Aboriginal housing policies must be based on community needs — not what non-Indigenous people think they need

Originally published on theconversation.com
Aboriginal housing policies should be developed and implemented in close consultation with individual Aboriginal communities. Getty Images

The recently announced $250 million NSW budget boost for Aboriginal housing is much welcomed and long overdue.

In implementing this important new initiative, it is critical to consult Aboriginal communities about what culturally appropriate housing looks like. In the past, public housing policies have often been imposed on Aboriginal communities based on non-Aboriginal ideals of good housing.

Research findings show the social values of Aboriginal people differ significantly from non-Aboriginal values. Unfortunately, well-intentioned government policies too often ignore these crucial differences.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to decent housing, which provides for their security, health and well-being.

However, past policies have not done enough to ensure Aboriginal people have adequate housing — it continues to lag behind non-Aboriginal housing across Australia.

Barriers to housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2020, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap included housing among its 16 key socio-economic targets to improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

However, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute recently found closing the gap targets cannot be met without addressing the current lack of affordable and quality housing.

As it stands:

a much higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in overcrowded and public housing

only 42% own their own home compared with 65% of non-Indigenous households

housing shortages are predicted to increase to 90,901 dwellings across Australia by 2031, of which 65,000 are in NSW

However, the use of financial metrics (such as the amount of money spent on Aboriginal housing) to determine the success of Aborginal housing policies can sometimes present a deceiving and biased view of the impact they have on Aboriginal communities.

It is critical the success of any Aboriginal policy is measured in a way which reflects Aboriginal cultural connections to country and kinship. These measurements should not reflect non-Aboriginal values of individualism and materialism, which typically guide government assessments of success and failure.

This is why it was reassuring to hear NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet state:

This budget is not just about dollars; it is about our commitment to ensure funding is directed to the areas where it can make the most difference for Aboriginal communities across our state.

It remains to be seen, though, whether the NSW government has the tools and knowledge to assess and communicate the success of policies affecting Aboriginal people in this way.

Important lessons for Aboriginal housing policy

Our research at the Indigenous Infrastructure and Sustainable Housing Alliance, in partnership with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, shows decent housing is critical for the health and well-being of Aboriginal communities.

The negative impacts of culturally inappropriate and poor-quality housing on the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially young people, has been well-known for many decades.

Well-intentioned housing policies that are inappropriately designed and implemented can represent yet another form of controlling and monitoring of Aboriginal communities.

We have found a large number of housing problems for Aboriginal people, which can be summarised into four main areas:


ageing housing stock

poor quality construction and maintenance (especially waterproofing)

inappropriate standardised designs which do not reflect Aboriginal cultural values and family structures.

Our evaluation of the NSW’s Roads to Home Program also highlights the importance of addressing underlying infrastructure deficiencies in Aboriginal communities.

Poorly maintained and constructed roads, footpaths, drains, and electricity and telecommunications systems present potential risks to peoples’ health, safety, security and wellbeing. And this, in turn, creates structural disadvantage and further isolates them from surrounding non-Aboriginal communities

It is good to see much-needed upgrades to infrastructure, such as drainage, roads and footpaths, continuing at a cost of $34.1 million over three years under the program.

The program also invests in road and infrastructure upgrades in Aboriginal communities, such as former reserves and missions. It commenced in July 2019, with ten communities being initially upgraded over a four-year period at a cost of $54.8 million.

What culturally responsive housing can look like

We have developed a series of design principles to inform culturally responsive housing designs currently under development in northwestern NSW.

These principles can be simplified under three main headings:

orientation (building and block orientation)

house layout (how the house is laid out internally)

materials (durability, ease of maintenance)

To address the legacy of past Aboriginal housing policies new Aboriginal housing should reflect the diverse cultures, climate variations and environments of Aboriginal communities. They must not be built around the traditional, western, nuclear family model. Housing should be resilient, sustainable and provide flexible and adaptable spaces for extended families and community activities.

Importantly, they must also comply with the Building Code of Australia since too much Aboriginal housing has been built below Australian standards.

In building community resilience, hope and prosperity, our research also shows any new Aboriginal housing should also be implemented alongside social procurement policies. This ensures future projects provide meaningful and sustainable training and employment opportunities for the people who live in these communities.

However, governments must be committed to enforcing these policies and measuring their impact from Aboriginal people’s perspectives.

Most importantly, Aboriginal housing policies should be developed and implemented in close consultation with Aboriginal people, recognising each community’s unique cultures, needs and priorities.

Martin Loosemore receives funding from the Australian Research Council, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Campbell Drake has received research funding from the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office and The NSW Department of Planning Industry & Environment.

John Evans receives funding from the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment and the Australian Research Council.

Sara Wilkinson receives funding from the ARC, the Kamprad Foundation, Sweden, Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO) and Dept of Planning Industry & Environment (DPIE).

New Zealand approves Pfizer vaccine for young people from 12 to 15, but they’ll have to wait their turn

Originally published on theconversation.com

Krzysztof Zatycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New Zealand’s medicines regulator Medsafe has granted provisional approval of the Pfizer vaccine for youth aged 12 to 15, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expects cabinet approval to follow next week.

Once cabinet approves, 12-15-year-olds will become eligible for vaccination towards the end of the year, after older groups have had their turn.

Although children are at lower risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 than older people, it is still essential to vaccinate them for two reasons.

First, if children catch the virus they can spread it to other people, including higher-risk groups or people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. Several countries have seen outbreaks start in young people and spread into older age groups, causing significant hospitalisations and deaths.

Second, although the risk of death is very small, children can still suffer significant long-term health complications as a result of COVID-19, often known as long COVID. This has been shown to affect a significant proportion of people, even in younger age groups.

