Cap your alcohol at 10 drinks a week: new draft guidelines



Further evidence about the harms of alcohol has accumulated over the past decade since the last guidelines were released.
Syda Productions/Shtterstock

Nicole Lee, Curtin University

New draft alcohol guidelines, released today, recommend healthy Australian women and men drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day to reduce their risk of health problems.

This is a change from the previous guidelines, released in 2009, that recommended no more than two standard drinks a day (equating to up to 14 a week).

(If you’re unsure what a standard drink looks like, use this handy reference.)

The guidelines also note that for some people – including teens and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – not drinking is the safest option.




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What are the new recommendations based on?

The National Health and Medical Research Council looked at the latest research and did some mathematical modelling to come to these recommendations.

It found the risk of dying from an alcohol-related disease or injury is about one in 100 if you drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four on any one day.

So, for every 100 people who stay under these limits, one will die from an alcohol-related disease or injury.

This is considered an “acceptable risk”, given drinking alcohol is common and it’s unlikely people will stop drinking altogether. The draft guidelines take into account that, on average, Australian adults have a drink three times a week.

Why did the guidelines need updating?

Recent research has shown there is a clear link between drinking alcohol and a number of health conditions. These include at least seven cancers (liver, oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, colorectal, liver and breast cancer in women); diabetes; liver disease; brain impairment; mental health problems; and being overweight or obese.

Some previous research suggested low levels of alcohol might be good for you, but we now know these studies were flawed. Better quality studies have found alcohol does not offer health benefits.




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Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?


The new guidelines are easier to follow than the previous guidelines, which gave recommendations to reduce both short-term harms and longer-term health problems. But some people found these confusing.

Although most Australians drink within the previously recommended limits, one study found one in five adults drank more than the guidelines suggested and almost half could not correctly identify recommended limits.

The draft new guidelines are easier to follow than the old ones.
sama_ja/Shutterstock

Although women tend to be more affected by alcohol than men, at the rates of consumption recommended in the guidelines, there is little difference in long term health effects so the guidelines apply to both men and women.

The recommended limits are aimed at healthy men and women, because some people are at higher risks of problems at lower levels of consumption. These include older people, young people, those with a family history of alcohol problems, people who use other drugs at the same time (including illicit drugs and prescribed medication), and those with physical or mental health problems.

The guidelines are currently in draft form, with a public consultation running until February 24.

After that, there will be an expert review of the guidelines and the final guidelines will be released later in 2020. There may be changes to the way the information is presented but the recommended limits are unlikely to change substantially, given they’re based on very careful and detailed analysis of the evidence.

What’s the risk for people under 18?

The draft guidelines recommend children and young people under 18 years drink no alcohol, to reduce the risk of injury and other health harms.

The good news is most teenagers don’t drink alcohol. Among 12 to 17 year olds, only 20% have had a drink in the past year and 1.4% drink weekly. The number of teenagers who have never had a drink has increased significantly in the last decade, and young people are having their first drink later.




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However, we know teenagers are more affected by alcohol than adults. This includes effects on their developing brain. We also know the earlier someone starts drinking, the more likely they will experience problems, including dependence.

The idea that if you give teenagers small sips of alcohol it will reduce risk of problems later has now been debunked. Teens that have been given even small amounts of alcohol early are more likely to have problems later.

What’s the risk for pregnant and breastfeeding women?

The guidelines recommend women who are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant or breastfeeding not drink any alcohol, for the safety of their baby.




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We now have a much clearer understanding of the impacts of alcohol on the developing foetus. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a direct result of foetal exposure to alcohol in the womb. Around one in 67 women who drink while pregnant will deliver a baby with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is characterised by a range of physical, mental, behavioural, and learning disabilities ranging from mild to severe – and is incurable.

Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking?

If you enjoy a drink, stick within these recommended maximums to limit the health risks of alcohol.

If you have trouble sticking to these limits, or you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to talk through options or check out these resources online.




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The Conversation


Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

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

Define the boundaries in new phase of Australia-China relationship: Wong


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong says Australia needs to “define the boundaries” of its engagement with China now the relationship between the two countries is in a new phase.

Focusing on China policy in a Monday address – released ahead of delivery – Wong acknowledges the “substantial and growing differences” in the bilateral relationship.

“It is inevitable that Australia will make more decisions that China doesn’t like. This means that the way the relationship is handled will become even more important,” she says in the speech, to the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

“Although there continues to be convergence of interests, the divergences have become more apparent and acute – due to both Beijing’s increasing assertiveness and greater awareness in Australia as to the implications of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] behaviour and ambitions. We must look at how best to engage effectively with China while always standing up for our values, our sovereignty and our democratic system.”

Wong says where limitations around engagement are needed, the “boundaries should be as restricted as possible and as robust as necessary,” with opportunities and risks identified.

Boundaries and terms of engagement would differ between issues and between sectors.

Thus on research collaboration, engagement shouldn’t be ruled out across entire fields, but export controls and visa checks could be used for “a narrow set of the most sensitive defence oriented technology”.




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Wong says while the government has to provide the leadership all stakeholders, including the opposition, foreign policy community and business, “need to work together to identify those opportunities for deeper engagement where our interests coincide and to manage differences constructively”.

