The Memory Code: how oral cultures memorise so much information

Duane W. Hamacher
, Monash University

Ancient Celtic bards were famous for the sheer quantity of information they could memorise. This included thousands of songs, stories, chants and poems that could take hours to recite in full.

Today we are pretty spoiled. Practically the whole of human knowledge is conveniently available at our fingertips. Why worry about memorising something when we can simply Google it?

The answer seems pretty evident when we go into a panic after losing our smartphones!

Long before the ancient Celts, Aboriginal Australians were recording vast scores of knowledge to memory and passing it to successive generations.

Aboriginal people demonstrate that their oral traditions are not only highly detailed and complex, but they can survive – accurately – for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years.

Yet I struggle to remember what I did last Tuesday. So how did they do it?

Researcher Lynne Kelly was drawn to this question while investigating Aboriginal knowledge about animals for her PhD.

It was evident to Kelly that Aboriginal people catalogued huge scores of information about animals – including species types, physical features, behaviour, links to food and plants – and wondered how they do it.

A memorable thing

Aboriginal elders explained to her how they encode knowledge in song, dance, story and place. This led to a theory that may revolutionise archaeology.

It has long been known that the human brain has evolved to associate memory with place, referred to as the method of loci. This means that we associate memory with a location. How often do memories come flooding back to us when we visit our childhood haunt?

Loci (Latin for “place”), can refer to landscape features, ceremonial sites, abstract designs – anything with distinct features where information can be linked to memory.

Stonehenge evolved from a simpler structure to the complex megalith we see today over the course of thousands of years. Was it an evolving memory space? Duane Hamacher, Author provided

Kelly developed this into a framework that may explain the purpose of famous sites such as Stonehenge, the Nasca lines and the Moai of Easter Island.

The meanings of these sites have been a topic of controversy for decades. What Kelly proposes in her new book The Memory Code is that sites such as Stonehenge and the Nasca lines are actually memory spaces.

Knowledge is power

In oral cultures, knowledge is power. It is imperative that the most important knowledge be maintained and preserved by a few select custodians who have proven their worth.

In Indigenous cultures, elders who have passed the highest levels of initiation hold the deepest levels of knowledge.

This is reflected in ceremonial sites where knowledge is passed down. Aboriginal initiation sites include a secret area where the most sacred knowledge is discussed.

We also see this at Stonehenge, where the perimeter of standing stones shields the centre of the ring, where the most important aspects knowledge are passed on through ceremony.

These sites include features that are unique in shape and form. At Uluru, the Anangu elders associate every crevice, bump, and notch around the perimeter of the mountain with knowledge that is stored to memory.

Uluru close up reveals a very textured environment. Shutterstock/Peter Zurek

Star maps and memory

But loci is not only linked to places you can touch or visit. Indigenous people also use the stars as memory spaces.

For example, groups of stars can represent features on the landscape. Aboriginal Law Man Ghillar Michael Anderson explains how the Euahlayi people were able to travel long distances for trade and ceremony.

The Euahlayi would memorise star maps at night and learn the songs that talk about their relationship to the land. Each star was associated with a landscape feature, such as a waterhole.

Later in the year, they would sing the song as they travelled across country by day. These songline routes became the foundation of some of our highway networks that criss-cross the country.

Rather than navigating by the stars, the stars themselves serve as a memory space.

Landscape features and songlines represented by stars in the Milky Way also correspond to modern highways. Robert Fuller and Google Maps, Author provided

In The Memory Code, Kelly provides new insights into how oral societies are able to store vast quantities of knowledge to memory without it degrading over time.

It may explain how Aboriginal memories of land that existed before it was flooded by rising sea levels during the last Ice Age survived in oral tradition for more than 7,000 years.

To test it herself, Kelly used the technique to memorise all of the world’s countries in order of population by linking them with features around her neighbourhood, including buildings and gardens – making up her own stories for each one. And she can now recite them flawlessly.

You might be surprised how easy it is to do yourself.

The Conversation

Duane W. Hamacher, Senior ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, Monash University

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

Find out more:


Monash students from SDSN Youth on creating social change


SDSN Youth is one of the leading global networks in sustainable development. Launched in 2015 by Siamak Sam Loni and fellow students from Monash University, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainability Institute, SDSN Youth works to empower young people around the world to create sustainable development solutions.

This week, Monash University students Michelle Huang, Melissa Peppin and John Farrugia, along with recent Monash University graduate and Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth, Siamak Sam Loni, attended the United Nations General Assembly and the International Conference on Sustainable Development in New York with SDSN Youth. 

SDSN Youth at UNHQ

John Farrugia is studying towards a Master of International Relations. Michelle Huang and Melissa Peppin are studying towards a Master of International Development. Both are Project Leaders of the SDSN Youth Communications team. 

From New York, John explained how he got involved as a Project Leader for Networks with SDSN Youth. As with many opportunities, his came in the form of an internship. 

“I commenced a two-month internship that was advertised by MSI, and was taken on as a project officer. Since then, I have become a project leader, working remotely with a culturally and geographically diverse team,” he says. 

With team members who live as far away as Argentina, Nigeria and France, John says his education at Monash University has helped him understand the importance of thinking globally. 

“The ethos and vision of Monash University has strongly assisted me in my role at SDSN Youth, as it recognises the importance of global connections and diversity,” he says. 

“Both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies have enabled me to understand and appreciate the political, economic and social implications of international forums and networks,” – John Farrugia, Master of International Relations student and Project Leader for Networks with SDSN Youth.  

For John, the highlight of his week in New York was attending the United Nations General Assembly for the Solutions Summit. The high-level event welcomed 10 newly-formed startups dedicated to creating innovative solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. John says this kind of advanced, big-picture thinking was inspiring. 

From this event and the entire week, something that has resonated with me is the use of technology and creative methods of mobilising people around the world, especially in the global south, to achieve social change. It was also inspiring to see how interdisciplinary groups are working to achieve the SDGs,” he says. 

He might be wrapping up his time in New York, but this won’t be the last we’ll hear from John or SDSN Youth. He’s heading to Italy next month to help organise the Vatican Youth Symposium. 

“For the next month, in my capacity with SDSN Youth, I will be dedicating my time to organising the Vatican Youth Symposium in Vatican City, the National Youth Summit in Melbourne and working on a new sustainable cities initiative known as Local Pathways.” 

Follow SDSN Youth on Facebook and Twitter.  


Find out more:


Monash students from SDSN Youth at United Nations General Assembly


SDSN Youth is one of the leading global networks in sustainable development. Launched in 2015 by Siamak Sam Loni and fellow students from Monash University, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainability InstituteSDSN Youth works to empower young people around the world to create sustainable development solutions.

Since 2015, SDSN Youth has expanded to include branches in Turkey, Germany, Brazil, and North America.

This week, Monash University students Michelle Huang, Melissa Peppin and John Farrugia, along with recent Monash University graduate and Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth, Siamak Sam Loni, are attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York with SDSN Youth. 

