Monthly Archives: October 2021

Australian Politics 2021-10-03 07:53:00


China expected to stop phosphate exports, food production prices set to rise

There are huge deposits of phosphate in North Africa so China is the main supplier only because they do it more cheaply

China's economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is moving to restrict the production and export of phosphates until the middle of next year.

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. Australian grain farmers use the granulated fertiliser at planting to establish crops.

The fertilisers are made from phosphate rock reserves mined mainly in China, Morocco, Western Sahara, the US and Russia.

Last year 65 per cent of the mono ammonium phosphate (MAP) fertiliser used in Australia came from China.

Phosphates editor with fertiliser market publication Argus, Harry Minihan, said US import duties on Moroccan and Russian origin phosphates had caused the product's price to double in the past year.

He said restricting its production and export would serve China in two ways in this high price environment.

"The Chinese government want to make sure there is enough product in the country for farmers, and they are also trying to reduce emissions as well."

However, this will cause pain for other nations.

"China is the top phosphate supplier into Australia, and if there is a restriction in exports, it's going to have some real significant impact on Australian buyers."

Not a trade issue
While a phosphate shortage will drive up costs for Australian farmers, Mr Minihan said restricting exports was not related to trade tensions between the two nations.

"This is going to have severe effects on other major importers as well," he said.

"It is not just Australia that is going to be affected.

"India is the world's largest DAP importer, and they still have significant requirements for their winter rabi season."

Difficult purchasing decisions

Wes Lefroy, senior agriculture analyst with Rabobank, said prices were also high across the range of farming inputs, including chemicals.

"From a glyphosate perspective as well, prices out of China have more than doubled this year, and around 65 per cent of the globe's glyphosate comes from China, and that represents a large chunk of Australian supplies."

Mr Lefroy said there was no reason to expect fertiliser prices to fall before next season.

Currently, urea and phosphorous fertilisers are trading either side of $1,000 a tonne, much higher than usual levels.

"We're expecting prices to remain elevated into 2022, which puts farmers in a difficult position ahead of next season," he said


Now "wilderness" is a wrong word

What image does the word "wilderness" conjure in your mind?

Maybe it's damp moss encircling a giant myrtle-beech in takayna/Tarkine, or dry red earth and rocky outcrops deep in the centre of the continent. Or it might conjure nothing at all.

We don't all perceive wilderness the same way, and for Wardandi and Bibbulmun woman Chontarle Bellottie, it's a totally foreign concept. "Wilderness is not in my language. It's not in the way that I communicate," she says.

"Because for me, my interpretation of [wilderness] is untouched, whereas we know as traditional owners that we've cultivated and gathered and hunted for so many thousands of years ... in a way where we've been able to live off the land in a very sustainable way."

While some people might not associate wilderness with a complete absence of people, many do, and that's a problem, according to Wiradjuri scientist Michael Fletcher.

Dr Fletcher, a palaeoecologist and geographer at the University of Melbourne, started exploring the idea when investigating the formation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area landscape. "I found it was people who were responsible for its present form and its form over the past 40,000 years," Dr Fletcher says.

His analysis of sediment layers suggest that the lush temperate rainforest that we see today was, until colonisation, eucalypt savannah and grassland actively managed by Aboriginal people.

"So the term wilderness is not only inaccurate, the notion that wilderness carries, which is the absence of people, is dehumanising really to Aboriginal people."

It's time to strike terms like "wilderness" from our lexicon, he adds. "While they're just words, they're actually very powerful."

The prevalence of the wilderness concept means global conservation policy and public perception still often overlook how biodiverse landscapes have been shaped by Indigenous people, Dr Fletcher argues in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

"Globally, many places that are called 'wilderness' are either current home to Indigenous people who actively manage the landscape, or are former landscapes which Indigenous people were the managers of, and are still trying to get recognition and agency back into their territories," he says.

"And they're being inhibited by this notion of wilderness, which underpins many conservation efforts."

Dr Fletcher says excluding Indigenous people from places, whether under the guise of wilderness protection or not, has degraded the health of those ecosystems — especially in Australia.

But there is disagreement over use of the term "wilderness" in conservation science, and it comes down to how you define it, according to James Watson, a conservation biologist at the University of Queensland, who was not involved in the study.

Although Dr Watson agrees with most of what the paper suggests about the need to include Indigenous people in conservation efforts, he says the idea that scientists still use the term wilderness to imply an absence of people was "nonsense".


