Victoria’s 5-day lockdown may not quash Delta. Here’s what our modelling predicts instead

Originally published on

Victoria has entered a five-day lockdown to control its growing outbreak of the more infectious Delta variant.

Until midnight on Tuesday restrictions mean residents are only allowed to leave home for essential reasons, can only travel five kilometres away from home, and need to wear masks outside the home, among other measures.

We consider the lockdown essential and we strongly support this rapid action. However our modelling predicts a five-day lockdown may not be enough.

Instead we predict at least 30 days of restrictions will be needed before Victoria reaches three days without community transmission.

That’s if we take into account current and predicted case numbers, the fact we’re dealing with the more infectious Delta variant, and with current levels of vaccination.

The good news is Victoria is more likely to reach these three “donut days” sooner if vaccination rates pick up, even modestly.

Read more:
Why is Delta such a worry? It’s more infectious, probably causes more severe disease, and challenges our vaccines

How did we come up with these figures?

We built a mathematical model based on nine COVID-19 outbreaks across four Australian states (including Victoria) since the start of the pandemic. We posted details online as a pre-print. So our model has yet to be independently verified (peer reviewed).

Our model allows us to predict — given current case numbers, the particular variant in circulation and vaccination rates, among other variables — how long public health restrictions such as lockdowns need to last to achieve particular outcomes. Our model also allows us to predict how many cases an outbreak has at its peak.

Models are mathematical tools to predict the future, something of course no-one can do with 100% certainty.

However, our model differs from others because it considers the difference between mystery cases and cases linked to a known case.

It also comprehensively integrates the effects of various public health measures, such as social distancing, wearing masks, contact tracing and vaccination.

Read more:
Scientific modelling is steering our response to coronavirus. But what is scientific modelling?

What did we find about Victoria?

When we plug data about Victoria’s current outbreak into our model, this is what we find.

Our model predicts the number of daily reported cases of community transmission will continue to climb over the next week or so. Even with the current lockdown we predict a peak of at least 30 cases a day over the next 7-14 days.

We predict the current outbreak will last for at least 30-45 days before Victoria can return to three days of zero community transmission.

Measured easing of restrictions can occur before this time, which Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged might be possible for regional Victoria.

However, given the fact Delta is more transmissible than the original Wuhan version of the virus, controlling Victoria’s outbreak will inevitably be more difficult and take longer than dealing with an earlier outbreak of similar size.

New South Wales knows too well how hard it is to get a Delta outbreak under control, something our model predicted.

Read more:
A tougher 4-week lockdown could save Sydney months of stay-at-home orders, our modelling shows

Back to Victoria, our model supports a hard lockdown that minimises the chance of ongoing transmission.

Strict lockdown (80% reduction in social activities) and mandatory mask use in public spaces and workplaces (90% coverage) — equivalent to what’s expected in Victoria’s current lockdown — have been effective in previous outbreaks in Victoria and other states.

However, we predict the same approaches may only have a 50:50 chance to contain the current Delta outbreak in Victoria.

This means the Delta variant is likely to linger, bouncing at a level of a dozen cases for weeks. This means public health authorities will find it hard to decide how and when to lift restrictions.

Please give me good news

In our favour is at least 25% of Victorians have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

Our model suggests even modest rises in the vaccination coverage in Victoria, by an additional 5% for example, would dramatically increase the chance of controlling the outbreak from 50% to over 80%. If an extra 10% were vaccinated the chance of controlling the outbreak is 94%.

This is because evidence is mounting vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus to others. That’s in addition to the vaccines’ well known benefits in reducing your chance of severe disease.

So getting as many Victorians vaccinated as quickly as possible is critical.

Read more:
Should I get my second AstraZeneca dose? Yes, it almost doubles your protection against Delta

What do we make of all this?

Our study conveys a simple message. The battle against the Delta variant in the latest outbreak in Victoria will likely be tough but going early has given us the best chance.

This lockdown will not be as effective as earlier ones in Victoria and coming out of this will need to be carefully managed.

So keeping to the health advice, and vaccinating more Victorians as soon as possible even over the next few weeks, are key to handling this outbreak.

Read more:
Lockdowns don’t get easier the more we have them. Melbourne, here are 6 tips to help you cope

Lei Zhang is also a professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.

Christopher Fairley owns shares in CSL.

Guihua Zhuang and Zhuoru Zou 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.

In search of walking equality: 70% of Indigenous people in Sydney live in neighbourhoods with low walkability

Originally published on

Indigenous inequality in Australia has long been known to the public and policy makers. Yet, successive local, state, and federal governments have failed to effectively make a noticeable change in Indigenous health and wellbeing.

These inequalities include shorter life expectancy, poorer general health and lower levels of education and employment. Less known is transport inequality and its health implications for Indigenous people.

Walking is a healthy form of physical activity and is proven to reduce rates of chronic disease.

Neighbourhood walkability is associated with the number of trips people can make on foot. People living in areas with lower walkability tend to walk less.

Our research shows that 70% of the Indigenous population in the City of Sydney live in neighbourhoods with lower-than-average walkability. This has the potential to aggravate Indigenous people’s health issues, potentially widening the health gap with non-Indigenous Australians, instead of closing it.

Read more:
Yes, we need to Close the Gap on health. But many patients won’t tell hospitals they’re Indigenous for fear of poorer care

Closing the walkability gap

Closing the Gap” refers to the formal government commitment to close the significant health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

Whether closing the gap targets will be successful or not remains a question. For example, the rate of disability resulting from chronic diseases among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has only slightly improved over the past ten years.

