‘I really have thought this can’t go on’: loneliness looms for rising numbers of older private renters



People living in private rental housing were much more likely than social housing residents to say they felt lonely.
Dundanim/Shutterstock

Alan Morris, University of Technology Sydney and Andrea Verdasco, University of Technology Sydney

Loneliness is increasingly recognised worldwide as a critical social issue and one of the major health hazards of our time. Our research shows older private renters are at high risk of loneliness and anxiety. This is a growing concern as more Australians are renting housing later in life. By contrast, only a small proportion of the social housing tenants we interviewed said they were lonely.

The links between housing arrangements and loneliness could have profound implications for our health. As former US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy said:

The reduction in life span [for people experiencing loneliness] is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity … Look even deeper, and you’ll find loneliness is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.




Read more:
Why secure and affordable housing is an increasing worry for age pensioners


What causes loneliness?

The causes of loneliness are multifaceted and complex. The number of people living alone in Australia is clearly a factor. In 2016, just under one in four households (24.4%) were single-person households. That’s up from one in five in 1991.




Read more:
One in four Australians are lonely, which affects their physical and mental health


Research suggests low-income individuals are more likely to experience loneliness. So, too, are people who have a serious mental or physical health condition or have had a serious disruptive event (financial or job loss, illness or injury, or relationship breakdown) in the last couple of years.

The impact of housing tenure on loneliness has received little attention. While recognising that there are no definite associations, we interviewed about 80 older (65-plus) private renters and social housing tenants who depended on the Age Pension for their income. These in-depth interviews indicated that their housing tenure was a critical factor in their risk of experiencing loneliness.




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When falling home ownership and ageing baby boomers collide


Many older private renters are lonely

Many older private renters have little disposal income, because the cost of housing uses up much of their income. They also live with the constant possibility that they may be asked to vacate their accommodation. Their limited budgets mean they often end up living in a poorly located property. These features, individually or in combination, create fertile ground for anxiety and loneliness.

Their dire financial situation was often an obstacle to social activities. One interviewee told of how she had to choose between food or breaking her isolation by using public transport.

Well, you sort of think what you can do with $2.50. That’s a loaf of bread type of thing. – Beverley *

A 72-year-old woman living by herself said she could not afford the outings organised by her church.

There’s quite an active social club at the church for over-55s but I can’t go to any of those … Sometimes I think it would be nice to go on something that appeals to me, yes. And they might have an afternoon at somebody’s home and you’re asked to bring a plate [of food]. You see, I couldn’t afford to do that.

Peter, 67 and divorced, had left the workforce prematurely due to ill-health.

I’ve become very isolated. I used to, before I had the hip operation, I used to play tennis and I loved to play tennis … but I really can’t afford it. I’ve found a few clubs that I could go and play in. I’d like to get back to it, but they say, ‘Ah, the fees are this and you pay it annually,’ and I can’t come up with $150 or $200 or whatever.

Lack of money and insecure tenure were sources of enormous distress and anxiety, which further discouraged social contact. Brigette (67) was brutally honest:

You do get depressed and I believe that’s why people suicide … And there have been times when I’ve thought, what is the point to life? I really have thought this can’t go on, you know … I feel sorry for people because it is hard, and once you stay in it’s like crawling out of a slime pit … I have to say, ‘Get up and go out, go up the shops … Pretend you need potatoes or something.’

Not all of the private renters interviewed experienced loneliness. These interviewees usually had strong family ties or had managed to find affordable and secure accommodation.




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Social housing tenants feel less isolated

In sharp contrast, only a small proportion of the social housing tenants interviewed said they were lonely. Almost all were adamant they did not experience loneliness and felt they had strong social ties. Their affordable rent, security of tenure, long-term residence and having neighbours in a similar position meant they could socialise and were not beset by anxiety.

An 85-year-old long-established social housing tenant’s response to the question about loneliness and isolation was typical:

I do like it around here. I know where everything is and I know all the people, especially around these units you know. I know everyone and they know me. I like it around here. This is my home, you know. This is a community, I think. Like I know all the people and we’ve become really good friends. I couldn’t think of being anywhere else. – Kay

Pam, who had been a private renter before being allocated social housing, reflected on how her life had changed:

Well, it is changed because I’m happier and I think I’m healthier and I have a lot of new friends. I also have a lot more people around me for support if anything does happen. If I get sick and if they don’t see me for a few days someone will come and say, ‘Pam, are you OK?’ In private housing there was nobody.

The residualisation of social housing meant some tenants were living in what they perceived to be unbearable conditions. However, they generally were able to deal with their situation. Patricia coped with her very challenging neighbours by going to the local community centre.

No, I hate it [public housing]. I live here [at the community centre] every day. Yes, I’m on the committee here and I do things every day. This is my home, my family. Everybody is friendly with everybody. We have outings and things.

