Inbox and Environment News - Issue 186
October 26 - November 1, 2014: Issue 186
Australians Invited to Try the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online
20 October 2014 - CSIRO are inviting you to participate in an online trial of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet - a nutritious and convenient weight loss program, supported by scientific evidence.
Try the program now
Up to 5 000 people are being sought to participate in a three-month trial, which will enable researchers to better understand the needs of modern digital dieters.
The trial will be open for registration on 20 October 2014 and close 3 November 2014. Participants will be asked to provide information on their diet choices and weight loss via an online program diary.
Places are limited, so Australians looking to get in shape for summer are encouraged to register today. Participants that weigh in each week during the 12-week program will pay nothing; with the introductory price of A$99 being fully refunded.
Sign up now to the new CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online program.
The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online will allow you to better personalise the program to suit your tastes and lifestyle. The eating plan is easier to follow, you can customise the meal plans to suit your tastes and dietary preferences, swap any meal for one you prefer and our handy shopping list will update instantly.
Food journals are essential for successful weight management, but most journals only count calories. Our new Total Wellbeing Diet diary instantly tallies your food groups and shows you where you're going right and wrong with your eating plan. From January 2015, you'll be able to search the complete Total Wellbeing Diet recipe collection online. Look up, save and track over 1000 recipes from our best-loved books.
What you eat is just part of the story, and our online system includes practical, realistic exercise programs to help maximise the weight loss and wellness benefits of the Total Wellbeing Diet. Perfect for beginners, you can choose from a gym program or walking and running programs that can be done from home.
The essential features of your Total Wellbeing Diet program are available on your mobile phone. You can check your meal plan, track your latest snack or look up a workout while on the go.
The Total Wellbeing Diet has been enhanced with the help of the GI Foundation. Now, our high protein meal plans are packed with low GI options to stop you from feeling hungry. Our online system will point out low GI options to help you make smarter choices.
Sign up now to the new CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet online program.
Locals asked to go Cockatoo for Ibis research TODAY - Sunday Oct. 26th
Media release: 21 October 2014
People all over New South Wales are being asked to be on the lookout for some of our most obvious birds.
Everyone is encouraged to become birdwatchers, at least for a day, on Sunday 26 October as part of the annual white ibis, and now sulphur-crested cockatoo, census.
Dr John Martin said the survey coordinated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) aims to better understand where these birds are breeding and what areas they are using across the landscape.
“This year we are also asking for reports of sulphur-crested cockatoos”, John said.
“White ibis and the sulphur-crested cockatoos have become more common in urban areas and have adapted to eat different food and live within close proximity to humans”, he said.
“Both species have changed their distribution and behaviour over the last 40-years.
“Getting an overview of the ibis and cockatoo populations is only possible with the help of the community.
“Locals know their area and they can easily report the presence of ibis or cockatoos.”
“Ibis are native to Australia but they have increased in numbers along the coast in response to drought and changes to the inland wetlands,” Dr Martin said.
Since the ibis surveys began in 2003, more than 2000 ibis have been colour-banded and wing-tagged to get an idea of where they go when they leave the Sydney area.
So far, colour-branded chicks have been found as far a field as Townsville – 2500km away, while in the Sydney region we have radio-tracked ibis moving up to 35km to forage on a daily basis.
A similar wing-tagging and GPS-tracking study of the cockatoos has been running for three years in the Sydney region.
This study has recorded movements from the Royal Botanic Garden to Engadine, Bexley, Gordon, Narrabeen and suburbs in between.
Participating in the survey is easy. On Sunday 26 October, just head out to wherever you may see ibis or cockatoos and count them, record if they have bands on their legs or tags on their wings and then fill in the on-line form at:
New methods to calculate risk of floods
October 21, 2014 - University of Adelaide researchers are devising new methods to more accurately estimate long-term flood risk across Australia. The researchers are examining the possible causes of floods and how they interact with each other. This information is being used to create sophisticated models which will be used by engineers to better calculate flood risks for different locations.
"In the past, engineers have tended to make decisions as though every flood has just a single cause, for example unusually heavy rainfall or an extreme ocean water level," says Dr Seth Westra, Senior Lecturer in the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering.
"Multiple causes and how they interact have rarely been considered but, ironically, many big floods that have occurred in Australia have been extremely complex, with many different things happening at the same time."
For instance, Dr Westra says, the devastating Queensland floods of 2011 superficially appeared to be caused by intense rainfall, but the flood wouldn't have had been so large if the catchments hadn't already been waterlogged from a very wet spring.
"Accurate assessment of the risk of floods in any particular area is important for town planning and council zoning and in designing flood protection infrastructure like bridges and levees," says Dr Westra.
"But properly understanding the risk of flooding means we have to assess the likelihood of these different events coinciding - acting together in a synergistic way to cause an extreme flood. For example do you tend to get big storm surges at the same time as heavy rainfall?
"Even when something has never happened in the past, it's possible that the elements could align in a different way in the future to cause a flood event. Think of Hurricane Sandy in the US, which was brought about by the combination of an extremely unusual set of conditions to wreak havoc in New York. We need to be able to assess what sorts of floods can possibly occur in the future, even if we haven't observed or recorded similar events.
"In Australia, this estimation is complicated further by the fact that we don't have great long-term records of flood risk. We're a relatively new country and in a lot of catchments there may only be 30 years of good data -- so we have to make educated guesses as to what might be possible in the future."
Climate change is adding another dimension to the difficulty of flood risk estimation. "Under climate change, each risk factor will probably change in the future -- but it will be a complex picture, much more nuanced than is often reported," says Dr Westra.
"Certainly some places will see increased floods, but other locations could even see a reduction in flood risk."
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Adelaide.
Bureau releases new national groundwater data tool
Media release - 21 October 2014
The Bureau of Meteorology today released a new online groundwater data tool, providing a comprehensive picture of Australia's groundwater resources.
"The Australian Groundwater Explorer presents a uniform approach to groundwater information to support a range of sustainable water resource management decisions at both local and national levels," said Senator Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.
"The Australian Groundwater Explorer brings together comprehensive groundwater information from state and territory water agencies, making it publicly available in a nationally consistent format on the Bureau's website," Senator Birmingham said.
"As groundwater systems often span jurisdictional boundaries, policy and planning managers will value the national consistency afforded by the Australian Groundwater Explorer.
"National Water Week is a great time to increase community awareness around water issues and how best to use our valuable water resources. The Federal Government is working to improve our national understanding of all water resources, including groundwater, through the Bureau's Water Information Program.
"Groundwater has traditionally been considered our water resource safety net, but in this highly variable climate, with increasing demands from population growth and the pressures of development, we are relying more and more on our groundwater resources.
These increased pressures are part of the reason why we recently reinstated the $15.9 million Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative funding, which Labor had left without funding.
"The Australian Groundwater Explorer is a valuable tool which will enhance public understanding of Australia's groundwater resources and lead to improvements in their management."
Senator Birmingham said with the Australian Groundwater Explorer users can access a wide range of groundwater data, including around 800,000 bore locations and bore logs.
"Users can pan and zoom using the interactive map, tailor and search information for their area, view bore logs and aquifers in 3D, or download tables and graphs."