The NSW Closing The Gap implementation plan includes 17 socioeconomic targets that aim to address inequalities in health, education and employment.

There is no action item in it focusing specifically on the role of active transport. The closest one is related to initiatives to reduce the prevalence of obesity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children.

The role transport can play in enhancing walkability in neighbourhoods and improving people’s health outcomes has been entirely overlooked.

Read more:
‘Although we didn’t produce these problems, we suffer them’: 3 ways you can help in NAIDOC’s call to Heal Country

Walking inequality in the City of Sydney

Our analysis of population and land use data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the City of Sydney shows there is a significant walkability inequality across the local government area.

We measured walkability using the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) statistical tool. It considers three elements: street network connectivity, land use mix and population density.

Areas with the highest walkability scores:
Potts Point, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Haymarket, Pyrmont, and Darlington

Areas with the lowest walkability scores:
Rosebery, Beaconsfield, Redfern, Waterloo, Eveleigh and Alexandria

Our research shows that 70% of Indigenous people in the City of Sydney — nearly 2,500 people — live in neighbourhoods with a walkability score lower than the local government area average.

The absence of mixed residential and commercial land use, a disconnected street network and low population density make a neighbourhood less walkable.

The walking disadvantage of Indigenous population of City of Sydney.
Author provided

How to make our neighbourhoods more walkable

The way to increase physical activity is through urban policies and planning practices that facilitate activity-friendly communities and encourage more walking.

A US study in 2017 has found that 43% of people who live in walkable neighbourhoods achieve physical activity targets. Conversely, only 27% of people who live in less walkable neighbourhoods achieve those targets.

Policies that state and local governments can consider to address walking inequality include investing in pedestrian infrastructure and enhanced road safety and providing easy walking access to public transport.

Improving the first mile/last mile connections, encouraging mixed residential and commercial land use, and providing shops, parks and other public spaces within walking distance from people’s homes are other solutions.

Improving walking safety after dark for children and women, and reducing the distance to schools and workplaces are also shown to be effective.

This year, Sydney celebrated NAIDOC week in lockdown. Yvonne Weldon, the elected chairperson of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the first Aboriginal candidate for the lord mayor of Sydney, said,

We must commit to making our world, our society inclusive – breaking through barriers and not creating them.

There are great health and social benefits in having a more walkable place to live. They are even more significant for communities that have been traditionally disadvantaged. Reducing transport inequality and improving walkability in Indigenous communities are necessary to help close the health and social gap.

Meead Saberi receives funding from Transport for NSW, City of Sydney, Cisco, iMOVE CRC and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. He is the co-founder of a UNSW spinout company Footpath AI. He is also affiliated with Unite for Sydney, an independent party running for City of Sydney’s local government election in September 2021.

Yvonne Weldon is affiliated with Unite for Sydney, an independent party running for City of Sydney’s local government election in September 2021.

From Parihaka to He Puapua: it’s time Pākehā New Zealanders faced their personal connections to the past

Originally published on
An 1880s illustration of the village at Parihaka, sitting beneath Mt Taranaki. GettyImages

Whenever I visit my mother in New Plymouth we drive out around the Taranaki coast to visit the old family farms, chugging along the South Road that was built to carry the armed constabulary (AC) and sundry volunteer forces that invaded Parihaka on November 5 1881.

My great-grandfather, who joined the AC in 1877 and served in it for nine years, worked on that road. He was standing alongside 1,588 other men as the sun rose on the morning of te Pāhua (the sacking).

By the time he left the pā three years later he had participated in the assault on Parihaka, the weeks and months of despoliation that followed, and the years of occupation as the colonial government and its forces knelt on the throats of the people led by Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.

Having contributed to the military campaign, several years later he returned as part of the agricultural campaign to complete the alienation of Taranaki iwi from their land.

In time, he and his wife would own two farms on the coast. One of these had previously been returned to Māori via a Crown grant said to be “absolutely inalienable”, which turned out to be anything but.

They also leased a third property under the baleful West Coast lease system which, among other things, excluded Māori landowners from the process of negotiating rent, gave them peppercorn rentals and locked them out of their land in perpetuity. All three farms were part of the 1,199,622 acres of land confiscated from Māori – “rebel” and loyalist alike – by executive decree in 1865.

Armed constabulary awaiting orders to advance on Parihaka pā, 1881.
Alexander Turnbull Library, CC BY-NC

An unsettled history

I can already feel the defensively minded scrabbling together the usual case for avoiding this uncomfortable history — eulogising hard-working settlers as the backbone of the nation, bemoaning the creeping “separatism” of He Puapua, “woke” Pākehā, and being made to feel guilty for being a European New Zealander.

There’s a lot of this about at the moment, but it needs to stop. It only enables the evasion of hard truths about the history and contemporary impacts of colonisation in this country — one of which is that for many Pākehā, me included, our time here began on land that had been stolen (sorry, “confiscated”) from the people to whom it belonged.

An 1880 map of the Taranaki coast showing the area of ‘confiscated’ territory.
Puke Ariki, Author provided

My great-grandfather and his wife eventually controlled 412 acres of Taranaki land, on which a small economic and social revolution took place. For a start, the three farms allowed my great-grandparents to transform themselves from poor Irish migrants into settler landowners.

The scale of the economic transformation was breathtaking. My great-grandfather was one of ten children, the son of tenant farmers who paid £26 and ten shillings a year to the local (English) squire for the lease on a 29-acre tenement in Kilteely parish in the east of County Limerick.

When he died, the combined property he and his wife held sway over on the Taranaki coast was 16 times the size of the farm he was born on, and nearly 17% larger than the total amount of land the absentee English landlord owned in Kilteely.

