Wi-Fi can be KRACK-ed. Here’s what to do next

WPA2 has been cracked, so it’s time to update your router. Ksander/Shutterstock

A security researcher has revealed serious flaws in the way that most contemporary Wi-Fi networks are secured.

Discovered by Mathy Vanhoef from the University of Leuven, the vulnerability affects the protocol “Wi-Fi Protected Access 2”. Otherwise known as WPA2, this encrypts the connection between a computer or mobile phone and a Wi-Fi access point to keep your browsing safe.

Because this security can be cracked, it’s possible for someone to read what is transmitted on the network, allowing them to intercept passwords or credit card details, or to inject malicious code when users visit websites.

Dubbed the “key reinstallation attack” (KRACK), Vanhoef’s discovery has the most serious implications for devices running the Android operating system, especially version 6.0 and above, and devices that use Linux.

But don’t freak out just yet: although almost every device that uses Wi-Fi is vulnerable, KRACK can only be deployed in certain circumstances. And there are some simple steps you can take to help keep your internet traffic safe.

What is WPA2, anyway?

Most secured wireless networks use the WPA2 security protocol. It allows users to login to a network and keep their communications secured.

The encryption process uses a set of secret keys that are agreed to between the connecting device and the wireless access point. These keys are used to scramble messages on the network and provide protection against someone sitting in an internet cafe, for example, and listening in on messages between laptops and the wireless router.

WPA2 was created to address weaknesses in previous protocols used to secure wireless networks, such as the Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) and the first version of WPA. Until now, it was arguably more secure.

How does KRACK work?

The KRACK attack requires the attacker to be physically close enough to a Wi-Fi network to perform a “man-in-the-middle” attack.

Man-in-the-middle channel attack. David Glance

Most Wi-Fi networks use a “4-way handshake”. This is a series of messages between the client and the access point used to ensure both parties have the right credentials.

In this scenario, the attacker can prompt the third message to be resent, which causes an existing key to be reused. These keys are used to scramble the contents of messages to prevent them from being read, but also to check if messages have been altered in any way. By forcing the reuse of old keys, these protections are effectively removed.

Because the key that is reused is set to zeros in Android 6.0 devices, messages can be more easily decrypted. On other platforms, and depending on the circumstances, only some messages can be exposed.

The KRACK in action.

What does this mean for you?

Vendors of affected devices have apparently known about the vulnerability since July or August. Since the attack is against Wi-Fi clients, devices like mobile phones and laptops are most at risk.

Make sure you update your devices

Apple and Google have told media outlets that they will have fixes for the flaw ready in a few weeks. Microsoft has already released a fix, and other companies will have either already fixed the vulnerability or have fixes shortly.

The key message is that you should immediately apply all updates that come out for phones, laptops or other devices. This is especially true for Android phones.

 
Apple has confirmed to me (and others) that Wi-Fi exploit KRACK patched in current betas of its four OSes. No imminent danger in any case.
 

Use sites with HTTPS

Until patches are available, it is worth remembering that Wi-Fi networks, even when secure, only protect communications up until the wireless access point. For end-to-end protection with websites, we rely on HTTPS to keep communication secure. Make sure you look for it in the URL of sites you visit.

Normally this would protect users even on a compromised network, although it is possible to bypass HTTPS if the website is not securely configured.

Use encrypted services

Other communications, such as those used in sending and receiving email, should also be encrypted. Although this is not always the case.

Services like Gmail are encrypted by default. Other applications that use their own end-to-end encryption like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and FaceTime would also be secure.

Get a VPN

One way of ensuring secure communication while using any form of Wi-Fi network is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection.

VPNs provide their own encryption, which protects all communication sent over the Wi-Fi network and would still provide that safeguard, even in the case of someone using the WPA2 KRACK.

We’re not all doomed

Although this is a serious breach, it is not a simple one technically and requires the attacker to have proximity to the Wi-Fi network. The attacker also has to rely on the attacked device going to unprotected, non-HTTPS sites and to not be using a VPN.

As industry commentators have pointed out, this is not quite as serious as media headlines might suggest. But consider it a timely reminder to install software updates on all your devices.


This article was written by:
Image of David GlanceDavid Glance – [Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Bringing back an old idea for smart cities – playing on the street

 Play activates cities and engages people, 
and by appropriating urban spaces it changes what these mean to people.

Smart cities promise efficiency and resilience in urban design to combat climate change, population growth, transport congestion and other wicked problems. The processes that run a city may be abstracted into algorithms that feed on big data, their design optimised for efficiency, commuting, work and other purposes.

This is a positive development for urban spaces, but does this approach overlook other human needs?

While research centres and urban designers are installing sensorstrackers and cameras on every street corner, game designers and artists are using a cornucopia of technologies to bring back an old idea – playing on the street. I have developed one such game for Melbourne International Games Week.

Everyone knows what play is, but as adults we often forget how to play or trivialise its significance. Play is a particular way of being, a different way of seeing the world.

The idea of play as pointless fun is challenged by the designers of serious games who remind us that it is fundamental to learning. We play with possibilities, see how something plays out – this allows us to explore alternative realities and to see familiar situations in a new way.

Play also creates social bonds, connection and community through these shared experiences. Play activates cities and engages people. It appropriates and takes over urban space, changing what it means to people.

Playful citizens can then see their town or city in a new way, feeling a new sense of connection, and sensing new ways it could be.

Not entirely a new idea

While children used to play routinely in cities before the age of digital distraction, adult play in cities is not entirely a new idea. The emergence of the modern city in the 1900s led to changes in how people engaged with and experienced public space in the form of promenading and other social play.

Last century, the playground was invented as a site designed for play. During the 1960s, the Situationists deployed play in cities as a strategy for subversion. And in the 1970s the New Games movement developed outdoor play as a community-building process.

More recently, the interventions into public space of playable cities have revitalised earlier strategies for urban play. Technology has enabled urban play to introduce new modes of engagement.

What is a playable city?

Play creates alternative ways of seeing the world. This involves not only changes in data, but changes in attitude and how we feel in cities. These are things that are harder to achieve with other design strategies in public spaces.

We all know what a game is – we are living in a time with the highest level of play literacy. Participation in games continues to rise, with 68% of Australians playing video games.

Play is often structured through technology. We may recognise that the city has rules, but those rules become changeable through an invitation to play. Games provide new rules of engagement.

Cities are in process, in flux. Although on the surface they are made of concrete, data, steel and glass, they are equally made of people and culture.

