How do we turn a drain into valued green space? First, ask the residents

Stony Creek drain: untidy and often slightly  
threatening,informal green space still has value for residents,which 
appropriate intervention can enhance. Author provided (No reuse)


This article is based on a paper being presented at the State of Australian Cities Conference in Adelaide, November 28-30.

The green infrastructure of our cities includes both publicly owned, designed and delineated areas and less formal, unplanned areas of vegetation — informal green spaces. These spaces account for a large proportion of urban green areas. However, they are often among the most overlooked and neglected urban spaces, which contributes to negative perceptions, a recent study has found.

Yet informal green spaces represent a largely untapped opportunity to improve liveability and residents’ health and social well-being. Especially in lower socioeconomic areas that lack formal green spaces, improving the condition of informal green spaces can promote their use and enhance neighbourhood liveability.

We can’t afford to waste green space

Green spaces are important indicators of quality of life in cities and suburbs. They are shown to have a wide range of positive impacts.

For residents, the benefits include physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. The multiple environmental benefits include ecosystem servicesimproving microclimate and reducing air pollution, alongside biodiversity conservation.

Owing to such benefits, governments invest a lot in greening projects or improving green spaces. Sometimes these interventions include informal green spaces to increase their accessibility, use and potential benefits to residents.

Picture of a concrete waterway
The researchers surveyed residents about the Upper Stony Creek channel area. Author provided

Upper Stony Creek, an urban waterway restoration in Melbourne’s west, is a good example. Work will soon transform the concrete drainage channel, now separated from the residential area, into an accessible urban wetland and park.

Further reading: How Melbourne’s west was greened

Residents’ perceptions and uses

Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub researchers from RMIT University investigated residents’ perceptions and uses of Upper Stony Creek and the adjacent informal green space before the start of the intervention.

Interviews with residents showed overall impressions of the site were negative. An overwhelming majority of them commented on the site’s undesirable features.

Lack of regular maintenance, lack of access, feeling unsafe and litter were among their main concerns. Safety concerns included natural hazards, such as the presence of snakes (encouraged by a lack of regular maintenance), crime and local drug trade. These concerns affected when and how often residents used the site.

The negative perceptions suggested residents were looking forward to the intervention. They believed it would improve the informal green space and their neighbourhood.

Picture of a concrete channel with green open land beside it
Residents do use the informal green space alongside the concrete channel.

In spite of their misgivings, residents found value in using the area for practices typically found in formal green spaces such as dog-walking. They also used it for less typical practices such as motorbike riding. The lack of restrictions in these spaces allows for uses that might not be acceptable in more formalised urban spaces.

In fact, residents appreciated the sense of exploration, informality and feelings of being away from urbanisation that the site provided.

Informal green spaces are filling a niche not met by more formal green spaces. This means interventions to transform informal green spaces should, where possible, take into account residents’ current uses of these areas.

Further reading: More than just drains: recreating living streams through the suburbs

Ensuring work improves these spaces

Our findings highlight the importance of considering and understanding residents’ perceptions and concerns about informal green spaces for informing work on these spaces.

Our case study suggests small interventions, which aim to resolve the main concerns such as lack of maintenance and safe access, can increase the use of informal green spaces without resorting to entirely formalising the space. In fact, understanding residents’ needs and expectations could result in more cost-effective interventions that won’t jeopardise the informal character of such areas.

Each informal green space will be unique in its features and characteristics, as will residents’ perceptions of it. Therefore, understanding these sites and residents’ lived experiences and concerns more completely through in-depth consultation will be important to ensure interventions meet community needs and expectations.

A sound knowledge of how informal green spaces are used, or of why they are not being used, can inform planners and decision-makers when intervening in such spaces to increase the liveability of urban neighbourhoods.

