Turnbull makes a good start on expenses, but needs to go further

Colleen Lewis, Monash University

It is regrettable that the path leading to the establishment of an independent body to oversee the work-related expenses of parliamentarians has been so tortuous. It is also regrettable that it took such an inordinate amount of time for a political leader to conclude that creating such a body was essential to tackling the ever-widening trust deficit between MPs and those they represent.

We need to criticise MPs’ questionable behaviour when warranted. But we need to be just as quick to acknowledge the good they have done from their position of power. So congratulations, prime minister, for displaying the leadership needed to commence restoring trust in MPs and the political system.

Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement that he will establish an independent statutory body to offer advice to MPs and monitor and review their work-related expenses is commendable, especially as the new system will make all claims public within a month of an expense occurring.

It is also pleasing to see that Labor has given in-principle support, but has also suggested investigating the idea of a federal ICAC.

It would be even more pleasing if politicians from all political affiliations could proclaim their support without also making what they appear to believe are the obligatory negative comments about other MPs and/or their parties.

MPs appear to think it is absolutely necessary to denigrate each other at every possible opportunity. However, the electorate may not. Trust in politicians is at an all-time low. And the constant insults that are hurled on a daily basis may well be contributing to the declining trust.

It is a tiresome practice. It only reinforces the now commonly held belief that the profession of parliamentarian consists of incompetent people that are incapable of telling the truth.

MPs don’t seem to understand that repeatedly telling the community how bad members of their profession are encourages us to agree with them. It is hard to think of any other profession that engages in such self-destructive behaviour on a daily basis. The creation of this new, independent body would be a good place for MPs to give credit where it is due without the negative asides.

The new body is an important first step toward building a meaningful system of accountability and transparency, essential to the restoration of trust. However, there is one element of Turnbull’s announcement that should be rethought.

It relates to the composition of the independent board that will have responsibility for ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the authority. It seems it will consist of a person with expertise in auditing, a person with experience in remuneration matters, such as the president of the Remuneration Tribunal, a former judicial officer, and a former MP.

But where are the people who are going to be the voice of the community? They were not part of the 2016 committee asked to review the current system and make recommendations for an independent parliamentary entitlements system. And it seems that, yet again, they are not going to be given a seat on the proposed new board. Turnbull needs to explain why not.

It was community anger that led to the recent announcement that an independent body would be created to oversee MPs’ work-related expenses, not the anger of politicians, former politicians, the chair of the Remuneration Tribunal or other members of the 2016 review team.

The government should rethink the composition of those it appoints to form tribunals, review panels and boards, especially when the policy area they will be responsible for relates to matters directly linked to the trust deficit.

It is time to take a different approach and appoint people whose role it is to ensure that community values are reflected in the decision-making process. Doing so will go a long way to demonstrating that elected representatives are listening to the wishes of the people.

Reforming the system for work-related expenses is a necessary first step towards restoring people’s faith in elected representatives and the political system. But it does not go far enough. A major overhaul of the political donations regime is essential, as is the establishment of a federal ICAC.

Prime minister, the community is asking that you continue to display the same leadership you have in policy areas associated with integrity that you have in establishing an independent body to oversee the work-related expenses of MPs. You can do this by significantly reforming how politics is funded at the federal level in Australia and by establishing a federal anti-corruption body.

The community awaits your decision.The Conversation

Colleen Lewis, Adjunct Professor, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

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

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Imagining our future: science fiction and climate change | A conversation with Emeritus Professor Andrew Milner

As 2017 begins, we reflect on the beginnings and evolution of our ideas on utopia and dystopia today. From Star Wars to Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film on climate change, we sat down with Emeritus Professor Andrew Milner, at Monash University’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Literary Studies, to talk about his research into science fictional texts, films and comics – and importantly, how this impacts our future imaginings and humanity.

You have a book due out in 2018, Science Fiction and Climate Change, to be co-authored with your research assistant James Burgmann. How does that relate to your activities here? And why science fiction and climate change?

I taught a course on Science Fiction as part of the old Comparative Literature major, so I suppose my teaching and research were inevitably intertwined. I confess I’ve always been interested in SF but I didn’t teach that particular subject until quite late in my career. Literature departments and literary critics were very often a bit snobby about SF, so I ended up teaching other things. My PhD wasn’t on SF at all, it was on John Milton the English poet, although I do now see the connections between them. In Milton’s great poem Paradise Lost, one of the central pieces is the war in Heaven between angels and devils, which is really an early version of Star Wars. I’ve always thought literary critics were rather unkind about SF. It’s actually become the main place in our culture where people who aren’t experts get to think about alternative futures. Where is our society going? Where is our culture going? Will it be better or will it be worse?

It’s actually become the main place in our culture where people who aren’t experts get to think about alternative futures. Where is our society going? Where is our culture going? Will it be better or will it be worse?

All societies have ways of doing this, but it used to be done either through religion or through secular utopias. The word utopia comes from Thomas More’s Utopia, which was first published – in Latin – 500 years ago this year. Today, however, people don’t write utopias in the way they did 500 years ago or even 200 years ago. If we’re going to write about a radically better or radically worse world – that is, a utopia or a dystopia – then we tend to do so in science fictional terms.

Until the mid-late 19th century, utopias were normally set on Earth, in their own time, on their own planet. Five hundred years ago Europeans had no real idea of what much of the planet was like, so readers could plausibly believe in the possibility of a good society somewhere else on Earth. More’s own Utopia was actually in the South Pacific. That state of affairs continued until the late 19th century. Many 19th century utopias were set in Australia precisely because it was one of the last places to be explored by the Europeans. So it was still possible for them to imagine that there might be utopian societies here.

Photo: Matteo Botto
Photo: Matteo Botto

But once the Europeans had explored the whole planet, they’d either conquered or at least visited everywhere but Antarctica. So they ran out of places they could fictionalise. You can still write utopias or dystopias, but you have to set them in the future or on other planets. So SF replaces utopia, which is why I think it’s so important. SF isn’t just about science and technology, it’s also about the kind of society that uses the science and the technology. You can see that very clearly in 1984 and in Brave New World, both of which are set in their futures. Huxley and Orwell were each imagining a new society, new social and political arrangements, nasty ones. So SF becomes the place where we see the future, both in our cinemas and in our literatures. It is the most important place in our culture for imagining alternative futures.

they ran out of places they could fictionalise. …. So SF replaces utopia, which is why I think it is so important. SF isn’t just about science or technology, it’s also about the kind of society that uses the science and the technology …

It is the most important place in our culture for imagining alternative futures.

That explains the connection between SF and climate change. I know there are those who deny that anthropogenic warming is occurring, but I think they’re quite wrong. I’m persuaded by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – why wouldn’t you be? –  if anything, I fear their predictions are over cautious and that reality might prove worse than their worst case. I’m currently reading Peter Wadhams’s A Farewell to Ice, which came out a couple of months ago – it’s here on my desk. He’s a very prominent English academic scientist, Professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge, and the book makes for very depressing reading. Let me give you a few quotations. He begins by noting that in summer the Arctic, the North Pole, now looks blue not white from space. By the end of 2015, he writes, a total of 238 ships had sailed through the once impassable North West Passage. In September 2012, sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres of the Arctic ocean surface, down from 8 million square kilometres in the 1970s. Scared? Well if you’re not, you should be. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that this warming really is happening and that, in some respects, it’s already too late to mitigate it, we have to adapt to it.

I see. That’s what you’re looking for in your current research into science fiction and climate change. That’s the important question isn’t it – how are we going to adapt?

Yes, that’s what interests me: how SF writers, broadly defined, people like Margaret Atwood in Canada (who, by the way, doesn’t like the term SF) and David Mitchell in England, how they depict the ways we might adapt to climate change. I’m interested in both the so-called ‘literary’ writers and the ‘genre’ novelists. One of the most famous American SF genre writers is Kim Stanley Robinson, who wrote the so-called Science in the Capital trilogy. His stuff is really interesting, realistically pessimistic about our chances, but full of hope nonetheless. I’m also trying to look at work in other languages, for example Frank Schätzing in Germany and his Der Schwarm [The Swarm], Jean-Marc Ligny in France and his climate trilogy, Hayao Miyazaki in Japan and his graphic novel Kaze no Tani no Naushika [Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind].

One of the best Australian climate change novels is George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, first published in 1987. It was very well received originally, but then went out of print, was reissued in 2013 and has been well received again. It’s set in a future Melbourne that’s been flooded by rising sea levels and it’s a very astute book. In 2013, when I was visiting Professor at the Freie University in Berlin, I gave a public lecture on Turner at the Australian Embassy. In the novel, large numbers of climate refugees come from the Pacific to Australia. After the lecture, a New Zealander got up and said, “every time I hear Australians talk about climate change, they’re always thinking about how there’ll be all these climate refugees trying to get into Australia. What makes you think that your problem will be people wanting to get in and not you trying to get out? New Zealand is a lot higher than Australia and a lot colder. Your problem is going to be whether or not we will let you in.”

“What makes you think that your problem will be people wanting to get in and not you trying to get out?” … But we do also have to worry about the Pacific Islanders, …  it’s a problem for all of us.

Photo: Jordan Whitfield
Photo: Jordan Whitfield

I hadn’t thought of that before, but Australia does indeed have a desert at its heart and, if we go on warming, the desert will spread. And most of us live on low-lying ground near the coast, so it won’t take all that much melting ice to threaten many of those coastal suburbs. But we do also have to worry about the Pacific Islanders, even the New Zealanders, it’s a problem for all of us.

SF genre writers have taken this issue much more seriously than ‘literary’ writers and I’m interested in how and why that’s happened.

What have you found so far?

We began by looking at the history of writing about climate in the Western tradition, which took us back to the ancient flood narratives, Gilgamesh and Genesis. Then we traced it through to modern SF. We’re going to include a chapter on dystopias, since most SF novels are dystopias in which things are clearly getting worse. But we also plan a chapter on utopias, because some of the novels do involve serious attempts at imagining how we might actually produce better societies out of the climate crisis, ones that don’t simply ruin the Earth.

Photo: Tim Marshall
Photo: Tim Marshall

And it’s not just novels, by the way, it’s films as well. It’s easy to forget that until quite recently SF cinema almost always looked like Star Trek. Everything was gleaming, shiny, and new. It was only with Alien and Blade Runner, both directed by Ridley Scott, that the future began to look as if people lived in it – things were damaged, battered, things went wrong. Those two films aren’t primarily about climate change, of course, although in Blade Runner it is raining all the time; and it doesn’t really rain all that much in Los Angeles, it really doesn’t.

There is now already quite a substantial body of academic SF criticism, but I’m worried about how prescriptive it tends to be. The main concern is with what is and isn’t good, what are the best SF books and films, what are not. But it seems to me that it’s not that important to work out what are the best ones, really what we need to do is to map the whole field.  We need to map the stuff we don’t like as well as the stuff we do. And that goes for climate change in particular as well as SF in general.

… it’s not that important to work out what are the best ones, really what we need to do is to map the whole field.

There are denialist SF novelists and we’re going to discuss them as well as the mitigators and adaptors. The most obvious example of that kind of denial is Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. Crichton simply didn’t believe there was a real problem and so he’s very critical of the whole discourse about climate change. Al Gore specifically took issue with Crichton’s novel, saying that when you’re ill you send for a doctor not for an SF writer. He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore the SF. Crichton’s novel is almost certainly one of the most widely read of all climate fictions. It sold extraordinarily well and has had very negative effects on the debates about climate change in the United States – because its central argument is that this is all a bit of a hoax by scientists in pursuit of research grants and environmentalists in pursuit of power. So we’re going to look closely at the book even if we do disagree with it. I’ve mainly spoken about novels, but we’re also looking at film, television and comic books. Maybe even SF music: Pink Floyd and David Bowie. When you think about how the genre actually works, it clearly crosses all these boundaries.

Crichton’s novel is almost certainly one of the most widely read of all climate fictions. It sold extraordinarily well and has had very negative effects on the debates about climate change in the United States…

But it seems that novels do hold a special place in your approach. Why?

