Thursday, 24 December 2015

Drawn to Life

Image via iStock

By Evelyn Tsitas

The humble pen is having something of a revival in the face of the digital. Adult colouring books are bound to be popular stocking fillers this Christmas. They make up four of Amazon UK’s top 10 books, a trend that has been embraced by stressed Australians. Melbourne neuropsychologist Stan Rodski’s Colourtation books have been incorporated into mindfulness and wellness initiatives in such organisations as ANZ Bank, Wesfarmers and Bupa.

Amsterdam's recently reopened Rijksmuseum launched a campaign called #startdrawing to discourage photography in its galleries, asking visitors to draw instead. The Rijksmuseum will provide free sketch paper and pencils to museumgoers, and even host a drawing class every Saturday.

The National Gallery of Victoria hosted its popular Drop-by Drawing Sunday events during its recent Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great exhibition. After viewing the works in the exhibition, visitors could join portrait artists in informal drawing sessions inspired by the European masters in the NGV salon galleries.

But even several years ago former NGV director Dr Gerard Vaughan observed that drawing in galleries had not been common in Melbourne for about 25 years.

So, why take up the pen, when everywhere we see a sea of faces bent in worship to the mobile device? Margaret Graham, reviewing David Hockney’s recent exhibition of early drawings at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, wrote that “drawing is about a charged, unending exchange, a continual transformation that thrums with curiosity, vim, and the insatiable desire to describe.”

I draw. It is how I make sense of the world, how I look at art, and how I remember. The act of drawing, be it ever so old fashioned, holds time still – still enough for me to be a slow moving dot in the fast moving universe. I am a writer but trained first in visual art. When I want to sink deep into life, I take up the pen to carve a line into a form and not a word.

I discovered the special love of drawing in museums when I was 22, on my first trip to Europe as an adult. I had only recently graduated from my visual art degree and it seemed logical to take with me a sketchbook and assorted ink pens and range of pencils. Then I stood enthralled in the British Museum and drew Egyptian sarcophagi I had only seen in books.

I stood for at least an hour, as tourists shuffled quickly past me. I was entranced by the carving of a young man on gleaming, black marble. In profile, he had a strong jaw, elegant cheekbones, and the curve of his shoulder was definite but delicate. What most impressed me was the undulation of the snake chiseled down his arm.

How I envied the locals and the children to whom this was just an ordinary weekend excursion. I wanted to say to them – don’t you know how lucky you are? To have the vast array of antiquities within casual observation seemed a dream.

For me, knowing a place is drawing a place and art is the best way I know of understanding a culture and its history. That’s why, when in a new country, I always head first to the major public art gallery.
Unlike taking a photo these days, drawing is a unique and very public act. As you draw, people are drawn to you. You claim a special ownership of the space that is totally different from just sitting, or talking to someone, or reading or texting.

Nowhere was I pulled back in time more powerfully than standing under the shadows of the Parthenon for the first time, sketching in order to understand the profound beauty and importance of this one building that has had such an impact on western architecture. It wasn’t hard to imagine – in my writer’s mind – that I was a Regency lady on a Grand Tour, and there were no smart phones to click and file the image I was seeing.

Drawing is the ultimate act of time travel, propelling you back to the craftsmen and artists and architects who made and conceived the objects and buildings that you are trying to capture.
Taking a photograph speeds time and displaces you; drawing centres you takes you into the heart of the story. The sensuality, the pathos, the beauty, the horror – art conveys all this and more about the human condition.

I have found that when I draw, I pull in people around me. Those I am with tend to stop and see more clearly as well. Conversation happens, everything slows down. Or I feel someone behind me in a gallery and it is a tourist (usually American) posing and having their photo taken with me.

My most recent drawing binge was in July in Europe, when I realized the power of the pen and the respect standing in front of sculpture and trying to capture the essence garnered from museum guards. In Paris at the Musée Bourdelle, I spent hours at an exhibition, desperate to capture the experience of what I was seeing. No photos allowed, so I pulled out my sketchbook.

I didn’t realise I was still in one room well past closing time until I closed the sketchbook and put my pencils back in my bag and looked up – a security guard was waiting for me, patiently, and apologetically said it was time to leave. I in turn apologised for keeping her but she shook her head and pointed to my sketchbook and smiled. Time stops for those who bother to stop for art.

The kinetic energy used to draw imprints you on a place, person or object in a very powerful way. I actually stopped and cried out in recognition when I saw the same sarcophagi in The Louvre three years ago that I had drawn all those years ago in The British Museum after I just finished my art course.

We were old friends, and I could feel every part of his shoulder and chin under my fingers. It was a powerful moment one could only achieve by drawing.