Rather than creating playgrounds for adults, playable cities transform spaces that adults already occupy into playful experiences.

A new creative platform

Playable cities appropriate smart cities infrastructure to engage people with their city and with one another. It’s a form of “hacking” urban space. Through a shared sense of community and ownership, visitors, residents and workers in playable cities may then become part of the conversation about urban design.

In this way, smart cities and playable cities may inform each other and provide a new creative platform for artists and designers. Developing encounters in a playable city blends disciplines such as urban design, public art and game development into a hybrid practice situated in urban space.

Technologies like augmented reality sit alongside live theatre, as players move between looking at the screen of their mobile to one another, observing the spaces of the city, or drifting through information architecture.

Invitations to be citizens of play

This approach recognises the multilayered nature of urban space, its complexity, possibilities and how these can be remapped into a playful experience. This happens through mobile phones, signs and ciphers hidden in laneways, large public screens and through the changes in the behaviour of players and the attitudes of those who watch them play.

With signs and ciphers hidden in laneways, the physical and digital worlds come together in the playable city. Author provided

Cities have always been melting pots of possibility, places that we go to rediscover ourselves – some of their major contributions to the cultural economy are community, connection and creativity.

If that sounds too utopian as we reach peak popularity in dystopian fiction, then perhaps all this play is simply training for the apocalypse – zombie survival runs are a popular genre in street games.

Playable cities do not delineate sites of play but blend this activity with the daily operation of the city itself. Sometimes it is overt, where player behaviour challenges existing rules and conventions of public space and, as a result, transforms the meaning of the site in question. More often than not it is covert, play in secret.

In this way, play persists in cities despite mass surveillance and urban alienation. It’s emerging in opposition to these as a coping strategy that draws attention to the many tensions in cities today: connection and alienation, actual and virtual, digital and analogue, public and private, civic and corporate. Come and join the big game.


You can experience Melbourne as a playable city with Wayfinder Live 2017, a mixed-reality mobile game that explores Melbourne’s laneways and streets to unlock a hidden city. The author developed Wayfinder for Melbourne International Games Week, Asia Pacific’s largest digital games festival, from October 22-29.


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Designing suburbs to cut car use closes gaps in health and wealth

Having to own multiple cars comes at 
a cost to the finances and health of residents in the sprawling outer suburbs. 
David Crosling/AAP

Large health inequalities exist in Australia. Car ownership and its costs add to the health inequalities between low-income and high-income households. The physical characteristics of neighbourhoods influence our transport use and, in turn, make health inequalities better or worse.

Rising housing prices have forced many low-income families to live on the fringes of Australian capital cities. Residents of these sprawling outer suburbs often have worse accessto public transport, employment, shops and services. They need one or more motor vehicles simply to get to work and take children to school.

Buying and maintaining vehicles in Australia is expensive. These costs have a large impact on household budgets. Household finances then affect health in two main ways:

  • through the ability to access health-related resources, such as healthy foods, health care and high-quality living conditions (like heating and cooling)
  • through stress caused by financial difficulties, insecure incomes and exposure to poorer environments such as crowding, crime and noise pollution.

Living in the car-dependent urban fringes also often dooms residents to long sedentarycommutes.

Four scenarios of transport costs

The following four hypothetical households demonstrate the costs of varying levels of car ownership and transport behaviours.

Scenario 1: A household with two cars that are 15,000km and 10,000km, respectively, per year. The car that is driven 15,000km is assumed to be less than three years old, bought new and financed with a loan. The other car is assumed to be 10 years old and owned outright. This household aligns with estimates by the Australian Automobile Association.

Scenario 2: Scenario one, minus the used car and substituting five return public transport trips a week to the Melbourne central business district from the outer suburbs.

Scenario 3: No cars, substituting 10 return trips to the CBD from the outer suburbs.

Scenario 4: No cars, substituting three return trips to the CBD (i.e. occasional public transport use), with walking and cycling as the main forms of transport.

Table 1 shows how reducing household car ownership, even after adding the cost of public transport, can improve household finances.

Moving from a two-car household to a one-car household cuts weekly costs by as much as A$41, even after increased public transport use adds a A$41-a-week cost.

Moving from a two-car household to having no cars can improve weekly finances by as much as A$237, after adding 10 return trips to the CBD.

The fourth scenario, emphasising walking and cycling, shows the greatest improvement in household finances. These families are $294 per week better off.

The impacts on households of each of these car ownership and transport scenarios differ depending on their incomes. To illustrate this, we’ve taken the median disposable household income from the lowest, middle and highest quintiles from the ABS in 2015-16.

Graph showing Proportion of disposable household income remaining after transport costs for four scenarios of car ownership.
Figure 1. Proportion of disposable household income remaining after transport costs for four scenarios of car ownership.

Although becoming car-free will increase disposable household income after paying for transport, the largest proportional differences are for the lowest-income households. This means these households will benefit most from reducing car ownership and switching to more active and affordable forms of transport.

Urban design can boost household health and wealth

So how do we help households make the transition from private car ownership? The answer lies in the environments we live in.

The evidence from research suggests several strategies to improve uptake of active and affordable transport, while reducing car dependence and related health inequities. These include local urban design features such as:

  • connected and safe street networks (including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure) that reduce exposure to traffic
A lot of   are dreaming about . Stop dreaming, start building your own . Foto via @DuraVermeer.
  • residential areas mixed with commercial, public service and recreational opportunities
  • public transport that is convenient, affordable, frequent, safe and comfortable
  • higher residential density with different types of housing (including affordable housing) to support the viability of local businesses and high-frequency public transport services
  • cycling education and promotion
  • car-free pedestrian zones, traffic calming measures, signage and accessibility for all (including wheelchair and pram access).
View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
 
#Eindhoven‘s city centre is almost entirely car-free, which makes walking, cycling, shopping, & dining a real treat.
 

Australia has yet to fully realise the potential of promoting active transport and reducing car dependency as a way to reduce health inequities.

For example, the Victorian government recently announced 17 new low-density suburbs for Melbourne’s outer fringes (up to 50 kilometres from the CBD). It did so with a goal of creating more affordable housing. But urban planning experts have criticised these plans for increasing car dependence and commute times – due to the lack of nearby destinations and amenities – which have been shown to be bad for health.

In another case, the Planning Institute of Australia described the proposed A$5.5 billion West Gate Tunnel as a “retrograde solution”. The institute expressed concern about “entrenched inequality for those in the outer suburbs”.

