Grattan on Friday: The ‘China factor’ is an unknown in Bennelong but a big issue for Australia

 Liberal and Labor camps expect incumbent  
John Alexander will hold on against the ALP’s Kristina Keneally. 
Dominica Sanda/AAP

The stakes in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection could hardly be higher. While both Liberal and Labor camps predict John Alexander will hold on against the ALP’s Kristina Keneally, a government defeat would be calamitous for Malcolm Turnbull, leaving the Coalition with a minority on the floor of the House.

In the event of a very narrow win by Alexander – who has a handy 9.7% margin – how the result was interpreted would become important in whether the Prime Minister lost serious skin.

The byelection is certainly not risk-free for Bill Shorten – after several bad weeks, he needs a strong Labor performance if he’s to end the year with some momentum.

Fairfax Media-ReachTEL poll done on Tuesday in Bennelong had the Liberals leading 53-47% on a two-party basis; a weekend Newspoll had a 50-50% result. Turnbull describes it as “a very tight contest”.

The likely impact of the “China factor” has been been much talked about in the byelection lead-up because the seat has a high proportion of voters with a Chinese background. About 21% of the Bennelong population have Chinese heritage (compared with 5.2% in NSW generally), and around 16% of the voters. Bennelong is the top electoral division for percentage of Chinese-Australian voters, based on 2016 Census.

The “China factor” is a potent cocktail of issues: the behaviour of Labor’s Sam Dastyari, who has now announced he is quitting parliament; the government’s legislation cracking down on foreign (notably Chinese) interference in Australian politics, and the ALP’s shrill byelection rhetoric about “China phobia”.

It is not clear how these issues will have gone down with the Bennelong Chinese, diverse in themselves, or how they’ll rate compared with other drivers of their votes, including Alexander’s earlier efforts at sandbagging his support among members of the Chinese community.

And then there is the question of what impact these debates have on the rest of the seat’s voters.

The Fairfax poll found two thirds of the electors supported the move against foreign interference.

Given the timing and the government’s ruthless exploitation of the Dastyari affair, it is easy to cast what is happening to counter foreign interference just in a short-term political context.

In fact, it represents a much bigger, more fundamental change in concerns about and policy towards Chinese influence in Australia.

As strategic expert Hugh White, from ANU, writes in his Quarterly Essay, published in late November, “Without America: Australia in the New Asia”: “Suddenly the Chinese seem to be everywhere [in Australia]. Areas of concern include espionage and cyber-infiltration, the vulnerability of major infrastructure, influence over Australia’s Chinese-language press, and surveillance and intimidation of Chinese nationals in Australia, including students.” As well, of course, as the allegations “of attempts to buy influence over Australian politicians.”

White, it should be noted, draws a distinction between China’s capability and what it has actually done. Speaking to The Conversation this week, he said: “While it is wise to take precautions against China or other countries seeking to influence our politics in illegitimate ways, the government has so far not provided any clear evidence that Beijing is actively seeking to do so at the moment”.

The rise in government concern has manifested itself quite recently. It was only in 2015 that the Port of Darwin was leased for 99 years to the Chinese company Landbridge. It was a decision by the Northern Territory government, but it was okayed and later strongly defended by the Defence department’s officialdom.

It seemed then, and still seems, an extraordinary decision – and one that probably wouldn’t be made today.

The controversy around that decision served as something of a wakeup call, leading to moves to ensure more scrutiny of Chinese investment in infrastructure.

The government’s legislation, introduced last week, to counter covert foreign interference in Australian politics, ban foreign political donations and set up a register of those lobbying for foreign interests has been driven to a substantial degree by rising concern from the security agencies.

China predictably has responded angrily, with harsh words and by calling in Australia’s ambassador in Beijing.

As White reminds, China will impose “costs” when there is pushback to its interests and behaviour. Currently, its reactions have been through diplomatic and media channels. More tangible retribution, in the form of various irritants in the relationship, may be on the cards as the foreign interference legislation is considered – the only constraint being China not wishing to harm its own interests.

Obviously Australia doesn’t want to incur whatever costs China might eventually impose. But the price of avoiding costs, by not giving offence, has become too high to tolerate.

Efforts to combat Chinese covert interference is not “China phobia” despite Keneally likening it to the old “reds under the bed” scare. Nor is it an attack on our local Chinese community – some of whom are subjected to attempted Beijing influence – though in the heat of political combat it is being portrayed as that.

Turnbull has faced criticism even from his own side of politics, with former trade minister Andrew Robb lashing out after the government flagged he’d need to be on the proposed register of those working for foreign governments or companies.

Robb’s situation is contentious in itself. He went to work for Landbridge, lessee of the Darwin port, immediately after retiring from parliament at the 2016 election.

Robb says he does nothing for Landbridge within Australia, but is “employed to influence and to work with and to advise about doing deals in other countries”. He has bitterly condemned what he sees as “an attempt to use me as a convenient means of running a scare campaign against China”.

Despite Robb’s fury and his defence of his position, there was shock and unease among some former colleagues at such a rapid move to Landbridge, which would value highly his recent ministerial role and his networks.

His example points to the difficulty of identifying precisely what is appropriate or not appropriate for former politicians and bureaucrats in taking such jobs. Transparency is vital but beyond that there will be different views on where the line should be drawn.

The move to curb foreign interference and provide more scrutiny of activities on behalf of foreign interests is likely to stand as one of the most significant and indeed bold initiatives of the Turnbull government.

The legislation, which follows work Turnbull commissioned in August last year into foreign influence, interference and coercion, will be examined by the parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security before being debated next year.

In June, Shorten urged Turnbull to act on foreign donations and foreign interference and advocated a foreign agents register. Labor will object to some of the detail of the government package but – after the noise of Bennelong has passed – it would seem likely the broad initiative will receive bipartisan support.