Read more:
How NZ’s colonial government misused laws to crush non-violent dissent at Parihaka

From tenants to landed gentry

The land also enabled my great-grandparents to reinvent themselves as respected members of the local farming community. My great-grandfather played the violin at the annual district bachelors’ ball in 1895, where the “refreshments were all that one could wish for” and the dancing “commenced punctually at 8pm and did not break up until nearly 4am”.

He won first place in the rhubarb section of the farm and garden produce division of the Cape Egmont Horticultural Society’s third annual show in 1901 (and took out top place in the ham section a year later). And he became a stalwart of the Rahotu Athletics Club and the Pungarehu School Board.

He was born the son of an Irish tenant farmer and died a landowning British settler. It is an extraordinary economic and social transformation in a single generation.

And it is built upon land that the colonial state had taken from other people.

Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history

Not only did the original inhabitants lose their land, they and their descendants have also been denied the material wealth that has subsequently been generated from that land. I can’t yet accurately quantify the full value of the economic returns that accrued to my great-grandparents and their six children, but I do have a couple of snapshots that illustrate the general point I’m trying to make.

First, at the time they were purchased by my great-grandparents, the combined value of the two farms owned outright was roughly NZ$400,000 in today’s terms. Not one dollar went directly to the original owners of the land.

Second, in his will, one of my great-grandfather’s sons, who was a Roman Catholic priest and who died young, left nearly $30,000 to the church and just under $200,000 to his two sisters. We’re up to $630,000 in transactions already (and haven’t even looked at the revenues earned through the farms) — but none of this activity benefited those from whom the land was taken.

The burial place of Parihaka founder Te Whiti-o-Rongomai at the marae near Opunake, West Taranaki.

Wealth and dispossession

That wealth has echoed down through time, supporting the endeavours of later generations. It lies behind the purchase of other properties and houses, bequests to daughters and sons, support with the costs of education — all the things Professor Christine Sleeter, an education activist, calls the “financial footholds and cushions” families try to provide to subsequent generations.

And each of these has its own multiplier effect, which is why the inter-generational transfer of wealth is such a critical factor in people’s socioeconomic well-being (or lack thereof). Merit and hard work play a part in this, but there is no avoiding – in my case – that it all began with the dispossession of Māori.

That land gifted us something else, too. My people have long since moved away from the coast but our origin story will forever be there. That is where it began for us in Aotearoa. Where my great-uncle, who completed a doctorate of divinity in Rome at the age of 21, was born. Where my grandfather established himself as a powerful figure in Taranaki rugby. Where my mother grew up and escaped from, meeting my father in the process.

Read more:
Why it’s time for New Zealanders to learn more about their own country’s history

That land gave my ancestors a place of their own on which to stand. It is where we began the process of becoming Pākehā.

This is what privilege looks like. Not historical at all, as it happens, but something that is very much alive and well. Not to do with events that I have no association with, but concerning processes that continue to spool out and from which I benefit. Not disconnected from the colonisation of this country, but utterly rooted in it. Bluntly, my historical privilege is grounded in the historical trauma experienced by Māori.

Curiously, however, not one of the stories of the coast I grew up with spoke of my great-grandfather’s presence at Parihaka or carried the history of the family farms.

Ending the forgetting

I doubt I am alone in having these partial family stories. I’m not the only Pākehā who has much preferred the standard settler account of thrusting progress and economic productivity, one which dances lightly over the confiscation, theft and violence that lie beneath the surface.

For the better part of my life I have happily lived in what historian and author Rachel Buchanan calls the “dementia wing” of our country’s history, choosing to forget (or never to learn, which amounts to much the same thing) what happened at Parihaka, comfortable in the knowledge my history here began with the purchase of the family farms.

Read more:
Friday essay: the ‘great Australian silence’ 50 years on

And although forgetting is usually associated with loss, in my experience there was much to be gained from forgetting (or avoiding) my connection with the AC, the sacking of Parihaka and the purchase of land taken from others: ease of mind, and that tacit sense of relief that comes from steering clear of something you know is going to be difficult to confront.

There’s a reason we need a new national histories curriculum, a reason the government must get to grips with its obligations to tangata whenua. The reason is people like me. I still recognise myself in the bleating of those who ignore the colonial violation of Māori, and in the words of people who are all too happy to extol the benefits of colonisation but whose eyes glaze over when the talk turns to the theft of land.

But it is long since time we Pākehā confronted the unsettled history of the place in which the “team of five million” lives. Time we were honest with ourselves. Time we ended the forgetting.

Richard Shaw 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 we need engineers who study ethics as much as maths

Originally published on

The recent apartment building collapse in Miami, Florida, is a tragic reminder of the huge impacts engineering can have on our lives. Disasters such as this force engineers to reflect on their practice and perhaps fundamentally change their approach. Specifically, we should give much greater weight to ethics when training engineers.

Engineers work in a vast range of fields that pose ethical concerns. These include artificial intelligence, data privacy, building construction, public health, and activity on shared environments (including Indigenous communities). The decisions engineers make, if not fully thought through, can have unintended consequences – including building failures and climate change.

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

Engineers have ethical obligations (such as Engineers Australia’s code of ethics) that they must follow. However, as identified at UNSW, the complexity of emerging social concerns creates a need for engineers’ education to equip them with much deeper ethical skill sets.

Engineering is seen as a trusted and ethical profession. In a 2019 Gallup poll, 66% rated the honesty and ethical standards of engineers as high/very high, on a par with medical doctors (65%).

However, ethics as a body of knowledge is massive. There are nearly as many academic papers on ethics as mathematics, and clearly more than on artificial intelligence.