Changes to city transport environments can take years or even decades, and funding is often limited. Phased interventions that target lower-income neighbourhoods should be considered first as these are likely to produce the greatest gains in health equity.

This approach does have some caveats. Urban renewal projects carry a risk of gentrification, whereby higher and middle-income households displace those on lower incomes. Place-based government investment, such as improvements to public transport, has been shownto increase local housing prices. That could force lower-income households to relocate, often to car-dependent neighbourhoods on the urban fringes.

In these scenarios, a lack of government policies that safeguard against displacement of low-income residents can make health inequities worse.


This article was co-authored by:

 

 

 

 

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Grattan on Friday: The rift between Brandis and Dutton deepens as the behemoth of Home Affairs rises

 The exit of George Brandis would be  
one less frustration for Peter Dutton. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Immigration minister Peter Dutton got a towelling from the Senate this week when he couldn’t reach a deal with the crossbench on his legislation to toughen requirements for people seeking Australian citizenship.

The bill was to impose a harder – many would say a ridiculously difficult – English test on those wanting to become Australians, and to require a longer waiting period.

The Senate gave Dutton a Wednesday night deadline to muster support or lose the bill from the notice paper. He offered some concessions but without success, and the bill dropped off – to return only if and when the numbers change. The minister says he’ll fight on.

Dutton had been sent a fresh message about the limits on his power. He doesn’t like such reminders. We know this from his attacks on court and tribunal rulings against his ministerial decisions, and his vitriol about lawyers who represent refugees and asylum seekers.

After he agreed with broadcaster Alan Jones about the “un-Australian” behaviour of lawyers who frustrate government efforts to return people to Manus and Nauru following medical treatment, the ongoing deep rift between Dutton and Attorney-General George Brandis flared publicly earlier this month.

In a speech to the International Bar Association Brandis said pointedly that “those who exercise executive power must always accept that they are subject to, and must always be respectful of, the supremacy of the law. And in that process, as the custodians of the rule of law, the role of lawyers is essential”.

Brandis didn’t name Dutton, but his target was clear.

Colleagues observe the palpable hostility between the two ministers, both from Queensland, as Brandis has recently been increasingly willing to assert small-l liberal positions (slapping down Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott as well as Dutton), and has in turn been the object of apparently antagonistic briefings to the tabloids.

As the new Home Affairs department that Dutton will head is being sewn together – including immigration and bringing under its umbrella ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Border Force, the Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC – it’s an open secret that Brandis (who loses ASIO but retains the power to sign its warrants), his department and some officials within the agencies are deeply apprehensive about it.

Some of their concerns may be reinforced by the picture painted a week ago by the new department’s secretary-designate, and current immigration secretary, Mike Pezzullo who, like Dutton, is seen as an empire builder who takes no prisoners.

Pezzullo, speaking to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle, spelled out Home Affairs’ “philosophical context”, and sent the message that it would be activist, intrusive (often secretly) and have long tentacles.

Pezzullo’s starting point was the “duality of good and evil” at the heart of globalisation.

On the “evil” side – the “dark universe” – “terror has become de-territorialised”, and global networks of crime and exploitation are becoming more apparent.

“There are global dark markets for hacking, money laundering, cryptocurrency movement, assumed identities for criminals, terrorists, child exploitation perpetrators and others,” he said.

In this context the security power, designed to protect the home front, “is being organised into a single enterprise to deal with the interconnected and globalised threats that we face at home”, in an era when “home” and “outside” blur.

“To protect and secure home, we have to be prepared to act globally and to develop networks with like-minded actors, including industry.”

The task requires wide and deep reach, with the department’s “facilitation” functions (migration, passenger services and the like) and security being the flip sides of the one coin.

“The state has to increasingly embed itself – not majestically, sitting at the apex of society dispensing justice – but the state has to embed itself invisibly into global networks and supply chains, and the virtual realm, in a seamless and largely invisible fashion, intervening on the basis of intelligence and risk settings. Increasingly, at super scale and at very high volumes”, Pezzullo said.

“Sometimes we’ll embed in a way that will be invisible to you [in business], because we’ll take data and we’ll put it with other data sources and then see, we’ll wash it and then we’ll come back with an intervention decision which might be ‘no one on that plane needs to be questioned’ or maybe ‘everyone does’, and you’ll go ‘yep, OK, whichever we have to do, we do’”.

The facilitation model requires “a public-private partnership model between Home Affairs and its component agencies and virtually every sector … whether it’s the banking system and talking to them about the active defence of their networks, whether it’s the infrastructure sector … utilities, power, water, etc, the air traffic control system,” he said.

“Home Affairs is going to be sort of the centre of excellence of figuring out how does Australia work. And we have to be careful about how we write this down, because when you then write the manual, how you take Australia down, there’ll be like one copy of that, and I’m not going to tell you where I’m going to keep that, because that’s going to be a very dangerous book!”

When the Home Affairs department was announced Malcolm Turnbull emphasised the checks on its power, which will be located especially in the Attorney-General’s department.

But in government and administration, culture and attitudes can often be an important as formal restraints and oversight, and Pezzullo’s critics point to what happened to the culture after the integration of customs and immigration.

The old immigration department used to focus on the nation building aspects of the people flow to Australia. Now, the dominant culture of the Immigration and Border Protection department is one focused on security, with a very disciplined, somewhat military overlay. (Pezzullo has an intense interest in things military and was disappointed to miss out on the job of secretary of defence, for which he was well qualified, when it was recently up for grabs.)

As the Home Affairs behemoth looms, sharpening questions about what should be the limits on state intrusions, this week saw a paradoxical juxtaposition in relation to Australia’s role in and performance on human rights.

Australia was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body to protect and promote human rights globally. At the same time, it was robustly criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee, a group of experts monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As the year’s end approaches, the speculation continues to be strong that Brandis will depart parliament in Turnbull’s summer reshuffle. There is no doubt that Turnbull – who is thick as thieves with Dutton – wants him out, not least to promote Mathias Cormann to Senate leader and (probably) Christian Porter to attorney-general.

The exit of Brandis would be one less frustration for Dutton. It’s ironic, but true, that the man who was lambasted for asserting the right for people to be bigots is at present the strongest voice in the cabinet for the protections of the rule of law.


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

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Bob Brown wins his case, but High Court leaves the door open to laws targeting protesters

 Bob Brown was arrested under an  
anti-protest law after refusing to obey police directions to leave a  
forestry coup at Lapoinya State Forest. AAP

The High Court has ruled yesterday by a 6:1 majority in favour of Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt’s challenge to the validity of a Tasmanian anti-protest law. The decision is a significant win for forestry and public-interest activists, although it does not go as far as some may have hoped.

