Economics needs to get real if we want more young Australians to study it

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute; Honorary Professor of Political Economy, University of Sydney

When it comes to studying economics, Australian high school students are voting with their feet. According to data gathered by the Reserve Bank of Australia, year 12 enrolments in economics courses have plunged 70% nationwide over the last 25 years. Enrolments are so low, many schools are abandoning the subject altogether.

And it’s not just that there are fewer students taking economics. Those that do sign up seem rather … well … alike. There are now about twice as many boys than girls taking economics (compared to a 50-50 ratio in 1992). And most of those boys now come from higher-income families.


Read more: Women are dropping out of economics, which means men are running our economy


Economics enrolments at universities haven’t done much better. The number of university students choosing economics has stagnated for a quarter-century, even as student numbers surged. They’re shunning economics in favour of other subjects: whether that’s popular science, technology, engineering and maths, and business programs or socially relevant disciplines such as political-economy and environmental studies.

If we really want more young Australians to study economics (and not just boys from high-income families), the profession needs to reinvent itself – and become a lot more relevant to the big issues young people care about.

The problem with faith in the free market

The Reserve Bank (RBA) worries about students’ lack of interest in economics, and has started a mini-campaign to encourage more young Australians to heed the call of supply and demand. The RBA is lobbying state governments to update their economics curricula, and it sends ambassadors out to classrooms to advocate for economics – emphasising, among other points, that economics graduates earn relatively high salaries.

Economics is one of the most male-dominated professions, and most come from high-income families. Joel Carrett/AAP

We share the RBA’s concern about the terrible lack of diversity in economics (it’s one of the most male-dominated professions, even worse than STEM courses). But the RBA’s campaign inadvertently symbolises what’s wrong with the whole profession: emphasising high salaries in an attempt to reverse falling enrolments only confirms that economics is still infatuated with markets and incentives. This misses the whole point about the most urgent and interesting problems in the world today.

There is no question today’s students are a passionate, socially aware generation. They rightly worry about the world they’re poised to inherit: scarred by climate change, inequality, angry populism, and possibly worse. Not to mention many of those students may never hold a normal permanent job (relegated instead to a never-ending series of “gigs”), and most can’t imagine being able to buy a house.

Given these critical challenges, we can’t blame today’s students for rushing into other disciplines – anything, it seems, but economics. After all, the social and environmental problems they confront are precisely the outcome of the ideological, market-worshipping canon still taught in most economics textbooks.

Markets are efficient. Supply equals demand. Private competition is best. Workers are paid according to their productivity.


Read more: How governments have widened the gap between generations in home ownership


Young people who want to improve the world quickly reject these tenets of economic theory. We, Jim and Richard, think students actually accomplish more to fix the actual economy by studying environmental studies, gender studies or social work, rather than immersing themselves in the theoretical games of free-market economics.

The RBA itself shares the blame for this state of affairs. Its narrow approach to economic policy is largely focused on suppressing inflation and letting markets take care of everything else.

For example, the RBA still claims Australia is almost at full employment. But they define that as 5% unemployment, according to the discredited theory of “non-accelerating inflation unemployment”. This neglects its responsibility, explicitly enshrined in the Reserve Bank Act to create more jobs as its top priority.

Students have proven themselves active and engaged in political and economic issues many times over. Lukas Coch/AAP

It’s a great intellectual irony that neoliberal economics, based on the theory that the market always knows best, is being abandoned by its own “market” (namely, prospective students). They are rejecting its idealised vision of supply and demand in favour of any number of more relevant, interesting disciplines: from business and marketing, to international relations or public health.

And the response of the discipline’s true believers is that its customers (the students) are somehow uninformed and don’t know what’s best for them.

Economics needs context

We both studied economics for many years, we love our profession, and we fervently hope more critical-thinking, passionate young people will take up this discipline – mostly to help us save the economy (and the planet) from conventional economics. But for economics to play a more helpful, critical role, it must thoroughly reinvent itself – and fast.


Read more: Home ownership falling, debts rising – it’s looking grim for the under 40s


It must abandon its ideological and self-serving faith in the efficacy of private markets. It must embrace the social, historical, and environmental context of work, production, and distribution. And it must commit to truly building a better world, rather than justifying the status quo.

Apologising for inequality, selfishness, and pollution rather than confronting them has been the way of free-market economics since its invention. Most young people, understandably, yearn for something else. Let’s give it to them.

ref. Economics needs to get real if we want more young Australians to study it – http://theconversation.com/economics-needs-to-get-real-if-we-want-more-young-australians-to-study-it-112060

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Australia and Indonesia agree to step up military cooperation

Indonesian military … cooperation with Australia is one of the biggest that the TNI enjoys with armies of other countries. Image: TribuneNews

By Gita Irawan in Jakarta

Indonesia’s Army Chief of Staff (Kasad) General Andika Perkasa and Australian Defence Force chief General Angus John Campbell have agreed to further increase military cooperation between the two countries.

The meeting between Perkasa and Campbell was held in the framework of a “courtesy call” between the military leaders of the two countries.

This was conveyed by army information office chief (Kadispenad) Brigadier-General Candra Wijaya in a written press release received by Tribune News this week.

“During the meeting, the Kasad said that the TNI AD’s (army’s) role in safeguarding and defending the unity of the land territory of the NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia] is not easy, so in several of its activities the TNI AD always endeavors to improve professionalism and the quality of its soldiers,” General Wijaya said.

General Wijaya said that this effort include improving education and training programmes and closer cooperation with the armies of friendly countries.

General Wijaya also took the opportunity to say that Perkasa is very aware that the cooperation and the bilateral relationship between the armies of the two countries have been good.

-Partners-

According to General Wijaya, this cooperation is one of the biggest that the TNI AD enjoys with the armies of other countries.

Several proposals
“Because of this, the essence of the discussions at this meeting is that the two sides agree to increase military cooperation between the two countries, particularly their armies,” General Wijaya said.