Comparison of numbers of research papers by keyword (mathematics, ethics and AI).

With such a rich backdrop of knowledge, engineers must embrace ethics in a way that previous generations embraced mathematics. Complex societal problems make much greater demands on engineering thinking than in the past. We need to consider whole and complex systems, not just issues as individual challenges.

Read more:
Most buildings were designed for an earlier climate – here’s what will happen as global warming accelerates

Ethics and the construction industry

The construction industry provides a topical example of such complexity. Opal Tower in Sydney, Lacrosse building in Melbourne, Grenfell Tower in London and Torch Tower in Dubai became household names for all the wrong reasons.

Importantly, these issues of poor quality and performance don’t arise from new technology or know-how. They involve well-established technical domains of engineering: combustible cladding, fire safety, structural adequacy and so on. A fragmented design and delivery process with unclear responsibility and/or accountability has led to poor outcomes.

These issues prompted the Australian Building Ministers’ Forum to commission the Shergold Weir Report, followed by a task force to implement its recommendations across Australia.

There are real shortcomings in the legal and contractual processes for allocating and “commoditising” risk in the industry. However, ethics should do the heavy lifting when legal frameworks are lacking. One key question is whether erosion of professional ethics has played a part in this state of affairs. The answer is a likely “yes”.

Engineers face ethical dilemmas such as:

“Should I accept a narrow or inadequately framed design commission within a design and build delivery model when there is no certainty my design will be appropriately integrated with other parts of the project?”

“How can I accept a commission when my client provides no budget for my oversight of the construction to ensure the technical integrity of my design is maintained when built?”

“How do I play in a commercially competitive landscape with pressures to produce “leaner” designs to save cost without compromising safety and long-term performance of my design?“

“Do I hide behind the contractual clauses (or minimum requirements of codes of practice) when I know the overall process is flawed and does not deliver quality and/or value for money for the end user?”

Or worse: “Do I resort to phoenixing to avoid any accountability?”

Read more:
Lacrosse fire ruling sends shudders through building industry consultants and governments

The ethics of engineering involve much more than ensuring buildings don’t collapse.
Chad Davis/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Engineering on Country

The enduring connection of Aboriginal Australians to Country requires engineers to navigate ethical considerations in Indigenous communities. Engineers must reconcile the legal, technical and regulatory requirements of their projects with Indigenous cultural values and needs. They might not be properly equipped to navigate ethical scenarios when they encounter unfamiliar cultural connections, or regulations are insufficient.

Consider, for example, the sacred sites of the McArthur River Mine. Traditional owners have raised concerns that current mining activities do not adequately protect sacred and cultural heritage sites. Evidence given by community leaders provides insight into the intimate and diverse relationship that traditional owners have with the land.

In considering such evidence, engineers must be able to evaluate both physical site risks (such as acidification of mine tailings and contamination of water bodies) and cultural risks (such as failing to identify all locations of cultural value).

How might we tackle such complicated projects? By properly engaging with traditional communities and by having diverse teams with multiple worldviews and experiences, along with strong technical skills. The broad field of ethical knowledge provides the skill sets to attempt to reconcile the diverse considerations.

Read more:
Juukan Gorge inquiry puts Rio Tinto on notice, but without drastic reforms, it could happen again

Cornell Dam on the Croton River near Croton-on-Hudson, New York, was the tallest dam in the world when completed in 1906. The dam was built with beauty and the environment in mind, but protests and disputes still impacted its construction.
Malinda Rathnayake/Flickr, CC BY

What should the curriculum look like?

Engineering students’ ethical development requires a holistic approach. One assessment suggested:

“[…] that institutions integrate ethics instruction throughout the formal curriculum, support use of varied approaches that foster high‐quality experiences, and leverage both influences of co‐curricular experiences and students’ desires to engage in positive ethical behaviours.”

The curriculum should include:

skills/expertise – the underlying intellectual basis for discerning what is ethical and what is not, which is much more than codes of conduct or a prescriptive, formulaic approach

practice – practical know-how in terms of ethical solutions that engineers can apply

mindset – having an individual and group culture of acting ethically. The engineers’ problem-solving mindset must be supplemented by constant reflection on the decisions made and their ethical consequences.

Ethics is not an “add-on” subject. It must permeate all aspects of tertiary education – teaching, research and professional behaviour.

While the arguments for acting now are strong, market realities will also drive the process. The upcoming generation will likely displace those who are slow or reluctant to adapt.

For instance, engineering firms are under pressure from their own staff on the issue of climate change. More than 1,900 Australian engineers and nearly 180 engineering organisations have signed a declaration committing them to evaluate all new projects against the need to mitigate climate change.

Future engineers must transcend any remaining single-solution mindsets from the past. They’ll need to embrace a much more complex and socially minded ethics. And that begins with their university education.

S. Travis Waller is a Director at Mobility Thinking Pty Ltd. He receives funding from the Australian Research Council, Transport for NSW, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd and CISCO Systems.

Kourosh Kayvani is a Principal of HKA. He is Board Director at Engineers Australia and Australian Steel Institute. He is a Good Design Ambassador with Good Design Australia. He has served on the Australian/NZ Standards code committees for Concrete Structures and Wind Loads for over 15 years.

Lucy Marshall receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Robert F. Care AM is Chair of Red R Australia and RedR International, Director of Care-Collaborative Pty Ltd, and Director of Common Purpose Asia Pacific Limited. He regularly consults to Arup Group and he is affiliated with Engineers Australia.

