Social media study points to a close result in the same-sex marriage vote

 An Australian Bureau of Statistics postal  
vote for marriage law reform, yes or no. AAP

With just a few days to go before the postal vote closes on the same-sex marriage issue, there are plenty of strong opinions on all sides of the debate.

Our detailed study of the opinions expressed on Twitter shows the result could be a narrow defeat of the Yes campaign, with 49.17% support.

That figure is at odds with early opinion polls, some of which predicted up to 60% support and more for the Yes campaign. So how did we reach this lower figure?

Big data

We used advanced data analytics, developed at Griffith University’s Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab, which have proven uncannily accurate at predicting the outcomes of hard-to-call polls. Despite strong polling to the contrary, our method predicted the outcome of the US presidential election.

We looked at the publicly available data from 458,565 anonymised Australian Tweets making reference to same-sex marriage over October 2017.

We gauged the sentiment of these tweets with a rule-based model that combines a domain-specific lexicon (a dictionary of terms with assigned sentiment weighting) with a series of intensifiers (the punctuation, emoticons and other heuristics). Together, this makes it possible to know which side of the debate the person sits on, and how strongly they feel about it.

Going beyond the sentiment of the Tweet, machine learning determines the gender, age and even educational level of the sender, along with the general intention of the Tweet. All of this is deduced from the person’s writing style, vocabulary and various other factors.

Digging deeper

On the face of it, when all the captured Tweets were considered, there appears to be overwhelming support for Yes, with 72% in favour.

But digging deeper, we see that some individuals sent more than 1,000 Tweets in support of Yes. Of the 458,565 Tweets we examined, the number of unique users came down to just 207,287.

Taking the sentiment of the unique users into account, the adjusted figure in support of Yes comes down to 57%. It is acknowledged that the campaign Tweets will have influenced public opinion to some degree.

Over-55s under-represented

Looking carefully at the demographics, it emerges that less than 15% of the total Tweets were sent by people over the age of 55. Of these over-55s, only 34% expressed support for Yes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which is conducting the postal vote, from the total number of people in Australia eligible to vote, around 36% are over 55.

If we consider that the same proportion of over-55s and under-55s do not vote, then based on the opinion of the 207,287 unique social media users, the total support for the Yes position comes down to 49%.

So it is likely to be a close-run result, much closer than the earlier polls suggested, and leaning in the direction of No.

How reliable is the result?

One of the problems with predicting poll outcomes is that people are often reluctant to say out loud what they really think about issues. What people say online can often be more accurate than what they say to each other in this age of political correctness.

In the lead-up to the recent US presidential election, the polls pointed to a Hillary Clinton win because many people were publicly saying “No” to Trump when asked by pollsters. But in the privacy of the booth, people quietly voted according to what they actually thought.

Improvement in big data analytics are made possible through cheaper, faster computers, exponentially greater volumes of data, and more advanced deep learning algorithms. This winning trifecta is creating possibilities and value that did not exist even a few years ago.

The Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab uses the “human sensor approach” that has greatly improved prediction quality. This takes the whole person into consideration, including the ways they create the meaning that is transmitted on the web.

Privacy concerns are paramount, so all data are legally required to be anonymised.

So how accurate is our result? We will know on November 15 when the ABS announces the result of the postal vote.

As of October 27 the ABS said it had received around 12.3 million survey responses, amounting to 77% of the 16 million eligible voters.

Forms must be received by the ABS by 6pm (local time) November 7 to be included in the count, so there is still time to cast your vote.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of David TuffleyDavid Tuffley – [Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and SocioTechnical Studies, School of ICT., Griffith University]
Image of Bela Stantic Bela Stantic – [Professor, Director of Big data and smart analytics lab, Griffith University]






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‘Bang, bang, bang!’: the shock of a boy playing with a gun on a suburban street

 Two young boys in helmets, playing  
soldiers with toy guns (1908-1928). State Library of South Australia 

I was driving down a main street in Canberra’s north a few weeks ago when a young boy fired a few shots at me from the back of his father’s bike. I didn’t see the gun at first. It was black and camouflaged in the shadow of an overhanging oak tree. But as I approached from behind, the bike rolled into the sunlight.

I blinked in surprise; people don’t have guns in Canberra. Why did this child have a gun?