General Wijaya also said that during the meeting Perkasa made several proposals to General Campbell related to military cooperation.

“This included joint training activities, the exchange of lecturers and instructors, as well as improving the education organised by the TNI AD as well as the Australian Defense Force”, General Wijaya said.

General Wijaya said that that General Campbell welcomed the suggestions made by Perkasa because the Australian Defence Force also hopes that cooperation between the two armies will continue to improve in the future.

Also present at the meeting was Kasad’s Head of Expert Staff Major-General Felix Hutabarat, Deputy Security Advisor Brigadier-General Djaka Budhi Utama, Deputy Assistant of Operations Brigadier-General Untung Budiharto and Indonesia’s Defence Attache in Canberra, Admiral R Teguh Isgunanto.

Translated by James Balowski of Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was “Bersenjata Australia Sepakat Tingkatkan Kerjasama Militer”.

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Sex and sport: how to create a level playing field

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Brenda Midson, Editor, New Zealand Law Journal; Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Waikato

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is due to rule on an application by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that athletes such as South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who have “differences of sexual development”, must medicate to reduce their testosterone levels for six months before competing internationally.

The IAAF claims that the proposed rules will “create a level playing field to ensure all female athletes have an equal chance to excel”. Semenya has filed an appeal against the IAAF.

Those who argue that women with differences of sexual development and transgender should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports usually claim that their testosterone levels and different muscle-to-fat ratios give them an unfair advantage over their competitors. But excluding these women from competition is unfair and potentially a human rights violation.


Read more: Why it might be time to eradicate sex segregation in sports


A breach of human rights

Those with differences of sexual development include women who are born with genetic conditions that give them athletic advantages more commonly attributed to males. Hyperandrogenism, for example, causes the individual to produce more testosterone than is typically present in women.

Semenya and India’s Dutee Chand are both thought to have this condition and have been subjected to intense public scrutiny as a result.

There is also the issue of transgendered women athletes who want to compete against other women. Transgender New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, competed in the 2018 Commonwealth games, amid complaints from the Australian Weightlifting Federation. Another New Zealander, Kate Weatherly, a transgender downhill mountain bike rider, has faced the same kind of scrutiny and challenges to her right to compete against other women.

There is disagreement among experts about whether transgender women do in fact have a physical advantage. Some evidence suggests the opposite is true and the therapy required to transition to a woman results in lower levels of testosterone than are found in women generally.

Laurel Hubbard has been subjected to monthly testosterone tests and her testosterone levels are lower than a “normal” female. Part of the problem here, too, is the assumptions about the characteristics of “normal”.

The level playing field is a myth

These issues aside, what precisely is an unfair advantage? Those who believe transgender women and women with different sexual development should be able to compete in women’s categories point to athletes such as Michael Phelps who has extraordinary physical characteristics that give him a huge competitive advantage in swimming, including his long arms and flexible feet. What makes his advantage fair? Is it because these are qualities Phelps was born with?

If so, then Semenya and Dutee and others who are born intersex or with hyperandrogenism should not cause sporting organisations any problems. But what about transgender athletes? Does the fact they have “chosen” to become women mean they have brought about this state of affairs and so they can justifiably be excluded? And if so, what of all the competitive advantages other women bring with them?

The level playing field is a myth. Aside from these genetic or biological advantages, athletes all differ in terms of the resources they have available to buy the best equipment, trainers and coaches and so on. Should these factors be considered as giving athletes an “unfair” advantage?

Self-identification

In New Zealand, under section 28 of the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Act 1995, a person may apply to the Family Court to have their birth certificate record they are of the opposite sex to that already recorded on the document. There are certain conditions that must be satisfied, and the application must be supported by “expert medical evidence”.

But a new bill proposes to replace the existing process with one based on self-identification, to “allow people to have greater autonomy over their identity”. The Select Committee also recommended including the options of “inter-sex” and “X (unspecified)” to recognise non-binary sexual and gender identities.

A self-identification policy does have the potential to impinge on women’s rights as well as for abuse by males who do not actually identify as women. Both Semenya and Chand have identified as women from birth. Hubbard and Weatherly are also women, notwithstanding that they were assigned a different biological sex at birth.

They should all be treated as such for all purposes. Regardless of their biological sex – if in fact there is such an incontrovertible thing – they are not men masquerading as women to secure a competitive advantage. A nuanced approach is called for; while a self-identification policy may not be the answer, neither is an approach that requires medical intervention as a pre-requisite for recognition.

ref. Sex and sport: how to create a level playing field – http://theconversation.com/sex-and-sport-how-to-create-a-level-playing-field-112219

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Don’t bank on Dollarmites to teach financial literacy: here are our alternatives

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Catherine Attard, Associate Professor, Mathematics Education, Western Sydney University

The recent royal commission into banking has revealed rampant wrongdoing by the big banks. As a result, there is renewed public interest in school banking schemes. The Commonwealth Bank’s Dollarmites program has once again come into the spotlight.

Dollarmites was awarded a 2018 Choice Magazine Shonky award. The program has over 300,000 active participants, and although it’s not the only school banking program, it’s the largest by far.


Read more: Should banks play a role in teaching kids about how to manage money effectively?


According to the Commonwealth Bank, the motive behind the Dollarmites program is to teach good savings habits and develop financial literacy. But I could find little independent research evidence it actually does.

On the surface, the Commonwealth Bank’s intentions are good. But research has found 40% of people develop loyalty to their banks and continue banking with them into adulthood.

We need to consider other options. Here are some research-backed alternatives.

Alternatives to school banking

Financial literacy can be taught both at home and at school, in practical and meaningful ways. If we consider the core business of schools to be learning, then our classrooms are not an appropriate place for the distractions of corporate marketing. There is definitely no time to be wasted on the logistics of organising school banking.


Read more: Financial literacy is a public policy problem


In fact, schools have several options when it comes to teaching financial literacy. There are a number of free resources already aligned to the curriculum.