Dr Evelyn Tsitas is the Media, Education and Public Program Coordinator at RMIT Gallery.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Change the story: how the world's first national framework can help prevent violence against women

Anastasia Powell, RMIT University

In Australia, one woman is killed almost every week by a current or former partner. By now, these horrifying murders are all too familiar. But they are just a small part of the bigger story.

Hundreds of thousands more women are physically and psychologically harmed by men’s violence, threats and controlling behaviour. Many suffer long-term trauma and harm to their health, well-being and life chances. Many live in fear.

But violence against women is not inevitable. Rather, it is driven by a series of complex and entrenched but changeable social and environmental factors.

In other words, violence against women is preventable. We can change this story. A new framework shows how.

The world’s first national framework to focus on preventing violence against women was launched this week. Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia was developed by Our Watch, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.

Change the Story aims to prevent violence against women, a campaign that begins with tackling gender inequality.

What is the framework based on?

Change the Story draws upon the latest international evidence on what drives violence against women and what works to prevent it. Its development included consultations with over 400 stakeholders across Australia. It uses this research and practice expertise to demonstrate how, by working together, we can create an Australia where women live free from violence.

Although violence against women has no single cause, Change the Story points to substantial evidence that higher levels of violence against women are consistently associated with lower levels of gender equality in both public life and personal relationships. For example, a major study found that higher gender inequality predicted higher levels of intimate partner violence across 44 countries.
Within this broader context, Change the Story identifies four specific, gendered drivers of this violence:
  1. condoning violence, particularly by excusing or trivialising it, or “blaming the victim”;
  2. men’s control of decision-making, and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships;
  3. rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity; and
  4. male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
To illustrate the last two, there is a particularly clear relationship between violence and the dominant, aggressive and controlling characteristics associated with stereotypical ideas of masculinity, which are expressed in some male peer relations. In Australia, 95% of victims, women and men, experience violence from a male perpetrator.

We can’t ignore the bigger picture

The framework makes it clear we can’t just focus on the violence itself; we must change the bigger story behind it. We must challenge the social, political and economic structures, practices and systems that created gender inequality, and the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that continue to support and normalise it.

Change the Story outlines a range of supporting actions that can be taken to address various “reinforcing factors”. These range from alcohol used in ways that weaken people’s positive behaviours, to exposure to, or normalisation and valorisation of, other kinds of violence in society.

The framework provides evidence-based guidance to government, organisations and communities. It outlines a strategic approach to achieve effective leadership, co-ordination, resourcing and support for violence-prevention efforts across Australia.

It calls for complementary initiatives that engage people throughout their lives and where they live, work, learn, socialise and play. These include schools and other education institutions, sporting, social and leisure spaces, workplaces, the media, popular culture, advertising and entertainment, faith-based contexts and transport and public spaces.

What practical steps can be taken?

Change the Story points out that prevention activities should reinforce each other. For example, best-practice respectful relationships education programs involve the whole school. These engage not just students, but teachers, staff and the wider school community in conversations about gender equality, respect and non-violence.

School activities can then be reinforced by other programs, such as through sporting clubs or social media. Similarly, adults should be engaged in multiple ways – in workplaces, communities and social spaces. Our media, popular culture, policy and legislation should all support and reinforce the aim of gender equality.

This kind of consistent, comprehensive approach, which reaches and engages everyone, is needed to prevent violence against women in Australia.

At the same time, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be effective; prevention must be tailored to the diverse contexts of people’s lives. Greater effort and resources are required for groups affected by multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage, or experiencing the cumulative impact of many negative factors – for example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Small steps can make a big difference. If we reduced the prevalence of intimate partner violence in Australia (affecting 27% of women across their lifetime) to that of Denmark (22%), this small reduction would prevent 6000 cases of violence-related injury, illness and disability. It would also save many millions of dollars in health sector and productivity costs.

With Change the Story, Australia is poised to lead the world by demonstrating the kind of nationwide, cultural and structural change necessary to forever change the story of violence against women.

This article has been co-authored by Dr Emma Partridge, Co-ordinator, National Framework to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children, at Our Watch, and Dr Lara Fergus, Director, Policy and Evaluation, at Our Watch.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Or you can go online to 1800RESPECT and Our Watch.

The Conversation
Anastasia Powell, Senior Lecturer, Justice and Legal Studies, RMIT University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Australian Creativity, Innovation and Enterprise

Image via iStock

by Dr Marcus Powe

There is a peculiar phenomenon in Australia. We do not cheer for success unless a
ball, a bat or a horse is involved. We do not cheer for engineers, scientists, teachers,
artists or poets.