The boy, no older than four, had seen me now. He turned the barrel towards me, twisting awkwardly in his seat. I saw his lips move before I heard him. “Bang, bang, bang” he yelled as he pulled the trigger, invisible bullets flying towards my windshield.

As I drove out of view a few minutes later, I was confronted by my disapproval at this boy’s behaviour. Children have long played at war, but when did it become a public nuisance that I could reasonably expect to avoid?

It seems to me that my response reflected something important about the entitlement that adults have assumed over public space in this country.

Over the last 100 or so years, children’s play has increasingly been moved off the streets and into fenced backyards, schoolyards, nurseries and playgrounds. Instead of sharing the privileges of the streets, children have suffered restrictions of movement and been prohibited from certain play activities in the urban space.

Picture of kids jumpig rope in a street
Children playing skipping rope on the footpath in inner Melbourne by Alan K. Jordan (1970). With permissions of the Jordan family and the State Library of Victoria (H2010.105/570e), Author provided

Losing the battle for the streets

Playing on the streets has always been an activity of negotiated boundaries.

Simon Sleight’s research shows that, before the outbreak of the first world war, children not only played a central role in the construction of the urban space, but also contested existing adult street cultures and found avenues to assert their agency.

Nevertheless, in the late 19th century and early 20th century the efforts of social critics to reimagine Australian young people as victims of urbanisation and social degradation increasingly forced children out of view – in some places more than others.

Concerns over the dangers of the streets intensified in the post-WWI period as the rise of car-related accidents fuelled debates over children’s safety. As a Nowra council member observed in 1924, boys playing on the streets was “really dangerous”.

The situation became so dire in Sydney in 1933 that the New South Wales lands minister, Ernst Buttenshaw, supported Leichhardt Council’s proposal to turn Balmain’s old burial ground into a recreational area for children, despite the state government’s previous lack of enthusiasm for the plan. It was essential, he said, that children should be kept from playing on the streets.

Young people continued to assert their shared ownership of the streets throughout the mid-20th century, but their resistance increasingly came at a cost: innocent games of marbles, football and billycarts ended with fatal collisions with cars, trams and trucks.

In 1951, Senior Constable Smith reported that of the 28 children under the age of six who died in traffic accidents in NSW the previous year, most had been playing on the streets.

Figures like these presented a powerful argument for increased restrictions of children’s mobility. City children felt the transformation of the streetscape far more keenly than many of their rural counterparts. Even today, street cricket and barefoot scootering are common in some small towns and suburbs.

Picture of children playing with billycarts
Children riding billycarts down a street in Sydney, ca. 1920s. Fairfax Corporation and the National Library of Australia (PIC/15611/14407), Author provided

Anxieties over war toys and militarised play

During the mid-20th century, anxieties over the traffic-related risks of street play also opened up space for education do-gooders and social theorists to voice their opinions about the civil and social benefits of play. Certain types of play, they argued, were especially dangerous for children.

Militarised play, of course, was at the top of their list. War toys “are making our children used to war”, declared Ruby Rich of the NSW section of the International Peace Council in 1937. Urging a boycott of war toys at a public meeting in Newcastle Town Hall, Rich said that these were teaching children “to love the things that may have killed their fathers in the last war”.

There have been times, however, when militarised play has been tolerated, even commended, in the public space.

In 1915, Melbourne boys between the ages of four and ten, armed with bamboo guns and wooden spears, were reported playing at soldiers in “local beauty spots”. The activity finally reached its “limit” when a group of boys dug up the lawns of Queen’s Park in Essendon to build a trench in anticipation of the German advance. One local newspaper acclaimed that it was unfortunate that they damaged the lawns because their bravery was “worthy of Australians”.

Debates over militarised play and war toys still have currency in Australia. In 2015, an image of a child holding a replica AK-47 rifle, his finger on the trigger, near Sydney’s Martin Place sparked calls for a complete ban on toy guns. The fact that a terrorist attack had recently taken place at the nearby Lindt Cafe only heightened public outrage over the incident.

When the ABC surveyed children about their views, there was widespread agreement that although toy guns shouldn’t be banned, they should only be played with at home. “I think toy guns should be allowed but not in public,” Pierce said. Jacob agreed, concluding that “our friend’s house is the best place to use them”.