View the Australian Groundwater Explorer atwww.bom.gov.au/water/groundwater/explorer/
Improving water reform outcomes in New South Wales
Joint media statement - 21 October 2014
The Australian and New South Wales Governments today announced a $350 million package of new irrigation efficiency projects across New South Wales.
“The Australian Government is contributing an extra $125 million of funding to the revised package, bringing total Australian Government funding for New South Wales to nearly $1.5 billion,” said Senator Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.
“The new funding contributed by the Australian Government is helping to deliver on our promise to deliver the Basin Plan in full and on time, while supporting a viable irrigation industry and sustainable food production for strong regional communities across the Murray-Darling Basin.
“The package delivers on the commitments we made in our Water Recovery Strategy and by investing in projects that deliver improved water use efficiency, we can address Basin Plan water recovery targets while minimising the impact on regional communities.
“The new package will include expanding the successful NSW Irrigated Farm Modernisation Project, introducing a new round of funding under the Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program and boosting funding under the Commonwealth On-farm Irrigation Efficiency Program for NSW.
“The types of irrigation infrastructure upgrades that these programmes provide will improve on-farm water efficiency and productivity, whilst providing a share of the water savings to the Commonwealth for ongoing environmental use.
“And it is not just irrigators who see the benefits of such investments. At the local level, benefits flow on to other local businesses and services during construction and beyond,” he said.
NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water Kevin Humphries said the funding package will result in more efficient and effective use of vital water resources in irrigation communities across the Basin.
“I have listened to the concerns of industry and the community and have been working with the Commonwealth to develop a better package of projects to ensure the best outcome for irrigators, regional communities and the environment,” he said.
“Through initiatives such as the NSW Irrigated Farm Modernisation Project, the NSW Government is leading the way in improving the long term sustainability of regional communities by allowing irrigators to maintain or improve productivity, adapt to reduced water availability and provide water back to the environment through upgrading irrigation infrastructure.
“Efficient water use sustains our regional communities and the NSW Government will continue to work with the Federal Government to drive the efficiencies required to support a healthy and productive Murray-Darling Basin that in turn supports our vibrant regional communities.”
“In recovering water for the environment, our key priority is to ensure the Murray-Darling Basin remains Australia’s food bowl. I look forward to continuing to work with the NSW Government to achieve positive outcomes for communities in the Murray-Darling Basin,” said Senator Birmingham.
Project funding allocations:
Expanded Irrigation Farm Modernisation Project - $28 million
Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program (Round 3) - $100 million
On Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program (Round 5) - $125 million
Southern-connected Metering Project - $31.5 million
Infrastructure Projects TBC - $66 million
Agricultural Green Paper released: it’s time to have your say
20 October 2014 - The Australian Government has released the Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper today and is asking everyone in agriculture to have their say on a range of new proposals and policy suggestions.
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said that the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper that the Coalition Government has carriage of is seminal to who we are, where we came from, and is a vital part of the puzzle of how we get out of our current financial bind.
"The Green Paper outlines fresh ideas on a range of vitally important issues for the future of our nation including infrastructure, drought support, trade and finance.
"The Green Paper is a reflection of the Coalition Government's commitment to maintaining family farming as the cornerstone of Australian agriculture and to support those on the land who engage in food and fibre production, an inherently noble and good occupation.
"People on the land feed and clothe people. You are on the land if you farm, if you work in an abattoir, if you transport produce in logistics, if you are a vet or a farm worker and if you are the family that owns the farm.
"I said I wanted to hear the big ideas, to shake things up—I was looking for new policies to truly support our farmers and our strong agricultural sector into the future. The Green Paper certainly delivers with options to consider 25 diverse policy themes," Minister Joyce said.
"Now it's about whittling these ideas down and deciding what’s really important to take into the future, particularly given the tight fiscal environment we are working in.
"As a nation, we need a competitive and innovative agricultural sector—a sector that increases farmgate profitability, has expanded export and trade opportunities, and strengthens our rural and regional communities.
"Some of the suggestions stakeholders had for drought support included increasing support for commercial multi-peril crop insurance, more accurate weather and climatic information and increased mental health support.
"In infrastructure, we want the views of producers on the costs and benefits of major investments ranging from road, rail and shipping terminals to regional air hubs, new dams, and communication services and programmes.
"Regarding water infrastructure, the government is seeking to identify new dam and infrastructure projects that can deliver Australia's water supply needs in the future.
"The paper suggests ways to reduce Commonwealth, state and territory regulatory burden and to improve market competition by strengthening domestic competition laws.
"Many of the submissions received through the issues paper consultations raised the need for greater investment in biosecurity information and intelligence gathering tools.
"In terms of taxation and finance, the government is also seeking input on proposals to amend income tax averaging provisions, alter non-commercial loss rules and change the eligibility boundaries for the Zone Tax Offset.
We're looking to farmers to tell us about the most important ideas and the policies we should focus on to take agriculture forward—so feedback will be very useful.
"Everyone has the opportunity to have their say on the Green Paper. Submissions are open online until 12 December 2014. Now is the time to help shape Australian agriculture into a stronger, more profitable and more sustainable sector," Minister Joyce said.
To read the Green Paper, or provide a submission in response, visit: https://agriculturalcompetitiveness.dpmc.gov.au
IUCN World Parks Congress Sydney 2014
The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 is a landmark global forum on parks and protected areas held once every 10 years. The Congress will be hosted in Sydney, Australia from 12 – 19 November 2014, on the theme Parks, Planet, People: inspiring solutions.
The Congress program consists of eight concurrent streams which are Reaching Conservation Goals, Responding to Climate Change, Improving Health and Well-being, Supporting Human Life, Reconciling Development Challenges, Enhancing Diversity & Quality of Governance, Respecting Indigenous & Traditional Knowledge and Culture and Inspiring a New Generation. One stream alone, the Improving Health and Wellbeing: Healthy Parks Healthy People will have over 150 speakers from around the world will contribute and between 3000 to 5000 delegates are expected to attend this very significant Congress. You will benefit from their expertise, practical lessons learnt and plans for positive change.
Attendees will range from world leaders in environment, health, tourism, education and urban planning fields and more, to young people with a passion and interest in creating a better future. As well as an incredibly informative week-long program there will be opportunities to network at social events, field trips around Sydney and Australia, and opportunities to be involved in groups taking specific action after the Congress to deliver on commitments for positive change.
For more information or to register go towww.worldparkscongress.org
Government appoints infectious disease expert to aid Australia's response to Ebola
24 October 2014 - The Federal Government has appointed Professor Lyn Gilbert to advise hospital based clinicians and infectious disease experts on how best to prevent and control the spread of the deadly Ebola virus if it reaches Australian shores.
An infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, Professor Gilbert's appointment was announced this week at a meeting of Australia's chief medical officers.
"In the event Ebola-infected patients reach Australia, hospitals need to have clear, safe and uniform protocols in place," says Professor Gilbert.
"We need to ensure that healthcare workers are skilled and well-practiced to manage people infected with this disease - for their safety, and the safety of the entire community."
Specifically, Professor Gilbert will chair a newly-created expert committee advising the Australian Health Protection Prime committee, comprising state and territory chief health officers, and the Communicable Disease Network, Australia (CDNA).