It’s time we did. We are facing an era of massive economic change, and we need to
foster creativity, innovation and enterprise to drive future success. We need to focus our leading thinkers on these challenges.

New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia face the same challenges and
opportunities as we do. But where our neighbours act, here in Australia we have
struggled to make real progress.

We make plans, formulate policy, pull fiscal levers, reward experts and consultants (I
was one of those too!) to assist organisations to start, complete research and
development and go overseas to make their fortunes. The dreams of enduring revenue
for intellectual property, job creation and a healthy balance of trade sound fantastic.

Most of our plans and actions have unfortunately either not eventuated or not created
enduring social and economic dividends; they have at best created many short term
wins. We have the evidence of what does not work. Strangely we continue to look
overseas, engage international experts, use North American and European case studies to build the foundations of our own entrepreneurial system. We seem to keep waiting for “the” model.

We simply cannot wait any longer, it’s time we back ourselves.

We need to have the courage to say, “this is what success is for Australia and this is
the way we do things around here”. Look across the Tasman, to see how New Zealand has created their own successful way. My last thirteen years teaching in New Zealand
has seen the Kiwis build an enviable entrepreneurial model. I know it’s tempting, but
we cannot embrace the New Zealand way. It’s theirs.

We need to build our own.

So why have we not found our own way, a way that creates and supports

You may be surprised that entrepreneurship is a university discipline, originating over
30 years ago from an engineering faculty. I was one of the first of four students to
enrol in the first Masters of Enterprise Innovation at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia and was shocked to find that way back then, the tall poppy syndrome was alive and well, especially when an individual or organisation worked hard, invested in themselves and their people and success followed. The public would be suspicious, viewed them as shonky, or they ripped someone off or they were just lucky.

We still cheer for mediocrity not excellence. Why are we often our own worst enemy?
The good news is that many people today, either graduating students or those changing careers, want to learn the skills of entrepreneurship. I still find it remarkable that many think that entrepreneurship is something genetic, “magical” and cannot be taught.

Fortunately for Australia, this is not true.

One of the many things I do today is to assist adults with remembering how to reinvigorate what we are all hardwired with: creativity, innovation and enterprising behaviours.

Young children play together in groups naturally, while adults have to do teamwork courses. Children naturally pick leaders, while we are all doing leadership courses. If everyone is leading, who’s following? And who is doing the entrepreneurship?

We have Ministers, departments, and divisions, directors with the words creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship attached. Most I have spoken with are unclear of the meaning of these terms and the behaviours that go along with them: creatively making the connections others often do not see; innovating by turning an idea into an opportunity; and combining creativity plus innovation to deliver entrepreneurship.

What is required is leadership with courage, and a plan that fits for Australia. That
plan should be:

1. We decide that as a nation we recognise and reward hard work and clever thinking;
2. We support and invest in entrepreneurial education starting in all secondary
3. Social and economic dividends from any venture have equal importance - we
should not be put into a position where we have to choose. We can have it all;
4. We provide places we can practice starting and growing opportunities – this is
inexpensive, we know what works in our country;
5. The Australian way of creativity, innovation and enterprise will be the only way.

We must have the courage to back ourselves.

We are geographically in the eastern hemisphere, which will be one half of the
world’s GDP. Why can’t we be the creative, innovation and entrepreneurial centre of
our region?

The answer is we can. The only question is, what are we waiting for?

Dr Marcus Powe is founder and managing director of EIC Growth, and has been
Entrepreneur in Residence at RMIT since 2006, working with staff, students and
alumni to refine and develop their ideas and business opportunities. For the last 30
years he has been a student, participant, teacher, voice, observer and enthusiast in all
things about entrepreneurship in Australia.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

When Species Meet: The Media Response to the Pig-Gate Scandal

David Cameron - image via iStock
By Evelyn Tsitas

After a week of the British media squealing with delight at allegations that David Cameron put a private part of his anatomy in a dead pig’s mouth back in his university days, the Prime Minister has finally confirmed he is disputing the claim made in a new biography.

That is hardly likely to put an end to pig-gate. It is no wonder that the recent allegations set the British media ablaze. The strongly enforced distinction between species means that the great taboo of bestiality blurs this separation and factures the boundaries between human and non-human animal.

The allegations are disclosed in Lord Michael Ashcroft’s new unauthorised biography Call Me Dave. The Daily Mail – which is serialising the book - called the initiation event into the Piers Gaveston Oxford dining society “obscene”, “sordid” “outrageous” and “debauched”.  

However, the fallout has gone beyond simple embarrassment and humiliation for the PM and entered into the realm of animal rights concerns.