She puts the onus on the media “not only to hold the government of the day to account but to ensure they themselves don’t unthinkingly or inadvertently reinforce China’s tactics or narrative”, including by amplifying CCP claims.

Wong says Labor wants to engage in a bipartisan way on China policy, but the government isn’t willing to do so and Scott Morrison “has no plan for dealing with this new phase in Australia’s relations with China”.

“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now… Is it enough to be a clever political tactician, when key relationships with our nearest neighbours are at stake? Is it enough to play short term political tactics on something so profoundly important as the integrity of our political system or the assertion of our national interests?

“Australia’s Prime Minister needs to look beyond the next manoeuvre, stop undermining his foreign minister and trade minister, and develop a serious long-term plan for Australia’s engagement in the region and the world.

“A serious and long-term plan that can proactively navigate us through the strategic competition between the US and China, and manage this new phase in our relationship with a more assertive China.”




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In a series of sharp criticisms of Morrison’s handling of the government’s policy towards China and foreign policy more generally, Wong includes as examples the PM’s claim Labor was using racism in its attack on Liberal MP Gladys Liu, his labelling of China a developed economy, and his attack on globalism.

Wong’s speech follows the blunt words on China on Friday from Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said the government had a very important relationship with China, but it was going to “call out” instances where the wrong thing was done.

“We have a very important trading relationship with China, incredibly important, but we’re not going to allow university students to be unduly influenced. We’re not going to allow theft of intellectual property and we’re not going to allow our government bodies or non-government bodies to be hacked into,”he said.

Dutton stressed the issue was not with the Chinese people or the local Chinese community in Australia, but with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese embassy reacted with an angry statement, saying that Dutton’s “irrational accusations” were “shocking and baseless”, and a “malicious slur on the Communist Party of China” and “outright provocation to the Chinese people”.

“Such ridiculous rhetoric severely harms the mutual trust between China and Australia and betrays the common interests of the two peoples,” the statement said.

Morrison at the weekend sought to play down the Dutton comments. “What Peter was talking about was the fact that there are differences between Australia and the People’s Republic of China. Of course there are,” he said. Australia was a liberal western democracy; China was a Communist Party state. “I would warn against any sort of over-analysis or over-reaction to those comments. Because I think they just simply reflect the fact that we’re two different countries”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why we need ‘crazy’ ideas for new city parks



Sea Line Park, one of the shortlisted entries in the competition to design a new park for the Melbourne of 2050.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

Wendy Walls, University of Melbourne

Two seemingly unrelated but important things happened in Melbourne last week. One was a memorial service for David Yencken AO; the other was the exhibition opening of the Future Park Design Ideas Competition. The connection between the two is that both gave us radical ideas for Melbourne’s open space.

David Yencken was a visionary man who had a profound impact on Victoria and Melbourne. He was responsible, among many things, for the transformation of Southbank and co-founding Merchant Builders. But one of his wildest ideas was the 1985 Greening of Swanston Street, when vehicle traffic was closed and a weekend street party was held right in the middle of Melbourne.




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As the secretary (chief executive) of the Ministry for Planning and Environment, Yencken had been charged with changing perceptions of the city by rethinking its public spaces. At a time before pop-up parks and guerrilla gardening, his radical idea demonstrated what was possible for the inner city and sowed the seed of the idea of closing Swanston Street to traffic.

The project was not without controversy – it was costly and came in for political criticism as a stunt. But looking back to a time when inner Melbourne was underutilised and dominated by traffic, we can see how that radical idea sparked the imagination about what was possible for the city centre.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



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Future Park fires imaginations and debate

This is just what the Future Park competition needs to achieve. The open competition held by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has attracted global interest, with 123 entries from 20 countries.

The brief was simple but provocative. Designers were to find space within 10 kilometres of the city centre and design a future park that responds to the challenges of Melbourne today. The design responses from the 31 shortlisted entries ranged from manufactured lagoons to urban wildlife corridors and street transformation parks that Yencken would be proud of.

Melbourne from Past to Last, a vision of a city street park.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

The first wave of media coverage on the competition inspired a range of public comments about Melbourne’s open space. For example, from the online comments in The Age:

Royal Park is a massive area of underutilised space. Driving down Elliott Av it’s just an open wasteland. Grassland and scattered gum trees does not make a welcoming “park”.

How about bulldozing the eyesore known as Federation Square and putting a park in its place?

These designs forget to include the things that make it a Melbourne park, graffiti, vandalism, weeds and the homeless.

Architects and landscapers rarely, if ever, have a grasp on what will work for people … they are too busy trying to be creative, and not busy enough trying to make people happy.

What the public comments show us is that there is no single or obvious solution to our parks and public spaces. Some people like it busy, some people like the quiet. Some want European trees and others desire native plantings. It’s complicated, and each of these opinions make valid points.

Just like Yencken’s Greening of Swanston, there will always be debate about what makes good public space. And that is exactly why we need more radical ideas – some might call them “crazy” – for our cities.

We know the future of our cities will be complicated. Like it or not, there will be more people, a changing climate and increasing pressure on infrastructure and services.




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Wicked problems call for radical thinking

These messy issues are often described as wicked problems. Popular in public policy and management, the term is used to explain problems with debatable cause and effect. Critically, the lack of agreement about wicked problems produces conflicting goals towards resolution.