This article was written by:
Image of Michelle Grattan
Michelle Grattan – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via




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    Dear Space Riders,

    December is here and the countdown to Flying Saucer taking off has begun. ONLY 7 SHOWS remain until we finish up at Caulfield RSL, so don’t miss the chance on seeing a show with us one last time!

    On Saturday night Russell Morris performs his LAST SHOW at our current home and one of his last shows for 2017. Russell will be showcasing a selection of material off his Ghosts and Legends CD Box Set that includes Sharkmouth, Van Diemen’s Land and Red Dirt, Red Heart. The complete blues trilogy will be available for sale at the show!

    Join us on Sunday afternoon for a family friendly show presented by BackBeat. The band will pay a Beatles inspired tribute to Rock n’ Roll legend Chuck Berry. Over two huge sets BackBeat will perform classic Chuck Berry hits that were later covered by the Fab Five, as well as showcasing a selection of Beatles material. Children’s tickets available! 

    For all of you staying home in Melbourne over the holiday period, you can still get your live music fix at our sister venue the Satellite Lounge, just 30 minutes drive from Flying Saucer! The Black Sorrows will be kicking off our first show for the year on Saturday 13th January. On Sunday 14th January Jeff Duff will perform his unique show Bowie Unzipped paying enormous tribute to the late, great David Bowie. Scroll down to see what else is coming up at the Satellite Lounge.


    Scroll down to read more about our 50% off merchandise offer.

    Read on to find out more about THIS WEEKS SHOWS, NEXT WEEKS SHOWS plus OTHER FLYING SAUCER NEWS….

    This Weeks Shows


    Buy Tickets

    Sat 16th December

    Russell Morris & Band

    Multi-Aria Award Winner RUSSELL MORRIS aka ‘The Real Thing’ is landing at The Saucer this December for another fabulous show! He will be showcasing his collection of blues and roots music that pertains to some of the iconic characters, events and moments in our rich tapestry of Australian history. UNMISSABLE!


    Read more


    Buy Tickets

    Sun 17th December

    BackBeat present – ‘A Beatles inspired Tribute to Chuck Berry’

    Back by popular demand this December, BackBeat specialise in all things Beatlemania. They”ll be performing a very special show with the first half dedicated to the late King of Rock n’ Roll and huge Beatles influence, Chuck Berry. Then finishing up with what they do best, THE BEATLES!

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    Next Weeks Shows


    Buy Tickets

    Fri 22nd December

    Into The Mystic – The Music of Van Morrison

    This show sees Joe Creighton and band effortlessly recreate the feeling of those heady days of the early ’60s in Ireland releasing the essence of the music that was so integral to that era. He takes the audience on a journey that moves through the decades encompassing Van Morrison’s worldwide hits. A MUST SEE!


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    Buy Tickets

    Sat 23rd December

    Dancing In The Street – A Tribute To Motown

    For the first time at The Saucer we welcome ‘Dancing in the Street’ a Tribute to Motown! In this high-energy show, three highly dynamic and versatile singers recreate the well-known hits of Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and all of Motown’s superstars in a show featuring over 30 of the label’s biggest hits. The 6-piece band that backs these singers authentically recreates the sound of Motown and you won’t be able to hold yourself back from dancing the night away!


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    Upcoming Shows

    Fri 29th December

    The Chantoozies

    Sat 30th December

    Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks

    Sun 31st December

    New Years Eve Party feat. Nick Barker & The Monkey Men playing The Rolling Stones

    Browse more Gigs

    Out of this world offers…

    11 DAYS TO GO… Santa will be flying into the Saucer before you know it.

    Get in early and book your Xmas or end of year function with us! 

    Here are some suggested shows, perfect for a get together:

    Sun 17 Dec – BackBeat  ‘A Beatles inspired tribute to Chuck Berry’

    Sat 23 Dec – Dancing In The Street ‘A Tribute to Motown’

    Fri 29 Dec – The Chantoozies & Jam the Funk

    Sat 30 Dec – Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks

    For group bookings send us an email


    DECEMBER 31st is going to be a huge party celebrating the New Year and the incredible five and half years of Flying Saucer Club. This will be our final show at Caulfield RSL, but don’t fret we will be re-launching live music sometime in 2018.

    Don’t miss out on seeing your favourite artist play at The Flying Saucer Club one last time. Tickets for December shows are selling fast so make sure you book yours today or call us on 0481 873 297.

    For all of December we will be offering 50% off stubby holders, mugs and tea towels. T-shirts will also be reduced to $20 ONLY! The perfect Xmas gift for the music lover in your life! This offer is only available for purchases at shows and subject to stock availability.

    Our Flying Saucer Club T-Shirts are made from 100% Cotton and are sure to last you even through the roughest of mosh pits. They make a great gift for that special music lover in your life, or even to add to your own growing collection! Offering both Mens and Ladies styles, we have a wide range of sizes and logo colours to suit all tastes. ORDER YOURS TODAY!