Picture of biys playing at being soldiers
Boys playing soldiers by James Fox Barnard, ca. 1900. State Library of Victoria (H2002.125/30), Author provided

Such responses reflect the way many children have internalised adult-centric street cultures.

For young boys to dig a trench and enact a foreign invasion in a Melbourne park, or to march around the streets of Hobart dressed as soldiers armed for war as they did in 1900, would today likely be considered a dangerous public nuisance.

The rise of the adult streetscape

Over the past century, urban streets have increasingly become thoroughfares, transient places of movement where all kinds of rules and codes of behaviours have made them less friendly to children and their imaginations.

The intense disapproval that I felt at being the target of an imaginary drive-by shooting in Canberra last month captures something of the shifting traditions of street play and ownership in Australia. The prerogative that my adult self has assumed over the streets, as well as the cultural sensibilities that have arisen surrounding particular types of play, led me to condemn the boy’s behaviour.

It was not that his behaviour was dangerous, though it might well have been, it was that it threatened the comfort I had come to expect of Canberra’s streets.

This article was written by:






What do single, older women want? Their ‘own little space’ (and garden) to call home, for a start

 Older women valued a secure private space  
of their own with, ideally, a small garden. Jacob Lund/shutterstock

The “great Australian dream” of owning your own home is rapidly proving to be an illusion for many in the early 21st century.

In an environment of exceedingly high house prices, groups who don’t have secure, long-term employment are at risk of homelessness, particularly as they age. Single, older women are one such group at increasing risk of being homeless.

While housing policy has neglected this area of concern, recent work is beginning to highlight this gap. Most research has been done in metropolitan areas, but women living in regional Australia merit attention too.

In our study of 47 older women who do not own homes in regional New South Wales nearly all were living on low incomes. Their housing ranged from dingy hotel rooms and makeshift sheds or shacks to rundown flats or housing in regional towns. Only a few lived in reasonable circumstances, including community housing.

We discovered that the women had clear ideas about what sort of housing would suit them as they age. For all of them, stability and security of tenure were priorities. Other aspects of what these women wanted were perhaps more surprising and differed from research findings on older women living in cities.

Why is housing a problem for these women?

In a recent article, we argued that women’s work and family roles in the last century left them economically disadvantaged. Most had interrupted employment histories, lower status and lower-paid jobs than men.

Research shows that women who don’t have a partner generally suffer greater insecurity when they can no longer work, particularly if they don’t own their own homes.

Many single women now have to contend with a rental market in Australia in which the laws tend to be skewed in favour of landlords. Leases are typically short-term and tenants have little security of tenure. An overheated housing market, which encourages speculative investment, makes this insecurity worse.

To make matters worse, the availability of public housing has fallen.

What are their housing priorities?

Our study of older women in the Northern Rivers region of NSW found that only two participants had never had a partner. All but four had borne children.

Their shared desire for stability and security of tenure is understandable, given most had very disrupted housing histories.

Many worried about what would happen to them. Elizabeth said:

It would be just lovely to be somewhere where I know I could stay until I died.

Agnes thought she might end up “in an old school bus on somebody’s property”.

The women also expressed a strong desire for privacy and independence, which many of them called their “own space”. They wanted to come and go as they please. For instance, Anne just wants her “own little space to be private”.

Many women linked their desire for security, privacy and independence to their age and their gender. Jane, for example, associated wanting her own kitchen space with being a woman.

In contrast to some research on this group in cities, our participants insisted they did not wish to share housing with other women. They spoke quite vehemently at times – Susan would rather live in a tent than share housing.

What was surprising was that nearly all the women wanted some sort of garden, even if it was a tiny space. This was almost as important as their need for security and independence.

Image of an older woman cuddling a cat
A few women said they would rather be homeless that give up their pet. Daria Chichkareva/shutterstock

Finally, the women wanted to have space to accommodate their grandchildren and pets. They saw their role as being able to provide a base for their family and to nurture their grandchildren. This seems to reflect more traditional notions of women’s caring responsibilities, which were more widespread last century when these women were young.

We know that pets play a significant role in fostering mental and emotional health in older people. We also know that describing pets as family members is part of a broader trend in Australia. In our study, one participant minded the “grand-dogs” when her daughter was away.