The scope of Professor Gilbert's role covers protocols for issues such as the management of Ebola cases from their point of entry to Australia, their clinical assessment and care, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment used by healthcare workers.
"There is currently no vaccine and cure for the disease caused by Ebola virus, which causes severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and in some cases, organ failure and severe bleeding," says Professor Gilbert. "Currently, the only way to stop it is to break the chains of infection."
The real number of people who are currently sick with Ebola is unknown, but almost ten thousand cases, including forty-eight hundred deaths, have been reported so far, largely in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A tiny fraction of these cases - 18 people - have been treated for Ebola infection in Europe and the United States.
For Australia, the Ebola threat comes from two sources - inbound travelers from the Ebola-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - and Australian healthcare workers on the frontlines of the epidemic in West Africa.
Currently, between 15 and 30 people are arriving in Australia each week from the Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Sydney's Westmead Hospital will be the sole treatment facility for treating any cases that reach New South Wales.
To date, up to 50 emergency and intensive care staff at Westmead Hospital have taken part in training in the proper use of personal protective gear, with ''the numbers increasing day by day'', according to Professor Gilbert.
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley said a number of Ebola defense strategies were being considered. Professor Baggoley has told the ABC that after the arrivals were screened, it was important they knew the right places to go for help if they started displaying Ebola symptoms.
"What we are keen to do is not have people at risk go to general practice," he said.
"We're keen to make sure there are mechanisms to make sure they go to designated hospitals wherever possible."
Professor Gilbert's appointment comes as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) officials have told a Senate committee that both the US and the UK had asked Australia to send personnel to help fight Ebola in West Africa.
The Government has so far refused to send health workers to Africa, arguing that it would be unable to evacuate them if they became infected with the deadly virus.
Professor Lyn Gilbert is an infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist, with expertise in infections of public health importance, including vaccine preventable diseases and healthcare-associated infections.
She is Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Westmead Hospital, and a senior investigator with the Marie Bashir Institute for Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute (MBI) at the University of Sydney.
Protecting us from viral biosecurity threats
Published on 22 Oct 2014
Despite originally wanting to study engineering, Dr Linfa Wang became a biologist. His investigations are shedding light on how bats respond differently to viral infections to other mammals. Somehow bats infected with lethal viruses like Hendra experience no harmful effects. Bats seem to be the origin of a number of viral diseases that are a biosecurity threat to humans. Dr Wang’s work is identifying ways to prevent this threat by providing early warning of potential outbreaks, and strategies to save lives.
This research was carried out as part of the Office of the Chief Executive (OCE) Science Leader program.
20 Million Trees launched with first grants round now open
Media release: 2 October 2014 - The Australian Government is inviting communities across the country to get involved in the 20 Million Trees Programme with the first competitive grants round now open for applications.
The 20 Million Trees Programme was a key Coalition election commitment and is a vital part of the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme. The Government is investing $50 million over the next four years to re-establish Australia's green corridors and urban forests through the 20 Million Trees Programme.
It's an important part of the Government's total investment in natural resource management which amounts to over $2 billion over the next four years.
20 Million Trees projects can be undertaken in urban and regional Australia, on both public and private land, providing community and environmental benefit at the local level.
Communities, groups and individuals are invited to apply for grants between $20,000 and $100,000 to help set up their own 20 Million Trees project. Funding can be used to re-establish native vegetation, and create greener spaces to improve the liveability of local communities while increasing and improving habitat to support our threatened species.
A wide range of groups, organisations, and individuals in the community are encouraged to apply. This includes community groups, schools, landholders, landcare and conservation groups and local councils.
Applications for projects are now open and will close on 30 October 2014.
Project guidelines for the competitive grants round provide individuals and organisations with the information they need to apply for funding to start a tree planting project in their community.
As well as the grants, the Australian Government will also be running a tender process for Service Providers to undertake large-scale tree plantings. More details on the National Service Provider process will be available over the coming months.
More information about the 20 Million Trees programme is available at www.nrm.gov.au/20-million-trees.
Martin Sheen Unveils Sea Shepherd’s Newest Vessel, R/V Martin Sheen, Named in his Honor - By Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Published on 18 Oct 2014
October 18, 2014 - Sea Shepherd unveils the new R/V Martin Sheen named for the award-winning actor, activist and Sea Shepherd supporter. Martin Sheen was on hand to help unveil and christen the vessel at a press conference in Marina del Rey, Calif. on Oct. 18, 2014 where the media and public got their first glimpse of the beautiful 80-foot ketch dedicated to research, documentation and investigation of the problems besieging our oceans, including plastic pollution.
New parklands, more public access and spectacular Harbour walkways in final stage of Headland Park
Media Release - 23 October 2014 - The final stage of the plan to repatriate 41.4 ha of former Defence land at Headland Park, Mosman to community uses is nearing completion, Senator Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, said today.
Announcing the proposed rejuvenation of a disused former transport depot and army training and accommodation facility at Middle Head, Senator Birmingham said the majority of the area would be landscaped as open recreation space offering spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and Middle Harbour from the Spit to the Sydney CBD, lookouts and walking trails.
"Over $3.5 million will be invested to create an extensive area of new public parkland at Middle Head for the benefit of the community," Senator Birmingham said. "The parkland will include spectacular lookouts, new walking tracks, landscaped public spaces and the installation of picnic and barbeque areas."
Senator Birmingham also announced that the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the Federal Minister for the Environment have granted final approvals to an 89-bed aged care home and dementia day-care service that will serve elderly members of the community including former Defence service people and their families.
By remodelling the cluster of redundant former defence buildings known as 10 Terminal, the new aged care facility was determined to provide the best adaptive reuse solution for the site and address a shortage of aged care facilities on Sydney's lower north shore.
"Today's announcement is the culmination of over a decade of dedicated work by the Harbour Trust to transform disused former Defence land into an award-winning example of public open space, heritage preservation and creative adaptive reuse that meets the community's needs," Senator Birmingham said.
"Since work began in earnest at Headland Park 14 years ago, over 40 hectares of the site has been opened up for public use. Most of this was land that the community had been previously unable to access.
"An extraordinary range of public facilities have been created at Headland Park. The public now enjoys spectacular harbour look-outs, outdoor walking trails and interpretation of historical military features. There are also a range of cafes and restaurants, sporting facilities, a men's shed, an artists' precinct, gym, child care centre, dance school, and a marine research institute and a wide variety of commercial tenants.
"A large number of buildings at Middle Head have been renovated and leased out to 118 commercial and community tenants, while also expanding parkland access."
"This is a remarkable achievement of conservation of a historic place for everyone to enjoy. Now another part of the community - the elderly and their families - is being invited into Headland Park to enjoy its vantage point in the world's most beautiful harbour.
"The new aged-care facility at Middle Head follows the same model that the Harbour Trust has successfully adopted elsewhere at Headland Park: the buildings are leased for uses that fit well in a parkland setting and the area around the buildings is upgraded for public access and enjoyment. This is a successful reuse of the buildings to serve an important public good. It will meet the area's growing need for aged care, set within public parkland open to all.
