Has the door finally opened for Samoa’s first female prime minister, after weeks of constitutional crisis?

Originally published on theconversation.com

Samoa’s constitutional crisis has entered yet another phase, just over a month after the nation’s first woman prime minister-elect, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, was locked out of parliament and sworn into office in a tent.

Samoa’s Supreme Court has today found the May 24 swearing in was unconstitutional — on the face of it a win for caretaker prime minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

However, the court also ordered that parliament convene within seven days from June 28. This is a win for Fiame’s Fa’atuatua I Le Atua Samoa Ua Tasi (FAST) Party, which has been pushing for this outcome for some time.

The much anticipated decision came with a clear warning for Tuilaepa and those who have acted on his behalf to disrupt democracy’s course. If they act to prevent parliament convening by July 5, the oaths of office taken on May 24 will be reinstated “so that the business of the nation can proceed”.

This is just the latest of many rounds in the legal fight that erupted after Samoa’s April 9 general election.

Fiame secured a one seat majority with the help of independent candidate, Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio, who will formally join the FAST Party once parliament is convened. He was named Fiame’s deputy on May 24.

But when Tuilaepa (Samoa’s political leader since 1998) refused to concede, the Pacific’s oldest democracy was plunged into dangerous waters.

Power games

In the following weeks, an erratic Tuilaepa, with the critical assistance of key officials, pushed Samoa to the brink of autocracy. In stark contrast, an unflappable Fiame has repeatedly asked Samoa’s people for patience as the courts worked through the deluge of cases caused by the election stalemate.

The Supreme Court’s caseload since April 9 has included 28 petitions disputing electoral results. These are gradually being heard, and on June 18 the court awarded an additional seat to Fiame’s FAST Party (the HRPP candidate’s election was voided when he was found guilty of breaching election rules).

A great deal of the court’s time, however, has been spent working through the repercussions of an extraordinary chain of events that began on April 20.

Read more:
Despite a veneer of democracy, Samoa is sliding into autocracy

In order to cancel FAST’s one seat majority, Head of State Afioga Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi and Samoa’s Electoral Commission announced on social media that a 52nd parliamentary seat had been created.

The move was justified on the grounds that a constitutionally mandated 10% minimum of parliamentary seats reserved for women had not been met.

Five women had won seats, and heading into the election it had been agreed the 10% threshold equated to five seats. Now the Electoral Commissioner was saying six women should have seats, and a candidate from Tuilaepa’s Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) was appointed.

Gender politics

It is one of many ironies in this political saga that Tuilaepa was using the gender quota to prevent Samoa’s first female prime minister from assuming office. With this move, the election results were again deadlocked.

The manoeuvre was one of the tactics designed to run down the clock on the constitutionally designated 45 days for a new government to be sworn in. If the May 24 deadline was broken it would trigger another election.

Then, as the courts considered the merits of the sixth seat for women, the head of state revoked the April 9 election results on the basis of the tied parliament and called for a fresh election to be held on May 21.

Read more:
Samoan democracy hangs in the balance as a constitutional arm wrestle plays out — with the world watching

But a week before the May 24 deadline, the Supreme Court found the head of state did not have the powers to void the April 9 election results and the appointment of the HRPP member to the 52nd seat was illegal.

Those decisions gave Fiame back her one seat majority and plans were on track for parliament to be sworn in by Monday May 24. (The court did subsequently decide that a sixth seat for women was required, but that parliament must sit before the seat is filled by election.)

Stronger democracy

In another twist, on the evening of Saturday May 22 the head of state suspended parliament until further notice and left Apia for his home village some distance away.

Although the Supreme Court ordered on May 23 that parliament sit the next day, the parliament building was locked by order of Tuilaepa. The FAST Party resorted to the unofficial swearing in ceremony in a tent erected on the parliament lawns, presided over by FAST lawyers in what they argued was the “principle of necessity”.

As it stands now, FAST holds a two seat majority in Samoa’s Legislative Assembly, which will increase by one when Tuala formalises his move.

Read more:
Samoa’s stunning election result: on the verge of a new ruling party for the first time in 40 years

If the Supreme Court’s latest ruling is complied with, all 51 members will be sworn into office and Fiame will be Samoa’s next prime minister within seven days. The question is, will Tuilaepa abandon the power play that has tested Samoa’s democracy like never before in its 59 years since independence in 1962?

Australia has called for the convening of parliament in its first robust statement on the crisis. Other democracies are now likely to quickly follow suit.

So far, Samoa’s own democracy has been tempered and strengthened in the fires of this crisis. But it remains to be seen whether a political leader who embodies tomorrow’s woman has finally made Tuilaepa yesterday’s man.

Patricia A. O’Brien received funding from the Australian Research Council and New Zealand’s JD Stout Trust.

How to use a trip to the playground to help your children strengthen their memory

Originally published on theconversation.com


To remember things, you need to give them your full attention.

American neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice, Lisa Genova’s key findings on preventing Alzheimer’s disease show how to enhance memory to retain information. This research can be adapted to children.

Children can be supported to exercise their mind muscles. They can learn the best ways to get information efficiently into their heads and access it effectively when they need to.

In her book Remember: the science of memory and the art of forgetting Genova points out to enhance memory we don’t need to play “computer brain games” or “read books on recall strategies”, what we simply need to do is improve our skills of noticing.

She writes that “noticing requires two things: perception (seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling) and attention”.

You can use a trip to the playground to help your children strengthen memory muscles and become better learners.

This can be done by paying attention, slowing down, mind mapping, rehearsing, enhancing the senses and mixing things up up.

Getting there

Fill your child’s backpack with snacks and drinks, and small figurines such as fairies, lions, tigers, koalas, dinosaurs or favourite small cars and trucks for storytelling and mud play.

