MIL-Evening Report: The summer heat calls for a cold beer, but be careful where you drink it. Being drunk in public is a crime

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

’Tis the season to be jolly. We all enjoy the sentiments of this well-known carol during the festive season. There’s little doubt public merriment is in abundance at this time of year, with alcohol generally reducing inhibitions.

But at what point does good-natured inebriation become criminally-tinged intoxication? And what about those full of merriment who are in the streets late at night?

Let’s see what the law says.

In court the morning after

Public intoxication is illegal in every jurisdiction in Australia, but there are differences from place to place, depending on the way the offence is created, enforced and responded to.

Read more: Street drinking, fly-tipping and nuisance neighbours: who experiences anti-social behaviour?

The law, generally speaking, empowers police to apprehend anyone (including a person under 18 years of age) who is drunk in a public place.

They used to be taken to a police station, but since the mid-1980s, there has been a realisation (in all jurisdictions except Queensland and Victoria) this wasn’t the best place for an intoxicated person.

In fact, the South Australian Public Intoxication Act 1984 states:

Persons or bodies involved in the administration of this Act are to be guided by the following principles: (a) primary concern is to be given to the health and well-being of a person apprehended under this Act; and (b) a person detained under this Act should, where practicable, be detained in a place other than a police station.

This was a remarkably insightful reform. It was designed to stop the farcical spectacle of dozens of men and women who had been arrested for being drunk being paraded through magistrates courts the following morning, racking up hundreds of convictions and thousands of dollars in fines they were never going to be able to pay, and wasting thousands of hours of court time each year in the process.

Now, when a person is apprehended for public intoxication, they usually end up back at home, or at a shelter, often with simply an on-the-spot fine.

Abolishing the laws after deaths in custody

There has recently been a dramatic development in Victoria, one of the recalcitrant states, following the case of Tanya Day. The 55-year-old Yorta Yorta woman died after falling and hitting her head in the cells of the Castlemaine police station in December, 2017.

Read more: Aboriginal woman Tanya Day died in custody. Now an inquest is investigating if systemic racism played a role

She had been taken to the station, arrested for not paying a train fare, and was charged with public drunkenness. She was then put the watch house cells for four hours to “sober up”, but when she hit her head she sustained a brain haemorrhage that led to her death in hospital 17 days later.

The Tanya Day inquest led to the Victorian government announce public drunkenness was a matter of public health, not criminal justice. AAP Image/Julian Smith

In August this year, Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy advised she planned to write to the Victorian coroner to say the Labor government had committed, in principle, to abolishing the crime of public drunkenness. She said:

Public drunkenness requires a public health response, not a criminal justice one, and now is the right time to take this important reform forward.

We must also remember that 27 of the Aboriginal Australians whose deaths were examined by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (beginning in 1988) were in police cells because they had been arrested while drunk.

Recommendation 79 of the Royal Commission report urged:

in jurisdictions where drunkenness has not been decriminalised, governments should legislate to abolish the offence of public drunkenness.

But that has not happened universally, despite repeated urging from reform advocates and the successes of night patrols in remote and regional communities.

Where can you drink this Christmas?

Today, by-laws are the key to determining what you can and cannot do with alcoholic beverages in public.

Questions about where it’s okay to have a beer, or whether a bottle must be in a bag or with the top firmly secured can only be answered by reference to council regulations where the public drinking occurs.

Hundreds of public places – including beaches, parks, shopping precincts and recreation grounds in Australian “dry zones” – have been legislated, and each carries its own rules. This means it’s important to review the area you plan to drink in, because you could be committing an offence without realising it.

Read more: How night club bouncers police the social order – from Berlin to Johannesburg

And before leaving this topic, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the various liquor licensing laws of every jurisdiction.

A person in South Australia, for example, commits an offence if they fail to leave licensed premises when the licensee asks because they are drunk, or fighting, threatening, abusive or insulting.

Typically, licensees in these situations have delegated their authority to crowd controllers (“bouncers”).

It’s also worth noting these security officers are considered far better trained and monitored now after the death of cricketer David Hookes in 2004, when a hotel staff member chased him into the street and punched him to the ground. The tragedy gave rise in 2005 to Standards Australia releasing a draft voluntary code on the desirable qualities of people who are employed as bouncers.

One sure way for public planners and policy-makers to rid festive events of unacceptable drunken behaviour is simply to stop the festival in its tracks. But in any case, you can only hope that with a little bit of peer pressure, a clear message might start to sink in – the days of public drunken revelry are numbered.

ref. The summer heat calls for a cold beer, but be careful where you drink it. Being drunk in public is a crime –


MIL-Evening Report: Your first point of contact and your partner in recovery: the GP’s role in mental health care

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Louise Stone, General practitioner; Clinical Associate Professor, ANU Medical School, Australian National University

Around 70% of people who sought treatment for their mental health in Australia in 2015-16 saw a general practitioner. This amounts to 18 million dedicated mental health consultations.

