Earlybird registrations are open for the Melbourne International Singers Festival 2018

From the 7th to the 11th of June. Proudly presented by the School of Hard Knocks

Now in its 9th consecutive year, Melbourne International Singers Festival will be led by Guest Conductor RICHARD GILL AO and Australia’s finest conductors, musicians and singers including: The Song Company, Choir of Hard Knocks, MEN ALOUD!, XL Arts, Warren Wills, Claire Patti and Dr Jonathon Welch AM.


JOIN one of our wonderful Festival Choruses, led by Richard Gill, Claire Patti and Dr Jonathon Welch respectively.

BRING your School or Community Choir to a workshop or masterclass with Richard Gill, one of Australia’s finest, and funniest music educators.

SEE the internationally acclaimed, award winning The Song Company with Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, in “True Love Story” …. AND the exciting young talents of XL Arts under the artistic direction of Liane Keegan, as they perform in recital!

SING in a Festival Showcase Concert with your choir.

MISF has a proud history of presenting new Australian works, and will present TWO WORLD PREMIERES in 2018 under the inspiring creative direction of Olivier nominated composer, music theatre producer and performer Warren Wills with the School of Hard Knocks MEN ALOUD! and award winning CHOIR OF HARD KNOCKS.

For more information about the Festival program please go to http://schoolofhardknocks.org.au

We can’t wait to see you all at MISF 2018 for another extraordinary weekend of workshops, educational experiences and performances that will leave you challenged, inspired and entertained! Dr Jonathon Welch AM, Founding Artistic Director

Book Now! Earlybird registrations apply if registered by May 25th!

An unforgettable weekend at #MISF18

Proceeds support the School of Hard Knocks in providing arts and cultural programs to the vulnerable and marginalised in our community.

Contact misf@schoolofhardknocks.org.au OR 0419 337 283

To create safer cities for everyone, we need to avoid security that threatens

 Police march down Swanston Street in Melbourne. 
Nils Versemann / Shutterstock.com

The central role of public spaces in the social, cultural, political and economic life of cities makes it crucial that they’re accessible to everyone. One of the most important qualities of accessible public spaces is safety. If people do not feel safe in a public space, they are less likely to use it, let alone linger in it.

Perceptions of safety are socially produced and socially variable. It is not simply the presence of crime – or “threatening environments” – that contributes to lack of safety or fear.

All sorts of measures are put in place to make public spaces safer, from design to policing. But when we consider the effectiveness of these measures, we always have to ask: whose safety is being prioritised?

Women and members of ethnic and sexual minorities are among those who experience particular kinds of threats, abuse and violence in public spaces.

If we don’t account for the social dimensions of safety, there’s a risk that measures designed to enhance safety will have the opposite effect for some urban inhabitants.

Safety for a privileged few?

There are many examples of safety measures that privilege the interests of some groups over others.

The gating of urban environments and the privatisation of public space allow the wealthy to buy a form of safety by separating themselves from the wider community. Such approaches aim to provide safety for the few, rather than the many. But this might actually add to people’s fear by creating a kind of urban border anxiety.

In architecture and planning, “crime prevention through environmental design” has gained traction as a way to enhance the safety and accessibility of public spaces. This school of thought suggests that spaces can be designed to reduce crime and enhance feelings of safety and security. Improving lighting and sight lines are examples of this.

These design principles are useful, but can only take us so far.

Anti-terrorism bollards covered in political artwork on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets in Melbourne. AAP Image/James Ross

Design can certainly help to prevent some activities. But we need to ask: exactly what are we trying to prevent, where, and why are we trying to prevent it? Does it make our cities more just, for example, to design teenagers out of public spaces by blasting classical music or broadcasting ultrasonic frequencies that can annoy only their young ears?

Who misses out on feeling safe?

There are more banal, everyday examples of how public security measures can work to make some safe at the expense of others.

Consider the 2011 Transport for NSW “customer courtesy” campaign. The campaign, which placed posters on trains and train stations, sought to improve the “customer experience” by reducing the discomfort caused by “beastly behaviours” like loud talking and seat hogging.

These may cause discomfort for some public transport users, as surveys suggested. But many passengers are likely to be concerned about another “beastly behaviour” – racism. People from ethnic and religious minorities, especially women, too often experience racism, abuse and violence on public transport.

Not only do those customer courtesy campaigns fail to call out discrimination as unacceptable, they can unintentionally give licence to racist behaviour. Eyewitness videos have shown passengers speaking languages other than English being abused by other passengers who insist they should not have to listen to such speech.

Police use of “sniffer dogs” at train stations, public spaces and events also illustrates how security measures can be exclusionary. In New South Wales, well over half of all searches resulting from sniffer dog “hits” find no drugs on the person. And the locations in which sniffer dog operations have taken place mean that the young, the poor, ethnic minorities, Aboriginal people and LGTBQI communities seem more likely to be searched.

A police officer and dog patrol Central Station in Sydney. AAP Image/NSW Police

Police justify these operations on the grounds that they “send a message” to potential offenders, thereby enhancing public safety. But this can make people in these locations feel less, rather than more, safe.

Research in the LGTBQI community in Sydney in the early 2000s found:

Calls for greater numbers of local area police are as numerous … as complaints about their visibility and overbearing presence.

For members of this community, homophobic violence, not recreational drug use, threatened safe access to public space. And yet while people struggled to have the threat of homophobic violence taken seriously, large groups of police with sniffer dogs constantly patrolled their streets, clubs and festivals, making people feel less safe and more threatened.

