Inbox and Environment news: Issue 486

March 7 - 13, 2021: Issue 486

Wanted: Sydney's Precious Woody Elders

If you are in Sydney and have, or know of, a large dead tree - BirdLife Australia and the Powerful Owl Project need your help.  

While we make our way through our towns and cities via a network of concrete and bitumen, our birds and other wildlife rely largely on a connected bushland to survive. The value of vegetation doesn't cease once a plant itself dies and dead trees are a big part of this story. Dead trees are a hot commodity for biodiversity, but are often viewed as an inconvenience, if not a  liability by us. Fallen trees can be nurseries for new trees, and provide important habitat for a suite of mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and fungi that break down nutrients turning trees back into soil. As standing stags, dead trees form essential habitat a wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates - and provide them with a range of important resources including: 
  • A home - birds, bats, frogs, possums and gliders and reptiles will live in and on these stags 
  • A nursery - the hollow cavities in particular provide a place for some of our favourite creatures like owls and parrots (including some Threatened species) to lay eggs and raise young  
  • A snack - invertebrates, fungi, mosses and lichen will feed upon decaying wood, and so in turn provide food for our wildlife 
  • A safe lookout - stags often give unique vantage points for wildlife, especially raptors to look for prey 
Nest boxes are not a solution that will help all hollow-nesting wildlife and we can't rely on them replace the resources lost with our old trees. There are many species for whom we have not cracked the code of making a suitable nest box, and often nest boxes selectively favour animals that are doing well anyway - with species like Rainbow Lorikeets, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Brushtail Possums monopolising hollows. If you want to build and install a nest box (BirdLife Australia have some plans here), but be sure to maintain and monitor them closely, to make sure they are targeted and doing good things for your birds. 

All of us have a story of tree removal in our own neighbourhoods. Whilst there is a push in some areas to conserve hollow-bearing habitat trees, including dead stags, where possible through careful tree management, concerns over public safety mean that often once a tree is dead or dying, it is removed from the urban landscape. With it often goes an irreplaceable 100+ years of history and ecological service. In fact, recent projections for eastern Australia suggest that without specific targets to retain them, in just 113 years we may lose our large hollow-bearing trees in urban areas altogether! 

Through a generous donation from the Cumberland Bird Observers Club, the Powerful Owl Project will be investigating the characteristics of Sydney's large dead trees as part of a project to understand the dead trees and their importance to our owls. They are looking for dead trees that: 
  • are in Sydney 
  • are at least 85 to 95 cm around at chest height 
  • have at least one hollow/cavity of 40cm or larger at the entrance 
If you have a tree that matches these criteria, or know of one, please contact Beth Mott: by 13 March 2021.  

As we value and nurture our own elders for their knowledge and contribution to our lives, we need to recognise that old trees also deserve a portion of that care, as they too help build our future.  

Powerful Owlets - Photo: Peter Hinton

The Coast On Radio Northern Beaches - Every Friday With Wendy Frew

Pittwater resident Wendy Frew is producing a series of fantastic interviews on the topic of The Coast. They are broadcast on Radio Northern Beaches on Fridays, but you can hear them all by clicking here  
In 2021 Wendy's subjects have been:
  • Episode 6, Season 2: Starry, Starry Night by "The Coast" - Wendy Frew
  • Episode 5, Season 2: Finding Nemo by  "The Coast" - Wendy Frew
  • Episode 3, Season 2: Giants of the Sea by  "The Coast" - Wendy Frew
  • Episode 2, Season 2: Birds of a Feather by  "The Coast" - Wendy Frew
  • Episode 1, Season 2: An Everyday dose of nature by "The Coast" - Wendy Frew

The Coast
Radio Northern Beaches

A new program about all things native and natural on the Northern Beaches of Sydney launched on local community radio station, Radio Northern Beaches, at 11am on Friday, 6 November, 2020.

The Coast, hosted by Pittwater resident and journalist, Wendy Frew, covers environmental and sustainability issues, and includes interviews with local residents, ecologists, bird watchers, animal rescuers, and many others.

The program explores everything from native flora and fauna and invasive pests, to waste reduction and recycling. 

In the first season of The Coast, several episodes focus on unique nature reserves on the Northern Beaches, such as Bangalley Headland and the Warriewood Wetlands. The program also takes a look at the health of our beaches, and the impact of private and public transport on our wildlife.

Wendy Frew has a long career in journalism here and overseas. She is a former Environment Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, and winner of the 2007 Peter Hunt Eureka Prize for Environmental Journalism. She was also the inaugural editor of the BBC's Australian online news service, and the founding editor of UTS research magazine Brink

You can tune in to The Coast on Radio Northern Beaches at 88.7 / 90.3 FM, each Friday at 11am, or stream from the RNB website, or listen via Mix Cloud at

Wendy Frew 

ORRCA Autumn News: Victoria To Implement Ban On Plastic + Whales Are On The Move - Already!

Some positive news is in this change of season! Over the weekend with the Victorian Government announced they will implement a ban by 2023 on single use plastic. 
What a milestone for humans and for our wildlife! 

Victoria is now the 5th state to commit to banning single-use plastics along with SA, QLD, ACT and WA.

Positive change is definitely in the air as this announcement will include plastics commonly found in our oceans, rivers and bays; including single-use plastic straws, plastic cutlery and plates, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and beverage containers and plastic cotton bud sticks which are commonly found in beach, river and bay clean ups.
Many ORRCA members have welcomed the news and hope that NSW will follow their lead. 

WHALES are on the MOVE
In other positive change of season news, Humpback whale sightings came in over the weekend from Tuross Head, Batemans Bay, the Central Coast and Port Stephens. There was also a Brydes whale sighting off Port Stephens on Saturday. 

Yes, this is very early in the migration season, however we have seen many strange things in nature over the past 24 months, so we need to be prepared for anything! 
ORRCA rescue members, this is your cue to review your training manuals and refresh your rescue kits!

ORRCA is the only licensed volunteer rescue group in NSW under NPWS who are allowed to rescue whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs. ORRCA is an all volunteer, not for profit organisation with charity status.
Everyone in ORRCA is a volunteer. ORRCA is the only wildlife carers group in New South Wales licensed to be involved with marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation and release. Our members come from all walks of life, age groups and nationalities. We operate as a non-profit organisation and have charity status.

BirdLife Australia Autumn Survey Time

Gazing at Gang-gangs, marvelling at Magpies or smiling at some Spinebills?

Join our Birds in Backyards surveys this Autumn and let us know who is visiting your garden. 20 mins and some information about your garden helps to understand our local birds and gives us invaluable insight into their daily lives.


Register here for a free webinar on Wednesday March 10 at 7pm (AEDT). We will take you through how to do a survey as well as how to explore Birdata to learn more about your local bird life. We will also give you some tips and tricks on identifying birds in your garden. 

How do I take part?

To do a Birds in Backyards survey, spend 20 minutes in one spot where you can view birds - your backyard, local park, school, or other favourite outdoor place. Simply count how many you see of each bird species you see using that space and tell us about what the outdoor space is like. Then to enter your survey data, register your free Birdata account, read the instructions for the web or app or watch the video. If you download the Birdata app you can take your smartphone or tablet outside with you to do your count. 

What if I don't know much about birds?

If you are unsure where or how to start, or even feel like you don’t know the first thing about birds only that you love to see them, then fear not! The Birdata web portal and app automatically gives you a list of 30 birds from your region to get you started. 

What if I only have super common or introduced birds?

That is really useful! We want to know about the birds you don’t see just as much as the ones you do. So if your list is only small, all introduced birds or full of birds you don’t think are very ‘exciting’, that is still important information for us. All surveys are important so please give it a go. 

Why do these surveys?

Your surveys are used by BirdLife  Australia and the Urban Bird team to track the health of our urban birds, and to monitor the impact of our gardens, outdoor spaces and even our own behaviours on bird populations. We can learn a lot from Birds in Backyard surveys, like how different types of gardens can attract different types of birds, and which features birds may be avoiding or are negatively affected by. In 2021 your surveys will also be used in the very first Urban Bird Index for BirdLife Australia's State of Australia's Birds Report.

Importantly, your surveys contribute to the on-ground conservation work we undertake with our volunteers, branches and partners – from local planting and habitat improvement projects up to national advocacy and campaigns. We also use the survey data in seminars and workshops conducted by staff, or for our projects such as the Powerful Owl ProjectRead about how the surveys you do in your gardens are helping in our post-fire conservation work here. 

How often should I survey?

Each quarter we launch a seasonal survey. By dividing the year up into seasons we can track changes in bird communities at the same four times each year. Our Autumn survey period runs throughout March and April - but you can still submit surveys at any time. You can do as many surveys as you like, as often as you like! Some people like to just participate once a quarter (or four times a year) in our seasonal surveys, while others like to count their birds more frequently. 

What else can I record?

There are a few important interactions you can share with us if you see them. Keep an eye out for:

  • Breeding behaviours - If you see a bird carrying nesting materials, sitting on a nest or feeding chicks, let us know. Select the option under 'Breeding Activity' that best matches your observation (remember to keep your distance though from birds who are breeding. We don't want to disturb any nests. Be sure to limit your observations and don't get close enough to scare a bird off it's nest.)
  • Aggressive interactions – Let us know if you have observed any species initiate interactions with other birds and whether this interaction could be classed as aggressive – you can do this in the sighting details tab using the specific species interactions option.
  • Have you seen any birds feeding on the native plants in your garden? If so – who was dining on what? – you can tell us in the notes section when you record the species you have observed under “sighting details”
  • Have any birds been dabbling in some Oscar-worthy acting? – tell us about the weird and wonderful things your backyard birds have been up to you using the notes section in the sighting details tabs.
Visit the survey instructions page for more info and FAQs.

Don't forget you can also win great prizes. We will be giving away Birds in Backyards prize packs and even some extra special goodies throughout 2021, but to win you have to enter your surveys. Follow us on social media for more details.

Narrabeen Lagoon Clean Up: March 28

Hosted by Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew
Berry Reserve, Narrabeen Lakes
Sunday, 28 March 2021 from 10:00 UTC+11-12:30 UTC+11
Price: free · Duration: 2 hr 30 min

Come and join us for our Narrabeen Lake clean up. We'll meet at Berry Reserve, close to the carpark by Pittwater rd. We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon as well as cleaning the lagoon, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. This is a Covid safe event so everyone must please stay 1.5 meters apart if you are not in the same household.

The Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew meets the last Sunday of every month to clean up a beach or lagoon on Sydney's northern beaches. See our event tab for our next clean up spot. It's a family friendly and welcoming group and feel comfortable coming by yourself too - many friendships have started in this group. (Please leave political, religious and business messages at home, so the group can stay inclusive and welcoming towards everyone.) We provide you with buckets, gloves, bags and sunscreen. Please bring water in a reusable water bottle if it's a hot day. Hope to meet you soon!

Weed Of The Week: Cassia - Please Pull Out And Save Our Bush

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Pink Flush Across Blue Mountains

Pink flannel flowers (Actinotus forsythii) only bloom a year or so after a bushfire. 

They're known as bushfire ephemerals because their seeds lay dormant for years on end without any reports. Until the right mix of fire and rain bring them back to life. 

Take these flowers' recent appearance in the Blue Mountains. The 2019-20 fire season damaged 80% of the area. But rainfall in the region then enabled these flowers to bloom.

Photos taken at State Mine Gully Rd, Lithgow -  by and courtesy Kerry Smith

Invasive Turtles Terrorising Sydney's Wildlife Tracked Down By Scent Detector Dogs

March 5, 2021

Scent detector dogs who ‘nose out’ invasive pests have swarmed Sydney’s parklands as the NSW Government unleashed a specially-trained squad in a calculated raid to eradicate an alien turtle species from our waterways and wetlands.

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said they might look harmless, but the red-eared slider turtles were introduced from North and Central America and posed a serious biosecurity threat, preying on native turtle species.

“Red-eared slider turtles are one of the world’s worst invasive alien species,” Mr Marshall said.

“These turtles are an extremely serious introduced biosecurity threat, and we need to extinguish them from our water-ways.

“Our highly trained scent detector dogs have the ability to nose out traces of these invaders above and below the water. While experts in camouflage, the red-eared slider turtles have nowhere to hide.

“These invasive turtles came from the United States and Mexico, and they prey on our native species, fish and frogs, compete for food, nesting areas and basking sites, and can even spread infectious salmonella bacteria to people, pets and other animals.

“We have already removed hundreds of red-eared slider turtles from Sydney waterways and the hands of illegal keepers, but this is just the start.”

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) collaborated with Greater Sydney Local Land Services, Centennial Parklands Trust, local councils and University of Canberra to develop a new range of tracking and trapping devices being trialled.

Mr Marshall said keeping red-eared slider turtles as pets was prohibited and they were an issue on the black market.

“These alien species have been smuggled into, illegally kept and illegally released in Australia which have been found across the Sydney basin, from Camden north to Woy Woy and west to Windsor,” Mr Marshall said.

“They are often illegally purchased when they are very small and attractive, but grow rapidly into large adults capable of biting their owners.

“Red-eared slider turtles might appear to be an ideal pet when small, but they are vicious. If you see one, or you have inadvertently purchased one - or have one that you no longer wish to keep – contact us immediately so we can safely remove them.”

Members of the community are advised to be on the lookout for unusual non-native animals, including turtles, snakes, lizards and other reptiles, mammals, birds and amphibians.

If you see a red-eared slider turtle or any other illegal invasive animals, please contact NSW DPI on 1800 680 244 or take a photograph and post the details on NSW DPI’s unusual animal form.

Image: “Bunya” and his handler, Bradley, tracking down a red-eared slider turtle. NSW DPI photo.

Red-eared slider Turtle. NSW DPI photo.

Orange-Bellied Parrot Breeding Success

With such a small population, the Orange-bellied Parrot is often the subject of gloomy news, but thanks to the success of recent conservation efforts, there are now some good tidings for this Critically Endangered species.

The 2020–21 breeding season saw the highest number of OBPs return to Melaleuca, in south-western Tasmania, for more than a decade, following an extensive captive-release program. In all, 51 birds successfully migrated across the waters of Bass Strait to return to Melaleuca for the summer. 

They comprised a mixture of wild-born and captive-release adult and juvenile birds, some of which made the trans-Bass Strait flight for the first time. 

The captive-release birds were bred at Healesville and Moonlit Sanctuaries in Victoria and the facility at Five Mile Beach in Tasmania and let loose at a number of locations on either side of the Strait.

After they arrived in Tasmania, these parrots were able to mingle with a flock of captive-bred adult birds which had been released at Melaleuca earlier in the spring. Thus, the total number of OBPs at the breeding site was 77 birds.

What followed was the most productive breeding season seen for decades, with 136 eggs laid in 31 nests, and 88 nestlings counted at Melaleuca. 

This is the highest number of nests, eggs and nestlings from nest boxes since official nest-box monitoring began in 1994.

In addition, Orange-bellied Parrots were also found breeding at New Harbour, about 5 kilometres away from Melaleuca, which is the first sign of a range expansion of the breeding population since recovery efforts began to save the species in the 1980s.

Design And Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP): Open For Feedback Until March 31

The new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is part of a broader review of all NSW  SEPP in line with the state government's aim to simplify and consolidate how to deliver good design in NSW. 
The consult introduction webpage states that
'The Design and Place SEPP puts place and design quality at the forefront of development. Our shared responsibility to care for Country and sustain healthy, thriving communities underpins the policy. The SEPP spans places of all scales, from precincts, significant developments, and buildings to infrastructure and public space. '

'The public exhibition will allow us to work closely with state government, local councils, industry peak bodies and communities. This process will inform the development of the Design and Place SEPP and safeguard our shared values for future development in NSW. We will draft the policy in 2021, following the review of the formal submissions and feedback. Submissions are open from now until 31 March 2021. '

The final Design and Place SEPP will go on public exhibition later in 2021 to provide more opportunities for feedback. We will also develop supporting guidance and tools alongside the policy. These include a revision to the Apartment Design Guide, improvements to the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) tool and the development of a new Public Space and Urban Design Guide. '


For more information on the Design and Place SEPP, see this brochurefrequently asked questions and the submission guide.

Elements of the document include (read in full at 'View the explanation of Intended Effect)
Options for revising guidance on car parking rates: The prescribed minimum number of parking spaces could be reduced for apartments in defined circumstances, such as:
—being in a specified location where there is an oversupply of parking; methodology for establishing oversupply to be confirmed, potentially a map, list of areas, or applicant-led analysis
—being in a measurable location (e.g. within 800 m of a train station with a service pattern of a number of services per hour or similar); any development that satisfies the criteria would be eligible.

Maximum parking requirements could be mandated for new apartments (possibly subject to criteria such as proximity to specified transport). Developers cannot provide levels above this threshold (but are free to provide spaces below this level).

Ownership of parking could be required to be separated from the housing (and therefore from rents or initial housing sale prices). Parking spaces could be centrally managed, or leased or sold separately to residents, thus spaces become a tradeable commodity. 

Proposed changes to the Apartment Design Guide in relation to urban design and site planning: 
-  Increase min. deep soil zones as a % of site area (a fixed minimum % within the range being considered below):
< 650 m2 min. 14–18%
650–1500 m2 min. 14–18%
1500–3000 m2 min. 14–18%
> 3000  m2 min. 21–25%

Allow a pro-rata reduction in the targets if retail, commercial and entrances on the ground floor > 85% of the building footprint
- Building Form; Introduce a new criterion for towers (including any part of buildings of nine or more storeys) of: —maximum gross floor area (GFA) of 700 m2. —adjust existing design criteria and guidance to a maximum eight units per core per floor.  Note: 8–12 units per core per floor to remain permissible below nine storeys.

Slender towers reduce building footprint to improve urban and public space amenity: open space; sky view; solar access; reduced bulk, scale, and wind impacts. Incorporation of tower footprints into design criteria provide clarity for a consideration that is already in the ADG but has no numerical criteria, and improves residential amenity, cross-ventilation, natural light, and reduces the number of singleorientation units.

Mixed use development and street activation:  Allocate 40% of ground floor space for non-residential use in R3 and R4 zones, and centres. 

Worth Noting: Australian Car Sales Statistics 2020

There were 1.06 million new vehicles sold in Australia during 2019.

Quick Stats
  • There were 1,062,867 new vehicles sold in Australia 2019
  • New car sales in Australia dropped 8% down from 2018, making it the lowest since 2011
  • Toyota was the top-selling car brand in 2019, with 205,766 total sales
  • SUVs accounted for 45.5% of new car sales in 2019

It is anticipated that new car sales will continue to decline. A new report shows that the number of Australians planning to buy a new vehicle in the next four years is down 19.1% on a similar report released the previous year1 around car buying intentions in Australia. The chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries in Australia attributed the decline in sales to a tougher economy, a slowing house market, the drought and a tightening of money lending. One study10 suggests that for every 10 per cent drop in houses a corresponding 10 per cent drop in car sales could be expected, given that people will have less equity in their homes to refinance against.

New South Wales saw the most new car sales in Australia with 33.5% of all sales. Given that New South Wales is home to 31.9% of the population, on average, they are buying more cars than other states with 50.4 new car sales per 1,000 people, or 398, 010 new vehicles purchased in the reported period. The average age of motor vehicles in New South Wales is 9.5 years, below the Australian average of 10.1 years.

NSW Department Of Planning Projects On Exhibition: Open For Comment

'New Cobar Complex Project': Listed as a State Significant Development
Amalgamation of underground mining at New Cobar, Great Cobar, Gladstone, Chesney and Jubilee deposits to create the New Cobar Complex Project.
Application Number: SSD-10419
Exhibition Start: 25/02/2021
Exhibition End: 24/03/2021

The project involves the amalgamation of existing underground mining of the Chesney and Jubilee deposits and the development of new underground workings of the Great Cobar and Gladstone Deposits to form the New Cobar Complex. The project would be facilitated by existing surface infrastructure, with the exception of the construction of a new power line spur. There would be an increase in the number of haulage trucks between the New Cobar Complex and existing Peak Complex.

At the time of publishing this the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has not directed that a public hearing should be held.

Have your say
Anyone can make a submission about the development application during the exhibition period.

Web submissions: 
To make an online submission, please go to the Department’s Major Projects website at 
Search for this project under 

On the project’s webpage, click 'Make a Submission'. You will be required to log in or create a user account. Follow the online instructions.
If you cannot lodge online, you can post your submission to the address below. If you want the Department to withhold your personal information before publication, please make this clear at the top of your cover letter and do not include personal details in your attached submission. If you post your submission, it needs to be received by the Department before the close of the exhibition period.
Your submission must include the following:
  • your name and address, at the top of the letter only;
  • the name of the application and the application number;
  • a statement on whether you ‘support’, ‘object’ to the proposal or are only making a comment;
  • the reasons why you support or object to the proposal; and
  • a declaration of any reportable political donations you made in the previous two years.
Privacy statement: Before making your submission, please read the Privacy Statement at or call the number below for a copy. The Department will publish your submission on its website in accordance with our Privacy Statement.

'Snowy 2.0 - Transmission Connection': Listed as a State Significant Infrastructure
Application Number: SSI-9717
EPBC ID Number: 2018/8363
Exhibition Start: 23/02/2021
Exhibition End: 05/04/2021

New transmission connection between the proposed Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro and generation project to the existing high voltage transmission network.
This project is a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and will be assessed under the bilateral agreement between the NSW and Commonwealth Governments, or an accredited assessment process. For more information, refer to the Department of Environment and Energy’s website.

The key elements of the project include:
  • > A new 500/330 kilovolt (kV) substation located within Bago State Forest and adjacent to TransGrid’s existing Transmission Line 64 (Line 64)
  • > Two 330 kV double-circuit overhead transmission lines, approximately nine kilometres long, linking the Snowy 2.0 cable yard in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) to the new substation
  • > An overhead transmission line connection between the substation and Line 64
  • > Construction of new access tracks and upgrade of existing access tracks where required to facilitate the construction of the transmission lines and substation and service ongoing maintenance activities
  • > Establishment of temporary sites and infrastructure needed during construction including crane pads, site compounds, a helipad, equipment laydown areas, and tensioning and pulling sites for the stringing of overhead conductors and earthwires.

'Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project': Listed as a State Significant Development
Extend the life of the open cut operation by mining deeper coal seams, using existing and proposed new infrastructure.
Application Number: SSD-10418
EPBC ID Number: 2020/8735
Exhibition Start: 03/02/2021
Exhibition End: 17/03/2021
This project is a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and will be assessed under the bilateral agreement between the NSW and Commonwealth Governments, or an accredited assessment process. For more information, refer to the Department of Environment and Energy’s website.

The Action would include the following activities:
  • increased open cut coal extraction within the approved Mount Pleasant Project (EPBC 2011/5795) development area, including accessing deeper coal reserves in North Pit;
  • staged increase in the extraction, handling and processing of ROM coal up to 21 Mtpa (i.e. progressive increase in ROM
  • coal mining rate from 10.5 Mtpa over the Project life); and
  • continued use of the controlled release dam and associated infrastructure that was approved through Bengalla Mine State and Federal approvals.
  • Under the proposed Action, mining operations at the higher production rate would extend to 22 December 2048

Forestry Corporation Fined $33K For Failing To Keep Records: Endangering Swift Parrots

March 1st 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) with two penalty notices for allegedly not including the critically endangered Swift Parrot records in planning for operations, and has also delivered three official cautions for an alleged failure by FCNSW to mark-up eucalypt feed trees, an essential source of food for the birds, prior to harvesting.