"The Department of the Environment's assessment found that any potential heritage impacts could be avoided or satisfactorily mitigated. The development will preserve significant parts of the existing building fabric as part of its adaptive re-use," Senator Birmingham said.
"At its most recent meeting, the Board of the Harbour Trust approved the proposed development, subject to conditions," said the Harbour Trust's Executive Director Geoff Bailey. "Our planning assessment found that the proposal was consistent with the Harbour Trust's Act and Plans and the conditions we've placed on the approval minimise heritage impacts and maximise public amenity.
"Priority for 11 per cent of the places at the aged care facility will be given to former service personnel and their spouses. The local community will also benefit from a daily minibus service that will pick up and drop off elderly local residents using the dementia day-care centre."
The Harbour Trust will now commence public consultation around the creation of a new area of expanded public parkland at Middle Head.
"The public feedback during the exhibition period indicated a strong desire to remove the two-storey timber barracks buildings on the northern side of Middle Head Road," Mr Bailey said.
"We've listened to the community and decided to do this so we can transform the area to become part of a continuous stretch of public parkland from HMAS Penguin to the tip of Middle Head. The new parkland will create spectacular look-outs across Middle Harbour and introduce a new network of walking tracks.
"Our model at Headland Park has struck a successful balance in preserving the site's natural beauty and military heritage. We have created a thriving urban parkland that is home to a diverse range of uses and is highly valued by local residents and visitors alike. We look forward to welcoming Middle Head Health Care into our community of tenants," Mr Bailey said.
The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is a self-funding agency created by the Australian Government to be responsible for the vision planning and management of former defence and Commonwealth sites around Sydney Harbour. Our ten sites are Cockatoo Island and Snapper Island in Sydney Harbour, Woolwich Dock and Parklands, the Platypus site in Neutral Bay, Georges Heights, Middle Head and Chowder Bay in Mosman, North Head Sanctuary in Manly, the Marine Biological Station in Watsons Bay and Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse. These public spaces and parklands offer major events, exhibitions, venue hire, accommodation, tours and business tenancy.www.harbourtrust.gov.au
Axing water overseer could leave regional Australia high and dry
21 October 2014
OPINION: Summer is coming and, with it, dry conditions for many parts of Australia. While it may be difficult to imagine for city dwellers, parts of regional Australia will likely face severe water shortages over the coming months.
During the past 10 years Australia’s water management has been focused by the National Water Initiative and overseen by the National Water Commission. This helped many of our towns and cities through the devastating millennium drought and beyond.
The 10-year assessment of the National Water Initiative released this week by the commission confirms the importance of the initiative for water reform.
But the National Water Commission will be wrapped up at the end of the year due to funding cuts under the 2014 federal budget.
Agricultural green paper
This week, a new commonwealth water infrastructure ministerial working group, chaired by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, outlined its recommendations for water infrastructure projects as part of its Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper.
The report is laden with dozens of dams and other major water infrastructure projects proposed for potential commonwealth support. It states that such support would be dependant upon alignment with National Water Initiative principles.
However, without the National Water Commission, there is no obvious responsible body to make an independent expert assessment on whether such principles have been adhered to.
Building a national water system
Streams and rivers transport water across great distances and feed groundwater aquifers underlying enormous areas such as the Great Artesian Basin. With the obvious exception of Tasmania, these surface water and groundwater systems rarely respect state and territory boundaries.
Australia’s constitution states specifically that: “The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.”
Arguably, the greatest achievement of the government under former prime minister John Howard was to oversee the development and signing of Australia’s National Water Initiative. This document was the first formalised agreement to work together to achieve national water management objectives, following the initial 1994 Water Reform agreement.
The initiative includes commitments to provide water for the environment, address over-allocation of rural supplies, register water rights, develop standards for water accounting, expand water trading, improve water supply pricing and manage urban water demands.
To guide the implementation of the initiative, Howard established an independent statutory authority, the National Water Commission, in 2004. The commission was to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the Council of Australian Governments and the Australian government.
Throughout the last decade, the oversight of the National Water Commission has produced progress towards many of these goals.
Water trading capacity has improved agricultural productivity for many rural Australians.
Formal allocation of water to the environment has revived the long-term survival prospects for wetlands and other ecosystems.
Major urban water supplies have been bolstered. This has drastically reduced the likelihood of water restrictions being imposed for most Australians in the coming decades.
Drought-plagued states of the USA, such as California, now point to Australia’s National Water Initiative as a successful example of cooperation to achieve more sustainable water management.
Dry forecast for regional Australia
But for all these successes, there remains much more to be achieved. While our state capital cities have achieved high levels of water supply security, the same cannot be said for many of our regional towns and cities.
For example, many in NSW are likely to face severe water shortages before the end of the summer. Improvements in water efficiency and water conservation, as well as new water resources, will be required.
The Commonwealth government and the National Water Commission played a key role in navigating the water sector through new extremes and supporting the economic viability of many towns and cities during the millennium drought.
Without the National Water Commission, there is now no clear avenue through which to drive and harness the benefits from national coordination in water reform.
Equal to the importance of managing water availability is the need to ensure safe drinking water. There is evidence that many regional drinking water supply systems fall short when it comes to managing water quality, protecting public health risks and ensuring the efficient delivery of water and wastewater management.
But improvements are hindered by lack of a nationally coordinated strategy for safe drinking water quality management or a framework for driving greater efficiency.
Skills, training and infrastructure
There are plenty of other areas that a national water overseer could improve.
During the past decade, the commission has facilitated great gains in research and development efficiency by encouraging national collaboration among industry and research providers including the universities and the CSIRO.
Without the commission, the research and development sector will lack a “line of sight” to embed new findings in practice and ensure Australia remains at the frontier of innovation in water.
Skills and training, such as those required for operating drinking water treatment plants, are poorly coordinated in Australia, largely to the detriment of regional towns and cities.
An organisation like the National Water Commission would be ideally placed to oversee the development of national skills coordination, including consideration of how large capital city water utilities could assist in the training of regional and rural suppliers.
Compared to the capital cities, regional water supply and wastewater facilities tend to be based on small systems with few economies of scale. Factors such as design and performance evaluation can be made more economic where national standards are developed and accepted, thus setting clear achievable benchmarks for compliance.
The commission played a key role in developing guidelines for water recycling, providing safe and economic means to re-use wastewater and conserve freshwater.
Similarly Australia could do with national guidelines for coal seam gas and groundwater, and economic appraisal.
Our state capital cities each run highly profitable water supply utilities, which pay tidy annual dividends back to their state government owners. Sydney Water, for example, pays the NSW government a dividend in the order of A$300 million per year. This profitability arises from many factors including long-established major infrastructure and the large economies of scale that come with large high-density populations.
But many Sydney residents also spend some time in regional Australia. Most would presumably prefer to have the benefit of safe and reliable water supplies when they do.
It would make sense to consider cross-subsidisation of regional water supply funding using profits from capital city water supplies.
Profound reforms, more needed
In the last 10 years, the Australian water sector has been through the most profound reforms in our history. Indeed, they have had to navigate through new extremes in drought and flood and deal with the increasing risk from more complex water sources. Without these, many towns and cities may have run dry.
