Powerful and ignored: the history of the electric drill in Australia

 A half inch heavy duty drill made by  
Australian company, Sher. Dieu TanAuthor provided (No reuse)

Portable electric drills didn’t always look like oversized handguns.

Before Alonzo G. Decker and Samuel D. Black intervened in the 1910s, the machines typically required the use of both hands. The two men, founders of the eponymous American company Black & Decker, developed a portable electric drill that incorporated a pistol grip and trigger switch, apparently inspired by Samuel Colt’s pistol.

We are documenting a collection of more than 50 portable electric drills made roughly between 1930 and 1980.

Seen as part of a history of technology, they have a lot to teach us about function and form, masculine values and the history of Australian craft.

The collection also represents an important chapter in Australian manufacturing, and includes drills produced by local companies such as Sher, KBC and Lightburn that have since disappeared. It also features models made by Black & Decker, which once had manufacturing operations in Australia.

Image of the CP2 drill
The CP2 manufactured by Black & Decker in Croydon, Victoria. There is evidence of this model being on the market from 1963 to 1966, although we suspect it was available earlier and for much longer. Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

Design historians and collectors have paid little attention to the electric drill. It’s seen as an object of work, unlike domestic items such as the tea kettle, which can be statements of taste and luxury.

But the device deserves our attention. It’s considered the first portable electric power tool, and arguably helped to democratise the industry, putting construction in the hands of everyone from labourers to hobbyists.

The electric drill in Australia

Australia once played a significant role in producing the portable electric drill.

Ken Bowes & Co. Ltd, known as KBC, was a South Australian manufacturing company founded in 1936. Although it produced domestic appliances such as the bean slicer, die casting of military components such as ammunition parts (shell and bomb noses) and tank attack guns kept the company busy during World War II.

It appears that KBC entered the hardware market in 1948 with its first portable electric drill, designed for the cabinet maker and general handyman. The body of the drill was made from die-cast zinc alloy and it had a unique removable front plate on the handle to allow the user easy access to the connection terminals.

Image of the KBC drill
KBC drill and label (note the lack of integration between handle and body), circa 1950s. Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

In 1956, Black & Decker established an Australian manufacturing plant in Croydon, Victoria, where drills such as the CP2 were manufactured.

Between 1960 and 1982, many power tool brands had a media presence. KBC sponsored a radio program called, appropriately enough, That’s The Drill. Wolf power tools were awarded as prizes on the television program Pick-A-Box.

Black & Decker ran advertisements that appeared during popular television programs and used endorsements by sporting celebrities such as cricketer Dennis Lillee.

While the popularity of portable power drills has endured, the manufacture of these objects in Australia more or less vanished by the end of the 20th century.

Why we value some objects and not others

The portable electric drill has been poorly documented by designers, historians and museums.

Obvious repositories for their collection, such as museums of technology or innovation, are increasingly challenged by space and funding pressures. Apart from a few token examples, many everyday objects have not managed to establish a museum presence.

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney holds at least two vintage portable electric drills: one is a Desouthers, made in England, and another drill of unknown origin. Museums Victoria has one example of a Black & Decker electric drill from the 1960s in its digital archive.

The crude utility of the portable drill is part of the reason why it has escaped much academic scrutiny.

Image of the The Black and Decker U-500 drill
The Black and Decker U-500 drill. The first drill to be completely manufactured in Australia at the Croydon factory in Victoria. Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

Design studies and collections tend to focus on luxury objects such as Ferrari sports cars and Rolex wristwatches. Even kitchen and home appliances get more attention, especially those designs associated with high-end companies such as Alessi and designers such as Dieter Rams and Jasper Morrison.

By contrast, the electric drill remains a B-grade object. It is a stock weapon in horror films, although even there it lacks the status reserved for the more sublimely threatening implements of violence such as swords, spears and guns.

The case for the drill

Hard yakka and aesthetics have not typically been happy bedfellows. However, labour and its associated objects can provide a compelling look at contemporary life.

Like the laptop computer, the shape of which is tied to the “macho mystique” of the briefcase, the pistol form of the portable drill seems to be significantly influenced by ideas of power and masculinity.

The symbolic association with the pistol is also practical, and would have no doubt eased the burden for those early users struggling with the device’s weight.

A recent turn towards the everyday as a site for design anthropology will hopefully shift focus towards inconspicuous yet important technologies like portable electric drills.

These objects are part of a rich history that will be forgotten if institutions focus exclusively on luxury items, big name designers and cultures of display and ornament.

Even our most anonymous objects are sources of cultural expression, and they should not be overlooked.


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Sunday essay: political cartooning – the end of an era

 A wonderful evocation of the horrors of 
last year’s long election campaign by David Rowe in the 
Australian Financial Review. Amid industry turmoil, newspaper cartooning is
increasingly becoming a niche activity.

We started collecting cartoons in the last days of the Keating supremacy. We used them to chronicle how the wheels fell off during the 1996 election campaign and that serial failure John Howard (once written off in a Bulletin headline as “Mr Eighteen Percent. Why does this man bother?”) won in a landslide.

Howard found that the times did indeed now suit him, and he swept aside Keating’s “Big Picture” as Peter Nicholson so poignantly captured while asking what might be its replacement.

Image of Peter Nicholson, The Australian, 9 March 1996.
Peter Nicholson, The Australian, 9 March 1996.

After a slow start, PM Howard captured the nation’s mood for a decade, and the cartoonists chronicled it all with their customary wit and insight. His demise was multifaceted but Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight’s memorable cartoon reminds us of Melbourne Cup day early on in campaign 2007, when he depicted the once invincible PM reduced to a poo sweeper, courtesy of the Reserve Bank’s decision to raise interest rates.

Mark Knight’s 2007 cartoon (with Howard on the right).

Back in the 1990s, writing about cartoons involved a budget for buying newspapers, scissors, and a good spatial memory. It also involved proud and liberal use of the phrase “our great black-and-white art tradition”. Metropolitan and national newspapers were big, prosperous things, only just beginning to come to terms with colour.

The house cartoonists (there were often several) were central to their paper’s ethos, often “the most read thing in the paper”. We never had any real empirical evidence for “the most read” assertion, but we made it often and no one ever demurred. Political cartoons were at the centre of a clearly defined media landscape.

When Howard defeated Keating, television set the daily political agenda, but the longer threads of debate were dominated by newspapers, especially the opinion-rich broadsheets. One of Howard’s most effective innovations was to use talkback radio to avoid the filter of “elite” hostility he perceived as dominating newspapers and the ABC, but the internet was a fringe space, not yet more significant than community radio. The opinion pages of newspapers were the dominant forum for serious political discussion, and at their heart was the visual terrorism of cartoons and illustrations – attracting eyes, conflating issues, and distilling images of politicians and their policies.