Obviously, we need science, governance and planning, but finding solutions to wicked problems will also require creativity and collaboration. We need debate and we need ideas that can expand our imagination about what our cities can be. This is why it is so important that the competition entries for the Future Park explore new and outrageous possibilities.

Ideas throughout the shortlisted entries include plans for a new NBN: the National Biodiversity Network, which creates ecological corridors across the country. Others propose transforming schools into parkland; parks designed for bees; designs that return darkness to our urban landscapes; and sculpting new islands as rising sea levels engulf our coastline.

Multi-deck parks: as cities grow and space becomes ever more precious, urban parks replace car parks.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

As design solutions, these ideas reflect the challenges of our world today. While many of these schemes are technically, socially or economically unfeasible, they remind us of the power of thinking outside of the box. Importantly, the competition format puts all of these ideas together in one place for us to think about and discuss.

In Australia, we have a limited culture of “open design competitions” for either built projects or speculative solutions. But design competitions provide opportunities for new voices and discovering unexpected solutions within these wild ideas.

Radical ideas are important and so is having the freedom to voice them. Especially as a way of expanding the discussions we need to have about the challenging future.




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The Future Park competition winners will be announced on Friday, October 11, at the 2019 International Festival of Landscape Architecture in Melbourne. The Future Park exhibition is at Dulux Gallery, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, from October 4 to November 1.The Conversation

Wendy Walls, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, University of Melbourne

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

5 questions about superannuation the government’s new inquiry will need to ask



Superannuation has a smaller role in the retirement incomes system than is often suggested.
Shutterstock

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The government’s new retirement incomes review will need to work quickly.

On Friday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he expected a final report by June, just seven months after the issues paper he wants it to deliver by November.

The deadline is tight for a reason. In recommending the inquiry in its report on the (in)effeciency of Australia’s superannuation system this year, the Productivity Commission said it should be completed “in advance of any increase in the superannuation guarantee rate”.

In other words, in advance of the next leglislated increase in compulsory superannuation contributions, which is on July 1, 2021.




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The next increase (actually, the next five increases) will hurt.

The last two, on July 1 2013 and July 1 2014, took place when wage growth was stronger. In 2013 wages growth was 3% per year.


Source: Australian Tax Office

And they were small – an extra 0.25 per cent of salary each.

The next five, to be imposed annually from July 1 2021, are twice the size: 0.5% of salary each.

If taken out of wage growth, they’ve the potential to cut it from its present usually low 2.3% per annum to something with a “1” in front of it, pushing it below the rate of inflation, for five consecutive years.

If we were going to do that (even if we thought the economy and wage growth could afford it) it would be a good idea to have a good reason why. After all, compulsory superannuation is the compulsory locking away of income that could otherwise be spent or used to pay down debt or saved through another vehicle, regardless of the wishes of the person whose income it is.

Question 1. What’s it for?

Fortunately, the new inquiry doesn’t need to do much work on this one.

For most of its life compulsory super hasn’t had an agreed purpose. At times it has been justified as a means of restraining wage growth, at times as means of restraining government spending on the pension, at times as means of boosting national savings.

In 2014, more than 20 years after compulsory super began, the Murray Financial System Review asked the government to set a clear objective for it, and two years later the government came up with one, enshrined in a bill entitled the Superannuation (Objective) Bill 2016.

The bill lapsed, but the objective at its centre lives on as the best description we’ve come up with yet of what compulsory super is for:

to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension

Which raises the question of how much we need. For compulsory super, the answer is probably none. People who want more than the pension and their other savings can save more through voluntary super. People who don’t want more (or can’t afford to save more) shouldn’t.

Question 2. How much do people need?

Assuming for the moment that how much people need in retirement is relevant for determining how much compulsory super they need, the inquiry will need to examine what people need to live on in retirement.

The “standards” prepared by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia are loose. The more generous of the two allows for overseas travel every two or so years, A$163 per couple per fortnight on dining out, $81 on alcohol “or equivalent spent
with charity or church”.




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It isn’t a reasonable guide to how much people need to live on, and certainly isn’t a reasonable guide for how much the government should intervene to make sure they have to live on. They are standards it doesn’t intervene to support while people are working.

And there’s something else. Super isn’t what will fund it. Most retirement living is funded outside of super, either through the age pension, private savings, or the family home (which saves on rent). Most 65 year olds have more saved outside of super than in it, and a lot more than that saved in the family home.

It’s a slight of hand to say that retirees need a certain proportion of their final wage to live on and then to say that that’s how much super should provide.

Question 3: Does it come out of wages?

The best guess is that, although paid by employers in addition to wages, compulsory super comes out of what would otherwise have been their wage bill.

Treasury puts it this way:

Though compulsory superannuation guarantee contributions are paid by employers, wage setting generally takes into account all labour costs. As such, it is widely accepted that employees bear the cost of higher superannuation guarantees in the form of lower take home pay.

The inquiry will probably make its own determination. If it finds that extra contributions do indeed come out of what would have been pay rises, it will have to consider the tradeoff between lower pay rises (and they are already very low) and the compulsory provision of more superannuation in retirement.

Question 4: Does it boost private saving?

It’d be tempting to think that the compulsory nature of compulsory superannuation meant that each extra dollar funnelled into it increased retirement savings by an extra dollar. But it doesn’t, in part because wealthy Australians who are already saving a lot have the option of offsetting it by saving less in other ways.

