Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A brief comparison of Australian and Turkish universities: The case of RMIT and METU

Image via @metu_odtu on Instagram

By Aylin Turgut-Ecevit
As a part of Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility staff mobility program, and thanks to an exchange agreement between my university (Middle East Technical University [METU], in Ankara, Turkey) and RMIT, I’ve had the great opportunity of spending two weeks on Melbourne City campus.
My first impression about RMIT before coming here was how big it was. But soon after I came, I realised that it is beyond my estimations.
As I am working full-time as a part of the press office at METU, my main goal was picking the brains of the central Communications team. Thankfully, they welcomed me as soon as I arrived and they helped me gain insight into RMIT, linking me to other communications and marketing units across the University, and giving me the opportunity to present on the higher education system in Turkey and at METU.
My journey started with a brief City campus tour and it really impressed me a lot. Bringing different architectural styles together without crowding each other out, aesthetic usage of shapes and colours, especially in recreational and study areas created and designed for students – those are the physical elements that fascinated me.
I have learnt about how things are done at RMIT related to marketing and communications, and thanks to various marketing teams within different departments had some useful ideas about improving METU’s strengths in these areas.
Overall, as far as I can see, there are differences as well as similarities between the two universities. If we start with the student populations, we are nearly half the size of RMIT, comparing the main campuses. (We have a graduate school campus in the Mediterranean region of Turkey, namely Mersin/Erdemli and an overseas campus in Northern Cyprus other than our main campus in Ankara.)
Second, we have a totally different system in the area of domestic recruitment. We have a central exam system, and school leavers in Turkey choose on the basis of the scores they get in a national two-stage exam. If their score is enough to be enrolled in one of their choices, they are placed in a university and program by the central system. So, we can’t recruit our domestic students on our own.
Another difference is on the operational side. METU has a central communications office. Each and every department is in contact with this office. In other words, we don’t have different communications or marketing offices that handle work locally.
Instead, they’re sending their requests about making a video, designing a poster for an upcoming event, submitting press releases, etc. to our “Corporate Communications Office”.
In short, instead of every department operating their own marketing and communications, everything is centralised.
This isn’t to criticise, because both systems have their own pros and cons (for instance; decentralisation provides more creativity and independence, a central body ensures corporate brand management).
One other difference depends on the completely different education sectors. Our higher education system is still nearly completely free. If you are an undergraduate student, and if you finish your degree within the normal time-period (four to six years according to the Department of Higher Education) you pay nothing in tuition.
You need to pay a nominal fee only if you prolong your study period. So, our university needs to generate income by other means in order to provide a better service for the students. We do this through collaboration with industry and other sources of research funding. At METU, research revenues account for more than 35 per cent of all university expenditures annually (including all payroll costs).
To sum up, due to the distinctive features of both secondary and higher education systems in the two countries, there are various approaches to domestic recruitment and communications. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Observing different kinds of applications within similar institutions, as I did here in the RMIT, can provide in-depth analysis and allow us to identify possible progress for both systems.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Australia must get better at the business of human rights

Why the government needs to support its only transnational body charged with redressing alleged human rights abuses by businesses overseas
Australia’s only government body charged with hearing complaints of human rights abuses by Australian businesses abroad needs greater support, Kristen Zornada and Shelley Marshall write.

The Australian government is currently lobbying to win one of two seats on the UN Human Rights Council. But, as our foreign minister woos would be voters abroad, we would do well to look at our human rights efforts back home – particularly when it comes to the little known Australian National Contact Point (ANCP).

Never heard of the ANCP? You are not alone.

It is one of the Australian government’s best-kept secrets that it houses a transnational human rights mechanism in the Department of Treasury charged with hearing cases under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – non-binding principles and standards for responsible business conduct across the globe.

Australian companies now operate all around the world in mining, manufacturing, finance and other industries. Sometimes this is through wholly owned subsidiaries; sometimes they invest in joint ventures or part shares. At other times Australian businesses procure parts through supply chains.
But, what happens when these operations negatively impact the lives of local communities or workers overseas? Who can communities turn to when they are displaced by a mining operation without fair compensation, their lands are polluted and made infertile or workers are exploited? Though in principle, communities can take their claims to local police and courts, in many countries that Australian businesses operate, corruption, bias and long waits often makes legal remedy impossible.