Read more:
Long COVID in children: what parents and teachers need to know

The Medsafe approval is based on solid data showing the vaccine is safe and highly effective for this age group. It follows similar moves in Europe, the US and Canada.

Vaccinating teenagers reduces their risk of getting sick and of passing the virus to others. By getting vaccinated, we are protecting not only ourselves, but also those around us.

How children fit into New Zealand’s rollout plan

In New Zealand, 265,000 children are in the 12-15 age group, accounting for just over 5% of the population. Add that to the 80% who are older than 16, and the Pfizer vaccine now has Medsafe approval for use in 85% of the population. This is good news because we will need really high vaccination rates to have a chance of reaching population immunity (sometime called herd immunity).

The vaccine is not mandatory and it’s likely not everyone will want to take it. This means we might need to vaccinate some children in younger age groups. Trials are currently underway to assess if the vaccine is appropriate for children aged six to 11. Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Medsafe would consider the trial results once available.

There is a strong relationship between age and risk of severe COVID-19. It makes sense for the general rollout to start with older people and gradually work through the age groups, as Ardern announced last week. There may be exceptions — teenagers living with border workers or who have underlying health conditions could be offered the vaccine earlier in the rollout.

There are also other risk factors. We know that as a result of longstanding systemic racism in the healthcare system, Māori and Pacific people are at higher risk of needing hospital treatment for COVID-19. Therefore, an equitable rollout should ensure Māori and Pacific communities are prioritised for early access to the vaccine.

Read more:
Research shows Māori are more likely to die from COVID-19 than other New Zealanders

Moving towards collective immunity

At the moment, New Zealand’s population is like a pile of dry kindling: sparks of COVID-19 from countries around the world are constantly threatening to set it ablaze. Vaccinating our population is like dousing that kindling pile with a hose.

To begin with, the wood is still dry enough that a spark landing in the wrong place could set it alight. But eventually, once the wood is wet enough, there might be a bit of smouldering here and there, but the fire won’t be able to take off.

The government has laid out its side of the bargain: the plan is to offer the vaccine to everyone by the end of the year. Ardern said New Zealand’s pre-purchase orders of the Pfizer vaccine will deliver enough doses during the rest of the year to offer two doses to 12-15-years-olds without anyone else missing out.

Now it’s up to all of us to do our bit and get vaccinated when our turn comes. Everyone who gets vaccinated is making a contribution to our collective immunity against the virus.

The higher we can get our collective immunity, the better protected we will be as a community, and the more options we’ll have for safely allowing international travel to resume. Vaccinating young people will be an important part of this effort and this latest announcement marks a significant step on the long journey towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Plank is affiliated with the University of Canterbury and receives funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Te Pūnaha Matatini, New Zealand’s Centre of Research Excellence in complex systems.

Media reports about vaccine hesitancy could contribute to the problem

Originally published on theconversation.com

Alongside logistical and supply issues, vaccine hesitancy has been a notable hurdle in Australia’s troubled vaccine rollout.

The news the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) now recommends Pfizer over AstraZeneca for everyone under 60, owing to a rare blood clotting disorder, is proving another blow to vaccine confidence.

With active local COVID cases in Victoria and New South Wales, it’s timely to be considering all possible factors which may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy.

One is the media. While news reports of vaccine hesitancy may well be describing genuine community concerns, they could be inadvertently fuelling COVID vaccine fears.

Why are some Australians reluctant to get a COVID vaccine?

While Australians perceive their environment is safe and relatively free from COVID-19, some will remain unmotivated to have the jab. They may hesitate to be immunised as they believe the vaccine could pose a greater risk than the virus itself.

This is not the case. ATAGI’s evolving recommendations ensure the benefit of getting vaccinated against COVID outweighs the risk for every age group.

Fear, meanwhile, is a behavioural motivator. The latest outbreak in Melbourne saw record numbers of Victorians turn up for vaccination.

Read more:
From smallpox to polio, vaccine rollouts have always had doubters. But they work in the end

A Griffith University survey conducted in the middle of 2020 found 68% of people would take a COVID-19 vaccine if one was available. Those who said they wouldn’t had concerns regarding side effects, quality of testing, and speed of vaccine development.

So we can see even when community transmission in Australia was higher, and before we knew about rare adverse events like the blood clots, safety was a key concern.

Vaccine hesitancy can stem from concerns about the safety of the vaccine.

Reporting on vaccine hesitancy could worsen the problem

For the past several months, it seems as though every other day there’s been a new report or survey in the news, revealing x proportion of people are hesitant about getting a COVID vaccine.

Our attitudes and behaviours are shaped by what others in society do — social norms. A recent study found university students in the United States who perceived their peers felt COVID-19 vaccination was important were more likely to report they intended to get a vaccine themselves.

Similarly, it’s important to acknowledge there’s a real danger hesitancy and delay in vaccination, when reported widely in the media, could catch on to more people.

Read more:
Diverse spokespeople and humour: how the government’s next ad campaign could boost COVID vaccine uptake

A review of 34 studies found the way parents interpreted media reports about vaccination depended on their pre-existing beliefs. For example, a report of a “rare” side effect might reassure parents who already believed vaccine benefits outweigh risks, whereas the same report could discourage parents who were already concerned about side effects.

Indeed, humans are prone to confirmation bias — paying more attention to information that fits with prior beliefs. Seeking and considering evidence which goes against our beliefs is hard for our brains.

But the media can help with this in the way they frame their reports. For example, emphasising that the majority of Australians want to and intend to vaccinate is a better option than focusing on the number who don’t.