The EPA became aware in 2019 that records of the critically endangered Swift Parrot were not included by FCNSW in planning NSW south forestry operations in Boyne, Bodalla and Mogo State forests.

It is alleged that FCNSW had records of Swift Parrots in these forests during the planning of the operations but failed to compile and include them in pre-harvesting surveys, as required.

EPA Executive Director of Regional Operations Carmen Dwyer said the failure to consider all available records during the planning phases of forestry harvesting operations could result in environmental harm and potential impacts on threatened species.

“The harvest and haul plans for the three operations confirm the Swift Parrot records were not considered and therefore the marking and retention of eucalypt feed trees did not occur either.

“The Swift Parrot is on the Commonwealth’s critically endangered list and as the state’s environmental regulator, we are focused on protecting species that depend on the forest for their survival.”

Ms Dwyer said the EPA takes forestry offences seriously and investigates all alleged breaches.

“It is our duty to ensure forestry operations adhere to the standards and rules required and the EPA will not hesitate to take action if breaches are identified.”

The EPA has issued FCNSW with a $16,500 penalty for each of the two breaches.

Penalty notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy on the EPA website.

Forestry Corporation Fined For Failing To Mark Out A Prohibited Logging Zone

February 26, 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued two penalty notices and one official caution to Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) for allegedly contravening regulatory requirements, in the Ballengarra State Forest in the mid north coast of NSW.

EPA Officers conducting inspections of the area following a harvesting operation identified 10 freshly cut mature trees within the hard and soft protection zones of a second order stream; a significant amount of debris pushed into a stream bed; and evidence of machine access, and earthworks caused by harvesting machinery within a protected zone.

EPA Executive Director of Regional Operations Carmen Dwyer said riparian zones, important areas directly adjacent to streams and waterways, had boundaries around them to prevent waters and dependent aquatic animal and plant life from being polluted or affected during harvesting operations.

“By failing to mark up the physical protection zone boundary in the field, FCNSW contravened a condition of the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval for the area where they were operating west of Port Macquarie,” Ms Dwyer said. 

“Riparian zones must be marked up prior to an operation commencing, so they are identifiable and protected from logging operations. This failure to correctly mark the location resulted, in turn, in further contraventions.”

The EPA has issued FCNSW with a total penalty of $30,000, comprising $15,000 for two breaches and an official caution for a subsequent breach.

Ms Dwyer said the EPA takes forestry offences seriously and investigates all alleged breaches.

“The EPA actively monitors forestry operations at all stages of logging operations – pre, post and during harvesting,” Ms Dwyer said.

“As the state’s environmental regulator, we are focused on ensuring forestry operations adhere to the standards required and will not hesitate to take action if breaches are identified.”

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, stop work orders, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy on the EPA website.

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

Endangered Turtles Troop Back To Bellinger River

March 3, 2021

Over 30 critically endangered Bellinger River snapping turtles, bred at Taronga Zoo, have been returned to their Bellinger River habitat and appear to be well after recent floods.

Back to the wild for a rare Bellinger River snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) - Photo courtesy Taronga Zoo

It is the only place in the world where they are found but in 2015 a devastating virus wiped out 90% of the turtles in just six weeks.

After a breeding program was rapidly developed, this release further boosts the population after earlier releases in 2018 and 2019, bringing the total number of turtles now released to 52.

Gerry McGilvray, a Department of Planning Industry and the Environment (DPIE) Threatened Species Officer, said after the Bellinger River Virus hit, a partnership led by the Saving our Species (SoS) program established a captive breeding program to ensure the species’ survival.

Gerry said: “This 3rd release of turtles since 2018 is excellent news for these animals, which are unique to the Bellinger River catchment and were declared Critically Endangered after the virus.”

Soon after the turtles were released, the Bellingen area and other parts of the north coast experienced heavy rain and flash flooding but threatened species experts and monitoring the released turtles have confirmed the turtles are safe.

Taronga Zoo staff used their expert skills to establish an insurance population to breed animals for the releases, with over 100 turtles now at the zoo’s quarantine facility. A second insurance population has also been developed at Symbio Wildlife Park.

Taronga Zoo Chief Executive and Director, Cameron Kerr, said that the release was a humbling moment following years of hard work and dedication by zoo staff.

“Bellinger River snapping turtles are considered one of Australia’s most critically endangered animals, and I am incredibly proud of the work of our dedicated keepers and scientists that has led to the release of these healthy individuals into the wild,” Mr Kerr said.

Radio transmitters attached to the turtles help locate them for regular monitoring by SoS Threatened Species Officers who also capture the turtles intermittently to measure growth rates, determine body condition, assess general health and look for signs of exposure to the virus.

The Bellinger River snapping turtle is a short-necked freshwater turtle in the family Chelidae first observed by John Cann in 1971.

The release was approved by the DPIE and Environment Animal Ethics Committee and was guided by reptile and translocation experts, wildlife disease experts and zoo professionals.

Major partners include Symbio Wildlife Park, Department of Primary Industries, Bellinger Landcare, OzGREEN, local community members and researchers.

PFAS Firefighting Foam Banned In NSW

March 1st 2021
PFAS firefighting foam has been banned for use in NSW except in catastrophic circumstances or where there are special circumstances.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said that firefighting foam containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) will be banned for all training and demonstration purposes in NSW from next month.

“Firefighting foam is the key cause of PFAS contamination in the NSW environment with concentrations detected at airports, defence sites, emergency service facilities, training facilities, major hazard facilities, and their surrounding environments,” Mr Kean said.

“This ban on PFAS firefighting foam will significantly reduce the impact on our environment but still enable our emergency agencies to fight catastrophic fires that can have devastating impacts on life and property.”

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (PFAS Firefighting Foam) Regulation 2021 includes:
  • banning the use of any PFAS firefighting foam for training and demonstration purposes from April 2021;
  • restricting the use of long-chain PFAS firefighting foam from September 2022; and,
  • restricting the use and sale of PFAS firefighting foam in portable fire extinguishers from September 2022.
“We have already seen some businesses and government agencies voluntarily phase out PFAS foam in their products and practices,” Mr Kean.

“These changes will make the phase out mandatory across NSW, and is a key step to bring our State into line with Australia’s National PFAS Position Statement.”

The changes have been informed by extensive consultation with emergency agencies and industry stakeholders, and will be introduced in stages over the next 19 months to allow adequate time for systems and practices to be changed.

Exemptions will be available if a business has valid cause to continue the use of certain PFAS foams, and some exceptions apply. More information is available at


NSW lifts ban on Genetically Modified crops

March 2nd, 2021: Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW - Media Release

The NSW Government will lift the ban on the use of Genetically Modified (GM) crops by allowing an 18-year moratorium to lapse, increasing agricultural competitiveness and productivity.

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said by lifting the ban on 1 July 2021, the Government was opening the door for the State’s primary industries sector to embrace new GM technologies in the field – potentially reaping billions of dollars in benefits across NSW.

Cotton crop Narrabri - NSW DPI image

“The potential agronomic and health benefits of future GM crops include everything from drought and disease resistance, to more efficient uptake of soil nutrients, increased yield and better weed control,” Mr Marshall said.

“In fact, adoption of GM technology is forecast to deliver up to $4.8 billion in total gross benefits across NSW primary industries over the next ten years. GM technology could save farmers up to 35% of their overheads and boost production by almost 10%. This will be a key area of growth on our path to a $19 billion industry by 2023.

“This is also great news for consumers as by lifting the ban we are empowering companies to invest in GM technology that has the potential to remove allergens such as gluten, improve taste and deliver enhanced nutrition.

The GM moratorium was enacted to manage the trade and marketing issues related to the emerging branch of agriculture nearly two decades ago, but Minister Marshall said there had been few if any implications in more than a decade.

“The NSW Government has been looking closely at this issue for over ten years, ensuring GM food crops are effectively managed around trade and marketing issues,” Mr Marshall said

“There is a robust safety system in place, with all applications to grow GM crops assessed by the Commonwealth Gene Technology Regulator.

“As we have seen with GM canola, it has been approved for commercial cultivation in NSW since 2008, and has provided farmers with increased management flexibility in their cropping systems and better yields.

“NSW has a proud history of over 130 years of research experience and partnerships and we believe today’s announcement will open the State to a new world of advances that will drive prosperity in this sector for years to come.”

Genetically modified canola, cotton and safflower have been successfully grown in NSW since 2008 meeting all crop management and marketing requirements.

Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory do not have a moratorium in place, and the moratorium in South Australia now only applies to Kangaroo Island. The Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Act 2003 (the Act) is due to expire on 1 July 2021.

Canola crop Wagga - NSW DPI image

Crab Population To Improve With Recreational Size Limit Changes

March 3rd, 2021

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries has announced changes to recreational Blue Swimmer Crab size limits set to come into effect from 30 April 2021.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries Deputy Director General Fisheries Sean Sloan said these changes will result in an overall improvement in the abundance of crabs.

“The small increase in the size limit for blue swimmer crabs from 6.0cm to 6.5cm will assist total egg production by protecting spawning crabs and improve the productivity of the stock over time,” Mr Sloan said.

“It will also provide consistency between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors and provide an overall improvement in the abundance of crabs.

“The changes will come into effect on 30 April this year so we wanted to give fishers as much notice as possible.

“NSW Fisheries will be out in the community over the coming weeks to speak to fishers to make sure they are aware of the changes and answer any questions they may have."

Mr Sloan said these changes have been implemented following consultation with and support from the NSW Recreational Fishing Advisory Council.

“These changes are being implemented following consultation with and support from the NSW Recreational Fishing Advisory Council who do a fantastic job representing the interest of fishers,” Mr Sloan said.

“The recreational fishing industry is worth $3.4 billion in economic activity every year so it’s critical we all work together to ensure the sustainability of this fantastic resource."

More information about the recreational fishing rule changes  are available online at, or by contacting your local NSW DPI Fisheries office.

New Yabby Net Give-Away

March 3, 2021

The NSW Government is giving away 5,000 yabby nets to recreational fishers as part of a comprehensive program to phase out the use of enclosed yabby traps in NSW from 30 April 2021. Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said the government has been transitioning to open-top nets for some time, due to the risk that enclosed yabby traps can pose to native wildlife.

“We know that ‘opera house’ style yabby traps pose a risk to air breathing animals such as platypus, water rats and turtles, which can inadvertently get caught in traps,” Mr Marshall said.

“Open top nets allow mammals to exit through the top, unlike opera house traps which only have openings on the sides.

“By moving away from ‘opera’ style traps to open-top yabby nets, we will allow both our fishing resources and native animal populations to flourish.”

Mr Marshall said the changes are part of a National process, with ‘opera’ style traps having already been phased out in the ACT, Victoria and NSW waters where platypus are mostly abundant, including east of the Newell Highway as well as parts of the Edward, Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

“These changes have been implemented following consultation with and support from the NSW Recreational Fishing Advisory Council and we want to give fishers has much time as possible to make sure that they’re aware of the new rules and ensure they have the right equipment,” Mr Marshall said.

“By transitioning to using open top nets, fishers can keep fishing, while also continue to do their part to protect our wildlife and ensure the ongoing health of our inland river systems.”

From 30 April, up to five nets, comprised of either open pyramid lift nets, hoop / lift nets or a combination of both, can be used to catch yabbies in all inland waters where it is legal to use lift nets. For more information, visit the DPI website.

To assist with this transition, the Department of Primary Industries are giving away 5,000 open-top nets. To collect a free open-top yabby net, please phone (02) 6051 7760.

More information about the recreational fishing rule changes are available online at, or by contacting your local NSW DPI Fisheries office.

NSW DPI Fisheries Officer inspecting an opera style trap

EPA Takes Legal Action Against Cleanaway For Pollution Of River

March 4th 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced proceedings in the Land and Environment Court to prosecute Cleanaway Equipment Services Pty Ltd for three offences, from two spill incidents at its premises in Queanbeyan, in May 2020.

The EPA alleges that on 14 May 2020, the solvent Vivasol 2046 leaked from the Queanbeyan premises into the stormwater system and flowed into the Molonglo River, and Cleanaway took approximately five hours to report the incident to the EPA.

Cleanaway is charged with one offence of water pollution and additionally for failing to immediately notify the EPA of a pollution incident.

The second alleged water pollution offence occurred on 15 May 2020 when water containing Vivasol 2046 was discharged from the premises and again entered the stormwater system, resulting in a charge of water pollution.

The maximum penalty for a water pollution offence is $1 million and for an offence of failing to notify the EPA of a pollution incident is $2 million.

EPA Chief Executive Officer Tracy Mackey said all NSW businesses needed to get the message that if their site impacted the environment, they could expect to be held to account.

“Our NSW community deserves clean waterways that aren’t polluted by careless or negligent actions,” Ms Mackey said.

“I am concerned that it took Cleanaway five hours to notify us, putting the Molonglo River and dependent ecosystem, plants and animals relying on the river, at further risk.”

The pollution incidents were the catalyst for a series of unannounced simultaneous inspections of Cleanaway facilities at 27 locations by over 50 EPA officers on in June 2020.

These inspections resulted in three Cleanaway subsidiaries being fined $31,500 for alleged waste storage and record keeping offences at Rutherford, Wetherill Park and Windsor. The EPA has also previously taken regulatory action against Cleanaway for poor storage of waste at their Rutherford and Wetherill Park premises.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at

Former Truegain Director Convicted, Fined For Failing To Supply Information

March 2nd 2021
Former director of Truegain Mr Robert Pullinger has been convicted and fined for providing false information to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and failing to comply with statutory notices to provide information. Mr Pullinger pleaded guilty to the offences.

Following prosecution by the EPA, Parramatta Local Court convicted and fined Mr Pullinger on 23 February 2021 a total of $1,500, ordered him to pay the EPA’s legal costs and to publish details of the offences in the Newcastle Herald.

Donpat Investments Pty Ltd and JM & BP Superannuation Fund Pty Ltd, companies where Mr Pullinger is a director and shareholder, also pleaded guilty to similar charges. The Court convicted and fined Donpat Investments and JM & BP $750 each and ordered they pay the EPA’s legal costs.

The EPA issued the notices in May 2020 requiring Mr Pullinger and the related companies to provide financial information and records required to assess Mr Pullinger’s ability to complete clean-up action at the former Truegain waste oil processing facility in Rutherford near Maitland.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer welcomed the judgement saying they were serious offences.

“The judgement indicates that the failure to provide important information and records on time, needed to assist with the EPA’s investigations, is a serious matter.

“Mr Pullinger’s failure to comply has frustrated and delayed the EPA’s ability to properly and efficiently investigate the landowner’s financial capacity to remediate the site.

“We know the community is concerned and would like to assure them that the EPA has the future of this site as a major priority.”

The Truegain site has been subject to ongoing action from the EPA.

On 25 August 2020 Minister for the Environment Matt Kean issued a Prohibition Notice to Mr Pullinger to stop the storage of waste and other harmful substances on the site.

In November 2020, the EPA launched debt recovery proceedings to recover approx. $1.17 million spent to clean up and manage wastewater on the site.

In June 2017, the EPA issued Mr Pullinger with a Clean-Up Notice which required him to remove all liquid from the premises’ Spill Containment System and lawfully dispose of it. The EPA alleges that Mr Pullinger has failed to comply with the notice to date and the notice is the subject of current court proceedings.

NSW State Water Strategy: Have Your Say

The NSW Government has commenced consultation on NSW’s first ever statewide 20-year water strategy to strengthen regional and metropolitan water services.

Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the recent drought, which followed on quickly from the Millennium Drought highlighted that water resources are coming under increasing pressure from a combination of population growth, changing industry and community needs and a more variable climate.

“The Government does long-term strategic planning for transport, land use and infrastructure, but this is the first time we’ve done it for water,” Mrs Pavey said.

“We have just come through one of the most extreme droughts on record, one many regional communities are still recovering from.

“Too many times in the past, once the drought breaks, the urgency and will to improve drought resilience and water security evaporates. We are not going to let that happen this time and will keep the momentum going as we continue to reform water management in NSW.

“We must manage scarcer water resources through diversifying supply, including the building of new infrastructure, use of recycling and storm water harvesting and the use of new technology and innovation.”

One in three people in Australia live in NSW, and the population is projected to grow by around 2.1 million over the next 20 years. The population in regional NSW is also projected to grow by more than 300,000 people with much of that growth in regional centres.

The draft strategy will help ensure a safer and stronger NSW.

Mrs Pavey said the draft strategy sets out the Government’s key priorities and guiding principles that will inform future decisions on water management, and work in tandem with 12 Regional Water Strategies and two metropolitan strategies currently being developed.

“We want to hear from the community on how we can better secure safer water for our cities, towns, industry and the environment.”

The draft NSW Water Strategy is on public exhibition from 15 February to 28 March for the community to have their say. All feedback will inform the final strategy which will include an implementation plan and will be released by mid 2021.

For more information, to provide feedback or to register your attendance visit for an online information session, please visit:

Senate Inquiry Into Environment Protection And Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Regional Forest Agreements) Bill 2020

        Status: Accepting submissions
        Date Referred: 18 February 2021
        Submissions Close: 19 March 2021

This is in relation to the December 9th, 2020 introduced by Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, Nationals Party Member, and read for a second time on that same date of ''A Bill for an Act to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and for related purposes''

Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie in explanatory notes states that ''The Bill’s amendments will clarify that forestry operations covered by a Regional Forest Agreement are exempted from Part 3 of the EPBC Act.''

And that;
''This Bill will affirm and clarify the Commonwealth’s intent regarding Regional Forest Agreements to make it explicitly clear that forestry operations in a Regional Forest Agreement region are exempt from Part 3 of the EPBC Act, and that compliance matters are to be dealt with through the state regulatory framework.

Requiring native forestry operations to seek EPBC Act approval would create operationally unviable delays in planned harvesting operations that have already been subjected to significant environmental planning and approvals and create congestion in the approvals pipeline.

This is achieved by removing the ambiguity of what it means to be “undertaken in accordance with a Regional Forest Agreement” (subsection 38(1) of the EPBC Act), which a recent Federal Court decision (Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests (No 4) [2020] FCA 704  has shown is not explicit with respect to the Commonwealth’s intended meaning. 

Furthermore, the operation of subsection 38(1) is just one of several legal questions considered by Justice Mortimer’s judgment and subsequent appeal. There is no guarantee that the appeal will deal with the substantive question about the operation of subsection 38(1). 

The Independent review of the EPBC Act Interim Report (Samuel 2020) recommended addressing this uncertainty:
  • “During the course of this Review, the Federal Court found that an operator had breached the terms of an RFA and should therefore be subject to the ordinary controlling provisions of the EPBC Act. Legal ambiguities in the relationship between EPBC Act and the RFA Act should be clarified, so that the Commonwealth’s interests in protecting the environment interact with the RFA framework in a streamlined way.” (page 10), and
  • “The EPBC Act recognises the RFA Act, and additional assessment and approvals are not required for forestry activities conducted in accordance with an RFA (except where forestry operations are in a World Heritage property or a Ramsar wetland). These settings are colloquially referred to as the 'RFA exemption', which is somewhat of a misnomer.” (page 60).
The Interim Report also made it clear that under a regional model of empowering the states, the oversight functions would be the responsibility of the states through accredited frameworks (as occurs with Regional Forest Agreements):

“For projects approved under accredited arrangements, the accredited regulator would be responsible for ensuring that projects comply with requirements, across the whole project cycle including transparent post-approval monitoring, compliance and enforcement. The Commonwealth should retain the ability to intervene in project-level compliance and enforcement where egregious breaches are not being effectively enforced by the accredited party.” (page 55). 

''The Commonwealth must act urgently to resolve this uncertainty to ensure that the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on Australia’s native forestry operations are not exposed to the sort of crisis now facing Victoria’s native hardwood sector. This amendment Bill will achieve this outcome.''

It seeks to: 
Part 1—Amendments
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
1  Subsection 38(1)
Omit “that is undertaken in accordance with an RFA”.
Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002
2  Subsection 6(4)
Omit “that is undertaken in accordance with an RFA”.

The Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests (No 4) [2020] case confirmed injunctions related to 66 coupes (or logging areas) in forests that are home to threatened Great Glider and the critically endangered Victorian State emblem - Leadbeater’s Possum. This decision will keep these iconic creatures a step further back from extinction.

Importantly Justice Mortimer also identified unlawful logging by VicForests was planned in those 66 areas and had occurred already in a further 26 already logged areas.

In the future, if VicForests wants to log in those coupes, not only will it have to apply to the Commonwealth for approval to log threatened species habitat, VicForests will also have to return to the Federal Court to ask for the injunction to be lifted. And then, it will have to find a buyer for the wood.

Danya Jacobs, Senior Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia  (EJA) summarised it in August 2020; “This case proved that a state agency unlawfully logged 26 areas home to species at risk of extinction which are meant to be protected by both state and federal law – and planned to unlawfully log another 66.” 

You can make a submission via the link above.

Helpful information
Text of bill
  • First reading: Text of the bill as introduced into the Parliament
  • Third reading: Prepared if the bill is amended by the house in which it was introduced. This version of the bill is then considered by the second house.
  • As passed by both houses: Final text of bill agreed to by both the House of Representatives and the Senate which is presented to the Governor-General for assent.

NSW Government Plan To Protect And Preserve Bushfire Affected Biodiversity

February 25, 2021
The NSW Government has released the NSW Wildlife and Conservation Bushfire recovery - Medium Term Response Plan to help biodiversity recover over the next five years following the devastating 2019-20 bushfires.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the plan ensures species and ecosystems are prepared to not only recover from last year's fires but fire threats are also considered in future policy making.

"We know from the best available science, that due to a changing climate, bushfires are likely to become more severe and more frequent. This plan will help us to protect and support our State's unique and precious biodiversity for the long term," Mr Kean said.

The plan includes the NSW Government:
  • developing conservation plans for threatened species and communities facing the most significant fire impacts
  • establishing new breeding and propagation programs for priority threatened species
  • continuing to implement comprehensive post-fire feral animal and weed control
  • monitoring species, ecosystems and landscapes over the long-term
  • building the capacity of the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation sector and fire combat agencies to respond to future fire events
  • increasing opportunities for Aboriginal people to practice cultural fire management and manage fire-affected sites.
The government's statement says the plan also highlights the tremendous amount of work done in the immediate aftermath of the bushfires and responds to the recommendations arising from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry – particularly those relating to wildlife, conservation and Aboriginal land management.

Native animals such as the smoky mouse have survived (despite 90% of its habitat being burnt), captive-bred threatened regent honey eaters have been released in the Hunter Valley and programs to help the mountain pygmy-possum in Kosciuszko National Park.

Ongoing efforts to secure the irreplaceable Wollemi pine west of Sydney including declaring it the State's first Asset of Intergenerational Significance are included.

"It is encouraging to see threatened species returning to the fire grounds across New South Wales, with more than 200 species including the koala, and greater glider supported at more than 330 sites," Mr Kean said.

