Why Indonesia’s tsunamis are so deadly



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MAST IRHAM/EPA

Anja Scheffers, Southern Cross University

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, that struck Indonesia days ago has resulted in at least 1,200 deaths.

Authorities are still gauging the extent of the damage, but it’s clear the earthquake and tsunami had a devastating effect on the Sulawesi region, particularly the city of Palu.

It’s not the first time earthquakes have caused mass destruction and death in Indonesia. The tsunamis that follow are particularly damaging. But why?

A combination of plate tectonic in the region, the shape of the coastline, vulnerable communities and a less-than-robust early warning system all combine to make Indonesian tsunamis especially dangerous.




Read more:
Would a better tsunami warning system have saved lives in Sulawesi?


Tectonic plates

Indonesia covers many complex tectonic environments. Many details of these are still poorly understood, which hampers our ability to predict earthquake and tsunami risks.

The biggest earthquakes on Earth are “subduction zone” earthquakes, which occur where two tectonic plates meet.

In December 2004 and March 2005, there were a pair of subduction zone earthquakes along the Sunda Trench offshore of the west coast of Sumatra. In particular, the magnitude-9.1 quake in December 2004 generated a devastating tsunami that killed almost a quarter of a million people in countries and islands surrounding the Indian Ocean.

But only looking out for these kinds of earthquakes can blind us to other dangers. Eastern Indonesia has many small microplates, which are jostled around by the motion of the large Australia, Sunda, Pacific and Philippine Sea plates.

The September quake was caused by what’s called a “strike-slip” fault in the interior of one of these small plates. It is rare – although not unknown – for these kinds of quakes to create tsunamis.

The fault systems are rather large, and through erosion processes have created broad river valleys and estuaries. The valley of the Palu river, and its estuary in which the regional capital Palu is located, have been formed by this complex fault system. Studies of prehistoric earthquakes along this fault system suggests this fault produces magnitude 7-8 earthquakes roughly every 700 years.

The sea floor shapes the wave

Another important factor for tsunamis is the depth and shape of the sea floor. This determines the speed of the initial waves. Strong subduction zone earthquakes on the ocean floor can cause the entire ocean water column to lift, then plunge back down. As the water has momentum, it may fall below sea level and create strong oscillations.

The bulge of water moving outward from the centre of a earthquake maybe of limited height (rarely much more than a metre), but the mass of water is extremely large (depending on the surface area moved by the earthquake).

Tsunami waves can travel very fast, reaching the speed of a jet. In water 2km deep they can travel at 700km per hour, and over very deep ocean can hit 1,000km per hour.

When the wave approaches the shallower coast, its speed decreases and the height increases. A tsunami may be 1m high in the open ocean, but rise to 5-10m at the coast. If the approach to the shoreline is steep, this effect is exaggerated and can create waves tens of metres high.

Despite the fact that the waves slow down near the coast, their immense starting speeds mean flat areas can be inundated for kilometres inland. The ocean floor topography affects the speed of tsunami waves, meaning they move faster over deep areas and slow down over submarine banks. Very steep land, above or below water, can even bend and reflect waves.

The coastlines of the Indonesian archipelago are accentuated, in particular in the eastern part and especially at Sulawesi. Palu has a narrow, deep and long bay: perfectly designed to make tsunamis more intense, and more deadly.

This complex configuration also makes it very difficult to model potential tsunamis, so it’s hard to issue timely and accurate warnings to people who may be affected.




Read more:
Explainer: after an earthquake, how does a tsunami happen?


Get to high ground

The safest and simplest advice for people in coastal areas that have been affected by an earthquake is to get to higher ground immediately, and stay there for a couple of hours. In reality, this is a rather complex problem.

Hawaii and Japan have sophisticated and efficient early warning systems. Replicating these in Indonesia is challenging, given the lack of communications infrastructure and the wide variety of languages spoken throughout the vast island archipelago.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, international efforts were made to improve tsunami warning networks in the region. Today, Indonesia’s tsunami warning system operates a network of 134 tidal gauge stations, 22 buoys connected to seafloor sensors to transmit advance warnings, land-based seismographs, sirens in about 55 locations, and a system to disseminate warnings by text message.

However, financing and supporting the early warning system in the long term is a considerable problem. The buoys alone cost around US$250,000 each to install and US$50,000 annually for maintenance.

The three major Indonesian agencies for responsible for earthquake and tsunami disaster mitigation have suffered from budget cuts and internal struggles to define roles and responsibilities.

Lastly, the Palu tsunami event has highlighted that our current tsunami models are insufficient. They do not properly consider multiple earthquake events, or the underwater landslides potentially caused by such quakes.

No early warning system can prevent strong earthquakes. Tsunamis, and the resulting infrastructure damage and fatalities, will most certainly occur in the future. But with a well-developed and reliable early warning system, and better communication and public awareness, we can minimise the tragic consequences.

With earthquakes that occur very close to the beach – often the case in Indonesia – even an ideal system could not disseminate the necessary information quickly enough. Indonesia’s geography and vulnerable coastal settlements makes tsunamis more dangerous, so we need more and concerted efforts to create earthquake and tsunami resilient communities.The Conversation

Anja Scheffers, Professor, Southern Cross University

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

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Australia’s obsession with opinion polls is eroding political leadership



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Malcolm Turnbull’s days were numbered as the Newspoll losses continued to mount.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Ian Cook

In its early days, political opinion polling’s leading advocate, George Gallup, sold it as an essential tool for democracy. He believed polling made for better representation because it allowed politicians to take the people’s “pulse”.

But opinion polling didn’t so much enhance democracy as remake it.

Thanks to Gallup, polls have become so ubiquitous in modern-day politics that we’re now convinced they can accurately predict elections. (Even though Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 US presidential election suggests otherwise.) Gallup ran his first poll in the US in 1935 and in Australia in 1941.

Since then, opinion polling has changed every liberal democracy by turning politics into a contest between two sales teams trying to synthesise a product they believe voters want and diluting what was once the key role of politicians: to provide leadership.