For people already hesitating, another report could further shift the balance away from vaccination. So reporters should think carefully about the way they present vaccine hesitancy stories (and the need to present them in the first instance).

Reporting on vaccine safety also must be handled carefully

In Italy, media reporting about a small number of deaths following a batch of influenza vaccines in the winter of 2014/2015 was linked to a 10% reduction in influenza vaccination among people 65 and older compared to the previous season.

These deaths were quickly confirmed as unrelated to vaccination, but it seems the early reports had a significant effect on behaviour.

In a global study, three of 13 national and state level immunisation managers interviewed said “negative information conveyed in the mass media” contributed to vaccine hesitancy in their countries.

On the flip side, media reports about influenza and vaccination can also increase vaccination uptake. In this study, careful data analysis showed higher numbers of news reports with “influenza” or “flu” in the headline corresponded with higher flu vaccination uptake in the same year.

Media coverage about vaccines can both help and hinder vaccine confidence.

What should the media aim for in reporting on COVID vaccination?

Any reporting on Australians’ inclination to vaccinate should reinforce what is in fact the social norm — the intention of the majority to receive a COVID vaccine.

Further, media reporting on COVID vaccines should be careful to contextualise the benefits alongside the risks, and regularly remind consumers of reliable sources such as federal and state health departments and ATAGI.

Read more:
Alarmist reporting on COVID-19 will only heighten people’s anxieties and drive vaccine hesitancy

And while the media must be cognisant of its role, the government needs to act quickly to reverse the hesitancy trend. People are looking for reasons to have the jab; they are desperate for a national roadmap out of COVID-19.

If Australians could see how becoming vaccinated would contribute to economic prosperity (for example, reopening tourism and international education), and facilitate other things returning to normal, such as our ability to travel overseas, they would be motivated into action.

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.

View from The Hill: Nationals give Scott Morrison a muscle man to deal with – especially on net zero

Originally published on theconversation.com

One central reason why the Nationals have installed Barnaby Joyce, with all the risks and baggage he carries, is because they want someone who’ll stand up to Scott Morrison.

The minor Coalition partner is after greater influence in government, and especially more acknowledgement and credit for decisions that affect their rural and regional supporters.

One Nationals source predicted Morrison would “be furious” at the change, “because he won’t have a patsy”.

This was a harsh reference to the accommodating Michael McCormack, who wasn’t seen to ever wrestle Morrison (although McCormack argued that in private they didn’t always agree).

Morrison will be looking for a bright side. Joyce will be an asset, they’re saying in prime ministerial circles, in Queensland, the Hunter, and the Northern Territory.

Whatever Morrison’s private reaction to the unceremonious dumping of McCormack, the PM knows he is confronted with a much tougher customer.

It’s too early to say just how hard Joyce will play, but one measure of the man’s determination is that he has achieved this resurrection at all.

When he quit in 2018, after an allegation of sexual harassment (which he denies) and a scandal over an extramarital affair with a staffer (now his partner and mother of his two sons) there seemed virtually no chance the party would ever go back to him.

Joyce said after his Monday win he hoped he returned to the leadership “a better person”. The question is whether he will be a better leader.

He’ll have to discipline himself, and his tongue, and his staff will need to ensure he does. Leaving aside his personal life, he wasn’t always politically undisciplined as deputy prime minister, but he had lapses.

And he has been able to get away with saying almost anything since he’s been on the backbench, because his more outrageous comments were just discounted as “crazy Barnaby”. Now all his words will be closely monitored.

Everyone acknowledges Joyce’s campaigning ability. He’s larger-than-life and people, especially in the country, warm to a “character”.

Except this time round he has the “women problem”, which concerns some colleagues.

The harassment complaint made by well-known rural woman Catherine Marriott was never resolved to her satisfaction.

Nationals assistant minister Michelle Landry told news.com.au before the vote, “I think that if he became leader again there would be women out there that would be unhappy with that.

“There were women out there who made accusations, none of that was ever proven but I do know there [are] women who would not be happy.”

Joyce returns to the leadership when the debate about sexual harassment and the treatment of women is on the front line of politics in a way it wasn’t before.

Reuniting the shambolic Nationals, who have been consumed with bitterness and infighting, won’t be easy. Some people will be angry and alienated, although they won’t have an alternative to coalesce around.

Joyce and deputy leader David Littleproud will need to work closely. Littleproud no doubt harboured the long-shot ambition he might emerge as leader on Monday – if McCormack resigned and left the way for him to run against Joyce.

It was not to be, and Littleproud has signed up to the new regime. It’s his best option. He’s 44, so has time to wait. If he’s patient, he can hope eventually to inherit the leadership if the Coalition remains in government, or win it in opposition.

The crucial relationship for Joyce to manage is with Morrison – promoting an agenda on behalf of the Nationals but not to the extent of creating destructive divisions that harm the entire government.

For his part, Morrison has to decide when to resist Joyce’s demands, and when to accede or compromise. In failing to allow McCormack visible victories, the PM weakened him and stirred Nationals’ resentment.

Immediate issues for Joyce will be ministerial changes, and what demands he might pursue in the new Coalition agreement he’ll conclude with Morrison.

The party’s Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, is expected to return to the frontbench. Morrison made McKenzie the fall girl in the sports rorts affairs. Presumably he’ll take the pragmatic view she’s served her time.

The stretch point for Morrison and Joyce will be the net zero 2050 target.

Morrison has been inching towards embracing 2050 as a firm target before the November Glasgow climate conference. The feeling by some Nationals that McCormack would probably roll over was one factor in his demise.

Joyce said after his Monday victory he will be guided by his party on this issue.

Only a minority in the Nationals would favour endorsing the target – including most notably Littleproud (if agriculture was adequately looked after). But many in the farming sector are looking for a progressive climate policy.