According to NME Morrisey, a highly regarded UK musician, has issued a joint statement that he claims is also sent on behalf of animal rights group PETA.

It reads; "No, boys won't be boys - not when it's sexual perversion and also involves a vulnerable victim of slaughter, a feeling being who lost his or her life and then was used for a prank… A prime minister is supposed to protect the most vulnerable."

It’s a very good point. While the Twittersphere is ablaze with pig jokes and sexual innuendo, media commentators are more concerned about speculating on the damage to Cameron’s reputation than examining the cruelty to animals used in the debauched parties of the notorious Oxford dining society, the Piers Gaveston, which ‘specialises in bizarre rituals and sexual excess’. And yes, pigs’ heads.

Aidan Hartley, writing in The Spectator recalled Oxford parties in the 1980s: “In those days, pigs’ heads from the Covered Market were a favourite as props for undergraduate high jinks — and probably they still are. I don’t know why.” 

Despite Darwinian notions of evolution, much of our culture operates on the assumption that humans are qualitatively different from other animals. Feminist theorist Donna Haraway challenges this idea in her influential book When Species Meet (2008).  She is openly critical of other theorists Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their attitude to animals. She challenges Derrida to think beyond an animal’s capacity to suffer and asks us to be curious about animals, to respond to the animal’s presence by asking the animal what is wanted.

The human relationship with the animal is political and contested. When pranksters dumped and then abandoned a terrified piglet at 10 Downing Street as a joke, there was no thought about how this stunt was going to affect the poor animal. “This is its first experience of the outside world and it has been dragged all over Downing Street and then into Charing Cross police station,” said Clarie Elson, the livestock manager from the farm told Southwark News.

Humans have long had a great fascination for sexual activity between creatures of different species. In his 2001 paper Heavy Petting philosopher Peter Singer argues that instances of sex across the species barrier are so frequent "it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings." No mention of the animal’s dignity.

One of the problems with bestiality is the issue of consent. Can an animal ever consent to an act of intercourse with a human? There is the issue of power imbalance, for a start. Any encounter where one party can be legally skinned, made into a handbag and also eaten is not on an equal footing in the bedroom. The common word for the exploited person in these situations is not ‘partner’ but ‘victim’. In the case of bestiality, the victim is the animal, who does not and cannot provide consent.

If one partner is dead, does the need for consent still apply? Regardless of legality, other taboos, such as necrophilia step in. But the fact that the pig was dead when Cameron allegedly stuck ‘a private part of his anatomy’ in the pig’s mouth doesn’t seem to be the issue. The uproar about this allegation surrounds the taboo of bestiality, not necrophilia.  By demanding that human beings do not engage with animals in sexual acts, the act of prohibition defines the differences between the species.

The reaction on Twitter to the pig’s head allegations reveals one overwhelming fact – people find the idea of sex acts with a pig hilarious. According to The Conversation, one reason why #piggate played so well on Twitter is that making jokes about David Cameron and pigs allows us to turn the tables on the privileged and powerful. 

However, while this may be the case, the humor is revealing in that it mostly speaks to our use of the pig as a product of consumption, or one that is in someway ‘unclean’. The Tweets may joke that we can no longer really trust where our bacon comes from, but none mention just how smart pigs are. A paper published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Comparative Psychology reveals that pigs have been found to be mentally and socially similar to dogs and chimpanzees.

More than anything, what the “pig-gate” scandal reveals is just how deeply entrenched our speciesism is, and how deeply uncomfortable we are as a society when it comes to interrogating the real issues arising from acts of bestiality and cruelty to animals.

Dr Evelyn Tsitas explored the role of human animal hybrid in science fiction in her PhD research, with particular emphasis on how animal rights and animal protection issues are reflected in the creative arts and popular culture. Her academic research in this area has been published widely in books, journals and popular media.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What does Australia's new 2030 climate target mean for the local coal industry?

Liz Minchin, The Conversation

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised that his government’s new 2030 climate target will be good for the environment, good for jobs and good for protecting the nation’s coal industry.
After announcing Australia would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, the prime minister was asked about what impact that could have on the local coal industry. He replied:
We are not assuming a massive close-down of coal. In fact, one of the things that will benefit the world in the years and decades to come is if there is a greater use of Australian coal, because high-quality Australian coal as opposed to low-quality local coal is going to help other countries to, if not reduce their emissions, certainly reduce their emissions intensity. 
One of the reasons why China is forecast to substantially reduce its intensity, if not its overall emissions, is because it is forecast to rely increasingly on coal from countries such as Australia… 
We certainly aren’t forecasting the demise of coal. Our policy doesn’t depend upon the demise of coal. In fact, the only way to protect the coal industry is to go with the sorts of policies that we have. That’s why I think our policies are not only good for the environment but very good for jobs.
Australia currently gets three-quarters of its electricity from burning coal – but most of the nation’s coal production, particularly from New South Wales and Queensland mines, is for global exports.
The Conversation asked a panel of energy experts for their forecasts for Australian coal in the light of the 2030 target and the upcoming climate talks in Paris. (You can also read why experts have warned Australia’s post-2020 climate target isn’t enough to stop 2C warming.)