Figurines are great for storytelling and mud play.
Karen Malone, Author provided

Kid’s binoculars and magnifying glasses are great for noticing and spying on birds and bugs.

Pack watercolour paints, brushes and recycled paper for painting, and chalk and brown baking paper for tracing bark, leaves, rocks, hands and play equipment. Play dough is great for natural sculptures.

Then you’re on your way.

Creating a mind map

Like all animals humans use mind mapping to create maps of our immediate environment to navigate our surroundings. Our brain is wired to recall where things are located in space.

For wild animals this is critical for survival and for children, it helps them to feel safe. You can’t do mind mapping in a car – it requires walking.

Walking to the playground, run your hands across fence palings and smell rosemary twigs. Encourage your children to do this too.

Let your kids notice the things around them to create a mind map of their journey.

Collect eucalypt leaves, gum nuts, acorns and other natural loose objects and pop them in the bag to be used later in potions or paintings at the park.

You could make chalk drawings of rivers and fish on the pavement as a way of finding your path back home.

This pace may seem slow but to really notice, you need to slow down. A lot of neural work is happening as children construct a mind map. The more time adds detail to the memory.

Exercising the mind

Once at the park, decrease distractions by not multitasking (turning off devices). This allows space for noticing.

Let your children explore playground equipment until they are out of breath and their bodies are tired.

Now it is time to exercise their minds. Take a pause to consider the layers of the playgrounds, the earth, grasses, tree roots, ants and bugs, plants and trees, leaves, birds and the sky.

Read more:
Don’t worry, your child’s early learning doesn’t stop just because they’re not in childcare

You can lie on your back with your children and all close your eyes. Quietening the mind, through mindfulness, allows children to be dreamy. Relaxing in a meditative state can lower anxiety and tension. Research on children in nature reveals it alleviates hyperactivity and depression. The mind can be “trained to become less reactive, to put the brakes on the runaway stress response”.

Nature helps kids relax.
Karen Malone, Author provided

You can now unpack the figurines. These can be used for children to tell stories adding twigs, and leaves for the stage. They could mix petals and water into magic potions.

Children often tuck away strong emotional responses to events or information until quiet moments. Reactivating the neural circuits through retelling or externalising experiences helps children forge positive memories and process conflicting emotions.

Re-enacting stories using figurines or other objects can help children revisit positive and negative experiences they have encountered.

Read more:
Why make-believe play is an important part of childhood development

You can encourage your child to make fairy lands or sand pit dinosaur worlds and play out past events. In this way, children can project emotions through the objects as they play out narratives.

Positive emotions like happiness and joy actually enhance children’s recall to re-activate past positive emotions. By focusing on individual senses or emotional responses children learn to connect cues with association. This builds significant new repertoires to retrieve from later.

Fairy worlds can help your kids re-enact previous experiences.
Karen Malone, Author provided

Multi-sensory and meaningful encounters, enhance our perceptions and recall by creating multi-neural pathways. This can be done by using a range of senses: smell, touch, sound etc.

You can encourage your children to pause and smell the scents, listen to birds, run a feather through fingers, collect stones. and touch rough bark and trace it on baking paper.

Set up the pencils and paints for drawing flowers or sculptures of piled up stones.

Mix it up and revisit

Genova writes “sameness is the kiss of death to memory”. If you want children to remember more of what has happened, step out of set routines and mix things up.

Read more:
Nature detectives in the backyard: 3 science activities for curious kids this summer

Go somewhere new, do something different. Look for ways to make the playground experience unusual.

You could eat food that is only green, make short digital stories, print photographs, revisit paintings, drawings and tracings, mark your journey on a map, then retell and reactivate children’s experiences as they drift to sleep.

Karen Malone 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.

Why Shayna Jack is likely to successfully defend her doping ban appeal — but still won’t be at the Tokyo Olympics

Originally published on theconversation.com

Despite the excitement of the Australian swimming trials to determine which athletes will go to the Tokyo Olympics, it was still hard to overlook the absence of swimmer Shayna Jack.

Jack is a 22-year-old Australian swimming star. She has represented Australia at the world championships and the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where she was part of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team that won gold and set a new world record.

Jack tested positive for the banned substance Ligandrol before the 2019 World Aquatics Championships. Her four-year ban was reduced to two years, but the World Anti-Doping Agency and Sports Integrity Australia have appealed that decision and are seeking to have the four-year ban reinstated.

The appeal hearing begins today. Even if Jack successfully defends the appeal, her two-year period of ineligibility ends in July. This is before the Olympics begin, but just after the Australian swimming trials.

This means no matter what happens, Jack cannot compete in Tokyo.

Background of the case

Much has been written in the media about Jack’s doping ban. This reporting is seldom incorrect, though it often omits key details that make her case difficult to fully appreciate.

Here’s the background. In June 2019, Jack participated in an out-of-competition drug test. A month later, she was informed she had returned a positive result for Ligandrol, which works in a similar way to testosterone and anabolic steroids, but with fewer side effects.

Read more:
What is Ligandrol, the drug swimmer Shayna Jack had in her system?

In December 2019, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (now Sports Integrity Australia) issued an infraction notice, informing Jack she would be ineligible to compete and train with other swimmers for four years.

Last November, Alan Sullivan QC, an arbitrator for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), ruled a four-year ban was not the appropriate sanction, on the basis that Jack’s violation was not intentionally committed.

Jack has been unwavering in her assertion she would never take a performance enhancing drug knowingly. The difficulty for her is that she has never been able to show how the Ligandrol entered her system.