The authors welcome collaboration with local councils and other organisations to help understand residents’ uses and perceptions of informal green spaces when undertaking improvements or waterway restorations.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Leila Mahmoudi FarahaniLeila Mahmoudi Farahani – [Research Officer in Urban Studies, RMIT University]
Image of Cecily MallerCecily Maller – [Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University]






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Listen To Older Voices reaches a 1,000 program milestone

1,000 unbroken weekly interviews is quite a record
On Monday 23rd October, Listen To Older Voices [LTOV] will celebrate it’s 1,000th continuous weekly program.
Never heard of Listen To Older Voices? Well, maybe it’s time you did!
The program was first aired nationally in October of 1998. It had that embryonic national start with Hannah Sky and Jaycey Hall.
At that time the program was operating under the auspice of the Upper Yarra Community house which is located in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley.
The Listen To Older Voices program commenced and continues to be part of the Melba Community Support program which in turn is now part of Uniting Wesley.
The idea for the program seems to have had its genesis when workers employed by the Upper Yarra Community House who were visiting people who were socially and or geographically isolated, realised that the older people they were speaking with had amazing stories  about their upbringing and the times they lived in.
Workers would take a small portable cassette deck and record some of the stories of these older folk. Then the local community radio station in Woori Yallock [YV-FM] became involved and in fact is the host community station for the program and has remained involved from it’s inception until today.
From this very basic start Hannah and Jaycey worked hard to gather stories and convince the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia [CBAA] to take the program for national distribution.
In 2004, the job of program producer, interviewer and editor was taken over by myself and continue through to today.
The program has continued to grow both in its reach and in it’s style of presentation.
Picture of Rob Greaves in his studio
Rob Greaves in his studio editing Listen To Older Voices
The most popular format for the program, as initiated by Hannah and Jaycey, was what is called, the “Life and Times” format. This is where person is encouraged to recall stories of their early life through until present time.
In those early years each person interviewed generally had a single program, but as the program developed and gained a wider audience it was changed with each persons story being given more time so that more of the persons story could be told.
Currently, each story/interview runs for three programs, with four programs being used on occasions. 
As technology advanced LTOV kept pace. Recordings provided for those interviewed moved across from cassette to CD. Initially each program was on a mini disk and mailed to the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Now they are uploaded directly to both the CBAA satellite server and the Toorak Times.
The program continues to be broadcast weekly by YV-FM and approximately 26 community radio stations across Australia take the program regularly.

In recent years both the Melba program and Listen To Older Voices moved under the auspice of Wesley Uniting. This has meat the program has access to older people across all the regions of Melbourne and that means an even greater variety of stories.