Every day they provided comic commentary on the politicians we elect to rule us, and often they managed darker and more serious satire. The engagement was robust and sustained – for example, Bill Leak’s response to the GST policy that Howard took to the 1998 election was to draw him with 10% more lip, and that is largely how many remember him. Great comic artists spoke in sometimes savage shorthand to the major issues of the day, in the major crucible where those issues were thrashed out. They were uniformly powerful and humane in their response to the Howard Government’s asylum seeker policies, for example.

The cartoonists doing the distilling were Tandberg, Leunig, Mitchell, Coopes, Alston, Leak, Petty, Cooke, Spooner, Brown, Nicholson, Wilcox, Rowe, Knight, Tanner, Pryor, Moir, Leahy, Atchison. It was a stable list then, and changed only incrementally until just recently.

The last hurrah

For the 2016 campaign, painful in so many ways, was also the last hurrah for four great cartoonists of our era. Bruce Petty, John Spooner and Peter Nicholson retired from regular cartooning and earlier this year, Bill Leak died suddenly. We write, therefore, in long-term appreciation of the wit they have brought to our public life. We also must comment on how radically the media landscape has changed around them.

Retirements and even death are in the natural order of things, and all these men leave substantial bodies of work. What makes their departures epochal is the fact that none has been fully replaced at their newspapers. They certainly haven’t been replaced by the group of female cartoonists whose eventual appearance we used to predict when asked “what about the women?” It’s a good question but we, like cartoonist Fiona Katauskas, have no clear answer except to say, it’s a blokey world on the editorial floor . Katauskas puzzles over the matter in her New Matilda article A woman walks into a bar and in recent correspondence observed:

Another theory I have is that it’s the comedy thing. It’s not the politics thing- women are very well represented in political journalism. Comedy of all kinds- whether it be writing, performing or standup- is a different matter. These professions are also largely male-dominated and the myth that women aren’t funny helps to exclude them or discourage them from trying to break in.

Image of Fiona Katauskas cartoon from her website collection 2016
Fiona Katauskas cartoon from her website collection 2016. http://fionakatauskas.com/political-cartoons/2016-2/

The last cartoons of the four greats at their long-term papers are a varied bunch. The two Age cartoonists left with reflective works during the phoney electoral war that marked the early months of 2016.

Petty shuffles off to the old cartoonists’ home with an evocation of the prime ministers back to Menzies that he had drawn, and a celebration of that scarcely balanced spaceship, democracy. Or is it, instead, a money-dominated plutocracy with the politicians owned by cigar-chomping money-men? With Petty things are always more complicated, never resolved. Since he first drew for Murdoch’s Daily Mirror in 1962, Petty has sustained a powerful and precise critical eye on our travails as a nation, ever sharp and avuncular.

Image of a Bruce Petty, The Age, 11 April 2016.
Bruce Petty, The Age, 11 April 2016.

Spooner is, by contrast, blunter. He strands a menagerie of his bêtes noires – Turnbull, Shorten, Trump, trickle-down economics, climate alarmism, etc – on the island. He draws himself walking way in disgust, immodestly on top of the water. And the words remind us that cartoons tell truth to power in ways power would rather not hear.

Image of John Spooners cartoon in The Age, 14 May 2016. Author provided
John Spooner, The Age, 14 May 2016. Author provided

The two cartoonists at the Australian left in full flight. Peter Nicholson really has been the pre-eminent cartoon commentator on current events, perhaps with Geoff Pryor of the Canberra Times and now the Saturday Paper. He bowed out unobtrusively with this pre-publicity for a black-tie boxing night at Melbourne’s exclusive Australian Club. However, if you read his cartoons over time, you are wittily apprised of what has been going on, and get a brilliant first draft of history. It’s easy to do at Nicholson’s immaculate archive of his work.

Image of Peter Nicholson’s last cartoon for The Australian, 30 June 2016.
Peter Nicholson’s last cartoon for The Australian, 30 June 2016.

Bill Leak was always much more the wild man than Nicholson, and his last cartoon would have caused a controversy had he lived long enough for the predictable outrage to build. He was always after the harsh, prophetic laughter of satire, that moment of shock when you are made to see something you’d rather ignore. Here he presents the NSW Education Minister as cheerfully beheaded in a controversy over Islamicist radicalism at a Sydney High School. It is elegantly drawn and ruthless.

Bill Leak, The Australian, 10 March 2017. Author provided

Much banality and pompous self-congratulation has been written about the “larrikin tradition” in Australia. Leak was the real thing, however, a much tougher thing than Paul Hogan throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

David Rowe’s contributions for the Australian Financial Review’s readership often enough reflect the cut through nature of the cartoon when set alongside the verbiage of so much political commentary. Here we find a wonderful evocation of Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting The Scream as a parody on our experience as citizen voters confronting the long campaign Prime Minister Turnbull figured would be good for him, and good for us.

The full David Rowe cartoon, published in the Australian Financial Review, 9 May 2016. Author provided

A loss of centrality

The more recent arrivals – David Pope, Jon Kudelka, Matt Golding, First Dog on the Moon and the like – are all fine and deserving artists in their own rights, but professional political cartooning is as blokey an activity as it ever was.


Image of Cathy Wilcox
Cathy Wilcox pictured in 2009 when named the year’s best cartoonist at the Behind the Lines exhibition in Canberra. Lannon Harley, AAP/National Museum of Australia

The younger men are entering a tougher world. Cartoons are still being published, but there is more syndication and (we hear) piecework, so the number of artists with regular jobs is shrinking. It is a clear index of the fact that Australian newspapers are not what they were at the turn of the century, let alone what they were when the departed cartoonists joined them in the 1960s and 70s.

The Fairfax newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, are no longer the essential forums for debate and investigative journalism. For the editorial cartoon in Australia and beyond, this is a problem. As a mode of critical and satirical art, it is particularly well-acclimatised to the printed newspaper, in a way that has not translated well online.

The cartoonists that held sway on newsprint opinion pages lack power and impact several clicks behind the first screen in the increasingly dominant web editions. They lack power because they lack the simultaneous visual context a reader gets in scanning a printed newspaper. While it would be ridiculous to assert that visual satire is disappearing in the digital age, one of the great satirical achievements of the mass media era especially in Australia, the editorial cartoon, is losing its centrality.

This is not a consequence of any waning of satirical power in the cartoons themselves. We are confident that we have demonstrated this strength again in the cartoon chronicle we’ve authored looking at the 2016 campaign. But it is a significant consequence of changing formal and economic models in media, changes that scarcely existed in embryo when we started looking at cartoons.

Two decades ago, we could validly treat the cartoons as an index of comic and satirical commentary on the campaign. Television and radio satire existed in some places, but were hard to capture and impossible to reproduce in our academic work; the cartoons told quite enough of the story and were seen by close enough to “everyone” to be representative of a dissenting view of the carnival of hypocrisy that parades during election campaigns.

The cartoons tell just as good and memorable a story now, but have become a niche in a multi-faceted media landscape rather than the public thing (res publica) they once were. Internet memes, Twitter, mash-ups, Facebook feeds, and a range of other social media make it impossible for students of political satire and comedy to consolidate a corpus for analysis. As a consequence, newspaper cartoons are no longer major components of the central forum that they were in the era of mass media.

