It’s despair, not depression, that’s responsible for Indigenous suicide

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tim Carey, Professor, Director of the Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University

This article was written with Rob McPhee, Deputy CEO of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service and co-chair of the Commonwealth-funded Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Working Group.

Last year, 165 Indigenous Australians died as a result of suicide. Despite continued efforts to improve suicide prevention programs, there has been no no appreciable reduction in the suicide rate in ten years.

While suicide is the 14th leading cause of death for non-Indigenous Australians, it is ranked fifth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We often equate suicide with mental illness, but as a recent Senate inquiry report into rural mental health found:

… in too many cases, the causes of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is not mental illness, but despair caused by the history of dispossession combined with the social and economic conditions in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live.

This statement should not be a surprise, but it is all too easily forgotten. A diagnosis of mental illness is only one of a number of risk factors for suicide.

Not just a mental health issue

The medicalisation of suicide may have distracted us from the fact that suicide is a complex social phenomenon, deeply embedded in culture and history.

A diagnosed mental illness is present in only about half of those who die by suicide. A study examining suicides in Victoria between 2009 and 2013, for instance, found 48% of the 2,839 people who took their own life had no history of mental illness diagnosis.

Read more: We need to move beyond the medical model to address Indigenous suicide

The statistics are even more extreme for other cultures. In China, fewer than 50% of people who died by suicide had a diagnosed mental disorder; in India, fewer than 40%. And in Malaysia, the proportion was only 22%.

Research tracking an audit of suicide and self-harm data in the Kimberley region between 2005 and 2014 found that 70% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who died by suicide had never been referred to the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service and were unknown to this service.

Other factors

While a history of mental illness diagnosis remains an important risk factor, it can sometimes overshadow other factors. There are specific cultural, historical, and political considerations that heavily influence the high rates of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Other factors include social isolation, unemployment, poverty, family conflict, incarceration, hopelessness, childhood abuse, and homelessness.

The importance of these factors, particularly for people living in remote and very remote communities, must be considered in the context of other crucial elements such as a history of dispossession and transgenerational trauma.

Transgenerational trauma refers to the transfer of the impacts of historical trauma and grief to successive generations. For instance, the trauma can be transmitted from one generation to the next through cycles of family violence. These multiple layers of trauma can have a cumulative effect and increase the risk of destructive behaviours including suicide.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be empowered to make their own decisions and drive their own reform. Glenn Campbell/AAP

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are, in essence, not just going about the day, but operating in crisis mode on a daily basis.

Social and emotional well-being

We need to reconsider mainstream assumptions and solutions that see suicide primarily as a mental health issue. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be able to control the things important to them, and influence and shape the environments in which they live, work and play.

Prior to colonisation, Indigenous Australians could control their day-to-day living in ways that have been largely denied to them since.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need the support and resources to find their own solutions. Having solutions provided to them, or coaxing them to adopt solutions discovered by others, will not work very well or for very long.

A social and emotional well-being understanding of psychological functioning should underpin efforts to address suicide. This model is a distinctively different way of conceptualising a person’s state of mind.

It emphasises connections or relationships with and between the body, mind and emotions, family and kinship, country, culture, community and spirit, spirituality, and ancestors. This should make it possible for people to feel more engaged with, and in charge of, their lives.

An evaluation of a locally developed program in a very remote community that embraced the above principles reported a dramatic reduction in suicides over a three-year period.

This program involved extensive community involvement and consultation. There were Aboriginal (including a traditional healer) and non-Indigenous people operating the program, with different activities based on community needs and interests. The program was closely connected to the local primary care clinic.

Read more: Traditional Aboriginal healers should work alongside doctors to help close the gap

A model that addresses social and emotional well-being could be useful for all Australians. If we prioritise this model, rather than the mainstream concept of mental health dysfunction, we might finally make some inroads into the far-too-frequent occurrence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide.

Listen rather than tell

As non-Indigenous contributors to the solution, we need to listen rather than tell, because in this terrain we are not the experts. Even in the writing of this article, the non-Indigenous first author prepared this document under the guidance and tutelage of the second author, an Aboriginal man, with cultural connections to Derby and the Pilbara.

Ultimately, for their efforts to be experienced as helpful by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, non-Indigenous contributors must forgo their own cherished notions of a solution and learn from the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To bring about meaningful change we must follow far more than we lead.

It remains to be seen if we are up to the task but, ultimately, the stakes are too high to fail.

If you or anyone you know needs help or is having suicidal thoughts, contact Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 22 46 36.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Can the Big Bash League’s backyard cricket bat flip truly be fair?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, University of Technology Sydney

Ahead of the start of the 2018-19 Big Bash League season comes news of a radical change that will bring a smile to the faces of backyard cricketers across the country.

In a move familiar to everyone who has ever improvised a set of stumps from a nearby wheelie bin or Esky, the coin toss is no more.

Instead, batting order will be decided by the tried-and-tested method of backyard cricketers everywhere: the bat flip.

The coin toss was used by Adelaide Strikers captain Suzie Bates and Sydney Sixers captain Ellyse Perry before the Womens Big Bash League (WBBL) match in January this year. AAP Image/Jeremy Ng

No more ‘heads’ or ‘tails’

Rather than calling “heads” or “tails”, team captains will be guessing if the bat will land with its flat side upwards (called “flats”) or downwards (“hills”).

Most seasoned veterans of backyard cricket tend to favour a call of “hills”, thinking that the bat will more likely roll over if it lands on its uneven side, compared with if it lands flat.

The Big Bash League’s Kim McConnie was confident that such predictability will not be an issue.

Cricket Australia’s head of Big Bash League, Kim McConnie. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

She told the ABC that bat-maker Kookaburra had developed a special bat for this purpose:

You’d be surprised at the science that’s gone into this. It is a specially weighted bat to make sure that it is 50-50.

Despite such bold claims, it remains to be seen whether the bat flip will prove to be as unbiased once the season begins.