Morrison must decide whether to press the case for firming the commitment, as Joe Biden and Boris Johnson urge him to do, or stay with his present loose wording of net zero “preferably” by 2050, to avoid a fight with the Nationals.

Joyce has varying voices in his party and its broader constituency. But his own view, as of February this year, was clearly stated in an article written with Nationals senator Matt Canavan and published in The Australian: “Even before you consider the impact on our mining and manufacturing industries, a net-zero emissions policy would destroy any hope of expanding Australian farming. If the Nationals supported net-zero emissions we would cease to be a party that could credibly represent farmers.”

Yet again, the climate issue has played its part in the fall of a leader. Once more, it remains a dangerous irritant to be dealt with within the Coalition, which will test both leaders and their relations.

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.

What are the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines? And how effective are they? Two experts explain

Originally published on theconversation.com

Rahmat Gul/AP/AAP

Last weekend, China reached a milestone of having administered more than one billion doses of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, the majority of which were developed by local companies Sinovac and Sinopharm.

What’s more, hundreds of millions of doses of these vaccines have been shipped to more than 80 countries worldwide.

Sinopharm was given emergency approval by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May this year, and Sinovac in June.

But what do we know about these vaccines? How do they work, are they safe, and how effective are they in the real world?

What type of vaccine are they?

Both are inactivated virus vaccines. This means they’re made from viral particles produced in a lab, which are then inactivated so they can’t infect you with COVID-19. Many other vaccines use similar platforms, including injectable polio, Hepatitis A and flu vaccines.

Both companies use similar technology, and the vaccines are mixed with an adjuvant, which is a substance added to vaccines to stimulate a stronger immune response.

The vaccines contain many proteins the immune system can respond to, stimulating the production of antibodies to fight COVID-19.

Read more:
Which COVID vaccine is best? Here’s why that’s really hard to answer

Are they safe?

Side-effects common after most other COVID-19 vaccines, such as fever and fatigue, were found to be uncommon after Sinovac or Sinopharm.

Once vaccines are approved and being used in large populations, they’re continuously monitored for very rare side effects. No significant safety concerns have been identified amid Sinovac’s rollout in China, Brazil, Indonesia and Chile.

In saying that, there were very low numbers of adverse events identified overall, which would suggest substantial under-reporting.

For example, there were only 49 serious adverse events reported following 35.8 million Sinovac doses administered in China.

In a population of that size, we’d expect to see a larger number of illnesses and deaths recorded in the few weeks after vaccination just by coincidence alone, even if not causally related to the vaccine.

Only 79 people reported mostly mild adverse events following 1.1 million doses of Sinopharm in China, much lower than usual rates of adverse event reporting following immunisation.

A potential side effect of particular concern is what’s called “vaccine-associated enhanced disease”. This is a very rare side effect of some other vaccines which use a similar “inactivated” technology to the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

It occurs when a vaccinated person is exposed to the virus and develops a serious inflammatory condition, and results in them getting more severe symptoms than they would have without the vaccination.

This hasn’t been reported for these vaccines to date, although WHO recommends ongoing safety monitoring to identify any cases that occur.

What was their efficacy in clinical trials?

Sinovac’s efficacy at preventing symptomatic infection was 51% in Brazil, 67% in Chile, 65% in Indonesia, and 84% in Turkey. The differences in results may be due to different variants circulating in each country at the time and differences in the populations included in the studies.

Sinopharm’s efficacy in preventing symptomatic infection was 78% in UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan combined.

As with all the COVID-19 vaccines for which data are available, efficacy against the more severe outcomes is greater. Efficacy against hospitalisation for Sinovac in Chile, Brazil and Turkey was 85%, 100% and 100%, respectively.

However, few elderly people with underlying health issues were enrolled into these studies.

For Sinopharm, efficacy against hospitalisation was 79%, although few women were enrolled in these studies.

How effective are they in the real world?

Data published in April from a large real world study in Chile suggests Sinovac is 67% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection. It’s effectiveness against hospitalisation was 85%, ICU admission 89%, and death 80%.

Sinopharm’s effectiveness against symptomatic infection in Bahrain was 90%.

However, it’s concerning there have been increases in infections in some countries where these vaccines have been extensively used, but detailed reports are not available.

For example, Seychelles has fully vaccinated 68% of its population, mostly with Sinopharm and the remainder with AstraZeneca.

Seychelles has recently experienced a surge in cases, which suggests the herd immunity threshold may not have been reached. The exact threshold for this is unknown but is influenced by variants in circulation, the number of people vaccinated, and the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Detailed epidemiological studies are required to investigate this but news reports suggest 20% of those hospitalised and 37% of new active cases are fully vaccinated.

Read more:
COVID is surging in the world’s most vaccinated country. Why?

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have also achieved high vaccination coverage, predominantly with Sinopharm. They also experienced recent COVID-19 surges, and are offering a booster dose of Pfizer six months after two Sinopharm doses, because of concerns two doses of Sinopharm may not provide sufficient protection.

However, there’s no data publicly available to determine whether this mix and match schedule is safe and produces a protective immune response.

In Mongolia, the rapid vaccine rollout of four different vaccines, including Sinopharm, suggests initial good effectiveness but a recent increase in cases suggests short-term protection only, and perhaps little effect on transmission.

There’s increasing concern about surging cases in Indonesia. Almost all health workers have been vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine but some are now developing severe disease.

Chile has also achieved high vaccine coverage, mostly with Sinovac. Around 75% of the adult population has received one dose, and 58% two doses.