As cartoon scholars, we experience this change as loss, though the spirit of caricature and satirical commentary is clearly healthy elsewhere in the media and finding modes of expression for the future. One major trend is the move to longer form caricature, either through animations and collages, or through strip cartooning like that of First Dog on the Moon in the Guardian.

The regular gigs still tend to focus on stationary images, however. Animations as political satire are proving a hard model to crack, as no-one seems willing to foot the bill to sustain high-quality, animated daily satire. Meanwhile, editorial cartoons inhabit an increasingly marginal place in an increasingly fragmented and fractious media landscape.

But their capacity to tell truth to power, demonstrate that the kings and queens of political life have no clothes, and to entertain the public remains undiminished. While this particular mode of satirical representation may be in retreat before the forces of digital media, graphic satire is not going to die while it has such fit meat to feed on.


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Pregnant women shouldn’t start taking vitamin B3 just yet: reports it prevents miscarriage and birth defects are overblown

 The much-hyped study didn’t actually test  
vitamin B3 supplementation in humans. 

Reports on a new study claim supplementation with vitamin B3 during pregnancy could prevent miscarriages and birth defects.

So should all pregnant women start taking B3 supplements? Not so fast. While this is an interesting and well-done study, the researchers didn’t actually give vitamin B3 to any humans, so we need a lot more information before we can recommend it.

What the study found

The study identified genetic causes of a rare type of birth defect called “VACTERL association”. VACTERL stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia (problems with the tissue closing the anus), cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula (an abnormal connection between the windpipe and the foodpipe), renal anomalies (kidney defects), and limb abnormalities. Affected babies have anomalies in at least three of these.

US statistics show about one in 10,000-40,000 babies are affected by VACTERL association and some of these babies die. There are about 310,000 babies born in Australia each year.

The study authors looked at the genes of 13 families affected by this type of birth defect. For the defect to be passed on to offspring it has to be present in both parents’ genes – if it’s only present in one gene the other healthy one will compensate.

They pinpointed the variations in two genes responsible for these defects in four of the families. These two genes play a role in making “nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide” or NAD, which helps cells make energy out of glucose. NAD also assists in repairing DNA. NAD is synthesised in the body from tryptophan, an amino acid, or from niacin, also known as vitamin B3.

Then the authors genetically engineered mice and deleted these genes. They found that without them the mice had NAD deficiency, and similar malformations in their offspring.

However, when they provided extra niacin to pregnant mice, the pups were relatively normal despite the absent gene.

What does this mean?

This does NOT mean that taking niacin/vitamin B3 in pregnancy prevents miscarriages and all birth defects.

It means that high levels of niacin in pregnancy compensates for defects in the two selected genes, and prevents mice from experiencing miscarriage and birth defects in offspring. The paper does not report on human miscarriage or on malformations in human organs. The study did not supplement pregnant women with vitamin B3, or with anything else.

There have been previous studies showing mutations in other genes are also associated with VACTERL and it’s likely that different genes contribute to these malformations. Not all babies with VACTERL will have the same mutations.

But it’s important we understand the role of different genes in birth anomalies and this paper has not only identified genetic mutations in two genes, but also the mechanism by which they cause them and an easily obtained potential remedy for these cases.

Image of vitamin B tablest
Several B vitamins are related to birth defects. from www.shutterstock.com

Other causes of miscarriage

A large number of genes when deleted in mice have been shown to cause miscarriage and malformations. Many of these are not involved in the NAD pathway. Most have not been associated with human miscarriage but a few may be.

For example, deficiency in an immune system molecule (cytokine) called “GM-CSF” has been shown to cause miscarriage and defects in the placenta in mice. Addition of this molecule to IVF embryos prevents miscarriage in mice and in humans prevents miscarriagein high-risk women (those who have previously had a miscarriage following IVF). This is but one example unrelated to NAD.

Can supplements prevent birth defects?

From 1986-2007, 5.9% of South Australian births (so 590 out of 10,000) were complicated by congenital malformations, most of which were not severe or life threatening. The most common malformations are in the urinary and genital systems (164/10,000 births) and the cardiovascular system (119/10,000) and range from mild to severe life-threatening malformations requiring extensive surgery.

For many of these there is no known cause nor remedy. For neural tube (brain and spine/spinal cord) defects such as spina bifida (which occur in 16 in 10,000 births), maternal supplementation with folic acid from one month before conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy has been shown to reduce their incidence.

The Australian population is not considered to be deficient in niacin. Most breakfast cereals have niacin added to them as do some flours for baking; it is also present in meat, green vegetables and whole grain cereals.

2010 study in California showed that in women who did not use micronutrient supplements in pregnancy, low dietary intakes of folate, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins B12, A and E were associated with one specific major heart defect but not another. So not one, but a number of micronutrients are involved in birth defects, notably several B vitamins.

Image of the announcement made regarding vitamin B
Not all of the reports are backed by the science. Screenshot, victorchang.edu.au

Clearly, folic acid supplementation to prevent neural tube defects has been successful, but emerging evidence suggests a potential downside. Specifically, the babies of women who supplemented with folic acid in late pregnancy were more likely to have persistent asthma in early childhood.

Since 2009 we’ve had mandatory fortification of flour for bread-making with folic acid in Australia and New Zealand. Together with folic acid supplementation in pregnancy, pregnant women are getting high amounts of folic acid. Given folate plays a part in gene expression (the process by which information from a gene is used), it’s possible too much may not be a good thing. But we’re yet to see hard evidence of this.

This new study is scientifically excellent and the authors have great credentials. But media reports, and the research institution itself, have made claims not supported by the science. Whether niacin is useful in human miscarriage has not been studied. The birth defects studied in the paper are rare and whether the findings apply to others is yet to be determined.

So potential parents need to be aware that, no, we have not found a way to prevent miscarriages and birth defects. And potential mothers should not start supplementing their diets with high levels of vitamin B3 because it hasn’t been tested in humans, and we don’t know what effects it will have.


This article was written by:
Image of Claire RobertsClaire Roberts – [Lloyd Cox Senior Professorial Research Fellow, University of Adelaide]





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Both men and women need strong bones, but their skeletons grow differently across ages

 Bone is a dynamic tissue that is continually broken down and reformed throughout life.

Osteoporosis, a disease of ageing in which a person’s bones become brittle, putting them at high risk of fracture, is generally considered a woman’s disease. That’s because many more women than men have it.

It is estimated 23% of Australian women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, compared to 6% of men.

However, both men and women aged over 70 with a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis and a history of risk factors – such as parent fracture history, certain medications or lifestyle – have a similar high risk of a hip fracture in the next ten years.

This risk is up to 43% chance of hip fracture for men and 47% for women. While the prevalence of hip fractures is higher in women, men have a higher risk of death following hip fracture. The reasons for this are not known.