Howzat for fairness?

Even a standard coin, whose two sides are far more evenly weighted and shaped than any cricket bat, can never be said to be truly a 50-50 proposition.

The simple fact is that there is no such thing as a coin that is absolutely fair. Even a completely symmetrical coin could be biased towards one outcome – whether deliberately or otherwise – by the action of the person tossing the coin.

Some people’s technique will push the coin higher. Others might give the coin more rotation.

As US president Donald Trump recently (and strangely) demonstrated, some people have a style all of their own.

Call that a coin toss?

In a 2009 study, researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that even a regular coin could easily be made to produce biased outcomes when the person tossing it was told “how to manipulate the toss of a coin” and incentivised to make it so.

Of 13 participants, each flipping the coin 300 times, all managed to produce more heads than tails. Overall, of the 3,900 tosses, 57% landed heads. One participant was able to obtain heads more than twice as often as tails.

Put to the test

In the haphazard and improvised spirit of backyard cricket, I decided to see how a cricket bat would land when flipped. I, of course, did not have access to one of the new Big Bash League bats so had to make to with the old battered bat from the back of the garden shed.

With a nod to procedural fairness, I decided to try two different techniques: low rotation (aiming for two of three flips while in the area) and a high rotation (as many flips as I could manage). Each of these techniques was applied 100 times to the bat being flipped from “hills” up in my hands, and 100 times from “flats” up.

I’ll be the first to admit that this resembles serious scientific rigour about as much as the browning patch of grass next to your parents’ Hills Hoist resembles the MCG.

A greater sample size would have been preferable, but this was as much as I could muster in fading light in a suburban backyard.

Keeping score

Based solely on the results of my backyard testing, you can likely chalk this one up as a win for conventional wisdom.

Especially when the bat was flipped with high rotation, it appeared to exhibit bias towards landing “hills.” For the less vigorous flipping technique, its initial orientation influenced the outcome more and the results were closer to 50-50.

In fairness to the league and its equipment suppliers, I would imagine that the bats used will be a little less prone to bias than the one available to me.

Nonetheless, whatever results Kookaburra’s testing machine produced with its bat, it is difficult to believe that a large, asymmetrical bat will be less susceptible to bias by the flipper’s technique than a simpler, smaller coin.

Finishing off the tail

Even if the bat flip is indeed not as unbiased as confidently claimed, it probably doesn’t matter. The decision to ditch the coin flip for its more unconventional counterpart is not one driven by a desire for sporting equity.

It’s a move designed to further distance the loud, brash, big-slogging and brightly dressed T20 league from traditionalists’ cricket, and to generate hype for the forthcoming season. With all of the international headlines that followed the surprising announcement, the decision already appears to be a huge success for Australian cricket.

But don’t hold your breath for the “one hand, one bounce” rule or other classic backyard cricket innovations further infiltrating the Big Bash League.

Backyard cricket rules: ‘No player can be dismissed first ball.’ Flickr/nemone, CC BY-NC

ref. Can the Big Bash League’s backyard cricket bat flip truly be fair? –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Native cherries are a bit mysterious, and possibly inside-out

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gregg Müller, Lecturer in Natural History, La Trobe University

People don’t like parasites. But there’s a local Aussie tree that’s only a little bit parasitic: the native cherry, or cherry ballart.

It’s what we call hemiparasitic. It can photosynthesise, but gains extra nutrients by attaching its roots to host plants.

The native cherry, Exocarpos cupressiformis, might be our most widespread root hemiparasite tree, but we’re not quite sure – root-parasitic shrubs and trees are a bit of a research blank spot. We are not even really sure who all the hosts of cherry ballart are.

Read more: Warty hammer orchids are sexual deceivers

Although other parasites – like mistletoes – have a more direct Christmas association, cherry ballart does have an Australian Yuletide connection: their conifer-like appearance (the species name cupressiformis means “cypress-like”) was noted by homesick European settlers, who chopped them down for Christmas trees.

The Conversation

On the map

Cherry ballart grows from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland to southern Tasmania, and across to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

The first European to record it was Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, the botanist on d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition in search of La Perouse. He formally described the species in 1800, but we have no physical type specimen – the botanical type is his illustration and description. Maybe he lost his specimen, or disposed of it, or thought a picture would do; Jacques seems to have been a bit cavalier with his record-keeping.

Or perhaps it was stolen or misplaced after all his specimens were seized in an overlapping series of defections, wars, defeats and revolution as the expedition tried to return to Europe. The collection was eventually returned after the intercession of English botanist Joseph Banks – but no cherry ballart.

Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière’s description of the native cherry. Voyage in search of La Pérouse

Its distinctive shape led to native cherry being marked on early Australian orienteering maps, since they are in a cartographic Goldilocks zone: obvious, just numerous enough to make them useful, but not so many as to clutter the map.

That was until Australia held the World Orienteering Championships in the mid-1980s, when the standardisation of Australian orienteering maps for overseas competitors led to the cherry ballart becoming an early victim of internationalisation – at least cartographically speaking.

Its utility also extended to the timber. Among the uses of its “close-grained and handsome wood” are tool handles, gun stocks and map rollers (although the last is probably a niche market these days).

Indigenous Australians ate the fruit, used the wood for spear throwers and reportedly used the sap as a treatment for snakebite. They called it Tchimmi-dillen (Queensland), Palatt or Ballot (Lake Condah, Victoria) and Ballee (Yarra).

Read more: Leek orchids are beautiful, endangered and we have no idea how to grow them

Grow baby, grow!

Despite producing large quantities of fruit and seed, no one seems to be able to get native cherry to germinate reliably. There are anecdotal reports that feeding the seed to chooks works, but other growers dismiss this approach.