Polls driving the news cycle

In Australia, this can be seen in the revolving door of prime ministers over the past decade. Polling isn’t the sole reason for this political instability, but it’s played an important part.

Obsessive poll-watching has become standard practice for politicians, as well as the journalists who cover them. This is partly because polls have become news stories in themselves, and not just at election times. A new poll is “news” because it provides the latest measure of the mood of the electorate, which is what everyone wants to know.




Read more:
Election explainer: what are the opinion polls and how accurate are they?


The weekly countdown of Malcolm Turnbull’s losses in the Newspoll is a case in point. Because Turnbull arbitrarily set a threshold of 30 Newspoll losses as his justification to challenge the leadership of Tony Abbott, the media fixated on the same arbitrary threshold during his time in office.

When Turnbull lost his 30th straight Newspoll, the media made it feel like a death knell.

Before Abbott, Julia Gillard was dumped for Kevin Rudd because internal Labor polling predicted he could swing crucial votes Labor’s way and save the party from a disastrous defeat in the 2013 election.

In her parting shot to her party, Gillard made clear what she felt had contributed to its decline in leadership:

…real thought has to be given to how to make any leadership contest one in which candidates have to articulate why they want to lead Labor and the nation. … The identification of the top new ideas – not just who is top of the opinion polls.

As soon as Scott Morrison was picked to replace Turnbull, all eyes turned again to the polls to see how the electorate would respond.

In the latest Newspoll, the Coalition had closed the gap with Labor somewhat, but still trailed overall 46-54%. The Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed similar numbers.

The slightly good news for Morrison: he led Bill Shorten as better prime minister 45-32%. But as many commentators have pointed out, this isn’t much of an improvement on where Turnbull was a few weeks ago.

So, not much has changed for the Liberals and it appears not much will – they’re stuck with Morrison now. Some are probably asking themselves now if the spill was worth it, particularly with so many marginal seats in play in the next election and the Coalition sitting on a one-seat majority.

The impact on decision-making

A less visible effect of polling has been the impact it’s had on conversations inside the major parties.

In some regards, policymaking is no longer based solely on a leader’s principles and what the party stands for. It’s about which policies are most likely to keep the party ahead in the opinion polls.

It’s becoming increasingly unlikely for the inner core of senior politicians who run the parties to push through a necessary, but unpopular, policy with the goal of changing the minds of voters who don’t agree with it.




Read more:
How political opinion polls affect voter behaviour


Take Australia’s contentious asylum seeker policy, for instance. Following record numbers of boat arrivals in 2012, many polls were taken to gauge the public’s opinion on the Gillard Labor government’s handling of the issue.

The results showed a high degree of confusion. As many as one in five respondents reported uncertainty in a number of surveys. When that happens, a minor change in a poll’s wording can shift the results in major ways.

But those who wanted to turn back the boats were far more entrenched. In a 2012 survey by the Scanlon Foundation, 26% of respondents favoured “turning the boats back” as a solution to the crisis. Other polls showed that voters overwhelmingly blamed the government for the impasse.

There was an opportunity for our leaders to step in with a solution that would bring together the 74% of people who didn’t support a “turn back the boats” policy.

But faced with negative headlines and an unhappy electorate – only 6% of respondents in the Scanlon survey thought the government was doing a good job on asylum seeker policy – it was far more expedient for the government to take a hard line than to craft and sell a more nuanced approach that would address people’s concerns and provide a more humane outcome for asylum seekers.

Potential problems with polling

Another troubling aspect of polls is that the numbers are less real than they are made to look. Hard as they try, pollsters are increasingly having a harder time finding a representative sample of people to survey.

According to Cliff Zukin, the former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, election polling is nearing a crisis:

Two trends are driving the increasing unreliability of election and other polling in the United States: the growth of cellphones and the decline in people willing to answer surveys.

The Pew Research Centre, for example, reported that 36% of those called in the US would agree to be polled in 1997 and only 9% agreed in 2016.

Many pollsters believe that IVR (interactive voice response), or robopolling, is the future. This automated software allows pollsters to make a higher volume of calls to compensate for the higher numbers of
hang-ups. Robopolling is also much cheaper.




Read more:
US election: how did the polls get it so wrong?


In Australia, Newspoll stopped surveying people by landline phones in 2015 and shifted to a mixed methodology of robopolling and online surveys. The new Newspoll was found to be less prone to random fluctuations, but appeared to lean a little to Labor, relative to other polls.

Ipsos still relies on live phone polling, both land lines and mobiles. While Ipsos’ polling results are generally well-regarded, some analysts have found them to underestimate Labor and overestimate the Greens.

Despite all these questions about the accuracy of polls in the mobile phone era, however, they did appear to provide an accurate prediction of the 2016 general election in Australia.

While this is perhaps reassuring, it will only continue to fuel their appeal. As journalist Gay Alcorn put it, Australia’s obsession with polling is not only dispiriting, but corrupting for our politics:

What’s sad is that we know it, but find it impossible to rise above it.The Conversation

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics

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

Would a better tsunami warning system have saved lives in Sulawesi?


Jane Cunneen, Curtin University

The death toll from the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck near Palu, Indonesia, on Friday evening continues to rise, with several regions yet to be reached by rescue teams.

But the size and location of the earthquake should not have come as a surprise. Palu is situated at the end of a long, narrow bay which is the surface expression of a very active fault, the Palu-Koro fault.

The area is at high risk of tsunami, with several large earthquakes and tsunamis occurring along the fault within the past 100 years.




Read more:
Explainer: after an earthquake, how does a tsunami happen?


Details of Friday’s incident are limited, but already there are questions being asked about the effectiveness of Indonesia’s tsunami warning system.

It was developed after the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that occurred after an earthquake near Sumatra, but in this recent event the warning did not reach many of the people who were affected.

The tsunami occurred in an area where there are no tide gauges that could give information about the height of the wave. There are reports that a more high-tech system could have saved lives if it had been fully implemented.