Image of an X-ray of a bone joint
Bone needs to be strong enough to provide support for the body, yet sufficiently flexible and light to allow movement. eltpics/Flickr

Bone is a dynamic tissue that is continually broken down and reformed throughout life. Bone health at any given age is determined by the balance between the amount of newly formed bone and the amount of old bone that is lost.

Risk of fracture in any individual is determined by the influence of the environment, nutrition and genes over their lifetime, which contribute to bone structure. The risk is determined by peak bone mass (which is the maximum amount of bone mass attained at adulthood), bone quality (the distribution of minerals in the bone) and bone loss with ageing.

Functionally, bone needs to be strong enough to provide support for the body, yet sufficiently flexible and light to allow movement.


Gender differences in adolescence and adulthood

Gender differences in bone and muscle mass are not evident at birth or even until puberty. The growth pattern of bone in boys is different from girls. Boys have two more years of growth before puberty, and the pubertal growth spurt in boys lasts for four years compared to three years in girls.

In childhood and adolescence, the balance of cellular activity is in favour of bone formation over bone resorption in both boys and girls. By the early 20s, women and men achieve peak bone mass, which is the consolidation of total bone mineral accrued over childhood and adolescence years.

A 10% increase in peak bone mass could reduce the risk of fracture by 50% in women after the menopause. So, adolescence is a particularly critical period for bone health for the remainder of adult life. Failure to achieve peak bone mass by the end of adolescence leaves an individual with less reserve to withstand the normal losses during later life.

Image of a boy on a bike doing "jumps"
Adolescent boys are at higher risk of fracture due to gender-related lifestyle factors like risk taking and more physical activity. Photo by Julia Komarova on Unsplash

Although more than 60% of the peak bone mass variance in girls or boys is genetically determined, it is also influenced by modifiable factors such as diet. This includes dairy products as a natural source of calcium and proteins, vitamin D and regular weight-bearing physical activity.

Most gains in bone mass between the ages of 8 and 14 are due to an increase in bone length and size rather than bone mineral. This is one reason why fracture rates are higher during this period relative to late teenage years. Bone mass lags behind growth in bone length, hence bone is temporarily weaker.

In general, adolescent boys are at higher risk of fracture compared to girls. This is due to a combination of biological factors, as well as gender differences linked to levels of physical activities and risk taking.

Testosterone – the major sex hormone in males – increases bone size, while oestrogen – the major sex hormone in females – reduces further growth while improving the levels of mineral in bone. This is why boys develop larger bones and higher peak bone mass than girls, contributing to a lower risk of fracture in adult men compared with adult women.

Bone health in pregnancy

Pregnancy increases the demand for calcium. It’s necessary for building the skeleton of the fetus and during breastfeeding. Poor maternal nutrition has long-term consequences for musculoskeletal development in both boys and girls, with reduced birth weight resulting in reduced bone mass by adulthood.

Image of a woman in a bamboo hut breastfeeding
Pregnancy increases the demands for calcium. nicolas michaud/Flickr

This is why pregnant women need supplementation with calcium and vitamin D to improve skeletal growth and bone mass in newborn babies. Women can sometimes develop osteoporosis during pregnancy or breastfeeding because of poor nutrition. But the skeleton in the mother will completely recover its lost bone when breastfeeding stops.

Current evidence suggests the number of pregnancies and breastfeeding has no impact on the risk of fractures later in life when compared to peers who have not given birth.

Loss of bone in the elderly

On reaching adulthood, certainly by 30 years of age, bone mass remains largely constant and doesn’t begin to fall until the fourth decade of life.

Ageing is associated with a decline or loss of sex hormones in both men and women. Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because levels of oestrogen, the hormone that helps to conserve calcium in bone, decline rapidly at menopause. At this stage of life a lack of oestrogen results in accelerated bone loss.

Women experience a rapid loss of bone during the first five years after menopause, followed by loss of bone with ageing at a much lower rate.

Men avoid this phase of rapid bone loss, but they do experience loss of bone with ageing, particularly after 70 years. Peak levels of testosterone are attained at puberty after which they continue to fall throughout life. Reduction of testosterone levels can trigger declines in muscle mass, bone mass and physical function. Loss of muscle mass and function with age may also add to fracture risk by increasing the risk of falls.

Image of an older man stumbling
Both men and women over the age of 70 who have a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis have a similar high risk of a hip fracture in the next ten years.Alexander Danling/Flickr


Effective treatments are available to markedly reduce risks of fracture for both men and women and restore life expectancy to that of the non-fracture population. Drugs, such as bisphosphonates, are effective in both men and women.

Lifestyle factors can also reduce the risk of fracture. These include adequate nutrition, including vitamin D dietary calcium, and physical activity at all stages of life.

The best sources of calcium are diary products and vitamin D. While the latter is usually obtained from sun exposure, supplements are cheap and do not require exposure to the damaging effects of sun.

Estimates suggest 91% of women and 63% of men aged 51-70 do not meet the average calcium requirements. The recommended average intake of calcium for males and females is 1,000mg per day, rising to 1,300mg per day after 50 years for women and after 70 for men. This amount of calcium equates to three to five serves of calcium-rich foods per day.

A large proportion of Australians also have low vitamin D status. People of any age who don’t have adequate calcium and vitamin D intakes have increased risk of low bone mineral density with negative effects on bone strength. Research shows people who consume more dairy products have better peak bone mass and lower risk of fractures.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson – [Associate Research Professor, School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of South Australia];
Image of Deepti Sharma
Deepti Sharma – [PhD Candidate, School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of South Australia]
Image of Howard Morris
Howard Morris – [Visiting Academic, School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of South Australia]





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New rules for retailers, but don’t sit there waiting for your electricity bill to go down

 Information about discounts will be 
simpler, but you’ll still have to do the legwork to shop around. 

It sounds like good news. After summoning the heads of Australia’s major electricity retailers to Canberra, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced that the government will take “decisive action to reduce energy prices for Australian families and businesses”.

But look a little closer. Yes, the retailers have agreed to some small but important measures that will make it easier for customers to find the best electricity deal. But there is no guarantee energy prices will fall. And your electricity bill will only be lower if you, the customer, take action.

Retailers’ current advantage

At the moment, retailers typically encourage consumers to sign up by offering a discount on the bill for a fixed period – normally one or two years. After this period expires, customers usually face higher prices for their electricity.

Some lucky customers will be put on an equivalent tariff and their electricity costs will not change much. Others will lose the discount – which can be as much as 30% of the bill. And some unlucky customers will be placed on the retailer’s “standing offer” – usually the most expensive plans in the market.

All the retailers have to do is to send you a letter informing you of the change. Lots of customers find those letters too confusing or time-consuming to read, and throw them in Electricity retailers current advantage

the bin. Those who do read and understand it don’t necessarily take action: almost half of Australian households have not changed their electricity retailer in more than five years.

How the new deal could help you

Under the deal that Turnbull has brokered with the retailers, every consumer on a lapsing deal will be sent more comprehensive and helpful information that will encourage them to switch. This will include details of cheaper available offers, and information from websites that compare prices across the various plans and retailers.