In December of 2014 Mick Pacholli who is the publisher of the Toorak Times was approached about podcasting Listen To Older Voices. Mick, who is very astute, saw the potential in the program immediately.
So it is that every Monday at the time when the program is made available to the CBAA, a podcast of the same program is published on the Toorak Times and it’s arts magazine, Tagg.
This has increased the audience many fold.
Yet LTOV is much more than a story of technology and audience reach. Each story features the life of an Australian, born here or overseas, and who is of 65 years of age or older.
Recently, with the Baby Boomer generation moving not just past the 65 year age but into the 70 year age group, LTOV Baby Boomer generation programs, featuring the stories of this generation have been added to the programs presented.
As this is a generation that not just saw great change like its predecessors, but is a generation that drove change with a passion, it provides a whole different outlook on life as experienced by that generation.
Listen To Older Voices reminds us that those we think of as “older people’ not only have made a contribution to this country, to the state they live in and to their local community, but in so many cases continue to do so despite their age.
This is the essence of the concept the program calls  “positive ageing”. It reminds us all that age is not a barrier to Australian’s undertaking activities that continue to contribute to making this country so great. 
Other more recent changes have seen the introduction of “Golden Moments” programs, where past programs are taken from the “Vault of Treasured Programs” and replayed for the benefit of those who may have missed that program the first time it was aired.
Australia has become a wonderful nation and in many ways the envy of many countries. However, it did not get this way because of its sports stars and politicians, which if you watch commercial television and read the syndicated dailies, is what is you might conclude.
It IS the average everyday Australian that has made this country what it is!
Listen To Older Voices reminds us of this. It is now probably the longest running interview format program on radio or television featuring older people and with continued financial support from the commonwealth government through its Commonwealth Home Support program, will continue for many more years.
Speaking as the programs longest working producer and interviewer I say – “It is a privilege to work on this program. I don’t just get invited into people’s homes, I get invited into their lives, and, I take that very responsibly”.
There have been many hundreds of Australian’s interviewed, and everyone has a story, and every story should be told.
Among them is the story of Clem Gracie that helped LTOV become a national award winning program when in 2006, it came runner up to non other than the juggernaut, the ABC, in the category of “National – radio, news and public affairs” category of awards run by the organization, Older People Speaking Out.
Not bad for a one-person operation on a shoe-string budget up against the mighty national broadcaster!
Other outstanding interviews, and there have been many, include Jack Charles.
Jack is a much loved and iconic figure in both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities. He is among many things, an actor, musician, potter, and Aboriginal elder.  Jack featured as the subject in 2012 when his photo won the National Photographic Portrait Prize. He was a National Finalist as the Senior Australian of the Year in 2016 and recently, Anh Do’s portrait of Jack won the 2017 Archibald People’s Choice Award.
The winning photograph of Jack Charles
The winning photograph of Jack Charles. Photographed by Rod McNicol
So on Monday October 23rd the 1000th Listen To Older Voice’s program will air across the CBAA and via the Toorak Times and Tagg podcast. It features the Life and Times story of a 71 year old Baby Boomer by the name of Norman (Normie) Rowe AM.
Why does Normie hold pride of place as the 1000th program? Well, listen to his story and it will be obvious. While he was at one time the most popular entertainer in Australia, particularly in the 1960’s and still continues with his music career today, it really is because of his unswerving commitment, passion and dedication to Australian veterans of the Vietnam War that his story stands out.
Picture of Normie Rowe
Normie Rowe AM
You are encouraged to seek out this 4-part program and indeed, those that will follow.
Now while there will be many wonderful programs following the Normie Rowe story, past programs can also be accessed at anytime. There is a link at the bottom of all podcast LTOV programs that will take you to any previous podcast program.
Remember the 1,000th program can be listened to via the Toorak Times/Tagg as of Monday 23rd October and can be accessed by clicking on here.



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:





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]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Stuck in traffic: we need a smarter approach to congestion than building more roads

Stuck in traffic Traffic congestion is concentrated  
along particular routes, such as the Eastern Freeway/Hoddle Street corridor 
in Melbourne. Julian Smith/AAP

The equation doesn’t look pretty. Traffic congestion costs us billions of dollars each year – so we are told – and population growth is not letting up. When road rage meets large economic costs, it’s little wonder our politicians are desperate to do something.

The trouble is, too often that “something” is a great big new freeway. Building more roads isn’t the best answer, because the roads we have are mostly up to the job – if only we could make better use of them by spreading traffic out beyond the morning and evening peaks.

Instead of focusing on freeways, governments should change the way we pay for urban roads and public transport. To work out how best to do this, the Grattan Institute has looked at several million Google Maps estimates of travel times in Australia’s largest cities. This analysis reveals both the extent of the problem in Sydney and Melbourne and its city-specific characteristics.

For many, the problem is minor

The truth is, for a lot of people, road congestion doesn’t matter much. This is because most people work in a suburb close to where they live.

Chart 1 shows congestion delays for Sydney’s 146 most-common commuting trips.

Chart 1: For many Sydney commuters, congestion is very modest

Additional minutes compared to free flow

The horizontal black line in the coloured bar is the median of all journey-to-work routes, weighted by the number of people who used a car to travel to work on those routes in the 2011 Census reference week. Trip times were estimated by assuming all travel between suburbs was between representative addresses for each suburb. Routes with fewer than 400 such commuters are not included. Grattan analysis of Google Maps, and ABS (2011)

The average delay is small: an average commute at the busiest time of day takes around three minutes longer than the same trip in the middle of the night.

While some commutes are delayed for much longer, it is unusual for trips to take more than ten minutes extra in peak periods.