Principles for social justice

So, how can we ensure that safety and security measures in public space actually create safety for all? Setha Low and I have offered a set of social justice principles for planning and policing of public spaces. These are:

  • distribution and redistribution: are public spaces equally accessible to all, regardless of people’s income or where they live?
  • recognition: are some identities and ways of being in the city unfairly denigrated or stigmatised? Is there recognition that urban inhabitants have different identities and cultures?
  • encounter: do public spaces create opportunities for encounters across different identities, without discrimination and harassment?
  • care and repair: are public spaces cared for, and are the resources for care and repair fairly distributed?
  • procedural justice: is the planning of public spaces open to all in a democratic process?

Taking these principles into account can help us to avoid safety measures that have the perverse effect of reducing accessibility for some, and to approach safety in a way that makes the city more accessible and just for all.

This article was written by:
Image of Kurt Iveson Kurt Iveson – [Associate Professor of Urban Geography, University of Sydney]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Australia’s 2017 environment scorecard: like a broken record, high temperatures further stress our ecosystems

 It was a hot year for many Australians. 
ABCNews/David McMeekin

While rainfall conditions were generally good across Australia in 2017, record-breaking temperatures stressed our ecosystems on land and sea, according to our annual environmental scorecard. Unfortunately, it looks like those records will be broken again next year – and again in the years after that.

Indicators of Australia’s environment in 2017 compared to the previous year. Similar to national economic indicators they provide a summary, but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.

National Scorecard

Our terrestrial environment has done relatively well in 2017, mainly thanks to good rainfall and leftover soil moisture from the year before. However, such a short summary for a country the size of a continent is bound to hide large regional differences. 2017 was no exception.

Western Australia and the Northern Territory received good rains, with vegetation growth, river flows and wetland area all coming in above average. By contrast, Queensland and particularly New South Wales saw a reversal of the previous year’s gains.

Environmental Condition Score in 2017 by state and territory. The large number is the score for 2017, the smaller number the change from the previous year. Based on data on www.ausenv.online

Climate change is here to stay

There was good news and bad news for our atmosphere in 2017. Humanity’s collective action to fix the hole in the ozone layer is proving successful. The hole is the smallest it has been since 1988.

On the other hand, global carbon dioxide concentrations rose again, by 0.5%. While this was less than in the previous two years, it was still far from enough to stop accelerating global warming.

Globally, 2017 was the second-warmest year on record after 2016. It was the third-warmest year for Australia, and the hottest year on record in southern Queensland. These statistics are all the more remarkable because 2017 was not an El Niño year, during which high temperatures more commonly occur.

The world’s oceans were the hottest they’ve been since measurements started. Sea levels rose by 6.4mm, and sea ice cover at the poles reached another record low. In short, our planet is warming.

The main events

Last year broke the most high-temperature records since 2009, which was at the height of the Millennium Drought – the worst drought since European settlement.

Queensland and northern New South Wales were affected most, with summer heatwaves in February and a second round of bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. In March, Cyclone Debbie rammed into the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland coast, bringing torrential rains and widespread flooding in its wake. The cyclone helped cool down the shallow reef waters but also ravaged delicate corals in its path, stirred up sediment and caused rivers to flush more damaging sediment and nutrients out to sea.

Winter was dry and the warmest on record and September also set heat records. Experts predicted the risk of a bad summer fire season, which did not happen, thanks to a combination of mild weather and well-timed rainfall. Nationally though, the number and size of fires were still above average, mainly due to good growing conditions in WA’s arid rangelands.

Tree growth hides loss of forests

Perhaps the most recognisable impact on our terrestrial ecosystems is the disappearance of mature vegetation after fire, drought or land clearing. We should have good data on such important changes, but we don’t.

Australia is large and poorly surveyed, so national mapping relies on satellite image interpretation. We used machine-learning algorithms to update national forest maps with more recent satellite images. These updated maps estimate a nationwide increase in forest area of 510,000ha, roughly the size of Kangaroo Island.

However, this increase is the difference between much larger gains and losses. Most of the forest increases occurred in dry woodlands in NSW and Queensland, most likely due to regrowth after a relatively wet 2016.

Unfortunately, these numbers do not paint a clear picture of the state of our ecosystems. Far more is lost from removing a hectare of dense native forest than is gained from a hectare of regrowth or new planting.

The current national mapping is insufficient to make these distinctions. We now have the satellite mapping data and technologies to do a better job. This should be a priority if we are to understand how our environment is changing and meet our international commitments.

Australia’s Environment Explorer (http://www.ausenv.online) provides summaries of environmental condition by location or region. This example shows local government areas where vegetation cover in 2017 was above average (blue colours) or below average (red colours).

Slow changes can still be deadly

While our climate is clearly changing, it is less clear how rising temperatures are impacting on our ecosystems. Many of our species are well adapted to heat, so the effects of slowly rising temperatures may go unnoticed until it is too late.

Temperatures in excess of 42℃ can kill large numbers of flying foxes, and this happened again in 2017. We know this because they roost together in their thousands and we can count the corpses under the trees.

What heat stress does to other species is far less known. There is evidence of koalas and some large birds suffering from hot days, but we barely understand how increasing temperatures may be chipping away at the cornerstones of our ecosystems: plants, bacteria, fungi, insects and other uncharismatic creatures.

At sea, we can see the impact of high sea temperatures through coral bleaching, visible even from space. Sea surface temperatures also reached record highs off the coast of southeast Australia for the second year in a row.

On top of the steady rise of ocean temperature, sea level and acidity, the East Australian Current is strengthening and reaching ever further into the Tasman Sea. The current carries tropical reef species to Sydney and yellowtail kingfish to Tasmania. The warmer water also ravages the remaining kelp forests and stresses Tasmania’s abalone, oyster and salmon industries.

The future is already here

Last year made it abundantly clear that climate change is here now, and here to stay. We will be seeing new heat records for years to come and, sadly, some species and ecosystems are unlikely to survive the onslaught.

But there are still things we can do to limit the damage. Reducing carbon emissions will still help limit future warming. Avoiding the destruction of native ecosystems should be a no-brainer.