Despite this, a current surge in infections and consistent high numbers of deaths has prompted a blanket lockdown across the capital, Santiago. The spread may be related to the more transmissible Gamma variant, which first emerged in Brazil.

However, in a small town of 45,000 in Brazil, very high vaccination coverage with Sinovac of 95% of adults, reportedly decreased symptomatic infections by 80% and deaths by 95%.

There’s currently no data on how effective Sinopharm is against any variant of concern despite its use in more than 50 countries.

For Sinovac, effectiveness against symptomatic infection with the Alpha and Gamma variants in Chile was 67%.

In Brazil, with circulation of the Gamma variant, one pre-print study suggested effectiveness against symptomatic infection was 42%.

Read more:
Coronavirus variants have new names: we can finally stop stigmatising countries

Both vaccines are effective against severe COVID-19.

However, it is critical that researchers and health authorities determine vaccine effectiveness against variants and their effect on transmission, and their safety profiles. For countries that have community transmission this includes “vaccine-associated enhanced disease”.

As for any vaccine, we also need to understand how effective these vaccines are in older people, adolescents, pregnant women and immunocompromised groups, and how long protection lasts.

We need as many vaccines as possible to tackle the pandemic. But now these vaccines are in widespread use and will be further distributed by COVAX, a global alliance which provides vaccine doses to low-and middle-income nations, it’s essential the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines continues to be closely monitored.

Fiona Russell receives funding from NHMRC, the Wellcome Trust, the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFAT.

John Hart 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.

Aussie kids are some of the least active in the world. We developed a cheap school program that gets results

Originally published on theconversation.com


Australian children are among the least active in the world. In a recent study, Aussie kids ranked 140th out of 146 countries for physical activity.

And in 2018, a physical activity “report card” gave Australian children a D-minus for overall physical activity levels. The grade was based on only 18% of young people meeting the physical activity guidelines — 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day.

We developed and tested a program that trains teachers and schools to enhance the physical activity of their students long-term. And it costs just a fraction of some government policies that have shown limited results.

Government policies not meeting their goals

State policies typically require primary schools to provide students with at least two hours of planned physical activity each week. This doesn’t just have to be physical education classes and can include sport, energiser breaks and more active lessons. Still, many schools fail to meet these recommendations.

Australian children’s competency in fundamental movements are alarmingly low. For example, governments recommend children master an overarm throw by year 4 because it’s a gateway to many sports. Yet, evidence suggests 75% of year 6 girls have still failed to master this skill.

Read more:
Move it, move it: how physical activity at school helps the mind (as well as the body)

To address these problems, schools and governments have spent a lot of money on attempting to increase physical activity in kids.

For example, the New South Wales government recently spent $207 million over four years to subsidise children who enrol in sport outside of school. The Active Kids policy gives each eligible child a $100 voucher for the cost of sports registration, membership expenses and fees for physical activities such as swimming, dance lessons and athletics.

These vouchers do appear to be effective for children who use them. But an evaluation showed a substantial number of parents in socially disadvantaged groups didn’t know about the program, or just weren’t engaging with it. This is arguably the group who needs them most.

Higher socioeconomic families are more likely to use sports vouchers.

Plus, the vouchers cover only a few hours of sport per week. Children spend the rest of their time with their parents and teachers. And we know 85% of Australian adults don’t meet the required physical activity guidelines.

Teachers can be trained to help

Teachers have a lot on their plates, but equipping teachers to promote physical activity can have long-lasting benefits. Teachers can pass on new skills to thousands of students over their career.

The skills teachers can learn don’t have to be complicated. For example:

well-meaning teachers may spend more than half of their physical education lessons with children being inactive, such as when giving instructions. Lessons could jump into active games that require minimal instruction

classroom teachers can add five-minute “energiser breaks” of physical activity between lessons

schools could make recess and lunch more active with a few hundred dollars of equipment or setting up games with the equipment they already have.

Read more:
Short exercise breaks during class improve concentration for senior students

Many teachers already use some of these strategies, but promoting them more widely is a cost-effective way of getting children moving without compromising other school priorities.

How we know it works

We compared the fitness of students that received a specific intervention in four primary schools, with students in four primary schools that carried on as usual. In total, 25 classes including 460 children participated in the study (199 children in the intervention group and 261 in control group).

The interventions involved several phases, including training teachers in strategies such as the ones above, giving kids awards for progress and enhancing school policies themselves to encourage fitness. We provided some basic equipment to schools like balls, markers and sashes.

Kids can be encouraged to be more active at breaktimes.

In the schools that received the interventions, students’ fitness, physical activity, and fundamental movement skills improved significantly more than in the schools that carried on as usual. That is, children spent about 13 more minutes per day doing moderate-to-vigorous activity (huffing and puffing) and, as a result, were better at running, throwing, jumping and catching.

Training teachers led to more student physical activity, higher fitness, and better mastery of key skills.

To make things cheaper and easier to scale, we then moved most of the teacher professional learning online, and used some digital technologies to give teachers extra feedback. Teachers received some face-to-face support, with specialist physical education teachers giving each teacher an hour of mentoring.

Our revised program, iPLAY, doubled the usual fitness gains children got over a two-year period. It worked twice as well in children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and it only cost $16.50 per student per year.

Being so affordable, our small team was able to deliver the training to 189 Australian schools.

Read more:
Kids spend nearly three-quarters of their school day sitting. Here’s how to get them moving — during lessons

Our calculations show we could improve the health of Australia’s 2 million primary school children for just one-third of the the cost of the four-year Active Kids program in NSW.

And, by supporting teachers, we are building capacity in schools for the long-term.

Taren Sanders receives funding from the Australian Research Council, Sport Australia, and the NSW Department of Education.