Congestion is a problem in the CBD and inner suburbs

Unsurprisingly, the story is different, and worse, in and around central Sydney and Melbourne. Add in all the trucks and vans, students and tradies, shoppers and people going to appointments, and typical delays for travel on CBD-bound journeys are substantially greater (Chart 2).

Chart 2: On commutes into Sydney’s CBD, the average morning-peak delay is 11 minutes

The horizontal black line in the coloured bar is the median of all journey-to- work routes, weighted by the number of people who used a car to travel to work on those routes in the 2011 Census reference week. Trip times were estimated by assuming all travel between suburbs was between representative addresses for each suburb. Routes with fewer than 400 such commuters are not included. Grattan analysis of Google Maps, and ABS (2011)

The trends are similar in Melbourne. Travel on CBD-bound journeys is much more delayed than to non-CBD locations.

Chart 3 also shows that delays are noticeably larger in the suburbs that immediately surround Melbourne’s CBD.

Chart 3: Travel in suburbs surrounding the Melbourne CBD is highly delayed

Increase in travel time relative to free flow travel time

Average delay is calculated as the ratio of trip duration at each point throughout the day to the minimum trip duration observed for that route over the sample period. Based on travel. time of representative route samples collected via Google Maps. Weekends and public holidays excluded. Grattan analysis of Google Maps

Some commutes are frustratingly unpredictable

Most travellers don’t just care about how long a trip usually takes. How long it could take also matters.

Chart 4 shows that Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway/Hoddle Street corridor has not only some of city’s worst delays, but also some of the least-predictable travel times. Motorists from suburbs to the north-east have to juggle these less-reliable travel times more than those travelling similar distances from other directions.

Chart 4: Travel on routes to Melbourne’s CBD that rely on Eastern Freeway and Hoddle Street are noticeably delayed and unreliable

Increase in travel time as a proportion of free-flow travel time, weekday morning peak, commutes into Melbourne CBD

For travel departing between 7am and 9 am. Excludes weekends and public holidays. The boxes cover the 25th to 75th percentiles. The vertical line in each box lies at the median for each city. The ‘whiskers’ on each side of the boxes extend no further than plus or minus 1.5w where ‘w’ is the box width. Observations beyond the lines are plotted as dots. Grattan analysis of Google Maps

New roads are not the whole answer

Congestion tends to be worst in the most built-up parts of Sydney and Melbourne, where it would be most costly to construct new roads. This means that even crippling levels of congestion might not justify the construction of astronomically expensive infrastructure.

In any case, new roads often take years to build and can fill up with new traffic of their own.

New roads are important, however, in new suburbs.

The rule for our policymakers should be: build a road whenever the community will gain more from the new road than it will cost, and whenever the new road is a better option for the community than extracting more from the roads we’ve already got. But do not think of new roads as congestion-busting.

So what should be done?

Changing the way we use our existing infrastructure through pricing needs to be at the top of the agenda. This mean charging motorists for the congestion they cause.

Sydney and Melbourne need to consider introducing a congestion charge. That doesn’t mean more toll roads – it means charging people who drive at peak times on congested roads a small fee.

Because some people wouldn’t think it worth paying the charge at the busiest times of day, those who did pay would get a quicker and more reliable trip. People who can travel outside of the peaks would not have to pay, because there would be no congestion charge when the roads are not congested.

The increased cost to drivers could be offset by cuts to car registration fees. And any extra money raised by the congestion charge could be spent improving train, tram, bus and ferry services.

International examples show that introducing a congestion charge need not amount to political suicide. An initially sceptical public came quickly to accept, value, the reform when it was introduced in London and Stockholm.

The congestion equation for Sydney and Melbourne is only going to get more ugly as both cities continue to grow. We need more sophisticated policymaking to ease drivers’ road rage and frustrations.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Marion Terrill Marion Terrill – [Transport Program Director, Grattan Institute]
Image of Hugh BatrouneyHugh Batrouney – [Senior Associate, Grattan Institute]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Flu is a tragic illness. How can we get more people to vaccinate?

Flu Vaccination 
Most people don’t take flu seriously enough.