Furthermore, company structures make it difficult to hold the parent company or a lead company in a supply chain responsible, even though that business may be calling the shots.

As a workaround, these communities and individuals can lodge claims with the ANCP. But, tucked away in Treasury and barely resourced, the human rights body turns away most of the communities that come to it seeking help. Simply put, the ANCP is failing.

Our new report, published this week as part of a joint project of universities and civil society organisations has found that the ANCP is falling well short of its mandate. The report, The Australian OECD National Contact Point: how it can be reformed, assesses the performance of the ANCP and finds that it is barely functioning as intended under the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Instead, the ANCP has all but abdicated its workload. It has rejected or transferred to another national contact point two-thirds of all complaints made. With only one exception, the remainder of accepted complaints were closed without resolution, as the ANCP was unable to bring the parties to mediation and unwilling to issue a determination against the company the complaint was made against. In fact, in the more than 10 years since its establishment, the ANCP is yet to make a single determination against a company the subject of complaint.

Given its central role in the Australian human rights landscape, it is vital that the ANCP offers effective redress. Indeed, if it functioned as intended, the body could provide access to mutually beneficial outcomes that may not be achievable through complex and expensive judicial mechanisms.
The ANCP’s designers envisaged affordable, timely and responsive redress of breaches of internationally agreed norms. Mediated outcomes, arrived at with the assistance of government, could be great for both Australian business and communities – far better than being embroiled in a lengthy and expensive court case, for example, or exposure by the media. And far better than doing nothing.

So why is ANCP failing? The simple answer is insufficient staffing and resources. But at a time when Australia is seeking to strengthen its human rights mechanisms as part of its bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, and when a parliamentary inquiry is investigating how modern slavery taints the supply chains of Australian businesses and businesses operating in Australia, it is essential that the ANCP be strengthened.

Fortunately, as our report outlines, this can be achieved with three key measures. First, improve the ANCP’s independence and properly resource it. Second, improve the processing of complaints, particularly those that impact admissibility. The ANCP’s high rejection rate appears to be based on the taking into account of criteria irrelevant to admissibility under the OECD Guidelines. Even where cases are accepted, uncertainty clouds the process, with timeframes for resolution having blown out over the past few years.

Third, increase transparency and outreach. The ANCP must provide details on its website about how to submit a complaint, and reports on all of its findings. Better outreach could be achieved by following up and offering assistance for cases which it transfers to foreign NCPs, as well as conducting training and providing education on the Guidelines for government departments, business communities, civil society and any other relevant stakeholders.

Rumour in the corridors of Treasury is that the government is about to call a review of the ANCP. This could be a fantastic opportunity to move the mechanism out of Treasury, strengthen its independence and functioning, and properly resource it.

We wait with bated breath to see how seriously the government takes this opportunity to be a champion for human rights and earn a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council.


This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Read the original here: https://www.policyforum.net/australia-must-get-better-business-human-rights/

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Three charts on: Australia's declining taste for beef and growing appetite for chicken


Beef cattle in the Australian outback.
Elizabeth Taylor, RMIT University and Andrew Butt, La Trobe University

Australians were once world champion beef-eaters but now you’re much more likely to find chicken than steak on Australian dinner tables.

Total meat consumption per capita in Australia has been stable since the 1960s, at around 110 kilograms per person per year. But the type of meat consumed has changed significantly, with chicken and pork both now far outstripping beef, mutton and lamb, according to historical data from researchers Wong et al and more recent data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).



(The apparent spike in beef consumption in the late 1970s is linked to Australia’s beef export trade crash and much of this spike was thought to have gone to pet food and by-products rather than the dinner table).

Whereas chicken was once a rare meal, eaten on special occasions, today the Australian chicken industry produces around 600 million chickens a year. Most are consumed domestically.