Parents should have conversations about budgeting with their children. ASIC comic To the Max/AAP

In my research, using ASIC’s MoneySmart resources, financial literacy was combined with maths. Students did activities that allowed them to deal with real money while applying maths skills.

For example, some students borrowed money from the school principal to set up small businesses. They then ran their business at a school market day, and used their profits to buy Christmas gifts for underprivileged children.

Simple activities such as setting up classroom economies or allowing children to help plan events (such as class excursions) are also excellent at engaging children in financial literacy in a fun, realistic and interactive way.

Findings from my study showed learning about money and maths improved engagement, understanding of mathematical concepts and knowledge of financial concepts such as budgeting, profit and loss, lending and interest.

There are also resources such as Banqer, a free subscription-based app that allows students to manage fictitious money to budget and cover expenses (such as “renting” a desk). In my professional opinion, apps such as this are high quality. They may have corporate sponsorships, but are offered brand-free, which is preferable.

Parents can teach financial literacy too

Parents are one of the biggest influences on the financial habits of children. Parents have a responsibility to model good financial behaviours.

Involving children in shopping, having discussions about family budgeting and encouraging children to save some of their pocket money using a bank account of their choice all contribute to the development of financial literacy. These are really simple, everyday things parents can do to help their children learn financial literacy.


Read more: Teaching kids about maths using money can set them up for financial security


ref. Don’t bank on Dollarmites to teach financial literacy: here are our alternatives – http://theconversation.com/dont-bank-on-dollarmites-to-teach-financial-literacy-here-are-our-alternatives-112213

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

#MeToo catches up with spiritual healers: the case of Brazil’s John of God

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cristina Rocha, Director of Religion and Society Research Cluster, Western Sydney University

We’ve seen countless spiritual leaders and religious institutions embroiled in sexual abuse scandals around the globe. Most people are familiar with the scandals in the Catholic Church and other mainstream religious groups. But there have also been scandals in Ashrams, and Zen and Tibetan Buddhist groups.

The latest scandal involves the Brazilian faith healer João Teixeira de Faria, known as João de Deus (John of God), who in the past two decades has become a global guru for hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. Even celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and performance artist Marina Abramovic have visited and promoted him (before the scandal).

John of God claims to be an unconscious medium for spirits who heal through him. He rose to fame due to his remarkable healing methods – he performs actual physical surgery without anaesthesia. Pilgrims don’t seem to develop infections and many report a cure of their symptoms after seeing him.

In her book John Of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing, the co-author of this article, Cristina Rocha, interviewed Westerners who visited John of God. They told her they were seeking not only physical but also emotional and spiritual healing. Many said the experiences at the healing centre were a turning point, which made them believe in the power of the supernatural and changed their lives.

During the decade-long research, Rocha heard rumours about the sexual abuse of women but nothing was ever substantiated. Previous investigations resulted in no convictions.


Read more: The Catholic Church is headed for another sex abuse scandal as #NunsToo speak up


Everything changed in early December, 2018 when 13 women told stories of being sexually abused by de Faria in an explosive interview on Brazilian prime-time TV. Many more women disclosed their abuse to Brazilian police. So far, around 600 Brazilian and foreign women and young girls have described similar experiences of sexual abuse, including rape allegations.

It’s been reported that police found unregistered weapons and around US$400,000 in several currencies hidden in de Faria’s home, in addition to around US$10 million in bank accounts. Allegations have also surfaced of the imprisonment of poor young women who were paid to bear babies for adoption overseas. de Faria denies the allegations.

John of God surrendered himself to police in December and has been remanded in custody since the investigations began. Court cases are likely to follow.

The power of spiritual leaders

Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse exposed that children and other vulnerable groups were far more likely to be sexually abused in religious and spiritual settings. We also know victims often don’t report abuse for fear of retaliation and deep shame. Those who did report their abuse were often not believed and punished further.

Some John of God followers are skeptical of the allegations against him. Facebook (screenshot, name concealed)

In some cases, even after religious and spiritual leaders are found guilty, many followers have a hard time believing the man whom they trusted and was holy in their eyes was actually a sexual predator.

Many foreign followers of John of God have been sceptical of the allegations. This may be because the tour guides who take groups to see the him have downplayed the scandal on social media.

Spiritual organisations are largely patriarchal and hierarchical and there is little or no transparency and accountability. This makes sexual abuse perpetrated by spiritual leaders particularly problematic.

Spiritual leaders such as de Faria tend to be charismatic and are seen as having special powers derived from supernatural sources. They are treated with reverence, often feared and understood as extraordinary men. So, they command a double authority; first as men and second as otherworldly due to their connection to the supernatural.

After witnessing one of de Faria’s surgeries, one follower told Rocha:

This is what I said to myself, ‘This is what Jesus did.’ He was divine power, divine healing incarnate. He used himself to deliver this type of energy people needed. When I saw that, I was like, ‘This is my place. He will heal me’.

The charisma of the leader makes victims believe they are chosen and given special status. This creates a powerful emotional attachment to the spiritual leader, which can put them at risk of manipulation and abuse.


Read more: John of God: my encounter with Brazil’s accused faith healer


They may doubt the truth of their own experiences of abuse (they may think they are not holy enough to understand what is happening to them). They may fear being ostracised by the religious community or the wrath of the supernatural world.

The royal commission heard evidence that a spiritual leader “can look into a person’s soul and know exactly what is right for them”, including using sexual force as part of a what the leader may claim to be a necessary path to spiritual enlightenment.

Women who were allegedly abused by John of God reported he told them sexual contact was a way to heal them and they would be cursed if they were to reject his requests.

What should we do about it?

The arrest of John of God, and the discovery of the extent of the abuse among women and children, is a wake-up call to further investigate the ways in which spiritual leaders and their groups operate outside the bounds of organisational accountability and transparency.