Chris Lonsdale works for Australian Catholic University. He receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Medical Research Future Fund, Australian Research Council, NSW Department of Education, and Australian Sports Commission.

David Lubans receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, New South Wales Department of Education, Medical Research Future Fund, NSW Office of Sport and Australian Heart Foundation.

Michael Noetel receives funding from Australian Research Council, Sport Australia, the Medical Research Future Fund, and New South Wales Department of Education. He is a director of Effective Altruism Australia.

Philip D. Parker receives funding from National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, NSW Department of Education, NT Department of Education, and Australian Sports Commission

Remembering Janet Malcolm: her intellectual courage shaped journalism, biographies and Helen Garner

Originally published on theconversation.com

Journalism has rarely had a fiercer critic, nor a finer practitioner than the longtime writer for The New Yorker, Janet Malcolm, who died last week aged 86.

Some might quibble with the description of Malcolm as a journalist, but journalism is a far more supple practice than commonly believed. One list of the best American journalism of the 20th century, for instance, had Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s Watergate reporting for The Washington Post ranked highly, but the top place went to John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

Published in 1946 in The New Yorker, Hersey’s 31,000-word article revealed in horrifying details the experiences of the victims of the first atomic bomb. It was also a pioneering, influential piece of what we would now call narrative non-fiction.

Malcolm began contributing to the magazine 17 years later, in 1963.

Over the next nearly six decades, she wrote many long reported pieces, profiles and essays that were published first in the magazine, then as books. Few journalists’ work has had as much influence on the way people thought about a range of topics – psychoanalysis, journalism, biography and the law.

She achieved this through a formidably sharp intelligence and sentences that were, as the magazine’s current editor, David Remnick, wrote last week, “clear as gin, spare as arrows, like no one else’s”.

A quiver of these sentences opens her withering critique of journalism, The Journalist and the Murderer, published in 1989:

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself [sic] to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.

When this was published, journalists exploded in outrage, not least because Malcolm had pierced the omertà observed by journalists concerning how they went about their work. There are all sorts of legitimate qualifications to be made about Malcolm’s insight, but more than three decades later it remains a key prod to any journalist, especially those working on longer projects, to reflect on the messy complexities inherent in the relationship between themselves and their sources.

Helen Garner’s ‘shard of horror’

Malcolm’s influence extends to Australia, primarily through Helen Garner, who came to fame through her fiction but forged a second career as one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of narrative non-fiction, and a highly controversial one, too.

When Garner read The Journalist and the Murderer, she said it immediately struck a chord. “It sends a shard of horror right through you,” she said in an interview for Meanjin in 2012.

Later in the same interview with Sonya Voumard, she talked about her debt to Malcolm when writing The First Stone (1995), her still much-debated account of a sexual harassment case at Melbourne University’s Ormond College in the early 1990s.

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She recalled interviewing a retired judge who had once chaired the Ormond College council and was a “tough, smart old lawyer” who revealed little. As they talked and drank tea, Garner found herself gobbling up the homemade shortbread biscuits he had provided.

After she’d had three, he put the lid on the jar, saying “I didn’t do that to keep you out”, but he had.

Garner recalled:

It wouldn’t have occurred to me, unless I’d read Janet Malcolm, to put a Freudian interpretation on his closing the jar – I mean Freudian in the sense that people are always doing and saying things that enact their real purpose. He would have thought the incident was about biscuits. But unconsciously he was indicating to me that he was in charge of how much would be given and taken.

A writer of unusual intellectual courage

At that stage Garner had been reading Malcolm’s The Silent Woman (1993), her excoriating attack on biography in general and the industry surrounding the short life and tragic death of Sylvia Plath in particular.

In it, Malcolm likens biographers to professional burglars:

The voyeurism and busybodyism that impel writers and readers of biography alike are obscured by an apparatus of scholarship designed to give the enterprise an appearance of banklike blandness and solidity.

Readers, as well as biographers, are skewered for colluding in the exciting, forbidden undertaking of “tiptoeing down the corridor together, to stand in front of the bedroom door and try to peep through the keyhole”.

Biographers were as outraged as journalists had been a few years earlier. Readers don’t appear to have objected. They — we — seem to think Malcolm must be talking about other readers, the voyeuristic ones. She couldn’t possibly be talking about us.

But she was, of course. One of the paradoxes of Malcolm’s work is she continued to practice the crafts that she forensically critiques — journalism and biography. For some, this might amount to hypocrisy. To me, it underscores her intellectual courage, taking seriously the power and influence inherent in the practice of these two forms, and refusing to shelter behind loyalty to her tribe.

Which brings me to my favourite rhetorical aria of Malcolm’s, also from The Silent Woman:

The narratives of journalism (significantly called ‘stories’), like those of mythology and folklore, derive their power from their firm undeviating sympathies and antipathies. Cinderella must remain good and the stepsisters bad. ‘Second stepsister not so bad after all’ is not a good story.

Malcolm refused to write fairytales. Her stories may be as sharp as arrows; they also fly true.

Read more:
Biography in the age of celebrity: what’s left to reveal?

Matthew Ricketson 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.

The National Party used to be known for its leadership stability — what happened?

Originally published on theconversation.com

Mick Tsikas/AAP

Barnaby Joyce is back as Nationals leader, after a spill in Canberra on Monday morning.

This is the latest development in an unusually tumultuous period for the junior Coalition partner, beginning with Joyce’s reluctant resignation in 2018 and punctuated by his unsuccessful leadership challenge in February 2020 and ongoing discord and rebellion over climate policy.