Most of Indonesia’s deep ocean tsunameter buoys, specially designed to detect tsunamis in the open ocean, have not been working since 2012.

The Indonesian Tsunami Warning System issued a warning only minutes after the earthquake, but officials were unable to contact officers in the Palu area. The warning was cancelled 34 minutes later, just after the third tsunami wave hit Palu.

Tsunami history of Palu

Large earthquakes are not uncommon in Palu, with 15 events over magnitude 6.5 occurring in the past 100 years. The largest was a magnitude-7.9 event in January 1996, about 100km north of Friday’s earthquake.

Several these large earthquakes have also generated tsunamis. In 1927, an earthquake and tsunami caused about 50 deaths and damaged buildings in Palu. In 1968 an earthquake with magnitude 7.8 near Donggala generated a tsunami wave that killed more than 200 people.

Despite this history, many people in Palu were not aware of the risk of a tsunami following the earthquake. Ten years on from the 2004 Boxing Day tragedy that killed at least 226,000 people, there were concerns about tsunami warning systems across the region.

An advanced warning system currently only in the prototype stage may not have helped the people of Palu, as the tsunami struck the shore within 20 minutes of the earthquake.

Such early warning systems are most useful for areas several hundred kilometres from the tsunami source. In regions like Palu where the earthquake and tsunami source are very close, education is the most effective warning system.

It is not yet clear whether Friday’s tsunami was caused by movement on the fault rupture from the earthquake, or from submarine landslides within Palu bay caused by the shaking from the earthquake.

The sides of the bay are steep and unstable, and maps of the sea floor suggest that submarine landslides have occurred there in the past.

If the tsunami was generated by a submarine landslide within the bay, tsunami sensors or tide gauges at the mouth of the bay would not have sensed the tsunami wave before it struck the shore in Palu.

Communication networks

High tech tsunami warning systems are able to send out warnings through phone networks and other communications channels, and reach the community through text messages and tsunami sirens on the beaches.

But in areas where a devastating earthquake has occurred, this infrastructure is often too damaged to operate and the warning messages simply can’t get through. In Palu, the earthquake destroyed the local mobile phone network and no information was able to get in or out of the area.

Timing is also crucial. Official tsunami warnings require analysis of data and take time – even if it is only minutes – to prepare and disseminate.

This time is crucial for people near the earthquake epicentre, where the tsunami may strike within minutes of the earthquake. Those living in such areas need to be aware of the need to evacuate without waiting for official warnings, relying on the earthquake itself as a natural warning of a potential tsunami.




Read more:
Be prepared, always: the tsunami message from New Zealand’s latest earthquake


The need to raise awareness of the risk becomes even more challenging when large tsunamis occur infrequently, as in Palu. Many residents would not have been born when the last tsunami impacted the town in 1968.

So high tech warning systems may not be effective in areas close to the earthquake epicentre. Ongoing awareness and education programmes are the most important part of a tsunami warning system in coastal areas at risk of tsunami, no matter how infrequently they occur.The Conversation

Jane Cunneen, Research Fellow, Curtin University

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

Hayne holds fire, but the banks’ day of reckoning is coming



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Putting people rather than profits at the centre of banking culture is possible, but difficult.
Shutterstock

Andrew Linden, RMIT University and Warren Staples, RMIT University

The evidence presented in the first four rounds of the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services was harrowing.

It would be a mistake to think the appalling misbehaviour uncovered so easily by the Commission was unconnected, just a few bad apples, as the banks and their supporters had been claiming.

It’s a mistake Commissioner Hayne doesn’t make in his interim report, describing the misconduct as systemic, orchestrated as a matter of corporate policy, and against the law.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


So shocked is he about what he concludes is law-breaking sanctioned at the highest levels that he asks rhetorically whether there would be any point in new laws, given the old ones were often ignored by banks and are not enforced by regulators.

The law already requires entities to “do all things necessary to ensure” that the services they are licensed to provide are provided “efficiently, honestly and fairly”. Much more often than not, the conduct now condemned was contrary to law. Passing some new law to say, again, “Do not do that”, would add an extra layer of legal complexity to an already complex regulatory regime. What would that gain?

He makes no recommendations in his three-volume 1000 page interim report, instead drawing together a long list of questions he intends to answer in his final report, due in February.

Before then, the bank chief executives appearing in the Comission’s final round of hearings will be asked some very tough questions.

No more convivial chats

It won’t be like the convivial chats the bank executives are used to with the heads of regulators, eager to please their ministers in love with financial innovation and the concept of Australia becoming a global financial centre, a new City of London in the East.

Nor will it be like the “I’m sorry, I’ll take that on notice” parliamentary hearings the government arranged a year or two ago in an effort to fend off the Commission.

We’ve always had the evidence

For decades few have thought to ask why Australia’s big banks have been consistently among the world’s most profitable.

Certainly not shareholders who loved the returns and wanted more.

Too many middle and higher level employees were happy to take the bonuses.

Now a new treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who wasn’t centrally involved in fending off the Royal Commission, appears to have got the message.

Whatever the criticisms are of the regulator, we should remember actually who perpetrated the wrong conduct. And that was the financial institutions themselves. So they are ultimately, and the individuals involved, ultimately the ones who must be held accountable and responsible for their actions. The regulators need to enforce the laws they have at their disposal, impose the penalties that are available to them, and in doing so we are more likely to see a culture of compliance than what we have seen.

Commissioner Hayne has framed the fundamental problem as one of greed overriding respect for the law and respect for customers.

We allowed greed to become good

Hayne asks how that could change.

We have argued with reference to AMP and IOOF that while greed might be an ever present part of the human condition, it can be suppressed or contained.

Greed-induced systemic financial crises were common before the 1940s and after the 1970s, but not during the war or in the decades immediately after the war.




Read more:
Britain’s broken corporate governance regime


The 1980s saw a sea change in attitudes to greed, brought about by financial deregulation and the popularising of the view taught in economics classes that pursuit of individual self interest was in society’s best interest.

