, and some families couldn’t be contacted as time moved on. Some children didn’t always take their medication. This won’t surprise you if you have ever needed to give a child medicine – of any sort.

Lots of things happen during a clinical trial that reduce your sample size. Francis and colleagues, Lancet Volume 392, Issue 10147, p557-568, August 18, 2018, CC BY

In children who did complete the trial, the results showed no statistically significant difference between children treated with the steroid and those treated with the placebo drug. Assessed at five weeks, hearing was only slightly improved in the group assigned the real medication compared to the group given the placebo.

The study authors wrote:

A short course of oral prednisolone is not an effective treatment for most children aged 2–8 years with persistent otitis media with effusion, but is well tolerated. One in 14 children might achieve improved hearing but not quality of life.

What didn’t they find?

Clinical trials can only make conclusions regarding the effect of what they are testing on the group they have tested it with.

This study quite simply shows that in children aged two to eight, a one-week course of oral steroids has minimal impact on hearing loss in children who had hearing loss due to ear infection and fluid build up, and assessed five weeks after the treatment started.

The study authors can’t conclude that this same finding will apply to children outside of the two- to eight-year age group, or to other types of medications, or steroids given for different time periods.

The researchers commented at the end of their study report that perhaps a clinical trial of oral steroids plus antibiotics is required for children with infection and hearing loss in this age group.


The open access research paper for this analysis is Oral steroids for resolution of otitis media with effusion in children (OSTRICH): a double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomised trial.

ref. How researchers assess whether medications work – http://theconversation.com/how-researchers-assess-whether-medications-work-102773

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media