One immediate way forward is for governments to introduce laws that regulate the bureaucratic practices of such organisations through instituting professional standards, criminalising non-disclosure. Appropriate staff training and ensuring mandatory reporting protocols for all staff should also be instituted.

This would send a strong signal and draw a clear line about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour by all leaders in such positions of power, and crucially make an immediate difference to the safety of women and children in spiritual organisations.

ref. #MeToo catches up with spiritual healers: the case of Brazil’s John of God – http://theconversation.com/metoo-catches-up-with-spiritual-healers-the-case-of-brazils-john-of-god-112215

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute is a contemporary spectacle, despite the opera’s outdated attitudes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Vivienne Glance, Hon Research Fellow in Poetry and Theatre studies, University of Western Australia

Review: The Magic Flute, Perth Festival 2019


As the overture ends, the red curtains at His Majesty’s Theatre rise to reveal a flat, white floor-to-ceiling wall. This suddenly transforms to show a young man being chased through a forest by a red dragon-like serpent. But the performer on stage is not really running; he is standing still, with a pair of comic, animated legs projected onto a white board from his waist down.

This opening sequence sets the tone for the Komische Oper Berlin’s cinematic production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade’s interpretation of this popular and oft-performed opera (first performed in 1791) is unlike any previous production staged in Australia. Teaming up with animator Paul Barrit and co-director Andrade, both from UK theatre company 1927, Kosky’s version captures the vaudeville anarchy of the original opera.

The singers inhabit a world filled with monsters, magic, revenge, death, love and lust: a perfect fairy tale scenario. The colour-filled era of 1930s German expressionism and the black and white of the popular silent movies of the 1920s provide consistent design motifs for Barritt’s exquisite, hand-drawn animation.

Paul Barritt’s animation draws upon the aesthetics of German expressionism and silent films of the 1920s. Toni Wilkinson

German expressionism emphasised the artist’s feelings over reality, and the more fantastical elements of this opera are well-suited to this style, full of bright colours and simple shapes. Blending this with live action and live music (Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hendrik Vestmann) makes the production quite unique. The performers add to this with stylistic movements straight out of silent film, including wide-eyes and exaggerated tip-toeing steps.

The opera’s protaganist, the young prince Tamino, was sympathetically portrayed by Aaron Blake on opening night (most roles are rotated between two performers). He has a compelling presence on stage, and there is a wonderful sequence where his soaring tenor voice is accompanied by animated creatures from the constellations, charmed by his magic flute.

Tamino’s unlikely companion, the bird-catcher, Papageno, was performed in a canary-yellow suit by Joan Martín-Royo. He is wonderfully entertaining, and shows a versatile emotional range moving from alcoholic euphoria through suicidal despair, to undying, stuttering love. The duet when Papageno is finally together with his love Papagena, played as a stockinged chorus girl by Talya Lieberman, is delightful and made even funnier by the exaggerated animation.

No Magic Flute review would be complete without comment on the Queen of the Night and her rendition of the famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache” (Hell’s Revenge). Kosky and Andrade depict the queen as a spider with coloratura soprano, Christina Poulitsi, placed high up on a platform.

The Queen of the Night is depicted as a spider in Barrie Kosky’s production.

While the screen is filled with her prodding, spindly legs, the singer is confined in a body sleeve. Nonetheless, she displays her range and virtuosity with a note-perfect performance.

The woman Tamino falls desperately in love with is Pamina, sung beautifully by Soprano Iwona Sobotka on opening night. She played the heroine-in-need-of-rescue to perfection, but despite the sexism spouted by some characters, Pamina showed courage, determination and integrity.

That said, she does fall into despair when she believes she is no longer loved by Tamino, and Sobotka sings Pamina’s aria with great feeling as she contemplates suicide.

Pamina and Papageno in The Magic Flute. Toni Wilkinson

Indeed, The Magic Flute is a problematic work when to comes to the portrayal of women. For example, the Three Ladies who serve the Queen of the Night start complaining about each other in the first scene.

Male characters make generalised statements about women’s failings: when Pamino’s captor, Sarastro states that “women do little but talk a lot” there was an audible groan from the audience; and Papageno dreams of catching a thousand women by bewitching them with his pipes.

However, these attitudes are countered by the suggestion that if a woman has no fear of death or night, then she is worthy to enter Sarastro’s Temple. Pamina earns this respect from the Temple knights by accompanying Tamino on his trail of Fire and Water, wonderfully realised through animation with images of skeletons in the bowels of the earth and deep-ocean creatures.

The original opera also has racist elements, with the black slave, Monstatos, depicted as a self-loathing, sexual predator. This production side-steps this by making this character look like Nosferatu from the 1922 silent horror movie. He is played so villainously by Ivan Tursic that he provoked pantomime “boos” during his curtain call.

Monstatos is portrayed villainously by Ivan Tursic. Toni Wilkinson

Despite the historical problems with this 200-year-old opera, Kosky and Andrade have created a visual spectacle that, along with the fine performances, provides an enjoyable and accessible night of opera.

However, there are limitations to the staging. The flat wall across the stage onto which the amazing animation is projected includes five access doors placed high up, each with one-person-sized platforms in front. Another door is in the centre at the stage level. This means that characters can only be positioned across the front of the stage or on these platforms.

Efforts are made to break up the staging by having the characters bring on hand-held projector screens, but at times it felt a little repetitive. Yet that is a minor quibble. With a packed house on opening night, it seems audiences will never tire of this fantastical tale.