John Farrugia is studying towards a Master of International Relations. Michelle Huang and Melissa Peppin are studying towards a Master of International Development

What is SDSN Youth?

SDSN Youth is the global youth chapter of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. SDSN Youth helps the SDSN achieve its aims by educating young people about sustainable development.

“The Sustainable Development Goals are ideal for engaging young people… they don’t just look at some band-aid solution. They look at our entire world from our economics, our politics, our governance – it looks at a whole range of issues. That’s what attracted me to the process,” – Siamak Sam Loni, Global Coordinator for SDSN Youth. 

SDSN Youth at the International Conference of Sustainable Development 


What do you imagine the world to look like in 2030?

It’s been a year since the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, and young people around the world are already striving towards this new sustainable development agenda.

SDSN Youth has partnered with Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development to present ‘Reimagining the World in 2030‘ on the opening night of the  ICSDThis event will feature young leaders and change-makers, showcasing tangible actions we can all take to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. SDSN Youth aims for the event to demonstrate the role of creativity and imagination in transforming our world.

Follow their journey on Facebook and Twitter



Summer Research Internship Program 2016/2017

The Arts Internship Program is pleased to introduce the Summer Research Internship Program 2016/2017. The program will allow current Arts students to undertake an unpaid research internship with a Monash Arts academic as part of ATS3129 Arts Internship unit or APG5044 Professional Internship unit.

The Professional Placements Office will handle the advertising of the projects and screening of the student applications. Shortlisted applications will be forwarded to the academic staff for final selection. There will be no cost to the academic staff or the School.

If you have students interested in a research career or furthering their studies through an honours program, this is a great opportunity to encourage them to undertake the Arts Internship Program. They can be great research assistants.

Research internships aim to provide students with:

  • Experience in an area of research
  • An insight into future opportunities within research
  • Encouragement to pursue a career in research or academia.

Student Profile: Third year undergraduate student with a WAM of 70+ or Post graduate student who has completed 24 credit points of core units with a WAM of 70+. They would be studying a relevant major or course.

Period: Summer break (November 2016 – February 2017)

Duration: Minimum of 144 hours. Maximum of 288 hours

Work days: To be negotiated with student

Work Location: Clayton and Caulfield. School sessional staff rooms and hot desks. Students may do some work remotely. 

Responsibilities of Academic staff:

(a) Meet the student on the first day of the Internship and allocate Internship activities as learning opportunities for the student;

(b) Prior to the student commencing the Internship activities, ensure the student is provided with all reasonably necessary instructions and training

(c) Ensure that the Internship activities undertaken by the student are supervised

(d) Permit the student to use information gathered during the Internship for inclusion in any assessment prescribed by Monash for the Internship and alert the student to any aspect of that information that is confidential, so that the student may take steps to ensure the confidentiality of the information is maintained;

(e) Ensure that the student is treated at all times with respect and dignity, and is not subject to discrimination, harassment or bullying;

(f) Not use or disclose personal information of the student or related to the Internship except where necessary for the purpose of the conduct of the Internship

(g) Notify the Professional Placements Office if the supervisor seeks permission to use any intellectual property produced by the student as part of the Internship activities

(h) Notify the Professional Placements Office not later than the next business day of:

  1. Any significant change to the Internship Activities or their location;
  2. Any issues or concerns related to the conduct of the Internship, the behaviour of the student and any matters of discipline, allowing time for intervention by Monash to seek to address and/or remedy any such issues or concerns;
  3. Any decision by the supervisor to direct the student not to return to the work premises and to terminate the Internship. 
  4. Any safety incident affecting the health or wellbeing of the student and measures put in place to respond to the incident.

(i) Complete a template Internship evaluation form provided by Professional Placements Office within 21 days of completion of the Internship;

Proposed Timeframe

Summer Research Internship Program


Academic staff complete online project submission form

Thursday 15 September – Friday 30 September

Student applications open

Monday 3 October – Sunday 16 October

Shortlist of applicants emailed to academic supervisor

Tuesday 25 October

Academic supervisor email list of successful recipients to Professional Placements Office

Sunday 30 October

Professional Placements Office enrols students in appropriate Internship units


 Online Project Submission form Complete by Friday 30th September 2016.

 Other important information

  • Students will receive an email when applications open
  • Students can only be offered projects if they are able to enrol in an Arts internship unit.
  • In addition to the internship, students would need to complete assessments equivalent to 9000 words as part of the unit. The major report would be related to the work they do in the internship.


Insults, offence and words that wound: why language needs to be handled with care

Howard Manns, Monash University

Who can say what to whom in Australia? In this six-part series, we look at the complex idea of freedom of speech, who gets to exercise it and whether it is being curtailed in public debate.

Our linguistic and legal obsession with “insult” and “offence” is nothing new. In 1832, Sydney resident William McLoughlin was given 50 lashes for using the word “damned” against his master.

But what does McLoughlin’s case tell us about today?

Welsh Rabbit and lashes from pretty fellows

The word insult can be traced to the Latin insultāre “to leap upon” or “assail”. It possibly entered English via a Middle French word insulter, meaning “to insult, crow, vaunt, or triumph over; to wrong, reproach, affront”.

These historical underpinnings persist in insult’s modern sense. British philosopher David Archard points out that an insult conveys an opinion (it has semantic content or “meaning”) but it often serves as a social act to “belittle”.

In other words, insults don’t just “mean”, they also “do” and that “doing” often relates to power. For instance, poor Bill McLoughlin had the nerve to use an obscene word to his master and got 50 whacks for not knowing his place in the pecking order.

Focusing on today’s debate, we’re still novices at flagging, discussing and debating taboo words associated with groups and people. Until recently, and courtesy of the Victorian era, we have been obsessed with sexuality and words denoting bodily parts and fluids.

Linguists Keith Allan and Kate Burridge tell us that from the 19th century, people eating cooked fowl spoke of white meat and dark meat rather than have to utter the “offensive” breast and leg respectively.

Before Victorian concerns arose, our taboos largely revolved around gods and religion. For instance, the Sydney Herald, reporting on poor old McLoughlin, censored his insolence:

… on being desired to make a Welch (sic) rabbit, he exclaimed, ‘You’re a d—-d pretty fellow, ain’t you? I’ll see you genteely d—-d first.’

In modern times, the notion of a chicken leg or chicken breast is less offensive.

But an insult can be difficult to pin down across time and space. A 1975 Fawlty Towers episode included a scene where the aloof Major Gowen uses the words “niggers” and “wogs”. The BBC deleted this scene in 2013 and this was met with collective outrage.

After all, the point of the scene was to present Major Gowen as arrogant, aloof and out-of-touch.

Understanding the freedom of speech camp

Many people see attempts to ban insults and offensive language as a violation of their freedom of speech or action. These concerns are human and understandable.