For them, the increase in saving isn’t compulsory.

For financially stretched Australians unable to afford to save (or for Australians at times in times life when they can’t afford to save) the compulsion is real, and unwelcome.

The inquiry will have to make its own assessment, updating Reserve Bank research which found in 2007 that each extra dollar in compulsory accounts added between 70 and 90 cents to household wealth.

Question 5: Does it boost national saving?

Boosting private saving (at the expense of people who are unable to escape) is one thing. Boosting national savings (private and government) is another. The tax concessions the government hands out to support superannuation are expensive. The concession on contributions alone is set to cost $19 billion this year and $23 billion in 2022-23, notwithstanding some tightening up. It predominately benefits high earners, the kind of people who don’t need assistance to save.




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On balance it is likely that the system does little for national savings, cutting government savings by as much as it boosts private savings. But because the question hasn’t been asked, not since the Fitzgerald report on national saving in 1993 shortly after compulsory super was introduced, we don’t know.

It’ll be up to the inquiry to bring us up to date.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Chinese propaganda goes tech-savvy to reach a new generation



As younger Chinese become increasingly addicted to their mobile devices, the government’s propaganda offices have had to rethink their strategies.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

Earlier this year, a new app was launched in China to put the patriotism of Chinese citizens to the test.

Named “Study Xi to Strengthen the Nation”, the app quizzes users on all things related to President Xi Jinping – his policies, activities, achievements, theories and thoughts. Users can earn points and win prizes for correct answers and compete with colleagues and friends to see who knows the most about China’s leader.

The app is the latest example of a rethink by the Communist Party when it comes to its propaganda efforts and how best to justify the legitimacy of its one-party rule, extol the virtues of the party, and promote patriotism to an audience of young, tech-savvy Chinese.

For those institutions responsible for the production of effective propaganda, this is a real challenge. After all, propaganda in the 21st century has to go beyond forcing people to sit in study sessions on Friday afternoons, read the People’s Daily newspaper, or watch China Central Television (CCTV) in group meetings.




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From sermons to ‘indoctritainment’

Thanks to a number of developments, the old propaganda messages of previous generations can easily be repackaged for millennials. Like the rest of the world, Chinese millennials are keen adopters of the latest mobile technologies and suffer from short attention spans. They are also just as enthusiastic as their Western counterparts about posting jokes, music videos and short, sharp, attention-grabbing memes on social media.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is putting more of an emphasis on humanising its approach to leadership. Politicians are keen to be seen as relatable rather than authoritative figures.

So, to get its messaging across in a new way, party propaganda has morphed from dry sermons to what I like to call indoctritainment. And these campaigns are often high-end productions.

Increasingly, ideological messages are more effective if they are delivered using a platform that’s already been trialled and proven in marketing. In 2016, for instance, CCTV launched a promotion of the Communist Party in the form of a public awareness advertisement to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the party.

The one-minute video, titled “I am a Chinese Communist Party member,” features heartwarming vignettes of individuals from different walks of life – teacher, cleaner, surgeon, policeman, local public servant, fisherman – who are all good Samaritans doing their bit to help others.

The message is clear: the party is being re-branded as an organisation made up of unsung heroes. As the voice-over explains:

I am the first one to arrive, I am the last one to leave, I’m the one who thinks of myself the least, and cares about others the most … I am the Chinese Communist Party, and I am always there with you.

Another video promoting the Chinese military, “I am a Chinese soldier”, demonstrates the point. Even without the English subtitles, it’s not hard to see what the producers were going for: a patriotic Hollywood movie or romantic tear-jerker.

The pop culture treatment, with American accents

Another tactic is the use of popular culture as a way of conveying sometimes dense or dull Chinese government policies, especially if the intended audience is global.

In 2015, a video called “The 13 what” used catchy pop music, colourful animation, and American-accented English to explain China’s 13th five-year national plan.

Channelling David Bowie, Monty Python and the psychedelia of the 1960s, the three-minute video was produced by a digital media production team operating under the auspices of the government’s main propaganda offices in Beijing.

Two years earlier, the same studio also produced the widely circulated five-minute video clip, “How leaders are made”. Xi Jinping appears in the clip as a cartoon character, as do US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Light-hearted, zany, and (again) featuring American English, the video informs viewers that Xi has worked long and hard to move up China’s political ladder. The implication is that Xi’s power is just as legitimate as that of his Western counterparts.

Within a short period after its release, the video had been viewed more than a million times on Youku, China’s version of YouTube.

Propaganda by way of screen bullets

Increasingly, the Communist Party’s propaganda material goes viral only after it appears on popular video-sharing websites with “bullet screens”. This is an interactive feature that enables viewers to “shoot” text comments across the screen as the video is being streamed. It’s very popular with younger audiences.

One of China’s biggest bullet screen platforms is Bilibili, often referred to as “the B site”.

The site used to be occasionally shut down for streaming what the government considers “morally unsound” material.

To stay on the party’s good side, Bilibili now plays host to a wide suite of propaganda produced by CCTV or the Chinese Department of Propaganda. In 2015, the Communist Youth League of China also began to hold regular courses on the site aimed at promoting patriotism among young people.

But how effective is it?