But the world in which water is managed continues to change, and there is unfinished business from the National Water Initiative. Now is not the time to rest on our past achievements — the drivers may have changed but new issues can and will continue to emerge.
A loss of focus on the National Water Initiative would be an enormous lost opportunity for ongoing coordinated, cooperative water management in Australia.
Stuart Khan is an Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering at UNSW.
This opinion piece was first published in The Conversation.
Finally: Missing link between vitamin D, prostate cancer
October 22, 2014 - A university of Colorado Cancer Center study recently published in the journal Prostate offers compelling evidence that inflammation may be the link between Vitamin D and prostate cancer. Specifically, the study shows that the gene GDF-15, known to be upregulated by Vitamin D, is notably absent in samples of human prostate cancer driven by inflammation.
"When you take Vitamin D and put it on prostate cancer cells, it inhibits their growth. But it hasn't been proven as an anti-cancer agent. We wanted to understand what genes Vitamin D is turning on or off in prostate cancer to offer new targets," says James R. Lambert, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and associate research professor in the CU School of Medicine Department of Pathology.
Since demonstrating that Vitamin D upregulates the expression of GDF-15, Lambert and colleagues, including Scott Lucia, MD, wondered if this gene might be a mechanism through which Vitamin D works in prostate cancer. Initially it seemed as if the answer was no.
"We thought there might be high levels of GDF-15 in normal tissue and low levels in prostate cancer, but we found that in a large cohort of human prostate tissue samples, expression of GDF-15 did not track with either normal or cancerous prostate tissue," Lambert says.
But then the team noticed an interesting pattern: GDF-15 was uniformly low in samples of prostate tissue that contained inflammation.
"Inflammation is thought to drive many cancers including prostate, gastric and colon. Therefore, GDF-15 may be a good thing in keeping prostate tissue healthy - it suppresses inflammation, which is a bad actor potentially driving prostate cancer," Lambert says.
The study used a sophisticated computer algorithm to analyze immunohistochemical (IHC) data, a task that in previous studies had been done somewhat subjectively by pathologists. With this new technique, Lambert, Lucia and colleagues were able to quantify the expression of the GDF-15 protein and inflammatory cells by IHC staining on slides taken from these human prostate samples.
Additionally encouraging is that the gene GDF-15 was shown to suppress inflammation by inhibiting another target, NFkB. This target, NFkB, has been the focus of many previous studies in which it has been shown to promote inflammation and contribute to tumor formation and growth; however, researchers have previously been unable to drug NFkB to decrease its tumor-promoting behavior.
"There's been a lot of work on inhibiting NFkB," says Lambert. "Now from this starting point of Vitamin D in prostate cancer, we've come a long way toward understanding how we might use GDF-15 to target NFkB, which may have implications in cancer types far beyond prostate."
James R. Lambert, Ramon J. Whitson, Kenneth A. Iczkowski, Francisco G. La Rosa, Maxwell L. Smith, R. Storey Wilson, Elizabeth E. Smith, Kathleen C. Torkko, Hamid H. Gari, M. Scott Lucia. Reduced expression of GDF-15 is associated with atrophic inflammatory lesions of the prostate. The Prostate, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/pros.22911
Anti-ageing researcher David Sinclair to showcase new technologies that turn back the clock
21 October 2014 - Two of the world’s leading anti-ageing researchers will use the 2014 UNSW Medicine Dean's Lecture to present new technology and breakthroughs that will enable us to live longer, healthier lives.
UNSW Australia’s Professor David Sinclair, who is based at Harvard University, will discuss new genetic technology developed in the last six months that is reversing the ageing process in animals.
Using this new technology, Professor Sinclair and his team have prematurely aged a mouse from six months to two years, and reversed the ageing process to recreate youth, by turning on and off specific genes that control ageing.
Professor Sinclair will discuss this and other new technologies that will enable the personal monitoring of health, women's fertility, the alteration of the human genome in offspring, the creation of drugs that slow ageing, and development of new computers that can assemble a human genome in world record time.
Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, will discuss the complex links between nutrition and healthy ageing.
Despite the prevailing dogma that reduction in calorie intake over a lifetime will delay ageing and age-related diseases, recent experiments on flies, mice and humans have shown that the balance of macronutrients is more important in determining lifespan than the number of calories eaten.
Professor Simpson will present the results of these experiments and show how a new understanding of diet balance allows different health outcomes to be optimised throughout life.
The Dean’s Lecture will be hosted by ABC Radio National’s Robyn Williams.
What: UNSW Medicine 2014 Dean’s Lecture: The Science of Ageing
When: 6pm for 6.30, Monday 3 November 2014
Where: Sir John Clancy Auditorium, UNSW
This is a free public event but reservations are essential athttp://med.unsw.edu.au/dls
Association between air toxics, childhood autism
October 22, 2014 - Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers' pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children without the condition, according to the preliminary findings of a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health investigation of children in southwestern Pennsylvania.
This research, funded by The Heinz Endowments, will be presented today at the American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
"Autism spectrum disorders are a major public health problem, and their prevalence has increased dramatically," said Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., principal investigator of the analysis and professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. "Despite its serious social impact, the causes of autism are poorly understood. Very few studies of autism have included environmental exposures while taking into account other personal and behavioral risk factors. Our analysis is an addition to the small but growing body of research that considers air toxics as one of the risk factors for ASD."
Dr. Talbott and her colleagues performed a population-based study of families with and without ASD living in six southwestern Pennsylvania counties. The researchers found links between increased levels of chromium and styrene and childhood autism spectrum disorder, a condition that affects one in 68 children.
"This study brings us a step closer toward understanding why autism affects so many families in the Pittsburgh region and nationwide -- and reinforces in sobering detail that air quality matters," said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments. "Our aspirations for truly becoming the most livable city cannot be realized if our children's health is threatened by dangerous levels of air toxics. Addressing this issue must remain one of our region's top priorities."
Autism spectrum disorders are a range of conditions characterized by social deficits and communication difficulties that typically become apparent early in childhood. Reported cases of ASD have risen nearly eight-fold in the last two decades. While previous studies have shown the increase to be partially due to changes in diagnostic practices and greater public awareness of autism, this does not fully explain the increased prevalence. Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to be partially responsible.
Dr. Talbott and her team interviewed 217 families of children with ASD and compared these findings with information from two separate sets of comparison families of children without ASD born during the same time period within the six-county area. The families lived in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties, and the children were born between 2005 and 2009.
One of the strengths of the study was the ability to have "two types of controls, which provided a comparison of representative air toxics in neighborhoods of those children with and without ASD," said Dr. Talbott.
For each family, the team used the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) to estimate the exposure to 30 pollutants known to cause endocrine disruption or neurodevelopmental issues. NATA is the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ongoing comprehensive evaluation of air toxics in the U.S., most recently conducted in 2005.
Based on the child's exposure to concentrations of air toxics during the mother's pregnancy and the first two years of life, the researchers noted that children who fell into higher exposure groups to styrene and chromium were at a 1.4- to two-fold greater risk of ASD, after accounting for the age of the mother, maternal cigarette smoking, race and education. Other NATA compounds associated with increased risk included cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic. As these compounds often are found in combination with each other, further study is needed.