A few women even said they would rather be homeless that give up their pet, such was their attachment. But, for many, lack of secure tenure and independence meant they were denied this source of emotional security.

The Victorian government has recently announced changes to tenancy laws that will allow renters to keep pets, as well as improve security of tenure. This is a welcome development for Victorians. It must be hoped it spreads to other states.

Preferences have policy implications

Our study emphasises the housing preferences of a regional cohort. Though the desire for secure tenure may be widespread, some preferences such as the expressed need for a garden may reflect regional values.

If the housing problems that many single, older women experience are to be solved, housing policymakers need to be informed by research about what makes these women’s lives meaningful and productive.


This article was authored by:





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.

This article was written by:





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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Eight simple changes to our neighbourhoods can help us age well


Staying physically active can play a
big part in ageing well – and a well-designed neighbourhood helps with that. 

Where we live can play a big part in ageing well, largely because of the links between physical activity and wellbeing. Research shows that two-thirds of Australians prefer to age in place. That is, we want to live independently in our homes for as long as we can. Our neighbourhoods and their design can then improve or hinder our ability to get out of the house and be physically active.

The rapid ageing of Australia’s population only adds to the importance of neighbourhood design. In 2016, 15% of Australians were aged 65 or older. That proportion is projected to double by 2056.

These trends present several social and economic challenges, particularly for the health sector. Designing neighbourhoods in ways that promote physical activity can help overcome these challenges.

Eight simple steps

The following is a short list of evidence-based steps local and state governments can take to assist older people to be physically active. These involve minor but effective changes to neighbourhood design.

Improve footpaths: Research indicates that older people have a higher risk of falls. Ensuring footpaths are level and crack-free, and free from obstructions, will encourage walking among older people – especially those with a disability.

More crap that should not be on the city’s footpaths. There is ample room on the roadway- no bike lane or clearway to block 

Connected pedestrian networks: Introducing footpaths at the end of no-through-roads and across long street blocks reduces walking distances to destinations. This makes walking a more viable option.

Slowing traffic in high-pedestrian areas: Slowing traffic improves safety by reducing the risk of a collision. It also reduces the risk of death and serious injury in the event of a collision.

Age-friendly street crossings: Installing longer pedestrian crossing light sequences gives older pedestrians more time to cross, and installing refuge islands means those who walk more slowly can cross the street in two stages.

Disabled access at public transport: Although a form of motorised transport, public transport users undertake more incidental physical activity compared with car users. This is because they walk between transit stops and their origins and destinations. Improving disabled access helps make public transport a viable option for more older people.

Greg Day, man about  is now able to be man about Melbourne following @yarratrams terminus upgrade on  


Places to rest: Providing rest spots such as benches enables older people to break up their walk and rest when needed.

Planting trees: Planting trees creates more pleasant scenery to enjoy on a walk. It also provides shade on hot days.

Improving safety: Ensuring that streets are well-lit and reducing graffiti and signs of decay are likely to improve perceptions of safety among older people.

Why physical activity matters

Physical function – the ability to undertake everyday activities such as walking, bathing and climbing stairs – often declines as people age. The reason for this is that ageing is often accompanied by a reduction in muscle strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory reserves.

Regular physical activity can prevent or slow the decline in physical function, even among those with existing health conditions.

Middle-to-older aged adults can reduce their risk of physical function decline by 30% with regular physical activity (at least 150 minutes per week). This includes recreational physical activity, like walking the dog, or incidental physical activity, such as walking to the shops or to visit friends.

By making minor changes as outlined above, the health and longevity of our elderly population can be extended. Such changes will help our elderly age well in place.

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 Jerome N RacheleJerome N Rachele – [Research Fellow in Social Epidemiology, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University];
Image of Jim SallisJim Sallis – [Professorial Fellow, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University, and Emeritus Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego]
Image of Venurs LohVenurs Loh – [PhD Candidate, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University]





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Let’s face it, we’ll be no safer with a national facial recognition database

 Many more faces to be added to a  
national database, but will it make us any safer?

A commitment to share the biometric data of most Australians – including your driving licence photo – agreed at Thursday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting will result in a further erosion of our privacy.

That sharing is not necessary. It will be costly. But will it save us from terrorism? Not all, although it will give people a false sense of comfort.