What the interviews indicate is that the housing tenure of age pensioners often plays a fundamental role in whether they are able to escape the experience of loneliness. Older private renters are far more likely to experience loneliness than their counterparts in social housing and that loneliness can be acute.

* All the names used are pseudonyms.




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Designing cities to counter loneliness? Let’s explore the possibilities


The Conversation


Alan Morris, Research Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Andrea Verdasco, Research Associate, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Research Check: is white meat as bad for your cholesterol levels as red meat?



Whether you’re eating red meat or white meat, a lean cut is the healthier way to go.
From shutterstock.com

Clare Collins, University of Newcastle

You’ve probably heard eating too much fatty red meat is bad for your health, while lean meat and chicken are better choices. So, recent headlines claiming white meat is just as bad for your cholesterol levels as red meat might have surprised you.

The reports were triggered by a paper published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month.

The study did find lean white meat had the same effect on cholesterol levels as lean red meat. While this might be construed as good news by lovers of red meat, more research on this topic is needed for a clearer picture.

How was this study conducted?

The researchers set out to compare three diets: one where the main dietary source of protein came from eating red meat (beef and pork), another where it came from poultry (chicken and turkey), and a third where it came from plant foods (legumes, nuts, grains and soy products).

They wanted to measure the impact of these diets on specific categories of blood fats, as markers of heart disease risk. They tested blood fat markers including low density lipoprotein cholesterol (or LDL, commonly known as “bad cholesterol”), apolipoprotein B (apoB), and the ratio of total cholesterol to high density lipoprotein cholesterol (or HDL, commonly known as “good cholesterol”).




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The researchers also wanted to know whether blood fat levels changed more when the background dietary patterns were high in saturated fat, derived mostly from full-fat dairy products and butter, or when they were low in saturated fat.

To achieve this, 177 adults with blood cholesterol levels in the normal range were randomised to follow either a high-saturated fat diet (14% of total energy intake) or a low-saturated fat diet (7% of total energy intake).

Within these two groups they were further randomly assigned to follow three separate diets for four weeks each: red meat, white meat, and plant protein sources. The main protein sources in the meat groups came from lean cuts of red and white meat. In the plant diet, protein came from legumes, nuts, grains and soy products.

Participants met research staff weekly to collect their food products and received counselling on following their specified diet. Participants were asked to maintain their physical activity level and keep their weight as stable as possible so these factors did not bias the results.

To eliminate any carry-over effects from eating one type of protein to the next, participants were given between two and seven weeks break in between each diet and told to return to their usual eating patterns.




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Organic, grass fed and hormone-free: does this make red meat any healthier?


What did the study find?

Some participants dropped out along the way, so in the end researchers had results from 113 participants.

Blood concentrations of LDL cholesterol and apoB were lower following the plant protein diet period, compared to both the red and white meat periods. This was independent of whether participants were on a background diet of high- or low-saturated fat.

There was no statistically significant difference in the blood fat levels of those eating red meat compared to those eating white meat.

We’re often told to limit our consumption of red meat.
From shutterstock.com

Eating a diet high in saturated fat led to significant increases in blood levels of LDL cholesterol, apoB, and large LDL particles compared with a background diet low in saturated fat.

So, all the dietary protein sources as well as the level of saturated fat intake had significant effects on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and apoB levels.

How should we interpret the results?

Although the test diets only lasted four weeks each, this study is important. It’s rare to see intervention studies that directly compare eating different types of meat and sources of protein and the impact on heart-disease risk factors. This is partly due to the challenge and expense of providing the food and getting people to follow specific diets.

Most studies to date have been cohort studies where people are categorised based on what they eat, then followed up for many years to see what happens to their health.

One review of cohort studies found no greater risk of stroke in those who eat more poultry compared to less poultry, while another showed a higher risk of stroke among those eating more red and processed meat relative to poultry intake.




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There are a few things to keep in mind with this study. First, the researchers used the leanest cuts of both red and white meats, and removed all visible fat and skin. If participants were eating fatty meat, we may have seen different results.

The significant variation in breaks between different diets (ranging from two to seven weeks) may have also affected the results. Participants with a longer break would have had more time for their blood cholesterol levels to change, compared to those with shorter breaks.

Finally, in reporting their results, it would have been better to include all 177 participants who began the study. People who drop out often have different health characteristics and leaving them out may have biased results.

This short-term study does not provide evidence that choosing lean white meat over red meat is either better or worse for your health.

But the findings are consistent with recommendations from the Heart Foundation to include a variety of plant-based foods in our diets, foods containing healthy types of fat and lower amounts of saturated fat, and in particular, to choose lean red meat and poultry. – Clare Collins


Blind peer review

The article presents a fair, balanced and accurate assessment of the study. In this study, they showed lean red meat and lean white meat (with all visible fat and skin removed) had the same effect on blood fat levels.