Negligent versus unintentional rule violations

We believe Jack will be successful in having the appeal dismissed. Our conclusion is based on our belief she is telling the truth about her inadvertent ingestion of Ligandrol, combined with Sullivan’s legally sound arbitral decision in the CAS.

In the original CAS hearing, Jack’s lawyer argued her four-year ban should be overturned on the basis there was “no fault or negligence” on her behalf.

Establishing “no fault or negligence” is very hard to do. According to the Swimming Australia Policy, this requires athletes to prove they “could not reasonably have known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost caution” they violated an anti-doping rule.

In addition, when a prohibited substance is detected, athletes must establish how it entered their bodies. As Jack could not establish how the Ligandrol entered her system, she was not able to overturn her ban on this ground.

However, athletes can have a ban reduced from four to two years if they can establish the anti-doping rule violation was not intentional. This is what Jack’s lawyer argued, and her sanction was ultimately reduced.

The complication in Jack’s case was whether she had to establish how the Ligandrol entered her body in order to prove (on the balance of probabilities) that she did not take the substance intentionally.

The precise wording of the Swimming Australia Policy was key here: it does not explicitly require an athlete to establish the source of a prohibited substance when proving the violation was not intentional. This is a requirement only when proving “no fault or negligence” with respect to an anti-doping violation.

Key points in the appeal

Previous CAS panels have produced conflicting decisions on this point.

The arbitrator in the Jack case relied on two previous decisions to rule in her favour.

In the first case — filed by Peruvian swimmer Mauricio Fiol Villanueva — the CAS panel made clear that when an athlete cannot establish the source of a prohibited substance, it leaves the “narrowest of corridors” through which he or she could argue the violation was not intentional. According to the panel, such cases would be extremely rare.

Read more:
Sun Yang ban shows world swimming body must establish an integrity commission

The outcome of Jack’s CAS appeal rests on whether her case is one of these rare instances. Therefore, the factors that convinced Sullivan to reduce her ban will likely be key:

1) Jack was considered to be an articulate and impressive witness. She did not manufacture a story as to how the Ligandrol entered her system. She simply claimed she did not know. Sullivan described her as one of the most impressive witnesses he had seen in 40 years of legal practice.

2) Her testimony also showed she was a diligent athlete who followed all protocols from the swimming governing body and anti-doping authorities.

3) Numerous character witnesses were also persuasive, including coaches, doctors, officials, and other athletes. These included statements from Cate and Bronte Campbell, who were teammates of Jack’s in the freestyle relay event and her competitors in individual events.

4) Jack had never received a positive drug result before. She was tested on ten previous occasions between February 2018 and June 2019.

5) Jack spent considerable money and time attempting to ascertain the source of the Ligandrol.

6) The amount of Ligandrol found in her sample was classified as “low”, and considered to be pharmacologically irrelevant. It would have no performance enhancing effects at this level.

7) There was no evidence of any long-term use of a prohibited substance.

The World Anti-Doping Agency and Sports Integrity Australia have brought their appeal, based on the need for clarity in applying anti-doping principles to cases of inadvertent doping. It is unfortunate for Jack that the facts of her case represent an excellent opportunity to test some of these legal principles.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

What is Barnaby Joyce’s ‘women’ problem? And why does it matter?

Originally published on theconversation.com

There has been a mixed reaction to Barnaby Joyce’s return to leader of the federal National Party and deputy prime minister. Even some within his own party have expressed concern at his return to centre stage.

There are multiple reasons why Joyce’s restoration has failed to garner greater enthusiasm.

One concern relates to the optics of a leadership change. These events are rarely well received by the public and often lead to in-fighting and instability. They also tend to further strain public trust in the political class, particularly when the politicians involved have issued full-throated denials that a spill is imminent.

A second reason is linked to Joyce’s populist leadership style and more strident policy rhetoric on coal and climate change. Here the concern is that Joyce’s presence will exacerbate tensions within the party room, and also scramble relations with its coalition partner, the Liberals.

The third reason is the circumstances that occasioned Joyce’s resignation from the National’s leadership in 2018.

Joyce stood down voluntarily owing to a credible, but unresolved, sexual harassment allegation (which Joyce denies), and over serious concerns about the propriety of his conduct with his now partner but then staffer, Vikki Campion.

Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Blowin’ in the wind with Barnaby

The male culture of politics

Joyce’s (re)ascension signals that the Nationals are somewhat inured to growing public concerns over the unhealthy gender dynamics in parliament, even when the voices raising these uncomfortable truths are from within the party.

One of the most strikingly apparent and longstanding gender inequities in politics is the under-representation of women in Australian parliaments. Despite Australia’s strong democratic credentials, it remains one of the great laggards on achieving gender parity in parliament.

In recent decades, the problem has been especially pronounced among parties of the mainstream political right. They have consistently rejected the implementation of pre-selection quotas in favour of training programs targeted at aspiring women candidates. Although these programs can be of some help, research shows they are a less effective way of redressing under-representation.

The effects of the reliance on so-called merit-based pre-selection is especially striking in relation to the Nationals. Its record on electing women to Australian parliaments is particularly poor, a situation that academic Marian Sawer – three decades ago – attributed to the greater persistence of “sex-role conservatism” in rural Australia. Sawer proposed that the National Country Party (as the Nationals was known then) reflected this conservatism.

Data compiled by Anna Hough from the Australian Parliamentary Library shows the extent to which the party’s conservatism continues to reveal itself with the under-representation of women in Australian lower houses.

Federally, only 13% of Nationals in the House of Representatives are women. This compares to 22% for the Liberals and 43% for ALP.

A similar pattern is apparent in the states where the Nationals have a legislative presence.

In the NSW lower house, only 16.7% of the party’s contingent are women, which is much lower than for the Liberals (32%) and Labor (45.5%).