I noted above that “insults” don’t just “mean” but also “do”, and have a real-world impact. We can say the same about “speech acts” such as “ordering”, “advising” and “warning” (and the accompanying fines). These acts violate general Anglo-Australian desires for freedom of action and from imposition.

Many in this “freedom” camp also decry the aggressiveness of the political correctness “police”, “disciples” and so on.

For instance, many men and women bristled at the Diversity Council of Australia’s suggestion that one shouldn’t say hey guys at work.

And these kinds of kerfuffles are hardly unique.

In 1999, the word niggardly (which is unrelated to nigger) famously led to the firing of a staffer in the Washington, D.C. mayor’s office. The University of California (Santa Cruz) banned students from the saying the phrases chink in one’s armour and a nip in the air for fear of offending Asian students.

Also, if we’re to police words, how far back in a word’s history should we go? For instance, the often used phrase it sucks likely finds its origins in the homophobic jibe he sucks.

The freedom camp also flags the futility of policing language. For example, attempts to police internet language have resulted in sometimes laughable results.

Perhaps most famously, residents of Scunthorpe, England, have encountered issues with internet filters because of a certain four-letter word in the town’s name. Canada’s National History Society had to change its magazine’s name, The Beaver, when it too ran into difficulties with internet filters.

Not just words and hurt feelings

The above cases or oversteps don’t negate the fact that we need to have an open and honest, but respectful, discussion of insult and offence. And we need to listen to people affected by offensive words.

It’s possible for many of us to know about racism, sexism and other -isms. But many of us don’t know in the sense that we have experienced them ourselves.

Words linked to these -isms do more than merely invoke meaning. They call to mind an often emotional narrative, beset with inequities and sometimes violence. This is one of the reasons the release of the book Nigger: The Strange Case of a Troublesome Word led to such furore (even though it was written by an African American law professor).

The emotional and lived experience of a word is also why it can be so heartbreaking to see debates around “insult” and “offence” hijacked or belittled.

For instance, Geoffrey Nunberg points out the word colour-blind (in relation to society) was conspicuously absent from the conservative lexicon during the American civil rights movement. However, in recent decades, conservatives have gladly taken to colour-blind to fight against affirmative action, equal opportunity regulations and university admissions processes.

In a similar vein, much of the press around the Diversity Council of Australia’s #wordsatwork campaign sadly went to hey guys (referred to above) while the wider campaign was quite noble, sound and supported by empirical research.

For instance, the campaign sought to reduce use of words like abo, retard, and so gay. The campaign also sought to highlight sexism in the workplace and, among other things, empirically informed observations that women are often interrupted and spoken over by men.

The successful negotiation of taboos is important for social cohesion. In comparative historical terms, we’re still getting used to taboo language around “people and groups”. We should, as much as possible, be empathetic in our discussions.

The Conversation

Howard Manns, Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University

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


Grants to help promote contemporary Australian jazz in Japan

Paul GrabowskyThe Monash Art Ensemble has been awarded two significant grants by the Australia-Japan Foundation (AJF) and the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program (DFAT).

The AJF Grants Program is designed to strengthen links between Australia and Japan by supporting activities that bring innovative perspectives to how we engage with Japan.

The $15,000 AJF grant was announced on 1 September and will help enable the Monash Art Ensemble to showcase Australian contemporary jazz to Japanese audiences and establish an innovative cross-cultural collaboration between prominent Australian jazz musicians, including from the Monash Art Ensemble  and Japanese artists.

In addition, a $45,000 grant over three years from the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program (DFAT) will allow the project to develop over a longer time frame.

The Monash Art Ensemble is a unique collaboration between students and staff from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and the Australian Art Orchestra.

The ensemble acts to support the development of excellence in young Australian musicians, to foster a culture of innovation amongst established Australian musicians and to encourage community engagement with Australian musicians and music.

The Monash Art Ensemble will showcase Australian contemporary jazz at the Tokyo Jazz Festival and the Iwate Jazz Festival in 2018 and in Australia at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

The collaborative ensemble led by Professor Paul Grabowsky AO as Artistic Director will create original contemporary compositions inspired by traditional Japanese music and Indigenous music, and then perform together.

The ensemble will also conduct music workshops at schools and with locals in Iwate prefecture, Tohoku, Japan who were affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. By doing so, the project will promote the quality of Australian music education to Japanese students and demonstrate Australia’s ongoing  support of the people of the Tohoku region.


LLCL Honours student recognised in prestigious international awards programme

Honours student in Literary Studies, Calvin Fung, has received a High Commendation in The Undergraduate Awards (UA), a global, pan-discipline academic awards programme designed to identify leading creative thinkers through their undergraduate coursework. 

ua-logo-2013Calvin has been invited to attend the UA Global Summit in Dublin this November, where he will rub shoulders with some of the brightest undergraduate students from around the world. His trip to Dublin is partially funded by Monash Arts.

Calvin says of his success: ‘I am delighted to be given this opportunity. I owe a lot of my achievements to the teachers at Monash who have supported and inspired me.’

This isn’t the first award for Calvin this year either – he won the ‘Monash Student’ Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing, presented at the opening night of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. 

Find out more:



We have a moral obligation to allow drug analysis at music festivals

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Connor Rochford, Monash University, and Daniel D’Hotman, Monash University

At the Stereosonic festival last year, Sylvia Choi died after consuming a contaminated ecstasy tablet. Unfortunately Sylvia’s narrative is all too familiar – a bright future extinguished at a music festival that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

This summer, many young people will also choose to consume various illegal substances in pursuit of a good time. Regardless of their personal choice to break the law, most would agree that they should not have to die for it.

We have a moral obligation to minimise the risk of harm to festival-goers or “festies”. Health professionals have the technology to act on this moral imperative – drug testing. What they don’t have is permission from our politicians and law enforcement agencies. The truth is there needn’t be more tragedies like Sylvia’s: her death may have been prevented if evidence-based drug-testing facilities had been in place.

Australian politicians have typically endorsed a deterrence-based approach to drug use at music festivals, with a strong police presence and drug dogs to catch offenders. Although deterrence methods are undoubtedly well-intentioned, evidence suggests that they are ineffective at protecting Australians from the harmful effects of contaminated substances. In fact, some evidence shows that drug dogs may actually increase harm, as frightened festival-goers hastily consume large quantities of drugs to avoid detection. And few drugs are deposited in amnesty bins.

Drug testing is about testing drugs, not potential users. It adopts a more humane approach, providing information to users on the content of drugs. Ecstasy pills, for example, often include particularly harmful substances like PMA or 4-MTA.

Drug testing encompasses a range of testing facilities that allow festival-goers to check the content of their drugs and change consumption habits accordingly; overseas, this can vary from informal Marquis testing kits to advanced pharmacological analysis facilities. One Manchester club, The Warehouse Project, piloted a scheme allowing clubbers who managed to get through security to have their drugs professionally tested.