Styrene is used in the production of plastics and paints, but also is one of the products of combustion when burning gasoline in vehicles. Chromium is a heavy metal, and air pollution containing it typically is the result of industrial processes and the hardening of steel, but it also can come from power plants. Cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic are all used in a number of industries or can be found in vehicle exhaust.
"Our results add to the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures, such as air pollution, to ASD," said Dr. Talbott. "The next step will be confirming our findings with studies that measure the specific exposure to air pollutants at an individual level to verify these EPA-modeled estimates."
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences.
Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.
Curating Feminism - a new way of creating art
20 October 2014 - A research project by the University of Sydney's contemporary art school in Rozelle sees several curators and artists form a unique collaboration in a lab-style approach to creating and curating art.Curating Feminism, the title of the experimental exhibition opening at Sydney College of the Arts on 23 October, is also the focus of a three-day program including a conference that will explore how feminist insights and methods inform the curating of contemporary art.
Curating Feminism addresses ideas around the ethics of collaboration between the artist and curator. It adopts a curatorial model of one curator, one artist/artist collective as a way of decentralising the curatorial process.
One of the curators and academics behind the practice-led research project is SCA's Associate Dean Research Dr Jacqueline Millner. "Curatorial practices that challenge the power relations between artist and curator, including through the figure of the artist-curator, have a long history in feminist art. In Curating Feminism, this approach has been taken up to encourage a more intimate process, to create a more socially, culturally and politically speculative artwork.
"Since the new millennium we have seen social practice emerge as a major form of contemporary art. Consequently, the role of the curator has changed - from the guardian of objects and creator of stories, to the cultivator of relationships between artist, work, museum and gallery, viewer and the broader community.
"Today, to curate is to create knowledge - not to merely represent, publish or exhibit - and to create knowledge is to exercise power, which is where feminism comes into play," said Dr Millner.
In SCA's Curating Feminism exhibition, seven curators work alongside an artist or art collective of their choice. "The exhibition included an installation period of several weeks to give curators and artists the rare chance of working together in the SCA galleries, to build a creative space for greater discussion, interaction and activism," said Dr Millner.
Curators and artists from across the country and abroad, including a group of cross-generational Indigenous women, will feature in the exhibition. They are: Kelly Doley and emerging performance artists Hissy Fit (Sydney); Elvis Richardson and Virginia Fraser (Melbourne); Laura Castagnini (London) and Alice Lang (Los Angeles); Brigid Noone (Adelaide) and two-person art collective SODA_JERK (New York); Jacqueline Millner and Philipa Veitch (Sydney); Jo Holder (Sydney) and the Euraba Papermakers (NSW) and Warmun Art Centre's Shirley Purdie, Alana Hunt and others (WA).
Two pre-eminent international curators who have pioneered curating as activism will visit Sydney to deliver the keynote speeches at the conference. Speaking at SCA on 23 October is Michael Birchall, a Berlin-based curator, writer and co-publisher of On Curating. Birchall will talk about recent exhibitions and art practices that have responded to protests and demonstrations in North America and Europe, as a resistance to neo-liberalism.
Dr Maura Reilly, founding director of the Elizabeth Sackler Centre for Feminist Art at New York's Brooklyn Museum, will speak at the Art Gallery of NSW on 24 October. She will talk about curatorial activism - a term she coined to describe exhibition-making practices that give voice to those who have been historically silenced, and hence focus on the work of women, black, non-European and queer artists.
Curating Feminism is the first exhibition of the research group 'Contemporary Art and Feminism', set up in October 2013 by University of Sydney's Dr Catriona Moore and Dr Jacqueline Millner and The Cross Arts Projects' Jo Holder. The research responds to a massive groundswell in engagement and curiosity about feminism's role in contemporary art and its relevance to art-making and analysis today.
For more information on the exhibition visithttp://sydney.edu.au/sca/galleries-events/curating-feminism/index.shtml
What:Curating Feminism exhibition and conference
When: 23 October - 7 November
Where: Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney Rozelle Campus, Kirkbride Way, Callan Park, Lilyfield
Hours: 11am-5pm (Monday-Friday), 11am-4pm (Saturday)
NHMRC funding results reaffirm University of Sydney's leadership in health and medical research
19 October 2014 - The University of Sydney has won more than $65 million in new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants announced today by the Federal Government.
Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) welcomed the result: “Today’s NHMRC funding result reaffirms the university’s leadership in health and medical research.
“Our researchers won more than 12 per cent of the national share in funding, and the breadth and depth of our research is evident in the results, as is the strength of our large collaborative programs in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, cancer, brain and mind research, and infectious diseases.
“The results also demonstrate the value of our thriving research partnerships with medical research institutes, hospitals and health care providers broadly, and centres of research excellence.
“Also, our very strong performance in early career fellowships says that our future in health and medical research is in good hands.“
The University of Sydney received 83 health and medical-related grants, representing 15 per cent of funding awarded to universities nationally.
Among the 61 NHMRC Project Grants awarded to the University of Sydney are:
$2.48 million to Professor Anthony Keech (NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre) to improve eye care for people with diabetic retinopathy.
$501,000 to Associate Professor Kate Curtis (Sydney Nursing School) to improve health outcomes in children suffering major trauma
$3.23 million to Dr Gregory Fox prevent multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Vietnam
$309,000 to Dr Luiz Bertassoni (Faculty of Dentistry) for tissue engineering and 'bio-printing' transplantable tissues and organs for people affected by major dental diseases and injuries
$2.29 million to Professor Anushka Patel (The George Institute for Global Health) to improve better coordination between pharmacists and GPs aimed at improving preventive medication in high-risk patients.
$715,000 to Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela (Brain and Mind Research Institute) to reduce the onset of cognitive decline in people at high risk of dementia using computer-based training
$2.63 million to Professor David James (Ullman Chair of Metabolic Systems Biology) for two Project Grants (defining factors that contribute to individual diversity in the dietary health; and metabolic wiring in adipocytes - the unique role in maintaining long-term health)
$1.44 million to Professor Bernard Balleine (Brain and Mind Research Centre) for three Project Grants: dementia related deficits in striatal cholinergic function and decision-making; disorders of action control and learning-related plasticity in the basal ganglia; and dysfunctions in decision-making and the cognitive control of action
$579,000 to Professor Iain McGregor (School of Psychology) to study novel therapeutics for the remediation of social deficits in psychiatric illness
$788,000 to Professor Roger Reddel (Children's Medical Research Institute) to study the biology and treatment of an important subset of cancers
$325,000 to Dr Elizabeth Dunford (the George Institute for Global Health) for improving the food supply to reduce the burden of nutrition related chronic disease)
Fourteen University of Sydney researchers shared in $4.51 million for Early Career Fellowship funding and four researchers shared in $1.64 million for Career Development Fellowship funding.
University of Sydney pays tribute to alumnus Gough Whitlam
21 October 2014 - University of Sydney alumnus and former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam has passed away this morning at the age of 98. Whitlam had a remarkable career in Australian public life, which stemmed from his early studies in both arts and law at the University of Sydney.