In Western Australia, while the Nationals are led by a woman (Mia Davies), she is the sole National woman in the Western Australian parliament.

In Victoria, 33% of the party’s number in the Legislative Assembly are women, and it also selected a female deputy leader (Steph Ryan).

The situation in Queensland (LNP) and the Northern Territory (CLP) is complicated because these parties are affiliated to the National and Liberal parties and not strictly divisions of the Nationals. Nevertheless, both the LNP and CLP are kindred National parties.

In the case of the LNP, only 18% of its members in the Legislative Assembly are women, compared to 40% in Labor.

The situation for the CLP is healthier but is still not a record to be admired. While the CLP’s parliamentary party is led by a woman (Lia Finocchiaro), only 38% of its MPs are female.

As Jennifer Curtin and Katrine Beauregard note, women have been “active as ordinary and executive members of the party”. Notwithstanding this achievement, low levels of women in party rooms, and in lower houses particularly – which are practically and symbolically important as the chamber of government – does seriously limit the diversity of perspectives that are represented in policy and law making.

Read more:
Barnaby Joyce’s return, and John Anderson’s loss, is symbolic of a political culture gone awry

Why Joyce’s return makes this situation worse

Joyce has not done much to instil confidence that he has learned anything in his years returned to the backbench.

While acknowledging his faults and remarking that he “hopes” he has “come back a better person”, it is not clear what new insights Joyce gained about the events that caused him to resign, especially given he has no appetite to “dwell on the personal”.

His lack of introspection is perhaps not surprising given how he managed the situation in 2018.

At the time, Joyce was quick to declare that none of the “litany of allegations” levelled against him had been “sustained”. He emphasised that he was stepping aside for the “person in the weatherboard and iron”, and not because it was warranted by his conduct.

The Nationals have calculated they will not pay much of an electoral price for their decision to return him as leader. As the federal president of the National Party, Kay Hull, reasoned:

“[s]ome women may be disappointed but […] the only women that will be voting or not voting for Barnaby Joyce will be the women of New England.

Hull may be right, but there are potentially other costs associated with the party’s actions.

As the smaller party in the coalition, the Nationals have not had to defend their record on gender in the same way as their Liberal counterpart. Joyce’s return will make it increasingly difficult for the Nationals to fly under the radar on this issue. At least, let’s hope that it does.

Narelle Miragliotta 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.

View from the Hill: COVID battle on a knife edge

Originally published on theconversation.com

The argument Scott Morrison has consistently put – that NSW has a better way of dealing with COVID, by avoiding comprehensive closures – has been blown away by Gladys Berejiklian’s reluctant resort to a lockdown of greater Sydney and other places.

In the end, the disease dictates the response, at least if a community wants maximum safety. And it will find the inevitable holes in even a strong defensive fence.

In NSW, the Sunday update recorded 30 new cases. New cases have also emerged in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as in Queensland. The NT, with a large indigenous population, is a potential worry, although up to now, the protection of the indigenous population has been very effective.

In a video on the NSW lockdown Morrison – himself still in quarantine after his overseas trip – said NSW had “the best contact tracing system” in the country, indeed the world.

Regardless, NSW is on a knife edge – the coming days will show whether this will be a nasty but brief pause on activity, like the recent Victorian one, or something much more serious.

Despite Australia being largely COVID-free compared with so many other countries, thanks to geography, strong actions by federal and state governments, and some luck, mistakes have been the cause of a string of outbreaks.

Many breaches of hotel quarantine have occurred – although given the number of people passing through and the fact hotels are not ideal for the purpose, perhaps the surprise is there haven’t been more.

In NSW most recently, an unvaccinated driver who transported international airline crew was at the centre of the outbreak.

Read more:
View from The Hill: New ‘expert’ advice is in – don’t say ‘it’s not a race’

The regulations didn’t require these drivers to be vaccinated or wear masks, a clear gap in the NSW system.

Even if the Morrison government’s performance had been better this year, we’d still have outbreaks. But we would feel in a safer position dealing with them than we are now.

The federal government took responsibility for the vaccination rollout – the states have a significant role but are subsidiary.

How the federal government has fallen short has become well known. The rollout has been slow and beset by problems. On quarantine, there has also been tardiness: the government did expand the Howard Springs centre (from which there have been no leaks) but it has only just given the tick to a purpose-built centre in Victoria, and even more recently moved on centres to be built in Queensland and WA.

It first put faith in the University of Queensland vaccine which fell over, and then relied too much on AstraZeneca, failing last year to secure a broad enough basket of vaccines, scheduled to arrive early enough.

It boasted about CSL’s capacity to produce AstraZeneca, but then when the rare blood clot trouble arose with that vaccine, the Pfizer supplies couldn’t come fast enough – which will be the case for some months yet.

So now there is an impasse. People need to be vaccinated ASAP but there are shortages, or potential shortages, of Pfizer for those for whom it is recommended, and those who are now demanding it because they don’t trust AstraZeneca. The staged-by-age rollout has to be maintained because of the supply issue, although desirably anyone who wanted to be should be vaccinated at once.

The government is much criticised for the inadequacy of its communications campaign, which is limited and weak. But it is also caught – changes of medical advice about AstraZeneca (and who knows if or when it may alter again?) and limited supplies of Pfizer complicate things.

On issues of distribution logistics and the like, the arrival of Lieutenant General “JJ” Frewen to oversee the rollout will help.

But some problems are not easily solved, especially where they involve differences between the politicians and the health advisers.

Federal and state governments have had the constant mantra of following what the experts say. But now there is some questioning of that.

One example is mandating vaccination for aged care workers. National cabinet a few weeks ago leaned to requiring this, but the health advisers were reluctant. They feared an exodus from the workforce.