That isn’t just about clearing farm land, which is often singled out. Australia’s population has grown by 31% since 2000. We’re adding the equivalent of a city the size of Canberra every year.

Each of us uses space, infrastructure and resources and produces waste at levels far above the global average. If we want our land and oceans to support our privileged lifestyle in future, we have to learn to tread more lightly, and learn it fast.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Albert Van DijkAlbert Van Dijk – [Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University]
Image of Madeleine CahillMadeleine Cahill – [Oceanographer, CSIRO]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Why Australians need a national environment protection agency to safeguard their health

 What if air quality standards were decided  
not by governments but by a dedicated federal body? AAP Image/Dan Peled

Australia needs an independent national agency charged with safeguarding the environment and delivering effective climate policy, according to a new campaign launched today by a coalition of environmental, legal and medical NGOs.

Most Western democracies have established national regulatory action, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency – yet Australia is a notable exception.

Yesterday in Canberra, the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) will hold a symposium on the reform of environmental laws in Australia. If enacted, these proposals would offer protection to Australia’s declining biodiversity and environment, as well as helping to safeguard Australians’ health.

The proposal would involve establishing a a high-level Commonwealth Environment Commission (CEC) that would be responsible for Commonwealth strategic environmental instruments, in much the same way that the Reserve Bank is in charge of economic levers such as interest rates.

The new CEC would manage a nationally coordinated system of environmental data collection, monitoring, auditing and reporting, the conduct of environmental inquiries of a strategic nature, and the provision of strategic advice to the Commonwealth government on environmental matters, either upon request or at its own initiative. The necessary outcomes would then be delivered by government and ministers via a newly created National Environmental Protection Authority (NEPA).

Tomorrow, this call will be echoed by a major alliance of leading environmental groups, including Doctors for the Environment Australia. Similar to the CEC/NEPA proposal, this group has called for an independent “National Sustainability Commission” that would develop conservation plans, monitor invasive species, and set nationally binding air pollution standards and climate adaptation plans.

The new body would replace the EPBC Act, which has failed to deliver the protections it promised in key areas such as land clearing and species protection, and has no role in limiting climate change which is a major factor in species loss.

The new agencies would be in a position to provide authoritative and understandable consensus reports, similar to those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but with a stronger legal basis on which the government should act on its advice.

Why change the system?

The rationale for reform is clear. Only last week the International Energy Agency reported that Earth’s greenhouse emissions have increased yet again. Meanwhile, extreme weather events have increased, while wildlife diversity is on the decline.

Having failed so far to arrest these trends, the governments of countries with high standards of living and high greenhouse emissions should be held particularly accountable. Clearing land and burning forest for firewood are understandable survival strategies for the poor, but unacceptable in rich nations.

Australia’s national laws would be strengthened to address the challenge of climate change and ensure we can mitigate, adapt to and be resilient in the face of a warming world.

Action on climate change, essential to protect biodiversity, is also vital to protect human health as a quarter of world disease has its root causes in environmental change, degradation and pollution.

The World Health Organisation regards climate change as the greatest health threat of the 21st century, a view recognised by the statements of the Australian Medical Association and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

Already, it is responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide, and that figure is projected to rise to 250,000 by 2030. In Australia, air quality reform could prevent an estimated 3,000 air pollution deaths per year.

Causes of current inaction

There are fundamentally two causes of inaction. First, in this increasingly complex world, governments now more than ever need impartial advice based on the best available evidence. Yet all too often, such advice is politicised, ignored, or both.

Second, in leading democracies – particularly in Australia with its relatively short election cycles – the pressure to focus on re-election prospects dictates that governments emphasise jobs, growth, and living standards. It takes strong leadership to promote the interests of future generations as well as current ones.

It seems counterintuitive to suggest that for its survival, a government might need to delegate decisions for human survival to systems beyond its immediate political control. Yet it already does delegate crucial decisions, such as the monthly interest rate calls made by the Reserve Bank.

A newly created CEC and NEPA would be charged with safeguarding the climate, wildlife, fresh water and clean air. It would be in a position to improve air quality to standards recommended by the World Health Organization, protect water quality, and deliver effective climate change mitigation and adaptation policy uniformly in all states.

The success of such a national system would manifest itself in a growing number of decisions similar to the recent rejection of the expansion of Stage 3 of the Acland coal mine. The judge in that case turned it down on the basis of a range of health and environmental transgressions, yet it is currently more common for states to approve this type of developments rather than reject them.

Nationally enforceable standards for resource developments are likely to bring effective preventative health benefits, as well as certainty of process. These reforms present an overdue opportunity for Australia to offer leadership and catch up on lost time, to ameliorate the progression of climate change and biodiversity loss, and thus lessen their future impacts.

This article was written by:
Image of David Shearman
David Shearman – [Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Adelaide]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

You’re paying too much for electricity, but here’s what the states can do about it

 Politician’s energy priorities do not necessarily  
align with those of ordinary Australians. DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

State-owned power networks have spent up to A$20 billion more than was needed on the electricity grid, and households and businesses in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania are paying for it in sky-high power bills.

A new Grattan Institute report, Down to the Wire, shows that electricity customers in these states would be paying A$100-A$400 less each year if the overspend had not happened.

The problem is that state governments, worried about blackouts and growing demand for electricity, encouraged the networks to spend more in the mid-2000s. But the networks overdid it, and now consumers are paying for a grid that is underused, overvalued, or both.

Why we built too much

The grid includes high-voltage transmission lines that carry electricity over large distances, as well as low-voltage poles and wires that connect to homes and businesses. Networks are built to cope with those times of highest demand for electricity. Yet the growth in the value of network assets has far exceeded growth in customer numbers, total demand, or even peak demand.

Demand for electricity did grow rapidly in the early 2000s, but since then it has slowed substantially as more and more households have installed solar panels, and appliances have become more energy efficient. Networks may have overbuilt because they expected that demand would continue to grow.