ANU research associate and pitt&sherry consultant Hugh Saddler on rebounding coal and emissions

Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2012-13 shows that 29% of Australia’s total emissions came from coal used to generate electricity. Other fuels, mainly gas, used to generate electricity add another 5%, bringing the electricity industry’s share of total national emissions up to 34%.

More than half of these coal emissions come from power stations that are now more than 25 years old. Closing these old power stations and replacing them with wind, solar and possibly some gas generation is technically completely feasible and, on the basis of the best current cost data, would cost less than replacing them with new coal-fired power stations. It is clear, therefore, that reducing the share of coal in Australia’s electricity generation is one of the lowest-cost ways of achieving large emission reductions.

Reducing emissions would be made easier if demand for electricity were reduced, by increasing the efficiency of electricity use. We know that this can be done.

Between 2009 and 2013, the combination of falling demand for electricity and a switch of electricity generation away from coal and towards wind, solar and gas resulted in an emissions reduction of 24 Mt CO2-e, equal to 4% of Australia’s emissions in 2009.

Greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s electricity sector are rising again. pitt&sherry Carbon Emissions Index (CEDEX®),, Author provided

Now, however, demand for electricity and the share of coal in total generation are both increasing. Both will have to turn around if Australia is to achieve the proposed emission reductions.

The vertical lines on this graph indicate the period when Australia had a carbon price in place, from July 2012 to July 2014. pitt&sherry Carbon Emissions Index (CEDEX®),, Author provided

CQUniversity resource economist and Deputy Dean of Research, School of Business & Law, John Rolfe, on Australia’s coal exports
Factors that reduce the demand for fossil fuels are likely to have some negative impact on the demand for Australian coal, although it remains to be seen how big the issue will be. It is worth noting that Australia exports roughly equivalent amounts of metallurgical coal for steelmaking and thermal coal for power generation; it is only the latter commodity that would be impacted.

In 2013-14, Australia produced 180.8 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and exported it all, and 245 million tonnes of thermal coal, exporting 195 million tonnes, or 80% of production.

If the change in emissions policy only affects Australian domestic demand for coal, then it is possible that some of the 20% of current production that is used for domestic power supply could decline. The extent to which that decline in domestic consumption affects the industry remains uncertain.

Currently, predictions for growth in international demand mean that thermal coal exports from Australia are predicted to increase. The latest Resources and Energy Quarterly from the Australian government pegs the likely increase in thermal coal production to be more than 13% by 2020, with all of the increase going to export markets.

But if Australian power generators reduce their demand for coal further at the same time that international demands grow, then it is likely that growth in production will be slower and there will be some substitution into export markets.

RMIT senior industry fellow and energy-efficiency expert Alan Pears on the risks ahead
For local demand, the main driver is electricity. Since the removal of carbon pricing, with increases in gas prices and the need for hydro generators to allow their dams to refill (after cashing in on the carbon price by generating as much as possible), coal has recovered some market share. But this is very much a short-term situation.

First, it is very unlikely that any new coal-fired electricity generators will be built: they are risky, take a long time to build at a time of extreme uncertainty, and can’t compete with new renewable generation.

But even to meet its weak proposed [2030] target, the government will have to support further adoption of energy-efficiency measures. It has also shown it is not prepared to take on the rooftop PV industry, because too many votes are at risk. But a weak carbon cap and/or no carbon price does allow existing coal plants to generate more for longer, emitting more carbon dioxide.

The International Energy Agency’s 450 parts per million scenario suggests that global demand for coal would need to drop by around 30% by 2035 to limit warming to 2C. If Australia’s customer countries act consistent with this global target, it is clear that our coal export industry will decline significantly.

On top of that, the economics of improving energy efficiency and renewable energy are continually improving. So recent declines in share value of major global coal companies such as Peabody Energy are not surprising.

University of Western Australia Winthrop Professor of Finance, Accounting and Finance Richard Heaney on replacing existing coal power
Yes, I do think the Australian and international targets could have an impact. Sequestration does not seem to be providing the solution to the carbon problems associated with coal.

If we are to meet the targets our coal usage will need to fall and this leads to a search for alternatives like solar, wind, hot rock, nuclear or less carbon intensive alternative like natural gas or unconventional gas.