They were asked to go back and look at a timetable anyway. So far, there is still no mandating. A spokesperson for Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday: “They are expected to provide advice ahead of the next National Cabinet meeting”.

The health department said on Sunday that as of June 25, 2,665 of 2,869 services had reported on workforce COVID-19 vaccination. “The data shows that 88,287 of 262,876 residential aged care workers, equating to 33.6%, have reported receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Of these, 42,794 workers have reported receiving a second dose,” the department said.

The chair of the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Jane Halton, says “from a council perspective we remain perplexed and frustrated that the requirement to be vaccinated has not been mandated nationally [for these workers]”.

Halton points out that some residents in aged care facilities will remain, by choice or for medical reasons, unvaccinated and so vulnerable.

Read more:
Learning from COVID: how to improve future supplies of medical equipment and vaccines

Most of Australia’s COVID deaths have been among residents from aged care facilities. These facilities are a federal government responsibility and while we’d expect they are better prepared now, unvaccinated workers remain a high risk.

The issue of compulsory vaccinations for these workers is only one among many instances of the slowness that has beset the federal government this year, just as it needs – for health, economic and, not least, electoral reasons – to have the running shoes on.

All this as the virus becomes much more infectious.

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.

Joyce repays supporters and demotes opponents in a ‘reward and punishment’ reshuffle

Originally published on theconversation.com

The Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie has been restored to cabinet and Darren Chester has been dropped to the backbench in a reshuffle of blatant reward and punishment following Barnaby Joyce’s elevation.

Andrew Gee, whose switch to Joyce was important in his victory, goes from the outer ministry into Chester’s cabinet spot, and his portfolios of veterans affairs and defence personnel. Chester had been an outspoken supporter of ousted leader Michael McCormack.

McKenzie becomes minister for regionalisation, regional communications and regional education, as well as minister for drought and emergency management. It had been speculated that she wanted responsibility for agriculture.

Deputy leader David Littleproud retains agriculture but loses emergency management while gaining responsibility for northern Australia. He will retain a stake in the policy side of drought, which he previously had responsibility for, through his agriculture job.

It is something of a slap for Littleproud – who would have run for leader if McCormack had not stood – given his deputy position. Emergency management has a high profile.

Keith Pitt keeps resources and water but is dropped to the outer ministry and loses responsibility for northern Australia.

The very political nature of the changes, with their paybacks, risks reinforcing the divisions that have plagued the Nationals.

In the Coalition, the Nationals leader chooses their team but has to negotiate with the prime minister on portfolios. In this reshuffle the Nationals have not been able to encroach on any portfolios held by Liberals.

The changes were announced by Scott Morrison.

Morrison forced McKenzie’s resignation in early 2020 in the wake of the sports rorts affair.

Morrison said McKenzie would have “a clear focus on service delivery in regional Australia and be responsible for the continued work developing Australia’s disaster management capability”.

David Gillespie joins the ministry as minister for regional health, and will be deputy leader of the House, a post Chester held. Mark Coulton is relegated from the junior ministry to the backbench.

Kevin Hogan will be assistant minister to Joyce, as he was to McCormack, and becomes assistant minister for local government.

Michelle Landry continues as assistant minister for children and families, but loses her previous post of assistant minister for northern Australia.

Outside the formal executive senator Susan McDonald, from Queensland, another Joyce supporter, has been given the role of “envoy for northern Australia”.

Morrison said: “These changes will provide the strongest female representation in an Australian government cabinet on record, building on the previous record also achieved under my government”.

One of Joyce’s political problems is seen to be the opposition from significant women in the rural community, as well as the doubts about him from some within his party given that a claim (which he rejects) of sexual harassment was key to his resignation from the leadership in 2018.

Chester said in a statement: “I will continue to advocate strongly for Australians to understand that the majority of veterans will transition successfully to civilian life. The myth that all veterans are broken is damaging to their well-being and creates a vicious circle of despondency and desperation.

“As a grateful nation, we must support those who need our help but at the same time promote the many achievements of our veteran community.”

The limit of Joyce’s clout was shown at the weekend when one of his supporters, Northern Territory senator Sam McMahon was defeated for preselection by Jacinta Price.

Michelle Grattan 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.

How Eleanor Roosevelt reshaped the role of First Lady and became a feminist icon

Originally published on theconversation.com

This piece is part of a new series in collaboration with the ABC’s Saturday Extra program. Each week, the show will have a “who am I” quiz for listeners about influential figures who helped shape the 20th century, and we will publish profiles for each one. You can read the first piece in the series here.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history” is a phrase frequently trotted out around International Women’s Day, and just as frequently attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.
It doesn’t matter that the former First Lady of the United States never actually said this – in fact, it was Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in an obscure academic article in the 1970s – the misattributed quote endures, further cementing Roosevelt’s reputation as one of the most inspiring women of all time.

2021 has also seen the unveiling of the Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie Doll, another marker of her iconic status. In this she has joined the “Inspirational Women” series — following, among others, Maya Angelou, Florence Nightingale, Frida Kahlo and her friend, aviator Amelia Earhart. (Whether she would have approved is another matter.)

Despite her 1.8-metre fame, or perhaps because of it, ER – as she was colloquially known – was not one to draw extra attention to herself. However, she came to excel at using her platform to uplift others or promote her favourite causes, including women’s rights and racial equality.

Read more:
Why politics today can’t give us the heroes we need

Two days after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration as the 32nd president of the US in March 1933, the new First Lady held her first White House press conference for women reporters only. This was the first of 378 such events, offering unprecedented access for women journalists over the 12 years, or three terms, FDR was in power.