Additionally, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has added 125 roles to continue effective fire management control, with a further 160 positions currently being recruited.

The plan also identifies key environmental assets, including threatened plant and wildlife populations at risk from future fires, and working with the NSW Rural Fire Service to include them in the NSW Bushfire Risk management framework.

More information and the full report/plan can be found here: Wildlife and conservation bushfire recovery: Medium-term response

Look up! A powerful owl could be sleeping in your backyard after a night surveying kilometres of territory

Nick BradsworthAuthor provided
Nick BradsworthDeakin UniversityJohn WhiteDeakin University, and Raylene CookeDeakin University

Picture this: you’re in your backyard gardening when you get that strange, ominous feeling of being watched. You find a grey oval-shaped ball about the size of a thumb, filled with bones and fur — a pellet, or “owl vomit”.

You look up and see the bright “surprised” eyes of a powerful owl staring back at you, with half a possum in its talons.

This may be becoming a familiar story for many Australians. We strapped tracking devices to 20 powerful owls in Melbourne for our new research, and learned these apex predators are increasingly choosing to sleep in urban areas, from backyard trees to city parks.

These respite areas are critical for species to survive in challenging urban environments because, just like for humans, rest is an essential behaviour to conserve energy for the day (or night) ahead.

Our research highlights the importance of trees on both public and private land for wild animals. Without an understanding of where urban wildlife rests, we risk damaging these urban habitats with encroaching development.

One Owl, One Year, 300 Possums

Powerful owls are Australia’s largest, measuring 65 centimetres from head to tail and weighing a hefty 1.6 kilograms. They’re found in Australia’s eastern states, except for Tasmania.

Powerful owl with half a common ringtail possum
Powerful owl at roost with half a common ringtail possum (probably saving it for later). Nick Bradsworth

These owls have traditionally been thought to live only in large old-growth forested areas. However, Victoria has lost over 65% of forest cover since European settlement, and because of this habitat loss, the owls are listed as threatened in Victoria.

Their remaining habitat is extremely fragmented. This means we’re finding owls in interesting places — from dry, open woodland to our major east coast cities. This is likely due to the high numbers of prey, such as possums, that thrive alongside exotic garden trees and house roofs.

Read more: Don't disturb the cockatoos on your lawn, they're probably doing all your weeding for free

Powerful owls usually eat one possum per night, or 250-300 possums per year — mostly common ringtail and brushtail possums in Melbourne. They’re often seen holding prey at their roosting spots, where they’ll finish eating in the evening for breakfast.

This has ecosystem-wide benefits, as powerful owls can help keep overabundant possums in check. Too many possums can strip away vegetation, causing it to die back, which stops other wildlife from nesting or finding shelter.

Tracking Their Nocturnal Haunts

But powerful owls are extremely elusive. With low populations, locating owls and researching their requirements is very difficult.

So, to help narrow down the general areas where powerful owls live in Melbourne, we used species distribution models and sought help from land management agencies and citizen scientists.

Over five years, we deployed GPS devices on 20 Melburnian owls to find how they use urban environments. These devices automatically record where the owls move at night and rest during the day.

We learned they fly, on average, 4.4 kilometers per night through golf courses, farms, reserves and backyards looking for dinner and defending their territory. One owl along the Mornington Peninsula travelled 47 km over two nights (possibly in search of a mate). Another urban owl called several golf courses in the Melbourne suburb of Alphington home.

Choosing Where To Sleep

After their nightly adventures, the owls usually return to a number of regular roosting (resting) spots, sometimes on the exact same branch. The powerful owl chooses roosts that protect them against being mobbed by aggressive daytime birds, such as the noisy miner and pied currawong.

A powerful owl showing defensive behaviour towards nearby pied currawongs trying to mob it.

We found the owls used 32 different tree species to roost in: 23 were native, and nine were exotic, including pine and willow trees. This shows powerful owls can adapt to use a range of species to fit their roosting requirements, such as thick foliage to hide in during the day.

Owls will generally roost in damp, dark areas during summer, and in open roosts in full or dappled sunlight during winter to help regulate their body temperature.

Read more: Urban owls are losing their homes. So we're 3D printing them new ones

Our research also shows rivers in urban environments are just as important as trees for roosting habitat.

Rivers are naturally home to a diverse range of wildlife. Using trees near rivers to rest in may be a strategic decision to reduce time and energy when travelling at night to find other resources, such as prey, mates and nests.

Rivers that constantly flow, such as the Yarra River, are a particular favourite for the owls.

A powerful owl surrounded by leaves
Powerful owl at roost among dense Kunzea vegetation. Nick Bradsworth

The Urban Roost Risk

These resting habitats, however, are under constant pressure by urban expansion and agriculture. Suitable roosting habitat is either removed, or degraded in quality and converted to housing, roads, grass cover or bare soil.

We found potentially suitable roosting habitat in Melbourne is extremely fragmented, covering just 10% of the landscape because owls are very selective about where they sleep.

Although there might be the odd suitable patch (or tree) to roost in urban environments, what’s often lacking is natural connectivity between patches. While owls are nocturnal, they still need places to rest in the night before they settle down in another spot to sleep for the day.

A pair of powerful owls with beady eyes sitting at their roost
The classic ‘surprised’ powerful owl expression at a roost. Nick Bradsworth

Supplementing habitat with more trees on private property and enhancing the quality of habitat along river systems may encourage owls to roost in other areas of Melbourne.

Powerful owls don’t discriminate between private land and reserves for roosting. So conserving and enhancing resting habitats on public and private land will enable urban wildlife to persist alongside expanding and intensifying urbanisation.

So What Can You Do To Help?

If you want powerful owls to roost in your backyard, visit your local indigenous nursery and ask about trees local to your area.

Several favourite roost trees in Melbourne include many Eucalyptus species and wattles. If you don’t have the space for a large tree, they will also roost in the shorter, dense Kunzea and swamp paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia).

Planting them will provide additional habitat and, if you are lucky, your neighbourhood owls may even decide to settle in for the day and have a snooze.

Read more: Hard to spot, but worth looking out for: 8 surprising tawny frogmouth facts The Conversation

Nick Bradsworth, PhD Candidate, Deakin UniversityJohn White, Associate Professor in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Deakin University, and Raylene Cooke, Associate Professor, Deakin University

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

Birds on beaches are under attack from dogs, photographers and four-wheel drives. Here's how you can help them

An adult fairy tern feeding a chick. Claire GreenwellAuthor provided
Claire GreenwellMurdoch University

Environmental scientists see flora, fauna and phenomena the rest of us rarely do. In this new series, we’ve invited them to share their unique photos from the field.

Each year, oystercatchers, plovers and terns flock to beaches all over Australia’s coastline to lay eggs in a shallow scrape in the sand. They typically nest through spring and summer until the chicks are ready to take flight.

Spring and summer, however, are also when most people visit the beach. And human disturbances have increased breeding failure, contributing to the local contraction and decline of many beach-nesting bird populations.

Take Australian fairy terns (Sternula nereis nereis) in Western Australia, the primary focus of my research and photography, as an example. Their 2020-21 breeding season is coming to an end, and has been relatively poor.

Courting pair of Fairy Terns on the beach
Australian fairy tern pair. Males feed female mates, helping to supplement nutrients and energy for egg production. Claire Greenwell

Fox predation and flooding from tidal inundation wiped out several colonies. Unfathomably, a colony was also lost after a four-wheel drive performed bog-laps in a sign-posted nesting area. Unleashed dogs chased incubating adults from their nests, and photographers entered restricted access sites and climbed fragile dunes to photograph nesting birds.

These human-related disturbances highlight the need for ongoing education. So let’s take a closer look at the issue, and how communities and individuals can make a big difference.

Nesting On The Open Beach

Beach-nesting birds typically breed, feed and rest in coastal habitats all year round. During the breeding season, which varies between species, they establish their nests above the high-water mark (high tide), just 20 to 30 millimetres deep in the sand.

Fairy Tern sitting on eggs
Eggs are sandy coloured and have a mottled appearance, which help them to blend in with the environment. Claire Greenwell
Two Fairy Tern chicks. Down feathers are lightly coloured and mottled to help increase camouflage.
Fairy tern chicks crouch close to the ground to hide from predatory birds. Down feathers are lightly coloured and mottled to help increase camouflage. Claire Greenwell

Some species, such as the fairy tern, incorporate beach shells, small stones and organic material like seaweed in and around the nest to help camouflage their eggs and chicks so predators, such as gulls and ravens, don’t detect them easily.

An adult Fairy Tern moving shell material around the nest site to increase camouflage of the eggs.
An adult fairy tern moving shell material around the nest site to increase the camouflage of its eggs. Claire Greenwell

While nests are exposed and vulnerable on the open beach, it allows the birds to spot predators early and to remain close to productive foraging areas.

Still, beach-nesting birds live a harsh lifestyle. Breeding efforts are often characterised by low reproductive success and multiple nesting attempts may be undertaken each season.

Eggs and chicks remain vulnerable until chicks can fly. This takes around 43 days for fairy terns and about 63 days for hooded plovers (Thinornis rubricollis rubricollis).

Adult Fairy Tern feeding a chick
Eggs and chicks are vulnerable until chicks are capable of flight. Claire Greenwell

Disturbances: One Of Their Biggest Threats

Many historically important sites are now so heavily disturbed they’re unable to support a successful breeding attempt. This includes the Leschenault Inlet in Bunbury, Western Australia, where fairy tern colonies regularly fail from disturbance and destruction by four-wheel drives.

Species like the eastern hooded plover and fairy tern have declined so much they’re now listed as “vulnerable” under national environment law. It lists human disturbance as a key threatening process.

Read more: One cat, one year, 110 native animals: lock up your pet, it's a killing machine

Birds see people and dogs as predators. When they approach, nesting adult birds distance themselves from the nest and chicks. For example, terns typically take flight, while plovers run ahead of the threat, “leading” it away from the area.

When eggs and chicks are left unattended, they’re vulnerable to predation by other birds, they can suffer thermal stress (overheating or cooling) or be trampled as their cryptic colouration makes them difficult to spot.

Silver Gull carrying away a Fairy Tern chick
Natural predators such as silver gulls readily take eggs and chicks when left unattended. Claire Greenwell

Unlike plovers and oystercatchers, fairy terns nest in groups, or “colonies”, which may contain up to several hundred breeding pairs. Breeding in colonies has its advantages. For example, collective group defence behaviour can drive off predatory birds such as silver gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae).

However, this breeding strategy can also result in mass nesting failure. For example, in 2018, a cat visiting a colony at night in Mandurah, about 70 km south of Perth, killed six adults, at least 40 chicks and led to 220 adult birds abandoning the site. In other instances, entire colonies have been lost during storm surges.

Adult Fairy Terns mobbing a juvenile Crested Tern
Adult fairy terns engaged in group defence or ‘mobbing’ to drive away a juvenile crested tern from a colony. Claire Greenwell

Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference

Land and wildlife managers are becoming increasingly aware of fairy terns and the threats they face. Proactive and adaptive management combined with a good understanding of early breeding behaviour is helping to improve outcomes for these vulnerable birds.

Point Walter, in Bicton, WA, provides an excellent example of how recreational users and beach-nesting birds can coexist.

Point Walter, 18 km from Perth city, is a popular spot for picnicking, fishing, kite surfing, boating and kayaking. It’s also an important site for coastal birds, including three beach-nesting species: fairy terns, red-capped plovers and Australian pied oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris).

Point Walter, Bicton with kite surfers and kayakers
Point Walter is a popular recreational site in Perth. Recent effective management, including seasonal closures, have enabled fairy terns, red-capped plovers and Australian pied oystercatchers to nest at the end of the sand bar. Claire Greenwell

The end of the sand bar is fenced off seasonally, and as a result the past six years has seen the number of terns increase steadily. For the 2020-2021 season, the sand bar supported at least 150 pairs.

The closure also benefits the local population of red-capped plovers and Australian pied oystercatchers, who nest at the site each year.

Fairy Tern chick being brooded by its parent.
Fairy tern brooding (sitting on) its chick. Claire Greenwell
An adult Australian Pied Oystercatcher teaching its offspring to hunt for prey.
An adult Australian pied oystercatcher teaching its offspring to hunt for prey. Claire Greenwell

What’s more, strong community stewardship and management interventions by the City of Mandurah to protect a fairy tern colony meant this season saw the most successful breeding event in more than a decade — around 110 pairs at its peak.

Interventions included temporary fencing, signs, community education and increased ranger patrols. Several pairs of red-capped plovers also managed to raise chicks, adding to the success.

These examples highlight the potential for positive outcomes across their breeding range. But intervention during the early colony formation stage is critical. Temporary fencing, signage and community support are some of our most important tools to protect tern colonies.

So What Can You Do To Protect Beach-Nesting Birds?

Fairy Tern chick
A fairy tern chick at a site dedicated to fairy tern breeding. Claire Greenwell
  • share the space and be respectful of signage and fencing. These temporary measures help protect birds and increase their chance of breeding success

  • keep dogs leashed and away from known feeding and breeding areas

  • avoid driving four-wheel drive vehicles on the beach, particularly at high tide

  • keep cats indoors or in a cat run (enclosure)

  • if you see a bird nesting on the beach, report it to local authorities and maintain your distance

  • avoid walking through flocks of birds or causing them to take flight. Disturbance burns energy, which could have implications for breeding and migration.

Read more: Don't let them out: 15 ways to keep your indoor cat happy The Conversation

Claire Greenwell, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

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

Dig this: a tiny echidna moves 8 trailer-loads of soil a year, helping tackle climate change

David John EldridgeUNSW

After 200 years of European farming practices, Australian soils are in bad shape – depleted of nutrients and organic matter, including carbon. This is bad news for both soil health and efforts to address global warming.

The native Australian echidna may hold part of the solution. Echidnas dig pits, furrows and depressions in the soil while foraging for ants. Our research has revealed the significant extent to which this soil “engineering” could benefit the environment.

Echidnas’ digging traps leaves and seeds in soil. This helps improve soil health, promotes plant growth and keeps carbon in the soil, rather than the atmosphere.

The importance of this process cannot be underestimated. By improving echidna habitat, we can significantly improve soil health and boost climate action efforts.

An echidna
Echidnas can help improve soil health. Shutterstock

Nature’s Excavators

Many animals improve soil health through extensive digging. These “ecosystem engineers” provide a service that benefits not only soils, but plants and other organisms.

In Australia, most of our digging animals are either extinct, restricted or threatened. But not so the echidna, which is still relatively common in most habitats across large areas of the continent.

Echidnas are prolific diggers. Our long-term monitoring at Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Scotia Sanctuary, in southwest New South Wales, suggests one echidna moves about seven tonnes – about eight trailer loads – of soil every year.

Soil depressions left by echidnas can be up to 50cm wide and 15cm deep. When ants are scarce, such as at highly degraded sites, echidnas dig deeper to find termites, making even larger pits.

This earth-moving capacity unwittingly provides another critically important function: matchmaking between seeds and water.

Echidna digging in soil
Echidnas’ huge digging capacity brings many environmental benefits. Shutterstock

Playing Cupid

For seeds to germinate they must come together with water and soil nutrients. Our experiment showed how echidna digging helps make that happen.

We tested whether seeds would be trapped in echidna pits after rain. We carefully marked various seeds with different coloured dyes, and placed them on the soil surface in a semi-arid woodland near Cobar, NSW, where we’d dug pits similar to those echidnas create. We then simulated a rain event.

Most seeds washed into the pits, and those that started in the pits stayed there. The experiment showed how echidna pits encourage seeds, water and nutrients to meet, giving seeds a better chance to germinate and survive in Australia’s poor soils.

The recovering pits then become plant and soil “hotspots” from which plants can spread across the landscape.

Our research has also found pits also harbour unique microbial communities and soil invertebrates. These probably play an important role in breaking down organic matter to produce soil carbon.

It’s no wonder many human efforts to restore soil imitate the natural structures constructed by animals such as echidnas.

Read more: Curious Kids: How does an echidna breathe when digging through solid earth?

Plant growth in artificial pits used to regenerate degraded semi-arid soils – a method that imitates echidna pits.

Echidnas As Carbon Farmers

Our recent research also shows how echidna digging helps boost carbon in depleted soils.

When organic matter lies on the soil surface, it’s broken down by intense ultraviolet light which releases carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere. But when echidnas forage, the material is buried in the soil. There it is exposed to microbes, which break down the material and release carbon and nitrogen to the soil.

This does not happen immediately. Our research suggests it takes 16-18 months for carbon levels in the pits to exceed that in bare soils.

This entire process of echidna digging, capture and buildup creates a patchwork of litter, carbon, nutrients, and plant hotspots. These fertile islands drive healthy, functional ecosystems – and will become more important as the world becomes hotter and drier.

Read more: The secret life of echidnas reveals a world-class digger vital to our ecosystems

An echidna foraging pit with litter, seed and soil.

Harness The Power Of Echidnas

Soil restoration can be expensive, and impractical across vast areas of land. Soil disturbance by echidnas offers a cost-effective restoration option, and this potential should be harnessed.

Australia’s echidna populations are currently not threatened. But landscape management is needed to ensure healthy echidna populations into the future.

Echidnas often shelter in hollow logs, so removing fallen timber reduces their habitat and feeding sites. Restrictions on practices such as firewood removal are needed to prevent habitat loss.

And being slow-moving, echidnas are often killed on our roads. To address this, shrubs and ground plants should be planted between patches of native bush, creating vegetation corridors so echidnas can move safely from one spot to the next.

Echidna crossing a road
Why did the echidna cross the road? Because there were no vegetation corridors. Shutterstock

And while an echidna’s sharp spines give it some protection from natural predators, they’re less effective against introduced predators such as foxes and cats. So strategies to control these threats are also needed.

The health of Australia’s fragile environment is in serious decline. Echidnas are already providing a valuable ecosystem service – and they should be protected and nurtured to ensure this continues.

Read more: 10 million animals are hit on our roads each year. Here’s how you can help them (and steer clear of them) these holidays The Conversation

David John Eldridge, Professor of Dryland Ecology, UNSW

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

Think all your plastic is being recycled? New research shows it can end up in the ocean

Monique RetamalUniversity of Technology SydneyElsa DominishUniversity of Technology SydneyNick FlorinUniversity of Technology Sydney, and Rachael Wakefield-RannUniversity of Technology Sydney

We all know it’s wrong to toss your rubbish into the ocean or another natural place. But it might surprise you to learn some plastic waste ends up in the environment, even when we thought it was being recycled.

Our study, published today, investigated how the global plastic waste trade contributes to marine pollution.

We found plastic waste most commonly leaks into the environment at the country to which it’s shipped. Plastics which are of low value to recyclers, such as lids and polystyrene foam containers, are most likely to end up polluting the environment.

The export of unsorted plastic waste from Australia is being phased out – and this will help address the problem. But there’s a long way to go before our plastic is recycled in a way that does not harm nature.

Man puts items in bins
Research shows plastic meant for recycling often ends up elsewhere. Shutterstock

Know Your Plastics

Plastic waste collected for recycling is often sold for reprocessing in Asia. There, the plastics are sorted, washed, chopped, melted and turned into flakes or pellets. These can be sold to manufacturers to create new products.

The global recycled plastics market is dominated by two major plastic types:

  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which in 2017 comprised 55% of the recyclable plastics market. It’s used in beverage bottles and takeaway food containers and features a “1” on the packaging

  • high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which comprises about 33% of the recyclable plastics market. HDPE is used to create pipes and packaging such as milk and shampoo bottles, and is identified by a “2”.

The next two most commonly traded types of plastics, each with 4% of the market, are:

  • polypropylene or “5”, used in containers for yoghurt and spreads

  • low-density polyethylene known as “4”, used in clear plastic films on packaging.

The remaining plastic types comprise polyvinyl chloride (3), polystyrene (6), other mixed plastics (7), unmarked plastics and “composites”. Composite plastic packaging is made from several materials not easily separated, such as long-life milk containers with layers of foil, plastic and paper.

This final group of plastics is not generally sought after as a raw material in manufacturing, so has little value to recyclers.

Read more: China's recycling 'ban' throws Australia into a very messy waste crisis

Symbols on PET plastic item
Items made from PET plastic resin are marked with a ‘1’. Shutterstock

Shifting Plastic Tides

China banned the import of plastic waste in January 2018 to prevent the receipt of low-value plastics and to stimulate the domestic recycling industry.

Following the bans, the global plastic waste trade shifted towards Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The largest exporters of waste plastics in 2019 were Europe, Japan and the US. Australia exported plastics primarily to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Australia’s waste export ban recently became law. From July this year, only plastics sorted into single resin types can be exported; mixed plastic bales cannot. From July next year, plastics must be sorted, cleaned and turned into flakes or pellets to be exported.

This may help address the problem of recyclables becoming marine pollution. But it will require a significant expansion of Australian plastic reprocessing capacity.

Map showing the import and export map of plastic waste globally.
Map showing the import and export map of plastic waste globally. Authors provided

What We Found

Our study was funded by the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. It involved interviews with trade experts, consultants, academics, NGOs and recyclers (in Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand) and an extensive review of existing research.

We found when it comes to the international plastic trade, plastics most often leak into the environment at the destination country, rather than at the country of origin or in transit. Low-value or “residual” plastics – those left over after more valuable plastic is recovered for recycling – are most likely to end up as pollution. So how does this happen?

In Southeast Asia, often only registered recyclers are allowed to import plastic waste. But due to high volumes, registered recyclers typically on-sell plastic bales to informal processors.

Interviewees said when plastic types were considered low value, informal processors frequently dumped them at uncontrolled landfills or into waterways. Sometimes the waste is burned.

Plastics stockpiled outdoors can be blown into the environment, including the ocean. Burning the plastic releases toxic smoke, causing harm to human health and the environment.

Interviewees also said when informal processing facilities wash plastics, small pieces end up in wastewater, which is discharged directly into waterways, and ultimately, the ocean.

However, interviewees from Southeast Asia said their own domestic waste management was a greater source of ocean pollution.

Birds fly over landfill site
Plastic waste meant for recycling can end up in overseas landfill, before it blows into the ocean. Anupam Nath/AP

A Market Failure

The price of many recycled plastics has crashed in recent years due to oversupply, import restrictions and falling oil prices, (amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic). However clean bales of PET and HDPE are still in demand.

In Australia, material recovery facilities currently sort PET and HDPE into separate bales. But small contaminants of other materials (such as caps and plastic labels) remain, making it harder to recycle into high quality new products.

Before the price of many recycled plastics dropped, Australia baled and traded all other resin types together as “mixed plastics”. But the price for mixed plastics has fallen to zero and they’re now largely stockpiled or landfilled in Australia.

Several Australian facilities are, however, investing in technology to sort polypropylene so it can be recovered for recycling.

Shampoo bottles in supermarket
High-density polyethylene items such as shampoo bottles comprise a large share of the plastic waste market. Shutterstock

Doing Plastics Differently

Exporting countries can help reduce the flow of plastics to the ocean by better managing trade practices. This might include:

  • improving collection and sorting in export countries

  • checking destination processing and monitoring

  • checking plastic shipments at export and import

  • improving accountability for shipments.

But this won’t be enough. The complexities involved in the global recycling trade mean we must rethink packaging design. That means using fewer low-value plastic and composites, or better yet, replacing single-use plastic packaging with reusable options.