Rules, codes and views about what constituted good governance came to be based on a theory that gave a central role to greed, maximising shareholder returns and incentivising managers.

Boards were encouraged to think that putting shareholders first was more important than following directors duties and the law.

Bureaucratically, there was an unrelenting policy preference for self-governance, light touch regulation and cooperation with wrongdoers rather than enforcement.

It’s hard to change

Relying on good character (individual virtue) isn’t enough when corporate structures and policies facilitate systematic misconduct.

It’s impossible to buy organisational culture off the shelf. It is a product of many things.

Changing culture requires more than better professional credentialing, increased financial literacy and embedding regulators inside banks. By themselves, these measures are unlikely to be systemically effective.




Read more:
Trust has to be as important as profit if banks and their boards are to regain their corporate legitimacy


We need to change the rules by which boards operate.

Containing greed requires many, many eyeballs, not just those of shareholders and consumers, but also employees, unions, customer advocacy organisations, regulators and the parliament, as well as clear and well-designed rules, active enforcement, appropriate rewards and strong consequences, and a new shared ethos of prudence, responsibility, honesty, service and fairness.

It is possible, but difficult.The Conversation

Andrew Linden, Sessional Lecturer, PhD (Management) Candidate, School of Management, RMIT University and Warren Staples, Senior Lecturer in Management, RMIT University

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

Why the media needs to be more responsible for how it links Islam and Islamist terrorism



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Muslim protesters in India marching against the Islamic State after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.
Divyakant Solanki/EPA

Audrey Courty, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, Griffith University

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US, Islam has become central to debates about social cohesion and national security in Australia.

Restrictions on Muslim immigration have been openly discussed – most recently by Senator Fraser Anning in his maiden speech to parliament – and many believe another terrorist attack in the name of “Islam” is inevitable.

Confronted with this reality, the media are playing an essential role in informing us about Islam and influencing how we respond. But, perhaps due to a limited understanding of Islam or a fear of antagonising Muslims, a fundamental point has largely been absent from reporting: the threat of terrorism does not stem from Islam. Rather, it stems from Islamism, a political ideology.

The two terms may sound similar, but Islam and Islamism are not the same thing. Islam is a faith observed by over 1.6 billion people, whereas Islamism is the political ideology of relatively small groups that borrow concepts like shariah and jihad from Islam and reinterpret them to gain legitimacy for their political goals.

How the media legitimises the aims of terrorists

Islamist groups like al Qaida and the Islamic State use violence against non-Muslims with the aim of establishing a political institution (“caliphate”) based on shariah law – neither of which have a basis in the Quran or hadith (Islamic prophetic traditions).

Part of the appeal of the Islamic State comes from its insidious ability to selectively use Islamic teachings and repackage them as legitimate religious obligations.

In particular, Islamists have appropriated the concept of jihad to legitimise an offensive “holy war” against non-Muslims. This interpretation, however, has been rejected by studies that have examined the Quran’s principles concerning war and peace.




Read more:
Defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is rebuilding in countries like Indonesia


Islamic teachings, for instance, prohibit terrorism and the use of violence against civilians. Further, Muslim leaders and scholars around the world have repeatedly condemned terrorism, issuing fatwas (Islamic legal rulings).

By reporting on this misleading interpretation of jihad and under-reporting Muslim condemnations, the Western news media reinforce the perceived connection between Islam and terrorism.

In some cases, media pundits explicitly make this link, pointing to the fact terrorists specifically refer to “Islam” as the basis for their actions.

This uncritical acceptance of terrorists’ claims and misrepresenting of Islam legitimises and unwittingly promotes the Islamist agenda.

In other words, the media plays into the hands of terrorists by allowing them to become the representatives for Islam and Muslims in general.

Islamic State recruiting tool

Islamist terrorists have a strategic interest in propagating the belief that Islam and the West are engaged in a civilisational war.

As the Islamic State outlined in its online magazine in February 2015:

Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.

The group explained that, as the threat of further terrorist attacks looms, Western Muslims will be treated with increased suspicion and distrust, forcing them to:

…either apostatize [convert] … or [migrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.

The Islamic State’s divide-and-conquer strategy is crucial to its ability to replenish its ranks with foreign recruits. The group targets disaffected and marginalised Western Muslims and invokes an Islamist narrative with promises of brotherhood, security and belonging.

In turn, the Western news media indirectly advance the group’s interests by repeatedly linking Muslim communities to terrorism and failing to meaningfully distinguish the Islamic faith from Islamist political ideology.




Read more:
Explainer: ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State or Da’esh?


For example, as the first wave of Syrian refugees arrived in the UK in 2015, The Daily Mail warned of “the deadly threat of Britain’s enemy within” and associated refugees with the threat of “Muslim extremists”.

In the midst of the 2014 Sydney siege, The Daily Telegraph prematurely linked the Muslim hostage-taker with the Islamic State – a claim that was later dispelled by terrorism experts.

The impact of careless reporting

This kind of overly simplistic and sensationalist media coverage serves the Islamic State’s objective to pit Muslims and non-Muslims against one another.

As a study conducted at the University of Vienna in 2017 confirmed, media coverage that does not explicitly distinguish between Muslims and Islamist terrorists fuels hostile attitudes toward the general Muslim population.




Read more:
Islamic State wants Australians to attack Muslims: terror expert


With growing awareness of the impact this kind of reporting, some media outlets like CNN have tried to distinguish between “moderate Islam” and “radical Islam”, “Islam” and “Islamic extremism”. But this, too, is misleading because it focuses on presumed religious motivations and overlooks the central role of Islamist political ideology.

A survey of almost 1,200 foreigner fighters by the Combating Terrorism Center revealed that over 85% had no formal religious education and were not lifelong, strict adherents to Islam. The report suggests the Islamic State may prefer such recruits because they are:

less capable of critically scrutinising the jihadi narrative and ideology.

