Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Thinking about a sustainable retrofit? Here are three things to consider

Trivess Moore
, RMIT University; Andrew Carre, RMIT University, and Ralph Horne, RMIT University

Sitting at home in the summer heat, your mind may start to wander to that fancy new air conditioner.
But when it comes to making your house comfortable and sustainable, prevention is better than cure. By prevention we mean simple retrofits that will set you on the path to comfort and sustainability.
As we spend more than ever on maintaining and improving our homes, we’re also becoming more aware of how their design and use impact on our health and society. Add to this climate change and rising energy costs.

There are many ways to reduce energy and stay comfortable (for instance here and here). Numerous reports suggest it should be possible to reduce your energy use by 50-80% using existing and available materials and appliances.

Appliance are the easy bit, and you can find the most efficient appliances using energy star ratings. But before you go out and buy that air conditioner, consider the following principles that can help you decide what you need to create a comfortable home.

Prevention better than cure

For a long time the perfect “room temperature” was considered to be around 21℃. But we now understand that as humans we like temperature variations rather than vanilla indoor environments.

As explored in Lisa Heschong’s book Thermal Delight in Architecture (1979), most of us are not looking for a beige thermal environment after all. So to start with, we need a change in attitude. Bring back the cardigan for winter and the shorts for summer!

The next point is basic knowledge about your climate zone. For instance, in Melbourne there are more heating days (159) than cooling days (35). So, if you are retrofitting in summer, remember the main annual task is actually letting the sun in in winter.

Even with climate change, Melbourne will still require heating on more days than cooling for decades to come, whereas in Brisbane the priority is keeping out the heat and catching the breeze.

So Melbourne homes need reversible sunblock. You can use plants with seasonal foliage to shade summer windows, or temporary techniques like temporary sail shades or movable window awnings can work. Plants can also cool outdoor spaces through evapotranspiration, which helps combat the growing “urban heat island” problem and makes the backyard a more pleasant place to be.

Despite some bad press over the years, insulating ceiling, floors and walls where possible remains the best way to address 50-80% of heat gains/losses. In many homes ceiling insulation is cheap and easy to fit and can even be topped up. Insulated homes have also been found to perform better during extreme weather events and are quieter, more comfortable and natural places to be.

In summer sun, black roofs are bad news. Coating surfaces can reflect excess heat. Coating technology has been employed in paint products for your walls and roofs, and is also being developed in landscaping materials for the backyard.

Single-glazed windows are responsible for 10-35% of heat gains/losses in our homes. A range of double-glazed window products is now available, or you can even get a secondary glass pane to place over existing windows.

Double-glazed (or triple-glazed) homes are more comfortable in extreme weather, and are also quieter and more comfortable. Add drapes and blinds for added temporary use to keep out sun or keep in warmth when needed.

While these preventive passive measures might seem basic, the fact is that (a) technologies, markets and pricing are changing rapidly, so it makes sense to be open to new retrofitting ideas and products; and (b) comfort remains the big-ticket item and it will only get more so as climate change affects all of our homes. Addressing this first will reduce the requirement for other technologies and appliances.

The principles of retrofitting

Another area of technology progress is digital data systems to monitor indoor energy services. Energy supplier portals, temperature loggers and smartphone apps are now widely available.

For the more enthusiastic, if you buy a couple of temperature loggers and place one in your main living area and one in your main bedroom you can collect data at intervals as small as one second. You can use this data to identify how your house is performing and how you are using it. More importantly, you can satisfy yourself that the retrofit you’ve just paid for has made a difference.

We’ve only covered a few focus areas in this article. There are many good options we haven’t dealt with. However, we propose three principles for any retrofit project:
  1. prioritise big-ticket items (such as thermal comfort) – what do you need most and what uses the most energy? – to plan and design around your climate zone and home needs
  2. prevention is better than cure – focus on passive elements before turning to appliances
  3. diversity is better than standardisation – don’t aim for 21℃, aim for controllable comfort, openable windows and adjustable systems room by room. Design in easy adjustment through movable technologies such as fans, curtains, plants and shades.
With all the hard work done, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the new indoor environment, but be aware that, as with our climate, our conventions, routines and expectations of comfort are constantly changing.

Some argue for evidence of a comfort dividend, where occupants of newly eco-retrofitted homes increase their use of heating or cooling appliances (or both).

Undoubtedly, as consumption patterns change and social standards shift, we will need to adjust our eco-retrofit priorities. Homes are not just a material work in progress, but are sites of social and cultural life after all.

The Conversation
Trivess Moore, Research Fellow, RMIT University; Andrew Carre, Lecturer, RMIT University, and Ralph Horne, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation; Director of UNGC Cities Programme; Professor, RMIT University

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

Why don’t we know how many people die in our hospitals?