Importantly, plant protein sources (such as legumes, nuts, grains and soy products) lowered blood fat levels compared to the red and white meats, and this was independent of whether the participants had been placed on a background diet low or high in saturated fats. This study did not look at the impact of a fish-based diet on blood fats. – Evangeline Mantzioris




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Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sick with the flu? Here’s why you feel so bad



You might feel terrible. But your runny nose, sore throat and aches are signs your body is fighting the flu virus. And that’s a good thing.
from www.shutterstock.com

Stephen Turner, Monash University

“You never forget the flu”. This is the title of the Victorian health department’s current campaign, which highlights people’s recollections of having the flu.

‘The flu knocked me out for weeks’, part of the Victorian health department’s winter flu campaign.
Vic Dept Health & Human Services

Phrases include “I’ll never forget the pain of the fever”, “the flu flattened me”, “the flu knocked me out for weeks”.

This gives the impression that when you have the flu, you know you have it. What makes the flu so memorable is the severe symptoms. These include fever, aches and pains, a sore throat, runny nose, cough, and feeling weak and lethargic.

But what causes the flu? And why are the symptoms so severe?




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What causes the flu?

Influenza is caused by a virus, a small microbe that needs to enter our cells to replicate and produce more viruses. The influenza virus infects cells that line our airways and so is easily transmitted via the spread of droplets released when we sneeze or cough.

Coughs, sneezes and the other symptoms we feel after getting the flu, are largely due to our bodies fighting the infection.




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The immune response is a double-edge sword

When you are infected with the flu virus, your innate immune system kicks in. Special receptors recognise unique parts of the virus, triggering an alarm system to alert our bodies that an infection is under way.

This produces a rapid but non-specific response — inflammation.




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Inflammation results from the action of small proteins called cytokines. A primary role of cytokines is to act locally in the lung to help limit the initial infection taking hold.

They can also make their way into the circulation, becoming systemic (widespread in the body) and act as a “call to arms” by alerting the rest of the immune system there is an infection.

Unfortunately, your body’s inflammatory response, while trying to fight your infection, results in the flu symptoms we experience.

Inflammation can trigger increased mucus production. Mucus (or phlegm) is a sticky substance that helps capture virus in the lungs and upper airways. The increased amount of mucus in the airways can trigger coughing and/or sneezing, and can lead to a runny nose. This helps expel the virus from our body before it can infect other airway cells.




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Inflammation also results in an increase in body temperature or fever, which creates an inhospitable environment for the flu virus to replicate.

While an increased body temperature helps fight the infection, it also results in you feeling colder than usual. That’s because you feel a greater temperature difference between your body and the outside environment.

This can induce rapid muscle contractions in an effort to heat you up. This is why you can feel like you can’t stop shivering while at the same time burning up.




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Finally, some of these inflammatory molecules act directly on infected cells to stop the virus replicating. They can do this by either interfering with the replication process directly, or alternatively, by actually killing the infected cell.

One of these factors is tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). While its actions limit where the flu virus can replicate, its side effects include fever, loss of appetite and aching joints and muscles.

Calling in the big guns

Inflammation induced by the innate response also helps alert the adaptive immune system that there is an infection.

While innate immunity provides an immediate, albeit non-specific, response to viral infection, it is the adaptive immune response that can efficiently clear the infection.

The adaptive immune system consists of specialised white blood cells called T and B cells that when activated provide a highly specific response to infection.

Your flu symptoms are likely the result of your body fighting off infection with the the tiny flu virus.
from www.shutterstock.com

Activation of flu-specific T and B cells in tissues called lymph nodes results in the generation of hundreds of thousands of clones, all specific for the flu virus. These can migrate into the lungs and specifically target the virus and its ability to replicate.

This enormous expansion of T and B cell numbers in response to infection results in swelling of the lymph nodes, which you can feel under your armpits or chin, and which can become sore.

Flu-specific T cells are also a source of the inflammatory molecule TNF-alpha and help fight influenza infection by killing off virus-infected cells. Both actions can contribute to the flu symptoms.

Why can flu become a serious problem?

Our ability to see off a flu infection requires a coordinated response from both our innate and adaptive immune responses.

If our immune system function is diminished for some reason, then it can prolong infection, lead to more extensive damage to the lung and extended symptoms. This can then result in secondary bacterial infections, leading to pneumonia, hospitalisation and eventually death.

Then there are people whose immune system doesn’t work work so efficiently who are particularly susceptible to the flu and its complications. These include:

  • the very young, whose immune system is still yet to mature
  • the elderly, whose immune system function wanes with age
  • people with other conditions where immune function might be compromised, or be taking medication that might suppress the immune system.

Preventing the flu

Washing your hands and covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing are simple things we can all do to reduce the chance of catching the flu in the first place.