Whitlam graduated with a BA in 1938, went on to study an LLB at Sydney Law School in 1946 and subsequently was admitted to the NSW bar in 1947. He returned to the University of Sydney to receive a Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) in 1981, and served as a Fellow of Senate from 1981 to 1983 and again from 1986 to 1989.
"Gough Whitlam demonstrated the kind of leadership that the University of Sydney aims to instill in all of its graduates. He was creative, provocative, clever, well read, thoughtful and focused on making the lives of all Australians better," Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University said today.
"As one of the first to realise the potential for an Asian Century, he created the backdrop for public policy in Australia for many years to come. As Prime Minister he could not have imagined that the University would one day host the China Studies Centre, a multi-disciplinary global centre for research and engagement on all aspects of greater China.
"His contribution to Australia's relationship with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was profound.When he poured local sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands as a symbolic gesture returning the Wave Hill station to the Gurindji people in 1975, he laid the groundwork for all of Australia's major institutions to acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and cultures. These principles remain fundamental to both the University of Sydney and Australia as a nation.
"Gough Whitlam is one of seven University of Sydney alumni who have gone on to lead the nation as prime minister. It is no overstatement to say he transformed our nation, including our universities.He strongly believed that university should be an achievable aspiration for all bright Australians, a belief shared by the University of Sydney community and many Australians today," said Dr Spence.
Among many significant achievements in the areas of foreign policy and Indigenous affairs, Whitlam is credited as having changed the face of higher education.
"He took public policy very seriously and did a huge amount to empower universities and the work of universities," said former WA Premier and Professor Geoff Gallop.
"He dragged Australian politics and the Labor party into the modern era by sheer force of will. He saw that Australia needed to move up a step."
"Gough Whitlam will always be remembered as one of the giants of Australian history," said Associate Professor James Curran from the Department of History.
"The manner of his political demise in November 1975 should not obscure the range and depth of his achievements in office. Whitlam was in every sense a colossus in Australian political life."
Above: Gough Whitlam - 1955: "Photo supplied by Mr Whitlam 28.1.1955; Whitlam, Edward Gough (ALP) Werriwa (NSW) 12th ed; Return to Parliamentary Library Canberra" - On reverse
Professor Rebecca Ivers hailed as Australia's top female innovator
24 October 2014 - Professor Rebecca Ivers has been hailed as Australia's top female innovator, in The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards.
Professor Ivers is an injury prevention expert at University of Sydney and The George Institute for Global Health. She is published widely in peer reviewed literature as a leading expert in unintentional injury in Australia and internationally.
She has diverse expertise including road safety, driver licensing, prevention of falls, and injury prevention and treatment of injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including burn injury. Professor Ivers is a passionate researcher and public health advocate who joined The George Institute in 2000.
The awards recognise 100 of the most influential women across ten categories including Innovation, Philanthropy, Diversity, Public Policy and Social Enterprise. They were presented by NSW Premier Mike Baird and WA Senate Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women Michaelia Cash.
Professor Ivers said: "To be acknowledged amongst a group of high achieving, impact driven and well regarded women is truly a humbling experience.
"I am absolutely privileged to work with a remarkable group of people, and for an organisation that values all of its staff for what they can achieve, in the area of both injury prevention and wider public health issues.
"Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death and disability in young people globally, however over the past ten years we have seen a diminishing investment in programs and policy positions. I hope that through this award, a light can be shined on all the work being done in this area, and encourage Governments to reconsider the investment they make in preventing future injuries," said Professor Ivers.
Among innovations for which Professor Ivers is responsible is Driving Change, a community-based Aboriginal driver licensing support program, across 12 sites in NSW. This end-to-end program delivers a range of services, from assistance with identification documents, to debt management and learner driver mentor services.
"As licensing is a critical access point for education, employment and health care, this intervention has the potential to impact on employment and incarceration rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, as well as lead to significant changes in licensing programs across Australia."
Coming at end of a big week for Professor Ivers, during which the Government announced Professor Ivers had won a grant of more than $1 million for one of her research projects, and she was responsible for her team being admitted as a member of the UN Road Safety Collaboration, she said public recognition of achievements was important as a way of sharing stories and encouraging other women to have a go.
"Everyone has a different experience of moving through the hierarchy. It's a battle for all women, and for people to understand that it's not easy for anyone is important."
"It is critically important that we examine the number of women in leadership roles in Australia and globally.
"Women are more likely to be working in roles were they are undervalued and underutilised, less likely to trumpet their success, or to put forward opinions. This needs to change, and we need to be more confident in speaking out."
Van Morrison - Into the Mystic
Digital junk: Unhealthy brands using Facebook to target young people
22 October 2014 - World-first research by the University of Sydney reveals that junk food brands are engaging with young Facebook users to promote unhealthy foods which can contribute to obesity and lifestyle diseases.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the new study sheds light on the digital marketing strategies of energy dense, nutrient-poor food (EDNP) brands to teens and young adults who are using Facebook.
"Our findings show that unhealthy food and beverage marketing is prolific and seamlessly integrated within online social networks," says lead author Dr Becky Freeman, from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health.
"Adolescents and young adults are engaging with brands like Dominos, Slurpee and Skittles on Facebook on a near-daily basis.
"Given the exponential growth in use of social media websites such as Facebook among young people, there is a need to understand the techniques and reach of this kind of marketing on these sites.
"Soft drinks and energy drink brand pages are hugely popular on Facebook, reflecting the high consumption of these products among adolescents and young adults.
"Drinking sugar sweetened beverages is a known contributor to rising obesity, and has been the focus of controversial tax policy reform."
The study used a sample of top-ranked Facebook pages of food manufacturers, food brands, retailers and restaurants. The resulting analysis reviewed 27 food and beverage brand Facebook pages on the basis of their marketing techniques, follower engagement and marketing reach of messages posted by the pages.
"Young Facebook users willingly spread marketing messages on behalf of food and beverage corporations with seemingly little incentive or reward required," Dr Freeman says.
"Any activity that users engage with on brand pages can appear in the news feed of their friends, so marketing messages quickly amplify across social networks. This kind of consumer involvement and engagement is unique to social media communication."
Results further showed that competitions, giveaways and aligning with positive events such as Australia Day were found to be effective means of engagement between users and the food companies.
"The Facebook pages in our study were not simply low-budget fan pages, all were professionally moderated and appeared to be administered by either the company brand owner or an advertising agency," Dr Freeman says.
"In terms of health policy, much of the current work to limit exposure to EDNP advertising is focused on restricting advertisements during children's television programs and viewing hours. Our study shows that this narrow focus is likely to miss large amount of online advertising aimed at adolescents.
"As a minimal first step, increased monitoring of how EDNP food and beverages are marketed on social media is essential.
"Our study focused on Australian Facebook users, however our findings have international relevance given that many of the pages in our study were for global brands," Dr Freeman says.
- This is the first study to systematically assess the nature of food and drink promotions on the globally popular social media site Facebook.