The Magic Flute is playing at Perth Festival until February 23.

ref. Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute is a contemporary spectacle, despite the opera’s outdated attitudes – http://theconversation.com/barrie-koskys-the-magic-flute-is-a-contemporary-spectacle-despite-the-operas-outdated-attitudes-112284

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Julie Bishop’s retirement and misbehaving ministers

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

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini and Michelle Grattan talk about the week in politics. They discuss Julie Bishop finally announcing her retirement and how damaging this might be for the Liberal party; the pressure on Mathias Corman following his dealings with travel company HelloWorld; and the cyber security concerns after revelations that the major parties’ networks were hacked.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: Bishop’s boots were made for walking


ref. VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Julie Bishop’s retirement and misbehaving ministers – http://theconversation.com/video-michelle-grattan-on-julie-bishops-retirement-and-misbehaving-ministers-112299

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

2001 polls in review: September 11 influenced election outcome far more than Tampa incident

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

Many commentators have compared Labor’s support for the Medevac legislation with the Tampa incident in late August 2001. The implication is that Labor lost the 2001 election due to Tampa, and could lose this year’s election due to Medevac.

Political commentator Katharine Murphy has said she was certain at the time Labor leader Kim Beazley “had just lost the election” after announcing Labor would vote against retrospective legislation giving the Coalition government the power to forcibly remove the Tampa from Australian territorial waters.


Read more: Australian politics explainer: the MV Tampa and the transformation of asylum-seeker policy


But are the claims that Labor lost the 2001 election due to the Tampa true? The Poll Bludger, William Bowe, kindly sent me the polling data for the 1998-2001 term, on which the historical BludgerTrack is based. BludgerTrack is a bias-adjusted poll aggregate.

I have used this data to create the graph below of the Coalition vs Labor two party preferred vote during 2001. The election was on November 10.

BludgerTrack two party preferred vote during 2001.

The graph shows that Labor had a massive lead in March 2001 of about 57-43, but it gradually narrowed to about 52-48 by the time Australian government involvement in the Tampa incident began on August 26. The Tampa was denied permission to dock at Christmas Island and deliver asylum seekers who had been rescued.

The Coalition received about a two-point boost from the Tampa affair to draw level with Labor. However, it had a much bigger lift from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which lifted the Coalition’s vote five points to about a 55-45 lead. As the shock of the attacks wore off, the Coalition’s vote fell back to a 51.0-49.0 victory on election day (November 10).

If the Tampa had occurred in 2001, but not September 11, other issues, such as the economy, health and education, would probably have appealed to people in the lead-up to the election more than boats. Labor could have recovered to an election-winning position. September 11 made national security a huge asset for the Coalition government at the 2001 election.

If not for September 11, Labor may have won the 2001 election. The Tampa put the Coalition into a tie with Labor, not a lead.

Analyst Peter Brent in Inside Story thinks that, given economic factors, the Coalition would probably have won the election by 51-49 without either the Tampa or September 11. You can achieve this result by drawing a line from the Coalition’s nadir in March to the election, with the assumption that the slow improvement in the polls had continued.


Read more: If Beazley had become prime minister instead of Rudd, might we have had more stable government?


However, the graph shows the Coalition’s recovery had stalled for over a month before the Tampa. Even though the September 11 shock had faded by the election, the boost it gave to the importance of the Coalition strength of national security assisted the Coalition at the election.

Labor did not lose the 2001 election because of the Tampa, and they are unlikely to lose the 2019 election because of their support for the Medevac bill. I believe the shock factor of terrorist incidents has been reduced by their frequency. There were two terrorist atrocities shortly before the 2017 UK general election, yet UK Labour performed much better than expected at that election.

Eight UK Labour and three Conservatives MPs form new Independent Group

On Monday, seven UK Labour MPs resigned from their party to form The Independent Group. In the next two days, another Labour MP and three Conservative MPs also resigned to join The Independent Group.

While other causes, such as alleged antisemitism within Labour, have been cited, the reason these defections have happened now is Brexit. The defecting MPs are strongly opposed to their former party’s handling of Brexit, and all want a second referendum on Brexit – currently opposed by both major parties.

The Independent Group MPs have consistently voted in favour of proposals to avoid a “no deal” Brexit when the UK leaves the European Union on March 29. However, these MPs votes will not change. To avoid a no deal, either other MPs votes must change, or the major parties need to reach a compromise. The next important Brexit votes will be on February 27. The article I wrote on my personal website in January about why a no deal Brexit is a plausible scenario is still relevant.

ref. 2001 polls in review: September 11 influenced election outcome far more than Tampa incident – http://theconversation.com/2001-polls-in-review-september-11-influenced-election-outcome-far-more-than-tampa-incident-112139

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

‘I think we should be very concerned’: A cyber crime expert on this week’s hack and what needs to happen next

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this week that a “sophisticated state actor” had targeted the big Australian political parties in a major cyber attack, the revelation threw up more questions than answers.

Who did it and how? What data did they get their hands on? How vulnerable is our data – and our democracy?


Read more: We’ve been hacked – so will the data be weaponised to influence election 2019? Here’s what to look for


To make sense of it all, we’re hearing today from Nigel Phair, the director of UNSW Canberra Cyber and an expert on the intersection of crime, technology and society.

He said that while hacks like these should be seen as “the new normal” there was good reason to be concerned.

“Just merely having a breach is quite a big deal. Secondly, you look at the information that they hold. Political parties have information on donors – who they are and how much they give and what they want for it. They have information on the electorate, they have information on their own party politics and tactics for Senate Estimates for Question Time, those sorts of things,” he said.

“So that’s a lot of rich data that you could then use as a nation state to infiltrate other areas to perhaps change voter outcomes.”

The hackers may have used social engineering techniques such as phishing to gain access to the data, he said.

“They are quite unsophisticated attacks. It’s often spoofing an organisation or a person and getting someone, an end user, to reveal login credentials. And because we share passwords across multiple logins, that’s how you gain access to a trophy asset,” he said, adding that the hack served as a reminder to use a password manager and ensure all passwords are long and strong.

“I think we should be very concerned. We’ve got a great case study from the US. We’re very allied to the US and when you look at how nation states have disrupted that election I think it’s a given that there are many out there that’ll disrupt ours.”

You can read an edited transcript of the interview below.


Read more: A state actor has targeted Australian political parties – but that shouldn’t surprise us


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ABC news report

Image:

AAP (Various)/Shutterstock/The Conversation

Transcript

SUNANDA CREAGH: And so what’s the main concern? Why was everybody so worried about this, particularly earlier this week?