Flu (influenza) has traditionally been the underdog of vaccine-preventable diseases. People tend not to worry about the flu too much, and there are various myths about its prevention and the vaccine. It’s true most people experience flu as a mild disease, but many don’t recognise it can be more severe.

Each year flu is estimated to kill at least 3,000 Australians aged over 50 years alone. It took more children’s lives than any other vaccine preventable disease in Australia between 2005-2014, and is the most common vaccine preventable disease that sends Australian children to hospital.

The tragic death of eight-year-old Rosie Andersen from flu last week has followed the recent outbreaks in aged care facilities and subsequent deaths of residents in South AustraliaTasmania and Victoria. A 30-year-old father died earlier this month due to complications from the flu, and now Sarah Hawthorn, who was infected late in her pregnancy, remains in a coma, unaware her baby was safely delivered six weeks ago.

This year’s flu season has been a bad one. And it’s not over yet.

Australian studies have shown the flu vaccine can usually reduce the risk of flu in those who are vaccinated by 40-50%, and by 50-60% for childrenEarly indications are showing the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine may be lower.

Experts are calling for a better vaccine, which is needed. But even a more effective vaccine won’t address all the barriers to uptake.

Who’s most at-risk?

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for any person six months of age or older who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with flu. It’s free for certain groups at higher risk of the severe effects of the disease including:

• people over 65 (80% of whom are vaccinated)

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months to five years (12% of whomare vaccinated)

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 15 (34% of whom are vaccinated)

• pregnant women (45% of whom are vaccinated)

• people aged six months and over with medical conditions such as severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes (58% of these adults are vaccinated, and 27% of these children).

Why don’t they vaccinate?

Researchers have looked at why many people in these groups don’t have their yearly flu vaccine. A common theme emerges – health professionals are not recommending it enough, people aren’t aware they need it, they’re not sufficiently motivated, or they don’t have easy access.

These themes come out in studies with parents of  young children,  pregnant women,  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander childrenadults with other disease, and people over 65.

Image of a syringe
The flu vaccine isn’t free for all kids. from

Our research is now looking at the children who end up in hospital with severe flu. We’re trying to better understand the barriers to flu vaccination, along with vaccine efficacy issues.

We’ve heard that not only are health care workers not recommending it enough, some doctors are even recommending against it, as they don’t believe the child is at risk. This is even though over half of children hospitalised from the flu are those without medical risk factors. Other times it’s simple awareness – parents didn’t know their child can receive a flu vaccine if they’re over the age of six months.

Busy lives can mean making time to go to the clinic for a vaccine falls down the list of priorities. A four-year-old in our study was hospitalised only three days before a visit to the clinic had been booked.

Some of the children in our study were not theoretically at high risk of flu and so not in the group where the vaccine is free. This was a major barrier, as it has been in other studies in children and adults. Parents report to us that their child is up-to-date with their scheduled vaccines, but annual flu vaccination is not being ticked off as it’s not on the schedule.

The challenge with flu vaccine is it’s given yearly. In the UK it’s recommended and funded for all children of primary school age using a school-based delivery program and currently between 53-58% of children have it. When this many children are vaccinated there can be indirect protection of others who are not vaccinated because the virus is not able to spread from person to person as easily.

Misconceptions about the flu vaccine

Misconceptions about flu vaccine are also a barrier: that it causes flu, that it’s not effective, that it’s not needed. People might say they never get the flu, not realising symptoms can be mild or not noticed and they can pass it on to the vulnerable. Others reported their belief was that the flu was not a serious disease. Some believed contracting flu “naturally” was likely to provide greater immunity.

Some parents also have concerns about the safety of the flu vaccine. Australians were spooked by a 2010 incident when there was a temporary suspension of flu vaccine for children under five after reports of an increase in the rate of convulsions in children.

The one vaccine found to be the cause (BioCSL/Sequiris Fluvax™) is no longer approved for use in children younger than five, but there are other seasonal flu vaccines children can have. But public and professional confidence is yet to fully recover, despite having reassuring safety data.