GPs are often the first point of contact for people concerned about their mental health. Mostly, though, mental health care occurs within consultations initiated for other reasons. This could be when someone sees a doctor for a physical health concern, a general check up, or to get a prescription.

Whatever the reason, GPs see 88% of the Australian population every year, putting us in a unique position in the health system to work with people with mental health concerns.

When you visit your GP with a mental health concern, you should be able to expect compassionate care alongside practical advice to help you navigate the treatment you need.

Read more: Depression: it’s a word we use a lot, but what exactly is it?

Why see a GP for your mental health needs?

People can see us without a referral, and we get to know our patients over time, which can make it easier to discuss difficult issues.

We see patients during important transitions, for example after giving birth, after a major illness, or during a relationship crisis.

We also see people at higher risk of mental illness than the overall population, such as refugees, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, LGBTI people, and those experiencing poverty and homelessness. Many of our patients are survivors of childhood abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of trauma.

If you have a mental illness, you may need treatment beyond what a GP can provide. But a GP can help you understand your options. From

We understand certain physical illnesses and medications can predispose people to mental illness. We also understand people with serious mental illnesses are likely to die from physical diseases up to 20 years earlier than the general population. So we can focus on physical and mental health together.

We are trained in diagnosis, but we understand mental health is complex. Not everyone with depression has the same illness experience. It’s critical we help people understand what their illness means, not just what it “is”.

It’s then our responsibility to help our patients understand their options, by communicating the evidence behind different treatments, and helping them navigate the mosaic of services available.

Read more: Stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases more likely for those with poor mental health

Finding the right clinic and the right doctor

The billings we generate in the consulting room fund our clinics and our staff. The longer the consultation, the lower the patient’s Medicare subsidy per minute. In other words, shorter consultations earn much more money for the clinic.

Some bulk-billing clinics use this incentive to drive what’s become known as “six-minute medicine”: where the majority of consultations are very quick and therefore lucrative. These business models don’t enable complex care, like the sort of care needed to deal with a mental health issue, to occur easily.

Further, individual GPs have certain areas of practice that interest them. Some GPs are more interested in and comfortable with physical health than mental health care.

Consumers have reported disappointing encounters with some GPs, describing, for example, poor communication skills and a perceived lack of competence in mental health care.

It’s important to take the time to find a clinic and a GP right for you.

Navigating a fraught system

The mental health sector is complex and fragmented with overlaps, inefficiencies, duplication and poor coordination of services. GPs spend a significant amount of time assisting patients to navigate multiple mental health systems (state services, Commonwealth services, non-government services, and private services).

We often have few accessible resources at our disposal to help our patients recover. Psychologists and other allied health practitioners are frequently unaffordable or inaccessible. There’s a shortage of psychiatrists in Australia. Acute psychiatric beds, particularly for young people or patients with eating disorders, are in short supply.

Read more: To really fix Victoria’s mental health system, we’ll need to bridge the state/Commonwealth divide

Meanwhile, disadvantaged communities have higher rates of mental illness, but lower access to services.

Unfortunately, none of these problems will be solved within a GP’s consulting room – but we do our best to navigate them case by case.

Understanding the mosaic of services available for mental health can be challenging. From

10 tips for patients

We believe the core of mental health care is a consistent, empathic therapeutic relationship to support consumers in their journey towards recovery.

Every consumer has the right to find a GP who can partner in that recovery. These tips will help you get the most out of your GP mental health consultation:

  1. if you can, make a longer appointment. Mental health consultations take time
  2. choose a GP carefully. You need to feel comfortable with them
  3. consider taking a supportive friend or relative with you
  4. if waiting rooms are stressful for you, consider timing your appointment at the beginning or end of the day
  5. have a list of medications and therapies you’ve tried, and whether you found them helpful
  6. if you have any reports from previous doctors, bring them with you
  7. your GP will want to know your family history, including physical and mental health disorders, so find out what you can
  8. be as honest and open as you can. Your GP can help you more effectively if they know what’s going on. This includes drug and alcohol issues which commonly accompany mental illness
  9. if you need an interpreter, let the practice know in advance
  10. be patient. It may take a few consultations for your GP to really understand what you need.

Read more: When it’s easier to get meds than therapy: how poverty makes it hard to escape mental illness

ref. Your first point of contact and your partner in recovery: the GP’s role in mental health care –


MIL-Evening Report: That public playground is good for your kids and your wallet

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Robert Breunig, Professor of Economics and Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

If you live near a public playground it can be a convenient outdoor destination for short excursions and a life-saving source of pressure relief when the kids are too surly to bear inside the house. But in research, published in the Journal of Urban Landscape and Planning, we found having a playground nearby can also add value to your property.

The presence of a playground added about A$20,000 (4.6%) to the average property price of A$439,000.

Read more: Do ‘screaming children’ in playgrounds ruin neighbourhood parks?

Importantly, we can reject the idea that a playground has no effect or a negative effect on property prices.

That’s something residents should consider if they fear a new playground to be built in their neighbourhood could lower property prices, as they did at Mount Eliza, Victoria, last year.

