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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gender differences in adolescence and adulthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bone health in pregnancy

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

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

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

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

Loss of bone in the elderly

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

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

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

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

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

Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via
 

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

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

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

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

Retailers’ current advantage

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

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

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

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

How the new deal could help you

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

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

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

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

It’s still down to you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploitation beyond the club walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to from here?

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

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

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

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

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

 

This article was written by:

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just another touch of the surreal.

 

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

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

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

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

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

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

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

Communications: Art and science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we know from the literature?

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

A real-life experiment in making connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This article was written by:

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The re-victimisation narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abhorrent work practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tyranny of the cock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether it will withstand the political challenges is another matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an unconvincing “Me Tarzan” moment.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Living blanket, water diviner, wild pet: a cultural history of the dingo

 A watercolour of a dingo, pre-1793, 
from John Hunter’s drawing books. 
By permission of The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

In traditional Aboriginal society, women travelled with canine companions draped around their waists like garments of clothing. Dingoes played an important role in the protection and mobility of the women and children, and are believed to have greatly extended women’s contribution to the traditional economy and food supply.

Image of Wongapitcha women carrying dogs
Wongapitcha women carrying dogs which they hold across their backs to enjoy the warmth of the animals’ bodies, Photo and caption: Herbert Basedow, 1924. Glass plate negative, by permission of the NMG Macintosh collection, J. L. Shellshear Museum, University of Sydney.

Dingo pups were taken from the wild when very young. The pups were a highly valued ritual food source, while others were adopted into human society. They grew up in the company of women and children, providing an effective hunting aid, a living blanket and guarding against intruders.

Nursing young dingo pups was also deeply embedded in traditional customs. Interspecies breastfeeding of mammalian young was common in most human societies pre-industrialisation, historically providing the only safe way to ensure the survival of motherless mammalian young. Technological advances in milk pasteurisation made artificial feeding a viable alternative by the late 1800s.

Cohabitation with human society represented a transient phase of the dingo’s lifecycle: the pups generally returned to the wild once mature (at one or two years of age) to breed. As such, dingoes maintained the dual roles of human companion and top-order predator – retaining their independent and essentially wild nature over thousands of years.

Post-colonisation, it became too dangerous to keep the semi-wild canines in the Aboriginal camps. Dingoes were targeted for eradication as livestock holdings spread across the country. Their removal would have had a profound impact on the women, resulting in a great loss of traditional knowledge and status.

DNA studies estimate that the dingo arrived on the Australian continent between 4,700 and 18,000 years ago, representing perhaps the earliest example of human-assisted oceanic migration. They were adopted into Aboriginal society, maintaining a symbiotic partnership that lasted thousands of years, and for this reason have been celebrated as a cultural keystone species.

The dingo’s ability to locate water above and below ground was perhaps its most indispensable skill. Written records, artworks and photographs in museum archives reveal dingo water knowledge as recorded by European explorers. Records reveal a number of accounts of wild/semi-wild dingoes leading Europeans to lifesaving water springs.

In Australian cartography, a “Dingo Soak” refers to a waterhole dug by a mythical or live canine. There are other freshwater landmarks across the continent – “Dingo Springs”, “Dingo Rock”, “Dingo Gap”.

In Aboriginal mythology, the travels of ancestral dingoes map out songlines, graphemic maps tracing pathways across the continent from one water source to the next. Their stories tell of the formation of mountains, waterholes and star constellations. In some accounts, dingoes emerged from the ground as rainbows; in others they dug the waterholes and made waterfalls as they travelled through the landscape.

Ethnographic evidence

Human-dingo heritage is preserved in ethnographic collections in Paris, London and Washington DC. Artefacts include talismans and ornaments made of canine teeth, bones and fur; rain incarnations and love charms. Funerary containers were decorated with dingo teeth, providing protection for the spirit in the afterlife.

In one portrait from the Smithsonian collection, an Aboriginal woman wears a dingo tail headdress – a talisman believed to hold great power and worn by warriors going to battle.

Image of Woman with headdress
Woman with headdress looking to the side, 1870-1873 by John William Lindt, albumen print 20 x 15cm. Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives USNM INV 04926900

The Smithsonian Institutional Archives also reveal a wealth of information about the post-colonial social history of the dingo. Many semi-wild dingoes were kept in early Euro-Australian settlements, then transported live to England, France and later to America as diplomatic gifts or exotic animal displays.