- Social media use has reached near saturation among young Australians, with more than 85 per cent of those aged 15 to 24 years accessing the Internet for social networking or online gaming
- Australians are enthusiastic Facebook users, with 9 million people, or nearly 40 per cent of the entire population, visiting the site every day
Crowdsourced power to solve microbe mysteries - Call for Public input
22 October 2014 - UNSW scientists hope to unlock the secrets of millions of marine microbes from waters as far apart as Sydney’s Botany Bay and the Amazon River in Brazil, with the help of an international team of volunteers sharing their spare computer capacity to create a research “supercomputer”.
The project, co-led by UNSW’s Associate Professor Torsten Thomas, has the aim of making 20 quadrillion – or twenty thousand million million – comparisons of genes from a wide variety of tiny life-forms that are invisible to the naked eye.
“Microorganisms rule the planet. Without bacteria and other microbes, life on Earth would very rapidly cease,” says Associate Professor Thomas, of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation.
“But we know very little about them. Scientists have studied less than 1 per cent of microbial diversity around the globe. Valuable discoveries await us if we can learn about the remaining 99 per cent.”
The Uncovering Genome Mysteries project is hosted on IBM’s World Community Grid. In the past decade more than 670,000 people have volunteered their spare computer capacity to the grid, creating a virtual supercomputer that carries out scientific research around the clock.
“Anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet can join and help to give us the computational power to carry out our microbe research,” says Associate Professor Thomas, who heads the project with Dr Wim Degrave of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil.
With enough volunteers the project could be completed within months. By comparison, it would take 40,000 years for a single PC to make 20 quadrillion computations.
Microbes are vital to sustaining life on Earth, producing half of the oxygen we breathe, soaking up carbon dioxide and recycling nutrients. They control many processes involved in human health, food production and industry and are used to develop drugs and clean up pollution.
Microbes are too similar in appearance and too numerous for scientists to study them individually. So they use an approach called metagenomics, in which the genetic sequences of all the organisms in an environmental sample are determined, and then compared with all known genes.
“A teaspoon of water can contain millions of microbes and each organism may have thousands of genes. By studying this natural treasure chest we will learn more about the role microbes play in shaping the health of our planet and the functions of millions of microbial genes,” says Associate Professor Thomas.
“These valuable insights could have a wide range of applications, from helping develop new medicines to harnessing new sources of renewable energy, cleaning the environment and creating green industrial processes.”
Members of the community wanting to be part of this research can sign up to donate their idle computer time to IBM’s World Community Grid at bit.ly/anz-wcg
Guardian technologies: Humans and robots working side-by-side
Published on 19 Oct 2014
At CSIRO, we imagine an intelligent industrial environment in which people and autonomous machines can work safely and productively side-by-side. We’ve developed Guardian Technologies – a suite of lightweight assistive machines that will increase the productivity and global competitiveness of manufacturing firms. Visit:www.csiro.au/guardian
The Whale of Venice - Photoshopped!
Brett Lee stars in Aus-India film directed by UNSW alumnus
21 October 2014 - Shooting has begun at UNSW of the Australia India Film Fund’s first feature, produced and directed by UNSW alumnus Anupam Sharma and starring Australian cricketer Brett Lee as a UNSW English teacher.
Unindian is a romantic comedy featuring internationally acclaimed actress Tannishtha Chatterjee (Siddarth, Brick Lane) who plays a divorced single mother who falls in love with Lee.
Sharma, who graduated from UNSW with a Masters in Film and Theatre, said he was “humbled to be working with a dream cast and crew who are the best from India and Australia”.
A filmmaker and Australia’s leading international expert on Indian cinema, Sharma was named as one of the 50 most influential film professionals in the Australian film industry and now heads Sydney film and casting company Temple. The award-winning production company has pioneered Australia India film links with more than 200 projects related to films in the last decade.
This isn’t the first time UNSW has been a location for an Indian production. Sharma also directed Bollywood film From Sydney… With Love, which was partially filmed at UNSW in 2011.
“The University is excited to support and feature in Unindian produced and directed by one of our talented alumni, Anupam Sharma,” said UNSW’s Vice-President of Advancement Jennie Lang.
The Australia India Film Fund, the first of its kind in the world, was established in Sydney in 2013 to invest in Australian films with Indian themes for a global audience.
Unindian is supported by Destination NSW and UNSW.
Find out more on Unindian's Facebook page.
The Mighty Conqueror (1931) - by NFSA
Published on 22 Oct 2014
This ten-minute film is the only documentary made about Phar Lap during his lifetime. It was produced by Neville Macken with some involvement from pioneer female filmmaker Paulette McDonagh.
It features superb close ups of Phar Lap with handler Tommy Woodcock, rare footage of him doing track work, and interviews with his most frequent rider Jim Pike and with trainer and co-owner Harry Telford. Phar Lap is shown winning several races including the 1930 Melbourne Cup and the 1931 Randwick Plate – the only known footage of this race and the last time he would run at a Sydney race meet. The film finishes with Phar Lap being loaded on to the Ulimaroa at Sydney docks in November 1931, ultimately bound for the USA.
PRINTED TITANIUM HEEL HAS MAN BACK ON HIS FEET
22 OCTOBER 2014 - CSIRO, St Vincent's Hospital and Victorian biotech company Anatomics have joined together to carry out world-first surgery to implant a titanium-printed heel bone into a Melbourne man.
Printed using CSIRO's state-of-the-art Arcam 3D printer, the heel bone was implanted into 71-year-old Len Chandler, a builder from Rutherglen Victoria, who was facing amputation of the leg below the knee following a diagnosis of cancer of the calcaneus, or heel bone.
St Vincent's Hospital surgeon Professor Peter Choong was aware of CSIRO's work in titanium 3D after reading about our work producing an orthotic horseshoe in 2013, and contacted CSIRO's John Barnes in early June about his vision for a metallic implant which would support the body's weight.
At the time, CSIRO happened to be working with the Victorian-based biotech company Anatomics on metallic implant technology and CSIRO brought Anatomics into the discussion with Professor Choong to draw on their experience as a certified custom medical device manufacturer.
Working from Anatomics' schematics for the calcaneus heel bone, teams at Anatomics and CSIRO developed the design requirements with Professor Choong's surgical team.
Included in the design were smooth surfaces where the bone contacts other bone, holes for suture locations and rough surfaces to allow tissue adhesion. Anatomics and CSIRO produced three implant prototypes in the days before the surgery.
In the space of two weeks, from first phone call to surgery, CSIRO and Anatomics were able to custom-design and present an implant part to the St Vincent's surgical team, in time for the surgery on the second week of July.
Mr Chandler returned to St Vincent's Hospital this week for a check-up and said he was recovering well, and able to place some weight on his implant.
"The customisation of 3D printing is good in emergency situations such as these," a member of CSIRO's titanium printing team Dr Robert Wilson said.
"Custom designed implants mean job opportunities in this area as these types of surgeries become more commonplace."
CSIRO is working with a number of major companies and SMEs across Australia to build capacity in biotech and manufacturing.
"3D printing is a local manufacturing process, meaning Australian companies produce implants for our own patients for our own doctors to use," CSIRO's Director of High Performance Metal Industries John Barnes said.
"We would no longer have to rely on imported parts that slow the process down and is less personal for the patient.
"At some point in the future we expect that local for-profit businesses will have the capacity to work on projects like this, and meanwhile the CSIRO is here to help local industry grow and build momentum."