Importantly, it will allow politicians and officials to show that they are doing something, in a climate where a hunt for headlines demands the appearance of action.

Your biometric data

Biometric data used in fingerprint and facial recognition systems is indelible. It can be used in authoritative identity registers, featured on identity documents such as passports and driver licences.

It can be automatically matched with data collected from devices located in airports, bus and train stations, retail malls, court buildings, prisons, sports facilities and anywhere else we could park a networked camera.

Australia’s state and territory governments have built large biometric databases through registration of people as drivers – every licence has a photograph of the driver. The national government has built large databases through registration for passports, aviation/maritime security and other purposes.

Irrespective of your consent to uses beyond those for which the picture was taken, the governments now have a biometric image of most Australians, and the ability to search the images.

COAG announced that the governments will share that data in the name of security.

Sharing data with who?

Details of the sharing are very unclear. This means we cannot evaluate indications that images will be captured in both public and private places. For example, in retail malls and libraries or art galleries – soft targets for terrorism – rather than in streets and secure buildings such as Parliament House.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has responded to initial criticism by clarifying that matching will not involve “live” CCTV.

But the history of Australian surveillance law has been a matter of creep, with step-by-step expansion of what might initially have been an innocuous development. When will law enforcement agencies persuade their ministers to include live public or private CCTV for image matching?

We cannot tell which officials will be accessing the data and what safeguards will be established to prevent misuse. Uncertainty about safeguards is worrying, given the history of police and other officials inappropriately accessing law enforcement databases on behalf of criminals or to stalk a former partner.

The sharing occurs in a nation where Commonwealth, state and territory privacy law is inconsistent. That law is weakly enforced, in part because watchdogs such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) are under-resourced, threatened with closure or have clashed with senior politicians.

Australia does not have a coherent enforceable right to privacy. Instead we have a threadbare patchwork of law (including an absence of a discrete privacy statute in several jurisdictions).

The new arrangement has been foreshadowed by governments over several years. It can be expected to creep, further eroding privacy and treating all citizens as suspects.

Software and hardware providers will be delighted: there’s money to be made by catering to our fears. But we should be asking some hard questions about the regime and questioning COAG’s statement.

Let’s avoid a privacy car crash

Will sharing and expansion of the biometric network – a camera near every important building, many cameras on every important road – save us from terrorism? The answer is a resounding no. Biometrics, for example, seems unlikely to have saved people from the Las Vegas shooter.

Will sharing be cost effective? None of the governments have a great track record with major systems integration. The landscape is littered with projects that went over budget, didn’t arrive on time or were quietly killed off.

Think the recent Census and Centrelink problems, and the billion dollar bust up known as the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record.

It won’t be improved by a new national ID card to fix the Medicare problem.

Is the sharing proportionate? One answer is to look at experience in India, where the Supreme Court has comprehensively damned that nation’s ambitious Aadhaar biometric scheme that was meant to solve security, welfare and other problems.

The Court – consistent with decisions in other parts of the world – condemned the scheme as grossly disproportionate: a disregard of privacy and of the dignity of every citizen.

Is sharing likely to result in harms, particularly as the biometric network grows and grows? The answer again is yes. One harm, disregarded by our opportunistic politicians, is that all Australians and all visitors will be regarded as suspects.

Much of the data for matching will be muddy – some street cameras, for example, are fine resting places for pigeons – and of little value.

As with the mandatory metadata retention scheme, the more data (and more cameras) we have the bigger trove of indelible information for hackers. Do not expect the OAIC or weak state privacy watchdogs (which in some jurisdictions do not exist) to come to the rescue.

As a society we should demand meaningful consultation about official schemes that erode our rights. We should engage in critical thinking rather than relying on headlines that reflect political opportunism and institutional self-interest.

The incoherent explanation and clarifications should concern everyone, irrespective of whether they have chosen to be on Facebook – and even if they have nothing to hide and will never be mistaken for someone else.

This article was written by:
Image of Bruce Baer Arnold Bruce Baer Arnold – [Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra]






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Whose best friend? How gender and stereotypes can shape our relationship with dogs

 One man and his dog. Pierre MalouAuthor provided

The relationship between people and their dogs can be a lasting and loving bond if the match is right. But when acquiring a dog, how do you know if that match will be a good one?