Grattan on Friday: COVID boxes Morrison in while Albanese hits the road

Originally published on

As the Delta strain escalated our COVID experience to a new stage of national disruption, Scott Morrison has been under a form of political house arrest, driven by circumstances and choice.

The prime minister arrived back from his G7 excursion – which seems an age ago – on June 17. He spent a fortnight in quarantine at The Lodge (including joining the House of Representatives remotely) before going home to Sydney – already in lockdown – on July 2.

Since then, after several days absent from view, it’s been COVID-dominated Kirribilli news conferences, media interviews, and no doubt an encouraging word to Jen about the coming test of home schooling. Next week Morrison moves to Canberra – to quarantine for the parliamentary sitting that starts August 3.

Anthony Albanese took a different course. He hasn’t returned to Sydney since parliament rose. He hung around Canberra initially, then headed north for a swing through Queensland. He might be missing his son and his dog but he has covered a lot of kilometres.

On Monday of last week he was in Toowoomba, in the electorate of Groom.

The following days saw him at Redcliffe (Petrie), Cairns (Leichhardt), Mackay (Dawson), and Gladstone (Flynn). He visited the seat of Griffith in Brisbane before going to Moranbah (Capricornia), where he went to a coal mine.

Returning to Brisbane, he took in Lilley on the way to the airport and a flight to Canberra this week – to avoid Sydney and so retain flexibility (although the country is now so closed, he’s running out of places to go).

Being confined during this winter parliamentary recess obviously doesn’t make any decisive difference for Morrison’s electoral fortunes. Nevertheless, it is an interference to his campaigning.

The government makes the counterpoints that the opposition leader has nothing else to do but campaign, and anyway it’s a bad look to be away from your home city in its hour of need.

Normally, Morrison would have used some of the winter break to be on the road, seen in several parts of the country, getting to out-of-the-way seats.

Instead, that work will have to be crunched into later. It all takes time, and Morrison will be even more time-poor if he makes any of several possible trips overseas between now and Christmas – to the US, the East Asia summit, the G20, Glasgow. Also eating into time are the parliamentary weeks between now and year’s end.

Maximum seat-by-seat campaigning is especially important when the chaotic vaccine program and the Sydney lockdown – and now a short one in Victoria – are throwing curveballs into the political outlook.

Until relatively recently it appeared most likely Morrison, like state and territory leaders, would have the strong advantage of “COVID incumbency” when facing the voters, probably in March or May.

Even with a slow rollout, there seemed enough time to get the job done and for things to settle. Although the Coalition has been trailing or level in the polls, the government could feel reasonably confident.

But at the moment lockdown upheavals, rollout confusion, and community anger make any assumptions courageous.

An analysis published this week of Newspolls taken between April 21 and June 26 found two-party swings against the Coalition in every state except Victoria, with the biggest swings in Queensland and Western Australia.

The analysis concluded that if this were replicated at an election, the ALP could win majority government with 78 seats (in a 151 seat House).

This should be treated cautiously, even apart from any scepticism about polls. The election isn’t imminent. And translating general swings to particular seats is hazardous. For instance, on these figures Peter Dutton would lose his Queensland seat of Dickson. Yet all we know from the past suggests Dutton is well dug in there.

On the other hand, the Coalition’s seat numbers are at a high point in Queensland and Western Australia, making it difficult for it to look for any significant gains.

It’s no wonder Morrison, dubbed by his critics the “prime minister for NSW”, is pinning hope on gaining seats in his home state. Throughout the pandemic he has heaped praise on the Berejiklian government. In the Sydney lockdown, now extended for at least an extra fortnight, the federal government’s package for the state drew accusations from Victoria of “double standards”.

Anyway, NSW can no longer be celebrated for its model handling of COVID, and the state government is under criticism for the timing (too late) and nature (too soft) of the lockdown.

People might not be enthusiastic about Albanese’s Labor, but if the opposition picked off a few seats (in net terms), it would not take much to change the map. Think a hung parliament.

The chances of that might be statistically unlikely. But it wouldn’t be a total surprise – given the government is on a razor’s edge (current House numbers are Coalition 76 and Labor plus crossbench 75), and an unfavourable redistribution has scrapped a Liberal seat in Western Australia and created a Labor one in Victoria.

The election is unlikely to see any significant influx of independents (that’s not to preclude one turning up) but on present indications we could expect most of the current House crossbenchers to be returned (excepting Liberal defector Craig Kelly).

Politically, these crossbenchers are a mixed bunch and it would be fascinating to see how Morrison and Albanese matched off as negotiators, if they were in a 2010 situation.

A small event this week triggered a comparison between how Morrison’s political persona came across in the run up to the “miracle” election and his image now.

It was announced the charges against a woman alleged to have put needles into strawberries in 2018 had been dropped. Morrison turned the Great Strawberry Crisis into a dramatic national event, rushing legislation through at breakneck speed. This was more stunt than substance but it was all about portraying him as a man of action.

The action-man image was punctured before the vaccine debacle but the failures in this stage of a real crisis (after the earlier successes) are dealing him a serious blow.

In 2019 many voters actively disliked Bill Shorten; they found Morrison a more neutral figure, the man next door, not a world-beater but okay. Since then opinions have sharpened. Women look at Morrison differently from back then. The coating of teflon has many scratches. Albanese is now the inoffensive man next door.

With the rollout a battle, this week reinforced that Morrison is hostage to events beyond his control, struggling to respond to them, a leader forced to repeatedly change tack and lines, find excuses, slap on sticking plaster, spend more money. The package for NSW, announced on Tuesday, was followed on Thursday by a proposed “more simple and streamlined” set of arrangements.

