A history of destruction: why the WA Aboriginal cultural heritage bill will not prevent another Juukan Gorge-like disaster

Originally published on theconversation.com

Western Australia’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 is set to become law, replacing the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. The Bill will be read tonight for the third and final time in Western Australia’s state parliament upper house.

It has been spruiked by the McGowan government as a step forward for the management of heritage in WA in the wake of the 2020 Juukan Gorge disaster.

However many First Nations peoples in WA instead fear it will continue a long tradition of Labor and Liberal WA Aboriginal Affairs ministers signing off on heritage destruction.

The key objection to the new legislation is that a single elected official will have the final say on whether a heritage site can be destroyed for development.

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A history of failure to protect Aboriginal heritage

In the 49 years since the existing Act was created, successive ministers on both sides of politics have proven weak on heritage protection in Western Australia. Almost every minister for Aboriginal affairs, on either side of the political spectrum, has failed to protect Aboriginal heritage.

*Look at the history. *

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How this proposed bill is more of the same

No matter how important the site, the minister for Aboriginal affairs has rarely rejected a development application. Of 463 mining-related applications to impact sites under section 18 of the Act since 2010, none were rejected. This bill gives little reason to expect change.

Much like the old Aboriginal Heritage Act, the proposed bill allows that when a developer wishes to impact a site despite objections by Aboriginal Traditional Owners or custodians, a government-appointed council overseen by the minister will be the one to make decisions.

However the developer can appeal to the state administrative tribunal over ministerial decisions they don’t like. The Aboriginal custodians for that area will not have an equivalent right of appeal.

There is a convoluted process requiring engagement between Aboriginal people and developers. However, developers will be able to decide when they must talk to Aboriginal parties about possible impact on a cultural heritage site. Aboriginal people will not have the right to prevent such an impact, only the right to be told about it.

Aboriginal parties will have no on-going resourcing to fulfil new responsibilities to manage heritage listings and protect sites. This is a concern for smaller and less resourced groups and sets up obvious conflicts if the developer is to fund all costs for managing heritage on a project, as currently proposed.

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We need a better way forward

All this flies in the face of the findings of the recommendations of the report released in October of the federal inquiry into the Juukan Cave disaster, A Way Forward. This report called for, among other things, the right for Indigenous people to withhold consent to destruction of an important place.

This fundamental human right is not a veto against development. Impacting Juukan Gorge was not critical to the success of the Brockman 4 mine proposal. A robust business case does not depend on access to a single site.

Where the Bill fails heritage, it creates risk for business certainty and undermines “social license” – the support that large businesses need in the community. Last month, ACSI and HESTA, representing major funds commanding hundreds of billions of dollars, publicised their concerns about investing in WA projects that would be approved under the proposed system.

Aboriginal community support is thin. In October, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson was unable to identify any Aboriginal organisation that supports the bill. Since then, one Aboriginal organisation voiced support. Their view must be respected, but this does not represent consensus across affected communities.

A Way Forward sets out better models. For example, in the Northern Territory there is an authority board of Aboriginal law men and women who administer the functions of their Act, with practical independence from the NT Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

To Premier McGowan and Minister Dawson, we say:
If you want to change a history of heritage destruction to a future of heritage protection, Aboriginal people should have an independent right of review for ministerial decisions, and have genuine power to make decisions about heritage sites.

Joe Dortch is a Director of Dortch Cuthbert (a heritage consultancy), and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is the President of the Australian Archaeological Association and a Full Member of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Incorporated. Both organisations have made submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia on the destruction of sites at Juukan Gorge and to the Western Australian Government on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill. In 2019-2020 he was a Heritage Advisor at Rio Tinto but was not involved with any of the events mentioned in the article, which are documented in public sources.

Anne Poelina is affiliated with the following:

Dr Anne Poelina
Managing Director
Madjulla Inc

Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Fellow
Nulungu Institute Research
University of Notre Dame

Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council

Kimberley Land Council

Aboriginal Water and Environmental Advisory Group
Department of Water and Environmental Regulations
Western Australian Government

Deputy Chair & Member
Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
Commonwealth Government

Advisory Committee Member
Institute for Water Futures
Fenner School of Environment & Society
ANU College of Science
The Australian National University

Murray Darling Basin Authority Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Science

Jo Thomson is the owner of Thomson Cultural Heritage Management (a heritage consultancy), and PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia. She is a Full Member of and the Chairperson of the Western Australian chapter of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Incorporated (AACAI); is a full international member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS); and is a member of the Australia ICOMOS Indigenous heritage reference group. Both organizations have made submissions to the WA government on the proposed WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill and also to the Joint Standing Committee on Nothern Australia on the destruction of sites at Juukan Gorge.

Kado Muir is chair of the National Native Title Council and affiliated with Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance. Kado once served a term as Specialist Anthropologist with the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a spectacular feast for the senses

Originally published on theconversation.com

Global Creatures/ Michelle Grace Hunder

Review: Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Someone wise once observed that theatre is the only artform to acknowledge its audience, and that’s why it will never die. As patrons press eagerly into Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, Derek McLane’s blood-red set is already pulsating and several pairs of eyes regard us coolly.

Liquid limbs and lacey-leather costuming set an unmistakably erotic tone. Two women swallow swords for our amusement. Enter the impresario, Harold Zidler (Simon Burke).

Just as he greets aspiring songwriter, Christian (Des Flanagan), bohemians Toulouse-Lautrec (Tim Omaji) and Santiago (Ryan Gonzalez), and The Duke of Monroth (Andrew Cook), Zidler enthuses in our direction:

Welcome, you gorgeous collection of reprobates and rascals, artistes and arrivistes, soubrettes and sodomites!.

We take our seats inside the Moulin Rouge.

Those familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s wildly successful movie musical (2001) are primed and practically frothing for Lady Marmalade. Samantha Dodemaide, Olivia Vasquez, Ruva Ngwenya and Christopher J Scalzo do not disappoint. They tear into the number, teeth and all, and we’re away!