Many of Australia’s existing coal fired power plants are nearing the end of their economic lives, so this is a great time to reconsider the sources of energy that we tap into.

As for global demand for Australian coal between now and 2030, it’s difficult to say. If Australia decides to use less coal then this will have an impact on Australian coal production, particularly in areas like the Latrobe Valley for example. It will affect coal exports if the big importing countries like China are able to reduce coal consumption and maintain an adequate growth rate.

The University of Queensland energy economics researcher Lynette Molyneaux on how others nations will shape what happens in Australia
Australia exports around 80% of the coal that it mines. So while a carbon dioxide emission cut by 2035 will undoubtedly affect electricity production from coal, the impact on the industry from reduced electricity production will be comparatively small.

The far bigger exposure to the coal industry will be from global target setting. Australia and Indonesia dominate the export market. Between them they export more than 50% of world’s coal. However, the USA is a far bigger coal producer than Australia. With the USA seeking to limit electricity production from coal, US coal producers will be in the hunt for international buyers, possibly creating significant competition for Australian coal producers. Australia has always sold its coal on its higher quality (higher energy content and lower sulfur). That was possible against Indonesian coal but would not necessarily apply to coal from the USA.

So, if importing countries like India and China do not set targets, coal producers will continue hunting for opportunities there and Australia – with its good-quality coal and proximity to Asia – will be relatively well placed. If, however, India and China themselves set emission reduction targets that reduce their demand for coal generally, then Australia’s coal industry may well be significantly impacted by their target setting.

Australia’s coal industry is at the mercy of global consensus on climate change, not really Australia’s emission targets.

The Conversation
Liz Minchin is Senior Editor & Queensland Editor at The Conversation.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

No Idea, Really?

Image via iStock
by Marcus Powe, RMIT's Entrepreneur in Residence

Where do ideas come from? Why do some turn out to be wonderful opportunities but others remain great ideas and never go anywhere?

The challenge is often to determine how these great ideas connect to people, markets, technologies, communities and societies in such a way that they then become wonderful opportunities. The first step is creativity. Adults have in many cases forgotten their creative skills, how to play with ideas, connect ideas and dream. Creativity is simply making connections others can’t – could these connections be your advantage? You cannot make these connections unless you take off your blinkers.

While many may not consider it professional, you have permission to play: Play with your ideas, thoughts and imagination. Mix things up to get different results. Make sure that you learn from your and others’ mistakes. Too many people take the traditional linear approach o business, the way it has always been, to achieve outcomes.

Entrepreneurs (or, if inside an organisation, intrapreneurs) have an enterprising mindset and  the ability to remove their blinkers so they see opportunities more clearly.

Did you know that if you are physically tired, creativity is not going to happen, if you are emotionally exhausted, its even worse, the blinkers are well and truly closed.

Rest. I dare you to stop being busy.

Only then can you ‘see’ and use the tools of innovation. The tools will help you, as an entrepreneur, decide which idea to invest in, and when and how it should be developed, adjusted, accelerated or held back. The tool kit developed will give you the ability to adjust your idea, business or organisation to help maximise its potential.

There are so many ways of growing opportunities; so many models, theories, rules, strategies and tactics – how do you have the time to remember them? What should you do first? In answer to this I have developed a very simple list called "the Cascade".

When you are challenged with the pace, turbulence and even the chaos of creating, developing and delivering opportunities, I envisage the Cascade will help prevent you from looking back if something goes wrong and saying, ‘How could I have forgotten that?’

Going with the flow or May the forces be with you!

The the power, simplicity and advantage of the Cascade can be used for all businesses, not-for-profit, communities, small, medium, large, clubs and societies. I have developed and used it for over 30 years.

It works.

I have found that people learning about business, innovation, marketing, entrepreneurship and strategy had learned many business models. But these models were always taught in isolation – meaning that people could never see how the models influenced one another, or connections between the models.

The models were generally taught with academic, not real-world, situations in mind. Once people had learned the models, they would go out into the market and realise that they had no idea why or when they should actually use them – the ‘so what?’ of the models. It was like they were taught how to put a car together, but never how to drive it.

The Cascade follows the idea of getting into a raft at the head of a river rather than the end. This river trickles down over a series of nice gentle steps, slowly and easily getting you to your final destination. Have you ever tried to paddle upstream? Going with the current is easier and smarter.

I like the idea of minimum effort for maximum results, and the power of simplicity over complexity.

Got a paddle?