The per-capita annual consumption of chicken meat in Australia increased ten-fold from 4.6 kilograms per person in 1965 to 47 kilograms in 2016. The industry projects growth to 49.2 kilograms a person by 2019–20.

From the 1960s on, public health messages steered people away from red meats. There was also a rapid proliferation of fast food franchises selling chicken - notably the entry of Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1969.

Similarly, pork consumption has been bolstered by re-marketing. Once considered a red meat, pork was reinvented as “the other white meat” through a marketing campaign categorising pork as lighter and healthier, alongside chicken (and due to changes in breeding, pork meat really has lightened in colour over recent decades). While not as steep an increase as chicken, pork consumption in Australia has nearly tripled since the 1980s.

However, a major driver of these changes has been price, linked to massive changes in production.



After adjusting for inflation, chicken per kilo costs less than a third of its price than it did in the early 1970s, while real prices for other meats have been comparatively static. The Australian Chicken Meat Federation, which represents chicken producers, reports that over the five years to 2014–15, chicken meat was on average 50% cheaper than pork, 59% cheaper than lamb and 65% cheaper than beef.

Since the 1960s, most Australian chicken and pork production has become rapidly industrialised and automated in large intensive indoors operations. Piggeries and broiler farms have typically become specialised, intensified, high technology factory farm complexes. Intensification of chicken production has increased efficiency, in turn steadily decreasing the retail price of chicken. Around 70% of chicken meat is supplied by two privately owned processing companies, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation says.

Chicken farms in Australia have increased markedly in size and intensity. Our research on planning disputes shows farms of the 1970s housed around 10,000 chickens. Now, while nearly 600 million broiler chickens were slaughtered in Australia in 2014-15, there were only around 750 broiler farms, a decline from the 1990s. The average chicken farm now has nearly 120,000 chickens at any one time and some run into millions. The number of pork farms has also dropped, consolidating into larger operations.



Global meat consumption continues to rise rapidly as more countries – notably China – increase their consumption of meat and dairy products. Australia imports very little meat due to strict quarantine, but is a major exporter of beef, sheep and goats.

Sheep and cattle farms are more extensive, more common, and produce fewer animals than pork or chicken farms. There were over 66,000 cattle farms and around 39,000 sheep farms in Australia in 2015-16. Cattle farm numbers and the overall cattle herd declined slightly, although this belies the formation of two extremes: at one end large and export-focussed grazing, while other areas have seen a proliferation of sub-commercial, small-scale, scattered “hobby” grazing. The national sheep flock also declined, and is transitioning away from wool production to meat and dual-purpose breeds.
These transitions in production and consumption of meat result in some rural and semi-rural landscapes shifting to expansive, remotely-managed holdings in areas with declining population.

Closer to cities, hobby farmers and amenity migrants sit in often uneasy proximity to industrial scale production.

The ConversationAs other countries take up Australia’s traditional fondness for meat, global as well as domestic forces continue to change the nature of farming and Australian rural landscapes. That, in turn, also affects the price and type of meat Australians consume.

Elizabeth Taylor, Vice Chancellor's Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, RMIT University and Andrew Butt, Senior Lecturer in Community Planning and Development, La Trobe University

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

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Federal Charter of Human Rights: Would it make any difference?

                  Left to right Helen Metzger, Veronica Snip, Brigette Rose, Frank Aloe, Luke Fowler


In 2016 the Centre for Innovative Justice was approached by the Human Rights Commission to conduct a project exploring and evaluating the impact that a federal Charter of Human Rights would have had on the outcomes of significant Australian cases and laws. Below the students reflect on their time working on this fascinating project:

Our task
We considered the potential impacts of a federally legislated Human Rights Charter by assessing how such a Charter would have affected the determination and outcomes of significant Australian cases and laws.

What it involved
Our initial brief was to take the Victorian Charter (Charter Of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006) as the basis for designing a ‘model’ Charter. Ultimately, influenced by other human rights instruments (for example, the ACT Charter and the UK Human Rights Act) we expanded the Charter to include federally relevant provisions, the right to commence legal proceedings against public authorities on the basis of the Charter alone (which differs from the Victorian Charter in which another cause of action is also required to attach the Charter arguments to), and to seek remedies. Encouraged by our mentors, we decided it to draft our model Charter, in order to test it fully. You can view our model Charter at Appendix 1 of our report.