The court found the Tasmanian law was unbalanced and unreasonable. However, it affirmed the right of parliaments to target protesters who interfere with business operations.

Despite this, the case will cause many states to review their protest laws.

Background to the case

The Tasmanian Parliament passed the law in question, the Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Act, in 2014.

This came soon after the state had elected a new Liberal government, which had run a significant part of its campaign on a promise to “rebuild” Tasmania’s forestry industry. That included tearing up a peace deal between loggers and conservationists, allowing companies to sue protesters for defamation, and toughening the law to deter protesters.

The Workplace (Protection from Protesters) Act criminalised certain forms of protest that interfered with “business activity” at any “business premises” or “business access area”. This included forestry and other industrial activities on public or private land.

Workplaces are already protected by a range of existing laws. But the Tasmanian act imposed much higher financial and criminal penalties that were easier for police to enforce.

Under the act, police could prevent the commencement or continuation of an on-site political protest that they reasonably believe would, or was about to, prevent, hinder or obstruct a “business activity” at any “business premises” or “business access area”.

This involved, among other things, allowing police to direct protesters to leave and stay away from certain areas for up to three months. Protesters who failed to do this faced fines of up to A$10,000 and four years in jail.

Brown and Hoyt were among a larger group of the first protesters arrested under the act in January 2016. They and other protesters refused to obey police directions to leave a forestry coup at Lapoinya State Forest, in Tasmania’s northwest.

Brown was the first protester to challenge the law’s validity in the High Court. After he did this the state dropped charges against him, due to apparent confusion about which sections of the act he had actually breached.

There was some suspicion that the abandonment of Brown’s charges was also motivated by a desire to circumvent the court challenge. This was amplified when Hoyt’s charges were also dropped after she joined Brown’s action. All of the protesters’ charges were later dropped, and Tasmania sought to have the court challenge discontinued on the grounds that Brown no longer had a “special interest” (or standing) in the matter.

Tasmania subsequently withdrew the challenge to standing in March 2017, after several states and the Commonwealth intervened in the matter. This meant the High Court was only asked to determine the constitutional validity of the Tasmanian law.

Brown and Hoyt argued the act targeted and singled out protesters as a special category without taking into account the importance of protest in a liberal democracy.

They argued that, under the constitutionally protected freedom of political communication, the act was illegitimate and unreasonable: it disproportionately balanced between the need to protect political communication and protect workplaces.

Tasmania argued the act was primarily aimed at protecting business, rather than protest. Some protesters, it argued, posed a special risk to business in the state, and the legislation was narrow and tailored to them. According to Tasmania, protesters still could voice their political views on non-business land or business access areas, ensuring freedom of political communication in the state.

Apart from Western Australia, all states and the Commonwealth joined the action on Tasmania’s side. This suggested concern about the case’s impact on their ability to pass similar laws. Western Australia initially filed to do the same but did not proceed, after its anti-protest bill failed to pass through its parliament.

What did the court find?

The court unanimously found that the act’s stated aims were legitimate. It rejected the assertion that laws that singled out protesters are, of themselves, unconstitutional. However, the court also recognised the Tasmanian law was:

… enacted against a background where protesters, or at least some of them, were perceived to be those persons, or groups, who would cause damage or disrupt economic activities during protests of particular kinds.

That other laws already exist to stop interference with business and forestry operations (regardless of whether someone is a protester or not) was not relevant to the decision. This was because protesters create a “particular mischief” that deserves legislation specific to that mischief. This will give some comfort to states that have similar legislation to Tasmania’s.

Despite legitimately aiming to criminalise disruptive protesters, six judges found the way in which the Tasmanian law sought to achieve this was disproportionate and used unnecessary provisions.

All of the majority judges agreed the legislation was confusing, vague and poorly written.

Justice Gageler described its provisions as creating “Pythonesque absurdity” when applied to various foreseeable public gatherings. He noted that the provisions were not only broad and vague in reach, but seemed to create sanctions and penalties far outside the actual purported interference with a workplace. These were, at best, a “blunt instrument to achieve that purpose”.

In particular, Justice Gaegler was concerned with the lack of justification for the times that people could be sent away from a protest site, and just how far they can be sent. These police powers had no relationship with the actual threat to specific workplace activities at specific sites.

Chief Justice Kiefel, in a joint judgement with Justices Bell and Keane (with Justice Nettle agreeing in a separate judgement), suggested that the act’s vagueness and uncertainty were actually designed to give the act a broader reach than just business or forestry land.

While their judgements considered almost all the act’s operative provisions to be invalid, other judges were much more focused on specific provisions.

Unifying all the judgements was a concern that the part of the act that allowed police to order a person off land on a mere suspicion they were or might interfere with a business activity for a four-day period was arbitrary, and could not be justified. Justice Gordon considered only this provision to be invalid.

However, Justice Edelman considered the act to only cover conduct that was already unlawful by making certain high-threshold and more prominent illegal acts more targeted and specific. He therefore concluded that it was valid in its entirety.

What does it all mean?

The court varied on which parts of the act were invalid. However, the majority of judges declared sufficient parts of the act unconstitutional to ensure it cannot survive in its current state.

So, the current law is no more. Brown and Hoyt won a major victory.

However, the wider contest between protesters and government remains open. The court made it clear there is no “right to protest” per se, nor a restriction on parliaments targeting protesters who they consider go too far in the name of a political cause.

This part of the decision will disappoint some who had hoped that creating a higher threshold of penalties for those who commit a crime for the purposes of protest, should be unconstitutional on the ground that it is never legitimate to single out protest as a crime. So too will the court’s wider avoidance of considering the much more harsh penalties imposed on protesters than other criminal activities that have the same effect.

The decision will also have implications for legal challenges against Tasmania’s other anti-protest laws, which create “safe access zones” to protect women attending abortion clinics. These laws had been put on hold while the High Court considered Brown’s challenge.

The safe access zones legislation allows police to move on or arrest protesters who are 150 metres from an abortion clinic, regardless if they are actually interfering directly with, or are visible to, patients. In Tasmania’s small CBDs, this could effectively stop people protesting at all in the city centre, given the overlapping zones. The lack of tailoring in that legislation may prove a problem.

In many ways, this decision was predictable from the outset of the charges against Brown and the other protesters. The confusion and poorly-constructed Tasmanian legislation made it especially vulnerable to attack. But that has meant the win is against vague and undisciplined drafting, rather than against anti-protest laws more generally.