Islamism masquerades as religion, but is much more a post-colonial expression of political grievances than a manifestation of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. While the establishment of a caliphate or shariah-based order is the expressed agenda of Islamist terrorists, this is not a religious obligation for Muslims.

And it is not an assault on Islam for non-Muslims to say so.

Political correctness, or a more nuanced discussion?

In an effort to strip the Islamic State of its legitimacy, some governments have advised news outlets in the UK and France to use the derogatory acronym “Da’esh” to refer to the group, although this is not always practised.

Malcolm Turnbull, also adopted the term “Islamist terrorism” in order to differentiate between those subscribing to the Islamist ideology and Muslim communities.

But many politicians, such as Donald Trump continue to blur the distinction by using rhetoric like “radical Islamic terrorism” instead.

Some argue that our “political correctness” inhibits us from tackling the problem head on.

But those who say the problem stems from Islam are are mistaken. We should be able to have a constructive conversation about the central concepts of Islam, including whether establishing a “caliphate” and committing violence against non-Muslims are indeed religious obligations or have legitimacy in Islam.

Given the extent to which concerns about Islam have impacted on our society, there is an ethical obligation to differentiate between Islam and Islamism – or at least present a counter to the Islamist perspective.The Conversation

Audrey Courty, PhD candidate, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, , Griffith University

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

Three simple steps to fix our banks



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It isn’t brain surgery.
Shutterstock

Elise Bant, University of Melbourne

Here are three simple steps to address the widespread misconduct revealed in the interim report of the banking royal commission, arising out of research I have undertaken with my colleague Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson.

While not exhaustive, they are good places to start:

Step 1: back to basics

Commissioner Hayne is spot on when he says that simply adding more regulation is not going to do the job.

In fact, more regulation can be more damaging than helpful.

There are literally dozens of overlapping state and federal statutes that prohibit misleading or deceptive conduct, and they often use subtly but significantly different language and impose different penalties.

This “legislative porridge” splits the regulation of financial services and products in ways that defy rational justification.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


The result is protracted and cripplingly expensive litigation to determine who is covered by what prohibition.

This plays perfectly into the hands of well-funded corporations who know that delaying tactics and the limited resources of regulators and commercial and consumer are likely to produce soft settlements, “agreed penalties” and no real pressure to change behaviour – all while profits continue to flow in.

So we need to get back to basics. Simple, overarching prohibitions contained in one or two pieces of key legislation, which apply to every trader and corporation who engages in trade or commerce. No exceptions. No carve outs. No special treatment. The same penalties and remedies. Simple, powerful and unavoidable.

Step 2: calling out deceptive conduct

For many years, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has concentrated its relatively meagre litigation efforts on proving “misleading” conduct by corporations. This is probably because it is notoriously difficult to prove the personal dishonesty traditionally required to prove fraud (the “deceptive” part of the prohibition on “misleading or deceptive” conduct).

Part of the problem has been that corporations are artificial persons and so need to operate through directors, managers, employees and agents.




Read more:
Fees for no service: how ASIC is trying to make corporate misconduct hurt


Nailing down instances of individual personal dishonesty, intention and responsibility is often impossible.

Misleading conduct, by contract, is relatively easy to prove, because it focuses on the objective meaning of conduct, does not require proof of fault – and does not require ASIC to identify the personal intentions of individuals behind the conduct.

But, focusing on misleading conduct comes at the cost to effective regulation.

The reputational damage flowing from a finding of misleading conduct is very low.

As Commissioner Hayne has noted, corporations are quick to characterise this sort of conduct as involving “mistakes”, to apologise and to promise reform.




Read more:
Hayne holds fire, but the banks’ day of reckoning is coming


It is time to face the reality that what matters is the behaviour of corporations rather than what is in their (artificial) minds.

It isn’t brain surgery.

As the commissioner himself as noted, you don’t need legal advice to know that “charging for doing what you do not do is dishonest”. Much of the reported conduct “ignores basic standards of honesty”.

A change in focus from personal intention to objective standards of honest conduct is needed to address what the commissioner identifies as “the root causes of conduct, which often lie within the systems, processes and culture cultivated by an entity”.

Step 3: genuine punishment

The final piece of the puzzle (missing from the otherwise incisive discussion in the interim report) is to bring courts on board.

Australian courts have been very cautious in awarding penalties for misleading conduct, and give substantial weight to mitigating factors such as expressions of remorse and cooperation with regulators.

They have said repeatedly that the focus of penalties should be on deterrence rather than punishment.




Read more:
How courts and costs are undermining ASIC and the ACCC’s efforts to police misbehaving banks and businesses


Their approach may be entirely appropriate in cases where courts are dealing with human defendants facing personal ruin. But when applied to corporations, it can undermine the legitimate role of punishment in changing repeated and longstanding corporate misbehaviour.

Again, there are some simple changes to the law that could address this problem.

One is to clarify that punishment is an important aim of the civil penalties regime, required for “public denunciation” of bad behaviour and to provide effective deterrence.




Read more:
The problem with Australia’s banks is one of too much law and too little enforcement


Another is for courts to frame penalties with a strong eye to the profits amassed as a result of the breach. Often the profit earned will be larger than the damage to consumers. Misconduct cannot be allowed to make good financial sense.

Yet another (also not yet on the commission’s radar) is to seriously consider expanding private rights of redress to include additional, punitive damages in cases of serious misconduct.

Not only would this make private claims more feasible for commercial victims. The recent launch of group proceedings by Slater & Gordon shows that, when brought together, private litigants are capable of sharing the regulatory burden of keeping banks on the straight and narrow: it needn’t all be done by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

There are important issues to consider about the strengths and dangers of group litigation, currently the subject of review by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

But if it can be done properly, the deep pockets of banks might well meet their match in well organised teams of lawyers and litigation funders, aggressively seeking justice both in the interests of their clients and for their own financial reward.The Conversation

Elise Bant, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne

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

The problem with Australia’s banks is one of too much law and too little enforcement



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bank cards.