NIGEL PHAIR: I think when you look at the history with the attack in the US on the DNC (Democratic National Committee), and a lot that’s been reported in the US about nation states trying to infiltrate the election process over there and change people’s voting habits and we’re some weeks/months from an election here – it strikes at the heart of what could be our dear beloved democracy, when you have nation state actors trying to influence voting outcomes.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And what do you think this week’s events tell us about the cyber security weaknesses here in Australia?

NIGEL PHAIR: It tells us that no organisation is immune. It tells us that cyber is another vector for people trying to win the hearts and minds of people.

SUNANDA CREAGH: If I was a sophisticated nation state using this as a strategy to achieve that goal, how might this sort of hack help me achieve that goal? What do you think they were actually trying to do here?

NIGEL PHAIR: There’s a number of things that they’ve achieved. Firstly, is the goal of doing the hack. When we look at parliament house, we look at the political parties, when we think about it, they’re revered from a democratic perspective. Just merely having a breach is quite a big deal.

Secondly, you look at the information that they hold. Political parties have information on donors – who they are and how much they give and what they want for it. They have information on the electorate, they have information on their own party politics and tactics for Senate Estimates for Question Time, those sorts of things. So a lot of rich data that you could then use as a nation state to infiltrate other areas to perhaps change voter outcomes.

SUNANDA CREAGH: China has strongly denied that it was involved but a lot of speculation has focused on that country, as opposed to Russia or another state actor that’s been linked to this kind of behaviour in other contexts. In Australia, why do you think speculation has focused on China as a potential perpetrator?

NIGEL PHAIR: Basically because they’re a near neighbour to ours, they’re in our arc of instability. They’re well known for their theft of intellectual property online. They’re well known for not adhering to the international norms of cyberspace. Add that all up and that’s why people keep pointing the finger at them.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And I believe there’s news reports that China was linked to other previous hacks of universities and parliament and other key pieces of computer infrastructure around Australia. Is that right?

NIGEL PHAIR: That’s right. They’ve been well known to do a range of cyber attacks on a range of different organisations – government, non-government, commercial etc.

SUNANDA CREAGH: So in the context of concerns that Australians have about the government’s capacity to keep our personal information safe – and I’m thinking here about the talk around My Health Record, the census – what does this hack tell us, if anything, about how capable the government and people in power are at guarding our private details?

NIGEL PHAIR: I think we need to go back a couple of steps before we start to think about this. Government, what they haven’t done is take the citizenry of Australia on a journey. They haven’t explained to them what it means to participate in a digital economy. What it means to be a good online citizen and transact with government and social media, commercially, e-commerce. If we had that narrative from the outset then people could understand that the internet is just another public place where they act ethically and lawfully and responsibly to what they do in the real world, then I think we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Because people would be able to have an informed decision about what it means to participate with My Health Record, or participate in an online census or other government instruments. But at the moment we just never had that background and people don’t have the certainty and because of that they make knee-jerk reactions.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Where do you land on this issue, do you think the government is capable of keeping that data safe?

NIGEL PHAIR: I think the government is capable of keeping it safe. The systems around My Health Record for example are really quite secure and there’s a lot of technologies, a lot of process and a lot of policy to ensure. But the reality is if there is going to be a breach of my health record, it’ll probably happen at a doctor’s surgery where there’s an unpatched or unprotected computer, or a user not using a good password, or accidentally emailing the wrong patient records to someone. It will be the end user compromise which we’ll see will be the failure. And that’s what the government isn’t investing in. It’s great to say they have a great secure system themselves but again we need to wind the clock back several years and start telling people this is what it means.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Just on this hack, how might it have been actually perpetrated? Can you just explain that to me in really basic terms?

NIGEL PHAIR: We don’t know yet until the forensic examination is done about how it occurred. Invariably, it was most probably some sort of social engineering attack against someone on the network. Most probably a phishing attack or something similar, where a person is targeted rather than the network itself is targeted. But again, until we know the forensics, we’re just speculating.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And those phishing and social engineering attacks, am I right in thinking they mainly focus on trying to get somebody to reveal their password or their login details to another person who is perhaps impersonating somebody else or impersonating an official password reset type email. Is that the sort of thing you mean there about the social engineering?

NIGEL PHAIR: Invariably, they are quite unsophisticated attacks. It’s spoofing an organisation or a person. Getting someone, an end user, to reveal login credentials and because we share passwords across multiple logins, that’s how you gain access to a trophy asset.

SUNANDA CREAGH: So the lesson there for all of us really is never reuse your password details and get a password manager. Am I right?

NIGEL PHAIR: You are right.

SUNANDA CREAGH: We’ve heard some commentators saying that this is the new normal, that this type of attack really should be expected in this day and age. What do you think about that?

NIGEL PHAIR: It’s been the new normal for quite some time. The reality is, most organisations get hacked just don’t know they’ve been hacked. This is all of a sudden a trophy matter, it’s come at the time where parliament is sitting, so it’s really got some attention in society, which is a great thing. And added to that the government that’s come out and actually said this is what’s happened and that is a completely different policy shift, whereas before it was swept under the carpet.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Do you think that’s a positive policy shift?

NIGEL PHAIR: There’s a great positive. We need to start having a conversation about what it means to be online and what it means to participate. And the fact is there’s countries out there, there’s actors out there trying to do us harm and Australians need to be brought into that confidence.

SUNANDA CREAGH: There was a lot of talk about this at the start of this week, but it really has sort of shifted off the news headlines toward the end of the week and some people are now saying that was a lot of noise over what? And I’ve seen some media commentators saying that this was an announcement that fed into a narrative of fear as election day draws closer. And that is a criticism that’s been directed at the government in the past in their rhetoric around border control and security in more general terms. To what extent do you see this announcement as about safety and awareness and how much of it is politics?

