As the first ‘remote’ sitting starts in Canberra, virtual parliaments should be the new norm, not a COVID bandaid



Lukas Coch/AAP

Sarah Moulds, University of South Australia

Federal parliament is back today after a nine-week break. And it’s going to look a bit different.

Some MPs, unable to travel to Canberra for health reasons or COVID-19 border restrictions will participate via video.

It will be the first time MPs have been able to contribute remotely like this during a sitting week. This is a big leap for the parliament.

What will change in the chamber?

Federal parliament is adopting a hybrid model. Many MPs are still expected to attend the chamber in person. But others will be there via secure video link from their electorate office, with strict rules against slogans and novelty items in the background.




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Those attending via video won’t be able to vote or be counted for quorums. But they will be able to ask questions in question time and speak as part of debates.

There will not be a free-for-all on the video option. As Attorney-General and Leader of the House, Christian Porter explains, it will only be available to MPs who can prove the pandemic makes it,

essentially impossible, unreasonably impracticable, or would give rise to an unreasonable risk for the Member to physically attend.

The remote access will be via the existing system used for parliamentary committee hearings that frequently take place around the country.

Virtual parliaments around the world

This may be new for Australia, but it is not radical. Before COVID-19, other parliaments have been experimenting with remote proceedings and online participation.

Spain’s parliament has allowed remote voting since 2011 if people are seriously unwell or on maternity leave.

Brazil’s parliament – which covers a large geographical area, with more than 500 members in its lower house alone – had already begun using virtual discussion tools to conduct debates among MPs and between MPs and citizens. This is supported by an app, called Infoleg, which provides information on parliamentary business for both citizens and MPs and enables secure online voting.

Both Spain and Brazil were among the first parliaments to swap to hybrid and virtual sittings during COVID-19, thanks to their technical know-how and procedural flexibility.

What about Westminster parliaments?

Westminster parliaments were also making tentative online moves pre-COVID.




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The United Kingdom had introduced a CommonsVotes app, which shows how MPs have voted, following a division. There is also a HousePapers app which contains parliamentary papers.

The UK, New Zealand and Australian parliaments have been among those using video conferencing for committee work.

Question time is not the same

Despite some success, reconfiguring Westminster traditions into virtual parliamentary settings during COVID-19 has been challenging.

This is particularly so when it comes to facilitating the spontaneous scrutiny that should occur in question time. Or the visual drama that comes from voting together or calling a physical division.

House of Commons chamber with MPs spaced out on benches and appearing on video screens.
Video links were used when the UK Parliament sat in May.
Jessica Taylor, UK Parliament Handout/AAP

The UK parliament muddled through its post-Easter 2020 sitting, using online voting, Zoom and Microsoft Teams in the chamber and pre-prepared questions for ministers. But it has since backed away from virtual proceedings, citing the need for a “proper level of scrutiny”.

But there are ‘real positives’

The response to UK parliament’s decision has been mixed. British Labour MP Chi Onwurah has spoken of the need to be there in person.

Video engagement is not the same as being there face-to-face with a minister. You also lose the spontaneity, because you have to put in questions five days in advance, so you can’t ask a question about something a constituent emailed you about in the morning.

On the other hand, the Electoral Reform Society, has argued there are “real positives” to virtual methods. Such as,

Less booing and jeering during Prime Minister’s Questions, the ability to call Select Committee witnesses from afar through video-link […] MPs from far ends of the UK noted that they’d be able to spend more time in their constituencies if they could contribute remotely, or that they could spend more time on casework if voting times were cut down through online voting.

The House of Lords library also suggests there was more debate.

Almost 1,000 more contributions were made during the interim virtual/chamber phase than during a comparative period at the beginning of the year.

There were also more contributions from female MPs. Women made up a “slightly higher proportion” of those participating in the virtual chamber, up from 31% earlier in the year to 35%.

Scottish National Party MP Kirsty Blackman also noted the remote provisions made it easier for MPs with disabilities to participate.

Technology is key

The big lessons from these experiences are very similar to those facing other workplaces.

That is, the need to be flexible and invest in suitable technology. This includes secure and individually verifiable voting apps – such as Infolegpolitical discussion software and reliable, high-quality video conferencing facilities.

Australia’s parliament can do better (it needs to)

Long before COVID-19, researchers have been calling for parliaments to make better use of technology, to be more efficient and enhance the quality of public engagement.