The health challenge in trying to get in front of COVID’s Delta strain is formidable. Morrison finds the politics as hard.

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.

Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey wins prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Labyrinth

Originally published on
Detail from The Labyrinth book cover Text Publishing

And the winner of 2021’s Miles Franklin Literary Award is The Labyrinth, by Amanda Lohrey!

Two of Lohrey’s previous novels (Camille’s Bread in 1996 and The Philosopher’s Doll in 2005) have been shortlisted for the prestigious $60,000 prize. Her latest has been recognised as the literary volume that best presents Australian life now. She is the second Tasmanian author to ever win the prize.

As a long-time fan of Lohrey’s voice and eye, and someone with a lifetime of longing for more recognition of women’s achievements, I am thrilled to see her novel and her protagonist Erica achieve this standing.

Read more:
The saddest of stories, beautifully told: your guide to the Miles Franklin 2021 shortlist

Prickly but appealing

Erica is an often prickly but generous and appealing character. Though she grows up “in an asylum, a manicured madhouse”, her childhood is much happier than is the norm for characters in literary fiction. Her father, the chief medical officer of the hospital, trains his children in diversity. All of us are “lunatics”, he teaches them, in that “we are all affected by the moon”. “Evil,” he tells them, is no more than “a chemical malfunction in the brain”.

Text Publishing

This is an excellent foundation for someone who, in later life, finds herself with a son whose “chemical malfunction” leads him to commit an inadvertent but terrible crime. The beach shack she purchases to be near him, and far from everyone else she knows, is as disorganised and disreputable as her child. But it gives her somewhere to review her life and re-imagine a future.

That future circles around the concept of the labyrinth. Much of the novel is a masterclass in types of these mazes and the meanings and feelings the various designs afford.

A way through

All this operates as a healing process following the agony of her son’s act, trial and imprisonment. She — or rather, her planned labyrinth — gradually draws the attention of other isolates who live in the same coastal community. Various people become closely connected to her and one, Jurko, happens to know about labyrinths and their construction.

The young man, “an illegal immigrant who has overstayed his visa”, is a stonemason (a master of that ancient art) and he gradually inserts himself into her home and her life to become her “surrogate son”.

Sand, he explains, is the best foundation for a labyrinth, and this captures Erica’s attention:

I am struck by the paradox here: sand so volatile in its essence and yet so firm a basis for the rigidity of concrete.

For the reader, this becomes the novel’s coda: though everything seems so unstable, it still affords a firm foundation for our difficult, drifting lives.

As the novel unfolds, Erica’s deepening relationships with her new neighbours, and shared responsibilities and understandings, form a sort of labyrinth that leads her to the point where she can declare: “The fugue is over.”

‘It’s a tremendous honour to be associated with the remarkable Stella Miles Franklin, one of the great Australian mavericks,’ said winning author Amanda Lohrey.
Miles Franklin Award

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The Flanagan effect: Tasmanian literature in the limelight

Jen Webb receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Victoria considers electronic surveillance for alleged stalkers

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In 1993, Andrea Patrick was murdered by her ex-partner after a period of severe harassment and despite a restraining order being made against him. The public outcry that followed Patrick’s death impelled the New South Wales government to follow Queensland’s lead and enact an offence of stalking.

During the 1990s, all Australian states and territories made stalking a distinct crime. Evidence of stalking can also form the basis of civil law orders known as restraining, apprehended violence or intervention orders.

However, there are concerns that little has changed since Andrea Patrick’s death. There is a view that stalking is not being treated seriously enough and intervention orders may be breached without serious ramifications for alleged offenders.

The Victorian attorney-general has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to consider new measures for responding to stalking, including whether electronic monitoring could be a condition of intervention orders.

Before considering the advantages and disadvantages of such a measure, it is worth considering how stalking is defined.

What is stalking?

While definitions differ, in general, stalking refers to a pattern of behaviour intended to cause harm or arouse fear. Stalking can include:

surveillance: obsessive monitoring through physically following or tracking the other person via technology or by loitering at the person’s home or workplace

repetition: there may be unwanted contact that occurs multiple times – it can happen over the course of one day, a few weeks, or many years

degradation: this may involve verbal abuse, posting denigrating comments or images online, or humiliating the other person in public

intrusion: this may include repeatedly approaching the other person, interfering with the person’s property, or entering the person’s home or workplace.

Stalking can involve actions that would, in another context, be legal or even welcome. For example, gift-giving is usually legal. But if someone repeatedly gives another person unwanted gifts and will not stop when asked, this may amount to stalking.

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Intervention orders

Individuals can apply to a court for an intervention order that prohibits another person (the defendant) from behaving in a particular manner towards them. In addition to acting as a restraint on the defendant’s behaviour, an intervention order can direct the defendant to comply with certain conditions.

In Victoria, for example, there are two types of intervention orders: family violence intervention orders and personal safety intervention orders. The first type covers situations between family members, including current or former intimate partners and some carers. The second type covers all other relationships.

Lower courts may grant intervention orders if there is sufficient evidence of stalking.

Electronic monitoring

Electronic monitoring generally refers to “forms of surveillance with which to monitor the location, movement and specific behaviour of persons”. It includes the use of devices such as ankle bracelets, which use radio frequency or Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor the location of the person.

While the use of such devices is usually associated with monitoring offenders after conviction, pretrial electronic monitoring is used in some places as a condition of bail. Electronic monitoring is also permitted in South Australia and Queensland for some individuals using forensic mental health services.

Electronic monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets have been used pre-trial in some cases.