Many climate scientists say that people don’t take climate change sufficiently seriously because they don’t understand the science. And SF is obviously a way of popularising the science. It’s not the only way, but the fact that SF writers and filmmakers are starting to talk and write about climate change is having an impact. By the way, there is very little television, lots of books and quite a few films, but not much television. So I was very disappointed when HBO decided to pull out of their deal with Darren Aronofski to make a TV miniseries based on Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. People do take things seriously if they see them on television. And I’m in favour of having scientific ideas popularised into SF literature in part because such a lot of television and film is based on the novel. The novel is not the central cultural form it was in the 19th or early 20th century. But it’s more important than people sometimes think because so many films are adapted from novels. So writers can ask questions in novels that then lead on into films and television.

People do take things seriously if they see them on television. And I’m in favour of having scientific ideas popularised into SF literature in part because such a lot of television and film is based on the novel. The novel is not the central cultural form it was in the 19th or early 20th century. But it’s more important than people sometimes think because so many films are adapted from novels.

As an academic I’m interested in explaining how all this works, but as a citizen I also want to encourage the development of better climate fiction. It’s a bit of a cliché, I know, but I want to do what I can to make the world a safer place. I’m alarmed by global warming, I have a new granddaughter, and I don’t want her to grow up in a drowning world.

What do you think are the main obstacles to this? Do you think perhaps the genre itself discourages people?

One obstacle is resistance to SF. It might be better to have climate fictions marketed as eco-fictions – in Germany many of them have been so labelled –  or just as novels. But SF is still reaching out to a wide audience, much wider than many other genres.

Photo: Jakob Madsen
Photo: Jakob Madsen

Another problem is the sheer difficulty of writing climate fiction, as compared to, say, nuclear war fiction. At the height of the Cold War, there were a lot of SF texts dealing with nuclear war, both novels and films. A very good example is the Australian Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, which was set in Melbourne and later made into a film by Stanley Kramer, the American film director. But in some ways it was comparatively easy for Shute and Kramer because what happens in a nuclear war is really quite simple: you fire the weapons and bang it’s over. So you have a crisis and its consequences, which can be represented fairly straightforwardly in a film or novel. The problem with climate change, by contrast, is that it’s a comparatively slow process. Of course, it’s happening too fast, the sea levels are rising and it’s getting hotter – the top ten hottest years on record globally have all been since 1998. But it’s nonetheless a relatively slow process by comparison with a nuclear war. Climate fiction has to deal with this longer term. Most novels and films tend to depict processes that take place within the timespan of a human life. So I think there’s a specific problem with climate change that writers and directors have got to find ways of representing long-term processes, whilst still making them seem urgent. So we need to write novels and make films that typically cover the lives of many generations. But I do think this is now being done, I think there are some interesting examples actually.

I think there’s a specific problem with climate change that writers and directors have got to find ways of representing long-term processes, whilst still making them seem urgent.

What are some of these examples?

David Mitchell’s novels Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, but also the film of Cloud Atlas directed by Lana and Andy Wakowski. A lot of people didn’t like the film, which I can understand because it’s very difficult to follow unless you’ve actually read the book. But it was trying to represent a history that spanned multiple generations. And if you’re going to deal with climate change you’re going to have to do that.

Turner’s The Sea in the Summer has a different solution. The core of the novel is set in the mid 21st century when Melbourne is in the process of flooding, but the opening and closing chapters are set a thousand years later. In the 21st century, they’ve had to build a concrete wall to keep the sea out of the bayside suburbs. A thousand years later, Melbourne has been relocated into the Dandenongs. It has a university, although it’s not clear whether or not it’s Monash, and a Professor of History whose specialist field is the “Greenhouse Culture” of the 21st century. She’s a submarine archaeologist, exploring the underwater remains of old Melbourne, which is, of course, our Melbourne. And she’s being visited by a playwright from Sydney who wants to understand how the 21st century people could have been so stupid as to let this happen. The planet has cooled in the intervening thousand years, but the flooding still hasn’t repaired itself. That’s how Turner deals with the problem: some chapters a hundred years into his future, some a thousand years, the two set against each other.

What do you think about Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film (Before the Flood directed by Fisher Stevens)?

I approve of it wholeheartedly. It’s easy to pour scorn on him because he’s so well off, but actually he could do other things with his money. He’s a successful actor but that doesn’t mean what he’s doing is trivial, I think it’s important.

Yes … sometimes I wonder if people simply don’t care?

I’m not a pessimist myself – because it does seem to me that people are still willing to try to change things. Not everybody, of course. Some have a vested interest in denying climate change, most obviously the coal and oil industries and the politicians they fund. And some people think there’s nothing they can do about it. To the latter, I’d only say what about your grandchildren? Is there really nothing you can do for them?

Photo: Chad Stembridge
Photo: Chad Stembridge

But sometimes the problem is simply that of our addiction to overconsumption. The notion that we can have whatever we want whenever we like remains credible only if we use a whole lot of fuel to transport things around the world unnecessarily. There’s something utterly crazy about transporting food – Italian tomatoes, for example – across the globe to Australia. We’ve got to cut down on unnecessary emissions. Yes, we’ve been burning fossil fuels for the last 200 years, but it’s still possible to cut emissions and to at least slow the rate at which the planet warms.

… sometimes the problem is simply that of our addiction to overconsumption.

In the book, we accept that some changes are probably already inevitable, that it’s already too late to prevent them. But we’ve still got to think about slowing the process and then about adapting to it creatively. SF climate fiction – cli-fi some people call it – deals with the latter, with how people are going to live in a warming world.

Professor Andrew Milner is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University (since 2013) and Honorary Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick (since 2014).

Arts at Monash

 

Five things to consider when designing a policy to measure research impact

Andrew Gunn, University of Leeds and Michael Mintrom, Monash University

This year will see the Australian government pilot new ways to measure the impact of university research.

As recommended by the Watt Review, the Engagement and Impact Assessment will encourage universities to ensure academic research produces wider economic and social benefits.

This fits into the National Innovation and Science Agenda, in which taxpayer funds are targeted at research that will have a beneficial future impact on society.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the pilots will test

“how to measure the value of research against things that mean something, rather than only allocating funding to researchers who spend their time trying to get published in journals”.

This move to measure the non-academic impact of research introduces many new challenges that were not previously relevant when evaluation focused solely on academic merit. New research highlights some of the key issues that need to be addressed when deciding how to measure impact.

1. What should be the object of measurement?

Research impact evaluations needs to trace out a connection between academic research and “real world” impact beyond the university campus. These connections are enormously diverse and specific to a given context. They are therefore best captured through case studies.

When analysing a case study the main issues are: what counts as impact, and what evidence is needed to prove it? When considering this, Australian policymakers can use recent European examples as a benchmark.

For instance, in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) – which assesses the quality of academic research – the only impacts that can be counted are those directly flowing from academic research submitted to the same REF exercise.

To confirm the impact, the beneficiaries of research (such as policymakers and practitioners) are required to provide written evidence. This creates a narrow definition of impact because those that cannot be verified, or are not based on submitted research outputs, do not count.

This has been a cause of frustration for some UK researchers, but the high threshold does ensure the impacts are genuine and flow from high quality research.

2. What should be the timeframe?

There are unpredictable time lapses between academic work being undertaken and it having impact. Some research may be quickly absorbed and applied, whereas other impacts, particularly those from basic research, can take decades to emerge.

For example, a study looking at time lags in health research found the time lag from research to practice to be on average 17 years. It should be noted, though, that time lapses vary considerably by discipline.

Only in hindsight can the value of some research be fully appreciated. Research impact assessment exercises therefore need to be set to a particular timeframe.

Here, policymakers can learn from previous trials such as one conducted by Australian Technology Network and Group of Eight in 2012. This exercise allowed impacts related to research that occurred during the previous 15 years.

3. Who should be the assessors?

It is a long established convention that academic excellence is decided by academic peers. Evaluations of research are typically undertaken by panels of academics.

However, if these evaluations are extended to include non-academic impact, does this mean there is now a need to include the views of end-users of research? This may mean the voices of people outside of academia need to be involved in the evaluation of academic research.

In the 2014 UK REF, over 250 “research users” (individuals from the private, public or charitable sectors) were recruited to take part in the evaluation process. However, their involvement was restricted to assessing the impact component of the exercise.

This option is an effective compromise between maintaining the principle of academic peer review of research quality while also including end-users in the assessment of impact.

4. What about controversial impacts?

In many instances the impact of academic research on the wider world is a positive one. But there are some impacts that are controversial – such as fracking, genetically modified crops, nanotechnologies in food, and stem cell research – and need to be carefully considered.

Such research may have considerable impact, but in ways that make it difficult to establish a consensus on how scientific progress impacts “the public good”. Research such as this can trigger societal tensions and ethical questions.

This means that impact evaluation needs to also consider non-economic factors, such as: quality of life, environmental change, and public health. Even though it is difficult placing dollar values on these things.

5. When should impact evaluation occur?

Impact evaluation can occur at various stages in the research process. For example, a funder may invite research proposals where the submissions are assessed based on their potential to produce an impact in the future.

An example of this is the European Research Council Proof of Concept Grants, where researchers who have already completed an ERC grant can bid for follow-on funding to turn their new knowledge into impacts.

Alternatively, impacts flowing from research can be assessed in a retrospective evaluation. This approach identifies impacts where they already exist and rewards the universities that have achieved them.

An example of this is the Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) used in the Netherlands, which assesses both the quality of research and its societal relevance.

A novel feature of the proposed Australian system is the assessment of both engagement and impact, as two distinctive things. This means there isn’t one international example to simply replicate.

Although Australia can learn from some aspects of evaluation in other counties, the Engagement and Impact Assessment pilot is a necessary stage to trial the proposed model as a whole.

The pilot – which will test the suitability of a wide range of indicators and methods of assessment for both research engagement and impact – means the assessment can be refined before a planned national rollout in 2018.The Conversation

Andrew Gunn, Researcher in Higher Education Policy, University of Leeds and Michael Mintrom, Professor of Public Sector Management, Monash University

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

 

Expenses reform is easy and essential – the only thing lacking is politicians’ resolve to do it

Colleen Lewis, Monash University

What is it that too many politicians don’t get about the inappropriate use of taxpayer-funded expenses and the need to reform federal political donations laws and establish a federal anti-corruption body?

The answer to those questions may help explain why MPs continue to behave inappropriately in each area. This is important, as the impact of politicians’ inappropriate decisions on people’s trust is becoming alarming.

It is now evident that too many politicians appear to have misplaced their moral compass. When this happens in any one of the policy areas referred to above, people’s trust in their elected representatives is eroded. But when inappropriate actions and decisions span all three policy areas, trust is lost, sometimes permanently. If that happens, it is not only the reputation of politicians that suffer. Lack of trust extends to the democratic political system itself.

Public office is a public trust. Any MP who understands, accepts and acts on that principle will surely insist that the public interest be placed before personal and party interests.

The latest in a series of scandals relating to MPs’ inability to understand the difference between public and private interests involves federal Health Minister Sussan Ley.

The public reaction to it should send a strong message to all parliamentarians. The message is: voters are fed up with political scandals consuming elected representatives’ time and energy, especially when the country faces several social and economic challenges. MPs cannot find solutions to these important issues when they are constantly distracted by the behaviour of too many of their colleagues.

Perhaps parliamentarians need reminding that taxpayers do not pay them to take advantage of a totally inadequate parliamentary entitlements scheme with too many loopholes, through which many of them willingly jump.

Federal MPs also need to remember that people do not pay taxes so that they can deliver a political donations regime that is pathetically weak. For years, parliamentarians have turned a blind eye to evidence-based reports and the advice of experts in the political donations field. Both have said time and again that meaningful reform is urgently required.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is due to bring down a report on political donations in March. It will be a test for the committee to come together and demonstrate that it has placed the public interest before party and personal interests. The nature of its recommendations and the speed with which they are implemented will reveal MPs’ commitment to cleaning up this neglected policy area.