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All this from a party that has a long history of relatively stable leadership, being out of the national media and settling disagreements with the Liberals behind closed doors

Some might argue the instability in recent years is the result of Joyce’s personality, ambition and behaviours. As well as the media’s focus on leadership and the contagious nature of leadership instability in other parties over the last decade.

But there are also other factors to consider.

Party differentiation

The federal Coalition has the characteristics of one party while formally remaining separate entities, which has been a successful, but unusual political arrangement.

In Canberra, party leaders largely act as one party, negotiating policy outcomes or implementing decisions. When in government, the Nationals leader gets the deputy prime ministership, Nationals MPs sit in Cabinet and there are joint party room meetings and joint Senate tickets.

Yet the Liberals and Nationals also have their own separate party room meetings and occasionally compete against each other for lower house seats when a previous member does not recontest a seat. During election season, the Nationals go on “the Wombat trail” as partial policy independents.

On the campaign trail, the Nationals speak the language of rural populism with its tropes of rural disadvantage and urban indifference or hostility, with the “urban enermy” implicitly including the Liberal Party.

The problem here

The problem for the Nationals is they struggle to deliver adequate agricultural support and rural services in a post-deregulation world. So they have no signature programs that show their policy value.

They fight for residual programs such as drought support or regional funding that are limited in scope, time and impact and subject to considerable criticism as to effectiveness and fairness.

The Nationals need new generation signature issues that deliver for regions, while still representing the values and aspirations of an earlier Australia. For example, large-scale irrigation projects and mining developments, but even many Liberals don’t want these.

Meanwhile, their vocal support for the coal industry only holds sway among select voters (and turns off others).


The Nationals are also trying to overcome geographical divides. At the federal level, National Party power is split between Queensland and NSW. The latter generally dominates party leadership, contributing to easily animated northern resentments.

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The formation of the Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland in 2008 further complicated matters.

It created a party now pressing for greater influence within the Coalition, especially after the 2019 federal election, where the LNP was seen to have “delivered” government for the Coalition.

The results in the so-called “coal seats” of central Queensland (such as Flynn and Dawson) have given further encouragement to the resources focus. Joyce, though now a NSW representative, started his political career in Queensland and it is presumed much of his support for his leadership challenges came from the sunshine state.


Balancing the Coalition relationship, with different strands of the Nationals’ base is a difficult task for a leader. And is seen as a significant reason for Joyce’s return.

Last century, longstanding National leaders, such as John McEwan and Doug Anthony, possessed combinations of strong personality, electoral leverage, political acumen and good relationships with the Liberal (or predecessor parties) leaders. From 1922 to 1984, the average length of tenure of a Nationals leader was more than 12 years, with two of them serving more than 17 years.

No other party comes close to this record of keeping multiple leaders in office for long periods — and this now seems a historical quirk. Since 1988, there has been an increased rate of turnover, though most transitions still occurred reasonably peacefully.

More recent leaders have been confronted with the declining electoral position of the Nationals and the discontent of people in the bush. Most — such as Tim Fischer, John Anderson and Warren Truss — opted for being collaborative Coalition partners and keeping disputes behind closed doors. McCormack was also of that persuasion (and indeed, was criticised for not pushing back enough).

This means he could be characterised as too close to the Liberals and too accommodating. The other approach is more public signalling of the differentiation and more implicit threats of splitting the Coalition.

Policy tightrope

The Nationals then, must operate in the zone between tight cooperation and political competition.

The Liberals need them to form government but if skirmishes break into open disagreement and competition, the Liberals may lose majority government and the Nationals would face an existential threat.

Since quitting the leadership, Joyce has never been far from the spotlight.
Darren Pateman/AAP

Open competition at the state level in Victoria (in the 1930s-50s) and Queensland (in the 1980s) did yield some increased power in the short run for the Nationals. But this was followed by long periods out of government.

As a standalone party in Western Australia, they got a signature program (“royalties for regions”) in 2008 but no sustained increase in either state or federal representation. Voters in southern NSW and northern and western Victoria have also shown that they will elect rural Liberals, which is one of many threats to Nationals’ parliamentary representation.

In amongst this, rebel Nationals — such as George Christensen and Matt Canavan — have not necessarily picked issues that are easy for a modern Coalition government to give way to. Arguing for more coal fire power stations goes against international political trends and the sciences around climate change.

Under the new leadership of United States President Joe Biden, global cooperation on emissions is likely to step up and pull Australia along with it. Business is moving ahead of government in investment decisions on energy and even the National Farmers Federation want an emissions reduction strategy.

Marriage of convenience

Earlier this year, Joyce characterised the Coalition as a “marriage of convenience”.

This may be so, but a love match is unlikely (otherwise the parties would merge) and a divorce would come at a huge cost.

As Joyce resumes leadership of the Nationals, he now takes on the difficulties of keeping the party relevant, united and electable as we head towards the next federal election.

Geoff Cockfield 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.

Barnaby Joyce ousts Michael McCormack to regain Nationals leadership

Originally published on theconversation.com

Barnaby Joyce has blasted Michael McCormack out to seize back his old job of Nationals leader.

Joyce’s win, which automatically makes him deputy prime minister, has major implications and challenges for Scott Morrison, who had been hoping the more malleable McCormack would survive.

Joyce is a hardliner on issues such as climate change and coal. On a very different front, he recently declared the Bileola Tamil family should be allowed return to the town.

He is a formidable retail politician and will seek to strongly differentiate the Nationals from the Liberals in the run up to the election.

He may also want to renegotiate with Morrison the detail of the Coalition agreement. He has to deal with Morrison, who is in isolation after his trip, remotely.

As Joyce takes over the Nationals in parliament, Morrison this week will be handling question time via videolink.

David Littleproud remains as deputy Nationals leader. What changes Joyce will make to the Nationals ministerial line up are yet to be revealed.