Urgent action required as Australian kids get left behind on writing

Kids can think. They just can’t write. The same applies to teachers. No wonder we’re in a mess.

When you look at educational benchmarks – including NAPLAN results, back when the Queensland Government bothered to publicly release them – it’s clear that writing is not students’ strong suit.

Children are slipping further and further behind as they struggle to string a sentence together, and now schools are forking out big bucks on rescue packages.

Writing coaches are being brought in to show teachers how to do their jobs.

Schools, both private and state, are spending up to $100,000 a year on the Writer’s Toolbox program, which includes in-house workshops for teachers on the basics of writing and how to integrate them across the curriculum, not just in English lessons.

The program’s founder Dr Ian Hunter, a New Zealand historian, author and former university lecturer has pretty much struck gold.

The real question is: how was it allowed to come to this?

Sometime in the “free loving” 1960s, Education Queensland took its eye off the ball. It let the teaching of explicit writing skills slip in favour of encouraging individual expression.

According to Dr Hunter, “the rules of grammar went out the window”, and writing became about the process, one’s personal creative journey. “The mantra in Education Queensland at that time was ‘language is caught not taught’,” he tells Qweekend today.

“So we now have these generations of young teachers who have never been taught the rules of writing.”

I can’t count the number of times my son, then in primary school, would show me a teacher’s “corrections” on his homework, scribbles in red pen that were actually wrong.

Then there were the official letters home from school that were riddled with errors, using “less” when it should have been “fewer”, “me” when it should have been “I”, and my personal pet hate, the sign-off where they say, “please don’t hesitate to contact myself”. It should be “me”, and teachers should know this, but a good many don’t.

How, then, can we expect our kids to understand?

Writing is not some outmoded skill – even in this age of emojis, abbreviations and short, sharp text messages. It is essential to expressing our thoughts and consolidating ideas.

As prolific American writer Joan Didion, now 86, once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” The very act of writing, including choosing the right words and structuring sentences, pushes us to think more, to analyse, to discover.

And unlike other things we learn at school but never use afterwards, writing remains relevant. Written communication is high on the list of 21st century skills that employers seek and understandably so.

Some of the most influential people in the world sparked change through their writing. Consider Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution informed modern science studies, or Simone de Beauvoir, who gave voice to global feminism.

Alarmingly, Dr Hunter says proper writing instruction – once the hallmark of good schooling - stops around Year 7.

From then on, kids are left free-wheeling and largely clueless about how to express the thoughts in their head.

When more sophisticated thinking is required as they move into the higher grades, they flounder, and by the time they get to university – if they make it that far – they really struggle.

It was while teaching business history to tertiary students in New Zealand that Dr Hunter realised just how compromised young people were, and it inspired him to write a book on essay writing.

Schools then asked him to write a version for younger audiences, and his Writer’s Toolbox took off from there.

What his experience shows is that two things need to drastically change.

Universities must sharpen teacher-training programs to include the essentials of good writing, and the government must strip back the curriculum to allow schools to once again put a laser focus on core skills.

We can’t expect kids to pick up writing by osmosis.


Punchard gone at last: He got off lightly

A senior constable convicted of leaking personal information about a friend’s ex-wife and her new partner, including their address, after accessing a police database has resigned from the Queensland Police Service following years of legal battles.

Neil Glen Punchard, 55, had a suspended prison sentence reinstated in August, following a successful appeal by the QPS.

His resignation from the QPS was effective from September 17, according to official police documents viewed by the Courier Mail.

The road policing officer from the South Brisbane District was charged in December 2018 with nine counts of accessing the Queensland Police Records and Information Management Exchange computer program – known as QPrime – and leaking personal information about the woman, including her address, to her ex-husband over a one-year period from 2013.

The mother of three told the Courier Mail in 2019 that she had moved her family twice in three years – after first making sure the removalists were not being followed – after the officer passed her address along to her ex-husband, Punchard’s childhood friend.

Punchard pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in 2019 to nine counts of using a restricted computer without consent, gaining the benefit of knowledge, in 2013 and 2014.

He received two-month jail sentence, wholly suspended for 18 months, with a conviction recorded, but remained a serving police officer, on full-pay “administrative duties” at the time but was later suspended on full pay.

A back-and-forth lengthy court process ensued, with Senior Constable Punchard first winning an appeal against the jail sentence in 2020 with District Court Judge Craig Chowdhury instead re-sentencing the officer to 140 hours of community service with no conviction recorded.