A fiercely talented line-up

This long-awaited local incarnation of the ten-time Tony award-winning Broadway production follows the film’s storyline pretty faithfully.

Our penniless, poetic hero falls instantly for Satine (Alinta Chidzey), superstar of the Moulin Rouge. She, mistaking him for the wealthy Duke she must seduce, lets her guard drop long enough to be swept up in love at first sight. The club, home to waifs, strays and lost souls, hangs in the balance of their doomed romance. Oh – and to add to the urgency of it all, Satine is dying of consumption.

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There are some notable points of departure. The orientalism that was so heavy-handed in the film is mercifully diminished. There are counterpoint scenes set against the backdrop of the Parisian elite. And the score has been revamped considerably.

A theatrical riff on one of the 2001 film’s most iconic moments.
Global Creatures/ Michelle Grace Hunder

More than 70 songs propel us through this tragic love story. Anthems and chart-toppers like Chandelier and Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) give way to unexpected strains of Such Great Heights. Omaji delivers a haunting version of Nature Boy. Katy Perry’s 2010 hit Firework is wonderfully re-imagined to reveal the dual imperatives at play for Satine: her fatigue and fast-declining health versus her desire to explode onto the stage with the full force of her being.

As Satine, Chidzey does exactly that. It is a virtuoso performance, powerful and mercurial, vocally dexterous, technically precise and piercingly vulnerable. From the moment of her arrival, all eyes slide towards her. While this effect is clearly supported by lavish staging, lighting, costuming and choreography, it is the humanity she brings to the role that compels us.

In a fiercely talented lineup of artists, special mention is also due to Tim Omaji for his playful yet deeply raw portrayal of the artist-cum-revolutionary, Toulouse-Lautrec; Andrew Cook for his reinvention of the dastardly Duke as supremely assured and menacing; Samantha Dodemaide for her rough-edged, comic yet wonderfully layered Nini; and Simon Burke for his huckster-with-a-heart-of-gold, Zidler.

The local cast are spectacular.
Global Creatures/ Michelle Grace Hunder

The ensemble stand out in their own right. As impressive as they are diverse, they give the lie to the tired (read: racist, gendered, etc) assumption that inclusive casting somehow means “sacrificing standards”.

These are performers who can belt out a tune, dance a tango and quite literally fly through the air – sometimes simultaneously. This depth of representation on stage lends authenticity to the depiction of the Moulin Rouge as a haven for marginalised artists.

Darker dynamics

And now that we’re back to the club and our relative positions therein, I must note that the audience experience remains jarringly safe throughout.

Though we are seated within the Moulin Rouge and are told that Satine came to be there via child prostitution, we are never made to feel uncomfortable or complicit in her commodification.

We hear of the fate of those discarded by merciless patrons and ex-lovers: slit throats, acid disfigurement – we even see it stylised in the Roxanne dance sequence. But the violent dynamics of this world are attributed purely and simply to the character of the Duke.

They are individualised in the text in precisely the same way that the social phenomenon of male violence against women is attributed to individual men. It’s not the system that’s rotten, it’s just a few bad apples.

Patrons are not implicated in the exploitative undercurrents of this world.
Global Creatures/ Michelle Grace Hunder

Yes I know – this is a critique of the book and not the production, which is intended as a raunchy romp. But I believe in audiences. We can handle a bit of complexity, especially when it lends resonance to a work.

Still, the show is an undeniable theatrical accomplishment – a spectacular, spectacular feast for the senses. Its key creatives should be enormously proud. My final shout out is to the musical directors, a category of creative often overlooked in reviews of musicals, oddly enough.

Kudos to Luke Hunter and Vicky Jacobs, local legends both, for their wrangling of this extravagant and demanding score. Melbourne audiences, do not miss this sparkling diamond of a show.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is at the Regent Theatre until May 2022, after which it transfers to Sydney.

Sonya Suares does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

History made the National Party a ‘broad church’ – can it hold in the MMP era?

Originally published on theconversation.com
Conservative and liberal: new National Party leader Christopher Luxon with deputy leader Nicola Willis. GettyImages

Christopher Luxon’s ascendancy to the National Party leadership has highlighted – once again – the precarious balance between the party’s liberal and conservative wings. So his newly appointed shadow cabinet attempts to establish some equilibrium, particularly in the choice of liberal Nicola Willis as deputy.

But persistent questioning about Luxon’s own evangelical Christian faith tends to reinforce perceptions that National’s “broad church” is not an entirely unified congregation.

These perceptions have their roots in National’s origins as a political party. The question now is, why does this need for balance exist? And why, under MMP, has National not devolved into multiple, more ideologically coherent, parties that negotiate with each other come election time?

To answer those questions we need to look at the formation of National from a merger between the United and Reform parties in 1936. In that history we can see the origins of the modern party and the challenges it faces in the MMP era.

The birth of a party

The United and Reform parties had first formed a coalition in 1931 to see off a challenge from the Labour Party, and won that year’s general election. But in 1935 the coalition lost to Labour, leading to the formal merger as National.

United’s predecessor, the Liberal Party, dominated New Zealand politics up to the first world war, and was the country’s first organised political party. The Liberals enjoyed support from urban liberals and workers, but the formation of the Reform Party in 1909 and Labour in 1916 saw a steady decline in the party’s fortunes.

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For its part, the Reform Party was the first consolidation of conservative politicians in New Zealand, coming to power for the first time in 1912 and staying in government until 1928.

It’s establishment went back to the Liberal government’s land and welfare reforms, which were branded as “socialism” and an attack on farmers. Support from social conservatives and rural communities continued to be core components of the Reform Party until the 1936 merger.

Meanwhile, a group of Liberal members had formed the United Party in 1927, supplanting the Liberals as the main challenger to the Reform Party. United gained support from urban centres, the business community and socially liberal (in the 1920s sense) interest groups.