The authors would like to acknowledge research contributions from Asia Pacific Waste Consultants (APWC) - Dr Amardeep Wander, Jack Whelan and Anne Prince, as well as Phil Manners at CIE.

Read more: Here's what happens to our plastic recycling when it goes offshore The Conversation

Monique Retamal, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyElsa Dominish, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyNick Florin, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, and Rachael Wakefield-Rann, Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

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

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Final Report Calls For Fundamental And Systemic Aged Care Reform

March 1st, 2021

In their Report, titled Care, Dignity and Respect, Royal Commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO call for fundamental reform of the aged care system:

"The extent of substandard care in Australia’s aged care system reflects both poor quality on the part of some aged care providers and fundamental systemic flaws with the way the Australian aged care system is designed and governed. People receiving aged care deserve better. The Australian community is entitled to expect better."

For too long, they say, the legislation that governs aged care in Australia has focused on the funding requirements of aged care providers rather than the care needs of older people. They propose a clearly articulated purpose for the new aged care system:

"To deliver an entitlement to high quality care and support for older people, and to ensure that they receive it. The care and support must be safe and timely and must assist older people to live an active, self-determined and meaningful life in a safe and caring environment that allows for dignified living in old age."

The Royal Commissioners make 148 wide-ranging recommendations, including:
  • A new Aged Care Act that puts older people first, enshrining their rights and providing a universal entitlement for high quality and safe care based on assessed need.
  • An integrated system for the long-term support and care of older people and their ongoing community engagement.
  • System Governor to provide leadership and oversight and shape the system.
  • An Inspector-General of Aged Care to identify and investigate systemic issues and to publish reports of its findings.
  • A plan to deliver, measure and report on high quality aged care, including independent standard-setting, a general duty on aged care providers to ensure quality and safe care, and a comprehensive approach to quality measurement, reporting and star ratings.
  • Up to date and readily accessible information about care options and services, and care finders to support older people to navigate the aged care system.
  • new aged care program that is responsive to individual circumstances and provides an intuitive care structure, including social supports, respite care, assistive technology and home modification, care at home and residential care. In particular, the new program will provide greater access to care at home, including clearing the home care waiting list.
  • A more restorative and preventative approach to care, with increased access to allied health care in both home and residential aged care.
  • Increased support for development of ‘small household’ models of accommodation.
  • An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care pathway to provide culturally safe and flexible aged care to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wherever they live.
  • Improved access to health care for older people, including a new primary care model, access to multidisciplinary outreach services and a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme.
  • Equity of access to services for older people with disability and measures to ensure younger people do not enter or remain in residential aged care.
  • Professionalising the aged care workforce through changes to education, training, wages, labour conditions and career progression.
  • Registration of personal care workers.
  • minimum quality and safety standard for staff time in residential aged care, including an appropriate skills mix and daily minimum staff time for registered nurses, enrolled nurses and personal care workers for each resident, and at least one registered nurse on site at all times.
  • Strengthened provider governance arrangements to ensure independence, accountability and transparency.
  • A strengthened quality regulator.
  • Funding to meet the actual cost of high quality care and an independent Pricing Authority to determine the costs of delivering it.
  • simpler and fairer approach to personal contributions and means testing, including removal of co-contributions toward care, reducing the high effective marginal tax rates that apply to many people receiving residential aged care, and phasing out Refundable Accommodation Deposits.
  • Financing arrangements drawing on a new aged care levy to deliver appropriate funding on a sustainable basis.
The Royal Commissioners recommend ongoing monitoring and reporting arrangements to support effective and transparent implementation of their recommendations.

Some of the recommendations present the Australian Government with alternative options for reform. The Chair of the Royal Commission, Commissioner Pagone, explains in his preface:

"Many of our recommendations and observations are made jointly, but there are some instances where we make differing recommendations and observations. We have agreed, with some misgivings and not without anxious consideration, to make some separate recommendations and to express different views where we diverge. But we both strongly conclude that fundamental change is needed. In the end, the differences between us may add to the strength of the reforms which are to be made."

Commissioner Briggs writes:

"We have elected to provide the Government with two options for the governance of the aged care system, and the impact of those options necessarily flows through into other recommendations. However, this is a secondary issue to the quality and safety task at hand, which dominates our recommendations and, importantly, on which we agree."

The Royal Commissioners have recommended that the Australian Government report to Parliament by 31 May 2021 its response to their recommendations.

The Final Report comprises 5 volumes.

Volume 4: Hearing overviews and case studies: - 4A   4B   4C

This is how we create the age-friendly smart city

Sonja PedellSwinburne University of Technology and Ann BordaThe University of Melbourne

Senior citizens need help and encouragement to remain active as they age in their own communities. Given the choice, that’s what most would prefer. The smart city can provide the digital infrastructure for them to find and tailor the local neighbourhood information they need to achieve this.

Australia has a growing population of older adults, the majority living in cities. The challenge, then, is to ensure city environments meet their needs and personal goals.

Our research shows senior citizens want to pursue active ageing as a positive experience. This depends on them being able to stay healthy, participate in their community and feel secure.

Read more: 'Ageing in neighbourhood': what seniors want instead of retirement villages and how to achieve it

Most city planning efforts to encourage active ageing are siloed and fragmented. Older people are too often shut away in retirement villages or nursing homes rather than living in the community. Current approaches are often based on traditional deficit models of focusing on older people’s declining health.

Another issue is that senior citizens are treated as receivers of solutions instead of creators. To achieve real benefits it’s essential to involve them in developing the solutions.

Working Towards Age-Friendly Cities

To counter a rise in urban ageism, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been promoting age-friendly cities for nearly 15 years. Its age-friendly framework includes these goals:

  • equity

  • an accessible physical environment

  • an inclusive social environment.

Cities and towns around the world, including local councils in Australia, have begun working towards this.

We need to recognise the diverse demands of living in cities, where most seniors live, particularly as we age.

Read more: Retire the retirement village – the wall and what’s behind it is so 2020

Smart city approaches can make urban neighbourhoods more age-friendly. One way technology and better design do this is to improve access to the sort of information older Australians need – on the walkability of neighbourhoods, for example.

couple walking past benches along a tree-lined path
It’s useful for older people to be able to find out which walking routes have shade and places to stop and rest. Shutterstock

Our research has considered three factors in ensuring smart city solutions involve older Australians and work for them.

Replace Ageism With Agency

Government efforts have focused on increasing life expectancy rather than improving quality of life and independence. Ignoring quality of life leads to the perception of an ageing population as a burden to be looked after.

It would be better to bring about changes that improve older people’s health so they can participate in neighbourhood activities. Social interaction is a source of meaning and identity.

Read more: For Australians to have the choice of growing old at home, here is what needs to change

Active participation by older adults using digital devices can give them agency in their lives and reduce the risk of isolation. Bloomberg reports older adults have become empowered using technology to overcome social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connect To Smart City Data

Cities are about infrastructure. Senior citizens need to have access to information about this infrastructure to be motivated to spend time in their neighbourhood and reduce their risk of isolation.

Growing numbers of active ageing seniors are “connected” every day using mobile phones to interact with smart city services. Many have wearable devices like smart watches that help monitor and manage their health and physical activity.

These personal devices can also be used to better connect older adults to public data about urban environments. For example, imagine an age-friendly smart city “layer” linked to a smart watch, to highlight facilities such as public toilets, water fountains and shaded rest stops along exercise routes.

Access Map Seattle is an example of an age-friendly, interactive, smart city map that shows the steepness of pedestrian footpaths and raised kerbs. The National Public Toilet Map, created by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, and Barcelona’s smartappcity are among other mobile apps integrating city services and urban plans.

The rise of “urban observatories” has increased the gathering and analysing of complex city-related data. These data make it possible to build a digital city layer.

View of Pedcatch app display
PedCatch is an app that combines animated pedestrian accessibility modelling, topographical mapping and crowd-sourced geospatial data. Marcus White, Swinburne UniversityAuthor provided

This information then helps us understand and improve the liveability of neighbourhoods for older adults. The data can be used for more proactive policy and city planning.

Read more: Aged care isn't working, but we can create neighbourhoods to support healthy ageing in place

Include Co-Design In Planning

Co-design processes that involve older adults, giving them agency in smart city planning, lead to greater participation and inclusion.

We need to start asking senior citizens questions like “How would you like to access this data?” and “What would you like the digital layer to tell you?” Their goals and needs must drive the information provided.

It’s not just a matter of deciding what specific data older adults want to get via their devices. They should also be able to contribute directly to the data. For example, using a mobile app they could audit their neighbourhood to identify features that help or hinder walkability.

Read more: Contested spaces: we need to see public space through older eyes too

To create truly age-friendly smart cities, it is important for older people to be co-designers of the digital layer. The co-design includes deciding both the types of data available and how the data can be usefully presented. We also need to understand what mobile apps could use the data.

If we know what information within the digital city layer motivates older adults to participate more actively in their neighbourhoods, we can plan more age-friendly cities.

Through connecting infrastructures and citizen-led approaches, we can achieve social participation and inclusion of citizens regardless of their age and recognising diversity and equity. We will create places where they feel capable and safe across a range of activities. Redesigning age-friendly and smart communities directly and collaboratively with those affected can enable them to achieve the quality of life they desire.The Conversation

Sonja Pedell, Associate Professor and Director, Future Self and Design Living Lab, Swinburne University of Technology and Ann Borda, Associate Professor, Centre for Digital Transformation of Health, The University of Melbourne

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

We all hope for a 'good death'. But many aged-care residents are denied proper end-of-life care

Davina PorockEdith Cowan University

Death is inevitable, and in a civilised society everyone deserves a good one. It would therefore be logical to expect aged-care homes would provide superior end-of-life care. But sadly, palliative care options are often better for those living outside residential aged care than those in it.

More than a quarter of a million older Australians live in residential aged care, but few choose to be there, few consider it their “home”, and most will die there after living there for an average 2.6 years. These are vulnerable older people who have been placed in residential aged care when they can no longer be cared for at home.

The royal commission has made a forceful and sustained criticism of the quality of aged care. Its final report, released this week, and the interim report last year variously described the sector as “cruel”, “uncaring”, “harmful”, “woefully inadequate” and in need of major reform.

Quality end-of-life care, including access to specialist palliative care, is a significant part of the inadequacy highlighted by the report’s damning findings. This ranked alongside dementia, challenging behaviours and mental health as the most crucial issues facing the sector.

Longstanding Problem

In truth, we have already known about the palliative care problem for years. In 2017 the Productivity Commission reported that end-of-life care in residential aged care needs to be better resourced and delivered by skilled staff, to match the quality of care available to other Australians.

This inequality and evident discrimination against aged-care residents is all the more disappointing when we consider these residents are among those Australians most likely to find themselves in need of quality end-of-life care.

The royal commission’s final report acknowledges these inadequacies and addresses them in 12 of its 148 recommendations. Among them are recommendations to:

  • enshrine the right of older people to access equitable palliative and end-of-life care

  • include palliative care as one of a range of integrated supports available to residents

  • introduce multidiscpliniary outreach services including palliative care from local hospitals

  • require specific training for all direct care staff in palliative and end-of-life care skills.

What Is Good Palliative Care?

Palliative care is provided to someone with an active, progressive, advanced disease, who has little or no prospect of cure and who is expected to die. Its primary goal is to optimise the quality of life for that person and their family.

End-of-life care is provided by palliative care services in the final few weeks of life, in which a patient with a life-limiting illness is rapidly approaching death. This also extends to bereavement care for family and loved ones.

Unlike in other sectors of Australian society, where palliative care services are growing in line with overall population ageing, palliative care services in residential aged care have been declining.

Funding restrictions in Australian aged-care homes means palliative care is typically only recommended to residents during the final few weeks or even days of their life.

Read more: What is palliative care? A patient's journey through the system

Some 70% of Australians say they would prefer to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, with symptoms managed and comfort the only goal. So if residential aged care is truly a resident’s home, then extensive palliative and end-of-life care should be available, and not limited just to the very end.

Fortunately, the royal commission has heard the clarion call for attention to ensuring older Australians have as good a death as possible, as shown by the fact that a full dozen of the recommendations reflect the need for quality end-of-life care.

Moreover, the very first recommendation — which calls for a new Aged Care Act — will hopefully spur the drafting of legislation that endorses high-quality palliative care rather than maintaining the taboo around explicitly mentioning death.

Elderly man holding sick wife's hand
Around 70% of Australians would prefer to die at home in the company of loved ones. Shutterstock

Let’s Talk About Death

Of course, without a clear understanding of how close death is, and open conversation, planning for the final months of life cannot even begin. So providing good-quality care also means we need to get better at calculating prognosis and learn better ways to convey this information in a way that leads to being able to make a plan for comfort and support, both for the individual and their loved ones.

Advanced care planning makes a significant difference in the quality of end-of-life care by understanding and supporting individual choices through open conversation. This gives the individual the care they want, and lessens the emotional toll on family. It is simply the case that failing to plan is planning to fail.

We need to break down the discomfort around telling people they’re dying. The unpredictability of disease progression, particularly in conditions that involve frailty or dementia, makes it hard for health professionals to determine when exactly palliative care will be needed and how to talk about it with different cultural groups.

Read more: Passed away, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies – the many ways we don't talk about death

These conversations need to be held through the aged-care sector to overcome policy and regulation issues, funding shortfalls and workforce knowledge and expertise.

We need a broader vision for how we care for vulnerable Australians coming to the end of a long life. It is not just an issue for health professionals and residential care providers, but for the whole of society. Hopefully the royal commission’s recommendations will breathe life into end-of-life care into aged care in Australia.The Conversation

Davina Porock, Professor of Nursing, Director of Centre for Research in Aged Care, Edith Cowan University

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

Respect, Care And Dignity – Aged Care Royal Commission $452 Million Immediate Response As Government Commits To Historic Reform To Deliver Respect And Care For Senior Australians

March 1, 2021: The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care
The Australian Government welcomes the Final Report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which has today been tabled in Parliament, noting its significant and sweeping proposals for reform of the aged care sector.

As a country it is important that we all acknowledge that we need to do more to ensure senior Australians are treated with respect, care and dignity and have access to quality care as they age.

The Royal Commission’s Final Report recognises the immense effort of our nurses and carers but also brings the challenges of aged care services into clear focus. The Government is committed to transforming aged care and the Royal Commission’s monumental report, with 148 recommendations, delivers a challenging, but achievable road to reform.

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said it was clear from the Royal Commission’s work that while significant progress has been made, there is a clear roadmap to improve respect and care for our older Australians.

“I called this Royal Commission to ensure our oldest and most frail Australians could receive the respect and care that supports their dignity, and recognises the contribution that they have made to society,” the Prime Minister said.

“I warned when I called the Royal Commission there will be stories that will be hard to hear.  And that has been the case.  But at the same time, we have also heard heart-warming cases of dedication and with the challenges of COVID-19 in the past year, we need to acknowledge the hard work performed by our aged care workforce.

“As I noted at the time, Australians must be able to trust that their loved ones will be cared for appropriately and the community should have confidence in the system. This remains our clear goal.

“Today, the Australian Government is continuing to drive reforms with additional funding of $452.2 million to address immediate priorities in the sector.” 

These immediate steps will drive improved quality of care by strengthening aged care provider governance, and improved oversight of home care which will ensure senior Australians and taxpayers are getting value for money.

It will provide additional financial assistance for residential care providers so they can improve care, whilst building the much needed workforce of the future to support Australians who want to age in their own homes.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, reiterated the Australian Government’s commitment to the necessary reform of aged care.

“The Royal Commission’s report is a significant document, the culmination of a two year inquiry, and demands a carefully considered response,” Minister Hunt said.

“We thank the Royal Commissioners and commit to the two fundamental principles of respect and care for our elders. We responded quickly to the Royal Commission’s interim report and its special report on COVID-19, with additional investments in the priority areas identified by the Royal Commission.

“The Government announced a $537 million package in November 2019 in response to the Interim Report, with a focus on more home care packages, reducing the number of young people living in residential aged care, and improving medication management.

“As part of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care $1.8 billion was committed last year, including a $132 million package in November 2020. This funding is increasing access to mental health support and allied health services for aged care residents, and has provided significant additional financial support to improve infection prevention and control and workforce capability in aged care facilities during the pandemic.

“Today, we announce a further $452.2 million package as an initial step in responding to this Final Report.

“Our comprehensive response to the Royal Commission final report will be driven by the principle of respect and care and through the lens of five broad pillars –

1.       Home Care,

2.       Residential aged care quality and safety,

3.       Residential aged care services and sustainability,

4.       Workforce, and

5.       Governance.

“The five pillars will underpin the Australian Government’s response, along with its reform agenda and the implementation of those changes.”

1.       Supporting older Australians who choose to access Home Care

The Australian Government knows with more Australians wishing to stay in their own homes as they age, there is increasing demand for appropriate services to help them do so. This has been a key focus of the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Since the 2018-19 Budget, the Government has invested a total of $5.5 billion in new funding to deliver more than 83,000 additional home care packages, including 10,000 packages announced in December 2020.

Minister Hunt said service providers must focus on the senior Australians at the centre of their work, to ensure their needs are met and that the care they receive continues to be tailored as those needs change.

“The Australian Government will immediately invest more than $18 million to enhance the oversight of the Government’s Home Care Packages Program, to deliver better value for senior Australians and the Australian taxpayer,” Minister Hunt said.

“Our Government expects home care providers to offer real value for money – and for the delivery of care, rather than any unjustified administrative fees, to make up the lion’s share of the cost. I expect our increased oversight will put downward pressure on any unfair administrative charges while supporting providers to deliver quality and safe services.”

Enhancing oversight of the delivery of home care packages will lead to more care and services going directly to care recipients and reduce the potential for fraud in the system.

2.      Quality and safety in residential aged care delivers dignity alongside care

The Australian Government is committed to driving improvements to quality of care and safety for senior Australians.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the Government will review and enhance the sector’s quality standards with a focus on areas of concern identified in the report, including governance, diversity, dementia, food and nutrition.

“Funding worth $32 million will immediately be allocated to enhancing the capacity of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and greater regulation around the use of restraints in care,” Minister Colbeck said.

Eligible providers will be able to access programs to build their corporate and clinical governance across their Boards, to support increased accountability through strengthened legislative obligations. This will complement broader reforms, including improvements to provider governance and regulation.

“The use of physical and chemical restraint is a particular area of focus for the Royal Commission, and our Government has announced a number of measures to drive cultural change in this area following an independent review into the issue.

“In response to the Royal Commission, the Government will further establish clear new obligations and guidelines around the use of restraint to protect older Australians receiving care. A Senior Restraint Practitioner will be appointed to the Commission to lead an education campaign for the sector and general practitioners, to minimise the use of restraint, and bring practice into line with those in the disability sector.”

3.      Investing to drive improvements in residential aged care Services and Sustainability

Minister Colbeck said the Australian Government wants to ensure there continues to be stable and reliable residential aged care options for senior Australians.

“The Australian Government committed more than $14.1 billion in 2020-21 towards residential aged care, up from $9.2 billion in 2012‑13 and reaching an estimated $17.1 billion by 2023‑24,” Minister Colbeck said.

“In response to the Royal Commission report, the Australian Government will immediately invest an additional $189.9 million for residential care providers to provide stability and maintain services while the Government considers the recommendations of the Royal Commission’s Final Report.

“This support equates to around $760 per resident in metropolitan residential aged care, and $1,145 for those in rural, regional and remote areas.”

In addition, the Government will invest $90 million to support a Viability Fund to assist those facilities which are facing financial challenges, particularly as we see the sector start to restructure and respond to the changing choices of people to live at home longer.

4.      Workforce: growing a passionate and skilled aged care workforce

As more Australians are supported to remain in their homes, there will be an increasing demand for skilled personal care workers (PCWs).

In response to the Royal Commission, the Government will immediately invest $92 million to create over 18,000 places for workers between now and mid-2023.

“There will be a significant increase in activity to attract job seekers into the sector, and a new Home Care Workforce Support Program will provide additional targeted support, including assistance to employers to access support and training for new recruits,” Minister Hunt said. 

“The total value of measures to grow the skilled and professional aged care workforce is almost $92 million over four years.”

5.      Governance: oversight, standards and accountability – a new era

The Prime Minister said community confidence and the trust of senior Australians and their families would be bolstered by changes which bring transparency, accountability and oversight.

“Along with the measures to further develop residential aged care governance, our Government is also strengthening the arm of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, by appointing an Assistant Commissioner for Sector Capability with responsibility for leading a transformative change program,” he said.

Minister Colbeck said the enhanced oversight of the home care system will ensure senior Australians receive the quality of care they expect and that they get good value for the considerable investment made by families themselves and by Government in aged care.

In response to the Royal Commission, the Government will immediately invest $30.1 million to strengthen the governance of aged care providers and legislative governance obligations on the sector.

Minister Hunt also confirmed that work will immediately commence to replace the Aged Care Act 1997, providing a strong, fresh foundation to enable the reforms to be implemented and drive a cultural change with the focus on responding to the needs of senior Australians.

All of these immediate measures announced today are a starting point for further reform.  Careful consideration will be given to the Royal Commission report and the Government will outline the path to transform aged care in the Budget.

The Prime Minister said, “Ultimately I called this Royal Commission as one of my first acts because I believe we owe a duty of care to every older Australian to ensure they have respect and quality care.

“This report provides an honest assessment and an important roadmap to deliver still greater respect and care for our older Australians. As a nation we commit to further honouring our elders and giving them respect and care.”

The Government thanks the Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, for their considerable work in conducting the Royal Commission and all those who contributed throughout the course of the inquiry.

50% of Australians are prepared to pay more tax to improve aged care workers' pay, survey shows
Rachel MilteFlinders University and Julie RatcliffeFlinders University

The final report from the aged care royal commission this week was damning. Speaking of a system in crisis, it calls for an urgent overhaul.

The Morrison government has been facing difficult questions regarding which of the 148 recommendations it will adopt. It also needs to grapple with how to pay for the much-needed changes.

Read more: 4 key takeaways from the aged care royal commission's final report

On this question, the royal commissioners disagree. Commissioner Lynelle Briggs calls for a levy of 1% of taxable personal income, while commissioner Tony Pagone recommends the Productivity Commission investigate an aged care levy.

A 1% levy could cost the median person who already pays the medicare levy about $610 a year, while boosting funds for the aged care sector by almost $8 billion a year.

So far, the government has played down the idea of new taxes. There is a view this would be hard sell for a Coalition elected, at least in part, to lower taxation.

But as debate continues about how to make the changes we need to aged care (and not just talk about it), our research suggests many Australians support a levy to improve the quality and sustainability of our aged care system.

Our Research

In September 2020, we surveyed over 1,000 Australians aged 18 to 87 years, representative by age, gender and state. We wanted to find out how the pandemic influenced attitudes to health, well-being and caring for others.
Our findings indicated overwhelming public support for aged care reform, to ensure all older Australians are treated with dignity.

Read more: Paid on par with cleaners: the broader issue affecting the quality of aged care

The vast majority of our respondents (86%) either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” Australia needed more skilled and trained aged care workers. On top of this, 80% thought aged care workers should be paid more for the work that they did.