A 2009 parliamentary survey of MPs found most spent between 5% and 10% of their time travelling. It is a common refrain of MPs they would rather spend more time in their electorates than in Canberra.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pulling a sad face on the frontbencher, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in foreground.
Is coming to Canberra really necessary?
Lukas Cosh/ AAP

There is also growing acknowledgement travel and work requirements on our MPs – particularly in such a geographically dispersed country – are unhealthy and unreasonable. Travel time and time away from family has also been identified as a particular barrier to attracting more more female MPs.




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So, this is our big chance to make a change

Yes, there are challenges when it comes to “going virtual”. But by forcing our parliaments to experiment with new ways of operating, COVID-19 presents a critical opportunity to reimagine how our democratic institutions can work better.

If we embrace this moment with energy and enthusiasm, we can create new spaces for new voices (as well as better spaces for those we already have).

Aged Care Minister Richard Colebeck appearing at a Senate hearing via video link.
Parliamentary committee have already been using video conferencing to conduct hearings.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

This might sound naïvely optimistic, but we have been here before.

About 40 years ago, someone stood in a dry Canberra paddock and imagined the light-filled, architectural wonder that is the current “new” Parliament House. And how MPs could be inspired by that environment to communicate their ideas with each other and their country.

Now, as we sit in front of our screens, we can begin to see a new parliamentary landscape. It might feel impersonal at first, but it has the potential to make parliament more user-friendly for MPs and citizens alike.The Conversation

Sarah Moulds, Senior Lecturer of Law, University of South Australia

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

Childcare is critical for COVID-19 recovery. We can’t just snap back to ‘normal’ funding arrangements



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Kate Noble, Victoria University; Jen Jackson, Victoria University, and Sarah Pilcher, Victoria University

This week, the federal government released a review of a relief package it put in place in April to ensure the early childhood education and care sector remained financially viable and children of essential workers, as well as vulnerable children, could continue to attend.

The review said in the week the relief package was announced

30% of providers faced closure due to a massive, shock withdrawal of families and another 25% of providers were not sure they could ever recover, even once the virus crisis has passed.

Under the emergency arrangements, the government is paying 50% of a childcare provider’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap, based on the enrolment numbers before parents started withdrawing their children because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Childcare centres are prohibited from charging families an out-of-pocket fee, with the rest of their costs expected to be recouped through JobKeeper. Or they can limit costs by restricting the number of children in care, while prioritising children of essential workers.

On the release of the review of the scheme – due to end on June 28 – education minister Dan Tehan said the plan had “done its job” with 99% of services remaining open, and most providers saying the emergency response has helped with financial viability.




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The package is far from perfect, and has helped most early childhood services but not all. The review reports a survey of around 54% of providers found the new payment had “at least to some extent” helped 86% of them stay open and retain staff and 76% to “remain financially viable”.

In early May, one provider of aged, disability and early childhood services, Uniting NSW and ACT, reported it was losing A$1 million a month under the scheme.

Other centres reporting heavy losses include those with high numbers of children attending already, and those where a high number of staff aren’t eligible for JobKeeper, such as if they are casuals or on temporary visas.



The Conversation/AAP, CC BY-ND

Some who are unhappy with the current arrangements want to revert to the previous system now. Others say a preemptive snap-back would be a big mistake, risking a second existential threat to the sector.

Dan Tehan has said the government is working on a transition back to the old system which “was working effectively”.

As we navigate uncharted territories over the coming months, the needs and vulnerabilities of children, families and the early childhood education and care workforce must also be at the forefront of our thinking.

Why we can’t just ‘snap back’

One of the main arguments for snapping back to the old system is based on increasing demand for services over the past month. But what if this demand is driven by childcare being free, and withers away once fees are reintroduced, when families are forced to cut costs?

COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment. For many families, the transition back to work may be irregular and unpredictable. A sharp ending of the emergency measures may leave many families unable to access care when they need to get back to work.

On top of this, children’s routines have been disrupted, increasing levels of isolation and anxiety. Many children not previously considered vulnerable will now fall into this category, or become potentially vulnerable.

High quality early childhood education can help reduce the risk of vulnerability.




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Meanwhile, early childhood providers are navigating rapid changes to attendance, staffing, funding and revenue. Under current arrangements, they are managing a steady growth in demand and a known stream of income. Reverting to the previous system will introduce a high degree of uncertainty.