And getting the flu vaccine activates your adaptive immune response to induce the sort of immunity efficient at protecting us from infection.

With the flu season well under way, prevention is our best bet that you won’t be saying “Remember the time I got the flu”.




Read more:
What the flu does to your body, and why it makes you feel so awful


The Conversation


Stephen Turner, Professor, viral immunology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

6 actions Australia’s government can take right now to target online racism



Paul Fletcher, Australia’s recently appointed minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, says he wants to make the internet safe for everyone.
Markus Spiske / unsplash, CC BY

Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

Paul Fletcher was recently appointed as Australia’s Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

One of his stated priorities is to:

continue the Morrison Government’s work to make the internet a safer place for the millions of Australians who use it every day.

Addressing online racism is a vital part of this goal.

And not just because racism online is hurtful and damaging – which it is. This is also important because sometimes online racism spills into the real world with deadly consequences.




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An Australian man brought up in the Australian cyber environment is the alleged murderer of 50 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch. Planning and live streaming of the event took place on the internet, and across international boundaries.

We must critically assess how this happened, and be clearheaded and non-ideological about actions to reduce the likelihood of such an event happening again.

There are six steps Australia’s government can take.

1. Reconsider international racism convention

Our government should remove its reservation on Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

In 1966 Australia declined to sign up to Article 4(a) of the ICERD. It was the only country that had signed the ICERD while deciding to file a reservation on Article 4(a). It’s this section that mandates the criminalisation of race hate speech and racist propaganda.

The ICERD entered into Australian law, minus Article 4(a), through the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).

Article 4 concerns, such as they were, would enter the law as “unlawful” harassment and intimidation, with no criminal sanctions, twenty years later. This occurred through the 1996 amendments that produced Section 18 of the RDA, with its right for complainants to seek civil solutions through the Human Rights Commission.

With Article 4 ratified, the criminal law could encompass the worst cases of online racism, and the police would have some framework to pursue the worst offenders.




Read more:
Explainer: what is Section 18C and why do some politicians want it changed?


2. Extend international collaboration

Our government should extend Australia’s participation in the European cybercrime convention by adopting the First Additional Protocol.

In 2001 the Council of Europe opened the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime to signatories, establishing the first international instrument to address crimes committed over the internet. The add-on First Additional Protocol on criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature came into effect in 2002.

Australia’s government – Labor at the time – initially considered including the First Additional Protocol in cyber crime legislation in 2009, and then withdrew it soon after. Without it, our country is limited in the way we collaborate with other country signatories in tracking down cross border cyber racism.

3. Amend the eSafety Act

The Enhancing the Online Safety of Australians Act (until 2017 Enhancing the Online Safety of Children Act) established the eSafety Commissioner’s Office to pursue acts which undercut the safe use of the internet, especially through bullying.

The eSafety Act should be amended by Communications Minister Fletcher to extend the options for those harassed and intimidated, to include provisions similar to those found in NZ legislation. In effect this would mean people harassed online could take action themselves, or require the commissioner to act to protect them.

Such changes should be supported by staff able to speak the languages and operate in the cultural frames of those who are the most vulnerable to online race hate. These include Aboriginal Australians, Muslims, Jews and people of African and Asian descent.

4. Commit to retaining 18C

Section 18C of the RDA, known as the racial vilification provisions, allows individuals offended or intimidated by online race hate to seek redress.

The LNP government conducted two failed attempts over 2013-2019 to remove or dilute section 18C on grounds of free speech.

Rather than just leaving this dangling into the future, the government should commit itself to retaining 18C.

Even if this does happen, unless Article 4 of the (ICERD) is ratified as mentioned above, Australia will still have no effective laws that target online race-hate speech by pushing back against perpetrators.

Legislation introduced by the Australian government in April 2019 does make companies such as Facebook more accountable for hosting violent content online, but does not directly target perpetrators of race hate. It’s private online groups that can harbour and grow race hate hidden from the law.




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5. Review best practice in combating cyber racism

Australia’s government should conduct a public review of best practice worldwide in relation to combating cyber racism. For example, it could plan for an options paper for public discussion by the end of 2020, and legislation where required in 2021.

European countries have now a good sense of how their protocol on cyber racism has worked. In particular, it facilitates inter-country collaboration, and empowers the police to pursue organised race hate speech as a criminal enterprise.

Other countries such as New Zealand and Canada, with whom we often compare ourselves, have moved far beyond the very limited action taken by Australia.

6. Provide funds to stop racism

In conjunction with the states plus industry and civil society organisations, the Australian government should promote and resource “push back” against online racism. This can be addressed by reducing the online space in which racists currently pursue their goals of normalising racism.

Civil society groups such as the Online Hate Prevention Institute and All Together Now, and interventions like the currently stalled NSW Government program on Remove Hate from the Debate, are good examples of strategies that could achieve far more with sustained support from the federal government.