It was noted that the dingoes remained essentially wild despite numerous attempts to domesticate them – they failed to respond to any amount of discipline, kindness, bribery or coercion. Despite 230 years of surviving on the fringes of human settlements, travelling in menageries and circus troupes, living in zoos and semi-domestic arrangements, this remains true today. The dingo has retained its independent character and irreversible prey drive.

However, they did breed quite well in captivity and zoos often had excess pups to trade. Occasionally these pups went to private homes. Affectionate and tractable when young, eventually their carnivorous nature would get the better of them. The majority soon ended up in difficult circumstances and back in the hands of officials.

Image of a dingo pup
Dingo pup, 1930. Popular official guide to the New York zoological park. Zoo Ephemera collection, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Library.

A Roosevelt connection

The Smithsonian holds records of the first live dingoes to arrive in Washington DC in 1901, a gift from the US consul to New South Wales. A number of pups were later born at the National Zoo and documented in the daybooks and records of births, deaths, sales and exchange.

One file contains a curious letter, offering a home to one of the dingo pups on display, dated May 14 1908. The request for the pup was signed by Theodore Roosevelt junior. At the time, Theodore’s father was in office as the 26th president of the United States, and the Roosevelt family were in residence at the White House.

The Roosevelt children were well known for their eclectic pet collection. Many arrived as diplomatic gifts and ended up at the National Zoo, or were traded through the local Schmid’s Bird and Pet Animal Emporium at 712 12th Street NW. The list included snakes (which ended up, uninvited, in the Oval Office) and a pig, smuggled into the presidential residence under the care of a young Quentin Roosevelt.

The pig, once discovered, ended up in Schmid’s Emporium for sale under a sign stating: “this pig slept last night in the White House”. No records have surfaced about the Roosevelts’ dingo. However, five months later – around the time that the pup would have been challenging all boundaries of domestication – a sale notice appeared in The Washington Post, dated October 16 1908, under: DOGS, PETS, ETC. “JUST RECEIVED, Dingo, Australian wild dog … SCHMID’S BIRD STORE 712 12TH.”

Baudin’s dingoes

The first live exhibit of dingoes in an international display appeared in the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1803. The pair, a male and female, had been collected by Captain Nicholas Baudin in Port Jackson, and transported to France on Le Naturalist in the care of François Péron (zoologist) and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (artist).

Frederick Cuvier, naturalist and zookeeper, was assigned to care for the dingoes in Paris. In 1924, he wrote:

This dog, who was female, was about eighteen months when she arrived in Europe. She lived in freedom in the vessel where she was embarked, and despite the corrections inflicted on her, as well as a young male that died as a result of a punishment too harsh, she continued to evade punishment and consume all that suited her appetite.

The female lived for seven years in the gardens, the male survived just two months after arrival.

Eventually the bodies of both were transferred to the stores of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle and preserved for perpetuity. Notes in the museum state that early on in the voyage of Le Naturalist, before departing King Island for France, the male dingo had “been too brutally castrated because of his independent character” and these injuries eventually killed him.

The taxidermy specimens remain in the vaults of the museum today.

NASA’s dingo encounter

In 2006, a team of NASA scientists from the Smithsonian’s Centre for Earth and Planetary Studies were in Australia’s Simpson Desert studying the formation of parallel desert dunes similar to those found on Mars.

Senior scientist Ted Maxwell took a photo of a wild dingo casually observing the scientists while they were staking out a dune on the Colson Track. Maxwell recorded the co-ordinates of their location, noting that it was a 60-kilometre journey across the desert to Dalhousie Springs, the nearest known permanent water source. The dingo appears completely at ease.

Image of a dingo inspecting a scientists’ work during their expedition in the Simpson Desert
A dingo inspects scientists’ work during their expedition in the Simpson Desert, Australia. May, 2006. Ted Maxwell, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

Another reference to a dingo appears in the Smithsonian records in 2014, this time as the NASA Curiosity Rover crossed the Martian landscape. The vehicle passed an ancient dried freshwater lake on Mars, before travelling up through “Dingo Gap” in the sand dunes.

The NASA scientists had mapped the surface of Mars into quadrangles, and named the locations after sites on Earth with a similar ancient geology or rock formations. Dingo Gap is named after a location near the remote Kimberly quadrangle in Western Australia.

So, in contemporary celestial narrative, a valley on the Martian landscape is named after the Australian wild dog, the dingo, that thrived for thousands of years in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.

 

This article was written by:
Image of Justine M. Philip
Justine M. Philip – [Doctor of Philosophy, Ecosystem Management, University of New England]

 

 

 

 

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This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush

 Rail investments have brought Ballarat, 
Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne 
than many outer suburbs.

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.

Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.