In another historic first, Eleanor Roosevelt twice invited African American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at the White House – including for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their US tour in 1939. In the same year, behind the scenes, she lobbied for Anderson to perform an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the then racially segregated capital – a performance since described as a “watershed moment in civil rights history”.

Eleanor Roosevelt twice invited singer Marian Anderson to perform at the White House.
The White House Historical Association

Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Democrats’ “New Deal” and the second world war, ER transformed the First Lady role from largely ceremonial to much more publicly and politically engaged one.

As well as opening the White House to new constituencies, she extended her duties far beyond the official residence. With the president’s mobility compromised by his paralysis, ER was frequently dispatched to gather evidence, inspect government works and assess public opinion within the US and sometimes internationally. Her extensive travel made her an easy target for media satire – “Mrs Roosevelt Spends Night at White House” ran one headline – and earned her the nickname “Eleanor Everywhere” (now the name of one of several children’s books about her).

Her most famous overseas trip was the five-week South Pacific tour of 1943. Travelling as an ambassador for the American Red Cross, she was flown 25,000 miles on a four-engine military plane, the Liberator, from San Francisco to Hawaii, on to the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia, and back again.

In Australia, thousands lined the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to greet her. In Canberra, she became the first woman ever to be an official guest at a luncheon at Parliament House. Prime Minister John Curtin toasted her by saying “you are one of the most distinguished figures of our age”.

‘ER’ with Prime Minister John Curtin on her trip to Australia in 1942.

The First Lady dutifully reported interesting observations about Australia in her widely syndicated My Day column. Privately, however, she found the official engagements exhausting and trivial compared with her core mission of visiting US service personnel. In her 1949 memoir This I Remember, it was the impact of meeting American GIs in military hospitals that lingered with her. She wrote:

The Pacific trip left a mark from which I think I shall never be free.

Roosevelt’s My Day column ran six days a week from 1935 to mere weeks before her death in 1962. In that time, she only ever missed four days – when her husband collapsed and died, just months into his historic fourth term in office in April 1945.

Not long after, the next phase of her life began when FDR’s successor Harry Truman appointed her US delegate to the United Nations, declaring her “First Lady of the World”. As Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (1946-51), she was a driving force in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – although not the only one.

As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was admired, but controversial. Now, she frequently tops US polls as the most popular First Lady in history. Fascination with her life and character has only increased, indexed by a steady stream of books focused on her private life — her marriage to womaniser FDR, her passionate friendships with women and men, who may or may not have been lovers – as well her public achievements.

Amy Bloom’s 2018 novel White Houses, fictionalising Eleanor’s relationship with journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickock, was a bestseller, as is the most recent biography by David Michaelis, Eleanor, released late last year.

Read more:
Remembering Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the theatre of war

In 1968, Eleanor Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize and in 1998, the United Nations Association of the USA inaugurated the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

For Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady most often compared to Roosevelt, Eleanor was so inspirational she is rumoured to have held imaginary conversations with her at crossroads in her political career.

Finally, inspirational quotes that Eleanor Roosevelt actually said or wrote continue to circulate. To end with one that captures how she herself redefined the possibilities of leadership:

A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.

Zora Simic receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Why did the Miami apartment building collapse? And are others in danger?

Originally published on theconversation.com

Lynne Sladky/AP

Just before 2am US Eastern Daylight Time on June 24, the Champlain Towers South Tower in Surfside, South Florida, partially collapsed.

The 12-storey building with 136 apartments was built in 1981 on reclaimed wetlands. More than 55 apartments have been destroyed. At least one person is confirmed dead — with some reports claiming three — and about 100 people remain unaccounted for. Many others have been injured.

It’s unclear at this stage why the building collapsed, but it has been speculated that it had been sinking over time, which may have contributed to the collapse. It’s likely the actual cause of the collapse won’t be known for months, if ever.

However, it is important to find out exactly what happened, and what it might mean for similar buildings in Miami and around the world.

A domino effect

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said:

There’s no reason for this building to go down like that unless someone literally pulls out the supports from underneath or they get washed out or there’s a sinkhole or something like that, because it just went down.

Video footage suggests the building experienced a progressive collapse. This happens when there is failure of a primary structural element, which then causes failure of adjoining members. For example, if one floor can’t support the floors above it, those floors collapse and “pancake” the floors below.

While such apartment buildings are designed to carry heavy loads under normal static conditions, they provide little resistance against dynamic moving masses — such as an upper section pancaking a section below.

The Miami building’s progressive collapse is a similar effect to that witnessed on September 11, 2001, when fires inside the World Trade Centre twin towers weakened the buildings’ structure and triggered a progressive collapse. However, in the case of the recent collapse, there was no evidence of a fire.

Potential causes

While the cause of the disaster isn’t immediately clear, some explanations are more likely than others for this type of collapse.

It has been reported the building, which was constructed on reclaimed wetlands, was sinking. Building on unstable land could have caused damage to the foundations over time. When buildings experience lots of ground movement, large cracking can occur, causing structural damage.

There was also construction work ongoing nearby, and investigators will need to consider whether this could have disturbed the foundations. This nearby construction work could have created ground movement under nearby buildings due to vibrations or deep excavations work.

The recent work on the building’s roof will also have to be investigated, although it’s less likely this extra load would have caused the collapse. The building was also undergoing a 40-year recertification, as is required in Florida, and early media reports are that this process had not identified any major issue with the building.

Others may be at risk

The building foundation for such high-rises will typically rely on a type of “pile” foundation. Piles are essentially long, slender columns, made of materials such as concrete and steel, which transfer the load from the building deep into the ground.

If there was a reduction in the capacity of the soil to support these loads, such as in the event of a sinkhole, there would be nothing underpinning the building. Given the information that has emerged so far, it’s likely the sinking of the building over time may have been a key factor in its ultimate collapse.