    Coming up at our sister venue the Satellite Lounge…
    Fri 15th Dec – Rebecca O’Connor as Tina – Simply the Best!
    Sat 23rd Dec – Party Girls present – A Very Retro Xmas
    Fri 29th Dec – Reverend Funk & The Horns of Salvation present ‘Soul with a Capital S’
    Sat 30th Dec –
    The Official Blues Brothers Revue (USA)
    Sun 31st Dec – New Years Eve Party feat. The Substitutes presenting ‘The Summer of Love 50th Anniversary’
    Sat 13th Jan – The Black Sorrows
    Sun 14th Jan –
    Bowie Unzipped starring Jeff Duff
    Sat 20th Jan – ‘Leave Your Hat On’ – Joe Cocker Tribute
    Thu 25th Jan – AUS DAY EVE: Geoff Achison & The Soul Diggers w special guest Justin Yap
    Fri 2nd Feb –
    Ramble Tamble ‘The Australian Creedence Show’
    Fri 9th Feb – The Herberts
    Sat 10th Feb – Dylanesque – The Bob Dylan Story
    Sat 17th Feb – Grand WaZoo ’60s & ’70s Soul Extravaganza!
    Sun 18th Feb – Soul Chic – The Eva Cassidy Experience
    Fri 23rd Feb –
    Ben Waters (UK) & Derek Nash
    Sat 24th Feb – Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks
    Fri 2nd Mar –
    Rick & John Brewster present ‘The Angels’ Book Tour’
    Fri 9th Mar – Chain 50th Anniversary Show

    Sign up to the Satellite Lounge Newsletter or visit the website for more info.

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    Latest eNews: 2 more sleeps until we PLAYlist l Saturday, Dec 16 ONLY!


      11 plays, 11 songs, over 60 brilliant artists
      for one night only.

      PLAYlist is one hot ticket you won’t want to miss – come explore the
      CAP: Contemporary Arts Precincts in Collingwood from 7 pm THIS SATURDAY to watch the creative talents of some of Australia’s finest writers, actors, musicians and directors come together for an ephemeral night of theatre, music and partying! Thank you to the City of Stonnington and the City of Yarra for their support of our theatrical extravaganza.

      To give you a little taste of what’s in store, here are the creative teams behind each PLAYlet:

      ANNOUNCEMENTS by Morgan Rose
      Inspired by Life On Mars, David Bowie
      Directed by Bridget Balodis
      Performed by Trent Baker, Ella Caldwell, Kate Cole, Ngaire Dawn Fair,
      Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Casey Filips, Chanella Hosanna, Grace Lowry,
      Marcus McKenzie, Kieran McNamara, Dion Mills, Joe Petruzzi,
      Sarah Sutherland, 
      Chloe Violette, Mark Wilson

      CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND by Gita Bezard
      Inspired by Call Your Girlfriend, Robyn
      Directed by Adam Mitchell
      Performed by Kate Cole, Domini Forster, Justin Hosking

      CHANGE by Dan Lee
      Inspired by Total Eclipse of the Heart, Bonnie Tyler
      Directed by Brett Cousins
      Performed by Missy Higgins, Dan Lee

      ENNUI ON THE MOUNTAIN by Adam Hetherington
      Inspired by Ennui on the Mountain, Hall & Oates
      Directed by Ngaire Dawn Fair
      Performed by Zoe Boesen, Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Shirin Sethna

      FORGET HER by Natasha Pincus
      Inspired by Forget Her, Jeff Buckley
      Directed by Natasha Pincus
      Performed by Ben Abrahams, Kate Cole, Brett Cousins, David Whiteley

      JESUS, ETC by Ben Prendergast
      Inspired by Jesus, etc, Wilco
      Directed by John Kachoyan
      Performed by Andrew Drago, Chris Drago, Simone French, Ben Prendergast

      KLIPTOWN MUD by Katy Warner
      Inspired by Kliptown MudMark Seymour
      Directed by Tanya Gerstle
      Performers Casey Bohan, Grace Lowry, Eva Seymour, Mark Seymour

      RESPONSE TO GENESIS by Vidya Rajan
      Inspired by GenesisGrimes
      Directed by Emily O’Brien-Brown
      Performed by Darcy Kent, Caroline Lee

      UNCANNY VALLEY by Chi Vu
      Inspired by Can’t Truss It, Public Enemy
      Directed by Marcus McKenzie
      Performed by Liam Maguire, Maggie McCormack

      WILD SIDES by Mark Wilson
      Inspired by Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed
      Directed by Mark Wilson
      Performed by Mama Alto, Chanella Hosanna, Olga Makeeva, Peter Paltos, Naomi Rukavina

      WEREWOLF by Keziah Warner
      Inspired by Animal, Mike Snow
      Directed by Katy Maudlin
      Performed by Alexandra Aldrich, Brigid Gallagher and Sam Russo

      Get your tickets now!



      Graduate Ensemble announcement

      ANNOUNCING! Our TWO Graduate Ensemble Members for 2018, Harvey Zielinski and Casey Filips!

      We are so thrilled to announce our most recent additions to the Red Stitch Ensemble, and cannot wait to welcome them to the Red Stitch family this year.
      Both Harvey and Casey are recent graduates from The National Theatre class of 2017…

      Catch their work on our stage and you’ll see why we picked two!
      Welcome Harvey and Casey, we’re so excited to tread the boards with you.


      Read the full eNews here

      The post Latest eNews: 2 more sleeps until we PLAYlist l Saturday, Dec 16 ONLY! appeared first on Red Stitch Actors Theatre.

      Modern science tackles a biblical secret – the mystery ingredient in holy incense

       The ingredients of incense were detailed 
      in the Old Testament. Shutterstock/wideonet

      A predatory sea snail could be the source of a mystery ingredient in a holy incense recipe detailed in the Old Testament. Murex whelks were just one of many suspected sources, but there was no evidence to support the claim. Until now.

      In a paper published today, my colleagues and I report how we captured and analysed the fragrant chemicals in the smoke of whelk opercula – the trapdoor lid that protects the snail inside the shell. This provides evidence to help establish it as the most likely source of onycha, one of four major ingredients that make up holy incense.

      Pile of opercula collected from sea snails. Kirsten Benkendorff, Author provided

      The ingredients are detailed in Exodus 30:34, where Moses is tasked with making incense:

      Take fragrant spices – gum resin, onycha and galbanum – and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts.