Happiness is a positive cash flow.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The facts on Australian housing affordability

Housing in Australia: what's really happening? Image via iStock.

by Gavin Wood, RMIT University and Rachel Ong, Curtin University

Housing affordability, high house prices and rents are attracting plenty of media attention right now. The latest figures on house prices, mortgages, number of first time buyers and so on are dissected by journalists and commentators as if this is an issue of recent origin. In fact what we have here is a long-term structural problem that has been neglected for decades.

Back in 1982, the ABS Survey of Income and Housing revealed that 168,000 or 10% of home buyers spent more than 30% of their gross household income on housing costs. Nearly 30 years later in 2011 these numbers had soared to 640,000, equivalent to 21% of all home buyers.

The trends in housing cost burdens reflect rising real house prices. The history of house prices over this timeframe is one of booms in which real house prices escalate to higher levels than they peaked in the previous boom. Periods of house price stability punctuate these booms, and give household incomes some breathing space in which to catch up.

But at each peak in house prices, household incomes have fallen further behind. According to the same ABS data source, households in 1990 on average valued their homes at a multiple that was four times their average household income. By 2011 this multiple had climbed to nearly six times average household income.

A generational threat

It is therefore not surprising to find that young first time buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase a home. As our first table shows, on a person basis the rate of home ownership in the prime 25 – 34 year age group has slumped from 56% in 1982 to only 34% in 2011. Delayed entry into home ownership is a factor, but it turns out that these declines have set in across all but the post-retirement age group. The “Australian dream” of home ownership is under threat.

Home ownership rate 1982-2011, in percentage terms

ABS Surveys of Income and Housing

How have we reached this position? To be sure population growth, low interest rates, deregulation of mortgage markets and rising real incomes have helped fuel the demand for housing, and pushed up real house prices. But there are deep seated structural problems that contribute to an inflationary bias in land and property markets.

Fiscal concessions in the form of capital gains and land tax exemptions to home owners, negative gearing and concessionary capital gains tax for “mum and dad” investors, and asset test concessions to home owner retirees offer powerful incentives to accumulate wealth in housing assets. As a result, the supply side problems are not so much about a shortage of housing, but an inefficient distribution of the stock of housing.

According to the 2010 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, roughly 1 in 6 Australian households own two or more properties, and for 30% of these households the second property is a holiday home. Growing numbers of ageing “empty nester” households are deterred from downsizing and releasing housing equity by stamp duty, the taxation of alternative investments of the equity released, and the lack of suitable housing opportunities in the communities they would like to stay in.

Meanwhile according to the latest census more than 100,000 Australians are homeless, and many more than this are struggling to meet housing payments.

The supply issue

Back in the early 1980s these fiscal drivers did not matter so much, because there were ample greenfield sites on which new housing could be constructed. These sites still offered reasonable access to amenities and jobs. But such opportunities are drying up, and state governments have introduced curbs on urban expansion, as well as developer charges and fees that have increased the costs of construction on the urban fringe.

Adding to supply side problems are planning controls that impede higher density development in middle ring suburbs, as “insider” home owners understandably seek to protect the “leafy character” of their communities.

We are left with a problem that has wider ramifications because it has created a housing system saddled with growing indebtedness. In the 21 years illustrated in the chart below the average mortgage debt has soared relative to the average household incomes of mortgagors in all age groups.

Mean mortgage debt to income ratio

ABS Surveys of Income and Housing.

Moreover, the proportion of home owners with outstanding mortgage debt has increased, especially in the 55–64 year cohort that is typically approaching retirement (see chart below). Interest rates were much higher back in 1990 and so household incomes in 2011 can comfortably service loans that are larger relative to household income.

Percentage of home owners with a mortgage debt

ABS Surveys of Income and Housing

Nevertheless repayment risks and investment risks (house values falling short of outstanding mortgage debt) loom more prominently, and for a larger number of precariously positioned households. These risks could test the resilience of local economies and the national economy.

The Australian housing system weathered the global financial crisis much better than did many of its counterparts in the developed world.

Does this suggest a resilience that we can bank on in the future? Federal and state governments might be well advised to introduce structural reforms to housing finance that strengthen that resilience.
The Conversation
Gavin Wood is Professor of Housing at RMIT University.

Rachel Ong is Principal Research Fellow, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre at Curtin University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Adam Goodes: a story of class and prejudice

Adam Goodes in AFL round 9, Sydney versus Carlton. Photo: Getty/Cameron Spencer

by RMIT Adjunct Professor Stephen Alomes, author of Australian Football The People's Game 1958-2058 

The below was first published on ABC’s The Drum but contains an additional afterward in light of developments since. 

Australian Football has come a long way since the 1920s when some Carlton players didn't like the smell or the presence of star on-baller Doug Nicholls, who went on to a successful career with other clubs.