Once the initial emergency search for survivors is completed, and the remaining part of the structure is deemed safe, attention will turn to what exactly caused the collapse. A range of experts (such as structural engineers) will be involved in this review.

In previous similar building collapses in the United States, the causes have typically been identified following investigations. For instance, in the case of one 2013 Philadelphia building accident, the catastrophe was attributed to the reckless and unsafe removal of structural supports during demolition work on a vacant building.
This caused the vacant building to collapse onto a store, causing multiple deaths.

In the case of the Miami building, however, the exact cause may not be as easy to identify. The building had undergone several inspections during the ongoing recertification process, yet it appears imminent danger was not detected.

Investigating a building collapse typically takes months, and a full answer is sometimes never found. Right now in Miami, this process should be as rapid as possible, as nearby buildings may also be in danger.

For residents’ sake, the question of whether this incident was an isolated freak event will need to be answered quickly and comprehensively.

Trivess Moore has received funding from various organisations including the Australian Research Council, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Victorian Government and various industry partners. He is a trustee of the Fuel Poverty Research Network.

David Oswald has received funding from various organisations including the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and the Association of Researchers in Construction Management. He is the lead guest editor for a special issue in the journal Construction, Management and Economics, titled: ‘Construction defects, danger, disruption and disputes: A systemic view of the construction industry post-Grenfell.’

A mining camp won’t cut it: Australia’s quarantine system needs a smarter design

Originally published on theconversation.com
Screen Shot at am

The announcement that the Victorian and federal governments will build a 1,000-bed COVID quarantine hub at Mickleham in Melbourne’s north marks a welcome end, or at least a fresh chapter, to the finger-pointing over Australia’s quarantine saga.

Time is of the essence when protecting Australians from COVID, so hats off to both governments for setting an ambitious timeline that could see the facility up and running by the end of this year.

But in their haste to deliver an alternative to hotel quarantine, we believe the governments haven’t taken advantage of the newest available innovations.

The plan for the proposed quarantine facility produced by the Victorian government is, by its own admission, little more than a specced-up version of a mining camp, similar to the Howard Springs facility already in use in the Northern Territory. In turn, this type of construction harks back to the postwar quarantine facilities built from the 1950s onwards.

Part of the problem with the current proposal is the focus on the “hardware”, with almost no discussion of the “software”. By hardware, we mean buildings, physical structures, road layouts and infrastructure; by software, we mean how it will be used, the operational patterns and processes, and “softer” operational modes of use and their technologies.

This hardware-centric approach would be more reassuring if the hardware were the best and fittest for use, but unfortunately the proposal has reached for what it knows, and what it knows is around 70 years old.

A smarter way

We and our colleagues at the Building 4.0 Cooperative Research Centre, funded jointly by the federal government and a consortium of industry, are developing a state-of-the-art design, called Q_Smart, which we submitted to the Victorian government in March 2021.

In our proposal, building services, controls, sensors and management systems (alongside well-designed and efficiently produced buildings) all play a role in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. We might think of this as a correction towards a more “software-driven” approach, as it seeks to use a range of processes, techniques and technologies already available from our collaborators at Siemens to augment the work done by the physical structures.

In terms of the physical layout, our design avoids the large common corridors, inadequate air-tightness controls for rooms, or unhygienic air handling systems that have emerged as problems with current hotel stock.

Building 4.0 CRC

As leading infection control experts have already pointed out, mining dongas may have worked well so far for quarantine at the repurposed Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. But from an epidemiological point of view, the current design is concerning for the proximity of neighbouring verandahs, especially in cases where more than one group of quarantine residents is housed in a unit.

The government’s provisional staffing patterns for the new facility suggests that separation between residents will rely on strict protocols around staff movements and quarantine measures intended to slow and limit the spread of disease, should a breach occur.

Read more:
This is how we should build and staff Victoria’s new quarantine facility, say two infection control experts

In contrast, the smart building management system we are developing would not “wait” for a breach to occur, but would aim to stop such contact ever being made. A door would not open, an airlock would have its contents automatically evacuated, and UV light would cleanse contaminated surfaces or air in ducting.

Some of these features, such as proximity authentication, are innovations that we routinely expect from our 20-year-old cars. If we turn to our now ubiquitous smartphones, there are yet further possibilities to safely and conveniently track and control movement in more humane way that would not need to reach for punitive ankle bracelets and the like. And, yes, should a breach occur, such systems could ultimately carry out near-instantaneous contact-tracing.

But such a system could only work if the “hardware” and “software” are fully integrated and planned together from the start.

An eye on the future

There are many ways to deal with quarantine, and although it may be too late to integrate our designs into the proposed Victorian facility, perhaps other states and territories embarking on building ventures might yet consider this advice.

In viewing the current proposed plan of closely spaced mining dongas, arranged in “mini-districts”, it is nigh-on impossible to imagine it being used for anything other than a quarantine facility, or perhaps a correctional centre.

The plan for the proposed quarantine hub makes it hard to imagine it being used for anything other than quarantine – or perhaps a correctional facility.

Read more:
Hotel quarantine causes 1 outbreak for every 204 infected travellers. It’s far from ‘fit for purpose’

Q_Smart, on the other hand, was designed to be flexible, reusable and adaptable to different sites, which, for example, may not necessarily have large amounts of flat open space. This would potentially allow facilities built for quarantine to be reused for other purposes after the pandemic. Transforming the building’s operational pattern would be a matter of simply flipping a few (virtual) switches. Depending on the use case, certain controls could be activated or deactivated, new patterns of movement through the buildings could be enabled or disabled almost instantaneously.