      The origin of three of the ingredients are well known essential oils or resins of botanical origin. But the onycha of antiquity had not been identified with certainty and there was much controversy over its proposed animal versus plant origin.

      What is that smell?

      Defined as fingernail or claw, onycha is a Greek translation from the original Hebrew word shecheleth, which derives from “a tear, distillation or exudation”.

      Whelk opercula are a protein exudation, similar to fingernails, and have to be torn from the flesh before further processing. Ancient texts refer to “Unguis odoratus” (sweet hoof) as the shell or scale of snails from the Red Sea that emit a pleasant smell when burned.

      But shells – and opercula – do not smell nice when burned!

      So after detaching the opercula from the flesh of the snail, it has to be processed. Ancient and modern practices include rubbing with alkaline solution or soaking in vinegar followed by strong wine, before burning the dried ground powder.

      In our experiments, we replicated these procedures using clean acetic acid and alcohol. This helped remove the “fishy” smell from the opercula before drying and grinding into a powder for chemical analysis. We found that this pre-cleaning treatment was also important for removing pyridine – a toxic compound – from the opercula smoke.

      The ‘unclean’

      The main argument against the identification of sea snail opercula as the onycha of antiquity is that creatures such these were described as “unclean” animals in the Bible. Even their carcasses were considered “unclean” or “an abomination”, depending of your translation of Leviticus 11:9-12.

      Six species of purple dye-producing Muricidae molluscs. Kirsten Benkendorff, Author provided

      But one particular group of sea snails, the Muricidae or murex, were highly regarded as a source of Tyrian purple (shellfish purple) and tekhelet (biblical blue). In biblical times, these shellfish were the only known source of an insoluble purple dye.

      The incorporation of purple and blue dyed yarn is prescribed for use in the tabernacle and garments worn by high priests (Exodus 26 and 28).

      This indicates that the spiritual leaders of the time were not opposed to using products from these sea snails for holy purposes.

      The lost knowledge

      It is likely the specific ingredients and process for making sacred incense was a closely guarded secret. The scriptures dictate that its use was purely for holy purposes. It was not to be made for personal use, at the risk of being cutoff from the entire community.

      Until recently, the secret of dying with biblical blue from the snails was lost, as a consequence of destruction of second holy temple in Jerusalem in 70CE and the subsequent dispersal of Jews from their homeland.

      Furthermore, with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD, the purple shellfish dying industry collapsed and the tradition was lost in the Mediterranean region for many centuries.

      A modern analysis

      So how did we go about trying to provide chemical evidence to support the use of opercula from dye producing sea snails in holy incense?

      Kirsten Benkendorff preparing extracts from the opercula for analysis by gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Craig Sillitoe, Author provided

      We used a purpose built apparatus to burn the opercula in glass tubes. We then trapped the smoke in solvent using a vacuum, before drying down the extract for chemical analysis using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

      Our analyses revealed that when burnt, the opercula releases aromatic phenols – compounds that are often used in the fragrance industry as antioxidants. We also detected chlorinated phenols that have a medicinal scent at very low concentrations.

      These smoke compounds are consistent with reported use of the opercula contributing to the long-lasting smell of incense. The medicinal fragrance of opercula smoke is also highly compatible with the use of sacred incense for purifying the holy temple and ritualised cleansing during spiritual ceremonies.

      Stages of processing the opercula (left to right): The opercula still attached to the foot of purple dye-producing sea snail Dicathais orbita; freshly detached opercula; opercula after crushing and soaking in acetic acid; dry ground opercula powder and vials contain extracts of the opercula smoke.Kirsten Benkendorff, Author provided

      It is impossible to conclusively identify the biblical onycha, without original samples for retrospective comparative analysis. But a multi-disciplinary perspective that takes into consideration the historical use of these snails – along with our new chemical information on the scent qualities of the smoke – provides strong support for the opercula from dye-producing whelks.

      Species decline

      Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancient demand for dye-producing sea snails led to over-exploitation and an associated decline in the populations of some species.

      Piles of shells from a purple dye producing Murex sea snails in a processing factory in Tuticorin, India. Kirsten Benkendorff, Author provided

      Similarly, modern demand for the shellfish dyes in regional artisan industries and the worldwide fishery for food and ornate shells, is placing pressure on natural populations.

      While the opercula can be obtained as a byproduct from other fishing activities, many regional shell fisheries are not effectively monitored. This problem is exacerbated by uncertainty surrounding the impacts of ocean climate change and worldwide mass mortalities in shellfish resulting from disease events.

      It is therefore essential that all sea snail fisheries are carefully managed and new opportunities for aquaculture are explored to ensure a sustainable supply to meet future demands.

      This article was written by:
      Image of Kirsten BenkendorffKirsten Benkendorff – [Associate Professor in Marine Biology, Southern Cross University]





      This article is part of a syndicated news program via


      Debauchery on the fatal shore: the sex lives of Australia’s convicts

       A chain gang of convicts in Hobart. 
      State Library of NSW

      In 1787, when Arthur Phillip was preparing to lead the First Fleet to establish the British colony in New South Wales he wrote to his superiors to sort out what powers he would have over convicts and the soldiers sent to guard them. At one point, he addressed his power of life and death. Only two offences, he thought, deserved the death penalty – murder and sodomy:

      For either of these crimes I would wish to confine the criminal until an opportunity offered of delivering him to the natives of New Zealand, and let them eat him. The dread of this will operate much stronger than the fear of death.

      It might not look like it, but Phillip was expressing a rather liberal point of view here. In Britain at this time, there were hundreds of offences that attracted the death penalty. In reducing his list to two he was flying in the face of all common sense. But it is striking that sodomy is on his little list.

      While the administration took a dim view of same-sex desire, sex between men and between women flourished in Australia’s convict system – and thanks to the watchful eye of the colonial government, we know much about it.