Second, as the Grattan Institute recommended in our March report, Price Shock, retailers will now have to be more explicit about what happens if you don’t sign up to a new offer. Specifically, that means detailing exactly how much it is going to cost you.

Third, retailers will have to report to the Australian Energy Regulator how many customers are on lapsed deals. This may seem like a lot of red tape for not a lot of impact. But a lack of information on how many customers are on what type of deal has been a major barrier to understanding what is happening in the electricity market. This increased transparency will encourage retailers to reduce the number of customers they have on lapsed contracts.

The new deal includes other welcome measures, mainly designed to help poor households reduce their bills and make sure they do not face increased costs as a result of late payments. (To be fair to the retailers, they already do a lot for customers whom they consider to be “in hardship”.)

It’s still down to you

The deal will doubtless improve the retail electricity market. Retailers will take on more responsibility for helping their customers onto a better deal. And those customers who are most at risk from very high prices will get more protection.

But these are only incremental steps and do not ensure that customers will pay less for their electricity. While more simple information will be available, it will still be up to the consumer to act on it. The bottom line remains the same: if you want to pay less for electricity, you need to search for and sign up to a cheaper deal.

Customers should be under no illusions. Energy prices are still going to be high for as far as the eye can see.

Gas prices remain way above historic levels. Wholesale electricity prices are also high. Network costs – the price we pay for the poles and wires – have grown enormously over the past 20 years, and ultimately those costs find their way onto our bills. And the much-needed policy stability on greenhouse emission reductions that can put downward pressure on electricity costs remains elusive.

Under the new rules, consumers might be able to get a cheaper deal, but this doesn’t mean they will get a cheap deal.

It may be months before we know whether the new measures are enough to encourage consumers to go out and find a cheaper plan or retailer. The danger is that, in a year’s time, too many consumers will still be stuck on expensive electricity deals.

Even if huge numbers of consumers switch, there are still fundamental issues in Australia’s electricity market. Prices won’t come down across the board until these are resolved.

This is a welcome move by the government. But it only addresses a fraction of the problems in the electricity market. The big question for the prime minister is, what next?


This article was written by:
Image of David Blowers David Blowers – [Energy fellow, Grattan Institute]





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No harm done? ‘Sexual entertainment districts’ make the city a more threatening place for women

 Due to a fear of being harassed or  
assaulted, many women go out of their way to avoid travelling through parts 
of the city where sexual entertainment venues are concentrated.

Increasingly liberal attitudes to sex have allowed for greater public celebration of sexual diversity, but the desires of heterosexual men still dominate urban environments.

Neighbourhoods where brothels, peep shows, strip clubs and sex shops cluster, dubbed “sexual entertainment districts”, have become common in neoliberal cities. A closer look at these areas, which concentrate in the CBD of older cities and the outer suburbs of younger cities, reveals how entrenched gender inequalities materialise in urban spaces.

Most critiques of sexual entertainment precincts, also known as “vice districts”, focus on the rise of crime and the decrease in nearby property values. We rarely discuss the possible effects of these precincts on the female population’s urban experience.

Strip clubs pose a particular conundrum, as they’re not subject to the same restrictions as, say, brothels. In Australia and the UK, the first legal strip clubs opened in the 1990s. Since then, commercial sex has rapidly increased its presence.

In parallel with more open legislation, strip clubs operate with a certain flexibility. Unlike brothels, they can advertise in mainstream media and are licensed to serve alcohol to patrons. With an estimated global revenue of US$75 billion, the strip club industry has established itself as an urban economic force. But at what cost?

report by the Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women found alcohol consumption in strip clubs creates a significant risk to the safety of nearby women. The report suggests alcohol licensing has direct impacts on community control of stripping venues and leads to no-go zones for women.

Plan International Australia’s recent interactive mapping project, Free to Be, found women deliberately avoid the entire length of King Street, Melbourne’s main strip club precinct. Project participants reported that any woman in the area was considered to be open to sexual propositions from strangers.

Anecdotal submissions to the Free to Be crowdmap included statements such as:

Men think that because you’re on King Street, you must be a stripper or hooker.
It’s like open rules here, cat calling, harassment and open hostility.

Plan International Australia’s data indicate that Melbourne women have internalised the link between the strip club precinct, the assumption that any woman in the area is “up for sex”, and the normalisation of hyper-masculine violence.

To reduce the risk of harassment and assault, more and more women feel forced to modify their movement throughout the city – especially during the night and early mornings.

This is not only limited to Australia – it’s a global issue.

UK organisation Object also reported that the presence of strip clubs creates zones where women’s “sense of security and entitlement to public space” are reduced.

In this context, public infrastructure and transportation areas like bus stops become sites of harassment, intimidation and other anti-social behaviour.

Exploitation beyond the club walls

It’s vital to understand how the behaviour and power relationships inside sex industry businesses like strip clubs influence social interactions outside.

My latest research suggests that the exploitation of women entrenched in the stripper-and-client relationship extends into the public space and transforms cities into hetero-sexist environments. Here, women may be expected to mimic aspects of the sex industry and condone men’s sexually harassing behaviour.

Media reports of sexual assault cases support this idea. For example, in 2015, three men stood by jeering and laughing as another man sexually assaulted a woman, just a block away from Goldfingers Men’s Club on King Street. This happened on a Tuesday night, when the victim was on her way home from work.

In a 2013 incident, an unknown man stalked a 23-year-old woman on her way home through King Street, where she was physically attacked and sexually assaulted at 2.45am on a Sunday. She had refused to hold his hand.

These real-world examples are in line with academic Meagan Tyler’s stance on the objectification of women in strip clubs and its impact on the general population. Tyler says:

If you allow some women to be bought and sold for men’s sexual arousal or entertainment, then you compromise the position of all women in a community.

Where to from here?

It’s clear that strip clubs and other sex industry businesses set up a social environment that fosters male privilege and dominance. As a result, some feminists suggest the proliferation of urban sex precincts may serve to remind women of their place and “keep them down”.

In 2010, Iceland banned strip clubs based on the argument that their existence compromised the safety of all women, not just those working in the industry.

According to the CEO of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, Heather Nancarrow, we need to examine our cultural links with hyper-masculinity. This includes the ways in which cities normalise the hyper-sexualised commercial and systemic objectification of female bodies.

Researchers, urban planning policymakers and spatial practitioners need to pay attention to this. It’s not just “harmless fun” but a system that legitimises the larger infrastructures of sexual exploitation and stereotypes oppressing women.

Today, we see a greater social and political determination to act on the causes and consequences of gender inequality and sexual violence. And the more we understand about the influence of “sexual entertainment” districts on society, the harder it becomes to ignore their negative impacts.


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Grattan on Friday: Shorten’s campaigning in postal ballot might help protect a vulnerable Turnbull

 Bill Shorten has promised an all-out  
effort to promote a yes vote, while continuing to attack the ballot. 