Research shows there is a difference in the way some dogs react to men and women, and it can also matter if the dog is a he or a she.

The challenge lies in understanding the interactions of dogs with humans. And part of that challenge can be influenced by gender stereotypes of both humans and dogs.

This shows why matching dogs to people is far more complicated than we might predict.

Picture of three dogs sitting together
Dogs extend their innate social skills to humans. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

Humans and dogs: a long history

Humans have been co-evolving with dogs for thousands of years. We owe them a lot, including (perhaps surprisingly) the ways in which we experience and express gender via animals.

This often happens in negative ways, such as when women are referred to as bitches, cows, pigs, birds, chicks and men as wolves, pigs, rats. None of these animal metaphors have much to do with the animals themselves but more to do with how we use categories of animals to categorise humans.

So unpacking and challenging gender stereotypes might just also improve the lives of animals too.

A 2006 landmark analysis of gender and dog ownership revealed that owners use their dogs as props to display their own gender identities.

Participants in this study considered female dogs to be less aggressive but more moody than apparently more playful male dogs. They used gender stereotypes not only to select dogs, but also to describe and predict their dog’s behaviour and personality.

Picture of a dog being taught to retrieve
Learning to fetch. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

The potential ramifications of this are important because such flawed predictions about dog behaviour can lead to a person giving up on their dog, which is then surrendered to a shelter.

Once surrendered, an aggressive bitch or uncooperative dog faces a grim future, with most dogs who fail a behavioural assessment being killed, adding to the troubling euthanasia rates in Australia.

That said, the predictive power of behaviour assessment in shelters is being questioned. Some say the ability of such assessments to reliably predict problematic behaviours in future adoptive homes is “vanishingly unlikely”. Moreover, the assessments are likely to be informed by the gendered expectations and behaviours of the humans who assess, surrender or adopt.

small study in the UK in 1999 observed 30 dogs in shelters when approached by unfamiliar men and women. It found that the female dogs spent less time looking towards all the humans than the male dogs did.

All the dogs barked at and looked towards the women less than the men, which the researchers suggest shows that gender of the potential adopter plays a role in determining what a good match might look like, as well as the likelihood of adoption.

Even the bond that dogs share with their primary care-giver may have gender differences. For example, in a 2008 Australian study (led by one of us, Paul), dog owners reported that male dogs showed elevated levels of separation-related distress compared to female dogs. They also reported that separation-related distress and food-related aggression increased with the number of human adult females in the household.

Desexing, which is more than justified by the animal welfare benefits of population control, also complicates cultural beliefs about appropriate dog gender and may even influence a dog’s problem-solving behaviour. A recent study published this year suggests that desexing may have a more negative effect on female than male dogs when it comes to aspects of cognition.

study (co-authored by one of us, Paul) published last month, that focused solely on working sheepdogs and their handlers (and so may have limited relevance to domestic companion dogs), is the first report of behavioural differences related to gender difference in both dogs and humans.

Gender stereotypes

These studies underline just how much the lives of dogs depend upon how they conform to gender expectations. In other words, it’s not just how we humans interact with dogs that matters, it’s how our genders interact as well.

While we know how damaging stereotypes can be for humans, dog owners may not consider just how their conceptual baggage of gender stereotypes affects the animals they live with.

Dog resting inside a house
Most dogs excel at fitting into our homes and lives. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

More research can help to shed light on the role that gender plays when it comes to making a good match between humans and their dogs; and by good match, we mean one that will result in a decrease in the likelihood of the dog being surrendered to a shelter or treated badly.

The take-home message from these studies is that, to be truly successful mutual companions, dogs don’t need just any human, they need a complimentary human who is open to reflecting critically on gender stereotypes.

Thanks partly to an uncritical adoption of gender stereotypes, the matching of dog and human is currently rudimentary at best. So we should not be surprised if dogs often fail to meet our expectations.

When relationships go wrong, it’s catastrophic for dogs, because it contributes to euthanasia rates in shelters. These deaths need to be better understood as a broader failure of human understanding about how their own beliefs and behaviour affect the dogs in their lives.