Peter Sivey, RMIT University and Philip ClarkeUniversity of Melbourne

About this time last year, Australia’s National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) decided not to release data on death rates across Australia’s hospitals. This is the type of scandal we should be concerned about, rather than spending too much time on the travel expenses of our pollies.
Information on hospital deaths hasn’t always been so hard to find. Back in the 1860s when Melbourne had only one hospital, it published regular statistics on the number of patients dying from a wide range of diseases.

At the time, one of its surgeons, J. W. MacKenna, was able to use these statistics to compare mortality rates in Melbourne with information from England and Ireland, arguing death rates were higher here. This in turn supported his case for changes within the hospital.

It would surprise many that, more than 150 years on, it would be impossible to repeat this task. While some states such as NSW have dabbled with producing hospital death statistics, no state or the federal government routinely publishes this information for its hospitals.

Why is this data important?

Comparisons of death rates across hospitals can be tricky, as you need to adjust for some hospitals treating sicker patients than others. However, other countries have been producing death statistics that make these adjustments for some time.

For example, in England and the United States you simply type your postcode into a government website to obtain adjusted death rates for a range of local hospitals.

Researchers in these countries also have much greater access to hospital and individual death data. This facilitates an understanding of why variation in death rates can occur, and thereby provides insight into ways to make health systems better.

Publishing such performance data not only gives patients more information, it can help improve quality and safety - routine analysis of death rates can give a signal something might be wrong.
A re-analysis of deaths in the intensive care unit of Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland has shown it may have been possible to detect the poor performance of one of its surgeons, Dr Jayant Patel.

Reporting death data should not be seen as an end in itself, but a starting point for processes to review hospitals with unusually high rates of death in order to improve our health care system.

While there has been some debate overseas about the way comparisons are made between hospitals, few doubt the principle of publishing mortality information.

Why is Australia so far behind?

NHPA’s explanation, contained in its progress report released last February, indicates it was unable to publish death statistics for Australian hospitals. It cited the age old problem that - like rail gauges in the 19th century - each Australian state is different.

Hospitals across Australia code things differently, so it will require many more years of work by a variety of government committees before it will be possible to make the statistics reliable and comparable enough for public release.

NHPA took the view that no information is better than imperfect information.

The opinions of NHPA are now largely of historic interest, as one of the recent budget saving measures that received bi-partisan support was its abolition, with its responsibilities to move to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The prospect of publishing Australian statistics of death rates for hospitals comparable to those in US or the UK is now even less clear.

Unfortunately, the publication of hospital level death statistics are not the only area where Australia is lacking. Other countries such as Canada use big data techniques to combine information on use of medications with other data such as hospital admissions and death. This helps detect patterns and associations such as adverse side-effects.

A similar system of what is known as pharmacovigilance that is operating in Canada has long been proposed for Australia.

The Commonwealth government sits on a huge, largely untapped, data resource - the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This contains a wealth of information on the medications used by most Australians.
Unfortunately no one yet has been able to overcome the federal/state divide in order to combine Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data held in Canberra with hospital and mortality data from each state. Making this type of data available would facilitate research to improve the quality and safety, as well as the efficiency of our health system. Better health data and statistics should be a priority of politicians across Australia.

The Conversation
Philip Clarke, Professor of Health Economics, University of Melbourne and Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University

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

Monday, 16 January 2017

Art, art and more art ... in New York, New York

Ai Wei Wei exhibition in Chelsea galleries.

by Deborah Sippitts

The RMIT School of Art New York Study Tour has been happening for 14 years. Each year a group of students, led by Dr Robin Kingston, Senior Lecturer and Study Tour Director, head for New York to seriously immerse themselves in art.

About 25 students and a few staff take part in the study tour annually, which includes 10 days of art with weekends off for more art and other pursuits in the big apple.

I arrived in New York the weekend before the study tour ... first time in New York and extremely excited just to be here.

After a weekend of checking out New York bars, Black Friday sales and shops, eateries, landmarks and more, we hit the art part on Monday.

In the morning we visited the Sculpture Centre in Long Island City, which offered two exhibitions.

Aki Sasamoto: Delicate Cycle which used laundry items and washing to create object scenarios out of narratives and actions. This exhibition was in the lower level of the Centre on display throughout a labyrinth of concrete tunnels and spaces which really suited the exhibits.

Part of Delicate Cycle by Aki Sasamoto in the concrete basement of the Sculpture Centre. 

The second exhibition was by Cosmina von Bonin - Who's Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea? This exhibition examines this German artist's fascination with the sea and featured some really cool and cute ideas.