It appears electronic monitoring has not been used in Australia as a condition of intervention orders. However, Matt Black and Russell G. Smith pointed out in 2003 that “modern restriction and surveillance capabilities may raise the possibility for consideration”.

Pros and cons of electronic monitoring

Electronic monitoring may help to ensure intervention orders work to prevent alleged stalkers physically approaching particular people. It can ensure they don’t enter proscribed areas and be used to track their movements.

However, it can be expensive. The panel that reviewed post-sentence supervision of sex offenders in Victoria observed:

[…] the costs associated with electronic monitoring were considerable, particularly in proportion to other important functions undertaken by Corrections Victoria.

Due to resource allocation, it is not feasible for every alleged stalker to be monitored 24 hours a day. Analysis of the electronic monitoring data is also not necessarily immediate. If electronic monitoring were an option in relation to intervention orders, it may also lead to more contested cases, thereby taking up more court time.

There are human rights issues in relation to curtailing the liberty of those who have not been convicted of a crime. Wearing an electronic device may also be sitgmatising. The balance here is whether public safety considerations outweigh individual rights.

Read more:
Hunting the hunter: how to effectively combat stalking

A shift in focus

Being forced to modify behaviour to avoid being stalked appears to be common for victim survivors of stalking. They may experience significant lifestyle changes such as:

avoiding places where their stalker might be
changing routines
quitting school or their job
moving house.

A key question for the Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry into stalking will be whether electronic monitoring can help shift the focus away from victims having to alter their own behaviour to forcing alleged offenders to alter theirs.

Electronic monitoring may have a role to play, but it may be that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

Submissions to the inquiry close on August 5 2021. A consultation paper to guide submissions can be found on the VLRC website, and an anonymous online form for people who have experienced stalking can be completed via the following link. The Commission is due to provide an interim report to the Victorian government by December 31 2021 and a final report by June 30 2022.

Emeritus Professor Bernadette McSherry is a Commissioner with the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

Dr Madeleine Ulbrick is a Senior Research and Policy Officer at the Victorian Law Reform Commission

In NZ and around the world, women are still more likely to present and report the news than appear in it

Originally published on

Women are more visible in the world’s news than ever before — but they’re still far from achieving parity with men.

According to the just released Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), women made up 40% of reporters and 25% of news sources across print, TV, radio, internet news and Twitter.

This was a record result for women as both news workers and sources, but still well short of equality. The report estimates it will take another 67 years to close the gender gap in news.

The sluggish progress measured in the sixth GMMP study since 1995 is hard to justify when the UN has recognised persistent gender inequality in media representation contributes to the social, economic and political marginalisation of women and girls.

The GMMP is the world’s largest study of gender portrayal in the news. The latest results are based on news coverage from 116 countries on September 29 2020.

Designed to be a snapshot of an ordinary news day, taken once every five years, the latest study captured more than 30,000 stories, a quarter of which were related to COVID-19.

More women reporters

Promisingly, Aotearoa New Zealand performs better than the global average on gender balance. Record proportions of reporters and presenters were women (68%) and appeared in stories as sources (33%).

The 2020 results are an improvement on 2010 and 2015, when New Zealand stagnated while women’s media visibility increased in many other countries.

However, in New Zealand and around the world, women are still more likely to present and report the news than to appear in it.

Media monitoring over the past 25 years shows New Zealand performs well when there are female political leaders and political news dominates the daily news agenda. In 2000, when Helen Clark was prime minister, New Zealand even led the world in the proportion of women political news sources, boosting the overall results.

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From 2005 to 2015, though, the country lagged behind global averages. The 2020 results clearly reflect the monitoring day falling during an election campaign featuring women as leaders of the two main political parties.

In other positive findings, women made up roughly half of the academic expert and activist sources in 2020. Much of New Zealand’s economic news was reported by women, focused on employment, and included women’s personal experiences.

During a worldwide pandemic with poor health outcomes and uneven economic fallout, this is encouraging — although not a result achieved across all regions in the survey.

Female media representation improves when women are in power: former prime minister Helen Clark with Jacinda Ardern, then leader of the opposition Labour Party in 2017.

Sports reporting lags behind

But it’s women’s invisibility in sports news that continues to erode media equality in New Zealand, a pattern unchanged from earlier studies despite less sport being played during the pandemic.

On monitoring day, just 17% of sports sources were female. The sports segment on Newshub’s 6pm bulletin did not include a single female presenter, reporter or source. The channel’s announcement of the cricket summer schedule neglected the women’s game altogether.

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In contrast, the male reporter who covered the same story for TVNZ’s 1 News included details on women’s fixtures and interviewed White Ferns captain Sophie Devine.

This is not an anomaly. Similar patterns were documented in Isentia and Sport NZ’s recent study of women’s media coverage.

TVNZ and Sky had nearly half their bylines attributed to women, but less than 15% of their coverage was about women. When presenters were removed from the sample, Sky’s proportion of female bylines dropped to 3.4%.

More presenters than bylines

Journalists concerned about the reporting of women’s sport have also noted the prevalence of male bylines and the dominance of male sports in the reporting hierarchy.

While many media observers have argued that more women working in journalism will improve coverage of women and gender issues, the New Zealand findings offer mixed support for this optimism.

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On monitoring day in 2020, our radio news had the lowest proportion of women as sources, despite every radio presenter and reporter being female. Across the board, local male and female reporters used female sources at roughly the same rate.

In fact, women reporters were slightly more likely to refer to female subjects’ family status, a behaviour that tends to reinforce more traditional representations of women.

The diversity challenge

But it’s hardly surprising if women reporters are not transforming journalism, despite their numbers. Men often hold the key decision-making roles, and the culture of newsrooms can be masculine and sometimes toxic.