A major review in Europe found that two-thirds of drug users wouldn’t consume contaminated drugs and would warn friends of any harmful results. Thus, drug testing provides a significant opportunity to reduce drug-related harm and consumption, as well as engaging festies in counselling about their drug-taking behaviour. Even the European Union recommends it.

So it may come as a surprise that drug testing has received little political support in New South Wales. Mike Baird and his government continue to prevent health professionals from providing drug-testing services at music festivals.

This stance – a lack of political permission – may lead to the preventable deaths of more young Australians. It is time for our politicians and police to adopt measures to support the health of young people.

Is preventable harm unnecessarily politicised?

Preventable deaths from contaminated substances are a political choice. So why are our politicians so opposed to an evidence-based intervention that prevents drug-related harm?

Australians are the leading consumers of ecstasy worldwide. Blindly denying the presence of drugs at festivals is naïve, and ideological opposition to harm reduction through drug testing is counterproductive.

We are not arguing for the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs. Rather, we believe young people should have access to testing services as a means to empower informed choices about drug consumption. Political leadership is the missing ingredient.

There is precedent for a preventive health approach to safe drug use. Australia has received international acclaim for leadership in harm-minimisation strategies by opening the Kings Cross supervised injecting centre, the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. Drug testing offers a similar opportunity to encourage healthy behaviours and promote harm-reduction strategies among young people.

But how much does it cost?

If these arguments haven’t been persuasive, let’s look at the numbers. While the majority of festival-goers who consume drugs suffer no adverse effects, significant harms can and do occur. Every year 400,000 young Australians take ecstasy, and many have no idea what’s really in their pills. This lack of awareness can be fatal: in 2015, seven young people lost their lives after taking ecstasy, and six of these were at music festivals.

Annually, taxpayers spend A$1 million per jurisdiction maintaining a force of drug dogs, and we know that this use of public dollars is ineffective at reducing drug use and harms. Drug testing, on the other hand, could be implemented for less than one-tenth of this cost and has proven effectiveness at reducing drug-related harm.

Finally, it is worth emphasising that campaigners are not requesting government funding to implement drug testing; they are simply asking for permission to provide drug-testing stations that will prevent unnecessary harm to festival-goers. This is a privately funded public health intervention with moral, health and economic returns on investment.

How would we implement it?

Drug testing provides an opportunity for health and legal professionals to collaborate productively and reduce harm to young Australians. In Europe, political support has enabled drug testing to exist in a grey area of the law; ad-hoc local arrangements and special agreements with police help circumvent the need for complex legal reform.

The European experiment has demonstrated that a commonsense harm-reduction strategy is achievable with collaboration between health professionals, law enforcement officers and festival organisers. There is no reason why a principled politician, or political party, could not lead Australia to follow this example.

Prohibiting the use of drug testing continues to prosecute drug use as a criminal issue. Spending valuable resources to target individual users diverts attention from drug manufacturers and distributors, as well as representing a missed opportunity to make a meaningful impact through harm reduction.

A drug-testing strategy addresses this health challenge at its source – in this case, music festivals – rather than waiting to treat young people in emergency departments. Ultimately, drug testing is a safe, cost-effective and ethical way to achieve this outcome.

Individuals can already buy cheap testing kits themselves on the internet. Such kits are better than nothing. But it is surely preferable that if an individual is going to test the drugs she or he is proposing to take, that testing is as safe and reliable as possible and administered by a professional.The Conversation

Julian Savulescu is the Sir Louis Matheson Distinguishing Visiting Professor at Monash University and the Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. Connor Rochford and Daniel D’Hotman are both Medical Students at Monash University.

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

Find out more:


When political self-interest decides donations rules, what chance does reform in the public interest have?

Colleen Lewis, Monash University

Amid debate over Labor senator Sam Dastyari accepting A$1,600 from a Chinese company to cover a travel bill, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten last week put forward some proposals to reform Australia’s federal political donations regime.

This was an attempt by Shorten to shift the spotlight from Dastyari’s indefensible conduct onto an issue he knew would capture the attention of the electorate and media. His proposals included the suggestion that the disclosure threshold be lowered from A$13,200 to A$1,000.

But this does not go far enough. The matter that needs urgent attention – one Shorten did not advocate – is the cap that should be placed on all donations from corporations, trade unions, individuals and third-party entities.

A cap at $1,000 would tackle the issues of undue influence and policy capture that swirl around the current donations regime. To ignore the need for a modest cap places personal and party interests before the public interest, yet again.

However, it was good to hear Shorten admit that much harsher penalties are needed for those who do not comply with political donation laws. This is particularly pleasing because for seven years Shorten failed to declare some donations, including $40,000 from a director of Unibuilt. This money was used to hire his campaign manager when Shorten first stood for parliament, and covered the period February to November 2007.

Shorten’s memory was only jogged a few days prior to his appearance before the trade union royal commission in July 2015. He suffered no penalty because of inadequate disclosure laws.

It will be interesting to see how harsh the penalties for non-compliance will be in the soon-to-be-introduced Labor bill on donations reform.

But what about the government?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has suggested the political donations issue is complex. In relation to third-party entities in particular, it is.

He has also indicated that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) should be asked to examine the issue. This is particularly worrying given the disregard the government showed for that committee’s 2011 report and to the committee process more generally.

The JSCEM issued a 268-page report in 2011 that has proved to be a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Not one of its recommendations has been implemented. This is a disgraceful waste of what is akin to investment in research and development. If any private enterprise experienced the same return on its research and development budget, it would no longer exist.

The JSCEM saga gets worse on two fronts. The first refers to the government’s relatively recent reply to a JSCEM inquiry. The second concerns the committee’s chairpersonship.

The Senate referred an inquiry into political donations to the JSCEM in October 2015. It was asked, among other things, to inquire into:

How many of the recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its 2011 report … into the funding of political parties and elections campaigns were accepted by government and how may have been implemented?

What factors, if any, are contributing to any delays in implementing the accepted recommendations of the report?

In light of this direction, the JSCEM wrote to the government in early December 2015 seeking a response. The government replied in the Speaker’s schedule of outstanding responses. It included the following:

… given the passage of time and the change of government, the government does not intend to respond to the report.

I have written elsewhere that “this is an unacceptable – some might think disgraceful – response to a key public policy matter”, particularly as political donations policy has the potential to affect most other public policy issues.

Regrettably, the JSCEM saga does not end there. In a little over a year five different people have chaired the committee, with some serving for only a matter of weeks.

This is an unacceptable approach to the formulation, implementation and evaluation of the federal political donations regime. It demonstrates the importance the government places on the committee’s workings.

At the time of writing, we are yet to learn who will chair the newly constituted JSCEM. It could well be a different person, which would bring the number of chairpersons, within a very short period, to six.

If the issues raised here signify the best Australia’s federal politicians can do to reform political donations, the public interest is in peril. The electorate and media need to maintain pressure for meaningful reform, and every reform politicians put forward needs to be motivated solely by the desire to enhance the public interest.