Image of a flu virus
People may say they never get the flu so they don’t need the vaccine, but you can pass on the virus without knowing you have it. from
Western Australia has had a free child vaccine program for years which was achieving relatively good coverage, but this dramatically declined after 2010, and coverage languishes at around 15% today. In other words, mud sticks.

How to improve uptake

To improve uptake we first need timely and accurate coverage figures. We now have the capacity to get coverage estimates from the expanded Australian Immunisation Register but these are not yet available.

The vaccine needs to be recommended more often, available more readily, free and recommended as part of the schedule, and myths addressed more effectively.

We need to motivate and support health care workers to implement the recommendations, such as with automated reminders, incentives and performance indicators. Systems need to ensure people can get the vaccine easily – from the GP or other health clinic, the specialist clinic, the antenatal care clinic, or from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

Promoting flu vaccine to everyone is important, as is providing ease of access, awareness and opportunity. Although the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s far better than no protection at all.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Julie LeaskJulie Leask – [Associate Professor, University of Sydney]
Image of Samantha Carlson Samantha Carlson – [Research Officer for the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney]






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Listen To Older Voices : Ellice Hatfull – Part 3

Ellice Hatfull - Part 3
Ellice Hatfull Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program  
produced by Rob Greaves for Wesley Connect and podcast through the Toorak Times

Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principal of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

In the final program on the Life & Times of Ellice Hatfull, Ellice reflects over her 98 years and shares the story of the gradual loss of her sight and openly discusses the whole ageing process. She continues to share stories that will make you smile as well as leave you in amazement.

Ellice is a woman totally at peace with herself and as a parting gesture shares with us some of her life’s philosophies, which will sit very comfortably with many listeners.

Click to hear Ellice Hatfull – Part 3

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 

[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

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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Interest in tiny houses is growing, so who wants them and why?

Tiny Houses A tiny house in the backyard appeals 
to some as a solution that offers both affordability and sustainability.

Tiny houses are now so popular that someone was charged with stealing one last week. A social media campaign tracked its journey from Canberra to Hervey Bay. My research to date has found a marked increase in people who want their own tiny house, particularly among older women.

 This tiny house was tracked across the country last week.

Since the first tiny house groups appeared on Facebook in 2013, such groups and pages have proliferated. The original Facebook pages, such as Tiny Houses Australia, have nearly 50,000 followers. Some groups, such as Tiny Houses Brisbane, are extremely active and hold regular meetings.

Based on earlier research, I argued that tiny houses could be part of a solution to the perennial and wicked problem of unaffordable housing, as well as improving urban density and the environmental sustainability of housing. In 2015, very few people had actually built one.

A repeat of the 2015 survey has found a marked increase in people building or wanting to build a tiny house. Some 20% of current respondents (173 to date, but the survey is ongoing) had built or were building a tiny house. Another 61% intended to build one.

Most of these tiny houses were fully mobile, partly mobile (that is, a container house) or on skids. Only 20% were intended to be permanent. Interest was equally divided between urban and rural residential areas.

There was a statistically significant relationship between preferred location and type of tiny house. Most of those preferring rural locations wished to build a permanent or container-type tiny house. Those wanting urban locations preferred mobile tiny houses. This is likely the result of urban land costs, although more than 50% of survey respondents stated that they would prefer to build on their own land.

Tiny houses appeal to older women

Demographically, interest in tiny houses is biased towards older women. The majority of respondents were women over 50.

Although this could be a result of sampling bias (more women than men tend to complete surveys), it also could reflect other research showing that single women over 50 are the fastest-growing demographic for homelessness in Australia. This is due to relationship break-ups, employer bias against older women, and lack of superannuation savings.

Tiny houses are an ideal housing form for single women, as they could site one on property belonging to an adult child or other relative, yet maintain their independence and privacy. As one respondent said:

I am 53 and am finding it hard to get employment, so this reduces the pressure on me by paying less rent in a tiny house. Hopefully will free me up to have a better lifestyle, health and fitness and time…
A tiny house with a small fenced-off yard for my small dogs is really all I need. I’d be happy to live in a TH community with communal gardens etc. This is my only viable option to own a home and homelessness in the future is a real fear.