While many states will now be reviewing their own anti-protest laws, it will be to determine how to make them more specific and targeted to an identified threat to controversial business activities, such as forestry, mining or fracking. They may be slightly buoyed by the court’s unanimous confirmation that they can limit protest activities that interfere with such operations. The public and political war has not ended just yet.


This article was written by:
Brendan Gogarty – [Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

 

Here’s what’s actually driving up health insurance premiums (hint: it’s not young people dropping off)

‘HOW MUCH has my health insurance gone up?’ 
There’s a simple reason premiums are increasing.

Last week the government announced a raft of changes aimed at slowing the rise in health insurance premiums, as well as initiatives to improve access to mental health care.

Commentators have already expressed scepticism on the ability of these initiatives to effectively slow the inexorable rise in premiums, with discounts for young policy holders and small excess increases only one-off measures. If we look at what is actually driving the increase in premium cost, it becomes clear these measures are aiming at the wrong target.

We’re using it more

Giving discounts to young people implies cost increases are being caused by young people abandoning their health insurance, meaning the majority of insured patients are older and thus more in need of health care.

There has been some drop off in young people holding insurance, with the proportion of insurance customers aged 20 to 29 falling from 10.3% to 9.4% over the last five years. But this slight ageing of the insured population is not large enough to explain recent premium increases.

The main source of the increase is the fast-growing costs of insuring customers. Benefits paid per customer have increased by around 4.7% per year over the past five years. And the number of hospital visits funded by health insurance increased by an average of 5.5% per year over the past five years, which is more than enough to explain the increase in benefits being paid out by health funds.

The simple answer is we are paying more for health insurance because we are using more health care. Looking at some specific examples can help us understand which parts of the health care system are expanding fast and whether this is a cause for concern.

What procedures are on the rise?

To look at whether we’re using our insurance more, we can look at the number of hospital procedures where patients are treated privately. Although this includes some patients who are self-funded, the vast majority will be funded by private health insurance.

Private hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery, are growing at between 4.9% and 8.1% per year. These are all highly effective, quality-of-life improving elective surgerieswhich have substantial waiting times for treatment as a public patient.

Colonoscopy and upper-endoscopy (inserting a camera up the colon or down the throat) are primarily diagnostic procedures which have yearly growth rates of 3.9% and 4.4% and account for a large number of privately-funded procedures (just over one million combined in 2015-16).

Finally, chemotherapy and cardio-thoracic (heart) surgery (growing at 5.5% and 5.1%) include innovative life-extending treatments for cancer and heart disease.

These figures show fast growth rates in privately funded procedures can be found across a broad range of health care. It’s therefore hard to “blame” the rise in premiums on one patient group or area of medicine. All areas of private hospital treatment are expanding, explaining the increase of premiums.

And although there is some evidence of low-value care in the Australian system many areas of growth are in highly effective life-improving or life-extending treatments.

Is there anything we can or should do?

In general, this isn’t a trend we can (or necessarily should) want to moderate. Public spending is increasing at a similar rate to private spending, so this is not just an issue with private health insurance. Australian government spending on health increased by 4.4% in real terms in the decade to 2013-14.

Australia is not alone in facing these cost issues and sits near the middle of the pack of OECD countries’ health care spending growth (who average around 4% in real terms).

We’re spending more on health care because it’s increasingly valuable to us both as a society and as individuals taking out insurance contracts. More effective treatments are increasingly becoming available to be used to improve the length and quality of our lives.

While efforts may continue to tweak the system to increase uptake with young people or to remove interventions without proven efficacy, we should not be surprised if this doesn’t slow our insatiable appetite for more health care, and the resulting higher insurance costs.


This article was written by:


Peter Sivey – [Associate professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Sex versus death: why marriage equality provokes more heated debate than assisted dying

 While fear suppresses talk about dying, 
marriage equality involves sex. AAP/Danny Casey

The Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote:

Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.

We are in the midst of two great ethical debates: marriage equality and assisted dying. The results of the marriage equality postal survey will be announced on November 15; meanwhile, the Victorian parliament is this week debating a new law to allow doctor-assisted dying in the last year of life.

What is striking is the volume of the respective public debates. Everyone is talking about marriage equality; very few are discussing assisted dying.

Given that the ethics of assisted dying are more complex than marriage equality, and what happens in Victoria is likely to provide a template for other states, why is it receiving so much less attention?

How fear of death affects public debate

Public ethical debates are fuelled by emotion and psychological biases on both sides. In the case of assisted dying, most of us are not like Epicurus: we fear death. We hate talking about it.

Despite the fact that polls show that 73% of Australians favour assisted dying, it is not clear whether the legislation will pass, although the mood seems to be leaning slightly in favour: 40 out of 87 MPs in the Legislative Assembly told the Herald Sun they would vote yes.

So, there should be an enormous impetus to show MPs the level of public support. But it has been rather muted. Perhaps for similar reasons we post photos of weddings on Facebook, but not funerals: both are important, but only one makes good dinner party conversation.

Terror management theory, evolution and social signalling

Our fear of death might even be linked to our love of marriage, according to terror management theory (TMT). Neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre writes:

When we’re faced with the idea of death, people defensively turn to things they believe will shield them from death, literal or otherwise. Thinking about death also motivates people to indiscriminately uphold and defend their cultural world views, whatever those may be.

TMT has been linked to our development of regulation and rituals around sex.

Picture of a same sex couple with their kids
In evolutionary terms, sex is more important than death, which is one of the reasons marriage equality provokes such heated debate. Shutterstock

So, a fundamental commitment to marriage being between a man and a woman may be more of an immovable foundation on which group membership is based to guard against our shared fear of death than an ethical position that can be defended or rebutted on rational grounds.

While fear suppresses talk about dying, marriage equality involves sex. People are intensely interested in love and sex. And sex has been more important than death in evolutionary terms.

As evolved animals, we were only here to survive long enough to reproduce. Reproduction is evolution’s goal, and so practices around its rituals and norms are hugely important in evolutionary and religious terms.

Religions and societies seek to control reproduction. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, sex was to occur within marriage between one man and one woman. Death at an old age is of much less evolutionary significance.

We are social animals, motivated to support our in-group and reject out-group members. Tribalism can help explain our devotion to football teams, for example. We have developed social signalling to show our group which side we are on and maintain trust.

Add to that a status quo bias, and public debates where the topic in question is seen to express something foundational about ourselves can become little more than cheering for our own team.