This article was co-authored by:






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What economics has to say about same-sex marriage

Image of a same sex couple If people want commodities like:  
love, company, doing tasks together, they are better off if marriage 
is permitted. David Crosling/AAP

Love and companionship make most people happy and generally represent two of the key reasons why couples marry.

In the economists’ view, love and companionship are a particular type of commodity: they cannot be purchased or traded on a market, but they can be produced by a household to generate happiness for its members.

There are potentially many other of these “household-produced” commodities, including raising children, preparing meals, caring for each other, and achieving economic stability.

The question is then how to produce these commodities more efficiently so that people are happier.

Efficiency in this case does not just mean “more”, but also “better quality” commodities. For instance, the happiness of a person is not just determined by the number of meals prepared and consumed, but also by their quality.

Economists look at marriage in this context. Examining the commodities marriage can produce helps us understand why people marry, how individuals sort each other into married couples, and what this means for society as a whole.

It turns out that economics does a pretty good job at explaining and predicting patterns in marriage that would otherwise appear irrational. For example economics can help explain why there is a difference between married and non-married people when it comes to if, and eventually how much, they want to work.

We marry because…

The fundamental economic view of marriage goes back to the theory of Nobel Laureate Gary Becker.

People can produce household commodities in some amount without necessarily having to marry. However, when people marry, they pool their resources together (the most important one being time) and can specialise in certain tasks. This allows them to produce more and better quality household commodities.

For instance, by sharing tasks such as shopping and cleaning, a married couple can produce better quality meals than two individuals that shop, clean and cook separately.

In principle, the same productivity gains could arise from a co-habitation or de facto relationship. However, in this case, the two people in the relationship would also have to set up contracts to figure out important arrangements like household finance and inheritance (among other things).

There also is some significant costs, not only in money but in time, in working all of this out. Whereas a marriage contract already embeds some of these aspects. That in itself is an efficiency gain associated with marriage over cohabitation or de facto relationship.

So, if people want the commodities we mentioned: love, company, doing tasks together, they are better off (i.e. happier) if marriage is permitted.

This whole framework doesn’t require people to be of the same or different sex. Heterosexual and homosexual couples will generate different patterns in terms of what commodities they produce. Still, marriage will generate some productivity and efficiency gains for couples, irrespective of their gender.

What economics has to say about the effect on the rest of society

From an economic perspective, the fact that same-sex marriage allows people to achieve some productivity and efficiency gains (which some of us might call happiness!) does not automatically mean that it should be established by law. For example, if same-sex marriage were to produce some negative effects on the rest of the society.

In this regard, the public debate has focused on how permitting same-sex marriage would (or would not) reduce overall marriage in society, increase divorce rates, or lessen the importance of having children in marriage.

In fact, there’s now a growing body of empirical research, published across various fields (from economics, to demography, sociology, and public policy), that estimates the impact of permitting same-sex marriage on marriage, abortion, and divorce rates (or couple stability).

A study in 2009, using US data, found no statistically significant adverse effect from allowing gay marriage. Another US study in 2014 found no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry reduces the opposite-sex marriage rate.

One more study indicated that same-sex couples experience levels of stability similar to heterosexual couples. That study also found that for couples (both same-sex and different-sex) living in a state with a ban against same-sex marriage there was an associated instability.

To some extent, findings from this line of research are still preliminary and have to be taken with caution. This is because same-sex marriage, even where permitted, has been introduced only recently. Therefore only a relatively short time span is available to observe its effects. So the jury is still out.

However, my own reading of the research produced so far is that there is generally little evidence of significant negative societal effects of same-sex marriage.

Going forward, as more data becomes available, empirical research will allow for a more refined assessment of the impact of same-sex marriage on society and the extent to which permitting same-sex marriage could (or not) weaken the social purpose of traditional marriage.

This article was written by:
Image of Fabrizio CarmignaniFabrizio Carmignani – [Professor, Griffith Business School, Griffith University]







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Explainer: what legal benefits do married couples have that de facto couples do not?

 De facto couples still often have to go to great  
lengths to prove their relationship, unlike married couples, who need only 
furnish a marriage certificate.

Opponents of marriage equality often say that married and de facto couples already have the same rights. To what extent is this true? And, in legal terms, how much do the differences matter?