The risk of armed conflict between North Korea and the United States has moved a scary step closer in the last few days, with Donald Trump’s belligerent threat of “fire and fury” against Pyongyang and its counter-threat of a missile strike near Guam.

The world – and our region in particular – is at a new and very high level of anxiety.

But despite the escalating seriousness of the situation, which if worse comes to worst could see Australia embroiled, it didn’t rate nearly as much attention in federal politics this week as the battle over same-sex marriage. Such is the often surreal character of Canberra these days.

On the trivial front, that atmosphere of unreality saw acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann on Twitter very late Wednesday night dealing with queries – and personal abuse – about the postal ballot to be held on whether to change the marriage law.

London-based journalist Latika Bourke, thanking Cormann for clarifying a a point about expats voting, tweeted an obvious question: “But shouldn’t you be asleep right now?”

“We never stop”, replied the tireless Cormann, who’ll be flat out for weeks overseeing the organisation of a controversial and difficult operation that is the offspring of political exigencies and flies in the face of sound process.

Replying to @MathiasCormann
Thank you for clarifying Mathias. But shouldn’t you be asleep right now? 
We never stop.

Cormann and Immigration minister Peter Dutton, two Liberal conservatives whose support is essential to the embattled Malcolm Turnbull’s survival, are both known to want the marriage issue cleared away.

Dutton was an early advocate of a postal vote, when the Senate wouldn’t pass legislation for a plebiscite. Cormann, who brought the submission to cabinet, crafted the postal scheme, which will be under the auspices of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and is officially calleda “voluntary survey”, to the delight of sarcastic Labor critics.

Incidentally, both these cabinet ministers will be voting no, as will Treasurer Scott Morrison, notably at odds with their leader.

It’s long been clear that in the coming months Turnbull will be struggling to land a credible energy policy, with the Finkel recommendation for a clean energy target producing some sharp fractures in the ranks. But then he was blindsided by a backbench revolt calling for a quick parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage, that’s perversely led to this course involving – if the ballot survives the High Court – a long, acrimonious campaign.

So Turnbull, who this week saw his government behind in the 17th consecutive Newspoll, has two deeply divisive issues to manage simultaneously and no political capital to draw on.

Regardless of many polls showing high public support for marriage reform, the campaign starts with its outcome unpredictable.

The “no” side, with Tony Abbott striding out waving its flag on Wednesday, will be highly motivated and organised. In contrast, many “yes” supporters are conflicted, because of widespread scepticism about the ballot, and anger in sections of the gay community.

The government is handing one advantage to the “no” campaigners by proposing not to release a draft bill that would be introduced if the vote is carried.

It says it would facilitate a private member’s bill; some in the government point as a starting point to the bill Dean Smith, one of the rebels, has produced. The Smith bill has good protections for those with religious objections, though they don’t satisfy the hardliners.

But the absence of detail on the extent of protections that would be legislated under the government’s auspices makes it easy for the “no” side to scaremonger.

The ballot has injected a further element of danger for Turnbull as he moves towards the year’s end, which is a potential killing season for a struggling leader.

If a “no” win were announced on November 15, meaning the issue was officially dead as far as the government was concerned, what would then happen? Would the pro-reform Liberal rebels fire up again and actually cross the floor, rather than retreating under party pressure, as they did early this week? How how would the right wing Liberals then react?

Late Thursday Bill Shorten promised an all-out effort to promote a yes vote, while continuing to attack the ballot.

In a fired-up parliamentary performance, Shorten said: “The strongest supporters of this survey have always been the most vocal opponents of marriage equality. …The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.

“But we cannot let illegitimate tactics deter us, we cannot sit on the sidelines.

“I understand the sense of frustration and betrayal by the parliament for LGBTI Australians. But the most powerful act of resistance and defiance is to vote yes to equality.”

He told business leaders, sporting clubs, unions and community groups that “it is time now to get involved”, and declared “I will be campaigning for a yes vote”.

Despite the rather messy mixed message that the process is bad but people should still vote yes and campaign, Labor reckons it is in a no-lose situation politically.

Shorten, it seems, will be putting a lot more effort into the campaign than Turnbull, who has already signalled it won’t be a major priority for him. The Prime Minister wants to limit his investment, in case the result comes out negative.

If the ballot backs reform, Labor will claim the credit. And it will be able to do this, because Shorten will have been very visible.

The ALP could walk away from a negative outcome relatively easily, blaming process and a divided government, and saying the result was out of kilter with widely-measured community views. Shorten is sticking by his pledge that if the reform isn’t made this term, a Labor government would legislate same-sex marriage in its first 100 days.

And if the vote went down, Shorten would stand to benefit from what would be serious fallout for Turnbull.

But while Shorten has little at risk, his campaigning could come to Turnbull’s aid. The opposition leader is good on the stump, and if he puts his back into the task, he could potentially mobilise a lot of yes votes.

If Shorten helps get a positive vote over the line, that would bring some protection for Turnbull.

Just another touch of the surreal.


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





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Climate gloom and doom? Bring it on. But we need stories about taking action, too

 Are there other ways to get people to 
engage with climate change? FloridaStock/Shutterstock.com

There’s been no shortage of pessimistic news on climate change lately. A group of climate scientists and policy experts recently declared that we have just three years left to dramatically turn around carbon emissions, or else. Meanwhile a widely circulated New York magazine article detailed some of the most catastrophic possible consequences of climate change this century if we continue with business as usual.

Critics pounced on the article, claiming gloom-and-doom messages are disempowering and thus counterproductive.

But are they? And is there a better way to communicate to people about the urgency of climate change? In a somewhat unorthodox way – creating a mini-series of videos on climate change – my colleagues and I think we’ve gained some insight into these questions.

Communications: Art and science

Naysayers to negative messaging miss an important function of this kind of apocalyptic thinking. It is useful in forcing us to imagine ourselves as the people who allowed a future we don’t want to come about. In California, for example, Governor Jerry Brown has been a master of highlighting the existential threat of climate change. But his real genius has been linking that dystopian vision to what needs to be done to prevent it from becoming real. I call this approach “the California way: sunny with a chance of apocalypse.”

Cover art of widely circulated article that focused on the worst possible effects of climate change. New York Magazine

Dystopian visions are easy to conjure these days; they come with scientific probabilities. The second part of that communication strategy – making a compelling connection to how we can act, individually and collectively, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change when so much of our lives depend on fossil fuels – is the really hard part.

To learn more about this challenge, we recently conducted a kind of real-life experiment in the art and science of climate communication with “Climate Lab,” a series of six short, popular videos created by the University of California with Vox.

News you can use: a story about reducing food waste can motivate people to 
take action on climate change.

The series, which has had more than five million views and created a robust online discussion, grew out of a peer-reviewed report co-authored by 50 UC researchers entitled “Bending the Curve: Ten Scalable Solutions for Carbon Neutrality and Climate Stability.” I was the senior editor, and we worked hard to make the executive summary a tool for communicating what needs to be done to get to carbon neutrality by midcentury. We wanted it to be used by UC President Janet Napolitano (who has pledged that the UC system will be carbon neutral by 2025), Governor Brown, the Vatican, and other important players at the Paris climate summit. And it was.