On August 13 this year, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by the Commissioner of Police and set aside Judge Chowdhury’s orders.

The appeal court heard that Punchard had already completed the 140 hours of community service, but the appeal court judges said that fact “did not cause such an injustice” to the officer to be an impediment to their orders that would effectively reinstate the Magistrate’s sentence.

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has been under pressure by both the victim and members of the community to sack Punchard and has previously said she would consider his suitability to remain employed by QPS after the appeal process was finalised.

An online petition calling for Punchard’s dismissal from the police service has reached 67,352 signatures to date.

The woman filed a breach of privacy case against the QPS in Brisbane’s Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) in 2018.

Her complaint about the privacy breach was passed around between the QPS, the Crime and Corruption Commission, Ethical Standards Command and politicians for years, before QPS “substantiated” the complaint.

The QPS always denied the agency was liable for breaching the woman’s privacy.

Access to QPrime was tightened by the QPS in 2016, with members of the public now even prevented from accessing their own files.




All Indicators Confirm COVID Third Wave Receding in Arizona

We've been following Arizona's experience with the coronavirus experience since the state makes its high quality data publicly available. That data makes it relatively easy to identify turning points in the rate of incidence for exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus within the state.

The state's data as of 1 October 2021 confirms the rate of incidence of new COVID infections in its third wave peaked during the week of 15 August 2021 through 21 August 2021. All indicators, including cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all point to that timing as the data is now complete enough to make that confirmation:

Arizona's Coronavirus Pandemic Experience, 15 March 2020 - 15 September 2021, Snapshot on 1 October 2021

The timing is notable in that neither the state nor the federal government adopted any new interventions, such as mask-wearing policies during that period, making it different from earlier periods where changes in trend coincided with such interventions.

Since peaking, the number of new cases has fallen slowly, though new hospital admissions have fallen more steeply. The data for deaths lags behind these two other indicators, so it will be interesting to see which trajectory of these two other data series they more closely follow in the weeks ahead.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our previous coverage of Arizona's experience with the coronavirus pandemic, presented in reverse chronological order.


We've continued following Arizona's experience during the coronavirus pandemic because the state's Department of Health Services makes detailed, high quality time series data available, which makes it easy to apply the back calculation method to identify the timing and events that caused changes in the state's COVID-19 trends. This section links that that resource and many of the others we've found useful throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 Data Dashboard: Vaccine Administration. [Online Database]. Accessed 1 October 2021.

Stephen A. Lauer, Kyra H. Grantz, Qifang Bi, Forrest K. Jones, Qulu Zheng, Hannah R. Meredith, Andrew S. Azman, Nicholas G. Reich, Justin Lessler. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. [PDF Document]. 10 September 2020.

More or Less: Behind the Stats. Ethnic minority deaths, climate change and lockdown. Interview with Kit Yates discussing back calculation. BBC Radio 4. [Podcast: 8:18 to 14:07]. 29 April 2020.

Australian Politics 2021-10-01 09:50:00


Theme park boss is forced to apologise after 'fat-shaming' kids by WEIGHING them on scales before they step onto a water ride

There probably are safety reasons for excluding fatties but I guess it could be done discreetly

A Perth theme park boss has issued an apology after 'fat shaming' customers by forcing them to weigh in on a public scale before riding on the water slides.

Adventure World sparked outrage after introducing a 'weigh before you play' rule at the beginning of the school holidays, banning anyone heavier than 90kg on one ride and 180kg on another.

Scales were erected at the entrances of rides and customers were asked to weigh in to 'avoid disappointment', with a light visible to other patrons flashing green or red to signify if they passed or failed the admission requirements.

The policy was quickly slammed by furious customers who accused the Bibra Lake theme park of 'fat shaming' children, with one mother reporting her 13-year-old daughter was turned away from a ride after stepping off the scales.

Adventure World CEO Andrew Sharry on Thursday issued an apology acknowledging the rule had caused 'distress' to customers.

'In our efforts to introduce important systems to better manage safety on some of our waters slides, we have handled the communication of these new water slide systems poorly and we have upset our guests and members. This is the last thing we wanted to do,' he said.

'I am genuinely sorry that we have caused this distress to our guests and members. Our purpose is to create happiness and magical memories. We have not achieved that on this occasion and I acknowledge that we can do better.'

Hockeyroo Georgia Wilson was one of the most vocal critics calling on Western Australians to boycott the business and for Mr Sharry to resign unless he met with eating disorder sufferers.