Deborah Ralston, Monash University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg moved very quickly to deliver the interim report of the Royal Commission into Financial Services to the public. It was submitted to the Governor General, tabled in parliament (out of session), and made public on the same afternoon – Friday September 28.

The three-volume report is limited to findings from the first four rounds of hearings, on consumer credit, financial services, lending to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and experiences with regional and remote communities.



So far the commission has received almost 10,000 submissions, mainly related to banking (67%), superannuation (12%), and financial advice (9%). Most address issues relating to personal finance, superannuation, or small business finance.

In receiving the interim report, Frydenberg reiterated its key message that financial institutions have put “profits before people”.

It’s about the money

According to the report, poor culture and conduct in banks have been driven by their remuneration policies, with almost every instance of misconduct being directly linked to monetary benefit.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


The interim report is also highly critical of the regulators, painting a disconcerting picture of their determination to detect and monitor misbehaviour and enforce compliance with the law.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission comes in for particular scrutiny, with Commissioner Kenneth Hayne noting that where the law had been broken, “little happened beyond an apology from the entity, drawn-out remediation, and an infringement notice or an enforceable undertaking that acknowledged no more than ASIC had reasonable concerns about the entity’s conduct”.

The penalties imposed were often immaterial, given the size of the institutions involved.

The letter of the law can smother its spirit

It’s hard to know how to regulate. On occasions, as with the Future of Financial Advice legislation, the spirit of the law has been lost in complexity about prescribed behaviour, and of course so-called “grandfathering provisions” which ensure commissions that began in the past can continue even though they would no longer be legal.

The interim report asks whether, rather than more legislation, the answer lies in less: in simplifying the laws to better reflect their intentions.




Read more:
Royal Commission shows banks have behaved appallingly, but we’ve helped them do it


It is something Labor had in the original version of the financial advice legalisation – an overarching obligation on advisers to act in their client’s “best interests”, an obligation the Coalition tried to remove on attaining office, arguing that specific provisions would do the job just as well.

On releasing the interim report, Frydenberg was asked where our regulators had been ineffective because they had been captured by industry or had inadequate resources.

Frydenberg replied that culture was indeed substandard, but that giving the regulators more resources would be seriously examined.

The government has already given ASIC and APRA more.

In August, ASIC received A$70 million in additional funding to strengthen supervision and give it the capability to embed its staff members inside major banks.

Earlier this year the government appointed a second ASIC deputy chairman, Daniel Crennan QC, to bolster its enforcement credentials.

The new chairman James Shipton appears to be reshaping the ASIC culture.

But that’s only the beginning of the changes we are likely to see.

It’s our turn now

Public submissions in response to the interim report are now open and are due by Friday October 26, 2018.

Two more rounds of hearings are yet to be held, with the final report due by February 1, 2019.The Conversation

Deborah Ralston, Professor of Finance, Monash University

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

Royal Commission shows banks have behaved appallingly, but we’ve helped them do it


Andrew Grant, University of Sydney

The term deposit has matured. Initial scepticism over the timing, scope, and overall need for a royal commission into financial services has transformed into deep concern about the culture and practices in one of our most important industries.

Malcolm Turnbull, the (perhaps not coincidentally) ex-prime minister, admitted it had been a “political mistake” to delay the royal commission by nearly two years.

None of the major banks have escaped the Commission’s ire.

Perhaps that’s because none of them have had an incentive to behave better. There’s been little financial reward for being the bank to improve.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission’s damning report: ‘Things are so bad that new laws might not help’


Australian banks generate the second-highest returns on equity in the world, and so far none has been keen to let those returns go.

In his interim report, Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne pilloried them for their greed, putting profits before customers. He hinted that submissions he has not yet fully examined may uncover even more misconduct.

Conflicts in providing credit

Are loan providers offering customers what’s best for them, or what’s best for the bank?

A disproportionate share of loan products recommended by mortgage brokers working for firms affiliated with banks are produced by other firms affiliated with those banks.




Read more:
Vital Signs: for all its worth, the banking royal commission could hurt a generation of battlers


Mortgage brokers currently help originate more than half of all new loans. They operate under an opaque commission structure with rewards that are unlikely to align with the customer’s best interests.

A change to up-front, transparent commissions should be mandated, and enforced by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Irresponsible Lending

ASIC guidelines merely require banks to offer customers products that are “not unsuitable” for their needs.

The guidelines allow banks to do things such as using rough guides for household expenditure rather than individually examining the circumstances of each borrower.

Some have argued that this is a better practice than making inquiries of borrowers, who are likely to exaggerate their ability to repay loans. But it runs the risk of constituting a dangerous form of financial advice.




Read more:
How ‘liar loans’ undermine sound lending practices


If a loan is recommended to a customer, they might infer from that the bank has deemed it as being appropriate for their needs, rather than merely “not unsuitable”.

In several instances detailed to the commission, customers borrowed as much as they have been to allowed by banks, only to later blame the banks for not protecting them from themselves.

Banks also argue that there is a trade-off between obtaining accurate documentation and processing loans quickly.

Reformed?

Inadequate internal processes have led to customers being offered products that they can’t use, such as financial advice for dead people, or insurance that’s impossible to claim against.

These failings have been rightly condemned by the commissioner, even if they might not have affected a significant portion of the banks’ clients.

Ahead of the report, the banks have been trying to pre-empt its findings by arguing that their primary focus has moved from “sales” to “service”.

They say their internal processes have already improved, and bad apples weeded from the staff.

It’s our fault, too

Commissioner Haynes said that one obstacle to greater consumer power is an alarming lack of financial literacy among consumers, which has also been unearthed by the commission.

Banks exploit our loyalty, our inertia, and our inability to negotiate.

They also help exacerbate these things, by offering too many products that are too hard for the average person to compare.




Read more:
Financial literacy is a public policy problem


If we educated ourselves, many of the problems identified by the Royal Commission would disappear.