Voters have made it clear that they want their elected representatives to be accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ money. One of the best ways to ensure this is through an independent, federal anti-corruption body. A division within such a body could also offer advice to parliamentarians unsure about whether an expense is directly and predominantly related to their role as parliamentarians, or is largely personal in nature.

The evidence clearly demonstrates that many parliamentarians have deliberately dragged their feet when it comes to reforming the “entitlements” scheme and overhauling the woefully inadequate federal political donations regime. They have also resisted the establishment of a federal anti-corruption body. Detailed explanations as to why they have acted in this way are required.

The delays are not only on reforms that affect serving members of parliament. It seems they are also looking after former colleagues. Despite promising to overhaul the entitlements system that still applies to many people who were once parliamentarians – some many years ago – nothing has happened in the past two years.

Why? Is it too difficult? Again, a detailed explanation is required and not one that says “we are looking into it” or “we will establish a committee to do so”. These excuses are becoming tiresome to everyone except MPs.

The very best new year’s resolution every MP could make is to promise to work toward restoring people’s trust, which is at a dangerously low level. An excellent place to start would be reforming, in a meaningful way, MPs’ entitlements and the political donations regime. Establishing a federal anti-corruption body would go a long way towards completing an integrity circle.

All these reforms are achievable this year. The only major obstacle to be overcome is parliamentarians’ lack of resolve to do so.The Conversation

Colleen Lewis, Adjunct Professor, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

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

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James Hird’s suspected drug overdose: invasive reporting breaches a right to privacy

Bill Birnbauer, Monash University

Pleas by James Hird’s family to respect its privacy present challenges to media covering the latest chapter of a life that has become a very public Greek tragedy.

It might seem right that the media back off – ask no questions, take no photos – and await news from Hird’s family or spokespeople. If the reports of a suspected drug overdose are correct – suggesting a deliberate act – then the last thing the former Essendon player and coach or his family should have to endure is the added stress of scrutiny and interference.

More broadly, finding a balance between providing information and minimising harm is often a delicate pickle for journalists.

Sports journalism and media ethics

To provide valuable information to the public, media must act independently, unconstrained by vested interests, no matter how powerful or loud.

As a champion player and as coach, Hird was a high-profile public figure – a superstar in a billion-dollar industry – and still is a public figure due partly to his role in the seemingly unrelenting supplements controversy. There is no doubt that the public, many of whom have followed Hird’s career, wants to know what happened in the lead-up to his hospitalisation and treatment, and how he is faring now.

Some observers argue that when footballers become public figures they enter a Faustian pact in which they also become sports celebrities, and with that celebrity status, anything they do is public or at least newsworthy.

Competition among sports journalists is fierce, and there is pressure to break fresh news and be first with the story. The AFL accredits about 850 print, radio, television and digital reporters to cover football. A further 1,100 people work as broadcast crew, photographers, player statistics collectors and so on. That’s about 2,000 media covering between 720 and 792 registered players, depending on the year.

Terry Wallace played 254 AFL games, mainly for Hawthorn and also for Richmond and Footscray, which is now the Western Bulldogs. He coached the Western Bulldogs and, less successfully, Richmond, for 247 games.

More recently, as a sports commentator with a regular radio program, Wallace has been on both sides of the media/privacy issue. He believes that:

Somewhere along the line, there have to be boundaries about what is private and what is not private.

Journalists’ actions shocked Wallace on occasions when he coached Richmond between 2005 and 2009. One night in June 2008, Richmond defender Graham Polak was hit by a tram, bruising his brain so badly that doctors put him in an induced coma.

After months of treatment and rehabilitation, he was allowed home but complained of short-term memory loss and balance issues. Wallace recalls that someone from the media appeared at Polak’s house, claiming to have the club’s permission to interview him. He says:

This was something to me that stepped across the line of what was fair and reasonable.

What is the ‘public interest’?

Many stories about footballers’ off-field antics fall into the category of being of public interest, but it’s difficult to see how they are in the public interest. So what is there to guide journalists?

The Media Alliance, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Australian Press Council have codes and guidelines that essentially say the right to privacy should be respected but may be transgressed when there is a clear public interest.

The difficulty is that journalists interpret what is in the “public interest” differently depending on the circumstances, the exclusivity of the story, the numbers impacted, and so on. Figuring out the right thing to do is not an exact science.

A key function of the media is to expose those who transgress laws, rules and common standards. That’s what happened to Hird when his actions as coach during Essendon’s supplements program attracted tough media scrutiny and questioning.

It was in the public interest for Hird’s role to be probed and exposed because he was operating under the codes and rules governing football. In August 2013, Hird was suspended from his position as Essendon coach for 12 months under these rules.

But that’s different to Hird’s current situation. Reporting details of his suspected overdose or filming wife Tania and his children without their consent intrudes on their right to privacy, with no valid journalistic justification. It has no sense of being in the public interest as there is no need nor right for the public to know.

Only, perhaps, a desire to know.


This piece is based on a longer book chapter from Media Innovation and Disruption (2016).

Readers who are seeking assistance can call Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.

This piece has been amended since publication.

The Conversation

Bill Birnbauer, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

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The shelf-life of slang – what will happen to those ‘democracy sausages’?

Kate Burridge, Monash University

Every year around this time, dictionaries across the English-speaking world announce their “Word of the Year”. These are expressions (some newly minted and some golden oldies too) that for some reason have shot into prominence during the year.

Earlier this month The Australian National Dictionary Centre declared its winner “democracy sausage” – the barbecued snag that on election day makes compulsory voting so much easier to swallow.

Dictionaries make their selections in different ways, but usually it involves a combination of suggestions from the public and the editorial team (who have been meticulously tracking these words throughout the year). The Macquarie Dictionary has two selections – the Committee’s Choice made by the Word of the Year Committee, and the People’s Choice made by the public (so make sure you have your say on January 24 for the People’s Choice winner 2016).

It’s probably not surprising that these words of note draw overwhelmingly from slang language, or “slanguage” – a fall-out of the increasing colloquialisation of English usage worldwide. In Australia this love affair with the vernacular goes back to the earliest settlements of English speakers.

And now there’s the internet, especially social networking – a particularly fertile breeding ground for slang.

People enjoy playing with language, and when communicating electronically they have free rein. “Twitterholic”, “twaddiction”, “celebritweet/twit”, “twitterati” are just some of the “tweologisms” that Twitter has spawned of late. And with a reported average of 500 million tweets each day, Twitter has considerable capacity not only to create new expressions, but to spread them (as do Facebook, Instagram and other social networking platforms).

But what happens when slang terms like these make it into the dictionary? Early dictionaries give us a clue, particularly the entries that are stamped unfit for general use. Branded entries were certainly plentiful in Samuel Johnson’s 18th-century work, and many are now wholly respectable: abominably “a word of low or familiar language”, nowadays “barbarous usage”, fun “a low cant word” (what would Johnson have thought of very fun and funner?).

Since the point of slang is to mark an in-group, to amuse and perhaps even to shock outsiders with novelty, most slang expressions are short-lived. Those that survive become part of the mainstream and mundane. Quite simply, time drains them of their vibrancy and energy. J.M. Wattie put it more poetically back in 1930:

Slang terms are the mayflies of language; by the time they get themselves recorded in a dictionary, they are already museum specimens.

But, then again, expressions occasionally do sneak through the net. Not only do they survive, they stay slangy – and sometimes over centuries. Judge for yourselves. Here are some entries from A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language. Written by British convict James Hardy Vaux in 1812, this is the first dictionary compiled in Australia.

croak “to die”

grub “food”

kid “deceive”

mug “face”

nuts on “to have a strong inclination towards something or someone”

on the sly “secretly”

racket “particular kind of fraud”

snitch “to betray”

stink “an uproar”

spin a yarn “tell a tale of great adventure”

These were originally terms of flash – or, as Vaux put it, “the cant language used by the family”. In other words, they belonged to underworld slang. The term slang itself meant something similar at this time; it broadened to highly colloquial language in the 1800s.

Vaux went on to point out that “to speak good flash is to be well versed in cant terms” — and, having been transported to New South Wales on three separate occasions during his “checkered and eventful life” (his words), Vaux himself was clearly well versed in the world of villainy and cant.

True, the majority of the slang terms here have dropped by the wayside (barnacles “spectacles”; lush “to drink”), and the handful that survives are now quite standard (grab “to seize”; dollop “large quantity”). But there are a few that have not only lasted, they’ve remained remarkably contemporary-sounding – some still even a little “disgraceful” (as Vaux described them).

The shelf-life of slang is a bit of mystery. Certainly some areas fray faster than others. Vaux’s prime, plummy and rum (meaning “excellent”) have well and truly bitten the dust. Cool might have made a comeback (also from the 1800s), but intensifiers generally wear out.

Far out and ace have been replaced by awesome, and there are plenty of new “awesome” words lurking in the wings. Some of these are already appearing on lists for “Most Irritating Word of the Year” – it’s almost as if their success does them in. Amazeballs, awesomesauce and phat are among the walking dead.

But as long as sausage sizzles continue to support Australian voters on election day, democracy sausages will have a place – and if adopted elsewhere, might even entice the politically uninterested into polling booths.The Conversation


Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics at Monash University.

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

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The smashed avo debate misses inequality within generations

Steven Roberts, Monash University and Alan France, University of Auckland

There’s no doubt there are differences between the experiences and opportunities of young people compared to their parents. But when you enter the smashed avocado debate of baby boomers versus millennials, you overlook the inequality between members of the same generation. This also misses other ways inequality is perpetuated, such as through the intergenerational transfer of wealth.

It’s uncomfortable for many to admit but Australia is a hugely unequal society, both in terms of incomes and wealth. Australian households in the top 20% account for half of the income stream, that’s about 12 times more than the bottom 20%. At the far ends of the distribution, the average weekly after tax income of the top 5% is 13 times that of the bottom 5%.

But this isn’t just an artefact of wealth in different generations. There are multiple ways we can glean this, most notably in relation to poverty.

Among the presumed gold plated baby boomer generation, some 34% of those over 65 years old live below the poverty line (incomes 60% the median average income). Using a more extreme measure of the level of poverty (an income of less than 50% of the average income), the latest ACOSS data shows that 13% of over 65s fall into this category – the same proportion as the 15-24 cohort. For the 25-65 age group this figure is 12%.

While older people who own their homes are more likely to do so without still servicing a mortgage, this is a shrinking number of people. And while the proportion of young adults aged 25-34 owning a home has dropped from 39% to 29% over the last decade or so, recent HILDA data shows this decline is mirrored across age groups. This indicates a more widespread issue than one that sits the “haves” and the “have nots” either side of a generational divide.

For example, looking at the differences between young people, there is a case for noting them as a generation with less. But they are also a generation where some have a lot less than others.

For some, that means less education – the fact is that the majority of people do not go to university. This means that conversations about a generation stifled by student debts tell only part of the story, not to undermine the significance of student debt.

Being a graduate has economic returns relative to not having a degree. Graduate status has a bigger impacts on salaries in the mid to late 20s.

Higher education participation has increased for all socioeconomic status groups in recent years. However, there is a clear relationship between highest level of education among 20-24 year olds and their parents occupational background.

Children of managers and professionals for example make up 49% of those with degrees, versus just 15% coming from machine operator and labourer backgrounds. In terms of disengagement, the proportion of 20-24 year olds not in education employment or training grows higher every step down the socio-economic status ladder.

Generations unite and work together

Challenges for younger generations, such as getting on the housing ladder or finding secure, well-paid work, are very real. However, navigating these challenges depends on young people’s differentiated access to support and family resources. Today’s generation of young people are hugely divided in the ways they are propped up by their parents.

There’s debate about whether Australia’s over 55s will engage in the “great transfer” of their current A$3 trillion dollar wealth pot via posthumous inheritance. Some contend baby boomers will use their wealth to instead to maintain their living standards for a longer than ever retirement period.