National’s conservative origins: members of the Reform Government of 1914.
Alexander Turnbull Library, CC BY-NC

The MMP effect

If this all seems oddly familiar, that’s because many aspects of the United and Reform parties still exist within National today.

Under the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system, the merger of those two parties made sense. Forming a single block that represented the centre-right in New Zealand allowed them to build a well-supported political apparatus.

More importantly, the merger allowed the two parties to stop fighting each other, and instead counter Labour.

Under MMP (which replaced FPP in 1996), however, the need for single parties that dominate whole sides of the political spectrum has decreased. Instead, there’s an opportunity for parties to have more refined policy platforms based on clear ideologies, rather than broad-based appeal.

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This doesn’t mean socially conservative or liberal parties can’t work together – MMP allows for this as part of governing coalition negotiations, rather than the tensions playing out as internal party machinations.

Proportional representation systems tend to increase diversity within political systems – not just in terms of gender or ethnicity, but also by providing more specific political channels for different ideological perspectives, and encouraging open collaboration and compromise between those various groups.

Looked at this way, the obvious outcome is for a devolution of major “one size fits all” parties into smaller ones that take clearer policy and ideological positions. To some extent this has already happened on the left, with the advent of New Labour, and subsequently the Alliance (which contained the Green Party), splitting out of Labour in the early 1990s.

No motive for change

So, if that’s the way MMP works, could such a devolution occur within National, and what might that look like? Might we see modern versions of United and Reform – one socially liberal, the other conservative – emerge to represent different groups on the right?

Similarly, could we witness the same process on the left, with socially conservative elements of Labour forming their own party, separate from but aligned to the Labour Party?

It’s not impossible, but for the time being seems unlikely. The main reason for that is scale – staying a single entity gives a party size, and size brings resources. So while devolution might make sense in theory, the current system rewards major political blocs, particularly through campaign funding.

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Segmenting into new parties would also result in a splintering of support, with consequences for funding streams. The consolidation of resources and support was, of course, one of the main forces that pushed United and Reform together in the first place.

Unless there’s major fallout within National, with one cohort having severely reduced influence over policy, it’s unlikely there will be significant change any time soon. For decades, National’s liberal-conservative balance has seen the party able to unify a broad base around core values, making National the key player on the centre-right.

Given all of this, until the 2023 election we can expect to hear far more about Christopher Luxon’s conservatism being balanced out by the urban liberal values of Nicola Willis. For now at least, there will be no going back to the future for National.

Michael Swanson is a member of the National Party

Even in the colourful world of video games, most players demand historical accuracy

Originally published on theconversation.com


Some of the most popular video game series are those that use historical settings, and research has revealed players have extremely high standards when it comes to the accuracy of the history presented.

We surveyed players of the Assassin’s Creed series, one of the most famous video game series to use historical settings, to understand how important accurate depictions of history in video games were for players.

The Assassin’s Creed series depicts a millennia-old conflict between the secret Assassin Brotherhood and Templar Order. In the majority of games, the player takes control of a historical assassin in a historical setting, but with cuts to a modern-day, science-fiction framing story.

The games are known and loved for their historical tourism appeal. The series has allowed players to explore Cleopatra’s Egypt, the Middle East during the Third Crusade and the Italian Renaissance among other settings.

And players expect to see due diligence done when it comes to reflecting real-life historical facts and settings.

Respecting history in gaming

58% of players felt video game developers should minimise changes to the historical record. Another 21% felt it depended on the game. For example, some respondents accepted developers could and should make changes for alternate history or fantasy games.

One noted, “unless a major part of the gameplay is creating an alternative history, or there’s a major sci-fi/fantasy element making the historical accuracy unimportant, developers should strive to make their games as accurate as possible”.

In general, respondents felt games needed to be fun and entertaining, so changes to history should be made to ensure that. Otherwise, the history developers were using should be respected.

As another respondent put it, “the developers should stay as close as possible [to historical fact] unless doing so would hinder the gameplay or story.”

Some respondents even thought changes to the historical record should be disclosed to players in some way.

Accuracy in gaming

Video games are one of the newer popular entertainment media but are sometimes still thought of as an industry for adolescents, despite the average age of players in Australia being 35.

Our research shows players have high expectations when it comes to the accuracy of information being presented to them.

With over three billion worldwide players, video games are how a lot of people are being exposed to history.

And they are very influential in shaping players views about history. Video games are interactive which means their players can actively engage with historical events and people and explore historical worlds.

Some of the most popular and long-running video game series, such as Assassin’s Creed, Total War, and Civilization use historical settings as a key part of the game’s plot and appeal. For example, the Assassin’s Creed series alone has sold more than 150 million copies since 2007.

Civilization is a series of turn-based strategy video games which fast forward through the course of human history, first released in 1991.

Introducing audiences to history

It used to be that film was the most influential media for exposing audiences to history. Thanks to the popularity and interactivity of video games, this has shifted somewhat.

Video game developers have embraced historical accuracy when creating their games. For example, during the development of L.A Noire, a film-noire inspired game set in Los Angeles in 1947, over 180,000 sources including newspaper articles, photographs, and police records were examined to ensure the city was recreated accurately.

L.A. Noire is a 2011 detective action-adventure video game developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games.
Rockstar Games

The Assassin’s Creed series itself is also well-known for hiring historians and academics as consultants and recreating detailed versions of historical cities for its games.

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For Assassin’s Creed Unity, set in Revolutionary Paris, developers consulted over 150 maps of the city and spent two years modelling Notre Dame. This even involved tweaking individual bricks and consulting historians to establish which paintings were on display.

Notre Dame Cathedral, as seen in the videogame Assassin’s Creed Unity.

The audience hunger for this sort of rigorous research and details in games has created opportunity for video game developers and companies.

Developers can add their use of history to their marketing. Branded podcasts, social media, tie-in books and website content can explore the research developers have undertaken. They can also present information about the actual history and explain why changes were made.