      Crime and punishment

      Phillip’s views on sodomy were not an unreasonable position at the time. The Christian Bible was very clear that men who lay with men as with women were deserving of death; and the law – which had been instituted by Henry VIII, that great defender of the nation’s morals – agreed.

      As it happened, Phillip, who served as governor until 1792, never got to put his policy into practice. There were no executions for sodomy; nor was anyone shipped off to New Zealand. Watkin Tench, a First Fleeter, opined that there were few “crimes of a deep dye” in the first four years of the colony and that “murder and unnatural sins rank not hitherto in the catalogue of [the convicts’] enormities”.

      The convict ruins at Port Arthur.

      The first prosecution only came in 1796 when Francis Wilkinson, a labourer, was charged with “that most horrid detestable and sodomitic crime (among Christians not to be named) called Buggery”. We don’t know his fate. The first execution for sodomy that we know of was of Alexander Brown in 1828. This execution is perhaps the first sign of a coming storm. Historian Robert French estimates that about 20 men were executed as sodomites between 1828 and 1863.

      By the 1830s, the free settlers in NSW were desperate to put an end to the transportation of convicts to the colony. There were many reasons for this, but one most forcefully put was that it was undermining the moral development of the colony. In the thinking of the time, criminality, including sodomy, was seen as a physical degeneracy passed from generation to generation. So convicts were seen by very nature to be poor stock with which to colonise the country.

      And the disproportion of men to women was seen as leaving the convict classes prey to the temptation of sodomy. The Chaplain of Fremantle Prison wrote in 1854,

      What will ensue when we have thousands of men cooped up in the colony without wives and unable to seek them elsewhere. Evil will be the result – too humiliating for the mind to dwell upon– too revolting to name. … That moral evil of far greater magnitude, which has of old brought down the signal judgment of Heaven, will result.

      Love in plain sight

      But if the anxieties of the authorities had unleashed a wave of debate and discussion about the dangers of debauchery, it is important to be aware that there is another way of looking at this – recognising that sodomy was also part of the lived experience of convict men and women, and that their experience was not at all the same as that of the horrified authorities.

      Where respectable colonists saw filth and moral evil, there is evidence that convict women and men experienced companionship, affection and attachment, which included sexual love. Consider this letter, written by a convict in 1846 on the eve of his being hanged:

      I hope you wont forget me when I am far away and all my bones is moldered away I have not closed an eye since I lost sight of you your precious sight was always a welcome and loving charming spectacle. Dear Jack I value Death nothing but it is in leaving you my dear behind and no one to look after you … The only thing that grieves me love is when I think of the pleasant nights we have had together. I hope you wont fall in love with no other man when I am dead and I remain your True and loving affectionate Lover.

      The convicts’ barracks at Hyde Park in Sydney. Adam Jones/Flickr

      We know quite a lot about love between convicts because they were being constantly monitored by the authorities. In 1841 there was an inquiry into a riot at the Launceston female factory (prison/workhouse) which discovered that sexual relationships between women were common – “depraved” behaviour, “unnatural connection” and the like.

      One witness identified six female couples by name; others suggested there were anything from eight to 30 such couples. It was said that there were cases where a woman, sent out of the factory and into private service, would reoffend, so as to be sent back to where her lover was. When the authorities tried to break up couples, women would refuse to leave their cells, or even riot.

      The medical superintendent of the Ross female factory – who habitually intercepted the women’s letters – reported on “warmth and impetuosity of the feelings excited in women towards each other, when allied in such unholy bonds”. (It is highly likely that he used the term “unholy bonds” having in mind the “holy bonds” of matrimony, suggesting that these women saw themselves as married).

      An 1837 British parliamentary inquiry into the transportation system heard much evidence of the extent of debauchery among the convicts. The inquiry came to be believe there was a semi-underground subculture (a “demi-monde”) in existence.

      New arrivals at the Hyde Park barracks, including younger men, put themselves selves under protection of older men – and adopted names such as Kitty, Nancy, Bett. On Norfolk Island, Robert Stuart reported as many as 150 male couples, who referred to themselves openly as “man and wife”. (Same-sex marriage is not as new as we might think).

      Relationships among the convicts were of course many different things: situational – a desire for sexual outlet in the absence of the other sex – or coercive, expressing power over someone lower down the pecking order.

      They may have been about the more desirable trading sex and affection for protection and advancement. All of these applied, of course, just as much to heterosexual relationships. But as with these, love between men or between women was often enough just that – love.

      This article was written by:
      Image of Graham WillettGraham Willett – [Honorary Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne]






      This article is part of a syndicated news program via

      50 years ago: King Constantine fails to restore democracy in Greece


        King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie arrived in Rome early in the morning of 14th December 1967

        From the outset, the relationship between King Constantine and the colonels, who seized power in Greece with a coup d’état was an uneasy one. Constantine II was at the Tatoi Palace outside Athens when the coup occurred in the early hours of the 21st of April. The king was cut off from his advisers and was at an initial loss as to how to re-act. His Majesty made his way to the Defence Ministry where the assembled generals stood at attention and pledged allegiance to their king.

        However Constantine II’s visit to the Defence Ministry demonstrated to His Majesty that operational power was with the colonels, not the generals. Constantine II had to accept that actual power lay with the coup leader Colonel George Papadopoulos and not the army chief of staff General Grigorios Spantidakis (who was ignorant of the April coup).

        The King on returning to Tatoi from the Defence Ministry was faced with the agonizing choice of departing for exile or initially acquiescencing to the coup. Cut off from his political advisers Constantine II opted to stay in Greece. Following his mothers’ suggestion the Supreme Court Prosecutor Constantine Kollias was appointed the new prime minister whom the colonels grudgingly accepted.