Yet, as well known economist Thomas Piketty notes, there is considerable international evidence suggesting a growing trend of parents “gifting” wealth to their children earlier in their lives. For example, recent research from New Zealand shows this process is establishing almost as much wealth inequality within the generation of people aged 38, as within the total population.

In Australia, intergenerational transfers have recently been shown to increase inequality. Data shows parents gift their children by helping them to circumvent borrowing constraints and deposit requirements to buy property or manage their housing costs.

Parents, especially from elite and upper middle class backgrounds, are finding new ways to help their children maintain their social and economic status earlier in their lives. The young generation, then, are often inextricably bound up with the lives of the older generation in ways that ought to be examined.The Conversation

Steven Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University and Alan France, Professor, University of Auckland

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

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Women, Peace and Security in Asia Pacific: Emerging Issues in National Action Plans

Monash GPS Director Professor Jacqui True has published a discussion paper for UN Women entitled, Women, Peace and Security in Asia Pacific: emerging issues in National Action Plans for Women, Peace and Security.

UN Women WPS Paper

The central theme of the discussion paper focusses on Women, Peace and Security National Action Plans in the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, it outlines the changing global context of peace and security, highlighting the gender dimensions of the escalation in violent extremism, the mass forced migration of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the impact of climate change.

The discussion paper provides approaches to designing National Action Plans that address and connect traditional and emerging women, peace and security issues.

The discussion paper stems from this year’s Asia-Pacific Regional Symposium on National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, facilitated by UN Women and the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok, Thailand.

Read full discussion paper here.

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What is rumbling Australia’s economy ahead of MYEFO

Remy Davison, Monash University

The Turnbull government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) takes place in a dramatically different environment from 2015-16.

The dual shocks of Brexit, and the promulgation of a protectionist Trump administration in 2017, present major challenges to the global economy. In late 2015, few predicted either of these scenarios emerging. The US and British economies, and stable US-China economic relations, are critical to Australia’s growth, wealth and living standards. As Britain prepares for Brexit, and the Trump administration awaits inauguration in January, what impact will these dramatic development have on Australia’s economic outlook?

There’s an old saying: “America sneezes and Australia gets a cold.”

If you believe that Australia’s dependence upon the American economy is so 20th century, think again. Despite China’s centrality to Australia’s present and future growth, the world economy is inextricably linked with US economic power, policies and performance. The Trump administration’s management of Washington-Beijing relations, together with its declared intention to withdraw from international trade agreements, threaten the structure of the liberal global economic order.

Last week, the national accounts showed that Australia was half way towards a technical recession, with a 0.5% contraction in the September 2016 quarter. Troubling figures emerged in the December unemployment numbers, with South Australia again occupying the unenviable top ranking for November, with 7.0% of the labour force out of work. Nationally, unemployment is up fractionally, to 5.7%.

Business investment has also declined consistently over the last 18 months, with construction down significantly, while mining has fallen off the cliff since 2014. Manufacturing investment is also down, as new investment in the automotive industry evaporates, intensifying the unemployment problem in South Australia. Non-mining and non-manufacturing investment is trending downwards slightly.

The bright spot on the commodity front is coking coal, which spiked up to around US$100 per tonne in November, a price it hasn’t seen at since early 2013. Nevertheless, in November, Treasurer Scott Morrison admitted that wages were growing at a glacial pace and corporate profitability had fallen, in the face of much weaker terms of trade and fluctuating commodity prices.

Why has this occurred, even as iron ore and coal prices have strengthened considerably? Most of the changes in demand have been stoked by Chinese domestic policies (and the steel market’s outlook in Tangshan, China can change in a blink of an eye).

Despite a high level of trade interdependence, there has been essentially no correlation between Chinese and Australian GDP growth for the past six years. Conversely, there has been a relatively close correlation between US GDP expansion and contraction and Australia’s economic performance. This was disrupted, briefly, by the global financial crisis in 2008-09, but the US’s traditional influence upon Australian economic growth has been restored.

Consequently, the decisions of the incoming Trump administration will have a significant impact upon Australia’s economic performance. More importantly, Trump’s fiscal expansionist agenda is now on a direct collision course with that set by Fed chair Janet Yellen. The US Federal Reserve (Fed), which still effectively sets global interest rates, raised interest rates on December 15, delivering its first rate hike in 12 months, and only the second since the global financial crisis struck. The increase is small, raising the Fed funds rate to 0.5-0.75%, but the signal that Yellen is sending demonstrates zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP) is well and truly over.

Bond markets are predicting two more Fed rate rises for 2017, while the Fed itself has signalled three. The bottom line? Funds are flooding to US dollar-denominated assets, while the Australian dollar is falling against the greenback.

But that’s positive, isn’t it? A depreciating Australian dollar will help drive exports.

Not so fast.

Of debt and US dollars

The problem is that weakness against the greenback hides the Australian dollar’s strength relative to its major Asian trading partners – its key export markets. James McIntyre at Macquarie Bank argues that the dollar has, in fact, appreciated against the yuan and the yen.

Why? Australian debt is AAA-rated and typically pays a relatively high coupon rate. That makes it an attractive and safe investment asset.Fact: the US holds more Australian debt than any other country. As Treasurer Scott Morrison noted this week, American bond holders own almost A$600 billion in Australian debt, with the UK owning another A$400 million.

Bear in mind that the US and UK are Australia’s two biggest sources of foreign direct investment. But investors are notoriously flighty; consequently, how the Trump and May governments negotiate the next few months will have a profound longer-term impact on Australia’s growth.

President-elect Trump has foreshadowed a massive US$1 trillion reinvestment in US infrastructure, utilising public-private partnership and tax breaks. Trump’s promises, if implemented, would increase the fiscal deficit by US$5.1 trillion, according to one estimate.

If Trump does cut taxes and increase US fiscal deficits, that amounts to a significant expansion of the US bond market. And, in a world of rising interest rates and relative investment scarcity, that means two things. First, the Australian capital market pool (where banks obtain their wholesale funding) will get a little shallower; and, second, the cost of capital is going up in 2017. And you can take that to the bank.

Rogue Trump: A trade wars story

If Trump’s behaviour as President-elect is any indication of how he’ll conduct his presidency, expect shambles and chaos. In a mere matter of weeks since November 8, Trump has:

  1. Spoke on the phone with Taiwan
  2. Queried US adherence to the “One-China” policy
  3. Threatened to cancel the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  4. Threatened to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  5. Threatened to deport millions of unlawful immigrants (ironically, non-unionised, immigrant labour, is essential to keeping a lid on infrastructure costs)
  6. Criticised the cost of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, slashing Lockheed shares by US$4 billion and sending defence firms’ stocks plummenting.

Trade wars are negative-sum games: everybody loses. However, for the first time since Herbert Hoover, America now has a president-elect in Trump who apparently believes in zero-sum trade: for one side to gain, the other has to lose.

China, the US and Britain rank first, third and seventh, respectively, among Australia’s trade partners. How adroitly policy makers in London and Washington handle issues such as Brexit and US-China relations will determine whether the Australian economy stays on the boil or gets frozen out.

Heading for a Brexit

If you’re confused by Brexit, you’re not alone; so is the British government. Six months after the seismic shock ushered in on 23 June, Theresa May’s government has pondered various Brexits: hard, soft, black, white, grey and now, finally, “red, white and blue.”

Yes, that’s right: a patriotic Brexit. I prefer another term: Phony Brexit. Phony because the British government has swallowed the EU Single Market rules hook, line and sinker with the inappropriately-named Great Repeal Bill.

The UK will likely end up in a “pay and obey with no say” situation, at a cost to the budget of £100 billion.

Britain’s economic performance for the foreseeable future really depends upon how optimal a deal it manages to strike with the EU. The UK ranks second only to the US among Australia’s biggest foreign investors, and decreases in capital flows from London to Sydney are almost inevitable throughout the next 10 years. But the City of London’s position as the world’s premier centre for financial services is also under pressure, even under a “soft” Brexit.

London does more euro currency-denominated business than Paris and Frankfurt combined. Foreign direct investment and short-term capital investment flows from the EU, via London, to Australia’s relatively liberal capital markets. London is a global conduit for outward foreign direct and portfolio investment, irrespective of the capital’s origin.

Britain’s position as a global financial services centre is not threatened, but it will be diminished by a sub-optimal Brexit outcome. In combination with tighter US monetary policy over the next 12 months, and uncertainty over the incoming Trump administration’s trade polices, the Australian economy is increasingly vulnerable to trade shocks in 2017.

In this respect, how Trump handles China trade issues, in view of his “45% tariffs” promise, will prove a critical test of his presidency. And how Beijing chooses to retaliate will have a profound impact upon the two economies.

In 2015-16, the MYEFO stated that, “The transition is being supported by historically low interest rates, the fall in the Australian dollar and low oil prices”.

That was then; this is now. Both Brexit and Trump have ensured there is absolutely no certainty about any of those variables in 2017.The Conversation

Remy Davison is the Jean Monnet Chair in Politics and Economics at Monash University. 

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

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Music Alumnus Hue Blanes: Winner of the PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music alumnus Hue Blanes won the sixth PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission.

Blanes will create a new work – Things That Have Been Said – an instrumental work that uses famous (and infamous) quotes from history as the source material for a suite of new works.

Hue BlanesThe work will be performed by a quartet that brings together musicians with backgrounds in both jazz and classical music, and will premiere at the 2017 Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Blanes said “I have seen many friends and colleagues win this great PBS award and I’m thrilled to be a part of next year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.”

Now in its 6th year, this important initiative recognises significant mid-career Victorian jazz musicians, and continues to reflect the diversity and quality of contemporary jazz in Melbourne. Past winners include Tamara Murphy, Tim Willis (Current Monash PhD student), Tilman Robinson, Joe O’Connor (Monash PhD Alumnus too) and Gian Slater.

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Dangerous Research: PhD candidate Maria Tanyag on field work and feminist research

Maria Tanyag is a PhD candidate in International Relations with the Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre at Monash Arts. Her PhD research explores the sexual and reproductive rights of women in post-conflict and post-disaster settings in the Philippines, and has taken her to a number of remote communities where she tries to understand how people navigate their health, and human rights, following times of disaster and conflict. We spoke to Maria about her fieldwork experience, why she loves research and why she chose Monash as the place to do her PhD.

Why did you decide to do your PhD at Monash

Monash was really my only consideration. My idea of a PhD is – although you do your own research – you’re working towards being mentored by the best possible people you can get. So this is a credit to the people at Monash and at Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre right now because I really followed a particular supervisor who I wanted to work with.

When I started considering PhDs, Professor Jacqui True’s book The Political Economy of Violence Against Women was published. It was well received and helped create a research agenda on the political economy causes of violence against women. My Master’s research was looking at sexual and reproductive health, and I was really seeing the political economy dimensions of these issues. So there was no question, I had to do my PhD with that kind of supervisor to mentor me.

The supervisor is important, but I must also note that I got a scholarship from the university and that has made a big difference. The Faculty of Arts International Research Postgraduate scholarship covers tuition and my stipend, and that allows me to focus on the work that I do, and I’m really grateful for that.

Photo: Maria in Bangkok in March 2016, at the ASEAN civil society consultations on the Regional Plans of Action (RPAs) on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children (EVAWC)
Photo: Maria in Bangkok in March 2016, at the ASEAN civil society consultations on the Regional Plans of Action (RPAs) on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children (EVAWC)

Monash GPS has a critical mass of scholars specialising in gender-based violence/women peace and security, and it’s a credit to the leadership of my supervisor (Prof Jacqui True) and the other academics here, like Associate Professor Kate Lee Koo, and Dr Swati Parashar. These women have created an environment for HDRs and young researchers to continuously challenge ourselves and keep asking feminist questions.

So it’s three things that come to mind: A good supervisor, financial support available and the general research environment; having great colleagues working on the same issues is fantastic.

Why did you choose to do a PhD? You did your undergrad and a Masters degree in a similar field, so why the next step?