Anchoring

Anchoring is a psychological bias that means we evaluate how good or bad something is relative to the anchor of existing examples.

In the UK, the 2013 same-sex marriage legislation was fairly uncontroversial. One reason could be that civil partnerships – same-sex marriage in all but name – were created back in 2004. Each step in the UK’s progress towards marriage equality was a short step from the previous state of being.

In contrast, the Australian campaign against same-sex marriage portrays the choice as a paradigm shift in our culture, extending far beyond marriage. Former prime minister Tony Abbott linked the debate to political correctness, gender fluidity and even the date of Australia Day, saying:

This isn’t just about marriage … there are lots and lots of implications here and we’ve got to think them through before we take this big leap into … the dark.

A better approach

For assisted dying to be an appropriate activity for medicine, we should show that death can be an appropriate therapeutic end and in a patient’s best interests. That is, that their life is no longer worth living.

That is an extremely difficult case to prove, and I haven’t seen any good arguments for how to evaluate that. Why wouldn’t we just go on what a competent person says? If a suffering person believes they’re better off dead, they’re probably right.

But here is another way to think about it. The Victorian legislation will provide assistance only to those in the last year of life from a physical illness. They are effectively in the process of dying.

Picture of a person in palliative care
While palliative care may be able to control pain and suffering, it cannot do everything. Shutterstock

One major objection to the assisted dying bill is that we don’t need it because good palliative care is sufficient. Relief of suffering is very important, and more should be spent on end-of-life planning and palliative care.

But this objection is complicated for several reasons. If palliative care is outstanding, people won’t request assistance in dying. So there is no need to ban it.

More importantly, while palliative care may be able to control pain and suffering, it cannot do everything.

Together with colleagues at Barwon Health and Oxford University, we surveyed 382 people from the general population and 100 attendees at an advance care planning clinic, where people think about and express their values relating to end-of-life care. We didn’t ask them about assisted dying, but we did ask them to rank four factors at the end of life: pain relief, dignity, independence and living as long as possible.

The highest proportion of both groups ranked the relief of pain and suffering as the most important value, followed by maintaining dignity and remaining independent.

Living as long as possible was ranked as most important by the lowest proportion of participants – only 4% of palliative care patients and 2.6% of the general population (30–35% regarded this as either not important or not very important).

People care not only about pain relief, but also about dignity and independence at the end of life. These are much more subjective and less amenable to control by palliative care. So while palliative care can address part of what people care about, it may not be able to address all their values.

Moreover, people can already shorten their lives by more than a year for any medical condition, or no medical condition at all, by refusing to eat and drink by mouth. It takes around ten days to die of thirst. Such people could be given palliative care to relieve their suffering during this period of suicide.

But surely the Victorian law offers a better way to die? As with the palliative care, this kind of death does not provide the dignified death, or the independence, that people value.

As distressing as public debate on heartfelt, emotive issues like assisted dying and marriage equality can be, it is an important collective exercise. Like many other people, I thought the marriage equality survey was a waste of money. But on reflection, this idea maybe misplaced. When the views of one part of the community are deemed politically incorrect and suppressed, they foment, then erupt in a Brexit or a Trump.

Debate is vitally important to democracy. What we should hope is that people engage in these debates with their heads, not their hearts. It will take considerable effort on both sides to overcome the psychological obstacles to finding the most fair and reasonable policy.

As Epicurus also said:

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.

This article was written by:

Julian Savulescu – [Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, Visiting Professor in Biomedical Ethics, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Distinguished Visiting Professor in Law, Melbourne University, University of Oxford]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

We all have to die of something, so why bother being healthy?

W
 We all have to die of something, 
so why can’t I die by delicious donuts?

It’s 6:45 on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning. The alarm blares. As you begin to wake and wonder how it could possibly be morning already, your good intentions dawn on you. It’s run morning – and it’s the last thing you want to do. As you roll over to hit the snooze button, your mind scrambles for a valid excuse.

Why bother trying to be healthy? We all have to die of something, right?

In part this is true. Regardless of our discomfort with death, we all have to die sometime, and we all have to die from something. However, this is where the truth ends.

Today in Australia, the leading causes of death are mostly preventable – or at least can be significantly delayed. Factors like poor diet and tobacco drive ailments including heart disease, stroke, diabetes (type 2), lung disease and cancers. And when you look more deeply at what ill-health brings, it’s not just death that makes the strongest case for getting out of bed.

You’ll die later

Sure you have to die of something, but you may not have to die so soon. Science suggests having a healthier lifestyle even at age 50 can result in a four to seven year longer life expectancy.

Even at older age, improving lifestyle factors can benefit longevity. Avoiding an unhealthy weight, not smoking, maintaining a social network and engaging in leisure activities around age 75 can add a whopping five years to a woman’s and six years to a man’s life span.

You’ll be healthier, longer

Trying to be as healthy as you can is not just about adding more years to your life, but adding healthy years, or even decades. Populations who follow healthy forms of behaviour show a 60% decline in dementia, in addition to a 70% reduction in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke when compared with unhealthier peers. Studies also find healthier 50 year-olds live longer without disability than those who are overweight or smoke.

Picture of an older couple sharing a bike
Yes, we all have to die eventually, but we want to be happy, well, independent and pain-free leading up to our deaths. from www.shutterstock.com

A significant proportion of octogenarians are also living healthier, more active lives. This is seen in measures of mobility, self-care, levels of pain and discomfort, and absence of anxiety and depression. But rather than being related just to age, variations in health-related quality of life are also linked to factors such as exercise, nutrition and social engagement.

So being active and eating well could mean a healthier, more independent life for longer.

You’ll feel better in the meantime

Eating healthier and exercising have also been shown to have benefits on your day-to-day wellbeing. Exercise can improve and protect mental health. As a strategy to manage mild to moderate depression, exercise can provide comparable benefits to some antidepressants, and can complement medications to improve symptoms further. Similarly, exercise can play a role in treating anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also improve your sleep quality and even benefit self-esteem and confidence.

It’s thought exercise does this by reducing your sensitivity to the symptoms of anxiety, building resilience to stressful mood states, positively altering the neurotransmitters in the brain, and disrupting or distracting you from social isolation.

Getting active can also allay general body aches and pains. An Australian study recently suggested jogging improves the composition of the cushion-like discs in your spine, reducing wear and tear. Exercise not only fortifies the discs but is also generally effective in preventing and treating pain. This is particularly important given 67% of Australiansexperience pain at least monthly, with inactivity being a major risk factor.