As with the previous survey, the drivers for tiny house living were predominantly economic, then environmental.

In a possible reflection of the strong demand for urban living, the most important driver was “too expensive property in preferred area”. Then came: wanting to reduce overall debt, not wanting a mortgage, wishing to downsize, and housing too expensive in general.

This respondent summed up the economic drivers:

I just want to own my home. I have been a renter for 30 years and long to own my own space and have more freedom to do things I love and work less.

Environmental sustainability and conscious consuming were seen as the second-most important benefits. The backlash against the McMansions of previous decades is strong:

I support the ideas of tiny houses for conscious consuming. We all consume too much land. Infrastructure and space for what we need. We then choose to fill up the spaces with more stuff and also travel further to our destinations using more fuel to get there. It’s a downward spiral, which could be contained by more sensible accommodation choices and a more thoughtful attitude towards resources.

Another respondent said:

Maintaining and building/sustaining standard stock (4 bed 2 bath) is time-consuming and soul-destroying. I own a 6-bedroom house now … the upkeep and the way it gets in the way of real relationships is something I have come to realise and do something about.

What does this mean for urban planning?

In keeping with previous research, respondents noted significant barriers, particularly inflexible planning schemes, and then the cost of land. However, these barriers were ranked much lower than the drivers – only two (planning scheme inflexibility and complexity) were given a mean score more than four (out of five).

This might indicate that local governments are becoming more open to the idea of tiny houses as an alternative to high-rises for increasing density in what is known as the “missing middle”.

Indeed, architects, consultants, planning professionals and academics collaborated on the recently released Tiny House Planning Resource for Australia 2017. It aims to assist planners, policymakers and the wider community to better understand the tiny house movement and its potential to contribute to greater choice in housing supply and diversity.

Yes, tiny houses are one, possibly extreme, end of the housing form continuum. They don’t suit all demographics, but the increasing interest shows that local governments need to seriously consider allowing tiny houses in urban areas.

They have significant potential to be a catalyst for infill development, either as tiny house villages, or by relaxing planning schemes to allow owners and tenants to situate well-designed tiny houses on suburban lots.

Image of a tiny house
Washington DC’s first tiny house village showcases a new model of urban living. Inhabitat/flickr, 

One respondent summed it up well:

Regulations need to be freed up to allow more than a small secondary dwelling on a typical suburban lot in a general residential zone. Financiers, valuers and mortgage insurers need to be coached into the benefits of small as arguably the only way to move forward in this current affordability and sustainability crisis.
The tiny house on its own freehold lot – whether in a community or Torrens title – has to be a way to enable ease of financing. This means that if a local government is serious about affordability, planning regulations need to change to enable freehold titling and increased density without having to go through costly and time-consuming development approval processes.

You can take part in the ongoing tiny house survey here.

This article was written by:





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As Victorian MPs debate assisted dying, it is vital they examine the evidence, not just the rhetoric

Assisted dying article Victorian MPs are about to debate an 
assisted dying bill. How can they sift through competing claims?

Assisted dying in Australia is no longer a matter of “if” but “when”. Will the “when” be 2017 through the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill likely to be tabled in the Victorian parliament this week?

The politics of assisted dying are notoriously unpredictable, and how our politicians ultimately vote may turn on last-minute lobbying. However, a robust process to develop the bill, coupled with government and high-profile political support, means reform is a real possibility.

As with previous Australian assisted dying bills, Victorian parliamentarians have been offered a conscience vote. As politicians ponder how they will respond, interest groups on both sides of the debate are lobbying fiercely. MPs are being provided with a range of conflicting information about how assisted dying regimes operate overseas and the risks or benefits of these regimes.

How can politicians sift through and assess these competing claims?

Claims about facts or about morals

A starting point is to distinguish between claims that something should or should not happen (a moral claim about right and wrong), and claims that something is or is not happening (a factual or empirical claim). This distinction matters, because what justifies each type of claim is different.