        The King decided to launch his counter-coup on 13th December 1967. Since Athens was militarily in the hands of the colonels, Constantine decided to fly to the small northern city of Kavala, where he hoped to be among troops loyal only to him. The vague plan that Constantine and his advisors had conceived was to form a unit that would invade and take control over Thessaloniki, where an alternative administration would be installed. The King hoped that international recognition and internal pressure between the two governments would force the junta to resign, leaving the field clear for him to return triumphant to Athens.

        In the early morning hours of 13th December, the King boarded the royal plane, together with Queen Anna Maria, their two baby children Princess Alexia and Crown Prince Pavlos, his mother Queen Frederika, his sister, Princess Irene and Prime Minister Constantine Kollias. At first, things seemed to be going according to plan. Constantine was well received in Kavala, which was under the command of a general loyal to him. The Hellenic Air Force and Navy, both strongly royalist and not involved in the junta, immediately declared for him and mobilised. Another of Constantine‘s generals effectively cut all communication between Athens and northern Greece.

        However, Constantine‘s plans were overly bureaucratic, naïvely supposing that orders from a commanding general would automatically be obeyed. Further, Constantine was obsessive about avoiding “bloodshed”, even where the junta would most likely respond with violence. Instead of attempting to drum up the widest popular support, hoping for spontaneous pro-democracy risings in most towns, Constantine preferred to let his generals put together the necessary force for advancing on Thessaloniki in strict compliance with military bureaucracy. The King made no attempt to contact politicians, even local ones.

        In the circumstances, middle-ranking pro-junta officers neutralised and arrested Constantine‘s royalist generals and took command of their units, and subsequently put together a force to advance on Kavala to arrest the King. Realising that the counter-coup had failed, Constantine fled Greece on board the royal plane, taking his family with him. They landed in Rome early in the morning of 14th December. The royal family took refuge in the Greek embassy, but Queen Anna Maria, who was pregnant again, lost her baby.

        Facebook’s new Messenger Kids app could be good for digital literacy

         Facebook’s Messenger Kids has sparked debate about 
        what age children should be using messaging apps.

        Facebook is trialling a new Messenger Kids app in the United States.

        The standalone app is aimed at under-13s, who aren’t currently eligible for a normal Facebook account. Parents are responsible for setting up the account and approving any contacts their children add. Kids can then use the app to video chat – both one-on-one or in a group – and send photos, videos and text messages. Currently only available in the US on Apple devices, Facebook expects to extend it to a wider audience in the coming months.

        In the week since the app launched, headlines have focused on its potential downsides, amid concerns about data privacytech addiction and kids’ well-being.

        But I argue that there is another side to this story: the fact that teaching kids about messaging at a young age is essential to preparing them for the hyper-connected world they will need to navigate in the future.

        It’s already happening

        At the moment, there is relatively little research in Australia about toddlers’ and children’s use of digital technologies. But studies in the UK and emerging Australian studies suggest that kids are going online at ever earlier ages, and doing a much wider range of activities.

        Children younger than 13 are already using social media, and messaging functionality is increasingly built into the “communicative ecology” of families.

        On a recent overseas work trip, I shared photos and messages with my nine-year-old daughter via her dad’s Facebook Messenger account. Like most kids her age in Australia, she has daily access to a mobile phone or tablet.

        Social media communication is a good way to keep in touch with family. Philippa Collin, Author provided (No reuse)

        And like the average Australian household with children younger than 15, we have seven internet-enabled devices in our home. But we don’t have a landline, so web apps, including social messaging apps, are becoming more central to our family communication.

        Messaging is also embedded in multi-player games used by older children, such as Minecraft and Clash of Clans.

        There are both challenges and benefits associated with kids connecting with others via games and apps, but the functionality is not going to go away. Learning how to navigate social media together is now a key feature of childhood and parenting.

        Messaging can be good for kids

        The Facebook app is an interesting innovation in the social media space precisely because it promotes learning about and using social media together with kids. The focus is on developing online skills by supporting communication with known relatives and friends, because kids can only connect with parent-approved contacts.

        The app has parental controls built into its functionality that allow parents to approve contacts through their main Facebook app. Facebook

        As leading kids and tech commentator Anne Collier has written, the most significant thing about the app is that while it has plenty of parental controls built into it, the app itself is not actually a parental control tool. Rather, it is a service that kids and their families and friends will need to learn to use – and use well – together.

        Evidence already exists to show that social media can be good for mental health, building friendships, and resilience.

        The app will evolve over time as kids and parents use it. What is important is that parents do not become complacent about the app as a “silver bullet” solution to educating children about the internet. Rather, we need to see it as just one tool to foster healthy, respectful relationships with our kids, and learn through the technology.

        Bullying and data privacy

        For now the Facebook Messenger Kids app features no ads, in-app purchases or sharing of data with other apps on the same device. But as with all websites and apps, this one will be fallible. Learning to think about what we share and how we share it (just like when you meet someone in a park) will still be important on this app.

        Bullying can happen anywhere and it is possible – as we’ve seen before – that the app could extend bullying beyond the schoolyard. But all contacts in the app must be pre-approved by parents, and it has reporting features with pop-up feedback, dedicated content moderation, and notifications to parent Facebook accounts. Those features should enable parents to stay better abreast of how kids are using it. Unlike Snapchat and other apps, content can’t be deleted. This will also help kids and parents review communication, and take necessary steps if someone is being mean or harassing.

        There are more than 2 billion Facebook users worldwide, and the chances are that our kids will soon add to those statistics. Facebook and other major platforms should be part of a broader effort to help kids and parents learn how to communicate safely and respectfully in a world saturated with social media.