It will also take time and careful planning to define a way forward for the complex diversity of early childhood services. The report on the rescue package highlights how different types of services have experienced COVID-19 in different ways: while 80% of centre-based child care services reported steep declines in attendance, only around half of home-based family day care services did so.

Early childhood educators are also in a tenuous position. They are among the lowest-paid Australians, with high levels of casual employment. Staff turnover is high, which undermines delivery of quality education, given the critical importance of secure relationships to children’s early learning and development.

Funding certainty in the coming months will support job security, which benefits children as well as workers.

A slow transition is the best

Governments’ short-term focus must be on balancing the needs of children and families with economic recovery. This may begin with a gradual return to something like the previous system, adjusted to meet our changed needs.

The current arrangements could be continued until September, followed by a gradual reduction, rather than a rapid rollback. After that we need some simple changes at a minimum:

  1. suspend the activity test, to remove the link between parents’ work or study situation and children’s access, so all families and children can access early childhood services

  2. allow increased absences, so families have the flexibility to keep their children home when they are unwell

  3. improve affordability, with increases to childcare subsidy rates at all income levels to a cap

  4. prioritise the needs of children most at risk, to ensure access for the most vulnerable children.

We must also plan for longer-term reform to build a more stable and sustainable early childhood sector for all Australian children, which is less likely to need rescuing in the event of future shocks. With the rescue package generating calls to permanently remove fees for early childhood services, governments need to remain open to more ambitious reforms in future.




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The Conversation


Kate Noble, Education Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University; Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University, and Sarah Pilcher, Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

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

What might trigger a return to ‘normal’? Why our coronavirus exit strategy is … TBC


Katherine Gibney, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Jodie McVernon, University of Melbourne

The unprecedented restrictions Australians are living with are working, so far, to curb the rise in new COVID-19 cases.

Nationally, on average around 50 new COVID-19 cases were reported each day in the week leading up to April 15, compared with a peak of 460 on March 28.

Fewer people are testing positive, and these cases are infecting fewer additional people, as we close international borders, work and study from home, keep 1.5m apart and limit unnecessary travel.

New modelling indicates ten people with the virus now infect only five others.

So many people are asking when physical distancing measures can be relaxed.




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When can life go back to normal?

The simple answer is, life as normal cannot resume anytime soon. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said current restrictions will be in place for at least the next four weeks.

COVID-19 remains highly infectious, and our population is still almost entirely susceptible to catching it.

Most people won’t have been exposed to the virus and won’t have built up immunity to it. And we’re unlikely to have a vaccine for at least the next 12–18 months.

This means we need to continue to modify the way we work, socialise and travel to minimise the chance of catching the virus.

What might trigger a return to ‘normal’?

When we know who’s immune

Serosurveys survey the population for antibodies in blood that protect against COVID-19. These can indicate the proportion of the population with natural immunity after COVID-19 infection.

These studies are underway internationally, including in the United States, and are planned for Australia.

Eventually they could inform who gets vaccinated and guide decisions around lifting restrictions. But these results are still likely to be some time away.




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Few new unexplained local cases for at least two weeks

The widespread physical distancing measures in place in Australia aim to prevent community transmission of COVID-19. This is distinct from border measures, which are designed to prevent the introduction of new cases from overseas.

As the restrictions on daily life have important health, social and economic ramifications beyond COVID-19, we will need to begin to roll them back before the Australian population is COVID-19 immune (and before we have results from serosurveys to confirm this).

These changes could begin when the number of locally acquired cases, particularly those transmitted in the community without a known source, is very low for a sustained period. This would need to be longer than the incubation period (the time from infection to symptoms showing), which for COVID-19 can be up to two weeks.

Now is an appropriate time to develop this “exit plan”, but we need to be cautious and responsive in doing so.

More testing, tracing and quarantine

First, we need an even stronger capacity to identify and isolate cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts.

As we’ve increased testing capacity in Australia, we’ve also expanded testing criteria. While initially restricted to returned travellers and contacts of a known case, some jurisdictions are now testing all people with COVID-19 symptoms – regardless of their travel or contact history – to determine the extent of community transmission.

Testing should continue to identify geographical areas or sub-populations with ongoing (or new) transmission, to pave the way for rapid and targeted public health responses.




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Once a case is identified, a network of thousands of contact tracers work to to identify their contacts and provide advice around quarantine requirements.