Yet the overbuilding has occurred almost exclusively in the public networks. Why would government ownership lead to such high costs?

There are two main reasons. First, investment in electricity networks boosts state government revenues because public networks pay a fee to the state to neutralise their lower borrowing costs (as well as the dividend they pay to the state as the owner). Second, a government-owned business might come under political pressure to prioritise goals such as reliability or job creation over cost.

Of course governments worry about reliability – they cop the blame if anything goes wrong. In 2005, the NSW and Queensland governments required their network businesses to build excessive back-up infrastructure to protect against even the most unlikely events. Reliability did improve a bit in some networks, but at significant cost: on average, customers got an extra 45 minutes of electricity a year at a cost of A$270 each.

State governments should take responsibility

Successive state governments in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania are responsible for overinvesting in their networks and, in NSW and Queensland, for setting reliability standards too high.

State governments can’t turn back the clock but they can still fix the mistakes of the past. And they should, because if they don’t, consumers will be paying for decades to come.

Households and businesses that can afford to buy solar panels and batteries will reduce their reliance on the grid. Meanwhile, those left behind – including the most vulnerable Australians – will be stuck with the burden of paying for the grid.

Read more: Energy prices are high because consumers are paying for useless, profit-boosting infrastructure

In Down to the Wire we recommend that where network businesses are still in government hands, the government should write down the value of the assets. This would mean governments forgoing future revenue in favour of lower electricity bills. For recently privatised businesses in NSW, a write-down could create more issues than it solves, so in those cases the state government should refund consumers the difference through a rebate.

At a time when governments are concerned about energy affordability, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania have a real opportunity to do something about it. They should seize it.

How to prevent this happening again

There will always be pressure to spend more. At the moment, concerns about South Australia’s reliability could very well lead to further investment in network infrastructure.

Policymakers must also deal with the risk that, in future, parts of the network may no longer be needed. The grid may need to be reconfigured as new technologies emerge, some communities go off-grid, and new energy sources arise in new locations.

For now, consumers bear this risk: they are locked into paying for assets whether or not they are needed. In future, the risk should be shared between consumers and businesses; this would encourage businesses to avoid overbuilding in the first place and instead consider alternative solutions.

With the focus on reliability right now, governments are at risk of repeating mistakes of the past. The truth is that Australia already has a very reliable grid.

On average across the National Electricity Market, consumers experience less than two-and-a-half hours in unplanned outages per year. Reducing that by a few minutes of supply each year is very expensive. Politicians typically value reliability more than consumers, but ultimately it is consumers who foot the bill.

State governments now have an opportunity to reset the clock – to pay off the mistakes of the past and let consumers guide choices about our future grid.

This article was written by:
Image of Kate Griffiths
Kate Griffiths – [Senior Associate, Grattan Institute]



This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Not getting a social licence to operate can be a costly mistake, as coal seam gas firms have found

 And if you wait too long to survey a community,  
it can end up being too be too late to turn the tide of opinion. 
Richard SwintonAuthor provided

In a wide-ranging recent speech, Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said there was:

…an opportunity for all of us to turn our social licence into a stronger social bond or contract. I believe this is a “make or break” for companies and it’s especially important for those of us in the extractive sectors.

He’s right. His comments serve as a useful reminder of the importance of obtaining a social licence to operate – meaning ongoing local community acceptance of a company’s business.

My research on coal seam gas firms and social licence reveals what’s at stake if they get it wrong, and how they might get it right in the future.

What is a ‘social licence’?

“Social licence to operate” is a term that describes how much community support a project, company or industry has in a region.

Some companies view it as intangible, and put it in the too-hard basket. However, my research has found that there are some relatively simple ways to measure it.

Earning community support isn’t always straightforward. It involves interactions between a complex network of individuals and groups in society, and their views can change over time. It’s more than just getting one or two local representatives on side. If you don’t get that support, community pushback can cause expensive and time-consuming issues for a company. Regulations can change. People take to the streets.

Social licence can be a struggle to maintain, but it can also be a tool for promoting collaboration. Case studies in which this has been achieved effectively are still relatively few and far between, but we’re aiming to change this.

More than just a legal contract

Present legislation requires land access agreements to be drawn up between companies and the landholders on whose land they wish to operate. However, my research has found that this isn’t enough.

It can often create winners and losers. Natural resources such as freshwater systems extend beyond property boundaries. Just outside the land on which a project operates can be exactly where challenges to a social licence begin. We found that the exclusion of important stakeholders (and not treating them as a stakeholder group), can lead to substantial social licence issues.

For example, in the New South Wales Northern Rivers region (which includes places like Lismore, Byron Bay and Mullumbimby) the social movement against the coal seam gas industry began when a group of local ladies were having afternoon tea on their farm. They noticed a drill rig had appeared across the valley to drill on a neighbour’s property.

Those few women, who had never heard of the coal seam gas industry until that moment, nor had they previously participated in activism of any kind, were instrumental in the emergence of the anti-CSG movement.

Protesters at the Bentley Blockade in 2014. csgfreenorthernrivers.org

What drives social licence?

Local context is key. The legitimacy of a project hinges on whether people think a project will create more benefits than problems. And people’s perceptions emerge from a combination of local economics, demographics and social values.

This is where a company needs credibility – a reputation for living up to its commitments and responding to concerns. Having a strong social licence is about not only being seen to be doing the right thing; it’s about actually doing the right thing. It’s also about transparency.

It’s important that government and industry approvals and processes are seen as fair.

Losing your social licence is expensive

Chief executive of gas company Metgsaco, Peter Henderson, explained to me in early 2012 that he viewed social licence as “an opportunity for NIMBYs to complain” (NIMBY meaning: “not in my backyard”). His view was that we had a democratically elected government that people should trust to make decisions on their behalf.