Just how successful these strategies have been is still not entirely clear. While the “Xi Jinping thought” app has captured the imagination of many outside China, party members who have been encouraged – in some cases requested – to download the app seem less than enthusiastic.

And some of these new propaganda efforts have backfired and attracted cynical responses online, even ridicule.




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But judging by the many comments viewers have left on the B site, it seems fair to conclude that some of the tactics have had the intended effect of endearing the party and its leaders to the young and impressionable.

This is a reminder of how naïve it is to assume that technologies are inherently democratising, and that digital disruption is likely to spell the end of communism in China. Such assumptions still permeate most Western media stories about the Communist Party’s new propaganda strategies, but this is clearly not the case.

As the party’s propaganda strategies become more nuanced and sophisticated, so should our frameworks for understanding them.The Conversation

Wanning Sun, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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

Consumer watchdog calls for new measures to combat Facebook and Google’s digital dominance



Facebook and Google potentially face fresh curbs on their market power.
Shutterstock.com

Rob Nicholls, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, UNSW

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called for “holistic, dynamic reforms” to address the online dominance of digital behemoths such as Google and Facebook.

A 600-page report, released today, makes 23 recommendations for regulating digital platforms – covering competition law, consumer protection, media regulation, and privacy.

Most of the suggested reforms are aimed squarely at countering the dominance of Facebook and Google, which the ACCC says has distorted a range of markets including advertising and media.




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The ACCC recommends forming a new branch to deal specifically with Google and Facebook. But it doesn’t propose itself as the sole watchdog: the report also recommends a regulatory role for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Meanwhile, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is called upon to develop an enforceable code to regulate platforms’ use of data. And even the Australian Tax Office will potentially be involved, as part of a proposal to introduce measures to encourage philanthropic funding of public-interest journalism.

Digital platforms with more than a million active users in Australia will be required to provide ACMA with codes to address the imbalance in the bargaining relationship between these platforms and news media businesses. These codes are expected to recognise the need for value-sharing and monetisation of news content.

Under the recommendations, ACMA would also be expected to monitor digital platforms’ efforts to identify reliable and trustworthy news, and to manage a mandatory take-down code for content that breaches copyright.

Market muscle

The ACCC report highlights the “substantial market power” enjoyed by Google and Facebook in their respective domains of web searching and social media. While it is not unlawful for firms to have this degree of power, it does mean they are likely to be subject to the (as yet untested) misuse of market power law introduced in 2017.

The ACCC is concerned that current merger laws do not go far enough, given large platforms’ ability to remove future competitive threats by simply buying start-ups outright. Such acquisitions may also increase the platforms’ access to data. The ACCC considers that either or both of these could entrench a platform’s market power.

As a result, the report recommends changes to Australia’s merger laws to expressly require consideration of the effect of potential competition, and to recognise the importance of data. It also recommends that platforms should be obliged to notify the ACCC in advance of any proposed acquisition.

This is not a substantial change to the existing law, which already allows consideration of anti-competitiveness. But it is a signal that the ACCC will be focusing on this issue.

The ACCC also wants Google to allow Australian users of Android devices to choose their search engine and internet browser – a right already enjoyed by Android users in the European Union.

Empowering consumers

The ACCC recommends substantial changes to Australian Consumer Law, to address the huge inequalities in bargaining power between digital platforms and consumers when it comes to terms of use, and particularly privacy.

The report’s most significant proposal in this area is to outlaw “unfair practices”, in line with similar bans in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. This would cover conduct that is not covered by existing laws governing the misuse of market power, misleading or deceptive conduct, or unconscionable conduct.

This could be relevant, for example, where a digital platform imposes particularly invasive privacy terms on its users, which far outweigh the benefits of the service provided. The ACCC also called for digital platforms to face significant fines for imposing unfair contract terms on users.

The report recommends a new mandatory standard to bolster digital platforms’ internal dispute resolution processes. This would be reinforced by the creation of a new ombudsman to assist with resolving disputes and complaints between consumers and digital platforms.

Protecting privacy

The ACCC found that digital platforms’ privacy policies are long, complex, vague, and hard to navigate, and that many platforms do not provide consumers with meaningful control over how their data is handled.

The report therefore calls for stronger legal privacy protections, as part of a broader reform of Australian privacy law. This includes agreeing with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the need for a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy.

Legal action ahead?

The ACCC also highlighted several matters on which it is considering future actions. These include the question of whether Facebook breached consumer law by allowing users’ data to be shared with third parties (potentially raising similar issues to the investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, which this week resulted in a US$5 billion fine against Facebook), and whether Google has collated users’ location data in an unlawful way.




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In a statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and federal communications minister Paul Fletcher accepted the ACCC’s overriding conclusion that there is a need for reform.

The federal government will now begin a 12-week public consultation process, and said it expects to release its formal response to the report by the end of the year.The Conversation

Rob Nicholls, Senior lecturer in Business Law, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Co-Leader, ‘Data as a Source of Market Power’ Research Stream of The Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW

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

New demand-response energy rules sound good, but the devil is in the (hugely complicated) details



Demand response sounds good, but is punishingly difficult to execute.
Matthew Henry/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

Last week the body that governs Australia’s energy market released a draft proposal to introduce a demand response mechanism to the wholesale electricity market.

It argues the proposal will unearth some electricity users’ “latent flexibility” to prices in the extremely volatile wholesale market, and that this will potentially promote more efficient use of electricity, more secure power systems, and lower prices.