These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.

Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Image of a regional train
Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.Hugh Llewelyn/flickr

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacityon the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.

 

This article was written by:


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

 

 

 

 

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How a charter of rights could protect Australians’ fundamental freedoms

 

 Concerns have been raised about whether 
Australia adequately protects human rights given multiple reports of abuses, 
including mistreatment of juvenile detainees. AAP/Lucy Hughes Jones

Australia’s record of human rights protection in areas such as Indigenous people, asylum seekers and freedom of speech are perennial topics of debate. The focus of these discussions is now shifting to whether Australia can take steps to establish a stronger legal framework for protecting human rights.

One reason for this is Australia is in the final stages of defending its record in a bid to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Another is that Australia’s recent experience on human rights is beset with deep flaws and inconsistencies.

Matters of concern

Concerns have been raised about whether human rights are adequately protected in the wake of reports of mistreatment of juvenile detainees in the Northern Territory, the endemic issue of elder abuse, and the startling prevalence of modern slavery in Australia.

Each of these issues has prompted federal inquiries. And there are still many more human rights issues that have not moved the government to act. These include the treatment of asylum seekers at regional processing centres, and the inexplicable jailing, sometimes for up to ten years, of people charged with crimes for which they are deemed unfit to stand trial because they suffer from mental illness.

The outgoing president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, was right when she said Australia’s human rights record is “regressing on almost every front”.

Another disturbing trend is the speed with which Australian parliaments are enacting laws that diminish human rights.

In 2016, the chief justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court, Tom Bathurst, found 52 examples of laws in that state alone that impinged on the presumption of innocence.

In February this year, the Institute of Public Affairs think-tank identified 307 laws that infringed just four rights: the presumption of innocence, natural justice, the right to silence, and the privilege against self-incrimination.

Another 2016 study found 350 current laws that infringe democratic rights such as freedom of speech.

How a charter might work

Against this backdrop, many argue the time has come for Australia to adopt a national charter of rights. Australia is the only democratic nation in the world without such a national law.

The idea has been gaining traction, particularly at the state and territory level. The Queensland government recently announced it would enact a human rights act, based on the ACT and Victorian models, which have been in force for 13 and 11 years respectively. There are also pushes for NSW and Tasmania to adopt such legislation.

These developments raise the questions: if a charter or human rights act was to be enacted at the national level, what would it look like? And how would it protect human rights?

Our new book, A Charter of Rights for Australia, discusses what such a charter would look like at the national level, and explains how it could benefit Australians.

The starting point should not be a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights in the vein of the US Bill of Rights.

Instead, a charter of rights for Australia should be enacted by parliament as ordinary legislation. This would have the advantage of flexibility: future parliaments would be able to update the charter as needed to match changing community values and expectations.

A charter of rights in this form would not transfer sovereignty from parliament to the courts, and would not give courts the power to strike down laws.

Rather, following the models adopted in the ACT, Victoria and the UK, the courts’ role should be modest, limited to functions such as endeavouring to interpret legislation consistently with human rights, and identifying laws that breach human rights and which parliament should consider again.

This model puts the focus on improving human rights protection by way of parliament making good laws and government agencies applying those laws fairly.

One useful feature of the ACT and Victoria charters is that parliamentary committees scrutinise proposed laws for compatibility with human rights prior to being passed. For example, in 2014 alone, the ACT government moved almost 100 amendments to seven bills in response to comments and suggestions made by its human rights parliamentary committee.

The existence of a charter of rights can make it more likely that human rights concerns are raised – and fixed – before a law is passed.

The primary responsibility for ensuring human rights are protected under a charter should fall to the government, rather than the courts. The Australian Federal Police, for example, would have day-to-day responsibility for applying human rights in protecting the community from crime and safeguarding the rights of the accused.

This would mean that if the police chose to detain you as part of an anti-terrorism operation, it would be their responsibility to ensure you are treated humanely while detained. And the charter would provide for consequences should they fall short.

Finally, like instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a charter of rights could also have a symbolic force that would promote important values like freedom, community responsibility and cultural diversity.

One of the most important contributions a charter of rights can make is not the benefit it brings to the small number of people who succeed in invoking rights in court. Rather, its main value lies in how it can be used to educate, shape attitudes and bring hope and recognition to people who are otherwise powerless.

 

This article was co-authored by:
Image of George Williams George Williams – [Dean, Anthony Mason Professor and Scientia Professor, UNSW Law School, UNSW]
and
Image of Daniel ReynoldsDaniel Reynolds – [Legal Researcher, UNSW]

 

 

 

 

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