The popular History Respawned podcast, which explores the history presented in popular video games, is one model the industry can use. Another is the in-game historical encyclopaedia the Assassin’s Creed series features, and other games could use.

Video games also regularly offer high-priced collector and limited editions with statues, soundtracks and artbooks included, and these could be another avenue for providing players with the historical information they want.

Including historical inaccuracy

However, what is accurate and what is not is not always obvious.

Notre Dame, as it appears in Assassin’s Creed Unity, features the cathedral’s famed spire. However, historically it wasn’t installed yet, and was added after test players felt the cathedral was inaccurate if it wasn’t featured.

When it comes to making video games with historical settings, developers must carefully choose what accurate and inaccurate aspects they include. Sometimes, making a game that matches what a player believes is authentic to the time period actually requires inserting inaccurate aspects.

And, of course, a game has to be fun. The ship-to-ship combat in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, set during the Golden Age of Piracy, is much, much faster than actual naval battles and features tactics real-life pirates would never use. And yet Black Flag is one of the most beloved games of the series.

Developers have a tricky paradox to navigate. To give the players what they want, they sometimes have to give them what it appears they do not want.

Jacqueline Burgess does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

View from The Hill: Running Berejiklian ahead of ICAC report would send the worst of signals on integrity

Originally published on theconversation.com

Labor’s Chris Bowen made a very pertinent contribution on Monday to the debate over whether the Liberals should run Gladys Berejiklian, the subject of an ICAC investigation, in the Sydney seat of Warringah.

What would the Liberals and the media be saying if it were a Labor figure in a similar position? Bowen asked.

Of course we know the answer. They’d be outraged and they’d be justified.

The push within the Liberal party, backed by Scott Morrison, for Berejiklian to stand is a case of the “whatever it takes” brand of politics.

The Liberals are desperate to get this seat back from independent Zali Steggall. And they are spurred by the continued high popularity of Berejiklian. The polling and focus groups tell them people think she was a good premier, and has been hardly done by.

She’s probably the only Liberal who would be competitive with Steggall, who’s dug in solidly since she ousted Tony Abbott in 2019.

The close of nominations for Liberal preselection for Warringah has been delayed from last Friday until January 14 to give the former premier time to make a decision.

The ICAC won’t bring down its finding before then, so if Berejiklian ran there’d be a cloud hanging over her.

Behind the scenes, some indication will come before Christmas about how things are likely to go, when counsel assisting the ICAC present their submissions to the parties and the commissioner.

But while this could be important in Berejiklian making up her mind, the material won’t be public. If she ran, the speculation about it would be rife, which would surely be unhelpful.

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Morrison has this week returned to attacking the ICAC over Berejiklian’s treatment. In the recent parliamentary sitting he denounced this as “an absolute disgrace”. “The Australian people know that the former premier of New South Wales was done over by a bad process and an abuse of process,” he said.

On Monday he said her treatment had been “shameful”. There was no suggestion she’d done anything criminal, he said, and he found the playing of intimate conversations she had (with then secret boyfriend, Daryl Maguire) “just awful”.

Morrison’s opposition to giving a national integrity commission the right to hold public hearings was adamant during recent government discussions, which ended with no legislation being introduced into federal parliament.

Morrison said Berejiklian was “put in a position of actually having to stand down and there was no finding of anything. Now I don’t call that justice.”

Without saying it explicitly he creates the impression the ICAC forced her to quit her job. In fact, she chose to resign, judging that just standing aside while the inquiry was on was politically untenable.

Steggall on Monday pushed back strongly against Morrison, saying the words he’d used in parliament were “outrageous”. “We should be seeing leadership to raise trust, call for more accountability, not undermine accountability.”

The ICAC is investigating whether Berejiklian breached public trust in relation to two grants awarded to the electorate of Wagga Wagga, then held by Maguire. It is also inquiring into whether her conduct “was liable to allow or encourage” corrupt conduct by Maguire.

Berejiklian, when she was treasurer and then premier, did not disclose to her colleagues her close personal relationship with Maguire, and has defended her failure to do so, arguing “I didn’t feel it was of sufficient standing”.

The PM and some other Liberals dismiss her lapse basically on the grounds that here was a woman who’d just had a bad boyfriend.

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In Morrison’s view integrity bodies should not be looking at “who your boyfriend is”, as he put in in parliament.

Leaving aside the rather patronising attitude this implies – the gullible woman as an explanation – it doesn’t wash in terms of political ethics. If you are premier, your relationships are relevant. With this relationship, private life impinged on public life.

Does Morrison really think it was okay for Berejiklian not to disclose her closeness to Maguire, who was well known as an urger of the first degree?

That certainly wasn’t the view of former NSW premier Mike Baird, a good friend of Berejiklian, who said in evidence at the ICAC “certainly I think [the relationship] should have been disclosed”. Baird is another high profile figure the Liberals have pursued to stand in Warringah, but without success.

If the Liberals fielded Berejiklian ahead of the ICAC report, they would be adding insult to injury in their performance on integrity issues.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Australia’s agriculture sector sorely needs more insights from First Nations people. Here’s how we get there

Originally published on theconversation.com

Much of the debate on Indigenous agriculture in Australia has focused on a contested pre-colonial definition as to whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people deserve the English title of “farmer”.

However this view stifles the real story of Indigenous engagement in Western agriculture. It also fails to recognise the inherent need for Indigenous peoples’ involvement in the sector.

In 2020, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment conducted a series of roundtables to develop the National Agriculture Workforce Strategy.

The strategy noted the urgency of transforming the agricultural workforce into a “complex, modern, sophisticated sector”.

There is no doubt the agricultural workforce is changing.

However, there’s a worryingly unsophisticated understanding of workforce diversity within the sector – especially in terms of Indigenous involvement in agriculture.

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Agriculture must connect with Indigenous people

There is a critical and overdue need for agriculture to connect with Indigenous people.

This is best demonstrated through the Indigenous land holdings across the nation.

The Guardian Australia recently noted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own up to 54.17% of Australia’s landmass.