The move comes after nearly two decades of sustained campaigning, which prompts the question: why doesn’t such a useful-sounding mechanism already exist?




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Managing demand can save two power stations’ worth of energy at peak times


It’s a good question. If this demand-response mechanism does what it is claimed to do, it could be a significant development for the electricity markets in southern and eastern Australia. But the actual proposal is eye-wateringly complex and there is reason to be circumspect.

What is proposed and how does it work?

The Australian Energy Market Commission’s determination is that new market participants, to be known as “Demand Response Service Providers” (DRSPs), will be allowed to offer hypothetical demand reductions into the wholesale market at prices they determine. If the price they offer for such reductions is less than the price at which the market clears, the DRSPs will be paid the market price, as if they were a generator, for these hypothetical reductions.

One obvious difficulty here is the fact that the reductions are hypothetical. They are the difference between the customers’ demand if they did not respond to an enticement to reduce demand – the “baseline” – and their actual demand. Customers (and DRSPs) have an incentive to overstate the baseline, as this increases the volume of the reductions they offer and, if accepted, get paid for.

DRSPs profit from the demand reductions they sell, and so they have an incentive to seek out customers who are willing to reduce demand relative to the baseline.

Retailers that sell electricity to DRSPs’ customers will buy (from the wholesale market) the actual volume of electricity consumed and also the hypothetical demand reduction, and pay the wholesale price for both. The retailer charges the customer for the actual demand and charges the DRSP for the demand reduction at a regulated price equal to the 12-month load-weighted average wholesale price.




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Here’s a glossary of the energy debate



This will typically leave the retailer out of pocket by an amount equal to the difference between the actual wholesale price at which they have “bought” the demand reductions, and the 12 monthly weighted average wholesale price (which will almost certainly be lower, because demand reductions will occur when wholesale prices are higher than average)

Retailers will seek to recover the shortfall from the DRSPs’ customers or, more likely, from all their customers. To the extent that they are unable to recover the shortfall, retailers are likely to try to offload those of their customers that are paid to reduce demand.

This is a simplified description of the arrangement. The complexity of the actual data and money flows between customers, DRSPs, retailers, the energy market operator, network service providers and regulators is enough to provoke a nose-bleed from the most seasoned corporate lawyers.

By now, I am sure you are wondering why all the bother with baselines and hypothetical reductions. Why not simply pay customers for actual load reductions? The answer, in short, is that the pool of possible directly contracted customers is small.

If demand response is to be extended to thousands of customers – as this proposal seeks to do – setting baselines and hence hypothetical demand reductions, with all their unwelcome consequences, is unavoidable.

Will it work?

I am not sure. It is certainly punishingly complex. The energy market operator and regulator will have their hands full ensuring that baselines are not set at a level that prints money for DRSPs and their customers, at the expense of retailers and other electricity users. If the market operator and regulator achieve this without imposing undue cost and administrative burden, this demand-response proposal has promise.




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It will be fascinating to see whether DRSPs can indeed flush out the “latent flexibility” in a manner that is advantageous to themselves, the latently flexible, and the rest of us. Like many others, I will be watching with interest.

Update: Following publication, the AEMC clarified they intended to refer to the 12 month load-weighted average wholesale price of energy, rather than the simple average price. The article has been updated to reflect this.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

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

The new banking code looks impressive, but what will it achieve?



The Banking Association says “in and of itself” the code it won’t restore trust.
Shutterstock

Gerhard Hambusch, University of Technology Sydney and Warren Hogan, University of Technology Sydney

On July 1, the banking industry got yet another code of conduct – its fifth since 1993 – and although it is voluntary, all of the retail banks have signed up.

In the promotional video, Australian Banking Association chairman Shayne Elliott describes it as “a step”, acknowledging that there is a lot of work to do.

In and of itself it won’t restore trust, but it will absolutely help. It’s about the industry saying: hey this is what we stand for, this is how we are going to live our lives, this is how we are going to interact with you, but it’s importantly about holding us to account.

It’s an admission that the previous codes haven’t been worth that much.

Australian Banking Association, Raising Standards – New Banking Code.

The 1993 edition promised customers a quick and fair dispute-resolution mechanism, outside the drawn-out and often costly court system.

However a subsequent revision in 2003 allowed banks to opt out, and steered some disputes back into the courts.

It also created a Code Compliance Monitoring Committee, appointed and funded by subscribing banks and the Australian Banking Association, which over time investigated fewer and fewer breaches of the code.




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Bank codes of conduct: add bars to the window dressing and make them legally binding


It got to the point where in 2017-18 the committee said that five banks reported zero breaches of the code’s credit and dispute resolution obligations, and six banks reported zero breaches of their debt collection obligations.

This was despite a growing body of evidence of breaches assembled for the banking royal commission.

Everything old…

The Code Compliance Monitoring Committee has been rebadged as the Banking Code Compliance Committee. It will have the power to publicly name banks that breach the code, report serious and systemic ongoing issues to Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and
require banks to rectify or take corrective action for serious breaches of the code.

Separately, in November 2018 a new body known as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority replaced the opaque and bank-funded private company known as the Financial Ombudsman Service Limited, which had been limited to providing compensation of A$309,000.

In some cases the new body can offer unlimited compensation.