Later, the Reverend Doug Nicholls became Sir Doug Nicholls, the Governor of South Australia.

Footy led Australia in its moves against racial vilification in the 1990s, despite some prejudice at local levels.

Despite the tom toms of the politically correct few, vilification has been rare at AFL matches, and the few individual exceptions each year prove the rule.

Yet, have some Hawthorn supporters booing Adam Goodes taken us back several steps?

"Why?" and "Who?" are questions we can't easily answer. The "who" is difficult as the booers are not easy to identify. As Hawthorn's premiership star Jordan Lewis remarked:

I personally don't like it. I don't get why they do it and I don't understand it. I would love for someone to come out and say why they do it ... It's got to stop.

The booing is not related to earlier accusations that the Brownlow Medallist too often slid into other players, or tripped opponents. If that was so, the crowds would be booing Dustin Fletcher or, for different reasons, several noxious taggers who try only to stop a star player. Nor is it significantly related to the booing of champions, who opposing club supporters hate because "they are too good". If it was, the list of targets would be longer.

The pattern of Hawthorn supporters booing Goodes - and they may not be the only ones - brings a rare political note into footy.

Why is this happening in the game that expresses Australian social democracy at its best, the game that puts aside class, religion, ethnicity, race and most other things (although not always gender or sexual preference) for the shared experience of the players and that of the fans?

The most logical speculation is that the booing mixes two elements: residual racism and political reaction.

Let's bring two unmentionables into footy: class and politics. Hawthorn's supporter base has many fans from the upper middle classes, good boys and girls from private schools and with good bank accounts. Sometimes, with class goes conservatism. They may not like Goodes' political radicalism on Indigenous issues and they may feel fortified by the idea that politics should be kept out of football.

In other words, the racism is political and perhaps class-based as well.

Goodes's admirable role as an active Australian of the Year who argued the case for Indigenous Australians may offend some footy traditionalists, who like to keep their class society and their political values separate from the footy field. In some quarters, a degree of unease was felt when Patrick McGorry argued the case for greater expenditure on mental health.

The booers don't please the Hawthorn administration, which is establishing a new Indigenous foundation. Nor do the booers recognise the courage which has brought change. As Adam Goodes remarked:

People like Michael Long, Gilbert McAdam, Robbie Ahmat, Scotty Chisholm and Nicky Winmar, of course, have taken a stance, and it's made it so much easier for the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander footballers to come through without that stress ... For us to go out there and feel equal and run around and just play footy, it's a blessing in this day and age.

The most fundamental reason contrasts with that moral courage. As one voice on the footy blog, The Roar, remarked:

The sad truth is that Australians want, or expect, their sportspeople, particularly their footballers, to be oafish and when they're not (shock, horror, they're human beings with brains!) they get pilloried for it.

Footy is still short on moral courage. Fans and players sometimes feel happier with physical courage alone. Consider the failure of the Essendon players to stand up to the Dank experiments by saying "no".

Perhaps those booing Hawthorn fans are also short on the social democratic values of Australian life that are now under challenge.

Or perhaps the booers prefer those days when the "Australian of the Year" was just a smiling sporting achiever.

Afterword: The Medium may be the Message

When I wrote about the booing of Adam Goodes (well before the SCG match against Carlton and the subsequent controversy),  I suggested that the reasons for his being booed are multifactorial, not simple. This includes the idea that the Australian of the Year should be just a smiling sportsman or woman ('Bewdy Newk!' - tennis champion John Newcombe was, surprisingly, never an Australian of the Year).

While the war dance by Adam Goodes raises many other questions, even if celebrations can vary as in the Jason Akermanis handstands, I want to comment on only one aspect.

The contemporary world doesn't like complexity or ideas. It does like visual presentation and performance. We judge many performers (eg political leaders) as much by their visual presentation as by their content. TV has created this image culture. 

Yet it has always been true that we judge footballers by their performance, by their manner on the field. Consider the theatricality of ‘Richo’, Matthew Richardson for Richmond, the imperious arrogant swagger of Wayne Carey as the dominant bull centre half forward. The bravery, skill and charming manner of James Hird the player won him fans and even continues as James Hird the interviewee today (despite less pleasant realities).

In footy, as well as more generally as Marshall McLuhan suggested, often the medium is the message.

Goodes chose a performance statement which was visual and theatrical, even if unconventional.
Yet he has been living, as a footballer, in unconventional times recently.

While a thousand trolls will have their two cents' worth (could several be expelled from the virtual stands?), unlike the image world of TV, it is all very complicated.

As is too often written in brief academic articles, ‘there are several interesting subjects for future research.....’