Many countries have employed technological solutions such as contact tracing apps, and Australia is looking to follow suit. But such an app will be effective only if uptake is high.

Fewer than one-fifth of Singapore’s population had downloaded their TraceTogether contact tracing app by April 1, well short of their target.

When we know more about people with mild or no symptoms

Social distancing measures minimise the risk a person will transmit the virus to others when that person doesn’t know they’re infected. So before we consider relaxing them, we need to better understand the relative infectiousness of people with no or mild symptoms.

Studies currently underway are following families and close contacts of cases to see who develops typical COVID-19 symptoms, who is infected with mild or no symptoms, and who is not infected.

Likewise, understanding the role of children in transmitting infection is essential to support reopening schools, with appropriate social distancing in place. Research is similarly underway to attempt to answer this question.

We will likely see restrictions lifted in stages

While returning children to classrooms and opening businesses will be a priority, restrictions around international travel are likely to be in place for many months. Isolation of cases and quarantine of contacts are likely to be ongoing.

While Australia is developing its “exit plan”, other countries have revealed theirs. Iceland has announced physical distancing restrictions will be gradually lifted starting on May 4, including increasing the limit for gatherings from 20 to 50 people, and re-opening schools and universities.

Likewise, Norway is planning to re-open kindergartens, primary schools and certain businesses from April 20.




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Even the best-laid plans might not eventuate. Physical distancing measures had been relaxed in Singapore, Japan and South Korea after flattening the curve, but were recently re-introduced following a surge in cases.

No-one knows how the coming months will play out, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ll need to carefully manage the risks that come with easing restrictions. But Australia is well-placed to do this, having successfully navigated the COVID-19 journey so far.The Conversation

Katherine Gibney, NHMRC early career fellow, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Jodie McVernon, Professor and Director of Doherty Epidemiology, University of Melbourne

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

From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?


Sarah Milne, Australian National University; Carolyn Hendriks, Australian National University, and Sango Mahanty, Australian National University

The world faces profound disruption. For Australians who lived through the most horrific fire season on record, there has been no time to recover. The next crisis is now upon us in the form of COVID-19. As we grapple with uncertainty and upheaval, it’s clear that our old “normal” will never be recovered.

Radical changes like these can be interpreted through the lens of “rupture”. As the social scientist Christian Lund describes, ruptures are “open moments, when opportunities and risks multiply… when new structural scaffolding is erected”.

The concept of rupture therefore explains what happens during periods of profound change – such as colonisation or environmental catastrophe – when relationships between people, governments and the environment get reconfigured.

This can help us to make sense of the bushfire crisis and COVID-19: we are in an open moment, when the status quo is in flux.

History of rupture

Colonisation is perhaps the most dramatic example of rupture in human history. Original ways of life are violently overthrown, while new systems of authority, property and control are imposed.

Novelist Chinua Achebe famously described the effects of colonisation on tribal people in Nigeria, with his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. But rupture tells us that things do not just fall apart – they also get remade.

We have researched rupture in Southeast Asia, where hydro-electric dam projects have devastated river systems and local livelihoods. New kinds of political power and powerlessness have emerged in affected communities, who’ve had to adjust to flooding, resettlement and an influx of new settlers.




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We’ve also found new relationships between people and nature in these contexts. For example, as indigenous people have been displaced from their ancestral lands, they must reestablish access to natural resources and forest-based traditions in new places.

Importantly, the rupture metaphor can be scaled up to help us understand national and global crises. Three insights emerge.

1. Rupture doesn’t come out of nowhere

Both the bushfires and COVID-19 expose how underlying conditions – such as drought, social inequality, and the erosion of public goods and services – contribute to a dramatic event occurring, and in turn shape how it unfolds.

Before the fires hit in late 2019, the drought had already brought many rural communities to their knees. The combination of dry dams, farmers without income, and towns without water meant local capacity to cope was already diminished.

Similarly with COVID-19, pre-existing poverty has translated into higher infection rates, as seen in Spain where vulnerable people in poorly paid jobs have suffered most from the virus.

From this, it is clear that crises are not stand-alone events – and society’s response must address pre-existing problems.




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Conversely, favourable underlying conditions – such as social cohesion, public trust and safety nets – can help us adapt and improvise in the face of rupture.

For example during the last bushfire season, a small and nimble community-based firefighting team formed at Mongarlowe in southern New South Wales. The group extinguished spot fires that the under-resourced Rural Fire Service (RFS) could not reach – saving forests, property and potentially, lives.