This is comparable to the National Indigenous Australians Agency estimate of Indigenous land ownership, which puts the figure at around 40%.

This extensive landholding by First Nations people is an essential component of the continued practice of agriculture in Australia. But despite Indigenous people owning these vast areas of land, only 1% of the agricultural workforce identify as Indigenous.

This rate is unacceptably low, given 3.3% of Australia’s population more broadly identify as Indigenous.

The National Agriculture Workforce Strategy identifies solutions to this lack of Indigenous workforce. Solutions such as promoting Indigenous people in agriculture through marketing, and fostering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in this sector.

However, these proposed strategies fail to acknowledge broader concerns about inadequate Indigenous representation in the sector.

Better data and a pipeline of Indigenous graduates

To date, there has been no concerted effort across the agriculture sector to understand the size and scale of current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement, nor their agricultural production.

For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Agriculture Census does not provide the opportunity for farmers to identify as Indigenous. Agriculture research and development corporations usually don’t collect these data, either.

There are also pipeline issues regarding Indigenous involvement in the sector. A recent study of 15 years of data by one of us (James Pratley) demonstrated universities had a low attraction and retention rate for Indigenous students. Fewer than five Indigenous students graduate in agriculture across Australia each year.

Despite the lack of university graduates, Australia has a growing Indigenous youth demographic, which could contribute to a much-needed workforce in future.

To encourage Indigenous people to enter agriculture, we need to show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people belong in the sector. They need to feel welcome in our universities and TAFEs and we must better support those entering the industry.

Charles Sturt University has developed an Indigenous agriculture initiative drawing attention to the lack of Indigenous agriculture graduates. It also provides Indigenous students scholarships to study agriculture and/or do postgraduate research on aspects of Indigenous agriculture.

This provides Indigenous people with a pathway into agricultural industries and shows Indigenous people what opportunities exist.

Attracting and retaining Indigenous talent

It’s also imperative larger agricultural companies develop Reconciliation Action Plans (detailed, long-term strategies to meaningfully advance reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people within an organisation). Big firms must also start or renew their efforts towards building more diverse workforces and supply chains.

Over 1,100 Australian organisations have followed this path.

Agricultural companies such as Incitec Pivot, OBE Organics and Bayer have recently developed Reconciliation Action Plans. Other agricultural businesses and industries need to ensure their houses are in order too.

Reconciliation Action Plans provide a pathway for organisations to advance reconciliation across their business. This can be done through identified actions such as increasing Indigenous staff and initiatives for staff. Organisations are accountable for these actions through the Reconciliation Action Plan they develop.

As these Reconciliation Action Plans mature, employers in the agricultural sector will seek out Indigenous talent to meet targets and to crucially provide new perspectives.

Indigenous people’s input and talent is vital to modernising the agricultural sector. There is a huge opportunity to build employment pipelines from schools through universities into the broader agrifood industry.

A clear understanding of the size and scale of current Indigenous agricultural contributions is sorely needed.

Industry leaders who work to establish and grow the talent pipelines and develop Reconciliation Action Plans will reap the rewards.

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Josh Gilbert receives funding from the Food Agility CRC. He is affiliated with KU Children’s Services, the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office, Reconciliation NSW, and Bridging the Gap Foundation. Josh formally worked at PwC’s Indigenous Consulting.

James Pratley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Labor offers extra university places, but more radical change is needed

Originally published on theconversation.com

The Coalition and Labor took very different higher education policies to the 2019 federal election. The contest was between tightly capped total spending under the Coalition and a restored demand-driven system under Labor, letting universities enrol unlimited numbers of students for bachelor degrees.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s announcement yesterday of extra university places if Labor wins the 2022 federal election offers more money and slightly changed criteria for distributing it among universities. Unlike in 2019, it is not a radically different alternative to the government’s policies. But there are ways of better achieving its goals.

Up to 20,000 more places

Labor promises to deliver up to 20,000 extra student places over two years. Enrolment data for 2020 and 2021 are not yet available, but on 2019 figures Labor is offering, in theory, about a 3% increase in total places.

Read more:
Albanese offers more university places and free TAFE spots

The expected cost is A$481.7 million over the new few years. To put this in context, the federal budget forecasts tuition subsidies of just over $7 billion a year.

Under the Coalition’s Job-Ready Graduates policy, which began in 2021, the link between funding and student places is not straightforward, which explains Labor’s “up to” caveat.

In earlier funding systems, the idea of a student place was central. A student place was the equivalent of one year’s study for a full-time student. Each university had a minimum number of places it had to deliver for its funding. New places were often allocated in specific numbers by discipline or course.

Under the current system, universities are funded without setting minimum numbers of student places. Universities decide how to distribute that money between student places, which under Job-ready Graduates have a wide range of dollar values.

In 2021, law, business and most arts student places have an annual public subsidy of $1,100. An extra $1 million in public funding would finance 909 of those places. But nursing, engineering and science have a public subsidy of $16,250, so $1 million would cover only 62 places.

The Job-ready Graduates framework creates a tension between maximising opportunities to study, which is done most effectively in courses with low subsidies, and promoting courses with in-demand skills, which consume more of each university’s available funding.

Read more:
New analysis shows Morrison government funding won’t cover any extra uni student places for years

Labor’s criteria for distributing new funding

Labor sets out three broad criteria for allocating its new money to universities:

ability to offer extra places in areas of national priority and skills shortage, including clean energy, advanced manufacturing, health and education

efforts to target under-represented groups such as the first in their family to go to university, people in regional, remote and outer-suburban areas, and First Nations people

student demand.

Labor’s priority fields are high-subsidy courses, so will generate fewer student places per million dollars spent. This creates a tension with equity goals.

The most successful policy to date for increasing representation was demand-driven funding. After lifting funding caps, growth in enrolments of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds outpaced the rate for other socioeconomic groups.

Enrolments in lower-subsidy courses would help meet access goals, even if these course choices do not match Labor or Liberal views of what students should be studying.