Such action characterises many European societies. Another good example is the World Wide Web Foundation (W3F)) in North America, whose #Fortheweb campaign highlights safety issues for web users facing harassment and intimidation through hate speech.




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Slow change over time

Speaking realistically, the aim through these mechanisms cannot be to “eliminate” racism, which has deep structural roots. Rather, our goal should be to contain racism, push it back into ever smaller pockets, target perpetrators and force publishers to be far more active in limiting their users’ impacts on vulnerable targets.

Without criminal provisions, infractions of civil law are essentially let “through to the keeper”. The main players know this very well.

Our government has a responsibility to ensure publishers and platforms know what the community standards are in Australia. Legislation and regulation should enshrine, promote and communicate these standards – otherwise the vulnerable remain unprotected, and the aggressors continue smirking.The Conversation

Andrew Jakubowicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We’re not just living for longer – we’re staying healthier for longer, too



Improvements in heart health accounted for more than half of the improvements in our overall health.
From shutterstock.com

John Goss, University of Canberra

In the 12 years to 2015, life expectancy in Australia increased by 2.3 years for men (to 80.4) and 1.6 years for women (to 84.6). Our health-adjusted life expectancy increased along with it – by two years for men (to 71.5) and 1.3 years for women (to 74.4).

Health-adjusted life expectancy estimates the number of full health years people can expect to experience over the course of their lives. By comparing this measure to life expectancy, we can see whether longer life expectancy is accompanied by more years lived in full health.

Pleasingly, these trends show we’re not just living for longer – but we’re staying healthy for longer, too.




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In the Australian Burden of Disease study, released today, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has mapped the impact and causes of illness and death in Australia between 2003 and 2015.

The improvement in health-adjusted life expectancy alongside life expectancy in the last 12 years builds on continual improvements in life expectancy seen in Australia over several decades.

These improvements in our health can be accorded to advancements in science and medicine, and certain changes we’ve made in our lifestyles. But there’s still plenty of room to do better.

How have we achieved this?

Some 89% of the health improvement between 2003 and 2015 was due to improvements in heart health, reductions in cancer, and improved infant health.

Health improvement refers to reductions in the burden of disease, measured in disability adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs take into account premature death as well as the burden of illness and disability caused by disease and injury.

Heart disease and stroke

In the period from 2003 to 2015, there was a 36% reduction in the age-standardised burden of disease due to heart disease and stroke. Improvements in heart health accounted for 56% of the overall improvement in health.

The vast majority of the reduction in the cardiovascular disease burden has been due to reductions in smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Some of the improvement is due to better treatment (for example, surgical interventions like stent insertions).

We’ve been seeing strong progress in this area over many years. The chance of dying from heart disease or stroke is now one sixth of what it was in 1970.




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How Australians Die: cause #1 – heart diseases and stroke


Cancer and infant health

The reduction in the burden of disease from cancer, which accounted for 25% of the improvement in health, has been partly due to the reduction in risk factors such as smoking. Prevention through screening has also played an important role.

But improved treatment, in the form of drugs, radiation and surgery, has been the most important factor. Five year survival rates for cancer increased from 50% in 1986-1990 to 69% in 2011-2015.

Reductions in the burden of disease due to infant and congenital conditions accounted for 8% of the improvement in health between 2003 and 2015. This was due to improved treatment of infants with congenital conditions and better prevention of problems such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Advances in medicine – both prevention and treatment of disease – contribute to Australians living longer than they used to.
From shutterstock.com

Managing our risk factors is key

Overall, reductions in risk factors has been responsible for 51% of the health improvement we’ve seen between 2003 and 2015.

Although some risk factors like overweight and obesity have worsened, the decline in smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and alcohol use has more than compensated for those risk factors which have worsened or those risk factors, like physical inactivity, which have not improved.

We’re by no means reaching the end of the line in terms of opportunities to improve our health.

Some 38% of the burden of disease in 2015 was due to risk factors like smoking (still accounting for 9.3% of the burden), overweight and obesity (8.4% of the burden), poor diet (7.3%), high blood pressure (5.8%), excessive alcohol intake (4.5%), high cholesterol (3%), insufficient physical activity (2.5%) and child abuse and neglect (2.2%).

Health isn’t equal

The report reveals significant inequalities in health, with those living in the poorest areas having a health-adjusted life expectancy at least five years lower than those living in the richest areas.

The burden of disease in the poorest areas is 50% higher than in the richest areas. For some diseases like heart disease, the burden of disease is 70% higher in the lowest socioeconomic areas, whereas for cancer the burden of disease is 40% higher.