It’s unrealistic to put the onus for change on individual women when these entrenched patterns in coverage speak to the systemic and structural nature of the challenge.

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Public and audience pressure has prompted the creative media industries to make “remarkable” improvements to the gender and racial diversity of film-makers and casts.

There is a need for news media leaders to make similar efforts to retain cultural relevance and trust, capitalise on audience growth delivered by the pandemic, and better their performance for GMMP 2025.

Looking forward to that? Me too.

Susan Fountaine 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.

Travelling through deep time to find copper for a clean energy future

Originally published on
Stunning mosaic of oxidised copper in the form of azurite (blue) and malachite (green) in a rock. Dimitri Houtteman, Author provided

More than 100 countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The world is going to need a lot of metal, particularly copper.

Recently, the International Energy Agency sounded the warning bell on the global supply of copper as the most widely used metal in renewable energy technologies. With Goldman Sachs predicting copper demand to grow up to 600% by 2030 and global supply becoming increasingly strained, it is clear we need to find new and large deposits of copper fast.

Getting this much copper will be impossible unless we discover significant new copper deposits. But there has been little exploration for copper over the past decade, as prices have been relatively low.

We have been developing software to model Earth in four dimensions to look deep inside the planet and back into the past to discover where copper deposits formed along ancient mountain ranges. This software, called GPlates, is a powerful four-dimensional information system for geologists.

How copper deposits form

Many of the world’s richest copper deposits formed along volcanic mountain chains such as the Andes and the Rocky Mountains. In these regions, an oceanic tectonic plate and a continent collide, with the oceanic plate sinking under the edge of the continent in a process called subduction.

Mountain ranges like the Andes are formed through subduction and can be rich in copper deposits.
Adèle Beausoleil / Unsplash

This process creates a variety of igneous rocks and copper deposits to form along the edge of the continent, at depths of between one and five kilometres in the crust, where hot magmatic fluids containing copper (and other elements) circulate within networks of faults. After millions of years of further plate movement and erosion, these treasures move close to the surface – ready to be discovered.

A sample of copper hosted in a quartz vein in the form of a mineral called chalcopyrite. When exposed to air, the surface oxidises to create this metallic ‘peacock’ lustre.
Marek Novotňák / Wikimedia Commons

Searching for copper

Geologists typically use a set of well-established tools to look for copper. These include geological mapping, geochemical sampling, geophysical surveys and remote sensing. However, this approach does not consider the origin of the magmatic fluids in space and time as the driver of copper formation.

We know these magmatic fluids come from the “mantle wedge”, a wedge-shaped piece of the mantle between the two plates that is fed by oceanic fluids escaping from the downgoing plate. The oceanic plate heats up on its way down, releasing fluids that rise into the overlying continental crust, which in turn drives volcanic activity at the surface and the accumulation of metals such as copper.

Copper deposits tend to form above subduction zones along volcanic chains. This schematic is not to scale.
Modified from Shutterstock

Differences in how subduction occurs and the characteristics of the oceanic plate may hold the secret to better understanding where and when copper deposits form. However, this information is traditionally not used in copper exploration.

Building a virtual Earth

At the EarthByte research group, we are building a virtual Earth powered by our GPlates plate tectonic software, which lets us look deep below the surface and travel back in time. One of its many applications is to understand where copper deposits have formed along mountain belts.

In a recent paper, we outline how it works. We focus on the past 80 million years because most of the known economic copper deposits along mountain belts formed during this period. This period is also most accurate for our models.

We used machine learning to find links between known copper deposits along mountain belts and the evolution of the associated subduction zone. Our model looks at several different subduction zone parameters and determines how important each one is in terms of association with known ore deposits.

So what turns out to be important? How fast the plates are moving towards each other, how much calcium carbonate is contained in the subducting crust and in deep-sea sediments, how old and thick the subducting plate is, and how far it is to the nearest edge of a subduction zone.

Plate motions and age of the ocean crust, with age-coded porphyry copper-gold deposits overlaid. Animation by Michael Chin.

Using our machine learning approach, we can look at different parts of the world and see whether they would have experienced conditions conducive to forming copper deposits at different times. We identified several candidate regions in the US, including in central Alaska, southern Nevada, southern California and Arizona, and numerous regions in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Knowing when copper ore deposits may have formed is important, as it helps explorers to focus their efforts on rocks of particular ages. In addition, it reveals how much time given deposits might have had to move closer to the surface.

Australia has similar deposits, including the Cadia copper-gold district in New South Wales. However, these rocks are significantly older (roughly 460 million to 430 million years old) and require virtual Earth models to look much further back in time than those applied to the Americas.

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The future of mineral exploration

Finding 10 million tonnes of copper by 2030 – the equivalent of eight of the largest copper deposits that we mine today – presents an enormous challenge.

With support over a decade from AuScope and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), we are in a position to imagine tackling this challenge. By supercharging GPlates in Australia’s Downward Looking Telescope, together with AI and supercomputing, we can meet it head on.

These emerging technologies are increasingly being used by Australian startups like Lithodat and DeeperX and mining companies in collaboration with universities to develop AI’s enormous potential for critical minerals discovery.

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Clean energy? The world’s demand for copper could be catastrophic for communities and environments

Dietmar Müller receives funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) via AuScope, and BHP.

Jo Condon works for AuScope, a non-profit organisation funded by NCRIS that enables the GPlates software used in this research.

Rohitash Chandra receives funding from Australian Research Council – Industrial Transformation Training Centre in Data Analytics for Resources and Environments.

Julian Diaz 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.