NIGEL PHAIR: I couldn’t put a percentage on either way but I focus purely on the safety and awareness side of it. I just think that’s the value of the message – is the safety and awareness.

SUNANDA CREAGH: It’s an important message to get out to make people aware of those risks. And, as you say, bring them into that conversation around online security and online participation in an active globally networked world, is that right?

NIGEL PHAIR: That’s right.

SUNANDA CREAGH: So what needs to be done? What should governments do to reduce risks and educate people?

NIGEL PHAIR: So the first thing for their internal networks, they need to do a proper risk management exercise. They need to identify the key target assets they hold and work out how sensitive that information is and put appropriate controls around where that data sits. Whether it’s a technology stack, whether it’s internal, cloud-based, those sort of decisions. And secondly, who has access to it, why they have access to it and how they access it. And once you start doing some simple things like that, you’ll find the cyber security posture of parliament house or a political party or anyone else in corporate Australia can really change the way that they’re viewed from a cyber security perspective.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And if, and I know this is speculation, but if the source of the problem was somebody sharing their login credentials or being victim to a phishing scam or victim to some social engineering then it sounds like it’s possible that some education is needed around that issue and what to be aware of and how not to get tricked online.

NIGEL PHAIR: Well, that’s a tough one. There aren’t sufficient technical controls to protect our data and ourselves online. In fact, we should’ve looked for any technical silver bullet. Likewise, we know education doesn’t work either. But education is all we have. So all we can keep doing is reinforce the message, particularly amongst young people as they grow up and participate in the online economy, and hopefully as time goes on we’ll be better protected for it.

SUNANDA CREAGH: In other words, not forgetting to address the capacity for human error in our effort to cover off and protect ourselves from technical error.

NIGEL PHAIR: Human error, but also the use of third parties and outlying people that you might not have specific command and control over.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And going back to this week’s hack, if I am an individual who has given my details as a donor or as a supporter to a political party, what does this hack tell us about what we as individuals might do in future to protect our data?

NIGEL PHAIR: Well, if you think you’ve (experienced) a loss of your data through this process, the first thing to do – contact the party that you’ve made say the donation or whatever it might be to. Secondly would be to start thinking about how that data or information that’s been stolen might be used against you – whether it’s identity theft or takeover, for example. So you need to start monitoring your bank accounts, you need to start thinking about consumer credit that might be done in your name. So you should be probably doing a credit reference check.

SUNANDA CREAGH: What advice do you give to people who want to use best practice in keeping their details safe online?

NIGEL PHAIR: Best thing you can do is use strong and long passwords. More stealthy it is, the harder it will be to guess by anyone else. Second, don’t replay the same password across multiple logins. Thirdly, be really wary when online and navigating around social media and e-commerce and other places. Really think about where you put your personal information in and why you’re placing it into a particular website or a portal.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Now, in the US we’ve heard about state actors really appearing to have an influence on election outcomes. How concerned do you think Australians should be about that happening here?

NIGEL PHAIR: I think we should be very concerned, we’ve got a great case study from the US. We’re very allied to the US and when you look at nation states that have disrupted that election I think it’s a given that there’s many out there that’ll disrupt ours.

SUNANDA CREAGH: So what can we do about that?

NIGEL PHAIR: It’s a tough one. We need to start working with all the players involved. And this is where the social media companies come into it. Your Googles, your Facebooks, your Twitters, your Instagrams etc. Because that’s the place of choice that nation states will use to send out any bespoke messaging.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Should we be changing any progression we’re making in Australia towards electronic voting?

NIGEL PHAIR: We have zero progression towards electronic voting, unfortunately, and I think it’s a great thing. But because we had the census failure, because we had the robo-debt issues, because we had the My Health Record issues, as a population there’s no way in my generation that we will see electronic voting. We just won’t countenance it because of the perceived risks. I’m a pro-online guy. We doom and gloom everything online too much and I’m guilty for doing that. But we want people to participate online. We are great and early adopters of mobile smart devices and we love being online itself, so it makes sense for service delivery to be online, it makes sense to order your food online, to do social media, participate in everything, there’s a lot of good benefit. But because we hear this messaging all the time about the government can’t deal with online issues, there’s already this level of distrust and dissatisfaction out there that voting will just be another one of those things. And the facts just don’t support that.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Would there be anything that you’d change about the way political parties collect or are allowed to collect data on people given that they seem to be a perfect target or a growing target?

NIGEL PHAIR: Oh, there’s lots I’d change. Primary to that is the Privacy Act and adherence to the privacy principles of which political parties don’t need to.

SUNANDA CREAGH: In what way? What change would you make?

NIGEL PHAIR: Well, I’d ensure that political parties have to adhere to the privacy principles when it comes to the collection, the storage, retention and dissemination of personally identifying information.

SUNANDA CREAGH: And what are the privacy principles?

NIGEL PHAIR: Well the privacy principles, there’s 13 of them, inform organisations in Australia where they have a turnover of more than A$3 million about how they should collect data, how they should store that data, how they should disseminate it and how they should destroy it. There’s some simple advice that’s provided by the Australian Office of the Information Commissioner. And they’re quite easy to adhere to, but unfortunately political parties are exempt from that and I see that as being a bad thing.

SUNANDA CREAGH: So we’re at a point where I guess you’d have to assume that basically anybody could be a target for a hack and any organisation could be. So what options are there for organisations like political parties that don’t have My Health Record level of security set ups or government scale security set ups?

NIGEL PHAIR: Well, the first thing they have to do is acknowledge that they’re are a target. Then they have to go through a risked-based process to understand what their information assets are, what their technology stack is, and who has access to it and make sound investment decisions around that. We can no longer, as a society, just say “it’s not us that gets hacked, it’s always someone else”. I mean, there is a cost of participating online.

SUNANDA CREAGH: Nigel Phair, thank you so much for talking to us.