Student applications data reflect student demand, Labor’s third criterion for allocating funding. The data show increased student interest in the “society and culture” cluster of courses. This includes arts and law with the $1,100 public funding rate, despite their high student contribution of $14,500 a year.

Read more:
3 flaws in Job-Ready Graduates package will add to the turmoil in Australian higher education

Parallels with Coalition policy

Labor’s interest in using higher education policy to meet national priorities and skills shortages is conceptually similar to the Coalition’s “job-ready graduates” approach, although with slightly different lists of preferred courses.

Labor’s equity criteria for allocating funding to universities also have parallels with the Coalition. The current policy is to focus funding growth on regional universities and campuses in areas with relatively high population growth.

The main novelty in Labor’s list is that “first in family” has not explicitly been used in policy before. But new students have been asked about their parents’ education since 2010. The Coalition’s policy on regional and high population growth areas is likely to catch areas with relatively high proportions of first-in-family students.

The Coalition reintroduced demand-driven funding for Indigenous students from regional areas this year. They also have high rates of first-in-family enrolment.

The key difference between the parties is the amount of extra funding for the chosen universities rather than the underlying criteria for how it is distributed. But more funding converted into more places undoubtedly matters for under-represented groups.

A more ambitious agenda?

Demand-driven funding, as Labor promised in 2019, is the most effective funding policy response to the problems it sees. It best matches the supply of places with student demand, by giving the funding system the capacity to create enrolments in the courses students want to take.

Furthermore, applications tend to follow the labour market without any special policy incentives. With demand-driven funding there is no trade-off between access goals and priority shortages to overcome skills shortages.

Labor’s decision to abandon demand-driven funding is probably due to the Commonwealth budget being more stretched now, as a result of COVID-19, than it was in 2019.

Labor knows the so-called “Costello baby boom” students will reach university age in the mid-2020s. They create a real need for more student places, but also mean demand-driven funding could drive a big increase in higher education spending.

Read more:
Demand-driven funding for universities is frozen. What does this mean and should the policy be restored?

Modest changes at no cost to government

While demand-driven funding is probably not going to return in the next few years, Labor could make other changes that will ease current policy tensions and be fairer for students.

There is a direct relationship between student contributions and the subsidy rate. A modified funding system could narrow the range of contributions, which this year stretch from $3,950 to $14,500 a year.

Discipline-based subsidies that are less varied than the 2021 range of $1,100 to $27,000 would ease, although not eliminate, the tensions between promoting courses in areas of skill shortage and increasing student places.

Such a system could deliver more student places per $1 million of public funding in skill priority courses than under current policies.

Fundamental flaws remain in place

For universities and prospective students there is no obvious downside to Labor’s proposal. On the announcements to date it would not fix the structural problems created by Job-ready Graduates, but I doubt such a flawed policy will last long-term, regardless of who wins the next election.

Andrew Norton works in the higher education sector and has previously advised Coalition higher education ministers on policy issues.

Labor maintains clear Newspoll lead, but there’s been an overall shift to the Coalition since October

Originally published on theconversation.com

Dean Lewis/AAP

This week’s Newspoll, conducted December 1-4 from a sample of 1,518, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down one), 10% Greens (down one), 3% One Nation (up one) and 13% for all others (up one).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ratings were steady at 52% dissatisfied, 44% satisfied, for a net -8 approval. Labor leader Anthony Albanese gained five points on net approval for a -6 rating. This is the first time since the pandemic began that Albanese’s net approval has been better than Morrison’s.

Morrison led Albanese by 45-36 as better PM (it was 46-38 three weeks ago). By 47-37, voters expected Labor to win the next election.

The Joyce factor

In late October, there was an increase in Labor’s poll lead across several polls. At the time, I thought the best explanation was the involvement of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce in the Coalition’s internal climate change negotiations.

With Joyce fading from the limelight, the Coalition has recovered. Newspoll was 54-46 to Labor in late October, but is now 53-47. There has also been movement to the Coalition in the Resolve and Essential polls. The Morgan poll’s move to Labor is probably illusory.

Many expected the last two weeks of federal parliament, which included the release of the Jenkins report finding that one in three parliamentary staff had experienced sexual harassment, to be damaging for the Coalition.

Read more:
With Labor gaining in polls, is too much Barnaby Joyce hurting the Coalition?

However, we don’t know how much impact this has had on voters. And in April, I wrote that a backlash against political correctness could be making sexual misbehaviour more acceptable.

The economy and COVID will be important factors at the next election, due by May 2022. While the Australian GDP tanked 1.9% in the September quarter due to lockdowns, it will rebound in the current quarter. However, a rise in inflation could hurt the government.

Meanwhile, will the new Omicron COVID variant require restrictions to be reintroduced?

Coalition gains in Resolve poll

A Resolve poll for Nine newspapers, conducted November 16–21 from a sample of 1,606, gave the Coalition 39% of the primary vote (up two since October), Labor 32% (down two), the Greens 11% (steady), One Nation 3% (steady) and independents 9% (steady).

As usual with Resolve, no two-party vote was given, but analyst Kevin Bonham estimated a 50-50 tie, a two-point gain for the Coalition since October.

Despite the Coalition’s voting intentions gain, Morrison’s ratings slumped. His good rating for his performance in recent weeks was down seven to 40% and his poor rating up six to 49% for a net approval of -9, down 13 points.

Albanese also dropped four points to a net -14 rating. Morrison led Albanese by 40-29 as preferred PM, down from 44-26 in October.

Of those polled, 34% thought the government’s commitments on climate action were “not enough”, 28% “about right” and 16% “too far”. That’s a 44-34 lead for “too far”, plus “about right” over “not enough”.

By 49-16, voters supported raising the 26-28% emissions reduction target for 2030, but that’s down from 57-13 in October.

The Liberals and Morrison led Albanese and Labor by 40-24 on economic management (45-23 in October). On COVID, they led by 36-23 (40-22 in October).