Such groups emerged from already strong communities. Social cohesion and community responsiveness is also helping societies cope with COVID-19, as seen in the emergence of community-led “mutual aid” groups around the world.

A community supply centre near Bega, NSW, helping residents after the bushfires.
Sean Davey/AAP

2. Rupture changes the dynamics of government

Rupture can also expose frictions between citizens and their governments. For example, the Australian government’s initial response to the bushfire crisis was condemned as insensitive and ineffectual. As the crisis evolved, this damaged the government’s credibility and authority – especially in relation to its stance on climate change.

Against this foil, state governments delivered somewhat clearer messaging and steadier management. But tensions soon arose between state and federal leadership, revealing cracks in the system.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that more than ever, we need competent and coherent governance. However fractures have again emerged between state and federal governments, as some states moved ahead of the Commonwealth with faster, stricter measures to combat COVID-19.

Furthermore, as economic stimulus spending reaches A$320 billion – including wage subsidies and free childcare – the government’s neo-liberal ideology appears to have fallen away (at least temporarily).

Critical lessons from other ruptures show that Australians must remain vigilant now, as old systems of authority rewire themselves. To stem COVID-19, governments have announced major societal restrictions and huge spending. These moves demand new kinds of accountability – as demonstrated by calls for bipartisan scrutiny of Australia’s COVID-19 response.

3. Rupture asks us to re-think our relationships with nature

When Australia burned last summer, few could avoid the immediacy of dead wildlife, devastated landscapes and hazardous air. Australians were overwhelmed by grief, and a new awareness of the impacts of climate change. New debates emerged about how our forests should be managed, and the pro-coal stance of the federal Coalition was challenged.

COVID-19 is also a wake-up call to humanity. It is one of many emerging infectious diseases that originated in animals – a product of our “war on nature” which includes deforestation and unregulated wildlife consumption.




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As British writer George Monbiot argues, the pandemic means that we can no longer maintain the “illusion of security” on a planet with “multiple morbidities” – looming food shortages, antibiotic resistance and climate breakdown.

Rupture invites us to re-think our relationships to nature. We must recognise her agency – as firestorm or microscopic virus – and our deep dependence upon her.

Looking ahead

Indian author Arundhati Roy recently wrote that, in these troubled times, rupture “offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves”.

The challenge now is to seize opportunities emerging from this rupture. As our economies hibernate, we’re learning how to transform. Carbon emissions have declined dramatically, and the merits of slowing down are becoming apparent. We must use this moment to re-align our relationships to one another, and to nature.The Conversation

Sarah Milne, Senior Lecturer, Resources, Environment and Development, Australian National University; Carolyn Hendriks, Associate Professor, Public Policy and Governance, Australian National University, and Sango Mahanty, Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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.




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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.

I’m Back: Much Needed Break Over


My massive break is over and I’ll be trying to get back into Blogging and other aspects of life online over the next few weeks. There will be some breaks over the ‘silly season,’ but I’m hoping normal service is being resumed.

Hopefully there will be some improvements along the way as well.

Plinky Prompt: Share the Most Dangerous Thing You've Ever Done For Fun



Waterfall

Hmmm, I generally play it safe I have to admit – but occasionally I do do something stupid and/or dangerous during my normal activities. This generally happens when I’m out bushwalking, though I find myself being more cautious these days.

Some of the most dangerous situations I have found myself in while bushwalking have been when trying to ascend/descend waterfalls. I have fallen on several occasions now and on one occasion suffered some injuries that required me to abandon the rest of my walk/climb on that day.

On another occasion I fell and landed far too close to what was effectively a spear, right beside by throat.

Some falls like these do tend to lead you to more caution in future times.

Powered by Plinky

 

Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Recent Incidents of Persecution


Punjab, India, December 1 (CDN) — Hindu extremists on Nov. 14 beat a Christian in Moti Nagar, Ludhiana, threatening to harm him and his family if they attended Sunday worship. A source told Compass that a Hindu identified only as Munna had argued with a Christian identified only as Bindeshwar, insulting him for being a Christian, and beat him on Nov. 7. Munna then returned with a mob of about 50 Hindu extremists on Nov. 14. Armed with clubs and swords, they dragged Bindeshwar out of his house and severely beat him, claiming that Christians had offered money to Munna to convert. Local Christian leaders reported the matter to the police at Focal Point police station. Officers arrested three Hindu extremists, but under pressure from local Bharatiya Janata Party leaders released them without registering a First Information Report. Police brokered an agreement between the parties on Nov. 18 and vowed they would not allow further attacks on Christians.