In light of the backlash, Mr Sharry said he met with an expert on body image and eating disorders this week and had personally apologised to a family whose daughter was forced to do a 'walk of shame'.

'I can now see how these water slide safety systems would be received as traumatic and upsetting for some of our guests and members,' Mr Sharry said.

'I have spoken with the family involved and have personally apologised for the hurt that we have caused.'

The apology comes after mother claimed her 13-year-old daughter was publicly rejected from a ride after weighing in and forced to walk back down the stairs.

'Once at the top she was stopped and asked to stand on a weigh machine. The lights flickered green and then red and then green again,' she said, Perth Now reports.

'The operator then walked over to an electrical box and looked inside it, and then came back to her and said sorry, you weigh this amount and you can’t go down.'

'I was angry and disappointed in Adventure World. We’ve enjoyed these rides for years and now all of a sudden we weren’t able to.'

Mr Parry said the park is investigating alternative slide safety options but did not confirm whether or not the scales would be removed.

'I am in the process of taking advice from a body image and eating disorder specialist who has met with me on site to review the new safety systems installed on four of our water slides,' he said.

'We are in the process of identifying changes that will cause less impact on our guests and members, whilst also meeting our safety requirements.'

It is not the first time the theme park has come under fire over its controversial policies.

In 2019, the park sparked fury after banning women from wearing skimpy swimwear, such as g-string and Brazillian-cut bikini bottoms.

The request to 'choose appropriate swimwear' ignited immediate backlash, with customers telling the park it did not have the right to advise women on what they could wear.

Adventure World later issued an apology on Facebook for causing offence, but stood by its decision to maintain a 'family friendly' theme park.


Real estate agent sends warning letter to 300 homes saying new housing block for the homeless and 'disadvantaged' will hurt their property values

Must not tell the truth

A real estate agent has spammed 300 households with a letter warning them their property values would plunge when a public housing block was built nearby.

Harcourts salesman Chris Parsons claimed many of his clients in Mandurah, south of Perth, planned to sell up rather than have 100 'socially disadvantaged' new neighbours.

Mr Parsons said he and other residents were concerned about the $28.1 million development's 'obvious effect on property values'.

The document, bearing the Harcourts Mandurah letterhead, asked if the home owner had been informed of the new building in their suburb.

'I am writing to you directly due to your close proximity to the upcoming development of a 50-apartment complex that will house up to 100 homeless and 'socially disadvantaged' residents,' the letter sent on Monday began.

'Many of my previous clients have already come to me with intentions to move out of the area after hearing of what is coming.

'I personally live in and own a home close to this planned development and have my own concerns, including the obvious effect on property values.'

Mr Parsons wrote that he met with the developers and discovered that due to council zoning rules, 'little to no' community consultation was required.

He told residents to call or email him to find out more about 'what this could mean for the future value of your home'.

Outraged recipients posted the letter on local social media groups, speculating that the letter was really a ploy to drive sales.

'To me it looks like a scare tactics letter for him to get you to sell your house. Do your homework. Plus this if it is true is a great project that will help so many less fortunate have a safe, warm place to live,' one local wrote.

After recipients complained, Mr Parsons wrote a grovelling apology and handed it out to the same 300 homes on Wednesday.

'I would like to apologise for any concerns this has caused, as a resident of this neighbourhood and a local real estate agent I have had discussions with members of the public around this topic and I was looking to gather further information, so that I could be in a better position to assist home owners where I can,' he wrote.

'It was not my intention to generate negativity around this development but instead to get a better understanding of the community sentiment in a small sample area within close proximity to the site.'

Mr Parsons added that he was confident the facility 'will be of benefit to the community' and be well run and maintained by local and state governments.

He wrote that Harcourts Mandurah had collected donations for a homeless support group in the area for more than 10 years.

The company said the initial letter was a case of Mr Parsons 'flying solo' and that it did not believe he was acting with any malice towards homeless people.


Terrifying warning from top doctors that Australians are dying from 'everyday conditions' thanks to hospitals being FULL of Covid patients

Top doctors have warned Australians are dying from treatable conditions because already overburdened hospitals are being hit with a surge in Covid cases.

In recent months, paramedics have had to X-ray and treat patients in car parks and hospital corridors while they wait for space to open up in emergency departments.

When states reopen, experts now fear hospitals could be further overrun because - even at 80 per cent double-jabbed - there will still be five million unvaccinated Australians.