For example, a claim that the bill should not be enacted because it is wrong for doctors to be involved in deliberately bringing about the death of a patient is a moral claim. This moral claim is based on values – that killing a person is always wrong, and/or it is wrong for doctors to be involved in such a practice.

Politicians should ask those making such claims what values they are relying on. This allows them to assess if those values are justifiable in contemporary Australia, recognising that our society respects a plurality of viewpoints.

On the other hand, a factual (or empirical) claim depends on evidence. For example, a claim that vulnerable people will be at risk if the bill is enacted is a factual claim. This claim should be supported by evidence, and politicians should ask the claimant for that evidence.

Is the evidence reliable?

If no evidence is provided for a factual or empirical claim, it should be ignored. If evidence is provided, the question then becomes: how reliable is it? There are established ways to evaluate evidence, as shown by the pyramid below.

Key considerations are how high up the pyramid of quality the evidence is, and whether it has been robustly tested. An example of low-quality evidence is anecdotal evidence, which hasn’t been independently verified, about a small number of cases in an overseas assisted dying regime.

At the other end of the spectrum, high-quality evidence could be a peer-reviewed systematic review that analyses all existing research to determine what sorts of people are receiving assistance to die in a particular country.

Diagram showing the End of life law and policymaking in Canada. 
End of life law and policymaking in Canada. Health Law Institute, Dalhousie University

Politicians must also support their claims

In putting forward their views on assisted dying legislation, politicians are also making claims. This means the arguments outlined above apply to them too.

Politicians making a moral claim can rely on different values and so reasonably reach different conclusions on the permissibility of assisted dying. If so, they should be transparent about this, making clear their values and why they believe in them.

Importantly, they should not confuse the issue by cloaking value claims as empirical or factual claims. For example, a politician should not claim that safeguards cannot stop inappropriate use of assisted dying regimes (a factual claim) if their real concern is a principled one (based on values) that killing is always wrong.

Likewise, with empirical claims, politicians must not only test the evidence that is presented to them, they must also satisfy themselves of the reliability of the evidence they are relying on.

Fortunately, there is a significant body of reliable evidence that examines how assisted dying regimes in other countries work that can inform these assessments. We invite politicians to critique this evidence for themselves, but here we tackle two empirical claims that are commonly made in the debate.

Two common empirical claims

The first claim is that safeguards cannot protect the vulnerable in society. But a reliable body of peer-reviewed evidence now demonstrates that assisted dying regimes are not disproportionately used by vulnerable groups. The available body of peer-reviewed research was further tested by the courts in Canada, and upheld by the Supreme Court, which concluded that it was possible to design a regime that adequately protects the vulnerable.

Those making claims contrary to this established body of reliable evidence need to provide their high-quality evidence in support of their position.

The second common claim is that the law will inevitably expand over time to allow new and broader groups to have access to assisted dying. But this factual claim doesn’t reflect what has happened elsewhere. There have been virtually no changes in the regimes that permit assisted dying overseas.

The best comparison for the proposed Victorian model is Oregon, as it permits only physician-assisted suicide (a doctor prescribes medication to a person, who must then take it themselves). Oregon’s law has not changed in the 20 years it has been in operation.

A limited exception to this trend is Belgium. In 2014, it extended its laws to permit assisted dying for competent terminally ill people under the age of 18 in restricted circumstances. But this expansion of law has been very limited, with only two young people using it in the three years since.

As the Victorian bill is tabled in parliament, we will continue to hear claims about assisted dying in the media. No doubt many such claims will also be made to politicians behind closed doors.

As informed members of the public, we must closely analyse these claims. It is even more important that our politicians do the same. They should recognise moral claims for what they are – claims underpinned by personal values. And they should challenge those who are making factual claims to name the evidence, then test how reliable that evidence is.

Important issues are at stake, and lazy debate and discussion should not be permitted.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Ben WhiteBen White – [Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology];
Image of Andrew McGeeAndrew McGee – [Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology]
Image of Lindy WillmottLindy Willmott – [Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology]





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