My first foray into research was being asked to work as a research assistant for foreign academics visiting the Philippines who needed a field researcher and interpreter. That was my first taste of doing field research and I was amazed by it. I thought, what could be a better job than one where I can spend time interviewing people and learning about their stories? And I remember wondering why these foreign academics were so interested in the Philippines: What’s so interesting about the Philippines? How does the Philippines fit into broader study?

Then, when I was doing my Masters research (which also had field interviews), I started hearing about these stories of violence inflicted on women on the basis of their reproductive identity. The Philippines has had really strict abortion laws and very little access to contraception, especially for poorer women.

The exposure to these issues for women stuck with me and I really wanted to know, how can I, with the abilities I have, try and address that problem? I know I can’t do everything but there must be something that I can do. I think the PhD allows me to ask  questions, like what are the kinds of structures in place that create these insecurities in everyday life for women and girls?

There’s so much that needs to be done, not just for promoting gender equality in the Philippines, but also other parts of the world. I suppose that’s the point of doing research, you share it so that others can learn from it, and build on the kind of work you’re doing. The PhD research is important because for research around gender equality and gender-based violence, there’s also a commitment to serve and make a difference (I know that sounds cheesy!).

I do think the PhD is distinct in that it gives you that rigorous research training. That means three and a half years of investigating the same issue and the same question, and really going in-depth about the kind of dynamics you want to address. It’s about really relentlessly pursuing a research question and finding the answers to it – and I like that.

Q: What is your PhD project on? What are you researching and investigating?

For my PhD I’m looking at sexual and reproductive health but understanding it in crises settings (in conflict and disaster). My focus is on understanding sexual and reproductive health and rights broadly. I’m specialising in the Philippines as a case study, but also linking the case with global processes and ideas.

I found that in everyday life, there are already so many barriers for women’s bodily autonomy and integrity – in the Philippines but also in many parts of the world. These barriers are all the more exacerbated in times of conflict and disaster. The common knowledge, and there’s growing literature around this, is that a primary factor for deteriorating sexual and reproductive health outcomes in crises is the weak health infrastructure (what was in place before the crisis occurs). When you unpack it, health systems actually reflect which bodies matter and how they are valued.

In the Philippines, it’s in the intersections of ethnic, indigenous, internal displacement identities where you really see extreme state sanction and discrimination of marginalised groups play out in the sexual and reproductive health space. It usually starts with women’s bodies.

I unpack that by understanding how women’s bodily autonomy and integrity is really deeply embedded within the economic devaluing of the kind of labour (social reproductive labour) that women and girls perform in the household, community and the state, but also because of cultural and religious norms that are deeply embedded and internalised by women and girls themselves.

As I’ve found in both crises settings, in times of crisis, women and girls are denied the very means of taking care of their own bodies. They end up taking care of everyone else in their communities and families, and often they put their needs at the bottom in order to care for others. I think this is because of these deeply embedded religious and cultural norms that condition women and girls to value their identities as mothers, daughters and wives based on how selfless they are, or self-sacrificing. So if you put the needs of everyone else above your own, that is ‘coded’ as a good thing. This is all the more exacerbated in times of crisis.

My findings tie into other research being done, which says that in times of crises, food insecurity is most acute for women and girls because they put the needs of the family above their own. I see this idea in policy, even in representations of what a good Filipina is: it’s to be a martyr, to be virginal and self-sacrificing. In my research I talk about that in greater depth and how that specifically links to a lack of bodily autonomy, either from individual choices that prevent women from asserting control over their own bodies, to the state level where the state literally denies them contraception or abortion because that’s how they enforce a particular representation of what a woman ought to be.

There is a growing interest in looking at sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in times of disaster and conflict but more needs to be done in addressing the distribution of resources to health. Health tends to be a lesser priority and if there is attention to it, it’s more for common assistance. Rarely do we begin to talk about sexual and reproductive health. It’s not just about breast-feeding mothers or maternal health but actually talking about how, even in times of crisis, we need to  be respecting health and bodily autonomy and pleasure.

Q: What did your fieldwork involve? What did you do while you were doing that fieldwork in the Philippines?

To understand sexual and reproductive health in crises, I chose two key case studies: I looked at conflict sites which was Mindinao in the Philippines; and I also looked at a disaster case – Tacloban in Eastern Visayas.  

I met key informants: NGO workers, women leaders from ethnic minority groups in different parts of the Philippines, government reps, international NGOs, and academics researching the same field. I did 42 interviews over the two trips. I also presented some of my findings at 2 conferences in the Philippines to get a validation of the points I was getting.

On my second trip, I was invited to present some of the findings at the (Philippines) Commission on Human Rights National Inquiry. In the Philippines right now there’s a momentum around addressing sexual and reproductive violence as a result of a CEDAW inquiry [CEDAW stands for Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women – it involves governments of countries which have signed this agreement to report on different issues. Violence against women is one of these issues]. The Commission on Human Rights, which is a national body for protecting and promoting human rights, conducted a national inquiry. The Commission asked me to participate and present some of my findings precisely because I was looking at two key sites that they were also working on.

I also attended an ASEAN meeting (in Manila and Bangkok) – there are different layers through which mobilisation and policy making is done, so I attended ASEAN meeting investigating gender-based violence for women and girls and that was another platform where I presented my research but also met these other regional NGOs in ASEAN.

My field experience has been quite rich and, again, I’m fortunate for having met all these people. Because my research was situating the Philippines from the community (or grassroots) level, I made sure that I was immersing myself, to get a sense of what are the debates happening at these different levels (local, national and regional).

Q: That sounds like a really challenging environment to do fieldwork in. What was it like trying to get interviews and contacts in different, and quite difficult, locations?

This is a topic that’s ongoing and one I keep on discussing with other people who have done research. Quite recently, I was asked to join a panel for a methods course being taught at Monash called ‘Dangerous Research’ because I was traveling to very rural areas, post-disaster and post-conflict. Although I’m a Filipino national, and I grew up and lived in the Philippines until I was 21, I’m also from the capital. I also belong to the dominant ethnic and religious group.

Doing the fieldwork for this research was still quite overwhelming for me. It was my first time traveling to these two sites which have a different language and different environments. A key recurring theme when I talk about my field work experience is how I think it was more life-changing for me than for my participants.

In Mindanao, the conflict has been ongoing for 40 years, so conflict is not a new phenomenon for the people there. When I was interviewing my key informants, I realised that the horrors of the violence perpetrated there was challenging for me to hear, but for them, there was a way in which they were normalising it.

Likewise for the post-Haiyan, post-disaster case. In 2013 the strongest super-typhoon ever recorded at that time hit the Philippines. The calamity was comparable to the Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake because it affected 10% of the population in the Philippines (which has about 99 million people).

Image: 'Aerial view of Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan' from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). License: CC By 2.0
Image: ‘Aerial view of Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan’ from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). License: CC By 2.0

Three years on, there are still communities displaced with no permanent shelter and no decent housing. I went to see some of these temporary shelters and there was also this sense of it being increasingly normalised. There are ways by which they are coping and rebuilding their lives despite this protracted displacement. For me, it was really eye-opening that something as shocking and dehumanising as this is being normalised precisely because we are failing to address the insecurities that they’re facing. 

The interviews themselves were also challenging. I was asking questions about gender-based violence and I was told a story in Mindanao of an ethnic minority girl who was sold by her parents to soldiers and of how she suffered multiple sexual assaults.

The parents had decided to sell her for the family’s own security, and she felt she had no choice because again, this is part of the self-sacrificing narrative to secure her family’s situation and have some protection. So she was bought to be a sex slave but it was coded as ‘marriage’. After that, the soldier discarded her anyway. 

Of course she was traumatised by her experience. There’s no support for people like her in the village where she lived. This is the insidiousness of it all, her parents and her family wouldn’t take her back which is so sad because she had to do that to protect her family and now because she is considered ‘dirty’, her own family won’t have her. We’re talking about a community or society with strong honour codes and women are bearers of clan identity.

We [Maria, her supervisor Prof Jacqui True and Associate Prof Sara Davies] published an article on this quite recently, in which we talk about how women’s silences around sexual and gender-based violence helps secure the peace. There’s a strategic reason why women would remain silent about the atrocities they experience, and it’s usually also to protect their families and their communities. Speaking out can incur further violence in an already fragile setting.

These stories really stuck with me because after that, I was thinking, what can research do? It’s something you constantly navigate and you hear all these stories of violence but also look at stories of positive relationships that are built. You go in expecting to see and hear all about violence and sex as a negative experience and it is true, but it also can be quite positive.  

In my post-disaster case I was seeing how sex and sexual intimacy played a strong part in the recovery after a disaster. You hear funny stories shared by my informants about how couples negotiate keeping that part of their relationship going even while in displacement, and you know that’s interesting and speaks to love and support that women give and also receive. Some stories also tell of women wanting to have sex with their husbands or younger women wanting to have sex outside of marriage. That’s quite controversial in the Philippines but it’s symbolic of how they want to start healing after a disaster and how they start having normal lives.

Now the question is, how do we ensure that we protect even those positive experiences of sex in times of crises? That’s where when you provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, you’re addressing both negative experiences and also sex as a form of bonding.

Q: How do you then relate your research and wanting to make a difference to these stories you were told?

In doing research, and especially if you’re doing dangerous research, you have to reconcile yourself with the idea that there’s only so much you can do and we can’t always try and save everyone. That’s not the point of research. Sometimes just allowing a space for people to talk about their experiences can be good, and then translating that story and linking the stories to broader issues is already a key contribution.

I think good advice for any researchers is that you have to be really humble and modest about how much your research can achieve within the broader interventions because when you already come in with a modest and humble knowledge of what research can do, that’s actually where you can make a bigger difference. Rather than assuming that with this research I’m going to save the world, especially in the field, you’re going to be humbled by all the work that other people are doing to make a difference.

Photo:  Peace march in Manila for the Bangsamoro Peace Process on March 2015. Photograph supplied by Maria Tanyag.
Photo: Peace march in Manila for the Bangsamoro Peace Process on March 2015. Photograph supplied by Maria Tanyag.
Q: Are there other surprising research findings from your project?

An interesting finding that I’ve got for this research is that even in a displacement context, in IDP camps and evacuation centres, sexual relations persist and continue – and it’s not necessarily violent. The focus has been on preventing sexual violence but sex also plays an important part for recovery and social bonding among couples.

So how do we make sure that this is protected in a context where communities are in displacement for extended periods of time? In one of my case studies, the displaced communities have been in IDP camps for 3 years. In my conflict case in Mindanao, the conflict has been ongoing for 40 years and so you’ve got generations of families and communities in constant displacement.

Of course, sex and sexual relations are key components of what it means to be a human being. But if we don’t recognise that even in times of displacement, that it’s a fundamental part of human dignity, we’re missing a key dimension. For this research, it really has a strong policy implication in really targeting and rethinking the kind of assistance extended to communities in crisis to include all sexual and reproductive health needs.

Another interesting finding is that when you talk about bodily autonomy, you begin to shine a light on sexual minorities. There are so many interesting stories on LGBT youth and how much work is being done despite their exclusion from formal interventions. The frameworks are very heteronormative: when we talk about reproductive health it’s about mothers and maternal health for example.

There was one story of an LGBT group insisting that they be part of an intervention from an INGO. There was an intervention in Tacloban by an INGO that had very gender segregated program, there was a carpentry program for men and livelihood programs, manicure for women. And in these gender coded interventions, LGBT youth and lesbians were completely left out.

The story is that this group insisted and engaged with the INGO and demanded that they are included in different interventions. I think that’s a good thing about feminist research, you’re constantly looking for what’s invisible or what’s being marginalised.

Q: What are some lessons you’ve learned during your PhD that you’d like to pass along?

A tip for anyone doing a PhD or researching broadly, is to always be attentive to boundaries and artificial frameworks because when you challenge those you actually see these interesting stories and that makes for a deeper research experience.

It’s the same for the PhD and in life, you try and challenge boundaries. I’m honest about this, I’m the first female in our family to pursue higher education. University education is quite common in the Philippines because education is seen as a way you get a living, and that’s how you pursue a career. But it’s not a career to pursue higher education beyond that, and that’s a way by which we challenge boundaries.