But we knew we had to do something different to reach a wider audience. One of the chapters in our report reviewed the state of research on climate communication, which over the past couple of decades has taught us a lot about what doesn’t work. We don’t know as much about what does work, but we’re beginning to pull some guidelines from research. So we created a series guided by what we know to see what we could learn.

What do we know from the literature?

  • Facts are not enough. This is not say that facts are not important. They are. But you can try to pump as many facts as you want into people’s minds and it won’t necessarily change their opinions, let alone motivate action.
  • Frames, narratives and values matter. People easily incorporate new facts into their existing frames (the ways they see the world), narratives (the stories they tell about themselves and the world) and values (their beliefs about right and wrong and what matters to them). Or they can simply ignore facts that don’t fit.
  • Know thy audience. There are “six Americas” spread across the spectrum from alarmed to dismissive when it comes to climate change. Trying to change the minds of the dismissive is a waste of time. But the rest are potentially movable, from the concerned, to the cautious, disengaged and even doubtful. Seventy-four percent of Americans are in those middle four categories. And, yes, I include the doubtful among potentially movable audiences. Isn’t science supposed to be about doubt?
  • Bring people into the story of science and stimulate their curiosity. There is intriguing evidence in science communication research that invoking people’s curiosity, by bringing people into the scientific process, with all of its uncertainties, can move more people to embrace science than just presenting them with the findings. This is captured in a popular meme in science communication circles: Numbers numb and stories stick.
  • Messengers matter. Doctors and scientists are trusted more than journalists and politicians. Religious leaders are trusted by their flocks. People trust people who share their frames, narratives and values. This contributes to the echo chambers we tend to live in. But it’s a fact of life communicators need to understand.
  • Create positive instead of negative spillover. One of the cautionary findings of climate communication research is that people can easily convince themselves that they’ve done enough (such as recycle) and don’t have to do more (such as support a carbon tax). This is a negative spillover effect. But positive spillovers happen, too, especially when people incorporate actions into their identities and think, “I’m the kind of person who drives a hybrid and believes we need to take collective action, too.”

A real-life experiment in making connections

For “Climate Lab,” we wanted an approachable, even fun and humorous, trusted messenger who would appeal to diverse audiences. We found one in M. Sanjayan, the chief scientist and now CEO of Conservation International, who is also a senior researcher in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. Sanjayan has lots of TV experience (PBS, BBC, National Geographic). And he was eager to try something different.

Picture of M. Sanjayan discussed advances in nuclear energy at UC Berkeley
M. Sanjayan discussed advances in nuclear energy at UC Berkeley for the climate series. Some research shows that piquing people’s curiosity about science is one way to get them to inform themselves about scientific topics. UCLA, CC BY

Working with the UC Office of the President’s creative communications team and a professional video production crew in close collaboration with Vox, we produced six very different videos, unified by a look and feel, slick production values, great graphics, narrative arcs and Sanjayan’s friendly, inviting, quizzical approach.

The subjects ranged from why people are so bad at thinking about climate change to the impacts of our consumer habits, the footprint and fate of our cellphones, food waste as a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, the past and possible future of nuclear power and the importance of diverse messengers, from the pope to a Tea Party member concerned about climate.

I recently conducted an analysis of the reception for these different stories and came away with a few conclusions that reinforce what we’ve learned from the literature, and give us direction for future episodes in the series.

All the stories topped half a million views and generated surprisingly on-point conversations in the comments sections. Well, mostly on-point.

But the three stories that were most popular, those that got the most views and generated the most engagement (thumbs-up and commenting), shared some important characteristics:

  • The stories connected individual actions to collective actions.
  • They showed agency – people taking action.
  • They modeled a positive spillover effect.

These three stories were about why we need to be nudged to think about climate and like to compete to be greener than others, how we can reduce consumer waste individually and collectively, and how simple solutions can lead to big reductions in wasted food.

Two geeky, techie episodes on cellphones and nuclear energy didn’t do quite as well by these measures. And though it was my favorite, the one meta story about the importance of messengers did the least well.

This tells me that people respond well to two things: stories about what they can do, and how they can be part of a broader effective change. And those two things need to be connected.

We’re going to continue to experiment with “Climate Lab” – we’re also creating a real online class for undergraduates which we hope will be used in other universities as well – until we get where we need to be locally and globally: carbon neutrality with a stabilizing climate by midcentury.

So, by all means, let’s talk about how urgent action is, and imagine the worst results of not acting, but let’s be sure to tell stories that lower the barrier to taking action, too, individually and collectively.


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Radical feminists’ objection to sex work is profoundly un-feminist

 Criminalising an entire industry because 
of isolated examples takes away choice from free-will participants based 
exclusively on the behaviour of abusers.

While women’s libbers have spent decades fighting to get us dominion over our own bodies, radical feminists have spent almost as long trying to insert caveats.

Apparently there are right and egregiously wrong ways to use our bodies – more specifically our genitals – particularly when dollars are involved.

For “radfems”, sex work is a metonym for the sins of patriarchy and something that can only ever lead us away from equality.

Sex work – not that radfems would ever use the phrase – isn’t viewed simply as a commercial transaction but rather, as blood money exchanged for abuse that can only ever happen in a world where women are unequal. That selling sex somehow reduces every woman to a commodity, valued exclusively for the extent to which we’re found fuckable.

I not only vehemently disagree with the radfem position, but I view it as fundamentally un-feminist.

If the sisterhood can support my decision to swallow contraceptive pills or terminate an unwanted pregnancy, then there is a duty for them to support my choice to have as much or as little sex as I like and, if I so choose, put a price tag on that sex.

For me, it’s a matter of consent, of bodily autonomy. If feminists aren’t fighting for my right to use my body how I choose, then they’ve dramatically detoured from their mission.

In this article I counter three assertions made by radfems about sex work. While there isn’t a simple opposition to such views, nonetheless, liberal, third-wave, intersectional and sex-positive feminisms are united around the importance of choice and agency, and each opposes radfem’s frequently conservative, knees-together rhetoric.

The re-victimisation narrative

Radfems love to present testimony of industry “survivors” who were abused as children, have substance abuse problems, mental health calamities, or have experienced bad industry treatment and are now abolitionists. Heavy reliance on such testimony is severely problematic.

As revolting as it is, every industry is full of women who were abused as children. Why? Because the numbers of abused women the world over is deplorable.

Scores of women enter every industry as victims of abuse, with mental health problems or substance abuse issues. Or any combination thereof. This is a byproduct of gender inequality as well as dozens of other issues that dole out to women complicated – if not sometimes completely tragic – back-stories.

But the “broken woman” who’s preyed upon by a dreamcoat-wearing pimp and who is reliving her pain as a sex worker is a narrative indicative of too much Special Victims Unitand ignores the reality that people enter the sex industry for an abundance of reasons. Just as they do any other profession.