In any well-functioning democracy, the public interest must always take precedence over personal and party interests.

The ConversationColleen Lewis is an Adjunct Professor at the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

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

Study at Monash


MIC researchers contribute to new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence

Monash Indigenous Centre Associate Professor Bruno David, Professor Ian McNiven and Professor Lynette Russell are contributing to a new national research project, The Australia Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage.

Associate Professor Bruno David , Professor Ian McNiven and Professor Lynette Russell are members of the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, an initiative which will see researchers from institutions around the world embark on a seven-year, $45.7-million research quest to investigate the beginning of Australia’s unique biodiversity and Indigenous heritage, while inspiring Australian children to engage with science.

Launching in 2017, it will bring together 20 institutions and museums worldwide to unlock the history of Australia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia from 130,000 years ago until the time of European arrival.

The first of its kind in the world, the Centre will encourage budding young scientists through a unique outreach program at schools and museums throughout Australia, and will focus on nurturing the careers of Indigenous and female researchers.

It will comprise seven Australian universities – the University of Wollongong as a co-ordinating institution, Monash University, James Cook University, the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide and the University of Tasmania – together with leading organisations in public education and engagement, including the Australian Museum, Queensland Museum, South Australian Museum and the State Library of New South Wales.

The Centre represents a unique integration of multidisciplinary expertise, bringing together researchers from humanities and social sciences, such as archaeology, and Indigenous and museum studies, with scholars from science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines – including Earth and climate sciences, ecology and genetics.

The funds will support around 40 new research positions and more than 50 new research students over the lifetime of the Centre.

Congratulations to the MIC researchers and also to the staff in the Arts Research and Business Development Office who supported this application.


Why are professional development standards for new and returning federal MPs so inadequate?

by Colleen Lewis

MPs and senators, 226 in all, will soon commence proceedings in Australia’s newly elected 45th federal parliament. But how well prepared are they to undertake the arduous tasks that will confront them daily?

To address that question, a starting point might be to examine the formal education and training programs newly elected MPs are compelled to undertake to acquaint themselves with the intricacies of their role. For re-elected members, one might analyse the programs they are required to attend to further their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Unfortunately, this is not possible. Unlike all professions and many occupations, it is not mandatory for MPs to take part in any education and training programs specific to their role.

I am not advocating an education bar for candidates; all Australians, regardless of education, wealth or supposed status, should be eligible to stand for election. The parliament would be more representative and perhaps more effective if diversity among MPs were greater.

Nor am I advocating that MPs should be obliged to undertake the level of education and training required by professions and most occupations before their members are able to practice. But MPs’ professional development, once elected to office, requires reform.

What is an MP’s role?

The 45th federal parliament will include many new MPs. Several others will be junior ministers, ministers or shadow ministers for the first time. Some will be taking on responsibility for a totally different portfolio or shadow portfolio.

This group of MPs, like those elected before them, have been entrusted, in their role as “legislator”, with the power to make laws applicable to all Australians. Their entrusted power includes the ability to pass laws that can deprive a person of their freedoms and subject them to life-changing economic and social policies.

But an MP’s role goes beyond legislative work. It includes other important functions, broadly classified as “representative” and “scrutiniser”.

MPs are expected to perform all three roles simultaneously and under continuous media scrutiny. They must also deal with “wicked problems” and are expected to resolve them.

Given these circumstances, is it unreasonable to expect that, once elected to office, this influential group of legislators, representatives and scrutinisers should be required to undertake education and training, including in-depth programs for new members, higher-order programs for those taking on senior positions for the first time, and continuous professional development programs for those who have occupied senior positions for some time?

The concerning reality is MPs are not compelled to attend an induction program, although virtually all do. But the induction programs for MPs and senators can present only a brief overview of what their multifaceted role entails.

Follow-up performance development opportunities, offered by both houses, are often poorly attended. Some attract the interest of fewer than 20 MPs.

MPs are busy people, but they are not alone in being time-poor. Many people experience competing demands on their limited time in multifaceted jobs. A difference between many of them and MPs is that members of professions and many occupations would not be permitted to practise unless they had first attended a comprehensive induction program that covered, in some depth, all facets of their job.

It is highly unlikely that people in other professions and occupations would be promoted to a senior position unless they had first acquired many of the skills needed to be an effective leader. Acquiring those skills includes attending formal education and training programs specific to their role.

An inadequate approach

The argument put forward by many MPs is they learn best on the job and through mentoring programs.

Learning on the job is a necessary element of performance development, but is not sufficient on its own. Nor are mentoring programs. The latter can only be as good as the mentors’ work ethic, the time they have available to devote to the mentoring and – most importantly – their ethical values.

Imagine the learning outcome if a mentor MP’s ethical values were based on the “whatever it takes“ principle. This type of attitude by some MPs accounts, in large part, for the ever-widening trust deficit between those who are given the privilege of serving the people and those who granted them that privilege.

In debating whether MPs should be formally required to undertake education and training programs, it is worth remembering that once a person takes on the role of MP they are:

Neither ‘ordinary citizens’ nor experts but simply full-time politicians.

But becoming a full-time politician does not automatically endow a newly elected MP with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be a competent legislator, representative and scrutiniser. Nor does being promoted to a senior political position bestow on a MP the skill-set needed to perform a demanding leadership role effectively.

Learning primarily through “osmosis” is not an option in today’s rapidly changing, knowledge-based and globalised world. Should it be for MPs?

The laissez-faire approach to enhancing the knowledge, skills and abilities of our elected representatives does not appear to be adequate, especially when you take into account that MPs constitute the supreme decision-making body in Australia’s political system.

Is it unreasonable to expect that this small group of 226 MPs be required to attend continuous performance development programs designed specifically to enhance the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to make more informed decisions on our behalf?

Even if the answer is a resounding yes, only MPs have the power to introduce such a policy. But will they?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.

Study at Monash


Paul Strangio at the Australian Senate Occasional Lecture Series


Aus-senate-occ-lecture-seriesMonash Art’s Associate Professor Paul Strangio will be giving a lecture in Canberra this week as part of the Australian Senate Occasional Lecture Series entitled “The Australian Prime Ministership–Origins and Evolution“.

In contemporary Australia the prime ministership is indisputably the most closely observed and fiercely contested office in the land, yet very little has been written about its origins and evolution. Paul Strangio’s lecture will examine the office’s pre-history in the colonial era and its rudimentary beginnings in 1901.

The lecture will also explore how the major office holders of the Commonwealth’s early decades contributed to the development of the prime-ministerial repertoire, gradually turning the office into a platform for national leadership by the middle of last century. This development fulfilled the promise first articulated at the Federation Conventions of the 1890s that the prime ministership would be ‘the blue ribbon of the highest possible ambition’ in Australian public life.