Essential voting intentions

The Essential poll’s new website has a graph of voting intentions. We had a voting intentions release in late October, but there are two November data points on the graph.

The Coalition is behind according to the latest Essential poll figures.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

In late October, Labor led by 49-44 on Essential’s “two party-preferred-plus” measure that includes undecided voters – other polls exclude undecided to get their two party estimates. In early November, Labor’s lead was reduced to 46-44 and in mid-November it rose slightly to 48-45.

In the mid-November poll, the federal government’s ratings for handling COVID dropped to 45-29 good from 48-29 in early November. There was a 34-34 tie between the Coalition and Labor on managing the economy generally. When economic management was asked along with other issue questions in early November, the Coalition led by 41-33.

Morgan poll

In a mid-November Morgan poll from a sample of almost 2,800, Labor led by 55.5-44.5, a 2% gain since the early November poll. Primary votes were 35.5% Coalition (down 1%), 35.5% Labor (up 0.5%), 12% Greens (up 0.5%), 3.5% One Nation (up 0.5%) and 13.5% for all others (down 0.5%).

Morgan is using respondent allocated preferences, while Newspoll uses preference flows at the 2019 election. Bonham is very sceptical of Morgan’s blowout Labor lead.

Morgan Victorian poll: Labor extends huge lead

A Morgan SMS Victorian state poll, conducted November 24 from a sample of 1,105, gave Labor a 59.5-40.5 lead, a 1.5% gain for Labor since November 11. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up 2%), 29% Coalition (down 2%), 10.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 4% UAP (up 1%), 2% Derryn Hinch’s Justice (steady) and 6% independents (down 0.5%).

Premier Daniel Andrews had a 63.5-36.5 approval rating (60.5-39.5 on November 11). By 76-24, voters agreed with the health policy that an employee is not allowed to enter their employer’s workplace unless fully vaccinated.

Read more:
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NSW Resolve poll: Coalition comfortably ahead

In a NSW Resolve poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, the state Coalition had 41% of the primary vote (steady since September), Labor 31% (up one), the Greens 10% (down one), the Shooters 2% (steady) and independents 12% (up two). Bonham estimates 53-47 to the Coalition after preferences.

Premier Dominic Perrottet led Labor’s Chris Minns as preferred premier by 34-23 (48-21 to former premier Gladys Berejiklian in September). This poll would have been conducted with the federal Resolve polls in October and November from about 1,100 respondents.

“Almost two-thirds” supported voluntary assisted dying and just 11% were opposed. Of those polled, 43% said Berejiklian should not have resigned based on revelations before ICAC. Berejiklian’s net likeability (positive minus negative views) was between +30 and +40 before her resignation. It dropped to +20 before the ICAC hearings, but has rebounded to +31.

Adrian Beaumont does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Why New Caledonia’s final independence vote could lead to instability and tarnish France’s image in the region

Originally published on theconversation.com

Mathurin Derel/AP

France is persisting with its decision to hold the final of three independence referendums in New Caledonia on December 12, disregarding Indigenous independence leaders’ calls for a postponement of the vote and now for “non-participation” – effectively a boycott – due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on their communities.

The decision threatens France’s own 30-year peace process in the semi-autonomous territory, as well as stability in its preeminent Pacific possession. A boycott of the vote by the Indigenous Kanak population could potentially return the territory to the turmoil of the 1980s, with regional consequences.

Why is another independence referendum happening?

The Indigenous-based independence movement gathered strength in New Caledonia in the 1970s and early 1980s as France rolled back autonomy provisions it had agreed to and encouraged immigration from other parts of France to outnumber independence supporters.

By the 1980s, Kanak frustration led to violent protests in the territory and a boycott of an independence referendum in 1987. This was followed by deadly shootings between Kanaks and French militias months later during the French presidential elections.

The Matignon/Oudinot Accord in 1988, negotiated by the French government between pro- and anti-independence groups, ended the violence. This was followed by the Noumea Accord in 1998, which promised a three-vote process for independence.

Read more:
Explainer: New Caledonia’s independence referendum, and how it could impact the region

The first two referendums, held in 2018 and 2020, delivered record turnouts (over 80%) and a slight majority for staying with France. There was, however, a large (and growing) Kanak support base for independence, rising from 43.3% to 46.7%. Just 10,000 votes separated the two sides in 2020.

Voting at a polling station in Noumea in the 2018 independence referendum.
Mathurin Derel/AP

A third vote was expected to be close, with both sides courting the 25,000 people who abstained in 2020 (of 180,000 total eligible voters). However, Kanak “non-participation” would render the vote politically void, as it did in 1987.

This final vote can be held any time before October 2022. The loyalist parties who support remaining a part of France favoured an earlier vote to consolidate their majority and allow for speedy recovery of the stagnating economy.

Independence parties preferred a later vote to maximise their chances to gain a majority.

To avoid overlap with French elections next year, the French government chose December 12 for the referendum over the opposition of independence parties.

France takes a less neutral approach

In the first two campaigns, France scrupulously observed impartiality and invited international observers. For this final vote, it has been less neutral.

For starters, the discussions on preparing for the final vote did not include all major independence party leaders. The paper required by French law explaining the consequences of the referendum to voters favoured the no side this time, to the point where loyalists used it as a campaign brochure.

The French government also selectively commissioned and released opinion polls on the role of France in New Caledonia, while the local media has highlighted the potential negative effects of independence on health and other services.

Visiting Tahiti in July, President Emmanuel Macron spoke in strong terms of the threats to small isolated Pacific islands without France to protect them. France is also deploying more security personnel to New Caledonia for this year’s vote.

Read more:
Why New Caledonia’s instability is not just a problem for France

An ominous impasse with the Kanaks

The impact of the COVID pandemic has played a major role in this year’s referendum.

New Caledonia had experienced few cases and no deaths from the start of the pandemic until the Delta variant made its way to the territory in September. Since then, there have been nearly 300 deaths, most in the Kanak community.