Image of a person on an exercise bike
Exercise has benefits for most aspects of our physical and mental well-being. from www.shutterstock.com

A healthy diet combined with exercise can also strengthen your bones, reducing the risk of fractures if you do have a serious injury.

You’ll save more and spend less

There’s good evidence, including from Australia, that eating healthy food is actually more affordable than an unhealthy diet. And smoking one pack of cigarettes per day, when combined with the health costs that result, is estimated to cost a staggering US$638,750(A$812,556) to you and society over 50 years.

Type 2 diabetes, often associated with obesity, is estimated to result in A$4,025 per year per person in total costs without medical complications, or in excess of A$9,645 once complications develop. These costs are incurred not only through the need for treatment, but also in job discrimination, higher health insurance costs, lost productivity with sick days and poor physical function.

While no similar analysis exists for Australia, evidence from the US estimates lifetime social and public health costs of obesity at US$92,235 (A$117,332) per person, when combining medical expenditure and reduced productivity.

The direct medical costs to individuals in Australia may be lower due to our universal health system, but the costs from obesity still add up to A$873 million each year. A A$719 million per annum slice of the Australian budget is spent on the complications of physical inactivity alone, through heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, depression and falls.

This isn’t noted to shame anyone or to recommend reducing care, it’s about realising policy and health inaction comes at a huge economic and social cost.

Your kids will be healthier, and maybe even their kids

Poor diet, smoking, alcohol use and a lack of physical activity can also affect your kids’ health – and maybe even the health of their kids.

Firstly, through role modelling. The kids of parents who smoke are significantly more likely to smoke themselves, and likewise with unhealthy drinking and eating. These kids are also more likely to be obese. Some of these effects could also be from socioeconomic factors.

Second, through a mechanism called epigenetics, our own health can influence the health of subsequent generations. This results from alterations in the expression of genes and not through changes in the genes themselves.

Altered epigenetics from physical inactivity, diet and environmental factors are now thought to be passed down through generations. They influence the subsequent risk of metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Finally, being overweight, a lack of exercise and even consuming sugary drinks could actually reduce your chances of having kids in the first place. In women, being overweight increases the risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes irregular ovulation and can occasionally render women infertile.

While in men, excess weight contributes to infertility by reducing the quality of semen, as well as increasing the risks of sexual dysfunction.

The bigger picture

Living a healthier lifestyle is about making small, possible, simple and sustainable changes like taking the stairs instead of the lift – not totally rethinking the way you live.

Picture of people walking for exercise
Being healthy is about small, incremental, sustainable changes over many years. Flickr / TYFVMP

But while there are many compelling reasons to be healthy, personal discipline alone will never solve our chronic disease and obesity epidemics. If neighbourhoods lack safe spaces for kids to run, or fresh food is inaccessible and unaffordable, good intentions will not get you very far. Government policies need to make health easier, even preferred.

In the meantime, look to friends for motivation; your family to share and support a healthy diet; apps that map and commend the exercise you do; and your GP and important services like Quitline for assistance with alcohol reduction and smoking cessation.


This article was written by:

Image of Alessandro R DemaioAlessandro R Demaio – [Australian Medical Doctor; Fellow in Global Health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

At last, we’ve found gravitational waves from a collapsing pair of neutron stars

 Artist’s impression of the collision  
of two neutron stars, the source of the latest gravitational waves detected. 
National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

After weeks of rumour and speculation, scientists yesterday finally announced the death spiral of two neutron stars as a source of gravitational waves.

It’s among the biggest news for science in decades, because the findings help shed light on many aspects of astrophysics, including the origins of cosmic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts and of some heavy elements in the universe, such as gold.

The latest detection has scientists excited because most predictions had favoured the detection of gravitational waves from coalescing pairs of neutron stars. Yet the first and all subsequent detections prior to today’s announcement had only come from collisions of black holes.

The first detection

It was back in 2015 when the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors heard the whoop of the first gravitational wave signal ever detected

 

That came from the collision of a pair of black holes in the distant universe about 1.3 billion light years away. Suddenly we knew that our detectors worked; suddenly we knew that the black holes of Einstein’s theory are really out there. Suddenly the dream of gravitational wave astronomy became reality.

The first strong signal was so surprising that the international teams at the LIGO observatories spent weeks trying to work out if someone could have secretly put signals into the data!

Since then there have been more black hole signals, but there was no sign of the predicted neutron stars.

An artist’s conception of two merging black holes
An artist’s conception of two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet)

The neutron star connection

Physicists have long considered neutron stars to be perfect sources of gravitational waves.

Neutron stars are balls of neutrons, about the size of a city but weighing in at about 1.4 times the mass of our Sun.

The first neutron star was discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967, and in 1974 Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor found a pair of neutron stars spiralling slowly together in the Milky Way, a discovery that led to their Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993.

Caltech physicist Kip Thorne – one of three people awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics – led a campaign to build huge laser interferometers, optimised for detecting the final death spiral of a pair of neutron stars.

Barry Barish (another of this year’s Nobel Prize winners) internationalised the LIGO observatories, bringing Britain, Germany and Australia into the collaboration.

More than just a wave

During the decades of development of gravitational wave detectors, astronomers had become fascinated by vast bursts of gamma rays coming in from the distant universe at the rate of about one every day.

Israeli physicist Tsvi Piran proposed in 1989 that some of these bursts could be created by coalescing neutron stars. If this was the case, then bursts of gravitational waves would be accompanied by bursts of gamma rays.

Many astrophysicists modelled the violent coalescence of merging neutron stars. Some of the superdense neutron rich matter would be flung into space, where it would be relieved of the massive pressure inside the neutron stars.

Uncompressed, it would go off like a vast nuclear fission bomb, creating a slew of heavy elements such as gold and platinum. Within minutes a hot fireball would shine brightly, powered by the decaying radioactivity of the new formed elements.

A new signal detected

Advanced LIGO‘s two 4km detectors in the United States have been operating since 2015. The 3km Advanced Virgo detector in Europe came online on August 1 this year.

Photograph of Europe’s Virgo
Europe’s Virgo becomes the third detector in the hunt for gravitational waves. The Virgo collaboration

Many optical telescopes had signed up to receive any alerts from LIGO and Virgo.

Meanwhile, NASA’s orbiting gamma ray telescopes Fermi and Swift continued their continuous monitoring of the skies. Billions of dollars worth of astronomical hardware was poised and ready in August 2017.