Tripura – Hindu extremists attacked a prayer conference on Nov. 6 in Burburi, threatening Christians if they opened their mouths. A local evangelist known only as Hmunsiamliana told Compass that area Christian leaders organized a prayer conference on Nov. 5-7, but extremists ordered the participants not to open their mouth or make any sound. Christian leaders reported the threat to police, and the participants proceeded to pray aloud. On the nights of Nov. 6 and 7, a huge mob of Hindu extremists pelted the Christians with stones, but the participants continued praying. The meeting ended on the evening of Nov. 7 under police protection.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) disrupted a Christian youth gathering in Raipur on Nov. 6 and accused organizers of forcible conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Vision India had organized the Central India Youth Festival with about 900 in attendance when the extremists stormed in at about 4:30 p.m. and began questioning leaders. The Christian and VHP leaders then held a meeting in the presence of police, with the Christian leaders explaining that it was a normal youth meeting with no forceful conversion taking place. Nevertheless, officers and VHP leaders proceeded to observe the gathering and proceedings, and the Christians were made to submit a list of participants. In this tense atmosphere, the meeting concluded at 10 p.m. under heavy police protection.

Madhya Pradesh – On Oct. 31 in Neemuch, Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal barged into a worship meeting shouting Hindu slogans and accused those present of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that about 40 extremists rushed into the church building at about 10 a.m. shouting “Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram].” The Rev. K. Abraham, who was leading the service, pleaded with them to come back later, but the invaders remained and continued shouting. After the service ended, the extremists rushed Abraham and accused the church of paying money to people to convert, as published in newspaper Pupils Samachar. The Christians said the newspaper published the false news because Abraham, principal of United Alpha English School, refused to advertise in it, according to EFI. The extremists grabbed a woman in the congregation who had a bindi (dot) on her forehead, claimed that she had been lured to Christianity and asked her why she was attending the service, according to EFI. “Where were you people when I was demon-possessed?” the woman replied, according to EFI. “You didn’t come to help me, but when I came to the church in God’s presence, these people prayed for me and helped me to get deliverance.”

Karnataka – Police on Oct. 29 detained Christians after Hindu extremists registered a false complaint of forced conversion in Kalammnagar village, Uttara Kannada. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at around 8:15 p.m. police accompanied extremists belonging to the Bajrang Dal, who along with members of the media stormed the Blessing Youth Mission Church during a worship service for senior citizens. They dragged out Ayesha Nareth, Hanumanta Unikal,Viru Basha Doddamani, Narayana Unikkal and Pastor Subash Deshrath Nalude, forced them into a police jeep and took them to the Yellapur police station. After interrogation for nearly six hours, the Christians were released without being charged.

Orissa – Hindu extremists refused to allow the burial of a 3-year-old Dalit Christian who died in Jinduguda, Malkangiri. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that the daughter of unidentified Christian tribal people fell ill and was taken to a nearby health center on Oct. 27. The doctor advised the parents to take the child to a nearby hospital, and the girl developed complications and died there. When the parents brought the body of the girl back to their village, according to AICC, Hindus refused to allow them to bury her with a Christian ritual. There are only 15 Christian families in the predominantly Hindu village. With the intervention of local Christian leaders, police allowed the burial of the body in a Christian cemetery.

Karnataka – On Oct. 6 in Beridigere, Davanagere, a Christian family that converted from Hinduism was assaulted because of their faith in Christ. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the attack appeared to have been orchestrated to appear as if the family provoked it. An elderly woman, Gauri Bai, went to the house of the Christian family and picked a quarrel with them. Bai started shouting and screaming for help, and suddenly about 20 Hindu extremists stormed in and began beating the Christians. They dragged Ramesh Naik out to the street, tied him to a pole, beat him and poured liquor into his mouth and onto his body. His sister, Laititha Naik, managed to escape and called her mother. Later that day, at about 8:30 p.m., the extremists pelted their house with stones, and then about 70 people broke in and began striking them with sickles, stones and clubs. Two brothers, Ramesh Naik and Santhosh Naik, managed to escape with their mother in the darkness, but the Hindu extremists took hold of their sister Lalitha and younger brother Suresh and beat them; they began bleeding and lost consciousness. The attackers continued to vandalize the house, damaging the roof and three doors with large boulders. The unconscious victims received treatment for head injuries and numerous cuts at a government hospital. Police from the Haluvagalu police station arrested 15 persons in connection with the assault.