Associate Professor Paul Strangio

Paul Strangio is an Associate Professor of Politics in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

He has authored and edited numerous books on Australian political history, among them: Keeper of the Faith: A Biography of Jim Cairns (2002); Neither Power Nor Glory: 100 Years of Political Labor in Victoria, 1856–1956 (2012); and, with Paul ‘t Hart and Jim Walter, Settling the Office: The Australian Prime Ministership from Federation to Reconstruction (2016).

He is currently working on a second volume of the history of the prime ministership that is due for publication in 2017.

About the lecture

  • The Australian Prime Ministership–Origins and Evolution
    Friday 2 September, 12.15pm to 1.15pm
    Main Committee Room, Parliament House
  • Download Lecture Flyer (PDF)
Study at Monash




2016 Postgraduate Publication Prize


Significant investment for the performing arts at Monash University


VCE Oral Workshop for Second Language Indonesian

All students currently studying Indonesian language for the Victorian Certificate of Education are invited to apply for Monash University’s 2016 VCE Oral workshops. The workshops this year will consist of four workshops held over two days followed by a mock VCE oral exam. All sessions take place at Monash University’s Caulfield Campus. 

Aim for the workshop:

The aim of the workshop is to focus on developing skills and strategies specifically for the VCE SL Indonesian Oral Exam. The series of workshops will provide an opportunity for you to rigorously prepare yourself for the oral exam in 2016 outside of your normal classroom hours. It is also an excellent opportunity to practice with students from schools other than your own. The intensive workshops aim at increasing your confidence, improving your fluency and providing you with exam strategies to increase the probability of you obtaining your VCE Indonesian goals.

Workshop Facilitator:

NaniMs Nani Osman-Thomas is a highly qualified and experienced teacher of Indonesian both at high school and tertiary level. She has been a VCE Indonesian teacher and VCE Oral Assessor since 2000. She regularly conducts language workshops for both students and teachers of Indonesia and has a clear understanding of the concerns and needs of students preparing for their final exams.  

Workshop Schedule:




Tuesday, 20 September 2016


10am-12pm, 12:30-2:30pm

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


10am-12pm, 12:30-2:30pm

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Mock Oral Exam

Individual booking*

* A specific time slot will be allocated to each student after the first workshop. Each student will be given 15 minutes for the mock oral exam followed by 10 minutes of debriefing / feedback.

Registration and Payment

The total cost for the 2 day workshop and the mock oral exam is $350 including GST. Students who wish to attend should first register their interest on the form below. Payment should not be made until you have received confirmation of your acceptance. Details of how to make the payments will be included on your confirmation email.

Please note that places in the workshops are limited to one tutorial group and will be allocated on the basis of the date on which you register.

If you require further information regarding the content of the workshops please feel free to contact:

Registration of interest for Monash VCE Oral Workshop:2016 VCE Workshop Registration Monash 

Monash University’s Indonesian Program also offers two places to our VCE workshops free of fees to worthy candidates.

If you are interested in applying for a scholarship please apply here: Monash VCE Oral Workshop Scholarships



Criminology Professor Jude McCulloch appointed to Victoria’s Prevention of Family Violence Standing Committee

  • Reflecting and building on recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence to develop a primary prevention strategy.
  • Developing principles, directions and expectations for prevention and gender equality activities.
  • Advising on consultation required for the Primary Prevention Strategy.
  • Considering the membership and remit of any working groups regarding the vision, actions and outcomes of the Primary Prevention Strategy to be convened as appropriate.
  • Engaging with experts and prevention specialists when necessary.


Migrants from Africa bear brunt of discrimination but remain positive, survey finds

Andrew Markus, Monash University

The broad finding of the Scanlon Foundation’s latest survey of Australian attitudes remains that Australia is seen as a good country for immigrants. New arrivals are optimistic, with just 6% indicating they are “strongly dissatisfied” or “dissatisfied”. But not all findings are positive.

Among Indigenous Australian respondents, most of whom live in major cities in Victoria and New South Wales, 59% reported experience of discrimination. It was still higher for some African groups: 60% for those born in Ethiopia, 67% for Kenyan-born, 75% for Zimbabwean-born and 77% for those born in South Sudan.

The latest survey is the largest exploration of attitudes to cultural diversity and of the immigrant experience that has been conducted in Australia. The Australia@2015 survey was open for six months from September 2015 and had more than 10,000 respondents. An additional 285 participated in 51 focus group discussions in four states.

The objective of reaching such a large number of respondents was to understand sub-groups of the population. Australia@2015 was available in English and 19 languages, with 1,521 (14%) questionnaires completed in a language other than English.

The survey explored a broad range of issues, including economic fortunes, life satisfaction, trust in institutions such as the police force and the Commonwealth parliament, and experience of discrimination.

Earlier surveys by the foundation found marked differences when respondents were asked if they had experienced discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, skin colour or religion.

Analysis by country of birth found that the Australia-born report the lowest level of discrimination, in the range 10-15%, followed by overseas-born of English-speaking background. The highest levels, in the range 40-50%, were reported by overseas-born of non-English-speaking background.

Positive attitude despite discrimination

The broader range of respondents in the Australia@2015 survey identifies groups with higher levels of discrimination. South Sudanese were the largest African group represented in the 2015 survey, with 166 respondents.

Most South Sudanese are Christian and a relatively new immigrant group. The peak of arrivals was between 1996 and 2005 through the humanitarian program. Of South Sudanese survey respondents, 52% arrived between 2001 and 2005 and 31% between 2006 and 2010.

Recent migrants from Africa, including Akoc Manheim, president of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia, have had to overcome the negative attitudes they encounter. AAP/Simon Mossman

A large majority of South Sudanese, 76%, indicated they are satisfied with life in Australia, with 12% dissatisfied. A majority, 58%, also indicated that their experience of Australia is more positive than they had expected and 4% that it was more negative. A relatively high proportion, 30%, declined to answer.

Analysis of South Sudanese respondents by sub-group (gender, age, region of residence and faith) finds a large measure of consistency in the reporting of discrimination; for example, by 75% of men and 79% of women. For no other birthplace group with at least 50 respondents does experience of discrimination match these levels.

The six focus groups conducted with South Sudanese often discussed experience of discrimination. It seems differences of skin colour are a significant issue for many Australians, who have had little interaction with very dark-skinned people in the southern states.

The hurts of daily racism

Dark-skinned African immigrants are pioneers in a process of transition and adjustment in Australia. One participant observed:

At the start … when they see a black person for the first time … I guess … people are surprised. And then once the community started building up it was a norm, so you didn’t get that much behaviour.

A second person employed in the CBD commented:

They see (a) dark-skinned guy working in such a job, such a profession, it’s a surprise, it’s different. If I was in America it’s a norm, but here it’s different – it’s like, ‘Oh, you people do these type of jobs?’

Another participant, when asked if he had ever felt unwelcome, responded:

I’ve never felt welcome … White Australians … the majority … hate us.