More than 80% also either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that nurses working in aged care should be paid at an equivalent rate to nurses working in the health system. Currently, nurses working in aged care are paid, on average, about 10-15% less.

The Crunch Point

Importantly, 50% of our respondents showed a willingness to pay additional tax to fund better pay and conditions for aged care workers. Of those willing to pay more tax, 70% were willing to pay 1% or more per year.

Elderly woman going for a walk.
Australians want to see more skilled aged care workers and for them to receive better pay. Paul Miller/AAP

This finding supports previous larger-scale research we undertook for the royal commission, before the pandemic.

Here we found similar levels of public support for increased income tax contributions to support system-wide improvements. This suggests politicians seem to underestimate the public appetite for improvements to the system, and people’s willingness to contribute to achieve this.

Changing Ideas About Economic ‘Success’

Our survey findings also highlighted a growing recognition among Australians of the importance of a broader range of social and economic goals.

For some time, economists, academics, organisations and peak bodies have been calling for a move away from traditional economic indicators (such as economic growth and expanding gross domestic product) at any cost, towards a broader definition of success.

Read more: Despite more than 30 major inquiries, governments still haven't fixed aged care. Why are they getting away with it?

This would see governments focus on policies that promote a more equal distribution of wealth and well-being, where the fundamentals of community cohesion are highly valued and our natural resources are protected.

We asked our survey respondents to rank the relative importance of seven key areas of public policy in framing Australia’s pathway to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • dignity (people have enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness)
  • nature and climate (a restored natural world which supports life into the future)
  • social connection (a sense of community belonging and institutions that serve the common good)
  • fairness (equal opportunity for all Australians and the gap between the richest and the poorest greatly reduced)
  • participation (having as much control over your daily life as you would want)
  • economic growth (an increase in the amount of goods and services produced in Australia), and
  • economic prosperity (full employment and low inflation levels).

The criteria ranked most important by the largest proportion of our survey respondents were dignity (20.1%) and fairness (19.3%).

Traditional economic indicators were not the highest priorities for the Australians we surveyed. Instead, economic growth and prosperity were only ranked as a top priority by 15.3% and 15.2% of our respondents respectively.

This suggests the general public recognises the importance of moving beyond the traditional markers of a successful society.

What Australians Want

Our research shows significant aged care reform is entirely consistent with the current priorities of the Australian public.

The burning question now is whether the Morrison government will step up to the challenge.The Conversation

Rachel Milte, Matthew Flinders Senior Research Fellow, Flinders University and Julie Ratcliffe, Professor of Health Economics and Mathew Flinders Fellow, Caring Futures Institute, Flinders University

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

It's A Girl: Rare Black Rhino Calf Born In Dubbo

Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is celebrating the birth of a critically endangered Black Rhino calf, born in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday February 24th 2021.

Keepers arrived at work on Wednesday to find the female calf standing beside mother Bakhita in the Zoo’s behind-the-scenes calving yard. Taronga made the announcement on Monday, March 1st, 2021.

“This is the fourth calf for experienced mother Bakhita, who is the Zoo’s most successful Black Rhino breeding female and also the first female Black Rhino born here,” said Taronga Western Plains Zoo Director, Steve Hinks.

Keepers are currently monitoring Bakhita and her calf via CCTV cameras to allow them plenty of space to develop their bond and ensure both mother and calf remain calm.

“This calf is especially important as it carries the legacy of our Black Rhino breeding bull, Kwanzaa who sadly passed away in 2020.”

“Kwanzaa played a prominent role in the Black Rhino conservation breeding program here in Dubbo, siring four calves, and it is such a great feeling to see his final calf arrive safely,” said Steve.  

Both mum and calf are doing well and will remain behind-the-scenes for the next couple of months. This time is important for both mum and calf to bond and to allow the calf to grow and develop before making the move to the Black Rhino paddock on the Zoo circuit.

“The team will provide regular updates on our newest addition via Taronga TV and social media whilst the calf is behind-the-scenes,” said Steve.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo has been very successful in breeding Black Rhinos throughout the history of the conservation breeding program which commenced in the 1990s. This is the fourth calf born into the program in the last six years.

“Our team that care for this species here at the Zoo are experts in their field and this latest success is a testament to their knowledge, husbandry skills and dedication in conserving this remarkable species.” 

Black Rhinos are currently listed as critically endangered with estimates that there are less than 6000 remaining in the wild.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is internationally renowned for its Black Rhino conservation breeding program and actively funds and supports conservation efforts for wild rhinos in Africa, Indonesia and India. Funding and support for habitat protection and restoration, anti-poaching and rhino protection units and the reduction of human-animal conflict are all vital to ensure Rhino species will continue to survive in the wild.

New Short Course Teaches You How To Innovate Like A Startup Founder

March 1st 2021

TAFE NSW and Sydney School of Entrepreneurship have launched their first collaboration to deliver an online short course available to people across the state.  
Innovate Like A Startup Founder’ begins March 23 and is the first online short course from the TAFE NSW and SSE partnership that is available to anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone and into the innovation space.
Sydney School of Entrepreneurship (SSE) is an unprecedented collaboration between all 11 NSW universities and TAFE NSW. SSE offers short courses and work-integrated learning experiences focusing on innovation, design thinking and entrepreneurship skills. 
SSE CEO Dr Sarah Jones said the one-week course is designed for those who want to develop an innovative idea and turn it into a real-world project or business. 
“Entrepreneurial education builds capability, enhances employability and contributes to the innovative advancement of communities,” Dr Jones said. 
“SSE and TAFE NSW are natural partners to offer this new short course to anyone interested in taking the next steps to further their career or developing their interest in innovation and entrepreneurship.” 
SSE alumnus Stephen Cooper worked as a photographer for 30 years before discovering an appetite for entrepreneurship. After starting his own photography company, Stephen decided to enrol in a Certificate IV in New Small Business at TAFE NSW. 
Stephen discovered SSE and jumped at the chance to enrol in two additional online short courses in innovation, Ideation and Structuring for Success.
During the courses, Stephen continued to combine his passions and developed the beginnings of an interactive app that gives users hands-on experience of photography in a real-world environment. 
“I made an app in Ideation which is something I hadn’t done before that took the knowledge that I had, my photographic knowledge and added different learning outcomes to create something unique,” Stephen said.  
It was through these short courses that Stephen learnt how to harness different entrepreneurial tools and skillsets to enhance his own business. Stephen is encouraging others to step out of their comfort zones and into the innovation space. 
“It’s not something to be scared of – it’s a great opportunity to look at the world in a different way. Being a short course, you’re able to achieve something in a short period of time, go outside your comfort zone and come up with something new.”
Students who complete the Innovate Like A Startup Founder course will receive a TAFE Statement of Attainment in Innovation Fundamentals. To enrol visit

Future Leaders In Focus For Women Of The Year

March 3rd, 2021
A nine-year-old who sewed pouches for bushfire-affected joeys is the youngest of nine rising stars in the newest category at the 2021 NSW Women of the Year Awards.

Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor praised the cohort of 7 to 17-year-olds in contention for ‘The One to Watch Award’ which highlights the efforts of girls and young women in NSW.

“Each and every one of these young women can be incredibly proud of themselves for standing up and standing out at such a young age,” Mrs Taylor said.

“From the nominees to the finalists, each of these future role models has had a look at the issues affecting the community around them and set their minds to making a real, practical difference.

“I was really touched to read the nominations that were submitted on behalf of these young girls, which came from teachers, employers, parents and neighbours, who spoke passionately about kindness, strength and determination.”

“These young girls are playing a significant part in helping us build a safer, stronger NSW for themselves, their families and the communities they are growing up in.”

Among the finalists are young women who supplied farmers in drought with groceries, led a robotics team and someone who represented Australia in acrobatic gymnastics.

The finalists represent much of the state including Sydney, the Hunter, Riverina, Western Plains, Central Coast and Illawarra regions.

The winner will be announced on 9 March during NSW Women’s Week 2021, ahead of the NSW Women of the Year Awards ceremony.

The awards, which are in their 10th year, provide a comprehensive and targeted approach to promoting gender equality. They are an initiative of the NSW Women’s Strategy 2018–2022 and form part of NSW Women’s Week held from 8-15 March.

  • Khawlah Asmaa Albaf (14), Young - Khawlah Asmaa Albaf embraced country life and represented a minority group through the NSW Regional Youth Taskforce and United Nations youth programs.
  • Daniya Atif Syed (16), Bardia - Daniya Atif Syed’s enthusiasm for technology saw her lead a robotics team and work on projects including a bionic hand to assist people with disabilities.
  • Charlotte Childs (14), Heddon Greta - Charlotte Childs is the president of an Interact Club, a youth section of Rotary, which runs wellbeing and fundraising projects for her school and community.
  • Molly Croft (15), Dubbo - Molly Croft displayed courage and strength through her journey with cancer, while actively participating in fundraising, mentoring and sporting initiatives.
  • Izabelle Kelly (9), Dubbo - At just nine-years-old, Izabelle Kelly sewed and donated more than 100 pouches for bushfire-affected joeys and encouraged her peers to support native wildlife.
  • Annabelle Kingston (17), Tootool - Annabelle Kingston launched the not-for-profit, ‘Fetch it for a Farmer’ to provide grocery vouchers for more than 20 farming families battling drought.
  • Zara Matthews (13), Kariong - Zara Matthews launched an annual mufti-day at her school to raise more than $20,000 for Kenyan orphanages and is also a Fred Hollows Foundation ambassador.
  • Amelia Munday (16), Berkeley Vale - Amelia Munday started a medical science university degree at the age of 13 and used her love of science to create accessibility apps such as an AUSLAN interpreter.
  • Ella Treanor (17), Oak Flats - Ella Treanor showed immense resilience to overcome an extensive hamstring injury and go on to represent Australia in acrobatic gymnastics.

Funding Boost For Councils For Youth Week 2021

March 2nd, 2021
Children and young people across the state will enjoy more opportunities to engage and participate in their communities thanks to a funding boost from the NSW Government ahead of Youth Week.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward said local councils will receive a share in $335,000 to help run events in their communities.

“Now more than ever it is so important for our young people to stay connected. COVID-19 has presented so many challenges and Youth Week gives young people an outlet to avoid social isolation,” Mr Ward said.

“Youth Week provides young people a chance to share ideas, attend events, voice their concerns, showcase their talents and connect with others.”

The NSW Government will support local councils across the state to run locally led community events, including an additional $76,000 provided to rural and remote councils to encourage even more young people from these areas to participate.

Councils will jointly fund events in their communities and young people will be involved in all aspects of planning, development and management of activities.

Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said councils play an important role in creating the next generation of leaders and Youth Week events are an opportunity for young leaders to get involved.

“Events will be organised by young people, for young people,” Mrs Hancock said.

“Young people will have a say on what activities are important and beneficial to them and will develop skills they can carry into their adulthood.”

In 2019, an estimated 73,900 young people participated in over 740 events held during the week.

The theme of NSW Youth Week 2021 is “Together more than ever” and will be celebrated from 16 to 24 April.

For more information and to register for updates, visit

NSW Premier's 2021 Reading Challenge Opens

March 1st, 2021

The annual bookfest that encourages a love of reading kicks off today.

Page turner: Students can now log their reading as part of the Premier's Reading Challenge.

Students from Kindergarten to Year 9 are being encouraged to jump into reading with the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge opening today for 2021.

The challenge encourages students across NSW to read between 20 and 30 books for leisure and pleasure, depending on their challenge level, from a reading list of quality literature.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last year almost nine million books were read during the challenge, a 5 per cent increase on previous years.

“It's important for children to discover what books have to offer because we know a passion for learning will set them up for the future," Ms Berejiklian said.

“Whether it’s picking up a book to boost your knowledge, relax at the end of a hard day, or look for inspiration from great figures, reading offers so much for anyone at nearly any age.

"I would love to see as many children as possible develop an interest in reading like I did when I was at school.”

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said last year an additional 38,000 books were read and 165 more schools joined the challenge.

“It’s not too late for schools and students to join the Premier’s Reading Challenge. All you need to do is register, pick up a book and start reading,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The ability to read well is one of education’s greatest gifts, and everyone involved should be proud that the challenge continues to grow and encourages all students to explore the many benefits that result from a love of reading.”

There is a particular focus in 2021 on ensuring representation on the reading list of literature by Indigenous authors and illustrators, with Bundjalung woman, author and illustrator Dr Bronwyn Bancroft providing this year’s promotional artwork.

More information about the Premier’s Reading Challenge and reading lists can be found on the challenge website at:

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NSW Youth Advisory Council 2021 Applications Now Open

What is the NSW Youth Advisory Council?
The NSW Youth Advisory Council (YAC) plays an important role in advising the NSW Government on issues that are relevant to young people across the state.

Membership of the YAC is open to all children and young people between 12 and 24 years of age residing in NSW. Applications are sought from diverse locations, backgrounds and life experiences.

The 12 member YAC provides a direct avenue of communication between young people and the NSW Government. 

The YAC meets regularly throughout the year to provide advice to the relevant Minister, and the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, on issues, policies and laws that affect children and young people in NSW.

Who is eligible to apply for the Youth Advisory Council?
All young people living in NSW from 12 to 24 years of age may apply. Applications are sought from diverse locations, backgrounds and life experiences.

What is required of me?
Council members meet once every 4-6 weeks throughout the year to discuss a range of topics and monitor and evaluate polices and legislation affecting children and young people.

Members also consult with children and young people, community groups and government agencies on issues concerning children and young people; and conduct forums, approved by the Minister on issues relevant to children and young people.

Tips for completing your application
Once you start your application you will need to complete it in one go, so you might like to prepare your answers in a word document and then copy and paste them into the application when you are ready. Make sure you answer all questions. The whole application process should take no longer than 10 minutes.

The main questions to prepare for are:
  • Question: What do you think are the important issues affecting children and young people in NSW? Please explain why you think these issues are important. (As a guide, your answers should be no more than 250 words.)
  • Question: What life experiences have you had which would assist you in contributing to the Council’s work?
  • Question: Details of any current or past voluntary or community activities you have been involved in.
  • We'll ask a few questions about you and your background.
Applications close March 14th.

Applications Now Open For Y NSW Youth Parliament

Applications are now open for the YMCA NSW (Y NSW) Youth Parliament: the state’s premier youth political empowerment program.

Aimed at young people in years 10, 11 and 12 or equivalent age, Y NSW Youth Parliament provides a platform for young people to have their voices heard through legislative debate and decision making.  

Y NSW is seeking representatives from all 93 NSW State Electorates to participate.  

Y NSW CEO Susannah Le Bron said it was exciting to be back following the program’s suspension in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

“COVID-19 has brought the direct impact of political decisions on young people’s lives and futures sharply into focus,” Mrs Le Bron said. 

“There’s never been a more important time for young people to stand up and be heard, and the Y is incredibly proud as an organisation to bring these voices directly to the seat of power in NSW.”  

Youth Parliament consists of an eight-day camp where participants are split in committees and develop policy positions ahead of four days of debate on the floor of NSW Parliament. Following the event, passed bills are formally presented to the NSW Government. 

Since its beginning in 2002, approximately six pieces of Y NSW Youth Parliament youth legislation have been passed into NSW Law, including the recent Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

Former NSW Youth Parliament participant, Hamani Tanginoa, encouraged young people across the state to apply. 

“Youth Parliament is an amazing opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and get their ideas on the board. If they’re looking to do more representation in their community or to get into politics it’s a perfect first step to get their name out there,” he said. 

“It helped me get a spot on the NSW Youth Advisory Council and support from past participants helped me secure the Youth Premier position in 2019. Youth Parliament kept the fire burning, and since then I’ve been able to continue speaking out on issues young people are facing on TV and in printed media.” 

Applications are open now and will close March 12 at 5pm.

Young people will be notified of the outcome of their application on March 22 ahead of an online introduction to the program on April 26 and finally, Residential Camp from July 3 to Saturday 10 July. 

NSW Youth Week 2021: 16 To 24 April

Youth Week began as a NSW Government initiative in 1989, and has since grown to be a celebration of young people in every state and territory across the country.

It is organised by young people, for young people, in communities across NSW and Australia. Following the success of the NSW Youth Week program, Youth Week became a National event in 2000. National Youth Week is jointly supported by the Australian Government, State and Territory Governments and Local Governments.

National Youth Week is an opportunity for young people to:
  • share ideas
  • attend live events
  • have their voices heard on issues of concern to them
  • showcase their talents
  • celebrate their contribution to the community
  • take part in competitions
  • have fun!
The NSW Government invites all Local Councils in NSW to jointly fund Youth Week activities in their area. As part of their funding agreement with the NSW Government, Councils agree to involve young people in all aspects of Youth Week, including the planning, development and management of activities.

Youth Week is managed at a state level by the Youth Week Coordinator (located in the Youth Strategy and Participation Unit, Participation and Inclusion, Department of Family and Community Services) in conjunction with the NSW Youth Week Committee. The Committee is responsible for providing advice on the management and operation of Youth Week in NSW.

Express Yourself Exhibition 2021

The talent and creativity of more than 40 HSC Visual Art students on the Northern Beaches will be on display for the annual Express Yourself exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum (MAG&M) from February 19th until March 28th 2021. 

The winners of the $3,000 Manly Art Gallery & Museum Society Youth Art Award and $5,000 Theo Batten Bequest Youth Art Award will be announced on Friday 19th of February. These two awards are granted annually to students featured in the exhibition.  

Artist statements will be displayed alongside the artworks describing the inspirations and influences that informed the works and the students’ creative journeys.  

Visitors are encouraged to vote for their favourite artwork in the KALOF People’s Choice Award which is announced at the end of the exhibition period. 

Express Yourself is also part of Art Month Sydney, March 2021. 

Exhibition: 19 February - Sunday 28 March 2021, 10am - 4pm daily (excluding Mondays) 

Teachers' preview: Friday 19 February, 5 - 6pm. Bookings essential via Council’s website 

Art Walk and Talk: Saturday 27 February, 3 – 4pm: Artists walk through the exhibition and discuss their works with the curator. Bookings essential via Council’s website

Half of our unis don't have bullying policies for students. This is what they need to protect them

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Zoe VaillQueensland University of Technology

Students are heading off to universities around Australia, whether for the first time or as returning students, with expectations of a year of learning, making friends and enjoyable socialising. For some students this will not be the case. Bullying by other students continues to be a serious but neglected problem at Australian universities.

Our recent study of 39 Australian universities found 20 did not have an anti-bullying policy relating to students. The other 19 had a mix of student-specific policies and staff policies with students added on.

Read more: Bullying in regional universities is a serious problem that needs addressing

Internationally, researchers have identified bullying at universities as a problem. Students have reported both traditional bullying and cyberbullying.

With growing numbers learning online, it is more important than ever to ensure universities are properly protecting their students. Students need accurate, relevant and usable information to counter bullying.

First, A Little Context

Despite the evidence of the harm bullying in universities does, it hasn’t received the same attention as bullying in schools or workplaces.

Australia has laws to ensure workplaces and schools have anti-bullying policies for employees and students. Each state’s department of education provides a template and guidelines on what must be included in school policy and how it should be communicated to staff, students and parents.

Read more: Not every school's anti-bullying program works – some may actually make bullying worse

Policies are a great prevention and intervention strategy as part of efforts to stop student bullying. The problem is this government-based approach to bullying has not included tertiary education.

So What Are Universities Doing?

The support provided for students who are bullied varies from university to university. But, overall, policy-based support is lacking.

The numbers found in our recent study are worrying. Only 66% of university policies defined bullying and 69% mentioned cyberbullying. Only 23% provided contact details for students to report the bullying to their university.

The study assessed universities’ policies for quality and usability of content. This revealed an important problem in addition to the overall lack of information. Where these policies exist, they lack accurate and usable information.

Young man upset by a message on his phone
Cyber bullying is on the rise but it isn’t mentioned in nearly a third of university anti-bullying policies. aslysun/Shutterstock

How Useful Are These Policies?

We checked the information provided against a list of 37 items, including:

  • definitions of bullying

  • practical information on how to report and what support is available

  • usability of information – is the policy easy to find and understand?

  • overall prevention and intervention strategies.

On average, universities in Australia included only 15 of the 37 items in their anti-bullying policies. This means the existing policies are not providing important information to students about bullying and what to do if they are bullied.

Analysis of the content universities provided to students in each state and territory clearly shows how widespread the issue is. All on average included less than half of the items they should have included. The averages were:

  • 9 of 37 in Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania

  • 14 of 37 in Victoria and Western Australia

  • 17 of 37 in Queensland and New South Wales

  • 18 of 37 in South Australia.

As well as the information left out, the information provided by anti-bullying policies was often incorrect or contradicted by the university’s other policies, procedures or information pages. This is especially true of the definitions of bullying. The words bullying, harassment and discrimination are often used interchangeably.

Read more: Sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination 'rife' among Australian academics

The usability of these policies is another issue. Some are hard to find. The policies also do not use student-friendly language and are difficult to understand.

Many policies do not use student-specific examples of bullying behaviour. This is especially true of staff policies that have had students added on. Information about reporting the bullying, and who they should talk to for advice and support, is often relevant for staff only.

How Can This Situation Be Fixed?

These problems should be tackled on several fronts, including:

  • state governments mandating that each university has a student-specific anti-bullying policy using a provided template so information is accurate and consistent across all universities

  • universities drawing on well-developed policies and practices such as those in the UK, which use online reporting forms and have student advice lines

  • universities actively promoting a bully-free culture on campus and online, and ensuring students know of the policies and their options.

Universities have a duty of care to students. This mean they must make sure students can learn in a safe and supportive environment. Universities must take a firm stance on bullying and ensure students know how to identify and report bullying, and trust their university to believe and support them when bullying does occur.

Read more: Brutal rituals of hazing won't go away — and unis are increasingly likely to be held responsible The Conversation

Zoe Vaill, PhD Candidate Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology

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

Youse wouldn't believe it: a new book charts the 11-year making of a 'people's dictionary' for Australia

Even the dictionary entry defining lamingtons proved controversial … shutterstock
Roslyn PetelinThe University of Queensland

Review: More Than Words: The Making of the Macquarie Dictionary by Pat Manser (Pan Macmillan)

In 1973 Pat Manser answered an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald seeking a research assistant to work on phonetic transcriptions for a dictionary of Australian English.

Now, nearly 50 years later, she has published her monumental account of the making of this dictionary, which in the words of Thomas Keneally, “paid the Antipodean tongue the great compliment of taking it seriously”.

If you’re a word aficionado, you’ll love this book. I could not put it down until I had read through to the end of the final section, which contains the wonderful launch presentation speeches for all eight editions of the Macquarie Dictionary.

Read more: Gogglebox and what it tells us about English in Australia

The Beginnings

John Bernard, a chemist who was appointed Associate Professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Macquarie University in 1966, had published a paper in Southerly in June 1962 about the need for a dictionary of Australian English. He argued that we need

a dictionary of our own because our idiom, usage, invention and especially pronunciation are sufficiently different from those of other Englishes.

In December 1969, Brian Clouston, who had founded Jacaranda Press in Brisbane, agreed to fund a dictionary that would be

aggressively Australian, not to be encyclopedic, not to be illustrated, to be in one volume, and to be ready in two years.