Report from Compass Direct News

Chinese Christians Blocked from Attending Lausanne Congress


Police threaten or detain some 200 house church members who planned to attend.

DUBLIN, October 15 (CDN) — As organizers prepared for the opening of the Third Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization tomorrow in Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese police threatened or detained some 200 delegates who had hoped to attend.

After receiving an invitation to attend the event, house church groups in China formed a selection committee and raised significant funds to pay the expenses of their chosen delegates, a source told Compass. Many delegates, however, were “interviewed” by authorities after they applied to attend the Congress, the source said.

When house church member Abraham Liu Guan and four other delegates attempted to leave China via Beijing airport on Sunday (Oct. 10), authorities refused to allow them through customs, reported the Chinese-language Ming Pao News. Officials detained one delegate and confiscated the passports of the other four until Oct. 25, the closing date of the conference.

China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security had notified border control staff that the participation of Chinese Christians in the conference threatened state security and ordered them not to allow delegates to leave, Liu told U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR).

Officials also prevented two house church Christians from Baotou City, Inner Mongolia, from leaving the country, and on Oct. 9 placed one of them in a 15-day detention, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported.

When Fan Yafeng, leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defense Association and winner of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award, discussed the harassment with NPR on Tuesday (Oct. 12), officials assigned some 20 police officers to keep him under house arrest.

On Wednesday (Oct. 13), approximately 1,000 police officers were stationed at Beijing International Airport to restrain an estimated 100 house church members who planned to leave for the Congress via Beijing, according to CAA.

CAA also said authorities over the past few months had contacted every delegate, from Han Christians in Beijing to Uyghur Christians in Xinjiang, for questioning, and threatened some family members.

Normal church operations were also affected. The Rev. Xing Jingfu from Changsha in Hunan province told NPR that authorities cited the Lausanne Congress when they recently ordered his church to close.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, in a statement issued to NPR, accused the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization of communicating secretively with members of illegal congregations and not issuing an official invitation to China’s state-controlled church.

According to the Ming Pao report, the Lausanne committee said members of the Three-Self Protestant Movement had asked if they could attend. Delegates, however, were required to sign a document expressing their commitment to evangelism, which members of official churches could not do due to regulations such as an upper limit on the number of people in each church, state certification for preachers, and the confinement of preaching to designated churches in designated areas. House church Christians faced no such limitations.

The first such conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, which produced the influential Lausanne Covenant. The second conference was held in 1989 in Manila. Some 4,000 delegates from 200 countries are expected to attend the third conference in Cape Town.

 

Progress or Repression?

China watchers said there has been a slight easing of restrictions in recent months, accompanied by a call on Sept. 28 from senior Chinese political advisor Du Qinglin for the government to allow the independent development of the official church. Du made the remarks at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to the government-allied Xinhua news agency.

The BBC in August produced a glowing series on the growth of Christianity in China after Chinese authorities gave it unprecedented access to state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions. Religious rights monitor Elizabeth Kendal, however, described this access as part of a propaganda campaign by the Chinese government to reduce criticism of religious freedom policies.

NPR also produced a five-part series on Chinese religions in July. The series attributed the growth of religious adherence to the “collapse of Communist ideology” and pointed out that growth continued despite the fact that evangelism was “still illegal in China today.”

The claims of progress were challenged by an open letter from Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Christian House Church Alliance, to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Oct. 1, China’s National Day.

In the letter, published by CAA on Oct. 5, Zhang claimed that Chinese house church Christians respected the law and were “model citizens,” and yet they had become “the target of a group of government bandits … [who] often arrest and beat innocent Christians and wronged citizens.” Further, he added, “House church Christians have been ill-treated simply because they are petitioners to crimes of the government.”

Zhang then listed several recent incidents in which Christians were arrested and sent to labor camps, detained and fined without cause, beaten, interrogated and otherwise abused. He also described the closure or demolition of house churches and the confiscation of personal and church property.

He closed with a mention of Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit, “who was sentenced to 15 years in prison because he evangelized among Uyghurs – his very own people.”

Report from Compass Direct News