Thursday August 17, 2017, was the day our detectors registered a slowly rising siren call that lasted for a minute and finished with a sharp crescendo.

It wasn’t the brief whoop of a pair of large black holes but the much slower death song of a pair of neutron stars with total mass about three times the mass of the Sun. Two seconds later the Fermi satellite detected a short gamma ray burst. Within minutes the source direction had been roughly localised.

The alert goes out

Within 30 minutes alerts went out to telescopes across the planet. Telescope schedules were interrupted, and before long a bright new object was found in galaxy NGC 4993, seen in the Hydra constellation, and visible in the southern hemisphere in August.

The new object decayed away exponentially over a few days as might be expected for a radioactively powered nebula.

NGC 4993 is 130 million light years away. The arrival of gravity waves and gamma rays within 2 seconds of each other tells us that to a precision of a part in a million billion, both types of wave travel at the same speed.

The fact that two completely different types of radiation, one that is a ripple of space itself, and the other that travels through space, should travel at exactly the same speed could seem astonishing, yet it is exactly what Einstein predicted.

The event is a treasure trove of astrophysics. From one faint gravitational sound, a momentary burst of gamma rays and the faint fading glow of exploding nuclear matter, we have the first direct measurement of the distance of galaxies.

This is because gravitational wave signals directly encode distance. And suddenly we know how gamma ray bursts are created. And suddenly we know that all our gold, our rings and treasures, was probably created in neutron star collisions.

It will take many years to fully explore the data, and meanwhile more and more data will flood in as we continue to open the gravitational wave spectrum with more observatories on earth and in space. The new era of multi-messenger astronomy has begun!


This article was written by:
Image of David BlairDavid Blair – [Director, WA Node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, and the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre, University of Western Australia]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

How Melbourne’s west was greened

 The Greening the Pipeline 100-metre 
pilot park at Williams Landing is the first step in transforming 27 km 
of the heritage-listed main outfall sewer into a linear park and bike track. 
Greening the Pipeline, courtesy of Melbourne Water
 

Urban greening projects in Melbourne’s west are contributing to making the region cooler, more pleasant and healthier to live in and travel through. The key to this success is the Greening the West initiative. Since 2011 this has brought together 23 organisations that, by the end of 2018, will have collectively planted more than 1 million trees in Melbourne’s west.

The program’s efforts not only offer clear health and economic benefits for the region’s residents, but are also welcome news in the face of reports that tree canopy cover in Australian cities is generally declining.

Our recent report on Greening the West has found that, while it is a great success, much more work is needed – particularly from the Victorian government.

What is Greening the West?

Urban greening provides a variety of economic, mental and physical health benefits to the public. Greening an area can increase house prices, encourage walking and cycling, and make people feel happier.

Measures of socioeconomic and health status are generally poorer in Melbourne’s west. Compounding this disadvantage, the region has less quality green space than metropolitan averages. Melbourne’s western suburbs have tree canopy coverage of only 5% to 10%, compared to between 10% and 30% in the rest of the city’s suburbs.

Map showing Comparative levels of tree canopy cover (% of total area) in Melbourne’s local government areas. 
Comparative levels of tree canopy cover (% of total area) in Melbourne’s local government areas. Where are all the trees?, Author provided
City West Water began the Greening the West initiative in 2011. The focus was on the local government areas of Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley and Wyndham. As well as local councils, the steering committee includes community groups, water utilities, state government agencies and a variety of other actors.

An urban greening success story

Planted trees have made a clear difference to Melbourne’s west, where many of the trees can be seen from roads, train lines and houses. This visible difference, and its associated benefits, will become more apparent as trees grow to maturity.

The difference plantings make to areas like Maribyrnong will increase as the trees grow.Greening the West, used with permission

The group obtained A$5 million in funding from the federal government’s 20 Million Trees Program. Trees were then planted in parks, waterway corridors, drainage reserves and peri-urban land.

The Greening the West group supports two other important ongoing liveability projects in Melbourne’s west:

  • transforming a 1.2 kilometre section of Upper Stony Creek back from a concreted channel into a green waterway
  • transforming 27 kilometres of the heritage-listed main outfall sewer into a linear park and bike track connecting Werribee to the CBD, known as Greening the Pipeline.

As part of the latter project, a 100-metre pilot at Williams Landing was finished in April 2017. Melbourne Water delivered the project in partnership with Wyndham City Council, City West Water and VicRoads, with funding from the Victorian government.

A final Greening the West success is the way it has shifted priorities and cultures, with local government and other stakeholders increasingly recognising the benefits of greening.

The program shows the power of a collaborative model for solving complex urban problems. Such models could not only be rolled out for greening similar regions, like western Sydney, but are also applicable to other complex urban issues such as homelessness.

Planting and greening projects on public land are not enough

It isn’t all good news, however. We found that current efforts to achieve urban greening in Melbourne’s west are unlikely to be enough to reach desirable greening levels.

Most of these efforts are focused on greening public or semi-public land. However, in many areas, the majority of existing trees and tree canopy cover is on private land. As urban densification occurs, these tree numbers are declining.

This is why, despite urban greening efforts, canopy cover has decreased in most areas of Australia between 2013 and 2016. To protect and enhance urban greening, the Victorian government should investigate ways to strengthen policies and planning regulations. This should be done as part of Plan Melbourne’s urban greening actions.

For instance, regulations could require large-scale developers to include trees in new housing lots, parks and streets. Regulations could also be used to ensure small-scale subdividers and renovators include trees on lots.

Current Victorian planning regulations require a certain proportion of public open space in new suburbs, and for housing lots in certain zones to include 25-35% garden area. There is also some guidance on retaining existing trees on lots.

However, there are no state or citywide regulations requiring the planting of new trees and vegetation. This creates a significant risk in new developments that the lots, streets and public open space will have very low tree cover.

A small number of councils, such as Brimbank City Council, have led the way by creating local planning controls that require housing lots to have two trees in the front garden and one in the back garden. This is done through the planning permit process. But statewide or citywide regulations supported by the Victorian government are needed to ensure the protection and enhancement of urban greenery across Melbourne.

In addition, more community education and engagement are required to increase awareness of the many benefits of urban greening.


The Designing Healthy Liveable Cities Conference is being hosted by the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Liveable Communities in Melbourne on October 19-20. You can register here.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Casey Furlong
Casey Furlong – [Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University];
 
Image of Jago Dodson
Jago Dodson – [Professor of Urban Policy and Director, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University]

and

Image of Kath Phelan
Kath Phelan – [Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via