Read more:
Low-income earners are more likely to die early from preventable diseases


So the news isn’t all good. While there’s opportunity for us to manage our risk factors on an individual level, these health disparities warrant urgent attention on a broader health policy level.The Conversation

John Goss, Adjunct Associate Professor, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hong Kong in crisis over relationship with China – and there does not appear to be a good solution


Mass pro-democracy demonstrations over recent days have underscored the fact that Hong Kong residents are fearful of creeping mainland control.
AAP/EPA/Vernon Yuen

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When Britain ceded its control of Hong Kong in 1997 – after its 100-year lease expired – concerns were raised that a 50-year “one country, two systems” formula would be insufficient to protect citizens’ rights.

Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, was among those warning about the risks to the territory’s autonomy under Chinese control.

However, it was argued at the time the “one country, two systems” deal was the best outcome that could be struck under the circumstances.

Twenty-two years later, not quite halfway through a 50-year transition to a notional end to a “two systems” arrangement, it is clear that the relatively benign outcome envisaged in 1997 is under unusual stress.

Mass pro-democracy demonstrations over recent days have underscored the fact that Hong Kong residents are fearful of creeping mainland control that will obliterate their relatively unfettered rights under the 1997 formula.

Their immediate concern is an extradition bill, before Hong Kong’s legislature, that would enable Beijing to extradite alleged criminals. The legislation invites understandable concerns that it could be misused to secure the extradition to the mainland of China’s critics under the pretext these individuals had engaged in criminal activity.

Hong Kong’s relatively free media are alarmed at threats to press freedom inherent in the bill.

Beijing has done little to assuage these concerns. It has accused “foreign forces” of misleading Hong Kongers as part of an attempt to destabilise China.




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In China, authorities have blocked foreign news sites to prevent the dissemination of reports and images from the streets of Hong Kong. This is no doubt out of concern that street demonstrations might become contagious on the mainland.

The fact these demonstrations coincided with the 30th anniversary of the June 6 1989 Tiananmen massacre in which hundreds, if not thousands, died in a government crackdown will have fuelled Beijing’s nervousness about developments in Hong Kong.

What distinguishes the latest mass protests against Chinese attempts to circumvent its 1997 “one country, two systems” undertakings from protracted disturbances in 2014 is that this time it reflects increasing alarm about Beijing’s stealthy attempts to extend its control.

In 2014, demonstrations against Beijing’s violation of its commitment to autonomous local elections lasted months. This was the so-called “umbrella movement”, distinguished by the symbolic carrying of umbrellas by demonstrators.

In 2019, and judging by events characterised by fairly heavy-handed use of tear gas, water cannons and other methods to break up the demonstrations, the authorities have resolved to try to nip in the bud this challenge to Beijing-dominated Hong Kong rule.

Whether this works remains to be seen.

The disturbances pose a challenge to Western governments at a particularly fraught moment in global affairs. Relations between the US and China are on a knife’s edge over trade and other issues. This includes sales of sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan, tightening sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, moves to bar the telecommunications supplier Huawei from building 5G networks of US allies, including Australia, and a confrontational approach to China in Washington more generally.

Ill will over Hong Kong will not be helpful.




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Stakes are high as US ups the ante on trade dispute with China


From Australia’s standpoint, the Hong Kong disturbances come at an awkward moment as a newly elected government in Canberra wrestles with China policy.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s initial response to events in Hong Kong was too meek. Through a spokesperson, she said:

The Australian government is taking a close interest in the proposed amendments […]

Australia’s interests in Hong Kong deserve something more forthright than this.

Not only does Hong Kong absorb A$11 billion worth of Australian merchandise exports annually, services trade at A$3 billion is significant, and total investment in Australia of A$116 billion puts the former British territory in the top 10 foreign investors.

On top of that, about 100,000 Australians are resident in Hong Kong. This is not a small number in a population of 7.5 million.

While it is true Hong Kong is less important economically than it was in 1997, when its GDP was 16% of China’s (it’s now 2%), it still remains an indispensable financial conduit and testing ground for financial reforms.

Hong Kong provided the financial platform for China’s cautious experimentation in its move towards making the yuan a global currency. Hong Kong’s stock exchange is an important vehicle for capital-raising for Chinese companies.

The events of recent days have placed Beijing’s woman in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, who was selected by Beijing as chief executive two years ago, in an invidious position. If she yields to the protesters and withdraws the extradition law, she will run foul of her controllers in Beijing.

If she pushes ahead in the Legislative Council with the support of 43 pro-Beijing lawmakers out of 70, as she insists she will, she risks further disturbances.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Uber in the air: flying taxi trials may lead to passenger service by 2023



Air taxis could soon offer passengers rapid transport from an airport to a city.
from www.shutterstock.com

Matthew Marino, RMIT University

Uber Air will start test flights of its aerial taxi service in 2020, and move to commercial operations by 2023, the ABC reported today.

Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angels have been named as three test cities for the trial.