People spoke of the lack of cultural awareness encountered, with little or no understanding that there are different African national and language groups:

Because not all of them know there’s different countries in Africa. Somebody’s like, ‘Oh, you’re from Africa, so you speak African.’

For some, the experience of life in Australia becomes almost unbearable. A woman from a West African country, resettled from a refugee camp, recalled incidents on buses, including hostile behaviour of bus drivers, injury to her mother, abuse on the street, neighbours who threw rubbish into her property, and cars parked in her unit in such a way that it was difficult to open the front door.

Several participants spoke of their resignation:

You just get mad but then we can’t do anything about it so we just, like, let it be, because it is what it is.

Others discussed life in Australia in similar terms.

Respondent: “Some parents when they experience racism they don’t want to do anything about it or say anything about it, because they think it’s normal.”

Respondent: “Yeah, they think it’s normal.”

Respondent: “I think they just adapt to it and they shouldn’t have to adapt to it, but they do.”

You can read the full Australians Today report on the Scanlon Foundation’s Australia@2015 survey here.

The Conversation

Andrew Markus, Pratt Foundation Research Chair of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

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


Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy.

Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The cornerstone of the strategy is to limit public access to information. The policy started by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 has been put into overdrive by the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments.

There are three pillars to the secrecy strategy:

  • outsourcing the centres to other sovereign nations;

  • outsourcing the centres’ operations to private contractors; and

  • imposing a gag on current and former detention staff through the Border Force Act.

Outsourcing detention

Australian journalists have found it very difficult, bordering on practically impossible, to obtain visas to visit Nauru. Applying for a media visa for Nauru comes with an A$8,000 fee – which is non-refundable even if the application is rejected.

The only journalists to be granted visas in the last two years filed stories that did not properly investigate or challenge the Nauruan and Australian governments’ versions of the situation for refugees.

This means the two governments directly and indirectly control who is allowed onto the island to tell the refugees’ stories of how they are treated. This leads to speculation that serves no-one – not the refugees nor the Australian government nor the public.

The second issue with outsourcing refugee processing to another country is that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This means an important journalistic tool is missing when it comes to seeking information.

This, combined with the poor FOI history of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and its predecessor), which have repeatedly blocked and delayed requests, makes obtaining raw and unspun information about offshore refugee processing a time-consuming and frustrating task.

Outsourcing to private contractors

Wilson Security is contracted to provide security in the offshore centres.

The 2010 amendments to the federal FOI Act significantly strengthened the requirement on government agencies to obtain information from a private contractor when asked to do so.

However, contracting out adds another layer of complexity to using FOI effectively. The practical consequences are longer processing times, delays and the increased possibility of the contractor claiming the information can’t be released due to commercial-in-confidence issues.

The Border Force Act disclosure offence

In July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into force. Its controversial disclosure offence section extended the questionable Australian tradition of limiting public servants’ right to public speech and participation in public debate.

The section effectively stops current and former staff, including those from volunteer organisations such as Save the Children, speaking out about conditions in refugee detention centres.

It is nigh-on impossible to see how this gag section can be in the public interest. But it is easy to see how it is in the government’s political interest.

What are the consequences?

The consequence of the fortress of secrecy built on these three pillars is that Australians don’t know what is being done in their name on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also means the refugees are dehumanised. Suffering children and families become numbers instead of human beings.

Every one of the nearly 1,300 refugees currently on Nauru and Manus has heartbreaking and crucial stories to tell. If Australians were allowed to hear and see those stories, the centres would have been closed a long time ago.

If offshore detention is to continue, the Australian government should:

  • stop outsourcing to private contractors. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection should run the centres to allow for proper accountability;

  • be completely transparent about the centres’ operations. Redact personal information, but publish as much as possible, including incident reports;

  • facilitate access to the centres for journalists and members of the public; and

  • scrap the gag section on detention centre staff, current and former, in the Border Force Act.

We don’t need a Senate inquiry or royal commission to figure out what needs to be done. More than enough evidence is available thanks to the Nauru files, former detention centre staff sharing their experiences, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. The government must do the decent and right thing by the refugees and the Australian public.

The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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


Peace, Sex and Violence in Mindanao


Monash Chinese Studies students awarded study scholarships in language competition

China finals-Tristan and Sean
Monash students Sean Hyatt and Tristan McCarthy

Last week saw Monash Arts students win the “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Language
Proficiency Competition for Foreign University Students once again. 

Two of our students, Sean Hyatt and Tristan McCarthy, took out the Champion of Oceania and the 1st Prize respectively in the grand finals of the 15th “Chinese Bridge” competition held in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, China. They have both been awarded four-year full scholarships to study in China.

Sean started learning Chinese in Monash from the introductory level upon his return from his one-year voluntary work in an orphanage for disabled children in Beijing, China. He plans to conduct his field research for his proposed honours degree studies in the same orphanage in 2017. Tristan started learning Chinese from the introductory level with our program followed by a semester long Chinese language study in Taiwan.

The prestigious “Chinese Bridge” competition is an annual event to promote Chinese language learning by non-native speakers. It has attracted the best Chinese language learners in universities all over the world. During the past month, 146 students from 108 countries gathered in Changsha to compete for the outstanding finalists, going  through a range of complex language and cultural tests which include written test, artistic performance, speech, etc.

The grand finals will be available to watch via Hunan Satellite TV channel and YouTube by September 2016.

While this is a wonderful outcome for our students, it also reflects the dedication and expertise of our Chinese language staff, Hui Xu (Sean Hyatt’s instructor) and Hailan Paulsen (Tristan McCarthy’s instructor) who helped prepare the students for this international competition.

Study at Monash Arts



New books examine violent women and queer girls on screen

– redirecting to MFJ News –


Professor Sharon Pickering presents Fay Gale Lecture

Professor Sharon Pickering, was honoured on Tuesday night to present the annual Fay Gale Lecture, hosted by the Academy of Social Sciences Australia (ASSA) in conjunction with Monash University at the State Library of Victoria. Introduced by ASSA Fellow Professor Kathleen Dalyfrom Griffith University, Sharon presented her lecture on gender and border deaths in the South East Asia region titled ‘Invisible and Dying: Women crossing borders in South East Asia’ to a capacity public and academic crowd.

Showcasing her research on gender and border deaths from the region, including research conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia and with irregular migrants here in Australia who transited through South East Asia, Sharon presented the evidence that women are increasingly on the move, using South East Asia as a point of transit for onward travel. With this phenomenon, they are increasingly seeking protection in larger numbers and they are key decision makers when it comes to making migration related decisions in order to provide safety or financial support for their families.

Sharon further presented her research findings on the unique vulnerabilities of women irregular migrants, some of which can put them at risk of death, including exposure to, and experiences of gender based sexual violence during their journeys. Other vulnerabilities were explained including gendered experiences of traveling by boat including traveling in the holding compartment of boats which are less hygienic and less safe, sharing of food and water rations with children, and limited abilities to swim should a capsize occur as a result of social mores from their cultural and societal backgrounds putting women at a survival disadvantage in comparison to men in such an event.