        And we should all develop critical digital literacy skills by learning about who is behind the apps and platforms we use, and what happens to our information and data. If using the Facebook Messenger Kids app helps to promote these conversations, that is a very good thing.

        This article was written by:
        Image of Philippa CollinPhilippa Collin – [Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University]






        This article is part of a syndicated news program via

        Older people now less likely to fall into poverty

         The incidence of poverty among people over 65 
        is decreasing in part because of increased labour force participation. 
        Col Ford and Natasha de Vere/Flickr

        The risk of people past retirement age falling into poverty is now decreasing. There has been a substantial improvement compared to 15 years ago, when the incidence of poverty among the elderly was 32.4%.

        People past retirement age are much more at risk of poverty compared to people of other ages. In 2014, 23% of people over 65 were identified as experiencing poverty, while among the general population this was 10.1%.

        If we look at poverty in older age using three alternative, well-established, definitions: the Henderson Poverty Line, the OECD 50% poverty line and the OECD 60% poverty line, they all lead to very similar conclusions.

        The OECD 50% poverty line is defined as 50% of median household equivalent disposable income. Equivalised household income allows for differences in household composition, like the number of adults and children who live in the household. It therefore makes income comparable between households of different sizes. Someone is counted as poor if their equivalised disposable household income falls below this poverty line.

        Applying this to data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) survey shows clear differences between ages. There’s a much larger incidence of poverty among people over 65, as well as a larger decrease in the poverty rate among those over 65.

        Between 2000 and 2014, the prevalence of income poverty among older people declined by more than 9 percentage points, well above the decline of other age groups.

        There are a number of reasons for this decrease in the poverty rate. One is the increase in labour force participation from 6.9% to 12.5% for this older group, whereas for other age groups labour force participation has remained quite stable.

        Another reason is the larger increase in pension rates (which is the typical social security payment for people over 65) compared to allowance rates (which is the typical social security payment for working-age people). From an already high base, the payment rates for the oldest age group clearly increased by the most.

        These two reasons combined account for over 75% of the decrease in poverty incidence. Increased private pensions account for a further large part of the decrease (nearly 41%), while changes in investment income would have increased the poverty rate.

        Why pensions are so important

        This shows just how important public and private pensions are for the standard of living of older people. Given that more and more people will be covered by superannuation, we expect that poverty rates will further decline in the future. However, maintaining the value of public pensions is equally important as a substantial proportion of people over 65 will remain dependent on these payments.

        Those dependent on the age pension include people with a disability during their working life, and many women, as they remain the ones who are more frequently out of the labour force and working part time to raise children. As a result, these groups have less opportunity to build up sufficient superannuation. However, the age pension may perhaps be better targeted.

        Although the largest increases in income support are for those classified as poor (with the largest average increase observed for those over 65), the non-poor population over 65 also receives a substantial increase in income support.

        The increase in payments for people who aren’t poor and over 65 is nearly as large as the increase for those classified as poor who are aged 15 to 64. Payments for working-age people have only been increased with inflation, while pensions increased at the same rate as average earnings which has generally been higher than inflation.

        To better alleviate poverty for our whole population, government payments for working-age people need to keep up with average earnings like the pensions do. If the government is not prepared to direct more resources to income support payments, they need to treat different age groups more equally. This means better targeting payments among our older population and using any savings to increase payments for the working-age population at a similar rate as pensions.

        This article was written by:
        Image of Guyonne KalbGuyonne Kalb – [Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Labour Economics and Social Policy Program, University of Melbourne]




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        Riding in cars with dogs: millions of trips a week tell us transport policy needs to change

         Having a pet dog turns out to be a highly 
        car-dependent affair. 

        Dog owners depend very heavily on their cars to transport and care for their pets. Our recently published study estimates that dog owners make about 2.4 million dog-related trips a week in Sydney. We also found pet owners overwhelmingly want to be able to travel on public transport with their pets. So why are they still excluded?

        Our study, involving more than 1,250 Sydney dog owners, looked at popular activities owners do with their dogs and how often these require a trip by car. Typical activities include:

        • walking
        • visiting the park or other recreational areas
        • dog training
        • going to cafés, bars or shops
        • visiting family, friends or the vet.

        On average, we found people walk their dog twice or more a week. While this confirms existing research, we found that one in four dog walks actually began with a drive in a car. Of the more than 75% of dog owners who go to a recreational area twice or more a week, 45% get there by car. And of the two-thirds of people who go to the dog park three times a week, more than half travel by car.

        This demonstrates a surprisingly high reliance on private cars for dog ownership. The table below clearly shows this.

        Activities undertaken by dog owners and the number of dog-related car trips each week.

        The survey also found that, on average, people visit a vet three times a year. They use a car for 86% of those trips.

        However, 14% said lack of transport had prevented them from taking their dog to a vet. People who did not own a car were more likely to fall into this category.

        So, why does this matter?

        Our results indicate that enjoying and caring for a dog in Australian cities – which has proven health and social benefits – is a relatively car-dependent affair. And car dependency is something urban planners want us to leave behind for many reasons, including sustainability, health and liveability.

        If we are trying to reduce car use, understanding activities that lead to car dependence is important. We are particularly interested in the unintentional, often negative, consequences for individuals who, by choice or circumstance, do not have access to a car. A compromised ability to enjoy and care for a dog is one such consequence.

        All European cities allow dogs on public transport but most cities in the US and Australia do not. TIF Fotos/Shutterstock

        A policy solution would be to allow dogs on public transport in Australian cities. Unsurprisingly, our survey of dog owners found an overwhelming 95% support this.

        More than half indicated they would do more activities with their hound if this were allowed. And 20% said they would even consider getting by without one of their cars if they could take their dog on public transport.

        What are the rules in other countries?