Bernard’s colleague at the university, Professor Arthur Delbridge, was appointed chair of the editorial committee to compile the book. He argued for a “people’s dictionary” that would “hold up a mirror directly to contemporary Australian speech and writing”.

The critical decision at the outset was whether to describe how people use the language or prescribe how people should use the language.

Should the new dictionary describe how language was used or prescribe its use? shutterstock

The father of English lexicography, Samuel Johnson, whose prescriptivist A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, felt “the duty of the lexicographer was to correct or proscribe”. The Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1928, had also been prescriptive.

However, the Macquarie editorial committee was “adamant that its dictionary was to be descriptive”, a move now standard in English language dictionaries. The committee wanted as comprehensive a dictionary as possible, so spoken as well as written words were included.

Johnson’s dictionary took seven years to compile. The Oxford dictionary took 70 years. Rather than two, Macquarie’s dictionary took 11 years.

The Macquarie lexicographers had started work in 1970; the first edition was published in 1981. The 8th edition, published in 2020, and its thesaurus contain more than 300,000 Australian words and definitions.

It is no surprise there were controversies to contend with in the years it took to compile the first edition.

Read more: Togs or swimmers? Why Australians use different words to describe the same things


The test for inclusion of words and expressions is currency. How often do you hear people say, “I’ll see youse later”? That particular Australianism is included in the dictionary because, as an entry explains:

English you does not distinguish singular from plural. The form youse does provide a plural, contrasting with singular you, but there is strong resistance to it, in spoken as well as written language, and it remains non-standard.

Other tests include whether a word is accepted by the language community, whether it’s used extensively, or whether it’s too individual or specialised. Is it likely to stand the test of time? Is the entry well supported by citations?

Language is forever changing, so the challenge for a dictionary is its capacity to remain up to date. Manser amusingly illustrates the growing acceptance of “literally” to be understood as “figuratively” with a quote from Amanda Vanstone:

But I can assure you that we are literally bending over backwards to take into account the concerns raised by colleagues.

Amanda Vanstone poses (literally) for a photograph for Australian Women’s Weekly in 2006. Tim Bauer/AAP

As the recipient of elocution lessons in my early education I was fascinated to learn about the dictionary’s engagement with spoken English pronunciation. Then there is the fraught question of the description of iconic foods. Should Lamingtons be dipped only in thin chocolate icing and coconut? Not necessarily. There are pink jelly lamingtons and, more recently, Tokyo lamingtons, which have apparently landed with flavours of matcha and black sesame.

Manser’s least favourite word is mansplain, Word of the year in 2014. She hoped it would be ephemeral … but it was recently just nudged out by “fake news” for word of the decade.

Read more: The horror and pleasure of misused words: from mispronunciation to malapropisms

A Cocktail

The dictionary was launched on 21 September 1981 as The Macquarie Dictionary because it would “add prestige to the dictionary to be associated with a university”, as the Oxford one was.

A special cocktail, the Macquarie, was created to mark the occasion: “Champagne, mango juice, Bitters, Grand Marnier, and a whole strawberry to float on the top”.

The reviews were glowing, except for one condescending and scathing review by the editor of the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Robert Burchfield, a New Zealander, accused the committee of a “charming unawareness of the standards of reputable lexicography outside Australia”.

The new dictionary sold very well: 50,000 copies in its first year and another 50,000 copies over the next 18 months. Within ten years there were 23 spin off editions.

Malcolm Turnbull avails himself of a dictionary in 2008 during parliamentary question time. Alan Porritt/AAP

Currently, there are more than 150 spin offs. There was even a Macquarie Bedtime Story Book for Children. There are, of course, other dictionaries of Australian English, such as Oxford University Press’s Australian National Dictionary, a dictionary of Australianisms first published in 1988. There was also an Australian version of the Collins British English Dictionary, which the Macquarie staff regarded as essentially British.

In 1976, the Macquarie offices moved to a former market gardener’s cottage on the campus of Macquarie University. Called “the cottage”, it sounds reminiscent of James Murray’s scriptorium in Oxford, where he oversaw the creation of The Oxford English Dictionary. In 1980, Macquarie Library Pty Ltd became the publisher and has held the copyright ever since, though Macmillan bought the dictionary in 2001.

Macquarie embraced Indigenous Australian issues with Macquarie Aboriginal Words in 1994 and the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia in 2005. As Ernie Dingo put it at the time: “This book is a White step in the Black direction”.

Manser, who went on to become a high-level public servant, has done painstakingly detailed research for this book, with great support from former colleagues. It is well written in short chapters. I would have liked to see an index and a time-line, but I hesitate to quibble in the face of such a splendid historical document.The Conversation

Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

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

Cat in a spat: scrapping Dr Seuss books is not cancel culture

Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP
Kate CantrellUniversity of Southern Queensland and Sharon BickleUniversity of Southern Queensland

Let’s start by putting aside the bugbear that it is even possible to “cancel” children’s author Dr Seuss.

As Philip Bump wrote yesterday in The Washington Post,

No one is ‘cancelling’ Dr Seuss. The author, himself, is dead for one thing, which is about as cancelled as a person can get.

Laying aside a multimillion-dollar publishing business, tattered copies of Dr Seuss books clutter children’s bedrooms around the globe. Parents still grapple nightly with the tongue-twisters of Fox in SocksHorton Hears a Who! or Hop on Pop, and try their best to keep their eyes open through a 20th reading of Green Eggs and Ham.

However, on Tuesday (what would have been Dr Seuss’s 117th birthday), the company that protects the late author’s legacy announced its plan to halt publishing and licensing six (out of more than 60) Dr Seuss books.

Few would know some of the discontinued titles, like McElligot’s Pool and The Cat’s Quizzer. However, many will recognise If I Ran the Zoo and And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which have been criticised for racist caricatures and themes of cultural dominance and dehumanisation.

In If I Ran the Zoo, young Gerald McGrew builds a “Bad-Animal Catching Machine” to capture a turbaned Arab for his exhibit of “unusual beasts”.

“People will stare,” Gerald marvels, “And they’ll say, ‘What a sight!’”. Chinese “helpers” with “eyes at a slant” hunt exotic creatures in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant.

reading recorded for Dr Seuss Day in 2019, removes the racist taunt. Instead of helpers who “wear their eyes at a slant”, the helpers “all wear such very cool pants”.

Nevertheless, pervasive racial imagery and subservient typecasting remain. That doesn’t mean Dr Seuss books should — or can — be scrapped altogether. Instead, these books present an opportunity to build awareness and teach young readers about history and context.

Portrait of man on colourful wall
The visage of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr Seuss, at the Massachusetts museum that honours his legacy. AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

Read more: In Dr Seuss' children's books, a commitment to social justice that remains relevant today

Censorship In Children’s Titles

Children’s books are among those most often banned or censored. In this case, removing the Dr Seuss titles recognises that he was writing in a time and place when racial stereotyping was commonplace and frequently the focus of humour.

Elsewhere, controversy over golliwogs as racist caricatures was confrontingly played out in Enid Blyton’s Noddy stories. In her original telling of In the Dark, Dark Wood, Noddy is carjacked by three golliwogs who trap him, strip him naked, and leave him crying. “You bad, wicked golliwogs!” Noddy says. “How dare you steal my things!”

Similarly, in the first edition of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa-Loompas are African pygmies who have been “rescued” by Willy Wonka and enslaved in his factory. When Charlie says, “But there must be people working there,” Grandpa Joe responds, “Not people, Charlie. Not ordinary people, anyway.”

Read more: Abused, neglected, abandoned — did Roald Dahl hate children as much as the witches did?

In his political cartoons, which appeared in a New York newspaper in the early 1940s, Dr Seuss ran the gamut of racist depictions, from African-American people as monkeys to Japanese characters with yellow faces and “rice paddy” hats.

In the now-suspended The Cat’s Quizzer, there is “a Japanese” depicted in conical hat and stereotypical dress. On Mulberry Street, a Chinese man with bright yellow skin wears geta shoes and carries a bowl of rice.

In early editions, the caption underneath reads “A Chinaman who eats with sticks”. In 1978, over 40 years after the book was first published, the character’s skin tone and braid were changed. The caption was changed from “Chinaman” to “Chinese man”.

Pages from a children's book
An earlier 1964 edition of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street features a character described as ‘a Chinese boy’ with yellow skin and a long ponytail, while a 1984 edition changes the character to ‘a Chinese man’ and alters his appearance. Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP

If I Ran The Library … By Today’s Standards

Dr Seuss’s work contains racism and xenophobia, but should we judge him by today’s standards?

Children’s literature has always been subject to socio-historical shifts. It is a product of its time and the context in which it is created. Viewed through the changing lens of history, childhood itself is an unstable concept.

In other words, it is impossible to separate children’s literature from the ideological structure of our world, and from the particular historical moment in which it is produced.

While Dr Seuss’s best-loved characters — the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, the Grinch — have earned their place in the canon, what we should be concerned about is the question of diversity in children’s literature.

We know from numerous studies that white children dominate children’s books, with talking animals and trains outnumbering the representations of First Nations, Asian, African and other minority groups.

Read more: Empathy starts early: 5 Australian picture books that celebrate diversity

No Quick Fixes

Although never perfect, other beloved children’s literature series have sought solutions to similar dilemmas.

Enid Blyton’s stories have been continuously revised since the 1990s. Noddy is now carjacked by goblins, and, in the Faraway Tree seriesDame Snap replaces Dame Slap, with Fanny and Dick getting a makeover as Frannie and Rick.

More recently, Richard Scarry’s books were updated to depict Daddies cooking and Mummies going to work, while the latest film adaptation of The Witches cast actor of colour Jahzir Bruno as the boy protagonist.

Not surprisingly, queer representation in young adult fiction is still problematic, with most queer stories authored by writers who do not identify as queer.

On one level, the decision to discontinue half a dozen Dr Seuss books because “they are hurtful and wrong” seems a simple gesture (and one with relatively small financial impact). Racism permeates the Dr Seuss catalogue, including The Cat in the Hat’s origins in blackface minstrel performances. Like Dr Seuss’s Yertle, it’s turtles all the way down.

Instead, finding meaningful ways to contextualise these historical aspects for young readers today might be a better focus, rather than withholding a few and letting more prominent titles slide by.

Kids and teens, like adults, need to see themselves in the books they read, and young white readers need to see other cultural groups as something more than illegal, or violent, or criminal.

As chidren’s literature expert Perry Nodelman notes: “Stories structure us as beings in the world”. In the same week a Lowy study found one in five Chinese Australians have been threatened or attacked, it could not be more important to invest in an inclusive future for our kids.

‘I literally know The Cat in the Hat by heart without the book,’ said Donald Trump Jr. Stephen Colbert’s segment finishes with suggested books by authors of colour.
The Conversation

Kate Cantrell, Lecturer in Writing, Editing, and Publishing, University of Southern Queensland and Sharon Bickle, Lecturer in English Literature, QLD rep for Australian Women's and Gender Studies Association, University of Southern Queensland

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

This week's news has put sexual assault survivors at risk of 'secondary trauma'. Here's how it happens, and how to cope

Mary IliadisDeakin UniversityBianca FilebornThe University of Melbourne, and Rachel Loney-HowesUniversity of Wollongong

The continuing media coverage of rape and sexual assault allegations faced by current and former political figures has put many sexual abuse survivors at risk of being traumatised all over again.

Widespread media attention features near-constant social media updates and extensive commentary. It means many sexual violence survivors are directly exposed to triggering and retraumatising content that resurfaces the pain of their own past experiences.

The impacts of sexual violence are often long-lasting and hard to overcome. How an individual survivor is affected can depend on a range of factors, including the level of trauma that a person has already experienced in their life, their relationship to the perpetrator, and whether the violence was prolonged or repeated.

Sexual violence can affect survivors in a many different ways: emotional, physical, psychological and social. The list of common impacts is vast, and includes fear, shock, grief, shame, confusion, denial, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, nightmares and other sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks, nausea, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal issues, reduced libido and/or difficulty engaging in consensual sexual activity, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, sexually transmitted infections or blood-borne viruses, unwanted pregnancy, social withdrawal, and difficulty trusting others.

All sexual violence survivors will respond in different ways. They may experience some, none or all of the impacts described here. These effects may ease over time, especially with appropriate support. Healing and recovery from sexual violence is certainly possible.

As an aside, we should note here that it is simplistic to view sexual violence purely through a trauma lens. This is not to deny the very real harms experienced by survivors, but rather to point out that framing sexual trauma as a series of symptoms requiring treatment puts the onus on individual survivors to “fix the problem”, and allows society to avoid grappling with the underlying causes of sexual violence.

Read more: Sexual assault: what can you do if you don't want to make a formal report to police?

What Is Retraumatisation?

Retraumatisation (also known as “secondary trauma” or “secondary victimisation”) is a common experience for many survivors. This can happen when a survivor is exposed to a “trigger” that reminds them of past sexual violence, causing the body to go into a fight, flight or freeze response. In other words, the body responds as if there is a direct and immediate threat.

Survivors can be triggered in many ways, and by things specific to their individual experiences or by more general exposure to discussions of sexual violence. This can occur at different stages, depending on each survivor’s individual recovery journey.

A woman sits on a bed looking out the window.
Retraumatisation is a common experience for survivors of sexual abuse. Shutterstock

The Role Of The Media And Authority Figures

Saturation media coverage of stories involving sexual violence can also trigger retraumatisation. This is particularly the case when people in power, including senior members of the government, publicly deny, downplay or refuse to act on allegations of sexual violence.

The rapid dissemination of information through media platforms re-exposes survivors to a stream of violence. It also reinforces how the structures of society sustain men’s power and privilege over women.

There are guidelines for news media outlets reporting on violence against women. These include respecting the dignity of survivors and their families, and providing details of appropriate support services at the end of a story.

Media outlets need to be mindful that many survivors will be exposed to their content. Respect and dignity should be extended to these survivors as well as those featured directly in the story.

Comments that seek to apportion blame to survivors, or which suggest they may be lying or exaggerating — evident in the media coverage of the historical rape allegations against federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he has denied — do not just discredit one survivor, but all who have been treated similarly.

Read more: Complex trauma: how abuse and neglect can have life-long effects

Retraumatisation can also be exacerbated by false myths and stereotypes, such as Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell’s advice, widely criticised as victim-blaming, that female cadets should avoid alcohol, going out alone and being “attractive”.

All of this serves to challenge the credibility and truthfulness of survivors, and intensifies the barriers that women encounter in having their stories heard in male-dominated institutions. This might remind survivors of their own experiences of being blamed or disbelieved, and thus minimise and silence their voices.

How To Guard Against Retraumatisation

Self-care strategies can help individual survivors manage their trauma during times of heightened media reporting or exposure to other triggers.

There are comprehensive guides available for survivors, and those who support them, outlining effective strategies for coping with trauma.

A young woman meditates in a park.
Self-care strategies can help. Shutterstock

Some common suggestions for self-care include:

  • limiting exposure to media content (and other triggers) on sexual violence

  • meditation, breathing and grounding exercises

  • speaking with a trusted friend or professional

  • writing about what you are feeling, such as in a personal diary or journal

  • taking care of your general health and well-being, such as through exercise and healthy eating

  • engaging in enjoyable and calming activities, such as cooking, being outside, reading, or spending time with a pet.

Read more: Speaking out about sexual violence on social media may not challenge gendered power relations

As renowned Black Feminist Audre Lorde said:

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

Self-care is an act of resistance in a world that is all too often hostile towards sexual abuse survivors. By engaging in self-care, we can continue to do the important (but difficult) political work of fighting for change to the underlying structural and cultural causes of sexual violence.

If this article has raised issues for you, please contact 1800 RESPECT through their toll-free national counselling hotline or online. You can also find support through Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Mary Iliadis, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Deakin UniversityBianca Fileborn, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, The University of Melbourne, and Rachel Loney-Howes, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Wollongong

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

I asked hundreds of people about their biggest life decisions. Here's what I learned

Adrian R. CamilleriUniversity of Technology Sydney

You make decisions all the time. Most are small. However, some are really big: they have ramifications for years or even decades. In your final moments, you might well think back on these decisions — and some you may regret.

Part of what makes big decisions so significant is how rare they are. You don’t get an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. If you want to make big decisions you won’t regret, it’s important you learn from others who have been there before.

There is a good deal of existing research into what people regret in their lives. In my current project, I decided to approach the problem from the other end and ask people about their life’s biggest decisions.

What Are Life’s Biggest Decisions?

I have spent most of my career studying what you might call small decisions: what product to buywhich portfolio to invest in, and who to hire. But none of this research was very helpful when, a few years ago, I found myself having to make some big life decisions.

To better understand what life’s biggest decisions are, I recruited 657 Americans aged between 20 and 80 years old to tell me about the ten biggest decisions in their lives so far.

Each decision was classified into one of nine categories and 58 subcategories. At the end of the survey, respondents ranked the ten decisions from biggest to smallest. You can take the survey yourself here. (If you do, your answers may help develop my research further.)

The following chart shows each of the 58 decision subcategories in terms of how often it was mentioned (along the horizontal axis) and how big the decision was considered in retrospect (along the vertical axis).

In the upper right of the chart we see decisions that are both very significant and very common. Getting married and having a child stand out clearly here.

Other fairly common big life decisions include starting a new job and pursuing a degree. Less common, but among the highest ranked life decisions, include ending a life – such as that of an unborn child or a dying parent – and engaging in self-harm.

Of course, the results depend on who you ask. Men in their 70s have different answers than women in their 30s. To explore this data more deeply, I’ve built a tool that allows you to filter these results down to specific types of respondents.

Read more: How to help take control of your brain and make better decisions

What Are Life’s Biggest Regrets?

Much can also be learned about how to make good life decisions by asking people what their biggest regrets are. Regret is a negative emotion you feel when reflecting on past decisions and wishing you had done something differently.

In 2012, Australian caregiver Bronnie Ware wrote a book about her experiences in palliative care. There were five regrets that dying people told her about most often:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

This anecdotal evidence has received support from more rigorous academic research. For example, a 2011 study asked a nationally representative sample of 270 Americans to describe one significant life regret. The six most commonly reported regrets involved romance (19.3%), family (16.9%), education (14.0%), career (13.8%), finance (9.9%), and parenting (9.0%).

Although lost loves and unfulfilling relationships were the most common regrets, there was an interesting gender difference. For women, regrets about love (romance/family) were more common than regrets about work (career/education), while the reverse was true for men.

What Causes Regret?

Several factors increase the chances you will feel regret.

In the long run it is inaction — deciding not to pursue something — that generates more regret. This is particularly true for males, especially when it comes to romantic relationshipsIf only I had asked her out, we might now be happily married.

Poor decisions produce greater regret when it is harder to justify those decisions in retrospect. I really value my friends and family so why did I leave them all behind to take up that overseas job?

Given that we are social beings, poor decisions in domains relevant to our sense of social belonging — such as romantic and family contexts — are more often regrettedWhy did I break up my family by having a fling?

Regrets tend to be strongest for lost opportunities: that is, when undesirable outcomes that could have been prevented in the past can no longer be affected. I could have had a better relationship with my daughter if I had been there more often when she was growing up.

The most enduring regrets in life result from decisions that move you further from the ideal person that you want to beI wanted to be a role model but I couldn’t put the wine bottle down.

Making Big Life Decisions Without Regrets

These findings provide valuable lessons for those with big life decisions ahead, which is nearly everyone. You’re likely to have to keep making big decisions over the whole course of your life.

The most important decisions in life relate to family and friends. Spend the time getting these decisions right and then don’t let other distractions — particularly those at work — undermine these relationships.

Seize opportunities. You can apologise or change course later but you can’t time travel. Your education and experience can never be lost.

Read more: Running the risk: why experience matters when making decisions

Avoid making decisions that violate your personal values and move you away from your aspirational self. If you have good justifications for a decision now, no matter what happens, you’ll at least not regret it later.

I continue to ask people to tell me about their biggest life decisions. It’s a great way to learn about someone. Once I have collected enough stories, I hope to write a book so that we can all learn from the collective wisdom of those who have been there before.The Conversation

Adrian R. Camilleri, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, University of Technology Sydney

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

Women are (rightly) angry. Now they need a plan

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and courtesy SEARCH Foundation
Michelle ArrowMacquarie University

Australian women have been most effective, politically, when they have harnessed their collective rage and turned it into action. They need to do it again now.

Like many Australians, I was delighted when activist Grace Tame was named the 2021 Australian of the Year. Tame is a powerful advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse, drawing on her own experience of being groomed and abused by a paedophile when she was just 15.

Tame’s #LetHerSpeak campaign, which she created with journalist Nina Funnell and Marque lawyers, has overhauled gag laws that silenced victims of sexual abuse. Tame turned her anger into action and made change.

Accepting her award, Tame declared she was:

using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced. Let’s make some noise, Australia.

Tame’s bravery inspired former political staffer Brittany Higgins to make some noise of her own. The revelation of her alleged sexual assault in a ministerial office and subsequent treatment by her employers has appalled observers.

Australian of the Year Grace Tame used her rage to effect change – and inspire others to do the same. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Most recently, it has been alleged a man who is now a federal cabinet minister (revealed on Wednesday to be Attorney-General Christian Porter) raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988. The response that best reveals the prevailing political culture was when Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was sent a letter outlining the allegation, airily admitted he hadn’t read it. He added that because the minister has “vigorously denied” the allegation, there were “no matters” that required his attention.

In a defiant press conference on Wednesday, Porter denied the allegations. He refused to call for an inquiry or stand aside from his role, saying

if I stand down from my position as Attorney-General because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print.

Read more: View from The Hill: No satisfactory way to resolve historical rape allegation against minister

To say Australian women are angry about the events of the past few weeks is an understatement. In a powerhouse address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Tame stressed the importance of turning that rage into action:

One voice, your voice, and our collective voices can make a difference. We are on the precipice of a revolution whose call to action needs to be heard loud and clear.

Australian women’s collective rage is not without precedent.

The women’s movement of the 1970s was born, in part, out of anger. Women were angry that they couldn’t always control their fertility, or parent their own children. They were angry they were paid less than men for the same jobs. They were angry childcare was hard to access. And, frankly, they were angry at men. Activist Kate Jennings articulated this rage in a speech at an anti-war rally in 1970:

There are a lot of people who feel strongly about the Vietnam war. But how many of you, who can see so clearly the suffering and misery in Vietnam […] how many of you would get off your fat piggy asses and protest against the killing and victimisation of women in your own country.

The women’s movement drew strength from talking. Sharing their experiences in consciousness-raising groups, they realised their problems were not personal but structural, demanding structural solutions.

It didn’t take long for the movement to articulate its core demands: free abortion and childcare, equal pay, equal job opportunities, and an end to media sexism. While they did not limit themselves to activism on these issues, they focused and shaped their work.

A Women’s Electoral Lobby March in 1975. The Whitlam government had been elected in part because of WEL’s advocacy. Women's Electoral Lobby

By early 1972, the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the movement’s moderate wing, ingeniously placed women’s issues on the political agenda by inaugurating their candidate survey. WEL members in every Australian electorate interviewed all political candidates. Not only did the survey train women in political lobbying, it laid bare the views of the (mostly) male candidates on women’s issues. It also gave women a political voice.