The edible fruit isn’t actually a true fruit: it’s a swollen stem. It’s reported to have the highest sugar level of any native fruit in the forests of southern Victoria and is much tastier than you’d think a stem would be. (It’s also probably an important nutrient supply for some birds, but that’s yet another thing we are yet to prove.)

This odd “fruit” gives rise to the genus name (exo = outside, carpos = fruit,) and was often touted by early European writers as another example of the topsy-turvy nature of Australia – “cherries” with the pit on the outside went along with “duck-billed playtpus”, animals with pouches, trees that shed bark rather than leaves, and Christmas in the middle of summer.

The sweet and delicious fruit of native cherries is actually a swollen stem. Arthur Chapman/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Despite their oddness, native cherries in the bush are biodiversity hotspots. My camera trap data show they preferentially attract echidnas, possums, foxes, swamp wallabies, white-winged choughs and bronzewing pigeons.

This might be because they modify their immediate environment. My research shows they create moderate micro-climates in their foliage, reduce soil temperatures, increase soil water retention, concentrate nutrients in the soil beneath their canopies, and alter the understorey vegetation. They also kill some of their host trees, creating patches with higher concentrations of dead timber. All these probably have something to do with their animal attraction, but exactly how is a mystery yet to be solved.

Read more: ‘The worst kind of pain you can imagine’ – what it’s like to be stung by a stinging tree

In addition to their attractiveness to vertebrates, native cherries are required hosts for some striking moths and share specialist host duties with mistletoe for some of our most beautiful butterflies (although mistletoes take most of the glory in the scientific literature).

My research into our cherry ballart hopes in part to correct these historical slights. I want to set the record straight on this overlooked widespread and attractive little tree, which has a long indigenous use and was one of the first of our native flora to be described by Europeans.

Sign up to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely Australian.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Women don’t speak up over workplace harassment because no one hears them if they do

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lisa Heap, Adjunct Professor at Institute of Religion, Politics and Society, Australian Catholic University

There are good reasons why those experiencing sexual harassment – particularly in the workplace – don’t report it at the time it occurs. To do so is likely to result in ostracism, exclusion, career suicide or a direct threat to a complainant’s ongoing employment.

The 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) survey on sexual harassment in Australia shows that high levels of sexual harassment occurs in our workplaces. For example, in the information, media and telecommunications industries, 81% of employees reported experiencing sexual harassment in the last five years. An investigation by Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) in 2016 found that 64% of women participants experienced sexual harassment or gendered violence in their workplace.

Read more: Workplace sexual harassment is a public health issue and should be treated as such

Sexual harassment at work goes largely unreported in Australia. The AHRC survey found that only 17% of those who had experienced sexual harassment made a formal complaint. Those experiencing it have little faith in their workplaces to deal with it. Many cited feeling that it would be seen as an overreaction or that it would be easier for them if they stayed quiet.

A 2017 survey of workers in the media and the arts found people were generally reluctant to report harassment for fear of hurting their careers. The VTHC study found 19% of those women who had experienced harassment left a secure job because they didn’t feel safe at work. In other words, they preferred removing themselves from the hazard rather than taking steps to ensure the hazard left the workplace.

Those witnessing harassment do little to stop it. Almost 70% of those who have witnessed or who are aware of harassment did nothing to prevent it or to limit the harm that it caused. This points to a culture in which gendered violence is normalised. It also underscores the broader gender inequality that exists in our workplaces and beyond.

Gender inequality at work mirrors that within society. The sexist attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence outside of work don’t stop at the factory gate or office door.

Our Watch, Australia’s national body for the prevention of violence against women, identifies that gender inequality is at the heart of the unacceptable levels of violence Australian women experience in their homes, intimate relationships and within the broader community.

Our Watch’s research documents the underlying drivers of violence against women: condoning of violence against women; men’s control of decision making and limits to women’s independence; stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity; disrespect towards women; and male peer relations that emphasise aggression. These drivers are mirrored in our workplace structures and cultures.

Read more: Women in rural workplaces struggle against the ‘boys club’ that leads to harassment

In a recent article written by myself and colleagues Sally Weller and Tom Barnes, we argue that workplace laws designed to protect women are ineffective because they fail to address the gender inequality that women experience. Gender inequality experienced by women includes gender pay inequality, disadvantage and discrimination due to caring responsibilities, and being subjected to gendered violence.

Ultimately, this inequality undermines women’s capacity to raise complaints, robbing them of agency and voice and creating insecurity. Without the capacity to raise complaints and pursue their rights, these rights remain unrealised. Therefore, any strategies designed to end sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence at work must address the structures and cultures of inequality and sexism that exist.

An important first step is employer recognition and acceptance of the problem. Given the documented high levels of sexual harassment, it would be helpful if employers started by acknowledging that gendered violence is likely to exist in their organisations. This acceptance would promote a proactive approach to addresses the factors that drive violence rather than the current reactive approach that sees them handle complaints when they come forward. Changing workplace laws to ensure that organisations have a duty to eliminate the risk of gendered violence would reinforce this. However, changing structures, behaviours and attitudes that promote inequality is vital also.

The Victorian government, in conjunction with Our Watch, has developed a workplace equality and respect program aimed at ending violence against women. This program focusses on an organisation’s self-audit of its risks and the adoption of gender equality action plans.

The Victorian trade union movement has developed a comprehensive strategy to stop gendered violence at work. First, it moves gendered violence out of the equality space and into the remit of health and safety, requiring WorkSafe to become more active in this space and workplaces to identify and eradicate their risk of gendered violence.

Secondly, it creates the capacity to bring collective complaints about sexual harassment and gendered violence before the Fair Work Commission through the establishment of new rights under collective agreements.

Finally, it addresses sexism and increases the capacity of the union movement to be proactive in this space by adopting a comprehensive education program for health and safety representatives, union delegates and union officials.

Read more: Report reveals entrenched nature of sexual harassment in Victoria Police

A national inquiry into sexual harassment at work is underway. It is important this inquiry recognises that there is a need for fundamental change to our laws, structures and cultures at work. Change in one area alone will not be enough.