Making public the actual interest rates paid on our loans, the fees paid to advisers and brokers, and consumer credit scores would help as well.

But it will only help us if we are willing to help ourselves.

The community rightly expects a lot from banks, but a second thread running through the Royal Commission’s interim report is that but we need to expect more from ourselves as well.The Conversation

Andrew Grant, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney

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

Life as an older renter, and what it tells us about the urgent need for tenancy reform



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Uncapped rent increases and ‘no grounds’ evictions leave older women particularly at risk of substandard housing conditions or even homelessness.
Shutterstock

Emma Power, Western Sydney University

The New South Wales government has introduced a bill to reform the Residential Tenancies Act. This act sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in private rental accommodation in NSW.

The bill’s proposed limit on rent increases to one in every 12 months is essential, as are the proposed minimum standards for rental accommodation. However, my ongoing research with single older women renting in Sydney points to an urgent need for a cap on the value of rent increases and for an end to “no grounds” eviction. Victoria adopted these measures earlier this month.

Reform is essential. Growing numbers of Australians rent their housing and increasing proportions are expected to rent long-term. This makes it essential that private rental housing meets the need that every person has for a secure and affordable home.




Read more:
An open letter on rental housing reform


It’s getting harder for older renters

It is getting harder for older renters to find adequate, appropriate and secure housing. Older women – the focus of my work – are at particular risk. This is due to longer life expectancy, lower incomes across the life course, and less access to benefits like superannuation. Women also experience a greater loss of income and housing standard than men do after relationship breakdown, and are at greater risk of domestic violence.

Their stories point to the role of flaws in the Residential Tenancies Act in compounding housing insecurity.

Rising rents add to hardship

Rising rents were a problem for nearly all women I spoke with. They depleted women’s budgets, leaving little money to buy food or pay for utilities. Many relied on local charities for food and help to pay energy bills.

One woman described how she would add protein to her meal by buying a single chicken breast, slicing it thinly and freezing each piece separately to be defrosted over the next week or so. Another relied on vegetables the local greengrocer bundled and discounted before throwing out.

In winter, when heating bills mounted, she relied on a local church with a weekly food pantry. This food, donated by local supermarkets and community members, was frequently past its “best before” date. As a low-paid community worker living in an area with a significant number of disadvantaged families, she collected food alongside her clients.

Two women coped by moving into their cars. They subsisted on tins of food that they could hide in the car. At night they kept themselves safe by parking in familiar locations.




Read more:
More and more older Australians will be homeless unless we act now


Living with substandard conditions

Rent rises also made it difficult to find appropriate housing. Affordable housing was often substandard. Many had difficulties getting landlords to agree to repairs.

One woman described how her rented unit began leaking. The leak was severe and lasted for nearly two years. In this time she lived with increasing mould and lost access to nearly 40% of her home. She sought repairs from the landlord, but only cautiously, because she was afraid of eviction.

When the leak was eventually fixed her rent went up 20%. That left her with only A$30 a week after rent, essential bills and transport. She couldn’t afford food and relied on local charities until she found cheaper housing in a distant, transport-poor suburb.

Another described a similar leak:

When it rained the water would come straight down into the doorway. And that was the only way you could get into the house […] it was in the house and even in the bedroom.

Despite this the owner increased the rent. The real estate agent notified her of the increase by letter, but distanced herself from repair requests when confronted in person stating: “Well, we can’t do anything [to fix the property] until the owner says we can.”

The agent helped the landlord to make more money from their investment, while illegally blocking this woman’s entitlements to secure and usable property. The impact on her capacity to take care of herself was significant. Living with the leak risked her health. However, challenging the landlord – pushing them to repair the leak – risked eviction.




Read more:
Rental insecurity: why fixed long-term leases aren’t the answer


Rethink the value of rental housing

These stories show the need to rethink how we value and regulate private rental housing. It is time that we recognise the fundamental role that housing plays in our ability to meet basic needs – for shelter, warmth, food and above all a sense of security and home.

When housing is too expensive, unsafe or inadequate, our capacity to meet our care needs deteriorates and our health suffers. For women in my research their capacity to age in place – and even to remain housed – was challenged.

This is not good for tenants or landlords. Although popular wisdom suggests tenants and landlords have different interests, they in fact have very similar concerns: both benefit from secure tenancies and rental properties that are well maintained and cared for.

The proposed amendments to the act are a good starting point.

Restrictions on the number of rent increases in a year are essential. However, the women in my research struggle not just because of the number of rent increases they face. They find themselves in precarious situations because of the size of the increases, which in some cases left them unable to afford necessities like food.

Minimum housing standards are also essential. The women in my research cannot begin to maintain their health or age well at home if their home leaks or does not meet other basic standards.




Read more:
Dickensian approach to residential tenants lingers in Australian law


But perhaps more pressing is the need to end no grounds evictions. For women in my research, repair requests carried the risk of eviction. This left many afraid to ask for repairs. They lived in unhealthy and unsafe housing rather than risk eviction in a market with few affordable options.

Landlords in many areas can readily replace tenants. And an evicted older woman can easily end up living in her car.

Ending no grounds evictions will have no impact on landlords who do the right thing. They will still be able to terminate a lease on reasonable grounds such as renovating or moving into the property. It would, however, help put an end to retaliatory evictions, which in turn would support efforts to maintain minimum housing standards.


This article is based on research findings presented in a talk by the author at an event, Fair for Everybody: Reforming Renting in NSW, hosted at Parliament House on Wednesday.The Conversation

Emma Power, Senior Research Fellow, Geography and Urban Studies, Western Sydney University

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

An open letter on rental housing reform



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The right of landlords to terminate a lease with no grounds is the most serious deficiency in residential tenancy laws in New South Wales.
Shutterstock

John Watson, The Conversation

Following a review of the New South Wales Residential Tenancies Act 2010 in 2016 and extended consultations, the NSW government has introduced a number of reforms to parliament. Debate is expected to occur this week. However, without reform to current eviction proceedings, many housing advocates have expressed concern that these generally good proposals will have little effect. Today, 45 housing researchers from a range of disciplines have signed the following open letter.