When we spoke again a year later, Metgasco was experiencing major operating restrictions, resulting from regulatory decisions made with what he saw as “absolutely no scientific, risk-management or factual basis”. His firm’s social licence was lost, and social resistance was in full swing.

A survey of Lismore voters that we conducted on behalf of Lismore City Council showed that in September 2012, 87% of voters did not support CSG development.

Hanabeth Luke, Author provided

By 2013, about half of Lismore voters had participated in protest rallies and marches. In 2014, thousands of people camped on the bordering property of a farmer who had signed a contract with Metgasco, at the historic Bentley blockade. Eventually, Metgasco was paid A$25 million as compensation for its cancelled gas licence. The episode came at great cost to both Metgasco and the NSW government.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

Applying social licence across the landscape

Agricultural industries are now starting to recognise social licence as a key issue.

My team’s latest research responds to calls for a strategic approach to social licence in horticulture. Jolyon Burnett, chief executive of the Australian Macadamia Society, has said he views social licence as a “top five” priority – not just because its loss would pose a threat to industry growth and profitability, but because it’s important in its own right. He said:

By understanding what really makes up social licence in each community (because it will differ) and by fostering an understanding of those issues, and a common approach to addressing them, we can build a strong and sustainable relationship between industries (of all kinds) and communities will see us working in partnership, not conflict.

Getting social licence right

The engagement approach you take is everything. This means working in partnership with communities and actively engaging them in the process from the very start. Understanding local perceptions and concerns involves talking to people, but polls and election surveys can help us to understand social licence across an electoral area; how people feel about a company or issue, and why.

Such simple methods can be used to measure a social licence, provide an understanding of local value systems, and establish knowledge levels on relevant issues. Such research can be used to inform industry code of conduct and best practice guidelines.

But before polling can take place, there needs to have been enough information available for people to make an informed decision. And if you wait too long to run a survey it can end up being too be too late to turn the tide of opinion. This is what happened in the Northern Rivers, with expensive results for the firms involved.

You can read more of our research on this here.

This article was written by:
Image of Hanabeth Luke
Hanabeth Luke – [Lecturer, Southern Cross GeoScience, Southern Cross University]



This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Sidelining citizens when deciding on transport projects is asking for trouble

 Victorians who opposed the East West Link before the 
November 2014 election would have felt not much had changed when 
the new government announced the West Gate Tunnel in March 2015. 
Courtney Biggs/AAP

Citizen engagement is, or should be, central to city planning. When it comes to planning and implementing transport infrastructure the focus tends to be on how to engage the public, when to engage, and what form this should take. But we should be asking another, more important question: how can citizen engagement make infrastructure planning more democratic?

In many cases proposed transport infrastructure and the conflicts and debates it provokes are actually about much more than the project proposal. If the project is a new light rail system, for instance, the questions are: Who and what will it serve? What will it look like? And what impacts (positive and negative) will it have on the city over time?

Any efforts then to reduce citizen participation, to stifle the question “What kind of city do we want to be?”, will meet with resistance.

Recent academic and government projects and reports on citizen participation and infrastructure planning have called on our governments to do three things:

  1. consult and engage citizens early in infrastructure planning
  2. improve quality and access of citizen engagement at the strategic planning stages
  3. use more sophisticated strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision-making.

However, a key challenge, as echoed in submissions to a current parliamentary inquiry into city development, is the disconnect between citizen participation and decision-making. To overcome this disconnect, early consultation and new participation platforms are critical. Yet these alone cannot resolve this problem.

How does democracy come into this?

Engaging citizens in a meaningful way in infrastructure planning is good and necessary for many reasons. That we live in a country that purports to be a democracy is central to that argument. But there are other reasons too. These include the potential to make decisions that better respond to citizens’ needs and desires.

Another reason that often goes unstated is that infrastructure is a public thing. Whether it is ultimately publicly or privately owned, operated and controlled, there is a relationship between infrastructure and democracy that ultimately makes infrastructure planning and implementation a contested process. Savvy consultation does not alter this fact.

As the political scientist Bonnie Honig recently argued in her book, Public Things: Democracy in disrepair:

Public things [such as infrastructure] are part of the ‘holding environment’ of democratic citizenship; they furnish the world of democratic life … They also constitute us, complement us, limit us, and interpellate us into democratic citizenship.

Since 2013 I have researched citizen participation in infrastructure planning. The focus has been on multi-billion-dollar, transformational urban transport infrastructure proposals in Australian and Canadian cities.

When citizens lack a meaningful say in which projects shape the city, as with WestConnex, democracy is diminished. Joel Carrett/AAP

My primary focus has been on projects such as the East-West Link and West Gate Tunnel in Melbourne, and Westconnex in Sydney (working with Glen Searle). But my interest is not in contested tollway projects alone. I also examined the 2015 Vancouver plebiscite on transit funding, and the rollout of two light rail projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) in Canada.

Research of this kind into cross-city, cross-country and cross-modal (road and public transport) transit systems produces insights into the relationship between citizen participation and infrastructure planning. It makes visible both party-political and socio-political struggles for the present and future city, which infrastructure – be that a major road or a light rail system – often represents.

Transport infrastructure awakens controversy because these projects embody the debates that frame who we are as a group of people living in a city.

A process of Sidelining citizens

The question of what kind of city we want to be is often left to strategic planning. However, this question needs to remain at the forefront of decision-making in project planning too.

Take the cancellation of the East-West Link project. You would be excused for assuming that this cancellation, following the election of the current Victorian government in 2014, was a rejection of inner-city toll roads and a “roads must be built to tackle congestion” paradigm.

But weeks later the government announced the now A$6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel project. This announcement was met with similar concerns to those raised against the East-West Link. These centred on the very undemocratic processes that produced these projects in the first place.