Our system of laws to address sexual harassment at work rely on the individuals who have experienced the harassment raising a complaint. We know that those experiencing this harassment are unlikely to report it and if they do, little will change.

For real change, we must tackle the underlying drivers of sexual harassment and gendered violence – gender inequality.

ref. Women don’t speak up over workplace harassment because no one hears them if they do –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Some sharks have declined by 92% in the past half-century off Queensland’s coast

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By George Roff, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

There has been a striking decline in the number of large sharks caught off Queensland’s coast over the past 50 years, suggesting that populations have declined dramatically.

Our study, published today in the journal Communications Biology, used historical data from the Queensland Shark Control Program.

Catch numbers of large apex sharks (hammerheads, tigers and white sharks) declined by 74-92%, and the chance of catching no sharks at any given beach per year has increased by as much as seven-fold.

Coinciding with ongoing declines in numbers of sharks in nets and drum lines, the probability of recording mature male and females has declined over the past two decades.

Tiger sharks have undergone a 74% decline in numbers over the past half century. Juan Oliphant/

Our discovery is at odds with recent media reports of “booming” shark numbers reaching “plague” along our coastlines. The problem with those claims is that we previously had little idea of what the “natural” historical shark population would have been.

Why is the decline of sharks on the Queensland coastline a cause for concern? Large apex sharks have unique roles in coastal ecosystems, preying on weak and injured turtles, dolphins and dugongs, actively scavenging on dead whale carcasses, and connecting coral reefs, seagrass beds and coastal ecosystems.

Australia’s mixed view on sharks

As a nation, Australia has a long history with sharks. Some of the oldest stories in the world were written by the indigenous Yanyuwa people in the Northern Territory some 40,000 years ago, describing how the landscape of their coastal homeland was created by tiger sharks.

European settlers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries further described Australian coastlines as being “chock-full of sharks”, and upon visiting Sydney in 1895, the US author Mark Twain remarked:

The government pays a bounty of the shark; to get the bounty the fishermen bait the hook or the seine with agreeable mutton; the news spreads and the sharks come from all over the Pacific Ocean to get the free board. In time the shark culture will be one of the most successful things in the colony.

With the rise of Australian beach and surf culture, and the growing population density in coastal communities in the mid-20th century, increasing numbers of unprovoked fatal encounters with sharks occurred along the Queensland and New South Wales coastlines.

White sharks were extensively targeted and killed in “game fishing” tournaments, and harmless grey nurse sharks were hunted almost to extinction through recreational spearfishing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet despite this long history of shark exploitation, the historical baseline populations of sharks off Australia’s east coast were largely unknown.

Historical photograph of contractors measuring sharks removed from QSCP nets on the Gold Coast in the early years of the program (3rd November 1963).

Through mesh nets and baited drumlines, the Queensland Shark Control Program targets large sharks, with the aim of reducing local populations and minimise encounters between sharks and humans. Records of shark catches dating back as far as the 1960s provide a unique window into the past on Queensland beaches.

While we will never know exactly how many sharks roamed these waters more than half a century ago, the data points to radical changes in our coastal ecosystems since the 1960s.

The exact causes of declining shark numbers are difficult to pinpoint, largely because of a lack of detailed records from commercial or recreational fisheries before the 2000s. The Queensland government also acknowledges that the program itself has a direct impact on shark populations by selectively removing large, reproductively mature sharks from the population.

The data indicates that two hammerhead species – the scalloped and great hammerheads, both of which are listed as globally endangered – have declined by as much as 92% in Queensland over the past half century.

Similarly, the once-abundant white sharks have also shown no sign of recovery, despite a complete ban on commercial and recreational fishing in Queensland, implemented more than two decades ago.

The idea that shark populations are reaching “plague” proportions in recent years may represent a classic case of shifting baseline syndrome. Using shark numbers from recent history as a baseline may give a false perception that populations are “exploding”, whereas records from fifty years ago indicate that present day numbers are a fraction of what they once were.

Our results indicate that large shark species are becoming increasingly rare along Australia’s coastline. We should not be concerned about a “plague” of sharks, but rather the opposite: the fact that previously abundant apex shark species are increasingly at risk.

ref. Some sharks have declined by 92% in the past half-century off Queensland’s coast –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How to narrow the gap between Ardern’s foreign policy aspirations and domestic debate

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nina Hall, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Johns Hopkins University

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stands out on the international stage. In an era of poisonous xenophobia and mean-spirited rhetoric, she has called for more compassion and kindness in politics and has stressed the importance of cooperation.

Ardern is operating in a challenging environment – with tensions between China and the United States being characterised by some as a new Cold War. This was most evident at the recent APEC summit where leaders failed to reach an agreement even on a final non-binding communique.

Read more: After APEC, US-China tensions leave ‘cooperation’ in the cold

Ardern has attracted attention because she talks – and does – politics differently. Yet there has been little debate domestically about what exactly New Zealand should prioritise on the international stage. This is highlighted in the current discussions about whether New Zealand should sign up to the UN Global Compact on Migration.

Forging a progressive foreign policy

It will take substantial and thoughtful work – by civil society actors, activists, academics, and Ardern’s own government – to spell out a foreign policy platform that would give effect to the aspirations Ardern clearly has for New Zealand on the international scene.

The suite of pressing global problems is well known, from climate change to migration, from global inequality to conflict prevention. There are particular dilemmas for parties on the left. What does it mean to be progressive in this era of widespread dissatisfaction with neo-liberal capitalism? Should progressive parties seek to rebuild the state as an economic actor and accept that this will privilege their own country’s citizens?

Some, such as the new German movement #aufstehen, have argued for more restrictive migration policies. Others, including the [German Green party], are advocating for more open borders. There are strategic choices to be made, and New Zealand’s relatively thin civil society has not as yet provided much guidance about what direction the government should take.