When the Whitlam government was elected, in part because of WEL’s advocacy, the women’s movement used their new leverage to achieve reforms on equal pay and contraception, and later made important gains in childcare, the funding of women’s refuges, and family law.

Whitlam appointed to his staff a women’s affairs adviser, Elizabeth Reid, who worked to make government more responsive to women’s needs. She, and subsequent feminists working inside the state, could not have exerted the influence they did without an active women’s movement agitating for change.

Surprisingly, violence against women was not initially a primary focus of the women’s movement. It emerged through consciousness-raising and so too did feminist methods of addressing it: rape crisis centres and women’s refuges.

Activism around sexual violence moved to centre stage: women marched against male sexual violence in Reclaim the Night Marches from 1978, and in the early 1980s feminists marched on Anzac Day “in memory of all women raped in all wars”.

Today, feminists are still campaigning against male violence against women. Over the past few years, we have mourned hundreds of women who have died due to family violence. We have witnessed royal commissions into family violence and into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. We have admired the courage of survivors like Rosie Batty. We gasped as serial sexual predators were exposed under the banner of #MeToo. But too little has actually changed.

Read more: Yes, the culture in Parliament House is appalling. But there are systemic problems that also need urgent reform

Women are angry and they are tired. Tired of mansplainers and misogynists, and those who bleat #NotAllMen instead of asking #WhySoManyMen? Tired of women who have benefited from feminism yet refuse the label of “feminist”. And tired of having to once again fight the battles that women in the 1970s and 1980s thought they had won.

Rage is politically potent, and useful. You only need to look at the ways Donald Trump fuelled his army of supporters to understand that. But if the lessons of second wave feminism are any guide, women not only need to get angry, they need to get organised.

The women’s movement was energised by its collective nature and common goals. Today’s female rage is fierce, but it is not yet harnessed to a clear agenda for action. Women need to create this agenda together, and then work out how best to achieve it.

We know so much more about women’s oppression today than women did in the 1970s, especially the ways in which different types of discrimination overlap and combine. We are perhaps more sceptical of the ability of institutions to effect change. And we are painfully aware that neo-liberalism has shrunk the state and limited the possibilities for activism.

But our scepticism, and our lack of attention, has extracted a cost. In the 1980s, government policy was routinely audited for its impact on women. But in the 1990s, feminist policy “machinery” was steadily dismantled.

Today’s Office for Women has a tiny staff and a low profile. It was not consulted on any of the major COVID-related policy shifts, like JobKeeper or changes to superannuation.

If our parliament is full of men who ignore, belittle and disrespect women, and women who enable these men, it is because we, the voters, have put them there. But we can also vote them out.

A women’s candidate survey, ready to roll out at the next federal election, is just one strategy from the women’s movement of the 1970s that might be worth reviving today. Women need to maintain their rage, but they need to turn it into political action, too.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

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

Friday essay: hidden in plain sight — Australian queer men and women before gay liberation

A mug shot of Neville McQuade (aged 18) and Lewis Stanley Keith (aged 19), taken at North Sydney Police Station in June 1942. Sydney Living Museums
Peter McNeilUniversity of Technology Sydney

It’s Sydney Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras festival time. LGBTQI people are enjoying what some call “gay or lesbian Christmas”. It’s not quite the same in the era of COVID, but a contained version of the famous street parade will be beamed into living rooms on Saturday.

The public face of Mardi Gras, which began in 1978 with a protest parade, is remarkable in a nation that has been deeply prejudiced toward gay and lesbian people. Part of the power of Mardi Gras for older generations was that it removed queer sexualities from the “secret” confines of semi-legal bar and club locations and private parties to the public street. Being on the front page of the newspaper no longer meant you might be going to jail.

Still, Australian queer people did not suddenly emerge in the 1960s and 70s, the years of gay liberation. Where were they before and how can they be identified? Because male homosexuality was criminalised, much can be discovered from the press and crime reports. Letters, memoirs, diaries, art, photographs and the memories of gay, lesbian, and transgender people also provide clues.

From The Bush To The Boudoir

The Australian colonies were marked by a shortage of women and the dominance of homosocial environments. Francis Forbes, former Chief Justice in the colony, when questioned at the so-called Molesworth inquiry into convict transportation in the 1830s, had to admit Sydney “had been called a Sodom”. Sodomy in the Tasmanian coal mines was also the subject of a British government inquiry.

Read more: Debauchery on the fatal shore: the sex lives of Australia's convicts

Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite. Wikimedia Commons

There is evidence of what historian Robert Aldrich calls “conjoined” same-sex male couples in 19th-century Australia, including the famous bushranger Captain Moonlite (Andrew George Scott). As he waited to be hanged in Darlinghurst Jail in 1880, he wrote of his fellow ranger James Nesbitt: “We were one in heart and soul, he died in my arms and I long to join him …”

Homosexuality was often associated with foreigners and cosmopolitan affectation. George Francis Alexander Seymour, future Marquess of Hertford, lived in Queensland briefly around 1895. Likely inspired by international dance sensation Loie Fuller, he shocked locals by wearing sequins and a veil for “skirt dancing” performances in front of “kanakas” (South Pacific men coerced to work in the canefields).

George Francis Alexander Seymour, future Marquess of Hertford, dancing. National Library of Australia.

William Lygon, later 7th Earl Beauchamp — the governor of New South Wales for a short time from 1899 — travelled with a retinue of good-looking footmen and lavished praise on the natural grace of Australian athletes and lifesavers.

He was disgraced as a homosexual by his brother-in-law in 1931 and became the subject of the famous statement by King George V: “I thought people like that always shot themselves.”

He subsequently inspired the famous novel by Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited.

Interwar Life: Fashion And Fancy

In the inter-war years, there was a marked queer presence in the worlds of Australian art, design, entertainment and retail. This was the period of art deco and Australian “genteel modernism”. Art Deco (called moderne or futurist style at the time) was inseparable from fashion and fantasy and frequently derided as an effeminate style — it has even been called the “International Style in drag”.

Cultural nationalist and the director of Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria from 1936–1941, J. S. MacDonald, claimed this type of art and design had been promoted by women and “pansies”, meaning homosexual men.

Smith’s Weekly, The Bulletin and the New Triad mocked the “wasp waists” and “goo goo boys” who worked in retail and enjoyed theatre.

Some queers worked as entertainers or drag queens. In NSW this was a summary offence of indecency (still used by police in the 1970s). Drag queens and cross-dressers had to wear male underwear or else risk arrest.

Cross-dressing was also associated at the time with street prostitution. A police mugshot from 1942 shows two cross-dressed male sex workers wearing women’s coats, one with huge rabbit-fur-trimmed sleeves, as well as a turban and makeup. The men still look very male and defiant, suggesting a part of their sexual charge came from precisely this lack of ambiguity; it was clear they were not women.

Clearly annoyed, one of the pair remarked to the tabloid Truth:

We were bundled out of the police cell, and snapped immediately. My friend and I had no chance to fix our hair or arrange our make-up. We were half asleep and my turban was on the wrong side.

Gay male artists and commercial designers in Sydney lived their queer lives discreetly on moderate incomes. The flower painter Adrian Feint, who lived in Elizabeth Bay, produced many bookplates depicting languid young men with a queer mood.

His disguised self-portrait etching of a dandy entitled The Collector (1925) carried the suggestion of eye and lip makeup, depicting archaic Edwardian dress, a top hat, a cane, plaid suit and cape.

Adrian Feint’s disguised self portrait. author provided

His remarkable cover for the upmarket magazine The Home (July 1929) featured a “Rum Corps” officer whom Feint transformed into a languid, heavily made-up beauty, recalling both the Ballets Russes, who were touring Australia, and the famous queer movie star Rudolph Valentino.

Cover of The Home journal, Volume 7 No.10. July 1 1929, designed by Adrian Feint. Wikimedia Commons

The culture of hedonism, promiscuity, heavy drinking, pub life and mixed-class socialising that characterised life in the colonies pervaded Australian gay life until recently. Pubs and clubs were crude, brash and fun. Bohemian ideas were also important. All sorts of behaviour were excused at the Artists’ Balls, which were held in Sydney from the 1920s until 1964. Gay balls were often accompanied by a blind orchestra (not unusual at the time due to war injuries) so the goings on could not be observed.

A 1925 sketch by Mandi McCrae of one such ball in The Home, September 1925, delineates a transsexual, two men with arms akimbo, and several gender-indeterminate figures. The press loved running stories of cross-dressed men whose dresses were so large they had to arrive in delivery vans. One told of a live bird in a cage worn as a Marie Antoinette-style headdress.

A sketch of an Artist’s Ball from The Home, September 1925. Author provided

Urban Subcultures

In the interwar years, a queer urban subculture coalesced for the first time in Sydney around art deco sites and buildings: city hotels, the Archibald Fountain by night for cruising, and the new high-density housing of Kings Cross, Potts Point, Darlinghurst and East Sydney.

High density housing helped foster the bachelor life. Peter McNeil

Boonara, a middle-class block of flats in Woollahra, built by a widow and a “spinster” in 1918, was let only to women and one male artist, William Lister Lister. Restaurants catering to a homosexual clientele included Madame Pura’s Latin Cafe in the now demolished Royal Arcade.

Many Australian artists and writers became expatriate in this period to escape wowserism, censorship and the anti-art tenor of Australian society. They included Nobel winning novelist Patrick White, who conducted one of the great same-sex love affairs with Manoly Lascaris from 1941 until White’s death in 1990. White spent his youth in England, writing from a desk designed by the queer interior decorator and later famed artist Francis Bacon.

Back home in the 1940s, a group of queer artists, dancers and designers lived in Merioola, a run-down mansion in Edgecliff known then as “Buggery Barn”. They included artists Donald Friend and Justin O'Brien, acclaimed costume designer Loudon Sainthill and his partner, the theatre critic and gallery director Harry Tatlock Miller. The landlady was the butch looking Chica Lowe. She provided a set-like stage on which residents performed their counter-cultural lives.

Wealthier queers conducted their lives at private dinners, where ironic cross-dressing provided entertainment. They used camp girls’ names such as Connie, Simone, Zena and Maude. Cross-dressing was a popular diversion for groups of gay friends, who hired country and beach houses for private parties around the country.

A queer sensibility can tell us as much as a queer identification at a time when non-binary sexuality could lead to financial ruin for both women and men.

Australia’s first interior decorator, Margaret Jaye, was almost certainly a lesbian, and one of the nation’s first industrial designers, Molly Grey, was photographed in 1935 with a Sapphic hairstyle and severe dress of oversize mannish collar, bow tie, and cuffs. Interior design, being connected to domesticity and the home, was one of the few professions where married women and gay men could work undisturbed.

Molly Grey photographed in Potts Point Sydney by Harold Cazneaux circa 1935. State Library of New South Wales

The author Eve Langley (who changed her name to Oscar Wilde by deed poll in 1954) and her sister June cross-dressed in country Gippsland when young, where they were known as the “trouser women”. Eve continued to wear mannish attire in her old age in the Blue Mountains.

Sydney: From Port To Gay City

World War II was a watershed for Australian queer identity. Historians such as Garry Wotherspoon have noted how port cities such as Sydney and San Francisco threw large numbers of young men together, away from their families, in new types of housing such as bachelor flats. These cities were the ones that later developed the first large homosexual communities, often in neglected inner-city areas, in the 1960s and 1970s.

World War II also threw into the mix female impersonators who performed for the forces. The Australian armed forces had 20 concert party groups and gave 12,000 shows in Australia, the Middle East and the Pacific. The Kiwi (New Zealand) Concert Party wore drag made from muslin, dishcloths and silver paper as well as real fashions. They continued to perform for nine years after the war ended.

Official war artist Roy Hodgkinson captured a moment of revelry among Australian military forces at a New Guinea Concert Party in 1942. Australian War Memorial

Academic Chris Brickell has made the important point that although many of the performers pretended to be co-opted for their roles, most were more than willing. Their drag acts “drew from, and subsequently inspired, gay civilians’ own drag performances”.

Lance-Corporal J. C. Robinson adjusting the wig of Private G. J. Buckham, female impersonator in the dressing room of the Kookaroos Concert Party, Torokina, Bougainville, 1945. Australian War Memorial

Read more: 'I didn't know that world existed': how lesbian women found a life in the armed forces

1950s Australia saw an increasing witch hunt around queer sexuality, fuelled by the churches, the demands of the police and Cold War anxiety about Communist inflitration. The tabloid press continued earlier sensational reporting: (“Degenerate Dressed up as a Doll … St Kilda Sensation—Man-Woman Masquerader”) with headlines such as “Police War on this Nest of Perverts”. Even the famed 1950s American muscle culture magazines were banned under strict censorship here.

Lesbian butch and femme subcultures had emerged by this time, in which one partner was styled in a hyper-feminine way, the other donning trousers and shorter hair. Writer Gavin Harris notes that Lillian Armfield, NSW’s first policewoman, claimed department stores blacklisted lesbians who were trying to “recruit” from among their “innocent” customers.

Blak And Queer

Queer Indigenous people have been prominent for several decades in art forms such as dance, where they contribute to new formulations of ideas of “blak beauty,” blak being a term consciously deployed by contemporary queer visual artists, including Brook Andrew.

The biography and survival story of Indigenous dancer and choreographer Noel Tovey (born 1934) charts a trajectory from abandonment and abuse to a life as a successful actor and dancer in London in the 1960s. Here Tovey mixed with gay circles and gained resilience and self-esteem.

Tovey described in his autobiography Little Black Bastard the Artist’s Ball in Melbourne as “the only night of the year when the police turned a blind eye to the number of drag queens looking for a cab”. Characters who might turn up there included “Puss in Boots” or a reclusive “Greta Garbo”: the latter refused to talk to anyone all night. Tovey was later involved with the spectacular Awakenings opening dance sequence at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

From Blending To Assertion

William Yang has been photographing queer Brisbane and Sydney since 1969. In that year, he photographed David Williams, or Beatrice, who performed in drag at the Purple Onion Club, Sydney (opened 1962), singing “The Sound of Mucus” and “A Streetcar Named Beatrice”. The clothes matched the crude titles: synthetic crinolines and huge feather hats.

Yang also photographed gays who wished to blend, whose clothes appear very ordinary, with a slight edge that can only be read through the focus on casual softness.

Calls for an end to the criminalisation of homosexuality in Australia appeared by the early 1960s, following the UK Wolfenden Committee report of 1957, which recommended decriminalisation. The concept of “gay liberation” spread from activism in Sydney with the formation of CAMP Inc group in 1970, and at the University of Melbourne in 1971, into the wider public domain.

Sydney’s notorious street protest, the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras (later Gay and Lesbian), took place in 1978. The first march was notorious for the arrests and the violence directed at the participants at the old Darlinghurst Police Station (now closed) and created a catalyst for further activism. Many more bars, clubs and community organisations opened and provided relatively safe spaces for LGBTQI to gather.

Read more: Friday essay: on the Sydney Mardi Gras march of 1978

In recent decades we have witnessed a massive shift from situational, private and criminalised sexualities to open, liberationist and perhaps also commodified ones.

But there are gays and lesbians everywhere if you look carefully in the past, even if not all were as striking or spectacular as the ones outlined here.The Conversation

Peter McNeil, Distinguished Professor of Design History, UTS, University of Technology Sydney

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

CSIRO Moves Towards Open Access For National Benefit

March 3, 2021
Research aimed at solving Australia's greatest challenges will be made increasingly accessible as part of a shift towards ‘Open Access’ models at the national science agency, CSIRO.
The changes represent significant and coordinated steps towards Open Access for a research organisation in Australia, and will see CSIRO lead the way in removing paywalls and enabling unrestricted access to its research in scientific journals, instead of readers paying journals to access CSIRO's published research.

The global shift towards Open Access aims to democratise science by ensuring research is available to everyone, not just those with journal subscriptions.

The 100-year-old organisation has begun the journey towards Open Access, expected to take a number of years, by signing transformative 'read and publish' agreements with publishers including American Institute of Physics, Company of Biologists, Elsevier, Microbiology Society, Royal Society, and Royal Society of Chemistry to publish CSIRO science for readers to access for free – many of which are the first of their kind in Australia.

CSIRO's editorially independent publishing business, CSIRO Publishing, also offers Open Access arrangements, including this month signing a number of agreements with the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) member institutions, as well as with CSIRO itself.

CSIRO Acting Chief Scientist, Dr Sarah Pearce, said CSIRO was removing barriers to access and increasing opportunities for their published research to make a difference in the world.

"At a time when people around the world are turning to science for answers, we're proud to be making more and more of our published research openly available," Dr Pearce said.

"In this way, everyone can read the science themselves and increase the impact of our research

"At the same time, we must maintain the very highest standards of peer review and publishing practices, so finding a viable way to transition the model for journal publishers, like CSIRO Publishing, towards Open Access is exciting.

"We can expand the reach of the outputs of scientific research while ensuring scientific integrity is protected."

CSIRO Chief Information and Data Officer, Brendan Dalton, encouraged other research institutions to join the movement.

"As the national science agency, sharing our research with the world is essential to supporting national and international research excellence and fostering collaboration, so we're proud to have signed a number of transformative agreements already, and look forward to increasing this number over the coming years as contracts come up for renewal," Mr Dalton said.

"Open Access ensures we can solve the greatest challenges by sharing new knowledge across borders, across industries, and across communities to stimulate innovation, deliver social benefits and drive economic prosperity."

CSIRO's Acting Chief Scientist Dr Sarah Pearce said the national science agency was moving towards Open Access for its published research

Neanderthals Had The Capacity To Perceive And Produce Human Speech

March 1st, 2021
Neanderthals -- the closest ancestor to modern humans -- possessed the ability to perceive and produce human speech, according to a new study published by an international multidisciplinary team of researchers including Binghamton University Associate Professor of Anthropology Rolf Quam and graduate student Alex Velez.

"This is one of the most important studies I have been involved in during my career," said Quam. "The results are solid and clearly show the Neanderthals had the capacity to perceive and produce human speech. This is one of the very few current, ongoing research lines relying on fossil evidence to study the evolution of language, a notoriously tricky subject in anthropology."

The evolution of language, and the linguistic capacities in Neanderthals in particular, is a long-standing question in human evolution.

"For decades, one of the central questions in human evolutionary studies has been whether the human form of communication, spoken language, was also present in any other species of human ancestor, especially the Neanderthals," said coauthor Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of paleontology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and co-director of excavations and research at the Atapuerca archaeological sites in northern Spain. The latest study has reconstructed how Neanderthals heard to draw some inferences about how they may have communicated.

The study relied on high resolution CT scans to create virtual 3D models of the ear structures in Homo sapiens and Neanderthals as well as earlier fossils from the site of Atapuerca that represent ancestors of the Neanderthals. Data collected on the 3D models were entered into a software-based model, developed in the field of auditory bioengineering, to estimate the hearing abilities up to 5 kHz, which encompasses most of the frequency range of modern human speech sounds. Compared with the Atapuerca fossils, the Neanderthals showed slightly better hearing between 4-5 kHz, resembling modern humans more closely.

In addition, the researchers were able to calculate the frequency range of maximum sensitivity, technically known as the occupied bandwidth, in each species. The occupied bandwidth is related to the communication system, such that a wider bandwidth allows for a larger number of easily distinguishable acoustic signals to be used in the oral communication of a species. This, in turn, improves the efficiency of communication, the ability to deliver a clear message in the shortest amount of time. The Neanderthals show a wider bandwidth compared with their ancestors from Atapuerca, more closely resembling modern humans in this feature.

"This really is the key," said Mercedes Conde-Valverde, professor at the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain and lead author of the study. "The presence of similar hearing abilities, particularly the bandwidth, demonstrates that the Neanderthals possessed a communication system that was as complex and efficient as modern human speech."

"One of the other interesting results from the study was the suggestion that Neanderthal speech likely included an increased use of consonants," said Quam. "Most previous studies of Neanderthal speech capacities focused on their ability to produce the main vowels in English spoken language. However, we feel this emphasis is misplaced, since the use of consonants is a way to include more information in the vocal signal and it also separates human speech and language from the communication patterns in nearly all other primates. The fact that our study picked up on this is a really interesting aspect of the research and is a novel suggestion regarding the linguistic capacities in our fossil ancestors."

Thus, Neanderthals had a similar capacity to us to produce the sounds of human speech, and their ear was "tuned" to perceive these frequencies. This change in the auditory capacities in Neanderthals, compared with their ancestors from Atapuerca, parallels archaeological evidence for increasingly complex behavioral patterns, including changes in stone tool technology, domestication of fire and possible symbolic practices. Along these lines, the study provides strong evidence in favor of the coevolution of increasingly complex behaviors and increasing efficiency in vocal communication throughout the course of human evolution.

The team behind the new study has been developing this research line for nearly two decades, and has ongoing collaborations to extend the analyses to additional fossil species. For the moment, however, the new results are exciting.

"These results are particularly gratifying," said Ignacio Martinez, a professor at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain. "We believe, after more than a century of research into this question, that we have provided a conclusive answer to the question of Neanderthal speech capacities."

The study, "Neandertals and modern humans had similar auditory and speech capacities," was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Mercedes Conde-Valverde, Ignacio Martínez, Rolf M. Quam, Manuel Rosa, Alex D. Velez, Carlos Lorenzo, Pilar Jarabo, José María Bermúdez de Castro, Eudald Carbonell, Juan Luis Arsuaga. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had similar auditory and speech capacities. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01391-6

Stark Warning: Combating Ecosystem Collapse From The Tropics To The Antarctic

February 26th, 2021
Eminent scientists warn that key ecosystems around Australia and Antarctica are collapsing, and propose a three-step framework to combat irreversible global damage.

Their report, authored by 38 Australian, UK and US scientists from universities and government agencies, is published today in the international journal Global Change Biology. Researchers say I heralds a stark warning for ecosystem collapse worldwide, if action if not taken urgently.

Lead author, Dr Dana Bergstrom from the Australian Antarctic Division, said that the project emerged from a conference inspired by her ecological research in polar environments.

"I was seeing unbelievably rapid, widespread dieback in the alpine tundra of World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island and started wondering if this was happening elsewhere," Dr Bergstrom said.

"With my colleagues from the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Queensland we organised a national conference and workshop on 'Ecological Surprises and Rapid Collapse of Ecosystems in a Changing World', with support from the Australian Academy of Sciences."

The resulting paper and extensive case studies examine the current state and recent trajectories of 19 marine and terrestrial ecosystems across all Australian states, spanning 58° of latitude from coral reefs to Antarctica. Findings include:
  • Ecosystem collapse (defined as potentially irreversible change to ecosystem structure, composition and function) is occurring now in 19 case studies. This conclusion is supported by empirical evidence, rather than modelled predictions.
  • No ecosystems have collapsed across their entire range, but for all case studies there is evidence of local collapse.
  • The 19 ecosystems include the Great Barrier Reef, mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Mediterranean forests and woodlands, the arid zone of central Australia, Shark Bay seagrass beds in Western Australia, Great Southern Reef kelp forests, Gondwanan conifer forests of Tasmania, Mountain Ash forest in Victoria, and moss beds of East Antarctica.
  • Drivers of ecosystem collapse are pressures from global climate change and regional human impacts, categorised as chronic 'presses' (eg. changes in temperature and precipitation, land clearing) or acute 'pulses' (eg. heatwaves, storms, fires and pollution after storms).
Michael Depledge CBE, Emeritus Professor at the University of Exeter and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Environment Agency of England and Wales, said the research had particular significance following the UK Government commissioned Dasgupta Review , which recently highlighted the catastrophic economic damage associated with biodiversity loss.