The go-ahead for the West Gate Tunnel confirmed a change of government in Victoria did little to change top-down decision-making.James Ross/AAP

Another key concern was about the efficacy of building tollways when other valued alternatives such as public transport are not only available but also desired. Indeed, these are set out as ambitions for the future city in a succession of metropolitan plans.

In the weeks and months after the West Gate Tunnel announcement, a community liaison group and then a public process of evaluating the environmental effects were organised. This did result in some design modifications. However, this was a process about how best to manage out conflict and limit engagement to questions about design.

This is common practice for transport infrastructure planning across Australia. It it is not what can be reasonably called “best practice” in citizen engagement.

The lack of transparency and carefully controlled consultation remove the publicness of infrastructure.

Market-led planning and its impacts

The West Gate Tunnel is a case study in both market-led planning and how these processes can be an assault on democratic, participatory planning. These proposals and other public-private partnership schemes continue to be devised, as seen recently with a proposed “super city” in East Werribee.

It’s clear more needs to be said about the links between citizen participation and infrastructure planning in this context. To design better citizen consultation is to better understand what galvanises citizen interest and protest.

It is more than just the project. It is what the project represents. In many cases, it is a departure from a clearly stated vision for the city.

Our ability as citizens to assert what is in the public interest – throughout the infrastructure planning process – can be further severed when unsolicited proposals become commonplace.

A way forward

A recent alliance between the Coalition and the Greens in the upper house revoked the West Gate Tunnel planning amendment. It’s a reminder that any planning process that undermines inclusive citizen participation and ignores the publicness of infrastructure planning will meet with resistance. Westconnex, the East-West Link, Roe8 in Perth, and now the West Gate Tunnel are all examples of this.

Infrastructure cannot be divorced from the city and its citizens. But as long as citizen engagement is limited, infrastructure will be a hotly contested area of decision-making.

This article was written by:
Image of Crystal Legacy
Crystal Legacy – [Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne]



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Articulate US teenagers could finally force action on gun control

For the first time in decades, there is now a  
real possibility that some gun controls might be implemented.Colin Abbey/AAP

On Wednesday in the US, thousands of students left their classrooms in a national day of action designed to force political change on gun crime. Following the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this walkout is part of an extraordinary national movement. Young people across the US are doing what countless others have tried and failed to do: using grassroots strategies to take on the powerful gun lobby.

The US has an epidemic of gun crime. Mass shootings occur every day, and school shootings have become so common that over 170 schools and some 150,000 students have been affected by school-based gun violence since 1999.

Beyond the psychological trauma such attacks inflict, these shootings have a profound effect on academic success rates.

Author provided/The Conversation

And yet, in spite of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want tighter gun control laws, very little is done to stem the presence of guns in schools, or the ability of Americans to access high-powered weaponry with relative ease.

Policy inertia and the NRA

The main reason for this inertia is the extraordinary influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Since it turned to a more aggressive lobbying strategy in the 1970s, the NRA has helped redefine the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, bestowed a divine blessing on guns, and bent half of Congress to its will.

The NRA succeeds because it has created powerful (and mostly false or distorted) narratives to support gun use. It deploys familiar tropes to distract from tragedies. When gun-related tragedy hits, NRA-backed politicians call for “thoughts and prayers”. 

Reports out of Texas are devastating. The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.

The reality of US gun deaths is set against such pro-gun arguments, and each tragedy widens the stark divide between those who associate guns with freedom, and those who see them as devices for terror. So, when others call for legislative action, as they did following the massacre at Sandy Hook and other mass shootings, the gun lobby scolds them for “politicising tragedy”.

But murdered kids are political. Sandy Hook exposed the US to the faces of erstwhile happy kindergarteners, their lives snuffed out by a disturbed young man with easy access to guns. It’s an all-too-familiar story for Americans and, by international comparison, a unique one at that.

Yet the resulting push for change soon turned to despair: many came to believe that if 26 deaths at an elementary school can’t bring Congress to act, nothing can.

Gun laws and the possibility of change

The last last major piece of gun control legislation to pass Congress was the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. It was specifically designed to reduce the incidence of mass shootings, and targeted the enhanced killing power of assault rifles. But, under sustained attack from the gun lobby, the ban expired under its “sunset clause”.

Since then, the one major piece of gun legislation in the US, in spite of the national rise in mass and school shootings, has been an act designed to protect gun manufacturers in 2005.

Now, for the first time in decades, there is a real possibility that some gun controls might be implemented. The NRA, as well as numerous politicians associated with it, are facing significant pressure to act.

Recent news footage showed Senator Marco Rubio and the NRA’s Dana Loesh publicly sparring with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, to a chorus of boos and jeers. Millions witnessed their discomfort.


This has already led to some action by states. Florida is looking to pass age restrictions and waiting periods for gun purchases, and Oregon has imposed gun prohibitions on domestic abusers and those with restraining orders.

Even President Donald Trump, who has been keen to show off his pro-gun credentials in the past, has recognised the public outcry. He has called for regulation of bump-stocks and age restrictions (though he is wavering on both).

The high school advocates

The reason gun control looks possible right now is largely due to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Beyond the pressure they have been applying directly to the NRA and politicians, the students have been busy using advocating on social media, writing op-edsorganising rallies and walkoutsmaking media appearancesand pressuring companies to drop support for the NRA or pro-gun politicians.

Students all over the US walked out of classrooms on Wednesday to mark one month since the mass shooting that killed 17 at a school in Florida.Michael Reynolds/AAP

As a result of these efforts, the students are presenting important, emotionally powerful counter-narratives to those of the gun lobby. They are offering examples of successful gun control and pointing out that guns in schools are the problem, not the solution. They are also forming a coalition in opposition to the well-organised 2-4 million members of the NRA and affiliated organisations.