So what could a progressive foreign policy look like today? We have interviewed a wide range of New Zealanders to explore what a values-driven foreign policy would mean for the country.

Peaceful conflict resolution

Governments should find diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to conflict. We interviewed 30 experts in New Zealand and overseas for a report on conflict prevention and peace mediation. We found bi-partisan support for New Zealand to invest more in conflict prevention work.

Official information inquiries revealed internal government documents showing that both the Labour-led Helen Clark and National-led John Key governments expressed an interest in expanding New Zealand’s role in this area. However, neither government translated this into an institutionalised conflict prevention or peace mediation capacity.

In our report, we suggest New Zealand could set up a conflict prevention unit based on our past experiences, both good and bad. This includes Parihaka’s strategic non-violence movement, experiences from the Waitangi Tribunal, our nuclear-free movement and the Bougainville peace talks that New Zealand successfully hosted and facilitated in the 1990s.

We also note the need for decolonisation at home, including a better understanding of the negative effects of colonisation. Māori views need to be part of foreign policy. Without that effort, New Zealand’s advocacy for peace internationally would lack credibility, given the government has not fully addressed the institutionalised racism and economic inequality that are the legacy of historical, colonial injustices.

International trade, people and the environment

New Zealand is well positioned to rethink international trade agreements, given its domestic work on the Living Standards Framework, an emerging alternative to GDP. If New Zealand’s foreign policy flowed out of (and was not disconnected from) the government’s domestic agenda, trade agreements might be reassessed as vehicles to consolidate and support progressive agendas. For example, they might be used to tackle transnational tax avoidance or to cement protections of indigenous rights’ across borders.

Fresh thinking from scholars and public intellectuals can help flesh out the details of this. English economist Kate Raworth has argued we should measure our economy based on whether we are living within the Earth’s environmental limits and delivering the basic resources we need to live (health care, education, energy, democracy). Her work challenges the obsession with growth in GDP and outlines an alternative doughnut economics.

Read more: Is it possible for everyone to live a good life within our planet’s limits?

Todd Tucker, a scholar and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, has highlighted the need for trade agreements to go forward only if they have substantial union support. Unions are vital stakeholders in international trade negotiations. Not only do they represent the interests of workers, but are critical for addressing domestic inequality.

International Monetary Fund researchers have found a correlation between lower union density and a significant increase in the income share of the top 10%. Genuinely progressive trade agreements should also do more to address global inequalities, and advance global sustainability, rather than just including an environment clause.

Widening the foreign policy discussion

Foreign policy debates should include a diverse range of views. Too often – in New Zealand and elsewhere – foreign policy is discussed by a narrow group of predominantly white middle-class experts who speak the technical language of global governance. This alienates many people from foreign policy discussions.

Foreign policy in New Zealand should be made in partnership with Māori. It should draw on the ideas of young people, unions, academics and the private sector.

There are many other areas a progressive New Zealand foreign policy could tackle, including human rights, environmental justice, and feminist foreign policies. Our aim is widen the Overton window and ignite debate at home, and abroad, about what progressive foreign policy looks like. The debate needs to happen if we are to build an international order capable of responding to challenges such as global inequality and climate change. New Zealand might just be able to set an example – in an emergent ethical, participatory foreign policy – for other progressive countries seeking to rebuild their relationships in that changing international order.

ref. How to narrow the gap between Ardern’s foreign policy aspirations and domestic debate –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How people seeking asylum in Australia access higher education, and the enormous barriers they face

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Lisa Hartley, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

Accessing higher education is critical for many people seeking asylum. It’s not simply a means of acquiring the qualifications and skills necessary for employment. It’s also essential to living a meaningful life

Despite this, people seeking asylum are among Australia’s most educationally disadvantaged. This is largely due to restrictive federal government policies. In response, a growing number of universities and community organisations have enabled access to higher education for some people seeking asylum.

Read more: Universities need to do more to support refugee students

The first nationwide study into this found more than 200 people seeking asylum have been able to study at university through scholarships and other supports in recent years. But most of the approximately 30,000 people seeking asylum living in Australia continue to face enormous barriers in accessing higher education.

Who are the people seeking asylum?

Most people seeking asylum in Australia are those who arrived by boat since 13 August 2012. This was when the Australian government introduced a system of third country processing, but not all people seeking asylum were sent to offshore detention on Nauru or Manus Island. It also includes people who arrived earlier and didn’t have their protection visa application finalised by 18 September 2013, the date Operation Sovereign Borders commenced.

Then Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and the head of Operation Sovereign Borders, Major General Andrew Bottrell, speaking to press on 17 March 2016. AAP/Lukas Coch

There are approximately 30,000 people in this situation in Australia. If they’re deemed eligible for protection, they’re issued one of two temporary visas:

  1. a three-year Temporary Protection Visa (TPV)
  2. a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV).

While they wait for their protection claim to be finalised, most are issued a temporary bridging visa.

In our research, “people seeking asylum” refers to those who are either awaiting the outcome of their refugee application and living in the community on a Bridging Visa, or people found to be a refugee and granted a TPV or SHEV.

More than half of the 30,000 people received a decision on their refugee claim by October 2018. Over 11,000 people continue to wait. The majority have left countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to seek protection in Australia.

What are some of the major barriers to higher education?

From 13 August 2012 for up to three years, people seeking asylum were denied the right to work in Australia and only given minimal government income support. Not able to meet their basic needs, this forced people into destitution. While most have been granted the right to work, many are still significantly financially disadvantaged.

The temporary nature of visas for people seeking asylum means their only pathway to higher education is through admission as a full-fee paying international student. The average undergraduate degree costs over A$30,000 per year without government subsidies. This makes accessing higher education financially impossible for most.

Protesters in Sydney on 21 July 2018. AAP/Jeremy Ng

Being issued a temporary visa also creates difficulties in accessing alternative pathways. These include enabling courses, government-funded English language classes, and other supports for successful transition into higher education.