Interviews with women who have exited sex work is a problematic dataset: talk to anyone who has left any job and they’ll have war stories.

No, this doesn’t make these stories invalid. But it does remind us that the tales of former sex workers don’t speak for all sex workers. Every experience is an individual one.

Abhorrent work practices

Be it about sex work in the form of pay-to-play intercourse or participation in pornography, radfems are abolitionists.

Coerced participation, trafficking and lacklustre working conditions are used to pad out the claim that no sex worker has truly chosen their toil. Not only is such an argument predicated on the false-consciousness argument so intoxicating for radfems, but it pretends that sex work is some kind of special case; that sex work shouldn’t exist because there’s certain labour that simply shouldn’t be sold.

Point to any industry and there will be examples of bad practices, abused workers, and unsafe conditions.

Welcome, my friends, to capitalism. This doesn’t make trafficking or coercion unimportant issues, but equally, it doesn’t make their presence in the sex industry a special case. There are no shortages of industries that need better oversight. But equally, in no other industry where bad practices exist do we ever talk of abolition.

Criminalising an entire industry because of isolated bad examples takes away choice from free-will participants and justifies doing so on the behaviour of abusers. Doing so is victim-blaming and paternalistic.

It also provides another hint that the radfem position isn’t truly based on worker safety at all, but is about sex. About the radfem problem with sex.

The tyranny of the cock

In the radfem imagination, for the selling of sex to be understood as so very horrible sex is understood as having special properties; that it can never just be labour like any other, seemingly because no other job necessitates so much cock.

There’s more than a little puritanical blood in the water here.

Radfems apparently find it inconceivable that women could actually chose to have contact with a penis they’re not in love with. That having random-cock-contact could actually be found fun or lucrative or even a preferable use of one’s workday than toil in a factory, a lecture theatre or a coal mine.

Such views aren’t grounded in women’s lived experiences. They fail to recognise that quite a few of us not only really like the cock, but that having contact with it doesn’t necessitate “giving ourselves away”. Instead, they rely on a moralistic opposition to any sex that’s had in quantities greater than every second Tuesday.

And they use terms like “sell herself” as though, at the end of the transaction, a woman has sold off a body part. Cue Catholic school metaphors about virginity loss.

My worth isn’t determined by how much sex I’ve had. Equally, having sex for money doesn’t change me as a person any more than teaching for money or writing for money does: we each sell our time – our labour – to the market.

Sex work isn’t an industry you have to love, nor is it an industry you have to find empowering. But love and empowerment aren’t things we ever expect of any other industry either. The sex industry doesn’t need your admiration, but nor does it deserve your condemnation.

If there is anything feminists should be in agreement on, it’s our right to make our own decisions about how we use our bodies.


This article was written by:
Image of Lauren RosewarneLauren Rosewarne – [Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne]





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Marriage equality lobby and Labor must decide how to handle postal ballot

 Malcolm Turnbull has bought himself immediate 
relief from the backbench revoltLukas Coch/AAP

When it comes to the Liberals and same-sex marriage, each “solution” seems to lead to a new problem.

Tony Abbott’s plebiscite became bad news for Malcolm Turnbull; now Turnbull’s postal vote – to ask people “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” – is mired in controversy even before it is formally launched.

The cost will be hefty – up to A$122 million. To be able to conduct the ballot without Senate approval the government is reaching back to a partial precedent from the Whitlam days, when a telephone poll of about 60,000 tested opinion on a national anthem.

The postal ballot will be run under the auspices of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which will have Australian Electoral Commission officers seconded to it. The money will come from the Finance Minister’s Advance.

Fairfax’s Peter Martin writes: “At a cost of $122 million, the postal plebiscite would become the second-biggest project [the ABS has] ever undertaken, after the $350 million census.” In light of the shambles of the last census, there would be a good deal of breath-holding.

The postal ballot has all the hallmarks of being tied together with bureaucratic and legal hayband, but the government insists it will withstand legal challenge.

Whether it will withstand the political challenges is another matter.

An Essential poll taken before the announcement and published on Tuesday shows a postal vote has reasonable though not majority public support. When people were asked whether they approved or disapproved of holding “a voluntary postal plebiscite followed by a vote in parliament”, 43% were in favour and 38% against.

Turnbull has bought himself immediate relief from the backbench revolt. At Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting, all five rebels indicated they were backing off action in parliament.

But senator Dean Smith, one of the five, continues to make the case against a postal vote in the media. “I do think the history books will look back on this as not the brightest moment in this government’s history. Not the brightest moment in our democratic practice,” he told Sky.

“Plebiscites are a bad idea. But I have to accept that my colleagues – my great bulk of colleagues – don’t agree with me on that.”

The government is setting a timetable that’s both fast and slow. Legislation for a plebiscite, as distinct from a postal ballot, on November 25, will be voted on (and, we presume, defeated) in the Senate, probably this week. Then the postal vote would run from September 12, when the letters start getting posted, to November 7, with the outcome announced on November 15.

In the event of a “yes” vote, there would be two parliamentary weeks left to get a bill through before Christmas.

The slow part of this timetable is the nearly two months for the postal vote. It hard to judge which side, if either, that long period would favour.

In its conduct, this campaign would be out of the ordinary.

No public money would be allocated for campaigning. Turnbull has made it clear that while he’d be urging a yes vote he has lots of other things to do and wouldn’t be giving too much time to this issue.

Many other politicians would likely take a low-key attitude, though outspoken Liberal senator Eric Abetz was quick to say: “I look forward to engaging with Australians and advocating why marriage should remain as it is”.

The postal vote provides an opportunity for the burgeoning Australian Conservatives. Their leader, senator Cory Bernardi, says: “The Australian Conservatives are the only party that has a policy to maintain marriage in its current form. We’ll be campaigning very hard to win a no vote.”

The pro- and anti-change activists outside parliament would be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Important – indeed, possibly crucial – to the result would be what stand the marriage equality lobby adopted.

Advocates are presently reserving their position. Alex Greenwich, co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, said on Tuesday the group was “not ruling anything in or out”.

Views are likely to vary in the lobby – from those who feel it’s best to seize even a bad opportunity to hardliners inclined to boycott.

The attitude of the lobby will be central to Labor, once again. The opposition of the gay community was a decisive consideration in Labor’s voting against the plebiscite legislation when it was in parliament initially.

The ALP has a tricky line to walk – it is attacking the process but would it really want to lay itself open to some blame for a negative outcome?

Turnbull defends the postal ballot, which he privately would believe is the least desirable way of dealing with this issue, as fulfilling his election pledge to give the people the say.

Asked at his news conference, “Isn’t a postal plebiscite just a way to have the parliament follow? Why aren’t you leading?”, Turnbull replied: “Strong leaders carry out their promises. Weak leaders break them. I’m a strong leader.”

It was an unconvincing “Me Tarzan” moment.


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





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