As a researcher in unmanned aerial systems, I was asked recently if I would ride on an Uber Air taxi. After a brief ponder, my answer is “yes”.

The introduction of Uber Air in 2023 may feel way out of reach for many people, but I believe this is a feasible and exciting development in air travel.

If Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has signed off on the safe operation of this new aircraft I would love to experience an aerial taxi.




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Passenger drones

The aviation industry is well developed, and various aircraft share the skies.
Helicopters, general aviation and large commercial aircraft are all regarded as a safe and considered an acceptable form of transportation.

A newer addition to the industry is the passenger carrying drone, and one which is being introduced at speed.

Boeing’s GoFly competition has been set up to “foster the development of safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL personal flying devices capable of flying twenty miles while carrying a single person”. (VTOL refers to vertical take-off and landing).

US$2 million is up for grabs for successful designs and prototypes. Of the competitors, five phase two winners were announced in March 2019, and the competition is still ongoing to find the most innovative and optimum solution for a passenger-carrying aircraft.

Dubai’s police force is reportedly conducting trials with a hovering vehicle, something that resembles a flying motorcycle.

Uber says it has a vision to provide VTOL ride share services for passengers throughout the world.

Whether the first Uber Air vehicle will be piloted by a human on board or remotely, or via an autopilot is still unknown. This will depend on the required levels of safety set by CASA.

I believe the end goal would be to be fully autonomous, however, this would require extensive proof these system are completely safe.

Quite simple technology

Unlike a helicopter, the technology base of a drone is far simpler. Controlled by computers, they use electricity as a primary power source from batteries and brushless electric motors to make them thrust into the sky. This type of system has been used with great success with smaller drones in the commercial market.

Current smaller drones have the capability of flying autonomously: no pilot is needed. A pick up location and a return location can be programmed into the drone, and it is able to land, takeoff and fly without pilot assistance.

This is not strictly considered to be an artificial intelligence system. Drones operate through a series of checkpoints in the sky, which they track all the way to the final destination. This is reliant on GPS, much like the GPS in your phone or navigating the streets using a Google Maps.

The scaling up of this technology to carry passengers was only a matter of time.

But the clear next step is research on how safe these aircraft are going to be. This is important not just for future passengers on board, but also for the people and property they will fly over.




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Like traditional aircraft which go through a rigorous certification process, drones may be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny.

Due to the simplicity of the drone system, this type of certification may take less time than a traditional aircraft (which can take many years, depending on the complexity of the design being certified).

Fortunately, we have a very proactive regulatory body in CASA. This authority is seen as a world leader in not only drone policies and procedures for safe drone operation, but it already actively consults and assists people in the drone industry.

It’s likely CASA played a role in getting Uber Air trials assigned to Melbourne.

A few nerves

Much like the helicopter when it was introduced back in the 1940s, people are likely to be apprehensive about a passenger-carrying drone in the first instance. The idea that unmanned vehicles may soon be flying through the sky raises many questions and concerns about the implications on people’s lives and the safety of the community.

This is a natural response. It takes time to develop confidence in new technology – especially one that has the responsibility of flying people around cities.

Over time helicopter technology progressed, and it was made safe and reliable – it was eventually seen as an acceptable mode of transportation. A similar progression with drones is likely.

We can be confident the technology will be properly tested and proven safe before the common citizen will be able to phone order an Uber Air trip across town.

Australia is the perfect place for testing, especially this country’s capacity for rapid development and continuous testing in outback Australia.

Google and other international bodies have tested new drone technology in Australia in a safe and regulated manner.

The Uber Air taxi will be no different with extensive testing to improve the technology, efficiency and reliability.




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Driverless cars are going to disrupt the airline industry


The Conversation


Matthew Marino, Lecturer and Researcher, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s asylum seeker policy history: a story of blunders and shame


Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

This article was developed from a series of interviews with politicians, officials and other key players, including former Immigration minister Chris Evans and former Victorian premier Steve Bracks. Others preferred to remain anonymous.


We know very little about the kind of government Scott Morrison runs. After beating Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop to the prime ministership in August last year, most commentators assumed Morrison was keeping the chair warm until Labor’s Bill Shorten won the 2019 election.

Following the Coalition’s unexpected victory, it’s time to ask more searching questions, not only about Scott Morrison’s political values and policy aspirations, but about his prime ministerial style.

Recent history suggests processes of policy decision-making can make or break governments.




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Cruel, and no deterrent: why Australia’s policy on asylum seekers must change


Labor’s shambolic attempts to create asylum seeker policy during the Rudd-Gillard years are emblematic of the dire consequences when tried-and-tested processes of policy advice fail.

In the face of internal dissent, thousands of asylum seekers arriving by boat and a marauding opposition leader, the government rejected its most vital source of advice, the public service.