        With these findings in mind, we investigated public transport policies on pets in 30 cities across Europe, the United States and Australia. We found all European cities allowed dogs on public transport. Most cities in the US and Australia did not.

        The policies allowing dogs vary. Some apply limits on where on the train, tram or bus a dog may travel, on travel during peak hours, and on the size of dog. In cities such as Paris, dogs must pass a “basket test” for riding in a carrier or small bag.

        Most cities charge a fare for dogs at a concession or child price. Zurich has gone a step further by offering an annual travel card for dogs.

        It is interesting that in cultures where private cars are dominant – such as Australia and the US – dogs are restricted from riding on public transport. In Europe, where car ownership and use are less common and public transport use is more the norm, dogs are welcome on trains and buses.

        This perhaps says something about how we see public transport in Australia: it is for predictable and “clean” trips, such as the journey to work.

        In reality, our lives are made up of messy trips, and to reduce car dependence we need to plan for this mess. This might include measures such as changes to timetables, making the interior of trains and buses more suitable for people carrying groceries, or allowing people to use the train to take their dog on an outing or to the vet. If public transport is for travel for all citizens and dogs are an important part of so many people’s lives, why should dogs be excluded from public transport?

        This article was co-authored by:



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        No, most people aren’t in severe pain when they die

         Symptoms of an illness usually improve the 
        closer a person gets to dying. Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

        Many people fear death partly because of the perception they might suffer increasing pain and other awful symptoms the nearer it gets. There’s often the belief palliative care may not alleviate such pain, leaving many people to die excruciating deaths.

        But an excruciating death is extremely rare. The evidence about palliative care is that pain and other symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia and breathing issues, actually improve as people move closer to death. More than 85% of palliative care patients have no severe symptoms by the time they die.

        Evidence from the Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) shows that there has been a statistically significant improvement over the last decade in pain and other end-of-life symptoms. Several factors linked to more effective palliative care are responsible.

        These include more thorough assessments of patient needs, better medications and improved multidisciplinary care (not just doctors and nurses but also allied health workers such as therapists, counsellors and spiritual support).

        But not everyone receives the same standard of clinical care at the end of life. Each year in Australia, about 160,000 people die and we estimate 100,000 of these deaths are predictable. Yet, the PCOC estimates only about 40,000 people receive specialist palliative care per year.

        Symptoms at the end of life

        For the greater majority of those who do receive palliative care, the evidence shows it is highly effective.

        The most common symptom that causes people distress towards the end of life is fatigue. In 2016, 13.3% of patients reported feeling severe distress due to fatigue at the start of their palliative care. This was followed by pain (7.4%) and appetite (7.1%) problems.

        Distress from fatigue and appetite is not surprising as a loss of energy and appetite is common as death approaches, while most pain can be effectively managed. Other problems such as breathing, insomnia, nausea and bowel issues are experienced less often and typically improve as death approaches.

        Contrary to popular perceptions, people in their final days and hours experience less pain and other problems than earlier in their illness. In 2016, about a quarter of all palliative care patients (26%) reported having one or more severe symptoms when they started palliative care. This decreased to 13.9% as death approached.

        The most common problem at the start was fatigue, which remained the most common problem at the end. Pain is much less common than fatigue. In total, 7.4% of patients reported severe pain at the beginning of their palliative care and only 2.5% reported severe pain in the last few days. Breathing difficulties cause more distress than pain in the final days of life.

        These figures must be considered in relation to a person’s wishes. It’s true for a small number of patients that existing medications and other interventions do not adequately relieve pain and other symptoms.

        But some patients who report problematic pain and symptoms elect to have little or no pain relief. This might be because of family, personal or religious reasons. For some patients, this includes a fear opioids (the active ingredient in drugs like codeine) and sedating medications will shorten their life. For others, being as alert as possible at the point of death is essential for spiritual reasons.

        Not everyone gets this care

        Patient outcomes vary depending on a range of factors such as the resources available and geographical location. People living in areas of high socioeconomic status have better access to palliative care than those who live in lower socioeconomic areas.

        The PCOC data demonstrate those receiving care in a hospital with dedicated specialist palliative care services have better pain and symptom control (due to the availability of 24-hour care) compared to those receiving palliative care at home. There is now a national consensus statement to improve the provision of palliative care in hospitals. This needs to be extended to include death at home and death in residential care.

        Although there are national palliative care standards and national safety and quality standards, each state, territory, health district and organisation is responsible for the individual delivery of palliative care. Subsequently, differing approaches to delivery and resources exist in the provision of palliative care.

        Recent reports by the New South Wales and Victorian Auditor-General Offices highlight the demand for palliative care services and the need for appropriate resourcing to support patients, carers and families as well as for more integrated information and service delivery across care settings.

        Australia can do better

        The Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration holds information on more than 250,000 people who have received specialist palliative care over the last decade. Although participation in the data collection is voluntary, there has been steady uptake. The collaboration estimates that information on more than 80% of specialist palliative care patients is being reported each year.

        Australia is in a unique position internationally as it has a national system to routinely measure the outcomes and experience of palliative care patients and their families. These data can help clinicians to measure the effectiveness of their care and help providers adopt best practice. This information is also critical evidence that can be used to inform public debate.

        The evidence is Australian palliative care is effective for almost everyone who receives it. But the problem is that many thousands of people die each year without access to the specialist palliative care they need. As a country, we need to do better.

        This article was co-authored by:
        Image of Kathy EagarKathy Eagar – [Professor and Director at Australian Health Services Research Institute University of Wollongong, University of Wollongong];
        Image of Sabina ClaphamSabina Clapham – [Research fellow, Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration, University of Wollongong]
        Image of Samuel AllinghamSamuel Allingham – [Research Fellow, Applied Statistics, University of Wollongong]





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