In an opinion piece last week, former prime minister Tony Abbott claimed:

Already, indeed, same-sex couples in a settled domestic relationship have exactly the same rights as people who are married.

This isn’t true.

At the most fundamental level, same-sex couples do not have the right to marry and therefore do not have “marriage equality”. While de facto couples may be able to assert some of the same rights as married couples, they often have to expend significant time, money and unnecessary heartache to do so.

Marriage allows people to access a complete package of rights simply by showing their marriage certificate or ticking a box, and is based on their mutual promises to one another rather than proving their relationship meets particular interdependency criteria.

Unlike de facto relationships, marriage is recognised nationally and internationally.

Differences under law

The laws regarding de facto couples differ between states and the Commonwealth, and from one right to another.

For Centrelink purposes, you are a de facto couple from the moment you start living together; for migration law it is after 12 months of cohabiting (unless you have a child together or de facto relationships are illegal in your country of origin).

Under family law it is different again: a minimum of two years (unless you have a child together, have registered your relationship, or have made significant contributions to the relationship).

Where married couples use IVF, both spouses are automatically legal parents. But for de facto couples using reproductive technologies, their child’s parentage depends on whether a de facto relationship is proven to exist.

Couples who are or were married must file for property and/or spousal maintenance proceedings in the Family Court within one year of finalising a divorce, but have the option to agree to an extension of time in which to file. No such provision exists for de facto couples; they must file proceedings within two years.

In many states, a new marriage nullifies an existing will, unless that will was quite specifically worded. This is not the case when you enter a new de facto relationship. In the latter situation, if you die before making a new will, a court might need to decide how your assets are allocated (with costs borne by your estate).

In all contexts, de facto relationships require significant proof, which means partners may have to provide evidence about their living and child care arrangements, sexual relationship, finances, ownership of property, commitment to a shared life and how they present as a couple in public. These criteria can be absent from a heterosexual marriage, but it is still deemed a marriage.

Despite the wording in the marriage ceremony that marriage “is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”, it is up to married partners whether or not they share their finances, their housework, their childcare responsibilities, their homes or their beds, and how long they want to stay married.

‘Registered relationships’ – separate but equal?

Many states and territories have legislation permitting couples to register their domestic relationships – the exceptions are the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

To register, you first need to prove that you meet the criteria – for example, providing “personal or financial commitment and support of a domestic nature for the material benefit of the other”. Where marriage delivers rights based on a couple’s promises to one another, registered relationships still require proof that a relationship meeting the criteria already exists.

Such registered relationships are not reliably recognised overseas.

When does it matter?

While married and de facto relationships largely have equal standing before the law, only marriage is immediate and incontrovertible.

Difficulties for de facto couples arise from the complex inter-relationship between the “burden of proof”, institutionalised homophobia, and the sticky situations that can often arise in interpersonal or family conflict.

For example, a person in a de facto relationship might need to prove their relationship:

  • if their partner is very ill, in order to make decisions about their care and treatment (this can be prevented by having another piece of paper – a medical enduring power of attorney equivalent document depending on your state or territory);
  • if their partner who has died, in order to be listed as their spouse on a death certificate or to be involved in funeral planning (being listed on a death certificate is critically important when it comes to claiming superannuation payouts and myriad other issues); or
  • if their partner has died without leaving a will.

Sadly, the times when marital status matters most are likely to be times of grief, or high stress. To compound this, there are many examples of a couple’s “de facto” status being challenged by one partner’s family of origin. Marriage, on the other hand, is undeniable.

Unmarried de facto couples often experience difficulties attaining residency and/or working rights overseas. Married couples rarely experience these problems.

Same obligations, without the same right to wed

Same-sex couples have all the same obligations as married couples – to pay taxes, child support and so on. But they don’t have the ability to marry – to enjoy the symbolic and emotional effects of entering into a legal union with their partners before friends and family, or enjoy the legal security of having one document to confirm the legal status of their relationship.

Many heterosexual couples in Australia choose to live in de facto relationships. This is their right. Same-sex couples do not get to choose – they have no alternative.

Marriage equality is about giving couples genuine choice about how they structure their relationships.

This article was co-authored by:

Hannah Robert – [Lecturer in Law, La Trobe University]


Fiona Kelly – [ Associate Professor, Law School, La Trobe University]





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