A PhD, for a lot of women, especially from a global South background, is something that you might not see too often. When I think about this I think of a quote by Maya Angelou who says that a woman without willingly doing it, by standing up for herself, stands up for other women.

I think that just by enjoying myself in the PhD, especially because for a Filipino woman, it’s really encouraging for other young girls to pursue education and try to pursue a career that’s challenging boundaries.

Q: What’s a trait that makes a good researcher? 

I think it is to be  a relentless optimist. The PhD is three years of pursuing the same question and doing so many things to get an answer, like fieldwork and immersing yourself in reading and exposing yourself to peer review. It’s relentless optimism that makes a researcher.

I might add another trait to that:  ‘feminist curiosity’. Cynthia Enloe talked about having a feminist curiosity and obviously to be a researcher I think you have to have a sense of optimism and curiosity, to really relentlessly pursue a question and find an answer to it and then ask some more questions.

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Women as leaders and peacekeepers: Dr Lesley Pruitt

More than 118,000 peacekeepers – military, police and civilian – currently serve in 16 UN peace operations around the world. Currently 123 countries contribute military police and personnel but it’s not just the diversity of nationalities that is changing the face of UN peacekeeping – it’s also the more prominent presence of women.

In 2000 the UN Security Council adopted its landmark resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, recognising that women bear the brunt of armed conflicts and so should play a central role in their prevention and resolution. Several years later, this resolution was realised through India’s deployment of the first all-female police unit to the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia.

Within months of the all-female unit’s deployment to Liberia, the number of women applying to work in the Liberian National Police tripled, demonstrating the incredible impact women peacekeepers can have in empowering local women to participate in policing. 

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: UN Peacekeepers Day celebration in the DR Congo by MONUSCO Photos. License: CC BY-SA 2.0

Dr Lesley Pruitt of Monash Gender Peace and Security (Monash GPS) has published a book that explores the story behind this ground-breaking all-female police unit: ‘The Women in Blue Helmets; Gender, Policing, and the UN’s First All-Female Peacekeeping Unit’. Lesley recently spoke to us about how the unit was implemented, as well as how young people can participate in peacebuilding (her other research area of interest).

She is currently working with Dr Katrina Lee-Koo, in partnership with the World YWCA and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on a new research project, ‘Mobilising Young Women’s Leadership and Advocacy in the Asia Pacific.’

The project will focus on several countries across the Asia Pacific region and aims to enable young women to lead positive change in their communities, through the sharing of information about human rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, violence against women, and gender. They also aim to support young women in the Asia Pacific as a driving force in influencing women’s rights policies.

Dr Lesley Pruitt joined Monash University in 2015, following appointments at the University of Melbourne, Victoria University, and RMIT University. She is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and her research focuses on recognising and enhancing youth participation in peacebuilding and promoting gender equity in the peace processes.

Listen to our interview with Dr Lesley Pruitt about women as leaders and peacekeepers: 

Find out more

 

Museums are returning Indigenous human remains but progress on repatriating objects is slow

Myles Russell Cook, University of Melbourne and Lynette Russell, Monash University

It’s not difficult to imagine how someone might be prevented from paying respects to their ancestors and ensuring proper observances because they’re buried overseas. Thousands of families who’ve lost relatives during the battles of far-off wars know only too well the distress of loved ones resting on foreign soil.

But for countless Australian Aboriginal families, it’s not voluntary service or even conscription that led to their ancestors’ remains ending up overseas. Rather, it’s grave robbing, and the practice of stealing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ bodies to be placed in museums, anatomy collections and cabinets of curiosity.

In some particularly grisly cases, known individuals, such as William Lanne described as the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal man, and Yagan, a Noongar man from the western coast of Australia, were mutilated and rendered anthropological specimens.

It’s hardly surprising then, that over the last half century, there have been growing calls for lost souls like these to be brought back home. The recent repatriation of human remains from museums and university collections in the United Kingdom has resulted in some high-profile events. These include the repatriation of ancestral remains of Ngarrindjeri and other people of South Australia, in a moving ceremony conducted by Aboriginal Elder Major Sumner.

But calls by Aboriginal activists and descendants to return objects collected or stolen by colonisers, explorers and others have been met with much less enthusiasm. For the most part, museums have been slow to engage with issues surrounding the return of artefacts, even as they’ve been proactive about returning human remains.

The Gweagal Shield

The case of the “Gweagal Shield” and the current quest for its return to Australia by Rodney Kelly, a descendant of the warrior Cooman whose shield it was, highlights some of the issues at play.

The shield is generally accepted as having been “collected” when the HMS Endeavour visited Botany Bay in 1770, by either Captain James Cook or the naturalist Joseph Banks. It was subsequently given to the British Museum, where it is still held. Its story is much like that of the Dja Dja Wrung barks, which were “collected” by the settler John Hunter Kerr.

Contemporary Aboriginal activists say they regard the shield, like the bark etchings, as representing an unbroken connection with their ancestors of the 18th and 19th centuries. Their claim for the object’s return is based on this connection.

Repatriation of objects is difficult because museums are nothing without their collections. And sending back human remains, many of which are rarely shown, is an easier option.

In the United States, for instance, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which became law over 15 years ago, ensures the return of cultural items to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organisations. According to the Act, cultural items can include human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

But even under NAGPRA, the repatriation of “collected” cultural materials continues to be a contested, murky area.

The paths that indigenous objects travelled as they entered into the collections of Britain, Europe and North America are varied. Some of the material in collections were simply stolen, others traded, some were offered for sale, and some were taken in the aftermath of violence, even massacres.

The direct descendants of the Cooman people from whom the Gweagal Shield was stolen have said, they do not recognise the British Museum as having title or rights of ownership.

Object of study

Australian Aboriginal cultural materials, and indeed Aboriginal people, have traditionally been the objects of study in museums. Most of the great museum collections of Aboriginal artefacts were amassed over a 40-year period from the end of the 19th to the second decade of the 20th century.

The ceremonial stone – tjuringa – that had been in a Seattle museum’s collections since 1971 is repatriated to Australia in 2009. Lannon Harley/AAP Image/National Museum of Australia

During this time, Aboriginal artefacts were collected as curiosities and as sources of information about an exotic other. As a result, museums — particularly museums with ethnographic and anthropological collections — have become the focus of discontent and action by a range of indigenous communities and individuals.

In response, many Australian museums have employed Indigenous people as expert-advisors or in curatorial positions. Unsurprisingly, this has not always improved relations as the problems are structural rather than personal.

The source of tension has been – and remains – the manner in which museums are perceived as experts and authorities on indigenous cultures. The collection of cultural materials from all over the world are the spoils of conquests in which indigenous peoples were dehumanised and oppressed; the museum was part of a rationalised, operationalised dispossession.

The British, on arrival in what was to become Australia, understood the world they entered as a place that was completely alien. Everything they encountered, they saw as a new discovery. They were fascinated by Aboriginal people and collected their material culture; often as exemplars of “primitivism” – and even as examples of ancestral humans.

Resistance and the future

Some of the arguments against – and resistance to – the return of objects reflect the anxieties museum staff expressed during the debate around the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, after the Greek government formally requested their return from the British Museum in 1983.

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of Classical Greek sculptures that were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens. In 1801, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin removed them from the Parthenon and sent them to Britain. They have been contested ever since.

Museums as repositories of objects and collections feared that their repatriation would open the floodgates – and their very existence would be threatened.

Still, thanks to technology, change may be in the air.

The recent emergence of online exhibitions and virtual collections has meant that museums have become more accessible. And the ways that the public and communities interact with their collections is significantly different. Museum collections are no longer only accessible to those who can physically visit them.

Many museums are attempting to decolonise. By changing their processes, they are supporting the aspirations of Indigenous people and communities, and hiring Indigenous staff to develop policies and actively repair the damage of the past; as well as working with contemporary artists and artisans.

Another exciting possibility is the emergence of new virtual reality technology and 3D printing. Using the latest innovative technologies, we predict museums will have the opportunity to either offer virtual repatriations, or to hold on to the virtual object and repatriate the original.

These are exciting possibilities, but they will not satisfy everyone.

Repatriation of objects differs from returning human remains. Bringing home ancestors and family can be imagined as a human right; the right to decide the fate of our relatives. But the question of repatriating objects is clearly more complex. It needs more debate, and more creative interventions to move beyond the current impasse.The Conversation

Myles Russell Cook, Lecturer, Design Anthropology and Indigenous Studies, University of Melbourne and Lynette Russell, Professor, Indigenous Studies and History, Monash University

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

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Enter the My Place, My Story writing competition

my-place-my-story-poster-01
The City of Monash is conducting the My Place, My Story Writing Competition in association with Monash University, run in co-operation with Monash Council Libraries as part of the  Literary Habitats joint research project between Monash and Warwick University. 

Aspiring and emerging writers are encouraged to write and submit a short creative piece that explores the idea of place: where you’re from, where you feel at home, and where you live. Writers must reside, work or study in the City of Monash, or be a member of the Monash Public Library Service. 

Entries must be submitted by January 14th. The competition is open to all age groups, with two different categories. Writers aged 10-17 years of age are encouraged to submit a piece that is no more than 1,000 words long. Adult writers may submit a piece that is no longer than 2,000 words in length.

Winners and notable entries will be announced at the Awards Ceremony to be held during the Clayton Festival on Sunday 12th of February, 2017.

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A Laconic Colloquium at NCAS

In late November 2016, scholars from Australia and around the world gathered at Monash University’s Caulfield campus to celebrate the career of Emeritus Professor Ken Inglis, a renowned Australian scholar. 

Presenters shared their personal and professional reflections on Professor Inglis’ work and spoke of his enormous contribution to the field of Australian history.  

The National Centre for Australian Studies gratefully acknowledges the support of the Dean of Arts, Professor Rae Frances, and for the efforts of Seumas Spark in organising the event.

 

Global Bioethics: A conversation with Professor Michael Selgelid

Professor Michael Selgelid is the Director of the Monash Bioethics Centre (formerly named Centre for Human Bioethics), and he also regularly provides expert advice to a number of international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last year, Professor Selgelid was commissioned to write a White Paper for the US Government on the ethics of ‘gain-of-function research’, and in 2016 he contributed to discussions relating to the response to the Zika virus in Latin America with the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

We spoke to him about his work and how bioethics and ethical considerations play into large-scale health crises.

What is bioethics and where does your work fit into the bioethics discipline?
Professor Michael Selgelid
Professor Michael Selgelid

Ethics in general is concerned with questions about what ought to be done, or what should be done. Bioethics in particular is concerned with ethical questions that arise in the life sciences, medicine and healthcare.

My own research largely focuses on public health ethics, especially ethical issues associated with infectious diseases.

This has included things like pandemic planning and/or ethical issues that arise in the context of particular kinds of diseases. I’m usually most interested in policy-oriented questions about such matters.

You recently worked on a response to the Zika virus. What did that work involve and who did you work with?

I participated in a consultation about ethical issues associated with the Zika crisis which has mainly affected South American countries. The consultation, held in Washington DC, was organized by The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which is the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Americas.

Since that time, I have also been appointed to WHO’s Emergency Committee regarding Zika, which, among other things, considered questions about whether the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil should have been postponed, canceled, or moved to another location (due to concerns about the international spread of the virus).

Mobilização Nacional da Educação Zika Zero by Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário. Image license: CC BY-SA 2.0
Image: Mobilização Nacional da Educação Zika Zero (National mobilisation of ‘Zika-Zero’ program) by Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário (Ministry of Social Development). Image license: CC BY-SA 2.0

One thing that’s become clear from numerous consultations that I’ve been doing with the World Health Organization over the years is that different diseases or different epidemics raise different ethical issues. Sometimes there’s overlap but sometimes very different issues arise. Ebola brought up questions that were quite specific to the Ebola crisis and, likewise, Zika has brought up issues that are quite specific to the Zika crisis.