In the afternoon, we moved to MoMA PS1 also in Long Island. This featured various exhibitions but we concentrated on Containers and Their Drivers by Mark Leckey, which featured a huge range of different styles of art by this artist.

On Tuesday we visited the famous Frick Collection on the corner of 5th Avenue and 70th Street. Housed in an upmarket mansion that was originally a home, the collection includes masterpieces of European arts from the 18th and 19th centuries including painting, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, etc.

This collection featured beautiful works but was a bit too classical for my tastes. I did like the James Whistler paintings of individual men and woman with abstract titles such as: An arrangement in black and brown

I also enjoyed the porcelain wing which had 18th century porcelain juxtaposed with modern complementary pieces, which worked really well. 

There was also a special exhibition of incredibly exquisite gilding work by Pierre Gouthiere – the virtuoso gilder at the French Court. Gouthiere lived from 1732 to 1813 and was the Faberge of his era in gold work ... utterly stunning and amazing pieces.

Unfortunately you were not allowed to take any photos of the art at The Frick, only the Garden Court.

For lunch on Tuesday we went to The Three Guys Diner, which is famous for good food, being one of Andy Warhol's favourite hangouts, and its Upper East Side’ clientele.

We didn't see anyone famous, but we did see a lot of women who had had copious amounts of plastic surgery and buckets of Botox ... almost as interesting as the art!

Wednesday started with a studio visit in Brooklyn to hear artist Susanna Heller's take on art and life in New York. Susanna was very interesting and works on many artworks at once.

Artist Susanna Heller at her studio in Brooklyn, on the right, with one of the first year students on the tour.

A strident feminist and passionate Democrat, she was horrified by the recent US election result and talked at length on how this will affect America and art.

She also talked about how after 9/11 she headed down to Ground Zero, with her art paper and soft pencils, and hung around drawing for weeks. Other people taking photos were told to leave, but she was allowed to stay to draw. Very interesting, real stuff ... all the art students loved her and asked heaps of questions.

After a pit stop for a coffee, we headed to the Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District. Featuring American Art from the 20th century to now, the Whitney collection is housed in a wonderful building designed by architect Renzo Piano.

We enjoyed a talk for our group by a very articulate and knowledgeable guide on the Carmen Herrera Lines of Sight exhibition. A Cuban artist, Herrera is now 101 years old.

We also looked at the Portrait Gallery which featured work from a range of American artists including Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Steven Meisel.

Would have loved to have more time at the Whitney . . . as there was a cinema exhibition on as well as heaps of other art ... hope to get back there before the end of the tour if I have time.

On Wednesday night we had a group dinner at the world famous Katz's Delicatessen in East Houston Street.

Famous for its Reuben sandwiches, pastrami and salami, Katz’s opened in 1888 and is still going strong. It is also the location for the famous Meg Ryan faking an orgasm scene in the hit movie When Harry Met Sally.

As soon as you enter Katz's you feel like you've been transported back to the 1940s ... “Send a Salami to our boys in the Army” slogans abound, as well as posters, deli hats for the sandwich cutters, and other memorabilia from the era.

Katz's Deli

The iconic Reuben sandwich with pastrami was fabulous and is made in front of your eyes at one of the sandwich cutting stations.

The whole group enjoyed Katz's ... a true time capsule and an amazing place . . . pastrami on rye rules!

It's Thursday, so it must be The Metropolitan Museum of Art visit. Most of the group visited The Met Breuer in Madison Avenue to see the exhibition Mastry by Kerry James Marshall, which was reportedly absolutely amazing.

We ended up visiting The Met to see the exhibition Unpacking Fashion, which featured stunning and ground-breaking fashions from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries ... from wonderful silks in the 18th century to excellent tailoring in the 19th century, and key movers and shakers in fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries – from Vionnet and Charles Worth to Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Commes des Garcon.

Sublime, stunning, sensational ... totally running out of superlatives for this exhibition ... Is fashion art? Possibly, but either way this was one incredible exhibition of unique fashion pieces.

For the final day of our first week, we headed to the art galleries in Chelsea. 

The many art galleries in Chelsea are spread out from 18th Street to 27th Street and we visited as many of the key galleries as we could fit in during the time we had.

This included two exhibitions by Ai Wei Wei, and others by Carrie Mae Weems, Ragnar Kjartansson, Nan Goldin and Mark Rothko.

Weems' influential career continues to address the rifts caused by race, class and gender, via imagery and text that is both sharply direct and beautifully poetic. Her video - People of a Darker Hue - should be compulsory viewing.

Chelsea gallery visits were interesting and sparked heaps of discussion about in nearby cafes.

A fab week of art in NYC ... with more to come and a very well organised and researched study tour by Dr Robin Kingston.

Watch this space for Art NYC 2.0 ...