People seeking asylum are also not eligible for income support programs such as Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, and Austudy. People on a Temporary Protection Visa or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa also face barriers in accessing the Special Benefit welfare payment. They can only receive income support if they’re taking a vocational course likely to improve their employment prospects, and to be completed in 12 months or less.

The recent removal of Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) income and casework assistance for people seeking asylum on a bridging visa means they’re expected to support themselves if they want to continue their studies. This puts students at even greater risk of financial destitution and homelessness.

Our research found the stresses of adjusting to academic life, financial difficulties, and living in extremely uncertain situations have a significant negative impact on students’ mental health. These concerns, combined with ongoing trauma from past experiences, separation from family, and mental health impacts of detention act as further barriers to higher education.

Map of asylum seekers accessing Australian higher education

Our research found 23 universities across Australia have introduced scholarships for students in this situation. Other supports include bursaries and stipends, part-time employment opportunities attached to scholarships, computers, and access to alternative entrance pathways.

As of October 2018, this has enabled 204 people seeking asylum to study at an Australian university. But there are a lot of others who have not been able to access a scholarship and/or meet the university entry requirements.

Why should Australians care?

The determination and commitment of these students to their studies is evident in our research and needs to be celebrated. This is despite the fact they’re living in situations of extreme uncertainty and receiving minimal support compared to most other students in Australia.

Without access to higher education, people seeking asylum have less access to employment opportunities, which means they’re less able to contribute economically to their own livelihoods and their host society. In this case, that would be Australia’s economy. It also exacerbates social exclusion from the broader community.

What can be done to open up access to higher education?

University and community organisations responsible for scholarships and other supports for these refugees need to be praised. But further measures need to ensure these students receive supports necessary for success in their studies. This includes offering alternative entrance pathways – such as enabling programs or diploma pathways – and having a dedicated university staff member to support students.

Read more: How a photo research project gives refugee women a voice in resettlement policy

Federal government policies present the most significant barriers to people seeking asylum in accessing higher education. These also need to be addressed. People found to be refugees should be issued permanent visas as they were before. The processing of these visas has taken a long time – some have been waiting more than five years. The process needs to be faster but also fair to ensure that people seeking asylum receive sound decisions on their refugee claims.

ref. How people seeking asylum in Australia access higher education, and the enormous barriers they face –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

It’s not so easy to gain the true measure of things

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cris Brack, Associate professor in forest measurement and management, Australian National University

I teach measurement – the quantification of things. Some people think this is the most objective of the sciences; just numbers and observations, or what many people call objective facts.

Lord Kelvin, a famous British scientist, said:

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

I generally agree.

Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we count to 10?

But – and you knew there was going to be a but – putting numbers on a thing may not be as objective as you may think. Possibly even more surprisingly, putting numbers on a thing may actually change that thing.

Oh, the uncertainty

The Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says that at the quantum level, if you can quantify one aspect of a particle (say, its position) then you cannot quantify another (its momentum or where it is going).

There is a more general principle in physics called the Observer Effect that states for certain systems, the act of measuring something affects or changes that thing.

Author Douglas Adams noted this problem in his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, in which he concluded the answer to the ultimate question about life, the universe and everything could not exist in the same universe where the actual question existed. If you found the answer then the question would change.

The ultimate answer is 42, but what’s the question? Flickr/Max Sat, CC BY-NC-ND

The act of measurement changing a thing goes beyond hard core physics or even hardcore science fiction, fantasy and comedy. Measurements can make changes to people.

From the psychologist and social scientist Donald Campbell, we get Campbell’s Law, which warns us that:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Ideally, quantitative social indicators are designed to monitor and help direct progress towards a goal, and so they should change our behaviour. But within a relatively short period, these quantifications can be gamed or manipulated (corrupted) to make some decisions or outcomes appear better than others.

This gaming is common in political debates, where reclassifications or careful re-sampling can change trends in, say, unemployment (under-employment?) or the economy.

Others do the same, for example, standard education scores for private versus public versus religious schools – we have all heard about “teaching to the test” or encouraging selected students to boycott the test.

Such manipulation eventually becomes obvious and often leads to the epithet of “lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Oh, the corruption

As someone who teaches statistics, I am offended on behalf of that noble art – because the problem is not statistics, but rather the way people have corrupted the measurements to make the numbers look better.

OK, it is easy to see how social measurements can be manipulated to make people think or act differently. This is especially true in the aftermath of the failure of social scientists and survey-takers to predict the outcomes of the US elections or Brexit referendum.

But what about hard scientific numbers? Take, for example, a person’s height. We can define it clearly and deal with anomalies (including things like posture, shoes, or the presence or absence of a large hairstyle), and we can easily measure thousands of individuals.

‘Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?’ Flickr/Camille Rose

Good, hard and objective eh? We conclude that, on average, men are taller than women (which is the case in Australia, and elsewhere according to a 2016 study). There is no sexism implicit in this statement, although it does assume gender is strictly binary and ignores the possibility of non-binary groups like those of transgender.

But this simple conclusion often mutates into one that states men are taller than women, or that any random man is taller than any random woman. We have a mental image of men being taller than women and behave that way despite this only being true on average.

So, are men taller than women? It depends. Zeng Jinlian measured up at 246.3cm (8ft 1in) and although she died in 1982 she still holds the record as the tallest woman ever, and was taller than almost every male who has ever lived.

There is a greater than 50% chance that a man chosen at random will be taller than a randomly chosen woman, because that is what the common definitions of average mean.

But if the woman has a genetic heritage from the Netherlands and the man doesn’t, or if the women was born, say, in 1990 but the man was born earlier, then it is more likely the woman will be taller than the man – as average heights vary from country to country and have been on the rise over the past century).

You could make a bit of money playing the odds if you were betting against someone who always acted as if women were shorter than men.