A lot of the discussion and recommendations regarding Zika pertained to the rights and freedoms of women. One of the main things that needs to happen with regard to Zika is that women need to be empowered to make their own informed decisions about their pregnancies. At the PAHO meeting there was quite a strong consensus about this.

What were the ethical issues to arise from the Ebola crisis then? How were they different?

With Ebola, one of the big questions concerned the use of unregistered medications that had never previously been used or tested in humans, and the study of the use of such medications in the context of an outbreak emergency.

Normally you would never use interventions that haven’t previously been used or tested in humans on patients, but such interventions were used on Ebola patients, and then that led to the WHO convening an ethics panel that got a lot of international attention.

The panel was asked: “is it ethically permissible to treat patients with interventions that have never been previously used or tested in humans in an outbreak emergency such as Ebola? And if so, then under what conditions would this be ethically permissible?”

The panel unanimously agreed that, yes, this would be ethically permissible assuming certain conditions are met – such as informed consent, favourable risk-benefit analysis, etcetera. We furthermore concluded that, when such interventions are used, it is important that this be scientifically studied so we can learn more about whether or not they’re safe and effective.

Image: Ebola Check Point by Medici con l'Africa Cuamm. License: CC BY-SA 2.0
Image: Ebola Check Point by Medici con l’Africa Cuamm (Doctors with Africa). License: CC BY-SA 2.0

That led to all kinds of additional ethical questions regarding the design of scientific studies of the use of drugs or vaccines in the emergency scenario concerning Ebola in particular. Would placebo-controlled studies, for example, be ethically acceptable? 

These questions were quite different from previous questions that had been the focus of other ethical debates about infectious diseases, like influenza. Some of the other ethical issues associated with Ebola, like with questions about quarantine, or dangers for health workers in treating patients, involved more overlap.

This is something we’ve learned about infectious disease ethics. In much of WHO’s past work on infectious disease ethics, there was a disease-by-disease focus and we made guidelines or guidance documents on ethics in each case (like ethics in influenza, or ethics in tuberculosis).

The Ebola crises then highlighted that we need some guidelines about ethics in outbreaks and epidemics more generally, and we have since been working on that. In fact, we hosted a meeting that contributed to development of a (recently published) WHO guidance document on ethics in outbreaks and epidemics at the Monash Prato Centre in November 2015.

In 2015, you were asked to produce a White Paper for the US government. What did that involve?

I was commissioned by the US Government to write a White Paper providing ethical analysis of gain-of-function research. Gain-of-function research involves the creation of pathogens (disease-causing agents) that are more contagious or deadly than naturally occurring strains.

Sometimes there might be important public health reasons for conducting this kind of research, but creating especially dangerous pathogens also raises concerns about biosafety: the dangerous pathogen created might escape from a lab or there might be a lab accident that leads to someone being infected, and events like these might lead to public health crises.

Another worry is that published gain-of-function research studies might provide aspiring bioterrorists with recipes for making dangerous biological weapons.

In October 2014 the US Government called for a “pause” (i.e. a temporary moratorium) on the conduct and funding of gain-of-function research involving influenza virus, SARS virus and MERS virus. They asked any research institutions that had already received US Government funding for this kind of research to put a stop to it for the time-being; and they likewise asked that those who were doing, or might plan to do, this kind of research with their own private funding to voluntarily put it on hold.

During this “pause”, they initiated a “deliberative process”, and as part of this deliberative process, they commissioned quite a substantial risk-benefit analysis of gain-of-function research, especially involving those particular pathogens. The National Institute of Health (NIH) also commissioned me to write an ethical analysis White Paper as part of the deliberative process to inform the NSABB (National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity), which was responsible for drafting relevant policy recommendations to be sent to the White House.

They asked me to do three things in particular. One: To provide a review of the literature on ethical issues associated with gain-of-function research. Second: To identify relevant ethical and decision-making frameworks that might be brought to bear on policy and decision-making about gain-of-function research. Third: to develop a policy and decision-making framework for NSABB to consider when making policy recommendations.

I produced the White Paper and reported on findings at relevant NSABB meetings in September 2015 and January 2016. I also participated in a public symposium on this topic convened by US National Academies of Sciences in Washington DC in March 2016.

The NSABB has since completed its final report and sent it to the White House. The White House will presumably be making policy informed by that report shortly. One of their main concerns is to develop policy regarding the funding of this kind of research: whether or not to fund it or the conditions under which to fund it. The White Paper they asked me to produce was largely meant to inform ethical issues regarding funding policy in particular.

Can you tell us about future projects and what you might be working on in the coming years? 

Gain-of-function research is a subset of ‘dual-use research’ (i.e. research that can be used for both good and bad purposes), which has long been, and will likely continue to be, of interest to me.

There have been a series of highly controversial cases of dual-use research. Years ago at ANU we produced a report on ethical and philosophical issues associated with dual-use life science research for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I was also involved in a related project on dual-use life science research with the World Health Organization, for which I drafted the ethics section of their relevant guidance document on Responsible Life Science Research. Dual-use research poses problems that are getting more and more important – and getting more and more attention. These issues are very difficult, and they’re not going to go away.

I also plan to pursue more research on ethical issues associated with vector-borne diseases (e.g. malaria, Zika, dengue – which are spread by mosquitoes); and antimicrobial drug resistance – which is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest threats to global public health during the coming decades.

Find out more:

 

Parliament finishes for 2016, capping off a messy, turbulent year

Nick Economou, Monash University; Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide, and Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

Federal parliament has finished for 2016, capped off by a rush of deal-making on key government policies. Three of our experts look back on a messy, busy year of running the country.


Nick Economou, Monash University

This was the year in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull nearly lost government. The national election was the biggest event of the year, which in turn provided highs and lows for all political parties. Labor did very well, at least in the lower house contest, but questions remain about Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s ability to transcend his reputation as a factional bovver boy.

The Coalition, on the other hand, had a disastrous election. It nearly lost its lower house majority. It was also partly culpable for the increase in right-wing and populist senators, notwithstanding a ham-fisted attempt to block the “micro parties” with Senate voting reform. Whatever qualities Turnbull might possess, competence in electoral politics is not one of them.

Throughout the year, the Turnbull government seemed to be beset with minor crises, many of which were self-inflicted. Musing on raising the GST and doing away with Sunday penalty rates resulted in serious swings against the government in the economically stressed swinging seats. Its internal wrangling on racial vilification laws and marriage equality made the government appear obsessed with boutique inner-city issues that are more usually Labor concerns.

Serious tensions developed between the Liberal and National parties. This was reflected by the propensity for National Party whip George Christensen to command almost as much media attention as any Turnbull government minister.

Honourable mention should be made of Attorney-General George Brandis, who did his level best all year to gain more media attention than even Christensen, especially in relation to his dealings with the solicitor-general. And, of course, Tony Abbott continued to haunt the government from the backbench.

It was all too easy for Labor, yet Shorten’s approval rating amongst the voters remained relatively low.

Thanks to the election, the Senate was the chamber in which the minor parties exerted a lot of influence over the policy debate. But even here the sailing was not totally smooth. Family First’s Bob Day is going, and the prospect of another One Nation implosion appeared to increase with every passing day.

Still, as the year ended it appeared that the government had found a way to navigate its agenda through the upper house. This may point to a better year ahead for the government.

Given the state of the opinion polls, Turnbull will sincerely hope this will be the case.

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

This year has not gone as planned for Malcolm Turnbull. An ebullient prime minister was meant to sweep back into office, seizing our “exciting” times with his talk of innovation and agility. A convincing election victory was meant to confirm his legitimacy as leader, confounding both Labor and the Coalition’s social conservatives.

Instead, Labor came closer to winning the election than most expected, seriously damaging Turnbull’s credibility. The social conservatives within the party have had a resurgence.

Senator Cory Bernardi’s sojourn at the United Nations in New York might have been intended to get him out of the way for a while at an institution he despised. However, it merely enabled him to observe the Trump forces in action. Tony Abbott has been citing the significance of Donald Trump’s victory for the centre-right, while threatening to play a divisive role if not returned to cabinet.

Turnbull risks losing his own identity as he increasingly bows to the social conservatives in the Coalition. Most recently, he failed to tackle Peter Dutton over the immigration minister’s remarks regarding Lebanese Muslims.

The prime minister who said that Pauline Hanson was not welcome in parliament is forced to deal with a fractious Senate crossbench in which One Nation has essential numbers. The Coalition, and particularly the Nationals, deeply fear Hanson’s resurgence.

Nick Xenophon’s surprise victory on government procurement policy in the ABCC bill negotiations suggests the government is increasingly aware of the challenges its free-market policies face from those with reservations about globalisation and who wish to support Australian industry.

Meanwhile, Shorten seems to be settling into the role of opposition leader while still trailing Turnbull as preferred prime minister. Brexit and Trump’s victory have largely reaffirmed Labor’s election strategy of focusing on tackling issues such as class and inequality. Labor is currently doing well in the polls.

But Labor has risked damaging its relationship with some sections of business. Labor will also be hoping that its focus on addressing economic disadvantage helps defuse chances of it being wedged on culture war issues, given its continuing support for socially inclusive policies on issues of gender, race and sexuality.

Overall, this was the government’s year to win or lose, and it has won by the narrowest of margins. In the process it has kicked some extraordinary own goals, as the latest forays by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and George Brandis graphically illustrate. Turnbull will be desperately hoping that the government’s success in finally getting the ABCC bill through the Senate promises a better year to come.

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

This has not been a great year for the Turnbull government. The overly long election campaign was draining, and the narrowness of the victory made it seem more like a defeat.

With the ending of the parliamentary year, the government can now enjoy what must seem like a Pyrrhic victory, with the passing of the double-dissolution trigger, the ABCC legislation.

Ministerial gaffes and ineptitude from George Brandis and Peter Dutton, along with the failure of Treasurer Scott Morrison to cut through have not helped the Coalition this year. But the heart of the government’s problems rest with the fact that the Liberal Party is split between two very different agendas.

There is a core conservative group within the Liberals, including Tony Abbott, who believe that his government could have been returned to power in 2016. The narrowness of the Turnbull victory in July is being used to corner the PM on issues such as same-sex marriage, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools program.

This has led to a situation in which voter satisfaction with the government is declining. The electorate is disillusioned that Turnbull is not delivering the leadership and policy change they had expected. The lack of unity within the Liberal Party is evident throughout the mainstream media.

The decline in support for the government strengthens the anti-Turnbull faction, which limits Turnbull’s power to enact change – so voter support falls. He needs to break this cycle.

In September 2015 I suggested that the Rudd-Gillard saga had taught us that former prime ministers needed to be removed from parliament as quickly as possible. I argued that the Turnbull government needed Abbott and his supporters to “accept their loss and work for the good of the party”.

Fifteen months later, Abbott commented that “it is good we’re no longer talking about innovation and agility because that frankly loses people”. This so openly undermines Turnbull’s agenda that it is almost inconceivable that he could rejoin cabinet without further destabilising the government.

The conservative faction within the Liberal Party needs to face the fact that they are part of the coalition’s problem, not its solution.

The Liberal Party can’t continue to run on two agendas. If 2017 is going to be a better year, and if the Turnbull prime ministership is to meet the expectations of the electorate, he needs to take control of his party and whip the malcontents into shape.

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten followed up his “almost victory” tour of Australia with a plan to wedge Turnbull wherever possible. Labor has bounced back far more quickly than expected following the Rudd-Gillard saga and used the long election campaign to present a credible alternative government.

Turnbull can’t afford to fight on two fronts. He has two years to deal with Labor, but his timeline for his internal troubles will be much shorter.

The ConversationNick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University; Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide, and Natalie Mast, Associate Director, Performance Analytics, University of Western Australia

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

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Sleep, more complicated than you’d think

Photo by Nomao Saeki
Photo by Nomao Saeki, obtained under Creative Commons Zero license

We spend one third of our lives asleep, but few of us clearly remember what we dream about, or even if we dream at all. It’s always been believed that you’re conscious when you’re awake, and this consciousness fades away as you drift into deep sleep. But what if you could retain consciousness in your sleep, remember your dreams and even decide what happens in them?