We are academics who research and teach about housing. We come from a range of disciplines – for example law, economics, social sciences, planning – and many of us have worked variously with housing providers, tenants’ groups and government agencies on housing issues. We have in common commitment to the principle that everyone should have a secure, affordable home of decent standard, whether they own or rent.

Too often, however, our rental housing sector fails to deliver on this principle. There are numerous reasons for this; one of them is the legal insecurity of tenants under current New South Wales residential tenancy laws. In particular, the provision for landlords to give termination notices, with no grounds, at the end of a fixed-term tenancy or during a continuing tenancy is contrary to genuine security.

“No grounds” termination notices give cover for bad reasons for seeking termination, such as retaliation and discrimination. The prospect that a “no grounds” termination notice may be given hangs over all tenancies, discouraging tenants from raising concerns with agents and landlords and undermining the legal rights otherwise provided for by their leases and the legislation.

The deficiencies of our current laws are becoming worse, as more households rent, and rent for longer into their lives. About 32% of NSW households rent and this proportion is growing. Over the five years to 2016, 63% of the net growth in the number of NSW households was households in rental housing. And 42% of NSW renter households include children.

Our deficient current laws are also increasingly out of step with tenancy laws in comparable jurisdictions. Many European countries, as well as most of the Canadian provinces and the largest US cities, do not provide for “no grounds” terminations by landlords.

Last year, Scotland reformed its tenancy laws to remove provisions for “no grounds” terminations and replace them with prescribed reasonable grounds for termination. In Australia, Tasmania has for some years not allowed “no grounds” terminations of continuing tenancies. This month, the Victorian Parliament amended its residential tenancies legislation to remove provision for “no grounds” termination notices for continuing tenancies and for fixed-term tenancies, except at the end of the first fixed term.

We call on the NSW state government to improve security for renters, by legislating to end no-grounds termination by landlords and providing instead for a prescribed set of reasonable grounds for terminations.

These reasonable grounds would include grounds already in the legislation, such as rent arrears and other breaches by the tenant, and sale of the premises, as well as new grounds, such as where the landlord needs the premises for their own housing, and where the premises are to be renovated, demolished or changed to a non-residential use.

The prescribed reasonable grounds should have different notice periods, reflecting their different degrees of urgency and priority. Proceedings on notices should go, as they currently do, to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and the tribunal should determine whether the ground exists and whether termination is justified in all the circumstances.

This reform would make all tenants feel more secure, without unduly restricting landlords in reasonable uses of their properties. The only inconvenience would be to the retaliators, the discriminators and those who cannot cope with even a modest level of accountability. If the reform prompted these landlords to leave the sector, they would sell to a new home owner or to a more professionally minded landlord – either of which is to the good.

There is more to be done across a range of policy areas to improve the functioning of all aspects of our housing system. We need more accessible home ownership, a differently structured and more professional market rental sector and a revitalised social housing sector. These changes require a comprehensive housing policy, coordinated across areas and levels of government and carried out over a long term.

But, in tenancy law, the single most important reform is ending “no grounds” termination by landlords. And the parliament could do it now.

Signatories

Dr Chris Martin, Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Professor Brendan Edgeworth, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales

Professor Chris Gibson, Human Geography, University of Wollongong

Professor Keith Jacobs, Director, Housing Community Research Unit, University of Tasmania

Professor Alan Morris, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology, Sydney

Professor Kath Hulse, Director Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology

Professor Hal Pawson, Housing Research and Policy, University of New South Wales

Professor Pauline McGuirk, Director Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong

Professor Peter Phibbs, Urban Planning, The University of Sydney

Professor Bill Randolph, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Professor Eileen Webb, Faculty of Business and Law, Curtin University

Adjunct Professor Michael Darcy, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Western Sydney University

Associate Professor Hazel Easthope, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Associate Professor Daphne Habibis, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

Associate Professor Kurt Iveson, Urban Geography, The University of Sydney

Associate Professor Kristian Ruming, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University

Associate Professor Judith Yates, School of Economics, The University of Sydney

Dr Gareth Bryant, Political Economy, The University of Sydney

Dr Nicole Cook, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Wollongong

Dr Louise Crabtree, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Dr Laura Crommelin, Research Lecturer, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Dr Tanja Dreher, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Media, University of New South Wales

Dr Christina Ho, Senior Lecturer, Social & Political Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney

Dr Justine Humphry, Lecturer in Digital Cultures, Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney

Dr Edgar Liu, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Dr Sophia Maalsen, IB Fell Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of Sydney

Dr Daniel Ooi, Research Fellow, Victoria University

Dr Justine Lloyd, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University

Dr Jean Parker, Research Associate, Department of Gender and Culture Studies, The University of Sydney

Dr Madeleine Pill, Researcher, Department of Government and International Relations, The University of Sydney

Dr Emma Power, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Dr Dallas Rogers, Program Director, Master of Urbanism, The University of Sydney

Dr Ben Spies-Butcher, Senior Lecturer, Economy and Society, Macquarie University

Dr Adam Stebbing, Director of Bachelor of Social Science, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University

Dr Amanda Tattersall, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Henry Halloran Trust, The University of Sydney

Dr Lawrence Troy, Research Fellow, Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales

Dr Robert Mowbray, Older Persons Project Officer, Tenants’ Union NSW

Deb Batterham, Researcher, Launch Housing

Zahra Nasreen, Researcher, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University

Pratichi Chatterjee, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney

Sophie-May Kerr, PhD Candidate, University of Wollongong

Craig Lyons, PhD Candidate, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong

Gemma McKinnon, Researcher, University of New South Wales

Bill Swannie, Academic, College of Law and Justice, Victoria University

Alistair Sisson, PhD Candidate & Research Assistant, School of Geosciences, The University of SydneyThe Conversation

John Watson, Section Editor: Cities + Policy, The Conversation

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