It has its hands full. In its first six months it has received 35,000 complaints, some dating back up to ten years. About 12,000 of them relate to banks. In May it received more than 600 enquiries per day.

…is new again

For banking customers the new code offers:

  • lists of direct debits and recurring payments, making it easier to switch banks

  • notice of transaction fees before they occur

  • extra care when providing banking services to the vulnerable

  • better protections including a cooling-off period for guarantors, and

  • notice to guarantors of changes to the borrower’s circumstances.

For credit card customers, banks will:

  • remind customers when a credit card introductory offer is about to end

  • cease unsolicited offers to increase credit limits, and

  • let customers reduce their credit limits or close their card accounts online.

Small businesses are covered for the first time. The code offers:

  • simplified loan contracts with fewer conditions for total loans under A$3 million (the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman wanted a threshold of A$5 million)

  • longer notice periods for when loan conditions change, and

  • greater transparency when using valuers and insolvency practitioners.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission will monitor what happens with small business and publish its findings every six months. It has no broader role in administering the code. Only complaints that are deemed severe will be be referred to it for investigation and prosecution.

More than window dressing?

Small business will have to stay on their toes. Only some of the more than 100 institutions that provide services to them have signed up to the code. None of the online-only lenders has signed up.

Will this, the fifth iteration of the code, move beyond what at times has seemed cynical window-dressing?

Trust is built on demonstrated behaviours. Not only will the banks need to stick to their new code, but any breaches will need to be addressed in a timely and substantive manner.The Conversation

Gerhard Hambusch, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

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

Obesity has become the new normal but it’s still a health risk



Exercise is good for you, no matter what your weight.
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Tim Olds, University of South Australia

Nike’s London store recently introduced a plus-sized mannequin to display its active clothing range which goes up to a size 32.

The mannequin triggered a cascade of responses ranging from outrage to celebration. One side argues that the mannequin normalises obesity and leads obese people to feel that they are healthy when in fact they are not.

The other side argues the representations are inclusive, combat fat stigma and encourage fat women to exercise.

Both arguments have some merit.

The representations of bodies we see around us — including shop mannequins – affect the way we calibrate our sense of what is normal and acceptable. And obesity is indeed associated with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and early death.

It is possible to be metabolically healthy and fat. But even metabolically healthy obese people may still have a shorter life expectancy than their lean peers.

On the other hand, exercise is almost universally beneficial, and people of all shapes and sizes should be encouraged to participate.




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Overweight and obesity have become the new normal

Based on body mass index (BMI), about two-thirds of Australian adults and one-quarter of kids are overweight or obese. While this proportion has flattened out for children in the last 20 years, it continues to rise for adults.

There is strong evidence parents consistently misjudge the weight status of their children because they see more and more fat kids.

The same is true for adults: a recent study from the United Kingdom found 55% of overweight men and 31% of overweight women considered their weight to be in the healthy range.




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I would guess the Nike mannequin is close to 100 kg, with a BMI maybe in the low 30s, well into the obese category.

But given the average female shop mannequin has a BMI of about 17, there are probably at least ten times as many Australian women like the plus-size mannequins than like the usual minus-size variety.

Obesity is not a lifestyle choice like smoking

Obesity is necessarily the result of behaviours — eating too much, exercising too little — albeit heavily constrained by genetic predispositions, and social and economic pressures.

But unlike, say, smoking, being fat is also part of what a person is: most people who are fat have usually been fat for a long time. It’s not something a person has complete control over.

Divergent paths into fat and lean start very young, and once you’re on the obesity train it’s hard to get off.

While it is possible to “give up obesity”, for many it can be a very hard road, involving a lifelong struggle with hunger and recidivism.




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Empowering vs shaming

Anti-obesity campaigns that are built on disgust, fear or shame – such as Measure Up – have been criticised as being stigmatising, ethically problematic and ineffective.

Australia’s 2009 Measure Up campaign is built on fear and shame.

There has, to my knowledge, been no high-quality research comparing the actual effectiveness of shaming versus empowering anti-obesity, or pro-physical activity, campaigns.

However a number of studies show, unsurprisingly, that obese and inactive people prefer empowering campaigns, find them more motivating and less stigmatising.

Health risks of obesity

It has been argued one can be “fit and healthy at any size”: that an obese person can be as fit and healthy as a lean person.

Depending on definitions, about 25-50% of obese people have “metabolically healthy obesity” – normal levels of inflammation, blood sugar, insulin, blood fats, and blood pressure. Other than being obese, these people appear healthy.

But obese people — fit or unfit, active or not — remain on average at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death than lean people with similar behaviours.

Similarly, the claim that people can be both fit and fat, and that fit, fat people are at less risk than unfit, lean people depends on how we define fitness and fatness.

One study, for example, might compare overweight people in the top 20% of fitness with lean people in the bottom 20%. Because there are modest differences in fatness and big differences in fitness, fat people are much more likely to have a similar risk to lean people.

But if another study compares obese people in the top 50% of fitness to lean people in the bottom 50%, the fatter people will be much less healthy.

What is certain is that whoever you are, exercise will almost certainly improve your health.




Read more:
Fat and fit? There’s no such thing for most people


The Nike mannequin controversy is a morality tale of how we navigate between the devil of normalising obesity and the deep blue sea of excluding obese people from the world of exercise.