Once the Charter was drafted, we applied the tests within it to the decisions and legislation we had been given to consider, by placing ourselves in the shoes of the Parliament, public authorities (who make decisions in accordance with legislation) and the Courts.

For example, when standing in the shoes of Parliament, we had to apply the following test to the legislation under consideration:

  • the nature of the right being limited; 
  • the importance and purpose of the limitation to that right; 
  • the nature and extent of the limitation; 
  • the relationship between the limitation and its purpose; and 
  • any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose of the limitations.

Our mentors, David Manne and Emily Howie, offered insight about how the laws might be applied by a court, urging us to consider international jurisprudence on the scope of particular rights and human rights principles. So while this exercise was an imaginative one, it was grounded in legal theory and precedent, albeit from outside domestic law.

Benefits of participating
Frank Aloe: I don’t think that I can rate the benefits of this experience highly enough. It provided us the unique opportunity to contribute to a national conversation, and have that contribution be recognised and supported by leaders in the field. All of which seemed well beyond our reach as law students at the beginning of this project.

The project has re-shaped my understanding of my ability to create tangible outcomes through the law. I think that these sorts of projects are genuinely transformative and I recommend anyone with the chance to get involved in a similar opportunity to do so.

Helen Metzger: In summary, the project was an exercise in: drafting legislation, networking, application of law, human rights, political responsiveness to the law, judicial reasoning, and an extreme process of teamwork. To work with selected students is the best group work one can hope for. Our ability to recognise each other’s strengths and encourage them while working together was great. I came away from the project with absolutely hands-on experience – working with industry professionals, guided by extraordinary mentors, legal skills sharpened and inspired. As with my other placement with the CIJ, the project has changed the direction of my JD and aspirations. I can’t recommend the placements through CIJ highly enough. To be able to properly experience the legal sector before one is graduated is a gift and an opportunity.

Effectively, the Charter asks for transparency, justification, and evidence-based laws. What struck me in the project was how simple that is, and how resistant politics and the public can be to that. For some people, it seems ‘human rights’ are a dirty word - deeply ‘unpopular’ as a concept, despite them being what most of us would expect makes the basis for a valuable and happy life.

Luke Fowler: I was quite surprised at how the introduction of the Charter would not only improve human rights protections for Australians, but also how it would improve transparency and accountability in the law making process. This, in turn would allow the Australian public a clearer understanding of the laws that are being enacted in their name.

This project has shown me that the introduction of a Charter would lead to clearer and less ambiguous laws, which in turn would make it easier for the Courts and public authorities to interpret and administer the law, leading to fewer disputes and fewer lengthy and expensive court cases.

Brigette Rose: Launching the Charter was fantastic. Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission, explained how vital a Charter is to Australia. She had everyone at the launch imagine Australia with explicit human rights protections, rather than an Australia that has to be informed by another country, PNG, that Australia’s asylum seeker detention policies are illegal and breach the right to liberty.

The launch of our federal Charter offered an opportunity to celebrate the wins of the current Victorian Charter, and to emphasise the difference that could be made to everyday Australians if a federal Charter was in place. It was a great day to both congratulate ourselves on the report that we produced, and to strengthen our resolve about why this and other pieces of work like it are so important.

Veronica Snip: Participating in this project was a really worthwhile experience, way beyond the research and academic skills I gained. This was group work on steroids, and taught me to communicate, debate, assert myself and acquiesce when need be. Not only have we been able to make our mark on the human rights landscape in this country, but we were guided there by inspiring and brilliant leaders in the field. This report was a gargantuan task that we somehow managed to complete, and now makes me sound pretty impressive when I casually slip it into everyday conversation with friends/relatives/strangers. I loved going to the CIJ every week and debating human rights with 4 fellow law nerds and have taken much more out of this than I put in.

The report was launched by Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs on Friday 12 May. You can listen to a podcast of the launch here.