With more thinking and development, perhaps such buildings could also be used as affordable housing, or disaster relief accommodation or — how’s this for ironic — future hotels.

This article was coauthored by Dr Bronwyn Evans AM, chair of Building 4.0 CRC and chief executive of Engineers Australia.

Mathew Aitchison is CEO of Building 4.0 CRC, a Commonwealth Government funded R&D centre. The Q_Smart initiative was carried out in collaboration with Siemens.

Australia once rejected ‘feeble-minded’ immigrants. While the language has changed, discrimination remains

Originally published on theconversation.com

Artist: Marcus Fernihough, Author provided

“Idiots”, “imbeciles”, the “feeble-minded”, anyone with a “loathsome disease”: all were refused entry into Australia under early migration acts. Today, the language has changed, but the thrust of migration health regulations has not.

The government has strict health regulations for migrants for three main reasons: to protect public health, preserve access to scarce resources such as organ transplants, and control government spending on community and health services.

While few disagree with the first two, the focus on cost to the community is problematic. This has been used to prevent people with disabilities from becoming permanent residents, even Australian-born children such as Kayaan Katyal, Shaffan Butt or Kayban Jamshaad.

The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 outlawed raced-based discrimination in migration. By contrast, the Migration Act of 1958 is exempt from the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, passed in 1992.

Australia has also excluded itself from compliance with some aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability to allow it to maintain its discriminatory migration practices.

How do the current health regulations work?

Migration health policy requires visa applicants to be assessed to ensure their future costs to community services will not exceed the so-called “significant” threshold of A$49,000, measured over a specified period depending on the type of visa and health issue.

Some visas in the family and employer-sponsored area allow an applicant to argue for the health requirement to be waived because of personal circumstances and their ability to contribute to society.

Other visas have no waiver, such as investment visas. An investor worth millions who has a child with a disability has no capacity to argue for a waiver; nor does an elite sportsperson, scientist, or academic offered permanent employment. The benefits an applicant brings have no bearing if there is no waiver.

Read more:
Visa policy for overseas students with a disability is nonsensical and discriminatory

If a visa applicant is eligible for a waiver, it can still take years for a visa to be granted, usually at considerable personal and financial cost.

Shaffan Butt was born in Australia in 2014 with a disabling condition that makes the prospect of a flight life-threatening. His family applied for a permanent visa in early 2016, but could not apply for a waiver, despite Shaffan’s perilous circumstances.

They were refused by the Administrative Appeal Tribunal in 2019 since Shaffan’s health care costs exceeded the “significant” threshold. The family is still seeking a response to their appeal from the immigration minister. In limbo for more than five years, their anguish has been enormous.

How many people are affected?

According to statistics provided to me by a home affairs spokesperson, over 99% of the nearly 900,000 applicants who undertook a visa health examination in 2019–20 met the requirement. Only 1,300 people did not, about half of whom had no access to a waiver and were refused outright.

Of the 639 who were eligible for a waiver, 91% were granted visas, but only after years in limbo. Just 84 waivers were ultimately refused.

While these numbers may be small, the personal cost to individuals — both those refused and those subjected to the waiver process — is beyond measure.

As one highly qualified applicant for permanent residence told the Welcoming Disability campaign, which is advocating for change:

the heart of the process is proving to the government that you’re worth more to the country than the cost of your treatment […] because of my disability I had to do more than others to be allowed the right to stay indefinitely.

What does it take to satisfy the minister?

In 2011, the Enabling Australia report recommended many changes in the health requirements for migrants. This included giving all visa applicants access to the waiver and the opportunity to argue for the benefits they can bring to society and their capacity to mitigate costs.

Some positive recommendations have been implemented. Notably, applicants for humanitarian visas are now automatically granted a waiver for the health requirement. But most recommendations have been ignored.

One policy the report recommended be dropped was the “one fails, all fails” rule, which requires all members of a family to meet the health requirement, even if they are not applying to migrate themselves.

This can have particularly bizarre implications. For example, one person I’ve worked with in my role as a migration agent, a Filipino woman named Juliet (a pseudonym), divorced her first husband and remarried an Australian while living in Australia on a temporary visa. Her two teenage children from her first marriage live in the Philippines, and though Juliet supports them financially, they are happily settled there and not applying to migrate.

But in order for Juliet to apply for a permanent visa, her children in the Philippines were subjected to a migration health assessment. Her daughter, who has a mild disability, failed the test. It took three years to satisfy the minister that her daughter’s costs to the community would be nil and grant her visa.

The government’s 2012 response to Enabling Australia accepted the recommendation to drop the “one fails, all fails” rule. But this change has still not been introduced.

True cost to the community

Canada once had similar regulations to Australia, but the government reexamined the need for them several years ago.

The government first assessed the cost impact of those denied visas, which was found to be “minuscule” — just 0.1% of Canada’s annual health care budget.

Canada changed its immigration policy to make it far easier for people with disabilities and their family members to immigrate to Canada.
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/AP

After easing the restrictions in a trial period from 2018, the government found the country was not flooded with the sick and disabled. In April, the changes became permanent.

Read more:
Finally, some changes to health-based discrimination in Canadian immigration law

Australia, too, needs to determine the actual cost of relaxing the health requirement. In the meantime, every visa applicant should be given the right to argue for a waiver, while Australian-born children like Shaffan should be granted a waiver automatically.

It’s time Australia embraced a 21st century understanding of disability and reformed its immigration system to make it more humane.

Jan Gothard is an adjunct associate professor at Murdoch University. She is a registered migration agent (MARN 1569102) with Estrin Saul Lawyers, specialising in health and disability, and is a co-founder of Welcoming Disability which supports changes in migration health laws.