Whether these efforts are successful or not will depend largely on whether they are sustained. This is why the gun lobby calls for “hopes and prayers” and to not “politicise tragedy”. These are stalling tactics: if the NRA can wait it out, while at the same time applying pressure to its political allies, nothing gets done.

However, the gun lobby has not faced a political force like this before. While it is inevitable that media attention will eventually wane, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and around the country have access to tools — such as social media — that circumvent traditional outlets. They also have the ability to draw the national spotlight back, especially via their use of rallies and walkouts.

These tactics reinvigorate the Democratic base and ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans, already jittery following a string of shock political losses.

If the passion and dedication they have shown so far is sustained, especially as the congressional midterm elections approach, the young people of the US might just be able do what no one has done in decades, and force action on gun control.

This article was written by:
Image of George RennieGeorge Rennie – [Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne]




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For Australians to have the choice of growing old at home, here is what needs to change

 When an ageing person is forced to move out of  
their family home, that can trigger a host of problems that policy is 
doing little to prevent. Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

Ooh, a storm is threatening my very life today / If I don’t get some shelter / Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away…

Mick Jagger won’t ever need to be concerned about having somewhere to live, but older people have worried about where they will spend their final years since long before the Rolling Stones sang to a generation’s insecurities in 1969. Many wish to stay in their homes, but current policy doesn’t support age-friendly housing. It also makes it difficult for ageing people to manage their finances.

The population of people aged 65 and over in Australia is projected to grow from 3.7 million to 8.7 million by 2056. Cities, towns and housing need to be designed to help people stay at home as they age. Financial policy should be updated to enable them to better manage their assets.

Gwen’s story

Five years before her death, Gwen (not her real name) and her family faced a dilemma. Like many Australians, Gwen had juggled a succession of jobs, eventually owning her modest home. Following a fall, hospitalisation and rehab, her prognosis was not good.

Gwen wanted to die at home, or with her family. Should members of the family move into her house? Should she move into one of her adult children’s houses? What about their children?

Should they rent out the family properties, so Gwen and volunteering family members could cohabit in a more suitable rented property? Could they afford a house with the flexibility to handle two adults, one elderly person, possibly kids and pets?

For families like Gwen’s, there are few viable, let alone affordable, housing options. Gwen’s housing shuffle proved stressful for everyone. She was ultimately placed, against her wishes, in a nursing home. Aged 82, deprived of any sovereignty in her decision-making, Gwen passed away, but the family arguments and blame continued.

What is stopping people ‘ageing in place’?

Gwen’s deck of dominoes could not be reconfigured because of the housing, tax and financial barriers imposed by the same governments that are trying to implement “ageing in place”.

Ageing in place isn’t just about ageing at home. It’s about keeping older people connected to their neighbourhood and community as part of a broader framework of “active ageing”, with the aim of improving their quality of life and giving them more control over their circumstances.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) released its Active Ageing policy framework in 2002, federal governments have endorsed this approach. The 2013 Living Longer Living Better reforms and last year’s Legislated Review of Aged Care promote emotional and mental preparation for old age, which is important for active ageing.

However, many aspects of policy in Australia undermine successful ageing in place.

A lack of suitable housing

First, ageing Australians have a limited choice of suitable housing, as the Productivity Commission has highlighted.

Livable Housing Australia’s guidelines recommend installing nonslip floors and grab rails and retrofitting rooms to help keep them at a comfortable temperature. This improves home liveability and reduces risks of harm for occupants. Incremental measures like these also have beneficial ripple effects by making housing suitable for all ages. However, such guidelines are not yet widely implemented.

The ability to influence what is built, and where, can greatly enhance or inhibit well-being. Denmark and Canada are already running with the 8 80 Cities concept, which aims to transform cities so they meet the needs of people of all ages. It’s a good example for Australian planners.

Greater Sydney Commission Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull inspects transport construction work in Sydney. Danny Casey/AAP

Local governments need to embrace redevelopment models that provide better ageing-in-place options for communities. The Greater Sydney Commission recently took a step in the right direction with its plans to increase housing supply and affordability. Its investigation into improving transport options and amenities could also enhance liveability.

The City of Melbourne’s Places for People strategy and the Age-Friendly Victoria initiative commit to housing that meets the WHO’s essential age-friendly city features. These programs recognise that placemaking is strongly linked with successful ageing in place.

Read more: Eight simple changes to our neighbourhoods can help us age well

Financial penalties for moving

Most Australians lack the financial means to customise their homes as they age. Safety concerns will eventually collide with their desire for independent living, forcing a devil’s choice. The decision to enter aged care can be very difficult for people and their families. Taxation and pension rules that prevent them managing their assets without losses worsen the situation.

If governments want to promote active ageing, then older people must be given more flexibility in managing their assets. This means allowing them to sell the family home, take the tax-free asset value, downsize to a suitable smaller property, and put the leftover money into their super without penalties in the form of stamp duty, tax or loss of benefits.

Many people don’t want to give up home ownership, especially as a family home doubles as a tax shelter. Ideally, a compact property would be preferable, designed to accommodate any generation, and with better access to the amenities and services needed later in life. Then, should they eventually need high-level care, the home could be rented out, providing an income stream to help cover medical and care expenses.

Future-proofed properties like this mostly do not exist in Australia. They don’t exist because, thanks to current policy, the elderly are reluctant to monetise their tax-free asset (the family home) to buy such properties and thus generate a demand to be met by developers.

Read more: Downsizing cost trap awaits retirees – five reasons to be wary

Where do you want to die?

Baby boomers are living longer and are more mindful of their health and lifestyle. However, a recent survey found that only a small percentage were planning their financial future so they could live independently for as long as possible. And a growing number of seniors lack the income to cover the unforeseen costs that arise later in life.

Governments need to step up public information campaigns to encourage people to prepare for their old age. Without it, the confronting question “Where do you want to die?” cannot be feasibly answered.