Obesity has been called both a disability and a disease, and just another way of being in the world. The reality is that for most people, it’s something in between.The Conversation

Tim Olds, Professor of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

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

Indonesia isn’t the only country planning new cities. Why not Australia?



File 20190501 136784 1vrb4zb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Indonesia plans to relocate its capital from the sprawling city of Jakarta – and it isn’t the only country with plans to build whole new cities.
AsiaTravel/Shutterstock

Wendy Steele, RMIT University

The announcement that President Joko Widodo’s government will move Indonesia’s capital to another location, due to the severity of human-induced degradation in Jakarta, highlights a key tension for cities today. In the face of increasingly unsustainable urban environments, do we retrofit existing cities, or relocate and build new cities to achieve greater sustainability?

The answer is both. But each has its challenges.




Read more:
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Creating new cities

The goal of turning cities from sustainability problems to solutions is driving a suite of “future city” innovations. These include the planning and development of whole new cities.

An increasing number of countries are planning to build cities from scratch using technological innovation to achieve more sustainable urban development. Forest City in Malaysia, Belmont smart city in the United States and the Sino-Oman Industrial City are just some of the examples.

Forest City is Malaysia’s biggest development project.

The urban ambition includes creating carless and walkable cities, green cities able to produce oxygen through eco-skyscrapers, high-speed internet embedded in the urban fabric, the capacity to convert waste into energy, and reclaiming land to create new strategic trade opportunities.

However, striking the right balance between innovative ideas and democratic expectations, including the public right to the city, remains a challenge.




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The Minnesota Experimental City offers a cautionary tale. The aim was to solve urban problems by creating a new city. It would use the latest technology including nuclear energy, automated cars and a domed roof enclosure.

Despite significant government and financial backing, including its own state agency, the Minnesota project failed due to a lack of public understanding and local support for a top-down futuristic project.

Who gets left behind?

In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the futuristic city of Brasilia. While the city was designed to accommodate both rich and poor, it quickly became unaffordable for the average family. Half a century on, it was reported:

The poor have been shunted out to satellite cities, which range from proper well-built cities to something more like a shanty town.

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is part of a larger mega-city.
Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

In Indonesia, more than 30 million people – a fifth of the nation’s urban residents and more than a tenth of the 269 million population – live in Greater Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is just one part of a larger mega-city agglomeration, the world’s second-largest after Greater Tokyo. This vast connected urban meta-region is known as Jabodetabek, from the initials of the cities within it: Jakarta (with a population of 10 million), Bogor (1 million), Depok (2.1 million), Tangerang (2 million), South Tangerang (1.5 million) and Bekasi (2.7 million).

A key reason for moving the capital is that Jakarta is prone to serious flooding and is rapidly sinking. Jakarta also suffers overpopulation, severe traffic gridlock, slums and a lack of critical urban infrastructure such as drainage and sanitation.




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Relocating the capital away from the crowded main island of Java offers the opportunity to better plan the political and administrative centre using the latest urban design features and technology.

Two key questions arise. If environmental degradation and overpopulation are the key issues, what will become of the largely remaining population of Greater Jakarta? At a national scale, how will this relocation help overcome the socio-economic and spatial disparities that exist in Indonesia?

Egypt, for example, is building a new capital city to overcome severe urban congestion and overcrowding in Greater Cairo. But there is no guarantee the new capital will resolve these issues if the emphasis is solely on technological innovation, without adequate attention to urban equity and fairness.

More of the same in Australia

The Australian population is projected to grow to 36 million in the next 30 years. This is focusing political, policy and public attention on what this means for the future of the nation’s cities.

Despite all the advances that have occurred in technology, the arts, architecture, design and the sciences, there is surprisingly little innovation or public discussion about what might be possible for 21st-century Australian settlements beyond the capital cities.

Future Australian city planning and development focuses largely on enlarging and intensifying the footprints of existing major cities. The current urban policy trajectory is in-fill development and expansion of the existing state capital mega-city regions, where two-thirds of the population live. But what is lost through this approach?

In Australia only two ambitious “new city” plans have been put forward in the last 50 years: the Multifunction Polis (MFP) and the CLARA Plan.

In the late 1980s the MFP was envisaged as a high-tech city of the future with nuclear power, modern communication and Asian investment. It failed to gain the necessary political, investment and public support and was never built.

The current CLARA Plan proposes building up to eight new regional smart cities connected by a high-speed rail system linking Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. Each of these cities is designed to be compact, environmentally sustainable and just a quick train trip away from the capital cities.

CLARA has outlined a “value capture” business model based on private city land development, not “government coffer” funding. How these new cities propose to function within the constitutional framework of Australia is as yet unclear and untested.

The privately funded CLARA plan is to build up to eight compact, sustainable, smart cities connected via high-speed rail.



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High speed rail plan still needs to prove economic benefits will outweigh costs


A bipartisan challenge

Are we thinking too narrowly when we talk about future Australian cities?

The “future city” prompts us to rethink and re-imagine the complex nature and make-up of our urban settlements, and the role of critical infrastructure and planning within them.




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The future of Australian cities will require creativity, vision (even courage) to respond effectively to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.

This will not be the remit of any one political party, but a bipartisan national urban settlement agenda that affects and involves all Australians.The Conversation

Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre of Urban Research and Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

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