The distribution of heights is quite complex (statistically speaking, it is non-normal, skewed or heterogeneous), so if it were actually “important” to get an itdividual’s relative height correct, an assumption than men are taller than women would be most inappropriate.

So what to measure?

So when is it important to measure the height of a human? Actually, this is related to the hardest question in the entire science of measurement – what do you choose to measure.

Two individuals who are the same total height may have different proportions of length in their legs or their necks, so measurements of one of these components may be more relevant depending on whether you are selling pants, skirts, dresses, shirts or earrings.

There is often little objectiveness in the selection of which thing to measure. Rather there are strong subjective elements that selects something to measure based on its familiarity, cost of measurement, perceived correlation with other parameters of interest.

We measure a person’s height (and weight) not because they tend to be directly relevant to anything but rather because they are easy to measure.

Height and weight are used to calculate our Body Mass Index (BMI), often used as a measure of whether you’re overweight and unhealthy or not.

The relationship between your height and weight is not always the best way to measure obesity. Flickr/Paola Kizette Cimenti, CC BY-NC-ND

But several factors can affect your BMI and health, so a more useful measure of obesity might be your waist circumference.

In the ideal world, we would measure your body’s actual fat and its location (maybe using ultrasound).

But we have a history of using BMI. It is cheap to do and there are industries set up around it, so we continue measuring that parameter.

Read more: A little number theory makes the times table a thing of beauty

The consequence of using this indirect measurement is that actions are focused on reducing BMI, rather than on reducing the fat deposits that directly cause poor health.

So, be careful what you choose to measure and only make your final choice after you have considered a significant number of alternatives.

And be even more careful when someone else uses their numbers to prove their case. Consider how easy it would have been to corrupt or misuse an index or an indirect measurement that is only weakly correlated to the thing of interest.

ref. It’s not so easy to gain the true measure of things –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Morrison’s health handout is bad policy (but might be good politics)

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

The A$1.25 billion Community Health and Hospitals Program Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this week should be awarded a big policy fail.

The move sets back Commonwealth-state relations by decades – and it’s unclear exactly how much money will actually be provided.

Rather than being based on any coherent policy direction, it appears designed to shore up support in marginal electorates.

Bad for Commonwealth-state relations

One of the complicating factors in providing health care to Australians is the fact that the Commonwealth and states each have leadership roles in different parts of the system: the Commonwealth for primary care; and the states for public hospitals.

Health professionals yearn for the Holy Grail of a single level of government being responsible for all aspects of a patient’s care. That quest has proved illusory. But recent policy direction has at least sought to clarify the roles of the two levels of government.

Read more: Public hospital blame game – here’s how we got into this funding mess

For the past five years, the states have been acknowledged as the “system managers” of the public hospital system. A rational, formula-driven funding framework has been created.

Under this framework, the Commonwealth shares the cost of growth in public hospital activity with the states. This exposes the Commonwealth directly to growing costs of technology-driven needs and giving it an incentive to work with the states to meet needs in the most efficient way.

This framework means there is one level of government to whom all public hospitals are accountable: the state. And it means voters can hold their state government accountable for hospital planning and management.

The proposal would allow the Commonwealth to override state priorities. AAP/Kelly Barnes

The new Morrison proposal tramples all over this policy rationality in the interests of electoral expediency. It replaces state-based planning with submission-based funding, which will enable a politician with a whiteboard in Canberra to override state priorities in favour of projects which have the greatest electoral appeal in targeted marginal seats.

It makes accountability for the overall system more confusing, and it assumes Canberra knows best.

It is a federalism fail.

An opaque policy

Labor ran a devastating campaign in the July federal by-elections, especially in the Queensland seat of Longman, which involved calculating and publicising precisely how much worse off the local hospital was under the Liberal health policy – where the Commonwealth funds 45% of hospital growth – compared with Labor’s 50% sharing policy.

In the Longman case, Labor asserted there was a A$2.9 million cut to Caboolture Hospital based on the decisions taken in the 2014 Abbott/Hockey “slash and burn” budget.

Scott Morrison’s new cash splash is no doubt designed to overcome this political weakness for the Coalition.

Read more: Why scare campaigns like ‘Mediscare’ work – even if voters hate them

However, unlike Labor’s funding, which is ongoing, it’s unclear whether the extra largess the Coalition is offering will continue beyond the budget “forward estimates” (that is, the next four years). It’s unclear how much will be devoured from existing Commonwealth funding agreements, such as the dental agreement, which are coming to an end.

The Commonwealth has responsibility for most aspects of policy to address social determinants of health, particularly employment and income policies. Rational health policy would recognise the importance of considering these issues and balancing the health benefits of, for example, lifting the Newstart allowance, against funding for specific health initiatives. There is no hint this has happened with this announcement.

The announcements sound good but it’s unclear where the funding will end up. AAP/Stefan Postles

New handouts under the Morrison package will be portrayed as being for specific areas of “high political need”. But the reality is funding will eventually be swept into the Grants Commission allocation process and redirected according to the Grants Commission formula.

This may restore some rationality into the health handout, albeit with a lag of a few years. But the actual level of funding to be allocated to specific areas will be shrouded in Grants Commission opacity. Insiders will be able to follow the money, but voters will be kept in dismal ignorance about how much they will benefit in the long-term – after the gloss of a local funding handout has worn off.

This policy is a transparency fail.

Politics versus policy

The Community Health and Hospitals Program lists four feel-good, worthy funding targets:

  • specialist hospital services such as cancer treatment, rural health and hospital infrastructure
  • drug and alcohol treatment
  • preventive health, primary care and chronic disease management, and
  • mental health.

Read more: Morrison government promises $1.25 billion for health care

Everyone has a potential place in this funding Nirvana. Lobby your local MP, and your local hospital or community health program might be the lucky health policy lottery winner!