Professor Depledge said: "Our paper is a further wake-up call that shows ecosystems are in varying states of collapse from the tropics to Antarctica. These findings from Australia are a stark warning of what is happening everywhere, and will continue without urgent action. The implications for human health and wellbeing are serious. Fortunately, as we show, by raising awareness, and anticipating risks there is still time to take action to address these changes.

"Our paper will hopefully increase awareness that our ecosystems are collapsing around us. We can already observe the damaging consequences for the health and wellbeing of some communities and anticipate threats to others. Taking stronger action now will avoid heaping further misery on a global population that is already bearing the scars of the global pandemic."

The paper recommends a new '3As' framework to guide decision-making about actions to combat irreversible damage:
  1. Awareness of the importance of the ecosystem and the need for its protection;
  2. Anticipation of the risks from current and future pressures
  3. Action on reducing the pressures to avoid or lessen their impacts

Protecting pencil pines from fire in the Southwest Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area: by mapping vegetation values against fire sensitivity (to identify fire-prone Gondwanan conifer communities), maintaining an area specific awareness of the shifting causation of bushfires (increasing frequency of dry lightning strikes), and developing new action strategies to lessen the pressure of unregulated fire (installing sprinkler systems), conservation managers established and used Awareness and Anticipation to formulate positive Action.

The scientific team concluded that in the near future, even apparently resilient ecosystems are likely to suffer collapse as the intensity and frequency of pressures increase.

"Anticipating and preparing for future change is necessary for most ecosystems, unless we are willing to accept a high risk of loss," Dr Bergstrom said.

"Protecting the iconic ecosystems we have highlighted is not just for the animals and plants that live there. Our economic livelihoods, and therefore ultimately our survival, are intimately connected to the natural world."

Dana M. Bergstrom, Barbara C. Wienecke, John Hoff, Lesley Hughes, David B. Lindenmayer, Tracy D. Ainsworth, Christopher M. Baker, Lucie Bland, David M. J. S. Bowman, Shaun T. Brooks, Josep G. Canadell, Andrew J. Constable, Katherine A. Dafforn, Michael H. Depledge, Catherine R. Dickson, Norman C. Duke, Kate J. Helmstedt, Andrés Holz, Craig R. Johnson, Melodie A. McGeoch, Jessica Melbourne‐Thomas, Rachel Morgain, Emily Nicholson, Suzanne M. Prober, Ben Raymond, Euan G. Ritchie, Sharon A. Robinson, Katinka X. Ruthrof, Samantha A. Setterfield, Carla M. Sgrò, Jonathan S. Stark, Toby Travers, Rowan Trebilco, Delphi F. L. Ward, Glenda M. Wardle, Kristen J. Williams, Phillip J. Zylstra, Justine D. Shaw. Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic. Global Change Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15539

Half A Trillion Corals: Coral Count Prompts Rethink Of Extinction Risks

March 1st, 2021
For the first time, scientists have assessed how many corals there are in the Pacific Ocean -- and evaluated their risk of extinction. While the answer to "how many coral species are there?" is 'Googleable', until now scientists didn't know how many individual coral colonies there are in the world.

"In the Pacific, we estimate there are roughly half a trillion corals," said the study lead author, Dr Andy Dietzel from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (Coral CoE at JCU).

"This is about the same number of trees in the Amazon, or birds in the world."

The results are crucial for the research and conservation of corals and coral reefs as they decline across the world due to the effects of climate change.

"We need to know the abundance of a species to assess its risk of extinction," Dr Dietzel said. "However, there is very little data on most of Earth's wild animal and plant species -- not just corals."

Dr Dietzel said the eight most common coral species in the region each have a population size greater than the 7.8 billion people on Earth.

The findings suggest that while a local loss of coral can be devastating to coral reefs, the global extinction risk of most coral species is lower than previously estimated.

Extinctions could instead unfold over a much longer timeframe because of the broad geographic ranges and huge population sizes of many coral species.

Co-author Professor Sean Connolly, from Coral CoE at JCU and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said the study's new analysis of the 80 species considered by the IUCN to have an elevated extinction risk shows that 12 of those species have estimated population sizes of more than one billion colonies.

"As an example, the finger-coral, Porites nigrescens, ranks amongst the ten most abundant species we examined. It's also not considered to be highly susceptible to coral bleaching -- yet it is currently listed by IUCN as vulnerable to global extinction," Prof Connolly said.

Co-author Professor Michael Bode from Coral CoE at JCU and the Queensland University of Technology said, "One third of the rarest species in our analysis -- covering the bottom ten percent of species abundances -- are nonetheless listed by the IUCN as being of Least Concern."

The study measured the population sizes of more than 300 individual coral species on reefs across the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia to French Polynesia. The scientists used a combination of coral reef habitat maps and counts of coral colonies to estimate species abundances.

Co-author Professor Terry Hughes from Coral CoE at JCU said the study results have major implications for managing and restoring coral reefs.

"We counted an average of 30 corals per square metre of reef habitat. This translates into tens of billions of corals on the Great Barrier Reef -- even after recent losses from climate extremes," Prof Hughes said.

"Coral restoration is not the solution to climate change. You would have to grow about 250 million adult corals to increase coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef by just one percent."

He said the study highlights the opportunity for action to mitigate the threats to reef species -- and well before climate change causes global extinctions -- to make an eventual recovery of reef coral assemblages possible.

"The challenge now is to protect wild populations of corals, because we could never replace more than a tiny percentage of them. Prevention is better than cure," Prof Hughes said.

"Given the huge size of these coral populations, it is very unlikely that they face imminent extinction. There is still time to protect them from anthropogenic heating, but only if we act quickly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

The world-first study measured around half a trillion corals in the Pacific. Image credit of Amphiprion on the drop off: David Williamson.

Andreas Dietzel, Michael Bode, Sean R. Connolly, Terry P. Hughes. The population sizes and global extinction risk of reef-building coral species at biogeographic scales. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01393-4

Hotter, Drier, CRISPR: Editing For Climate Change

March 1st, 2021
Gene editing technology will play a vital role in climate-proofing future crops to protect global food supplies, according to scientists at The University of Queensland.

Biotechnologist Dr Karen Massel from UQ's Centre for Crop Science has published a review of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 to safeguard food security in farming systems under stress from extreme and variable climate conditions.

Dr Karen Massel from UQ’s Centre for Crop Science 

"Farmers have been manipulating the DNA of plants using conventional breeding technologies for millennia, and now with new gene-editing technologies, we can do this with unprecedented safety, precision and speed," Dr Massel said.

"This type of gene editing mimics the way cells repair in nature."

Her review recommended integrating CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing into modern breeding programs for crop improvement in cereals.

Energy-rich cereal crops such as wheat, rice, maize and sorghum provide two-thirds of the world's food energy intake.

"Just 15 plant crops provide 90 per cent of the world's food calories," Dr Massel said.

"It's a race between a changing climate and plant breeders' ability to produce crops with genetic resilience that grow well in adverse conditions and have enriched nutritional qualities.

"The problem is that it takes too long for breeders to detect and make that genetic diversity available to farmers, with a breeding cycle averaging about 15 years for cereal crops.

"Plus CRISPR allows us to do things we can't do through conventional breeding in terms of generating novel diversity and improving breeding for desirable traits."

In proof-of-concept studies, Dr Massel and colleagues at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) applied gene editing technology to sorghum and barley pre-breeding programs.

"In sorghum, we edited the plant's genes to unlock the digestibility level of the available protein and to boost its nutritional value for humans and livestock," she said.

"We've also used gene-editing to modify the canopy architecture and root architecture of both sorghum and barley, to improve water use efficiency."

Dr Massel's research also compared the different genome sequences of cereals -- including wild variants and ancestors of modern cereals -- to differences in crop performance in different climates and under different kinds of stresses.

"Wild varieties of production crops serve as a reservoir of genetic diversity, which is especially valuable when it comes to climate resilience," she said.

"We are looking for genes or gene networks that will improve resilience in adverse growing climates.

"Once a viable gene variant is identified, the trick is to re-create it directly in high-performing cultivated crops without disrupting the delicate balance of genetics related to production traits.

"These kinds of changes can be so subtle that they are indistinguishable from the naturally occurring variants that inspired them."

In 2019, Australia's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator deregulated gene-editing, differentiating it from genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.

Gene edited crops are not yet grown in Australia, but biosecurity and safety risk assessments of the technology are currently being undertaken.

This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant with support from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and The University of Queensland.

Karen Massel, Yasmine Lam, Albert C. S. Wong, Lee T. Hickey, Andrew K. Borrell, Ian D. Godwin. Hotter, drier, CRISPR: the latest edit on climate change. Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 2021; DOI: 10.1007/s00122-020-03764-0

Retroviruses Are Re-Writing The Koala Genome And Causing Cancer

February 26, 2021: Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)
Koalas are facing multiple environmental and health issues which threaten their survival. Along with habitat loss - accelerated by last year's devastating bush fires - domestic dog attacks and road accidents, they suffer from deadly chlamydial infections and extremely high frequency of cancer. Scientists now demonstrate that a retrovirus invading the koala germline explains the high frequency of koala cancer.

The koala retrovirus (KoRV) is a virus which, like other retroviruses such as HIV, inserts itself into the DNA of an infected cell. At some point in the past 50,000 years, KoRV has infected the egg or sperm cells of koalas, leading to offspring that carry the retrovirus in every cell in their body. The entire koala population of Queensland and New South Wales in Australia now carry copies of KoRV in their genome. All animals, including humans, have gone through similar "germ line" infections by retroviruses at some point in their evolutionary history and contain many ancient retroviruses in their genomes. These retroviruses have, over millions of years, mutated into degraded, inactive forms that are no longer harmful to the host. Since in most animal species this process occurred millions of years ago, the immediate health effects on the host at that time are unknown but it has been suspected for some time that the invasion of a genome by a retrovirus may have considerable detrimental health effects. The koala is at a very early stage of this process when the retrovirus is still active and these health effects can be studied.

Since retroviruses can cause cancer, it was thought that there is a link between KoRV and the high frequency of lymphoma, leukemia and other cancers in koalas from northern Australia. To investigate this link, scientists at the Leibniz-IZW sequenced DNA from wild koalas suffering from cancer. This allowed them to accurately detect the number of copies of KoRV in the koala genomes and identify the precise locations where the retrovirus had inserted its DNA. By comparing this information between healthy and tumour tissues in single koalas, and by comparing insertion sites between koala individuals, they found multiple links between KoRV and genes known to be involved in the kind of cancers to which koalas are prone.

"Each koala carries around 80 -- 100 inherited copies of KoRV in its genome. The genomic locations of most of these are not shared between koalas, indicating a rapid expansion and accumulation of KoRV copies in the population. Each time a retrovirus copies and re-inserts itself into the genome, it causes a mutation, potentially disrupting gene expression, which could be detrimental to the host," says Prof Alex Greenwood, Head of Department of Wildlife Diseases at the Leibniz-IZW. This means that by frequently copying itself to new locations in the genome, KoRV is currently conferring a high mutational load on the koala population. Tumour tissues contain many new copies of KoRV, indicating that KoRV is more active in tumour cells. These copies generally were located close to genes associated with cancer. New KoRV insertions in tumour tissues affected the expression of genes in their vicinity. Such changes in gene expression associated with cancer can cause increased cell growth and proliferation, which leads to tumours. Although other factors may also contribute to cancer in koalas, the mutational burden from KoRV likely increases the frequency of cells becoming cancerous and may shorten the time for cancer to develop.

In one koala, a copy of KoRV was found that had incorporated an entire cancer-related gene from the koala genome into its DNA sequence. This greatly increased expression of this gene and most likely caused cancer in this particular koala. If this mutated virus is transmissible, it would be of grave concern for koala conservation efforts. Comparing the genomic location of KoRVs between koalas also suggests that KoRV may predispose related koalas to particular tumours, with koalas sharing KoRV insertions in specific cancer-related genes suffering from similar types of cancer which they can pass on to their offspring. Across all koalas studied, there were "hot spots" in the genome where KoRV frequently inserts itself. These hot spots were also located in proximity to genes associated with cancer. "In summary then, we find multiple links at the genomic level between cancer-related genes and KoRV, revealing ways in which KoRV underlies the high frequency of cancer in koalas," explains Gayle McEwen, scientist at the Leibniz-IZW.

The results highlight the detrimental health consequences that wildlife species can suffer following germline infection by retroviruses. Germline invasions have been repeatedly experienced during vertebrate evolution and have shaped vertebrate genomes, including the lineage leading to modern humans. These were most likely associated with severe detrimental health effects, which must be endured and overcome to ensure species survival. The scientists at the Leibniz-IZW have previously shown that old retroviruses present in the koala genome aid the rapid degradation of KoRV. The koala finds itself in a race to survive the effects of KoRV long enough for the virus to be degraded. Considering the many threats to koalas, it is a race they need to win.

Gayle K. McEwen, David E. Alquezar-Planas, Anisha Dayaram, Amber Gillett, Rachael Tarlinton, Nigel Mongan, Keith J. Chappell, Joerg Henning, Milton Tan, Peter Timms, Paul R. Young, Alfred L. Roca, Alex D. Greenwood. Retroviral integrations contribute to elevated host cancer rates during germline invasion. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21612-7

Coffee For The Birds: Connecting Bird-Watchers With Shade-Grown Coffee

March 2nd, 2021
Since 1970, bird populations in North America have declined by approximately 2.9 billion birds, a loss of more than one in four birds. Factors in this decline include habitat loss and ecosystem degradation from human actions on the landscape.

At the same time, enthusiasm for bird-watching has grown, with more than 45 million recreational participants in the United States alone. Now, researchers are looking into how to mobilise these bird enthusiasts to help limit bird population declines.

Enter bird-friendly coffee.

Bird-friendly coffee is certified organic, but its impact on the environment goes further than that: it is cultivated specifically to maintain bird habitats instead of clearing vegetation that birds and other animals rely on.

Researchers from Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment, Cornell University, and Columbia University explored whether bird-friendly coffee is on the radar of bird-watchers: are they drinking it and, if not, why not? The study results are published in the journal People and Nature.

"We know bird-watchers benefit from having healthy, diverse populations of birds, and they tend to be conservation-minded folks," explained Assistant Professor Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech's Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. "My colleagues and I wanted to dig into this key audience to determine their interest in bird-friendly coffee."

Bird-friendly coffee is shade-grown, meaning that it is grown and harvested under the canopy of mature trees, a process that parallels how coffee was historically grown. But with most farms in Central and South America and the Caribbean converting to full-sun operations, crucial bird habitats for migrating and resident bird species are being lost.

"Over recent decades, most of the shade coffee in Latin America has been converted to intensively managed row monocultures devoid of trees or other vegetation," explained Amanda Rodewald, the Garvin Professor and senior director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "As a result, many birds cannot find suitable habitats and are left with poor prospects of surviving migration and successfully breeding."

Purchasing shade-grown coffee is one of seven simple actions that people can take as a step toward returning bird populations to their previous numbers. "But even simple actions are sometimes not taken by people who you would expect to be on board. Human behavior is complex -- driven by knowledge, attitudes, skills, and many other factors," explained Dayer, an affiliate of the Global Change Center housed in Virginia Tech's Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

The research team surveyed more than 900 coffee-drinking bird-watchers to understand bird-friendly coffee behaviour among bird-watchers.

"One of the most significant constraints to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among those surveyed was a lack of awareness," said Alicia Williams, lead author and former research assistant at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech. "This includes limits on understanding what certifications exist, where to buy bird-friendly coffee, and how coffee production impacts bird habitat."

"I was surprised to see that only 9 percent of those surveyed purchased bird-friendly coffee and less than 40 percent were familiar with it," Williams added. "It was also interesting, though not surprising, that a large number of our respondents reported that the flavour or aroma of coffee was an important consideration in their coffee purchases, which could be a useful attribute of bird-friendly coffee to stress going forward."

The next step to increasing awareness about shade-grown coffee and its potential impact on bird populations may include increased advertising for bird-friendly coffee, more availability of bird-friendly coffee, and collaborations between public-facing conservation organizations and coffee distributors.

Alicia Williams, Ashley A. Dayer, J. Nicolas Hernandez‐Aguilera, Tina B. Phillips, Holly Faulkner‐Grant, Miguel I. Gómez, Amanda D. Rodewald. Tapping birdwatchers to promote bird‐friendly coffee consumption and conserve birds. People and Nature, 2021; DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10191

Detective Work Inside Plant Cells Finds A Key Piece Of The C4 Photosynthesis Puzzle

March 2nd, 2021
An impressive body of evidence published this week reveals the answer to a mystery that has puzzled plant scientists for more than 30 years: the role of the molecule suberin in the leaves of some of our most productive crops. This discovery could be the key to engineering better crops and ensuring future food security.

Highly productive crops such as sugarcane, sorghum and maize belong to the type of plants that use the more efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway to transform water, sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugars.

Scientists have known for a long time that one of key factors that makes C4 photosynthesis more efficient is that they have the capacity to enclose CO2 inside a gas tight compartment in the leaf tissue, making it easier for the inefficient photosynthetic enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon. "The big question we haven't been able to answer until now is what makes this compartment gas tight so CO2 can't escape?" says lead author Dr Florence Danila, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP) at the Australian National University (ANU).

"Our research provides several pieces of evidence about the responsibility of suberin on making the leaf cells of C4 plants, gas tight. Suberin forms a layer that keeps CO2 gas inside a layer of cells called the bundle sheath. We have grown mutant plants that don't develop this layer and we have seen the deleterious effect this mutation has in their growth and in their capacity to photosynthesise," says Dr Danila, who works at ANU as part of the international C4 Rice Project, led by Oxford University.

This discovery is the result of many years of work, a bit of serendipity and access to modern techniques that were not available until recently, including faster and cheaper genome mapping, high throughput phenotyping, electron microscopy and gas exchange measures.

"We have known for a long time that suberin is in the bundle sheath cells of the C4 plants leaves. However, we didn't have the experimental evidence to prove its essential role for C4 photosynthesis. Now, for the first time, we have been able to see clearly under the microscope, the anatomical differences between plants with and without suberin. The key element in this discovery is that we found a mutant population of green foxtail millet (Setaria viridis) that didn't have the gene that produces suberin," says CoETP's Deputy Director Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, one of the co-authors of this study.

This elusive mutant population was generated in the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) by screening hundreds of plants under low CO2 conditions and then selecting those plants that didn't perform well.

"Using high throughput screening, we identified only three mutants with impaired photosynthetic capacity. We sent the seeds to ANU in Canberra and they grew and analysed them using the electron microscope and gas exchange techniques. To our surprise, one of these mutants was the one that lacked suberin, says Dr Rob Coe, who was in charge of the screening process at IRRI.

Centre Director and co-author of the paper Bob Furbank says that "this is a very exciting discovery, one of the last mechanistic pieces of the C4 photosynthesis puzzle, as Hal Hatch, the discoverer of the C4 pathway noted some time ago."

"It shows that science discoveries can take a long time to be solved and that the recipe for eureka moments like this are the collaborative work of several experts combined with modern technologies, plus a pinch of serendipity. It seems that all the stars were aligned this time for us, but it was certainly a hard nut to crack," he says.

Dr Danila says that the team's next steps involve applying their discovery and new developed methodologies to projects like the C4 rice project that aims to convert rice (a C3 photosynthesis crop) into the more productive C4 path.

"We will also focus on another unsolved mystery: the case of a group of grasses which use C4 photosynthesis but don't have suberin," she says.

This research has been funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, which aims to improve the process of photosynthesis to increase the production of major food crops such as sorghum, wheat and rice.

The team at the glasshouses with sorghum plants. l-r Dr Florence Danila, Soumi Bala, Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, Dr Rob Coe and Professor Robert Furbank from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis. Image Credit: Natalia Bateman, CoETP

The research started as part of the C4 Rice Project consortium, which comprises the Academia Sinica, Australian National University, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Leibniz Institute of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Washington State University and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Oxford.

Florence R. Danila, Vivek Thakur, Jolly Chatterjee, Soumi Bala, Robert A. Coe, Kelvin Acebron, Robert T. Furbank, Susanne von Caemmerer, William Paul Quick. Bundle sheath suberisation is required for C4 photosynthesis in a Setaria viridis mutant. Communications Biology, 2021; 4 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-01772-4

Largest Carbon Stores Found In Australian World Heritage Sites

March 2nd, 2021
Australia's marine World Heritage Sites are among the world's largest stores of carbon dioxide according to a new report from the United Nations, co-authored by an Edith Cowan University marine science expert.

The UNESCO report found Australia's six marine World Heritage Sites hold 40 per cent of the estimated 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide stored in mangrove, seagrass and tidal marsh ecosystems within UNESCO sites.

The report quantifies the enormous amounts of so-called blue carbon absorbed and stored by those ecosystems across the world's 50 UNESCO marine World Heritage Sites.

Despite covering less than 1 per cent of the world's surface, blue carbon ecosystems are responsible for around half of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the world's oceans while it is estimated they absorb carbon dioxide at a rate about 30 times faster than rainforests.

Australia a 'Blue Carbon' hotspot

Report author and ECU Research Fellow Dr Oscar Serrano said Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay World Heritage areas contained the vast majority of Australia's blue carbon ecosystems.

"We know Australia contains some of the world's largest stores of blue carbon due to the enormous size and diversity of our marine ecosystems," he said.

"However here in Australia and around the world, these ecosystems are under threat from human development and climate change.

"While they're healthy, blue carbon ecosystems are excellent stores of carbon dioxide, but if they are damaged, they can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide stored over millennia back into the atmosphere."

Climate change turns up the heat on seagrass

In 2011 seagrass meadows in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site in Western Australia released up to nine million tons of stored carbon dioxide after a marine heatwave devastated more than 1000sqkm of seagrass meadows.

The UNESCO Report's authors have outlined the potential for the countries including Australia to use the global carbon trading market to fund conservation and restoration efforts at marine World Heritage Sites including here in Australia.

Dr Serrano said both Shark Bay and the Great Barrier Reef ecosystems are at risk due to climate change and human development.

"There are significant opportunities for both the Great Barrier Reef and Shark Bay to be protected and restored to ensure they survive and thrive in the future," he said.

"Australia also has plenty of marine ecosystems in need of protection not contained within a World Heritage Site which are worthy of our attention.

Seagrass at WA’s Shark Bay World Heritage area was devastated by a marine heatwave in 2010. ECU image

Money to be made in carbon market

Dr Serrano's previous research has highlighted the millions of dollars in potential conservation and restoration projects of blue carbon ecosystems while also helping Australia and other countries achieve their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The report was led by Professor Carlos Duarte and a team of collaborators from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, the United States, Kenya and the United Kingdom.

Dr Oscar Serrano from ECU’s Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research was a co-author of the UNESCO report. ECU image

The UNESCO Marine World Heritage report is titled 'Custodians of the globes' blue carbon assets' and can be accessed at the UNESCO webpage.

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