But their Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, who was forced out of cabinet at Morrison’s insistence after the sports rorts affair, appears likely to be brought back. Matt Canavan, a former resources minister, said ahead of the vote he was not seeking to return to the frontbench.

At Monday morning’s Nationals party room meeting, the spill was moved by Canavan, a Joyce loyalist, and David Gillespie, a backbencher from NSW.

There had been constant criticism among Nationals of McCormack’s performance, with many of them feeling he did not stand up to Morrison firmly enough.

Feeling against McCormack has intensified since the budget, when discontented Nationals believed the minor party had not received proper acknowledgement, particularly in the government’s infrastructure announcements.

Some Nationals have become particularly concerned at Morrison’s slow but steady move towards embracing a “net zero 2050” target. Nationals Resources Minister Keith Pitt and McKenzie both came out publicly last week declaring this was not the Nationals policy.

The Nationals were also dismayed by McCormack’s embarrassing performances in parliament when acting prime minister last week.

Joyce became deputy prime minister in February 2016 after Warren Truss resigned. He quit as leader in February 2018, amid a scandal over his extra-marital affair with his now partner Vikki Campion, and a claim of sexual harassment, which he denied.

In 2017 he had to fight a byelection for his seat of New England after he was disqualified by the High Court during the dual citizenship crisis. He had been a dual New Zealand citizen and so ineligible to be a candidate at the 2016 election, the court found.

This was Joyce’s second attempt to overthrow McCormack, after a failed challenge in February last year.

Asked on radio before the vote whether he was happy with McCormack’s performance as Nationals leader, Morrison said, “Absolutely. I’ve got a wonderful partnership with Michael. We’ve worked very closely together and provided great, stable leadership for Australia”.

McCormack said after the vote: “I’ve represented this nation as deputy prime minister for three years, and I’m proud of the fact I did my best, that’s all you can ever ask”.

Asked whether his colleagues had betrayed him, he said:“It’s called democracy”.

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.

Are low-paid jobs really a stepping stone to better pay? A new study suggests it’s not that simple

Originally published on theconversation.com


A job – any job – is generally thought of as better than no job at all. Consequently, low-paid work is often considered a “stepping stone” to a higher-paid job. But how easily do low-paid workers climb up the pay scale, really?

Our new research suggests past studies may have considerably overstated the chances of moving from low to higher pay. This has significant implications for understanding labour market behaviour.

Given the NZ$3.3 billion increase in welfare payments announced in New Zealand’s recent budget – dubbed the “biggest lift in a generation” – and the ongoing focus on inequality and minimum wage rates, how we measure income mobility is increasingly important.

In particular, what are some of the characteristics of the low-paid workforce? How likely or unlikely is it that an individual can transition from low to higher pay?

Past research has described low-paid work as a stepping stone if there is a greater chance of moving to higher pay relative to someone who is unemployed.

Furthermore, the data have suggested relatively high likelihoods of making the transition from low to higher pay — estimates range from 47% to nearly 90%, based on studies from the UK, Australia and Germany.

However, this research has mostly had to rely on survey data based on individual responses to an annual set of questions. This means we can only observe a snapshot of any given labour market once a year.

When determining whether an individual is unemployed, low paid or higher paid, a lot of information between those annual surveys falls into the unknown.

What traditional research misses

Why does this matter? It helps to imagine three different individuals, with different labour market experiences, answering a survey about their employment status in October 2019 and again in October 2020:

one was low paid in the first survey and remained in low pay every month until the second survey

the second oscillated between low and higher pay between surveys but happened to be in low pay at each survey point

the third regularly moves between low pay and unemployment but is also in low pay at the time of each survey.

Because of the lack of information between survey time points, all three individuals will fall into the same category. In turn, this may influence estimates of movement out of low pay.

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What more detail reveals

In New Zealand we have the advantage of the integrated data infrastructure (IDI), a large research database published by Stats NZ.

As well as being population-wide, this provides monthly administrative tax records that reveal labour market states at a much higher frequency.

Our research uses these detailed data to look at the male low-paid workforce aged between 21 and 60 in New Zealand. The results are illuminating.

Read more:
NZ’s second ‘Well-being Budget’ must deliver for the families that sacrificed most during the pandemic

First, we mimicked conventional earlier research by looking at the labour market from only one month each year. Through this lens, New Zealand looks similar to Australia, with the probability of moving from low pay to higher pay estimated to be 74%.

When we use the detailed monthly income records, however, it is clear the picture is not as rosy. Most importantly, the likelihood of moving from low pay to higher pay is much lower than traditional methods suggest.

In fact, for those who have been in low-paid work for all of the prior 12 months, we found the likelihood of them moving into higher pay in the following month was only 28%. Being continuously in low-paid work, it seems, means it isn’t easy to climb out.

A limited stepping stone

On the other hand, our research confirms the stepping-stone effect does exist in the New Zealand labour market: compared to being unemployed, you’re more likely to move into higher pay from being low paid.

Specifically, someone unemployed for the previous 12 months has only a 1% probability of moving into higher pay in the next month. That compares to 28% for those in low-paid employment for all of the previous 12 months.

Moving from low-paid work to better pay may be difficult, but moving from an unemployment benefit to higher pay is even less likely.

Overall, our research highlights the value of detailed, high-frequency, integrated data in assessing the nuances in the labour market landscape.

On top of that, it illustrates the real difficulty in climbing the wage ladder for those in long-term low-paid work. This suggests policymakers should focus on pathways to wage growth, as well as on job creation itself.

Gail Pacheco is a Commissioner at the NZ Productivity Commission

Alexander Plum and Kabir Dasgupta do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.