Citing Kanak mourning rites involving lengthy community grieving, independence leaders sought a postponement of the December 12 vote, emphasising the potential effect on campaigning and turnout.

The Customary Senate, the assembly of the Kanak area councils, declared a 12-month mourning period, while the pro-independence leaders threatened Kanak “non-participation” in the vote.

However, France’s overseas territory minister, Sebastien Lecornu, confirmed the December date. He said France’s non-compulsory voting system allowed anyone to choose not to participate if they wished.

The reaction among Kanaks was strong. Independence leaders reaffirmed their call for peaceful non-participation, eschewing the term “boycott” because of its association with the 1987 referendum boycott and the violence that followed. They noted, though, their 30,000 young Kanak supporters would not necessarily obey.

They also formed a new strategy committee to prepare a response to France’s decision to proceed with the vote. One leader described the decision as an “apparent declaration of war on Kanaks”.

On December 5, a group of largely Kanaks asked France’s highest court of appeal to urgently review the decision and postpone the vote until after the June French elections.

The pro-independence parties have said they would contest the result if the referendum goes ahead, and would not participate in discussions about the territory’s future that France has proposed for the day after the vote.

What the referendum means for the region

If there is instability or violence in New Caledonia, or a contested referendum outcome, it will impact the region.

France’s role in the Pacific will again be at issue, as it was in the 1980s. Then, regional governments focused international attention on France’s handling of its territories’ decolonisation demands and its nuclear testing in French Polynesia, ultimately leading France to change its ways.

Read more:
315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific

France’s revised policies and serious diplomatic efforts have enabled it to forge new partnerships with Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island governments. Thus, France’s treatment of its overseas territories ultimately underpins its role in the region and its Indo-Pacific vision.

Regional leaders and analysts have urged the French government to have a rethink of its handling of this decisive vote.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, comprising Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s independence coalition, has called for postponing the referendum in the United Nations.

A “Pacific Elders Group” has also written to Macron, seeking respect for Kanak grieving custom. Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman and French Polynesian independence leader Oscar Temaru have lent their vocal support to the independence leaders.

And late last month, over 60 international academics with years of experience working on New Caledonia expressed concern over the referendum date in an open letter published by Le Monde.

For France, Australia and the rest of the region, New Caledonia’s referendum may not be the democratic beacon for the future it was designed to be, but instead, a portent of instability.

Denise Fisher does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Autistic people need a greater say in where NZ’s autism research funding is spent – here’s a way forward

Originally published on theconversation.com


Research has tremendous potential to help the estimated 93,000 autistic New Zealanders live the lives they want to live. The trouble is, funding for autism research is currently skewed away from the areas autistic people themselves say would be most useful.

When asked what future autism research should be prioritised, autistic people and autism communities often point to the need for support and services in education, health and well-being across all ages.

Yet we found a staggering two-thirds of funding for autism research awarded in Aotearoa New Zealand has been invested in projects that seek to understand biological differences associated with autism.

By contrast, 32% of total funding was invested in research into support for autistic people. There was no investment in research aimed at maximising the quality of life of autistic people by addressing the accessibility and quality of services, or into the needs of autistic people as they age.

Read more:
Autism advocacy and research misses the mark if autistic people are left out

Biology bias

Within Aotearoa there are multiple perspectives on autism. According to a Western viewpoint, it’s a neuro-developmental condition characterised by differences in the way people think, how they perceive the world and how they process social information, including communication and interaction with others. Indigenous understandings emphasise the valuing of such differences within the community.

A medicalised view that sees autism as a deficit may have contributed to a dominance of biological research. But looking through the window of biology gives us only one perspective on the vulnerabilities autistic people may face.

Read more:
Autism advocacy and research misses the mark if autistic people are left out

This is out of step with the preferences autistic people actually describe, yet the pattern is largely similar across Western countries.

In 2019, the International Autism Coordinating Committee published a report looking at autism research funding in the UK, Canada, US and Australia. Across all countries, the largest proportion of funding was allocated to basic science research, with 36% invested in biological research and 23% invested in causes and risk factors such as genetics and epigenetics. Only 16% was invested in supports, and 5% in services.

Support in daily life

For autism research to be more relevant to the autistic community, it must realign with their own priorities. To that end, an international movement toward genuine partnership in autism research has evolved. Autistic people are being included in the research process, from generating ideas through to carrying out the research and sharing the findings.

In the UK and Australia, researchers and autistic people have co-produced autism research priorities driven by community perspectives. The highest-rated priorities included more applied research, which seeks to find solutions to practical challenges autistic people face.

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How to help autistic children socialise in school

For example, research can address problems in education and the workplace, and how more inclusive spaces and practices might enable autistic people to be accepted and valued.

Research that aims to find ways of improving public knowledge and acceptance of autism could help address discrimination and stigma. Such a neurodiversity perspective frames neurological differences not as deficits but as natural variations of human experience.

Setting new priorities: a community partnership research project aims to inform the future direction of autism research in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Away from tokenism

To establish the research priorities of the autistic community in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Health Research Council has funded a project I’ve been leading throughout 2021, involving a team of autistic and non-autistic researchers.

From a series of community focus groups (including parents and whānau, Māori, healthcare and education practitioners, Pacific peoples and other researchers) we designed an online survey that is now open to the autism community.

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Research on facial expressions challenges the way we think about autism

We are also interviewing autistic young people to find out what they think. We plan to share all findings with the community, researchers and funders next year.

My hope is that this partnership project can inform the future direction of autism research in Aotearoa New Zealand – both in terms of the questions we ask and the way we try to answer them.

By listening to the preferences and priorities of the autistic community we hope to go beyond the tokenistic towards a genuine inclusiveness in research. Autistic partnership in the research moves us away from “research on” to “research with”, and can directly tackle the problems created by the present lack of balance in autism research.

Lisa Marie Emerson receives funding from the Health Research Council, Cure Kids and A Better Start.