New research is challenging our long-held assumptions about dreamless sleep and consciousness. Monash University’s Dr Jennifer Windt has co-authored a paper ‘Does Consciousness Disappear in Dreamless Sleep?‘ (published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences) together with Evan Thompson of the University of British Columbia, and Tore Nielsen of Université de Montréal.

In the paper the researchers argue that consciousness exists on a spectrum between wakefulness and sleep, and that our current view of dreamless sleep as uniformly unconscious is an oversimplified one – not least because there’s no concrete definition of dreaming and dreamlessness. 

“Until recently, there was no agreement on how best to use the concept of dreaming itself,” said Dr Windt, a lecturer at Monash’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, and author of Dreaming (2015).

Dr Windt explained that the idea for criticising the current assumptions around dreamless sleep came from a book chapter in co-author Evan Thompson’s book Waking, Dreaming, Being, and the exchange between Thompson and Dr Windt in Open Mind. From this initial idea the researchers broadened their argument to include memory consolidation and sleep behaviour. 

Criticising the assumption that dreamless sleep is uniformly unconscious, and that conscious experience in sleep is exhausted by dreaming, Dr Windt and her colleagues argue that a more precise taxonomy for describing dreamful and dreamless sleep has consequences for investigating the sleep-stage and neural correlates (the minimal set of neuronal events needed for consciousness) of conscious experience.

Dr Windt and her fellow authors suggest that what happens when we sleep is more complicated than we’d imagined, and Dr Windt said she hopes the paper can help to inform other specific areas of sleep research. 

“Sleep disorders, including sleep behaviour and sleep state misperception, for example in insomnia, is another area where an improved understanding of the relationship between sleep conscious experience might lead to improved diagnostic criteria and therapeutic measures (such as mindfulness and insomnia),” said Dr Windt.

And the research could even impact the legal system and those who commit violent crimes whilst asleep, because how someone experiences dreamless sleep could affect their culpability for violent behaviour in NREM sleep. Some researchers argue that the only way someone could be excused for such violent behaviours was to demonstrate a total lack of consciousness and a complete lack of recall.

“We think, however, that this requirement might be too strong. It is not at all clear that NREM sleep behaviour can simply be described as unconscious automatisms—essentially as zombie-like behaviour,” said Dr Windt.

“The relation of these behaviours to different forms of conscious experience is just not well enough understood at this point. But it suggests that even if violent behaviours arising from NREM sleep are associated with some form of conscious experience and recall, this might not be enough for holding the person responsible.” 

The issue of responsibility for NREM sleep behaviour might still be an open question but Dr Windt is of the opinion that it will be an area where an improved understanding of the relationship between sleep behaviour and conscious experience could have implications beyond philosophy and science. 
As well as entering the mainstream, dreaming is now being discussed in the context of the debate on the neural correlates of consciousness.

Dr Windt said her research, with co-authors Evan Thompson and Tore Nielsen, can help to inform this debate,  “because it suggests that simple or perhaps even minimal forms of phenomenal experience can exist in dreamless sleep, whereas dreaming seems to involve a more complex, immersive kind of experience. Our proposal for a refined taxonomy can therefore help identify new and hopefully more precise targets for investigating the neural correlate of conscious states.” 

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Change of Preference Expo

 

Monash students star at the Ossie Awards

 

Scorsese’s Silence and the Catholic connection to the atomic bomb

Gwyn McClelland, Monash University

Today, Martin Scorsese’s Silence will have its premiere at the Vatican, where it will be screened to hundreds of Roman Catholic priests. The famed director’s first foray into East Asia links to familiar themes of Catholic guilt and redemption, as he portrays the brutal 17th century persecution of Jesuit missionaries and their converts in Japan.

Scorsese’s film, which will open here in January, is an adaptation of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence. It tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan at a time when Christianity was banned to find their mentor (Liam Neeson) and support the local converts. The pair are imprisoned and tortured.

A pieta ‘fumi-e’ image, from Nagasaki 1923. National Library Australia all rights reserved, Author provided

The characters of the priests Cristóvão Ferreira and Sebastian Rodrigues were based on Portuguese and Italian Jesuits found in the historical record. Endo’s novel (沈黙)describes the hostile environment that leads to the missionary priests’ relinquishment of faith. They were forced to place their feet on fumi-e (踏み絵) – religious images – to demonstrate that they had given up all faith. Rodrigues (played by Garfield in the film), believes he hears Jesus’ voice telling him to apostatise by stepping on the fumi-e.

The remaining Christians went underground. The persecution continued until the ban against Christians was removed in 1873. But the indigenous Japanese who returned to Catholicism in the 1870s after 250 years of “hidden Christianity” remembered their long period of “betrayal”.

A painting of the ruin of Urakami Cathedral drawn by Nagai Takashi. author provided by permission of Nagai Tokusaburo, director of the Nagai Takashi Memorial Museum

Most descendants of the native Christians lived in Nagasaki during World War II. On the 9th August, 1945, when the United States dropped the A-bomb on Urakami, a northern suburb of Nagasaki, 8500 of the 12000-strong Catholic Christian community were amongst the dead. The bomb was meant to target Nagasaki city, but because the Americans were low on fuel and clouds opened above the northern suburbs, the eventual Ground Zero happened in Urakami. Its cathedral – the biggest Catholic church in Asia at the time – was only 500 metres from Ground Zero.

Nagasaki Catholics remember the A-bomb in particular ways, as I show in my research on memory in Nagasaki. My work has involved interviewing nine Catholic survivors of the atomic bombing, as well as three other non-Catholic survivors, and members of the Urakami community.

The Catholic interviewees explained that their grandparents had been exiled to other regions of Japan in the 1860s and 1870s due to their return to Catholicism after 250 years of “hidden Christianity”.

One interviewee, Matsuo Sachiko, explained that her grandmother was a double survivor, having first survived the Christian exile (referred to as the 4th exile) imposed by the government in 1867-73 and then later, the 1945 atomic bombing. She says:

Yes… my grandmother was one of the Urakami Fourth Exile survivors and at that time there were still some of those survivors who were alive… these people still believed, everyone was able to stick at it and get through… Within their testimony, they didn’t talk about their pain.

Matsuo Sachiko pictured in 2014, author provided

Orphaned Ozaki Tōmei adopted a new name after the bombing, as a novice at a Polish monastery in Nagasaki. Normally Japanese monks would adopt the name of a Western saint, but he selected a Japanese saint, Ozaki Tōmei, who is a child martyr of 1597 from Nagasaki.

Ozaki remembered his mother telling him that the 26 martyrs of 1597 were marched directly past his childhood home in the middle of winter on the way to their execution. The child martyr Ozaki had been separated from his mother and was marched to Nagasaki from Kyoto. Along the way, he was able to write a letter to his mother, in which he reflected on the “transience of the world”.

My informant Ozaki linked his own experience to this boy of 1597, writing:

The experience of the atomic bombing was exactly like that. Everything in the world is breakable and vanishes. As far as the atom bomb went, there was nothing to be known of reality which was not destroyed. Koware-iku sonzai ni tayotte wa naranai. We cannot depend on a life so fragile. Nonetheless, after that, staring at reality, what I saw was the indestructible God’s existence. The Lord God who holds all created things, the source of love and life is the God I know. This is also the source of faith.

Brother Ozaki Tomei, author provided

Despite the destruction around him and the tragic loss of his mother, Ozaki, orphaned monk and survivor of the atomic bombing, held on to the faith of his ancestors.

His resilience might be considered one fruit of the missionaries whose ambivalent lives are depicted by Scorsese in Silence. Ozaki turned 88 this year and continues to write prolifically on his blog.

Silence was originally controversial amongst Christians in Japan for the perceived faithlessness of its priest protagonists. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s film version – which has taken 27 years to make – is eagerly awaited in Nagasaki, where the descendants of the hidden Christians still continue to be a practising community of faith.

Adam Driver in Silence. Cappa Defina Productions

The 26 Martyrs’ Museum, just down the road from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, frequently posts updates on the progress and making of the movie on its blog.

Meanwhile, another interviewee, Matsuzono (a pseudonym) told me:

Soon Martin Scorsese will release the movie, so the things we locals talk about will spread around the world…

Gwyn McClelland, Oral historian and associate, Japanese history, Monash University

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

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Winner announced for the Pizzicato Effect Prize for Composition

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Professor Bain Attwood gives Returning Harvard Lecture

Monash academic and leading scholar in the field of cross-cultural history Professor Bain Attwood presented the 2016 Returning Harvard Chair of Australian Studies Lecture.

Why did the British government deny Indigenous sovereignty and rights of land in its Australian colonies in the 18th century only to recognise them in New Zealand in 19th century? The question in recent decades has been dominated by legal and intellectual issues. What of the actual encounter between the Indigenous peoples and Europeans in the colonies? And the response of the imperial government?

Difficult Pasts: Denial in Australia from Monash Arts on Vimeo.

Professor Bain Attwood from the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies presented the 2016 Returning Harvard Chair of Australian Studies Lecture on November 15. The lecture was hosted by the Dean of Arts at Monash University, Professor Raelene Frances and supported by Monash University, the Harvard University Committee on Australian Studies, and the Harvard Club of Victoria.

Professor Attwood held the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professorship in Australian Studies at Harvard University (2014-15), joining two other Monash University historians appointed to the chair, Graeme Davison (1988-89), and John Rickard (1997-98).

The visiting professorship was established at Harvard in 1976, as a result of a gift from the Australian government to mark the bicentennial of the United States.  

Professor Attwood’s current research deals with the ways Aboriginal sovereignty and rights to land were treated, remembered and forgotten in Australia by settlers and Aboriginal people. He has published extensively in the history of settler colonialism. His book Possession won the 2010 Ernest Scott Prize for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation.

In addition, Professor Atwood has held fellowships at the Australian National University (2001-03) and Cambridge University (2007-08), as well as the Visiting Professorship in Australian Studies at Harvard University (2014-15).

Professor Bain Attwood delivering his lecture
Professor Bain Attwood during his lecture “Difficult pasts: denial in Australia”

In his lecture, Difficult pasts: denial in Australia, Professor Attwood discussed Australia’s denial of its troubled history in regard to Indigenous peoples and sought to explain why this denial took the form it did.

“Settlers acknowledged the Aboriginal peoples of the land, only to argue that they were not actually in possession of it,” Professor Atwood said in his lecture.

“Aboriginal people were figured as a primitive people and as the doomed relics of an earlier age of man, rather than as a people who belonged to the modernity that Europeans claimed for themselves.” 

All nations have pasts that they find difficult to acknowledge and assimilate but this problem is particularly marked in settler societies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand since their very foundations lie in the dispossession, destruction and displacement of Aboriginal peoples.

At the same time there has been no point at which these societies have experienced the kind of event that has forced other nations to repudiate the oppressive discourses and structures that lie at their heart.

In his conclusion, Professor Attwood states, “the vital work of remembering this difficult history and undertaking the work of mourning that this remembrance entails, remains to be done.

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Journalism’s Dr Johan Lidberg nominated for MPA Supervisor of the Year

School of Media, Film and Journalism academic Dr. Johan Lidberg has been nominated for the Monash Postgraduate Association 2016 Supervisor of the Year Award. Dr. Lidberg is one of 27 nominees from across Monash University.

lidberg“I feel quite honoured as this is a direct nomination from my PhD candidates,” Dr. Lidberg said.

“Every PhD project is like a three and a half year journey full of ups and downs and a lot of learning for all parties, that’s why it’s so enjoyable.”

The award ceremony will take place on December 9, 2016 at Monash’s Clayton campus.

According to the Monash Postgraduate Association website, the Supervisor of the Year award was created to acknowledge and celebrate excellence in research supervision practice. It has been awarded since 1992.

“The MPA award is truly a decision of the postgraduate community. Supervisors are nominated by their postgraduate students and entries are judged by an independent subcommittee of research postgraduates drawn from the MPA Executive Committee,” the  Monash Postgraduate Association wrote on its website.

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