It began in 2009

In mid-October 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was informed that a vessel carrying 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers was in danger of sinking in Indonesian waters. Rudd negotiated directly with the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and decided to dispatch a Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, to rescue the asylum seekers and return them to Indonesia.

The then immigration minister Chris Evans first heard of the plan when he received a phone call from Rudd’s chief of staff, Alister Jordan.

Jordan was not consulting the immigration minister, but rather informing him of a plan that had been enacted. Evans rang his departmental secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, who told him the plan would not work because the asylum seekers would refuse to disembark.

As Metcalfe had foreseen, the asylum seekers refused to leave the Australian boat at Bintan. Australian voice surveillance revealed there was talk of mass suicide.




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The standoff lasted four weeks, until a deal was struck that saw the Sri Lankans resettled in countries including New Zealand.

Officials in the Immigration Department were dumbfounded. One told me:

The Oceanic Viking was a thought bubble from Rudd … It was an absolute debacle. It was crazy. It had nothing to do with immigration but we were asked to go in and fix it up. And that scuttled any possibility of us doing anything with Indonesia for a long time.

The boats kept coming. There were 6,555 boat arrivals in 2010. On the night he lost the prime ministership to Julia Gillard, Rudd told the Labor caucus that if he won the leadership vote, he would “not be lurching to the right on question of asylum seekers”.

What Rudd didn’t mention was that the government had been actively exploring offshore options for some time.

The Immigration Department had prepared a list of possible sites for offshore detention that included Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, and East Timor.

Sounding out the East Timorese government

Evans was focused on pursuing a multilateral solution. His officials consulted with members of the refugee lobby, including the prominent lawyer David Manne, about being part of a broader regional arrangement that had the approval of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Evans and his department worked on an offshore deal that would meet with the approval of Australian stakeholders, neighbouring countries, and the UNHCR. But meanwhile, a small group of ministers focused on East Timor.




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The former Victorian premier, Steve Bracks, was approached at an airport and asked to sound out the East Timorese government about a processing centre. Bracks reported back that Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was interested, but he would need some time to win support within his government.

Gusmao wanted negotiations to be done through the president, Jose Ramos Horta. This process was in train when Kevin Rudd was overthrown as prime minister on June 24, 2010.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute on July 5, the new prime minister, Gillard, announced she had discussed with Horta the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre in East Timor. But in going public, she had pre-empted the internal East Timorese process. Gusmao distanced himself from the plan and it quickly fizzled.

Meanwhile, the public servants who had been working on the multilateral solution were left scratching their heads. One official told me:

I have no idea where [East Timor] sprang from.

We were working on arrangements … and one of the really difficult things was thought bubbles kept coming from funny quarters and then you’d have the media onto it, laughing at it or making a joke of it.

Failed Malaysia initiative

After the 2010 election, the new immigration minister Chris Bowen secured an offshore processing arrangement with Malaysia. Immigration Department officials had encouraged Bowen to bring refugee stakeholders and the UNCHR on board.




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But Bowen, who was facing immense political pressure from opposition leader Tony Abbott, preferred to deal unilaterally with his Malaysian counterpart, Hishamuddin Hussein, with whom he had developed a strong rapport.

Hours before the first 16 asylum seekers were due to be transported to Malaysia, Manne obtained an injunction against their removal from Australia, pending a challenge to the legality of the government’s agreement with Malaysia.

In September 2011, the High Court decided in a six-to-one decision that the Malaysia agreement contravened the Migration Act because the refugees would not be given the protection required by the Australian legislation.

According to a key player, the High Court ruling was the product of a profound failure of process:

the government did a very bad job at … going to the organisations who would be part of any solution. And, instead, pissed them off so comprehensively they went to the High Court.




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Robert Manne: How we came to be so cruel to asylum seekers


After the failure of the Malaysia initiative, the Gillard government hurriedly reopened the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres.

In 2013, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott debate about asylum seeker policy, and the ‘PNG solution’.

When Rudd replaced Gillard in June 2013, he announced that no one who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia. The boats slowed, but it was the institution of boat turnbacks under the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders that stopped them altogether.

The consequences of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ blundered handling of asylum seeker policy were considerable. Indonesia and East Timor were unnecessarily offended, the government’s political fortunes suffered and, most significantly, asylum seekers were again subjected to processing on Nauru and Manus Island.




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It is conceivable that Manus and Nauru would have remained closed and Operation Sovereign Borders rendered unnecessary had the Rudd and Gillard governments heeded the advice of the Immigration Department to bring key refugee stakeholders and UNHCR on board into the process.

The institution of rigorous decision-making processes will not guarantee Scott Morrison’s success, but they could help him avoid many of the pitfalls that contributed to the downfall of the Rudd and Gillard governments.


Carolyn Holbrook is presenting a talk on this topic at the Australian Policy and History ‘History and the Hill’ Conference at Deakin University on Thursday, June 13The Conversation

Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.