A discussion paper voicing concerns was drafted by leading doctors from four states and was this week presented to an urgent meeting of health ministers.

The paper warned hospitals were struggling to cope with the combination of Covid cases and routine care - causing treatment delays for non-urgent conditions that can then turn deadly.

The health ministers were told urgent measures must be put in place to support hospitals.

The specific requests made in the discussion paper include that GPs be redeployed to emergency departments to ease the workload.

Also suggested was giving funding for GPs to work nights and weekends to deal with indirect Covid impacts in the community away from hospitals wards and ICUs.

That thousands of patients with less-serious conditions be transferred out of hospital beds and into at-home treatment where they can be visited by a GP is another option.

Another was to dramatically increase immigration intake for skilled health workers coming from overseas, including doctors and nurses.

As well as a spike in Covid cases courtesy of large-scale outbreaks of the Delta strain in NSW and Victoria - where there have been hundreds of cases per day - hospitals are also dealing with staff shortages.

Frontline staff have been diverted to Covid testing and vaccination centres across the country, while others have been resigning because of burnout dealing with Covid.

When National Cabinet meets on Friday, a plan to deal surge capacity for ICUs as state open up will be on the agenda.

'The health system doesn't just look after Covid and it's ­already full. We're seeing... a perfect storm and it's causing the hospital system it to overflow,' Australian Medical Association deputy president Chris Moy told The Australian.

'What happens is people either don't get care or it gets displaced. Diagnoses are made at much later points, and people get worse or they die,' Mr Moy said.

Both the NSW and Victorian health ministers have said there needs to be an increase in funding for hospitals.

'The past 20 months have seen all of the existing problems in our health care and in our hospital system amplified to the level where the system is in crisis like it's never been, in every state,' Victorian health minister Martin Foley said.

President of the Australian College of Emergency Medicine John Bonning agreed saying the overcrowding of hospitals was putting patients at risk.

'Patients are being treated in corridors. People with pneumonia, complications of diabetes, patients with strokes, patients with heart attacks, patients with trauma are sometimes struggling to get a bed for as long as 24 hours. It is dangerous' he said.

The federal government defended its backing of the public healthcare system ahead of Friday's National Cabinet meeting.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said health system funding had more than doubled to $30billion a year since 2013.

He added state and territory health ministers had recently signed a five-year deal which guaranteed $35billion in finding and that $6billion had also been funded to hospital since March 2020.

In 2020 the federal government agreed to support the healthcare system in every state and territory by helping with costs incurred through Covid outbreaks.

The Commonwealth currently pays 45 per cent of the costs incurred but the states want this increased to 50 per cent.


Brisbane named among top cities in the world for students

Despite the international education sector being hit hard by the pandemic, Brisbane is still one of the best cities in the world for students according to a major new study.

Brisbane has been named as one of the top 10 cities in the world for students thanks to its reasonably priced rent, young population and safety in a new international study.

The Best Student Cities in the World index for 2021 has been released by international student company Studee, and named the River City at No.9 in the world, ahead of fellow Aussies cities including the Gold Coast (14), Canberra (16) and Sydney (18).

Researchers found Brisbane scored above average in six of the nine categories which were analysed, including on the costs of rent and living, food options, free speech and safety.

But Brisbane was trumped by Melbourne at No.2 – which was applauded for its exceptional food scene, cheap technology and safety – along with Adelaide (5) and Perth (7).

Japan’s Tokyo came in at No.1, thanks to its high number of world-class universities, high internet speeds, and high levels of free speech.

Canada’s Quebec and Montreal also made the list, along with Seoul, Houston and Pittsburgh.

Studee president Jihna Gavilanes said deciding where to study was a huge decision for prospective international students.

“With so many options available, choosing where to study can feel overwhelming, especially if you're moving away from home for the first time,” she said.

“The things that are important to one student won’t be to another, so our ranking system uses several factors that actually make a difference to students.

“You’re not just choosing where to study, you’re picking the place you will call home and the neighbourhood where you could start your career.”

Researchers also took into account a city’s internet speeds – for which Brisbane was rated among the lowest of the top cities – as well as the cost of a MacBook and what percentage of the population was aged between 15 and 24-years-old.

“When choosing where to attend university or college, you need to consider everything that could impact your experience,” Ms Gavilanes said.

“Your surroundings, the cost of living, and your social life are all factors you should think about before deciding where to enrol.

“Getting an education can be expensive so you must find the right place that works for you for the next few years and beyond.”