Provided voters don’t see this as a cynical political exercise – and that is a big risk in an electorate which already ranks politicians low on the trustworthiness scale – then the new policy could be smart politics. We won’t know until the votes in next year’s federal election are counted.

In the meantime, given the drubbing the Liberals received in last month’s Victorian state election, the biggest challenge for the Morrison Government might be deciding which electorates are now marginal and worth shoring up.

ref. Morrison’s health handout is bad policy (but might be good politics) –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sebastien Darchen, Senior Lecturer in Planning, The University of Queensland

Thirty years after the landmark Brundtland report, the debate on urban sustainability continues. Urban planners are still grappling with the challenges of making our cities sustainable.

Urban sustainability is an evolving concept. Our edited volume provides planning solutions for eight of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Has the concept of urban sustainability made a difference in planning practice? Our answer is yes.

Read more: Business as usual? The Sustainable Development Goals apply to Australian cities too

Based on Campbell’s planner’s triangle, urban sustainability encompasses three dimensions:

  1. social sustainability
  2. environmental sustainability
  3. economic sustainability.

Sustainability solutions involve trade-offs between these three dimensions. A planning innovation might solve a challenge in terms of social sustainability but be less efficient in regard to the two other dimensions.

The Sustainable City paradigm has been a dominant school of thought since the 1990s. Yet it is still unclear how cities incorporate this paradigm in urban policies.

Influential works on urban policies have emphasised the transfer of urban policies from one context to another – known as mobile urbanism. Our book highlights evidence to the contrary. Planning innovations are generally shaped by local contextual factors and are not imported.

Of the planning innovations presented in 12 case study chapters in our book, we present those most relevant to Australia later in this article.

Key issues facing Australian cities

Australian cities have urgent sustainability issues that require fresh policy initiatives.

Transport use is too reliant on cars. As a result, fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions remain far too high. Large areas of land are given over to road space and parking.

Read more: Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use

Read more: Freeing up the huge areas set aside for parking can transform our cities

High car use goes hand in hand with low-density urban sprawl. This requires longer trips to everything, extra resources for longer pipes, wires and roads, more losses of agricultural land and natural vegetation, and more hard surfaces that increase water pollution run-off as well as heat in summer.

And the design of low-density development produces even more unsustainability. Planning controls have forced developers to reduce the size of new housing lots, but house sizes have barely reduced in size. As a result, backyards are disappearing. Lost along with them are trees to cool the air and sequester carbon, and physical activity opportunities for children.

Read more: Size does matter: Australia’s addiction to big houses is blowing the energy budget

Australia’s cities also have major social sustainability issues. Increasing numbers of professional and managerial households have priced poorer residents out of the best areas of the cities.

The result has been heightened spatial polarisation. Lower-income households have been forced to live further out in suburbs with inadequate public transport and jobs. Solutions for creating places in the suburbs were presented in a recent summit organised by UQ Planning.

What’s happening in cities overseas?

The innovative ways that overseas cities have responded to similar sustainability challenges can provide pathways for Australian cities to follow.

Helsinki’s experience suggests one means of overcoming a sticking point in achieving higher-density development: getting around NIMBY opposition and achieving community agreement on where denser development could go. In Helsinki, the public participated in a public participation geographic information system exercise. This mapped their preferences for areas that should not be developed for apartments.

Read more: Becoming more urban: attitudes to medium-density living are changing in Sydney and Melbourne

Well-intended planning controls can hinder higher-density development, even in desirable locations. In Los Angeles’ historic core, old office buildings lay vacant after a new CBD office precinct outside the old core was developed. Residential use requirements for on-site parking and open space and for a building setback from the front property boundary hindered the conversion of the old buildings to residential use. By relaxing these requirements, the city’s 1999 adaptive reuse ordinance was a key to regenerating the old core as a residential area.

The adaptive reuse of historical buildings has helped regenerate downtown Los Angeles. This particular planning innovation involved a regulatory rethink. Sébastien Darchen, Author provided

The challenge of reducing car use without large public outlays remains daunting, but Seville shows one way this can be achieved. There, a complete bicycle network of 180km – 12% of the total road length in the city – has been built since 2007. Separation from car traffic has been achieved through bollards and the like, or by parked cars where the bikeway is built on a footpath.

Cycle trips now make up about 10% of total vehicle trips in Seville, six times the previous share. The driving forces for the network were the formation of a cyclists’ association, public demonstrations and the election of a left-of–centre city government that gave political support.

The demolition of motorways sounds like an extreme way of reducing car use, but the experience of Seoul shows it can have big economic and environmental benefits. The motorway built over a former stream in the central city was demolished in the early 2000s. The stream was restored to a natural state.

This has reduced air pollution and the heat island impact of the former motorway, and created an ecological passage to the main river in Seoul. Recreational and cultural amenities along the restored stream have made it a desirable area and generated new economic activities. New bus services close to the stream have replaced car access.

The strong powers and finances of the city government and a supportive mayor made the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project possible.

Cheonggyecheon after restoration. Sun Young Rieh/Global Planning Innovations for Urban Sustainability, Author provided

Spatial polarisation in cities results from market forces dominating urban redevelopment.

Read more: Market-driven compaction is no way to build an ecocity

The experience of Vancouver illustrates how inclusionary planning can ameliorate these forces. City-sponsored local resident groups have been at the centre of making strategies to renew the city’s low-income Downtown Eastside area.

Instead of the high-tech-based development originally proposed, priority has been given to developing employment more suited to the low-income residents’ needs, including opportunities in the informal sector. City council-owned sites have been used for social innovation hubs, services to help residents find jobs, and a street market for a street vendors’ collective.

As explained in our book, these planning innovations are mostly the product of local contextual factors. Therefore, planning innovations for Australian cities will require local involvement in shaping sustainability solutions. Incentives such as changes in regulatory frameworks and tax subsidies might also be needed to develop planning innovations.

ref. Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions –

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media