P.S. A few of us also visited Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle Hotel – famous for the wonderful drawings by Ludwig Bemelman on the walls who illustrated the Madeline children's books – as well as superb jazz and classy cocktails. It was fab … a quintessential New York experience!

The School of Art Study Tour 2016 took place in November/December 2016.

Photos by Deborah Sippitts 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Sussan Ley and the Gold Coast apartment: murky rules mean age of entitlement isn't over for MPs

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Sussan Ley has stood aside as health minister while the prime minister’s department investigates her travel expenses. This move followed increased pressure on her to resign following claims she misused her travel entitlements and breached the ministerial standards.

In 2015, Ley travelled to Queensland to make an announcement at a breast cancer clinic as part of her ministerial role. During her trip, she bought a A$795,000 Gold Coast apartment at an auction from a Liberal donor, which was said to be “neither planned nor anticipated”. Ley claimed $3,125 of taxpayer money for that trip.

She has also made multiple other taxpayer-funded trips to the Gold Coast in the last three years. Eighteen of these cost the taxpayer $53,877.

Prior to standing aside, Ley apologised and agreed to repay the travel expenses for the 2015 Gold Coast trip, plus three other trips with irregularities. She said:
I have spoken to the prime minister and he agrees that this claim does not meet the high standards he expects of ministers. I apologise for the error of judgement.

Has Ley breached the ministerial standards?

Ministerial standards set out the rules by which ministers are expected to conduct themselves. The principle underlying them is that ministers should uphold the public’s trust as they wield a great deal of power deriving from their office.

Turnbull’s statement of ministerial standards proclaims:
Ministers and assistant ministers are entrusted with the conduct of public business and must act in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of integrity and propriety.
The standards provide that ministers are expected to be able to demonstrate that their actions in conducting public business were taken “with the sole objective of advancing the public interest”.
The standards also say ministers must scrupulously ensure the legitimacy and accuracy for any entitlement claims. This is because they are given resources at public expense that should not be used wastefully.

It is unclear whether Ley has breached the ministerial standards. She will have breached the standards if she was found not to be acting in the public interest, or if her entitlement claims are judged to be illegitimate. But the rules on claiming ministerial entitlements are unclear and very complex.

Ministers have to travel to perform official duties relating to their portfolio. Public funds should be provided to allow them to carry out their duties effectively and without impediment. Ley’s trip to announce the availability of new medicines and to meet with patients would seem to be within her purview as health minister.

The key issue here is that Ley has travelled for dual purposes, one public and one private. As she has acknowledged:
While attending an auction was not the reason for my visit to Queensland or the Gold Coast, I completely understand this changed the context of the travel undertaken. The distinction between public and private business should be as clear as possible when dealing with taxpayers’ money.
But the parliamentary entitlements system is unclear about trips for dual purposes. There is no definition of “parliamentary business”. The definition of “official business” gives no guidance on trips with mixed public and private purposes.

So, it is not clear whether Ley has misused the entitlements system and therefore breached ministerial standards.

Do we need to reform the system?

It is unsatisfactory that the parliamentary entitlements system is so amorphous that we cannot easily work out whether ministers have breached the rules or not.

Then-speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s 2015 “Choppergate scandal” prompted an independent review of parliamentary entitlements. It proposed a new “dominant purpose” test: that is, whether the dominant purpose of the travel is for ministerial or parliamentary duties and not in another capacity.

The rationale behind the test is that ministers should not seek to disguise as official business an activity whose dominant purpose is personal or commercial. This reform is a much-needed step toward improving accountability over MPs’ entitlements.

The Turnbull government has agreed to adopt the recommendations of the review. But as Ley’s actions happened before the review, she will be judged under the previous rules.

Another issue with the system is that the prime minister enforces ministerial standards, rather than an independent authority. Such enforcement of ministerial standards has been patchy and inconsistent.

Whether a minister resigns depends on the prime minister of the day and if there is media furore and public outrage over an issue. It is ultimately politics rather than principle that determines which ministers stand and which fall.

This could be improved by giving responsibility for enforcement of ministerial standards to an external agency. This has been done in Ireland, where the Standards in Public Office Commission supervises politicians’ compliance with Ireland’s Ethics Acts.

What happens next?

If the prime minister finds that a minister has breached the standards in a substantive and material way, he or she can require the minister’s resignation.

Malcolm Turnbull has asked his departmental secretary, Martin Parkinson, to thoroughly investigate Ley’s travel claims. Her fate rests on the outcome of that investigation and any subsequent media attention.

As holders of high elected office, ministers are the custodians of public trust. But Australia’s current entitlements system for MPs is out of step with public expectations. We need a robust system of parliamentary entitlements and active enforcement of ministerial standards to help restore trust.

The Conversation
Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.