In a strong and pronounced conclusion, building on her and Associate Professor Leanne Weber’s work in establishing the Australian Border Deaths Database, Professor Pickering advocated for the need to count and account for border deaths in the South East Asia region as a means to ultimately create safer migration pathways for all migrants by using border deaths counts as a means to spark government debate and policy change towards this goal. Currently, there is only limited data on the number of irregular migrant deaths in this region collected by UNHCR with the Arakan Project and IOM and an absolute dearth in the data that does exist in regards to the number of women who have died.

As Professor Pickering noted in her conclusion,

“Heartbreakingly while there are only 2,000 confirmed deaths in 2014 and 2015 of Rhohingya fleeing Burma by boat through the Andaman Sea, it has been reliably and conservatively estimated that 1 in 12 of all people on boats died during the voyage – either from drowning, exposure or mistreatment. With official governments estimating at there have been least 200,000 departures in the region from the Bay of Bengal during this time,  this puts the likely death toll to be closer to 18,800 which is in line with most NGO estimates. We are confident that women now make up 15% departures. However we know that women are 2.5 times more likely to die in maritime incidents. This suggests the death toll of 18,800 includes closer to 7,050 women dying in the two year period.”

Professor Sharon Pickering will present her Fay Gale lecture once more in Adelaide on Thursday, 18 August 2016 at 5.30pm in the The Braggs Lecture Theatre, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide. RSVPs are essential and you can do so here.

Otherwise, the Melbourne event was video recorded and we will be presenting it on the Border Crossing Observatory website soon.


Bright ideas at the Arts Delineator: encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship


There was a real creative buzz in the room at today’s ‘Delineator’ session at Monash Arts, a 3-hour workshop facilitating start-up and entrepreneurship ideas.

Over 20 students came along to find out how they could pitch five interesting start-up concepts in just a few hours, guided by Laura Faulconer from The Generator, a Monash team set up to encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship success.

Laura got the ball rolling by sharing a few ideas she has had recently, explaining that the best ideas often come from a personal ‘point of pain’. For Laura, a recent overseas holiday  made her think about how things could be done better when she was stuck in an endless airport check-in queue with her three young children.

Robin Chacko (Arts Internships) and Laura Faulconer (The Generator)
Robin Chacko (Arts Internships) and Laura Faulconer (The Generator)

Laura said, “Ideas are a dime a dozen, its the work that goes into developing those ideas that really adds value.”

Encouraged to be fast and free with their concepts, Arts students showed that the sky was the limit for their creative ideas with everything from wireless power to high-heeled shoes that convert to low, lunchboxes with inbuilt heaters/coolers to tinder for tutoring, second-hand clothes share/hire to a real-time sign language app.

Congratulations to everyone who came along to ‘think out loud’ and participate in the Delineator.

All Monash students and staff are also encouraged to enter the Pitch Originator Start up Competition (entries due 18th August) and to check out the Motivator Lecture Series.

Find out more





Small viruses, big questions: Ethical responses to Zika and Ebola


The new Senate looms as a serious problem for a damaged Malcolm Turnbull

Nick Economou, Monash University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues have had a very poor election. The result in the Senate only confirms just how bad the 2016 contest was for the Coalition.

One seat away from being in minority government, the returned Turnbull government can now add arguably one of the most diverse and potentially volatile senates ever elected in Australia to its list of political problems.

When the Senate finally convenes, the Coalition will hold 30 seats – nine short of the majority it would need to have legislation passed. Across the chamber will sit 26 Labor senators, nine Green senators and a further 11 crossbench senators from six different political parties.

Upper house woes

When Turnbull took over as prime minister, the government had to that point been struggling with a non-Green crossbench of nine.

So difficult had these senators become, Turnbull resorted to doing deals with the Greens on occasion to get some bills through. This included one to alter the Senate voting system to do away with party tickets. Turnbull justified this as a reform that would assist in eradicating “micro” parties.

This reform has not delivered on its promise, although Turnbull contributed to its failure by calling a double-dissolution election and, in so doing, demonstrating yet again just how poor his political judgement can be.

One wonders if Liberal strategists planning the double dissolution foresaw that not only would Pauline Hanson return to the Australian parliament, but that she would bring three fellow senators with her.

Turnbull’s upper house woes don’t stop there. There are now two more acolytes of Nick Xenophon in the Senate – and one in the lower house – and two of the micro-party senators who were the target of Turnbull’s changes to the voting system, Bob Day from Family First and David Leyonhjelm from the Liberal Democrats. They are back and presumably angry with the government for the way it treated them in the previous parliament.

With this phalanx of people from the social conservative and populist right arranged against it, the Coalition’s only alternative is to deal with the left – either Labor or the Greens.

Cynics might suggest this is an outcome that Turnbull might be comfortable with personally, but it is a fair bet the rest of the Coalition would not be so happy to deal with ideological enemies – especially on matters like climate change and same-sex marriage.

How will the government deal with it?

To conclude on the basis of this that the government might struggle to get its agenda through the Senate would be the political understatement of the year.

One way around the potential for the Senate to frustrate the government would be to try to minimise the amount of legislation going before it. It is unlikely this would appeal to Turnbull.

The alternatives to legislative minimalism are either seeking to make policy by trying to negotiate with all the different players in the upper house (and wearing the consequential compromises), or taking the Whitlamesque approach of being constantly defeated in the Senate and seeking to campaign against upper house obstructionism in the court of public opinion.

We will get an early insight into the government’s likely approach. The Constitution gives Turnbull the option of bringing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bills that triggered the double dissolution to a joint sitting of the parliament, if the Senate again rejects them.

What Turnbull does here will probably set the tone for the next three years. There are reports the government has been in dialogue already with the crossbench over the legislation – the subtext being that the ABCC bills might pass with substantial modifications to appease the concerns of the Xenophon bloc in particular.

This sort of bargaining would have to extend to all the other right-wing populists and social conservatives as well, given Labor and the Greens will surely not support these bills.

There is enormous scope for the government’s efforts to come to nothing and for the bills to be defeated at a joint sitting. This would be a very humiliating start to the new government cycle.

Each defeat in the upper house at the hands of the right-of-centre minor parties will be a humiliation of Turnbull and will undermine the impression he is trying to give that he is leading a moderate and mildly progressive government that can get things done.

Turnbull’s only recourse might be to ring up his recently acquired political ally, Greens leader Richard Di Natale, to see if his nine-person bloc might come to his aid.

This approach would incense the very large block of conservatives within the Coalition who are already angry with Turnbull for his abysmal election performance. This is the real danger for Turnbull. Senate defeats can be withstood, but humiliation at the hands of the joint partyroom could be fatal to his leadership.The Conversation

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University

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

Study at Monash