Governments and the private sector can also take action to:

  • acknowledge the tax shelter status of private homes alongside the tax shelter status of superannuation
  • reduce transaction costs such as stamp duty that discourage moving before it becomes essential, as it often does for the over-80s
  • remove disincentives to releasing equity in the family home (for example, the pension means tests on proceeds in interaction with the pension and superannuation systems)
  • with the growth of the tiny house movement, ensure a wider variety of housing stock, styles and locations to support ageing in place
  • encourage emerging home ownership models, such as home equity release, reverse mortgages, fractional property investment and co-operative housing – to name a few.

These initiatives would allow people to find and create homes that offer shelter from the ageing “perfect storm” already under way in Australia.

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So many public toilets are a last resort – why not a restful refuge?

 Functional, yes. Possibly clean, too. But most of our 
public toilets aren’t inviting. Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons

In the late 1980s our friends living on Sydney’s Palm Beach in the old Beacon Tea Rooms had no flushing toilet. One of them, a judge’s son and architect, used a galvanised bucket, which got picked up once a week. The other, a Czech émigré, used the public toilet block across the road. Interestingly this European preferred the government-cleaned facility to the basic but more personal alternative to carry out this most private domestic routine.

This toilet block, like so many others, was not responding to its breathtaking location. Instead it was a sturdy brick bunker worthy of being an air raid shelter. There is a term in the Australian vernacular that refers to these structures: “built like a brick outhouse”. I’ve paraphrased slightly.

Beautiful place, bog standard toilets. Frank & Donnis Travel Blog 

What does this say about us?

The public toilet is where we all carry out a very private and undeniably basic human need. These facilities set the tone for public conduct and expectations. They are a built expression of our values.

So what is the preoccupation with the bomb-proofing of this kind of vital public infrastructure? Is it expressing a perception of our fellow citizens and their expected behaviour?

Designer Tibor Kalman created a button reading ‘Them=Us’, a message that seems lost on many of us. Imgrum

study by Hazel Easthope of neighbourhood expectations in Sydney’s Green Square found that while 89% said they would help their neighbour, only 52% expected their neighbour to help them. That is an interesting bit of data, revealing an incongruent attitude: it’s not me – it’s them!

After all, who is the public that ends up using these toilets? It is people like you and me and others like and unlike us.

As such how do people respond to the need for privacy, for comfort, for a place to compose oneself, to refresh and groom? Are they a temporary refuge from being out there amongst them, in the public? Do I come out with a feeling of dignity and gratitude for the city after I’ve flushed?

Warren Buffett said if you want to ensure the success of your brand you need to truly delight your customers. On my daily journeys through the city as an able-bodied, middle-aged male, the toilets that I use are neither delightful nor enchanting. At best they work and are bearable. They make me feel like I’m being begrudgingly accommodated, my need tolerated, rather than feeling delighted.

Interestingly, public toilets are not unisex, like those we use at home, at friends’ houses or on airplanes. Is this a contributing factor in making them places for illicit activities and lending them a seedy feel?

Public toilets are also one of the most incendiary battlegrounds in the transgender community’s ongoing fight for civil rights, as these spaces have been for women, African-Americans and the disabled community. Social attitudes are literally imbricated in these structures, which are slow to change with our zeitgeist.

Inconvenient public conveniences

Even when we finally find one that is open – not an easy task at times – and made it in time to deal with this pressing need at the forefront of our mind, we generally find a space that is hardly the result of a masterclass in excellent design. Thankfully, there are some notable exceptions.

An economical layout, trimmed down to its absolute bare minimum. kgbo/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Usually we find ourselves in one of the most economical layouts possible trimmed down to its absolute bare minimum – and, if lucky, with ventilation and light both working.

Universal toilets introduced at least an element of spaciousness. Thanks to wheelchair users, you no longer need to hold your breath in a claustrophobically small space.

However, there is often no provision for the things that we carry with us when we move through the city. If there is a hook on the back of the door, it’s often broken. Putting a bag on a public toilet floor or a wet sink surround does not appeal.

But have you ever tried washing your hands with your bag hanging off your shoulder? Sure it can be done, but it is neither an easy nor enjoyable experience. You have to contort your body to make up for reaching forwards, bending and leaning into the sink to get your hands under the water, not to mention to get the tap activated or soap out of the dispenser.

So I have to hang my bag over the retractable door closer arm. If only I could be sure the automated door is actually locked, because it can be hard to decipher what the tiny flashing lights actually indicate.

Shiny, clean, but not exactly relaxing if you’re trying to work out what the flashing lights mean. Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA

How much harder it must be to use a public toilet while looking after children! Their cries would sound sweet and melodic compared to the acoustic assault from the air hand drier.

Public toilets are on public land. When and how exactly did we decide that these conveniences have to be so inconvenient, and often downright unpleasant, to use?

It doesn’t have to be this way

Singapore’s Changi airport public toilets show what can be done. eLjeProks/flickr, CC BY-NC

Singapore Airport shows what can be done. It has large spacious toilets, which are wonderful – they even have multiple hooks! A wheelie case can effortlessly be brought into the cubicle.

These toilets are quiet, clean and smell good. One can look at lush tropical gardens while using a urinal or washing hands.

These toilets communicate to me that my needs are understood. They provide a place that makes me feel appreciated and supported, where I can recover for a moment, regain myself, feel dignified and emerge feeling fresher and less weary. They set the tone for public conduct.

Toilets like this say, we respect and we appreciate you and we offer you this to make you feel better. As a result, I conduct myself accordingly and not begrudgingly. I leave delighted and deeply impressed by Singapore’s attitude towards its guests.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the feeling we could all have when leaving public toilets?

This article was written by:
Image of Christian Tietz Christian Tietz – [Senior Lecturer in Industrial Design, UNSW]




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