NIGEL PHAIR: Pleasure.

ref. ‘I think we should be very concerned’: A cyber crime expert on this week’s hack and what needs to happen next – http://theconversation.com/i-think-we-should-be-very-concerned-a-cyber-crime-expert-on-this-weeks-hack-and-what-needs-to-happen-next-112070

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How the dinosaurs went extinct: asteroid collision triggered potentially deadly volcanic eruptions

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Craig O’Neill, Director of the Macquarie Planetary Research Centre/Associate Professor in Geodynamics, Macquarie University

It’s almost 40 years since scientists discovered what wiped out the dinosaurs: an asteroid hitting Earth near modern-day Mexico. That was it, or so we thought.

A paper published today in Science further supports an alternative hypothesis: that catastrophic events following the impact could have helped cause the end of the dinosaurs and many other forms of life.

This builds on earlier work – including some published last year – suggesting a connection between the asteroid impact, increased volcanic eruptions, and the mass extinction event.

Sudden impact

Back in 1980, the American experimental physicist Luis Alvarez, his geologist son Walter and their colleagues published an influential paper in the journal Science.


Read more: Life quickly finds a way: the surprisingly swift end to evolution’s big bang


In it, they outlined evidence of a global catastrophe, buried in a layer spread all over the planet, about 66 million years ago.

They found high levels of iridium – a rare element in Earth’s crust, but common in meteorites. They found shocked quartz – grains of quartz with telltale fractures from the blast wave of the impact, as well as evidence of molten rock thrown out from the impact blast.

With the later discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, the case seemed sealed.

The reign of the dinosaurs ended with a meteorite impact, marking the end of the Cretaceous, and start of the Paleogene period, called the K-Pg boundary.

Was there something else?

Yet within the Earth science community, discontent continued to simmer.

Two of the largest mass extinctions in the geological record both coincide with the largest exposed continental flood basalt events in the past 542 million years. They are the end of the Permian 251 million years ago, and – as today’s Science paper highlights – the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago.

The coincidence seems too great.

In understanding the link between flood volcanism, meteorite impacts and extinctions, timing is everything.

In the new Science paper, a team from the United States and India present some of the most precise dates yet for the enormous eruptions in India, in a unit known as the Deccan Traps – an enormous flood basalt province in Western India that covers more than 500,000km2 and in places is more than 2km thick.

Map outlining exposed areas of the Deccan Traps in modern day India. Courtney Sprain

They found that the best date for the Chicxulub impact – at 66.052 million years ago – was within 50,000 years of the peak eruption period of the Deccan Traps, meaning that the impact, and the ramp-up in volcanism, were essentially simultaneous.

A seismic connection

A connection between an impact in the Caribbean and volcanism in the Indian Ocean may seem tenuous, but in planetary science these associations are not uncommon.

One dramatic example is the Caloris Basin on the planet Mercury – a 1,500km-wide structure from an earlier meteorite impact.

Antipodal (at the opposite side of the planet) to this is a bizarre, fractured landscape called the disrupted terrain, which formed from shock waves from the impact at Caloris.

This forms a precedent of sorts – an impact can create geological changes at vast distances. But back on Earth 66 million years ago, Chicxulub and the Deccan Traps weren’t quite antipodal.

The Deccan Traps formed when that part of what is now India was roughly over present-day Reunion Island, a small French Island near Madagascar. This island is still volcanically active, and powered by the same mantle upwelling that caused the Deccan volcanism.

The Yucatan Peninsula, like much of the Americas, was significantly closer to Europe (see below).

Reconstruction of Earth’s plates at 66 million years ago. The stars show the position of the Deccan Traps near India, and Chicxulub impact in Mexico. Image created by C O’Neill using GPlates (Gplates.org), Author provided

But that may not matter. It has long been argued, since at least Charles Darwin in 1840, that earthquakes may trigger eruptions.

The mechanisms are not well understood. Suggestions range from bubble formation in magmas, to the development of fractures in the crust allowing magma to escape faster.

It has been recognised, though, that despite their distance from earthquakes, some volcanoes are simply more sensitive to earthquake activity than others, particularly very active volcanoes. Few volcanic events were more active than the Deccan Traps.

Deccan Traps lava flows in Western Ghats, India. Courtney Sprain

Increased volcanic activity

At the same time as the Deccan volcanic ramp-up, the global mid-ocean ridge system in the Pacific and Indian Oceans seems to have experienced increased activity.

Formed when two plates move apart, ocean ridges form the most extensive volcanic system on the planet.

Analysis of global gravity has indicated anomalously thick crust at the K-Pg boundary, formed due to excess volcanic activity. This effect is only seen in the fastestspreading, and thus most volcanically active, systems in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Together, these observations suggest a global pulse of volcanic input at the time of the Cretaceous mass extinction, driven by the shock wave of the Chicxulub impact.

Wipeout

Exactly how this perfect storm of natural disasters – an asteroid collision and increased volcanic activity – drove the mass extinction of so much life on Earth is unclear at the moment.

As Science paper’s first author, Courtney Sprain, a former UC Berkeley doctoral student now at the University of Liverpool, UK, puts it:

Either the Deccan eruptions did not play a role – which we think unlikely – or a lot of climate-modifying gases were erupted during the lowest volume pulse of the eruptions.


Read more: Curious Kids: How many dinosaurs in total lived on Earth during all periods?


Volcanism can warm the Earth, due to eruption of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon-dioxide. It can, along with impacts, also cool the atmosphere by adding sulfur aerosols or dust, respectively.

Gases can also reach the atmosphere from magma stewing below the surface, even without eruptions.

It’s not precisely clear how all these combined to decimate terrestrial and marine ecosystems, but an accurate timeline of events is critical to unravelling these interactions.

ref. How the dinosaurs went extinct: asteroid collision triggered potentially deadly volcanic eruptions – http://theconversation.com/how-the-dinosaurs-went-extinct-asteroid-collision-triggered-potentially-deadly-volcanic-eruptions-112134

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media