What planners need to know

Local councils need to know the costs and benefits of building a playground when making decisions about investment in local infrastructure. If playgrounds are undesirable, they might avoid them altogether or place them far from where people live.

We wanted to know what value local residents might place on playgrounds using data from Moreland City Council in the north Melbourne metropolitan area.

One way to assess the value of playgrounds is simply to ask people. But we didn’t do that. We know people often over- or understate the value or cost of things in surveys because there is no real cost to pay.

We used ten years of every property price transaction in Moreland to try to measure the value people place on playgrounds. Property prices reflect the value people place on the attributes of a place they are buying.

These attributes include location (location, location) and things about the property such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Prices also include the value people place on local amenities such as shops nearby or a train station within walking distance.

Read more: Rail works lift property prices, pointing to value capture’s potential to fund city infrastructure

So how could we possibly work out the little bit of all that that’s about the distance to a playground?

Let’s build a model

First, we estimate a very detailed model of the determinants of property prices. This includes the type of dwelling, size, bedrooms, bathrooms, the presence of 19 different features such as balconies or spas, year and quarter of sale, and suburb.

We control for distance to a wide range of amenities including shops, schools and golf courses. Finally, we control for the distance to 14 different types of open space, including shared trails and community horticulture.

Moreland City Council provided us with the data on amenities and open spaces. With this model, we are able to explain about 70% of the variation in house prices.

With the help of Melbourne Water, we identified two empty green spaces (in Coburg North and Pascoe Vale) that were suitable for building a small local playground. These are the smallest of the five categories of playgrounds in Moreland City Council. They generally consist of a swing set, a slippery dip (slide) and small rocking animals. They are targeted at young children, ages three to six.

The second step is to match properties that are near the empty green spaces with properties that are similarly close to a playground.

After matching properties in this way and accounting for all of the determinants of property price in our model, we attribute any unexplained difference in the prices of the matched properties to the presence of the playground.

We found a consistently positive effect of local playgrounds on property prices. The benefit of a playground is larger when properties are closer, as the effect falls with distance from the playground.

For example, the presence of a playground within 300 metres adds about A$20,000 (4.6%) to the average property price. But our estimate is somewhat imprecise with the calculations showing it could be as low as A$10,000 or as high as A$30,000.

If we look at houses only the increase is A$32,000 (6.4% of the median house price of A$499,000), but again within a plausible range of A$8,000 to A$46,000.

Children having fun at a playground at Ringwood Park Lake, east of Melbourne, Victoria. Shutterstock/Nils Versemann

A note of caution

Given the potential variation, are these price increase effects realistic?

My personal feeling is that A$20,000 seems on the large side. We may be picking up other unpriced attributes of properties that differ in the matched samples.

Read more: Australian cities pay the price for blocking council input to projects that shape them

But we are dealing with a very rich set of characteristics and property attributes. We took several walks around the area to see whether anything was affecting our results. We could not identify anything.

Councils should see the need to consider the value of playgrounds in property prices as an important input into any cost-benefit analysis of investing in playground infrastructure.

Likewise, homeowners should not be worried (and object) to the construction of new playgrounds as they do not lower housing prices, rather they add to home value.

ref. That public playground is good for your kids and your wallet –


MIL-Evening Report: New study: changes in climate since 2000 have cut Australian farm profits 22%

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Neal Hughes, Senior Economist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

The current drought across much of eastern Australia has demonstrated the dramatic effects climate variability can have on farm businesses and households.

The drought has also renewed longstanding discussions around the emerging effects of climate change on agriculture, and how governments can best help farmers to manage drought risk.

A new study released this morning by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences offers fresh insight on these issues by quantifying the impacts of recent climate variability on the profits of Australian broadacre farms.

Read more: Droughts, extreme weather and empowered consumers mean tough choices for farmers

The results show that changes in temperature and rainfall over the past 20 years have had a negative effect on average farm profits while also increasing risk.

The findings demonstrate the importance of adaptation, innovation and adjustment to the agriculture sector, and the need for policy responses which promote – and don’t unnecessarily inhibit – such progress.

Measuring the effects of climate on farms

Measuring the effects of climate on farms is difficult given the many other factors that also influence farm performance, including commodity prices.

Further, the effects of rainfall and temperature on farm production and profit can be complex and highly location and farm specific.

To address this complexity, ABARES has developed a model based on more than 30 years of historical farm and climate data—farmpredict — which can identify effects of climate variability, input and output prices, and other factors on different types of farms.

Cropping farms most exposed

The model finds that cropping farms generally face greater climate risk than beef farms, but also generate higher average returns.

Cropping farm revenue and profits are lower in dry years, with large reductions in crop yields and only small savings in input costs.

Effect of climate variability on rate of return

Based on historical climate conditions (1950 to 2019), holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES farmpredict

In contrast, drought has a smaller immediate effect on beef farm revenue, because in dry years farmers can increase the quantity of livestock sold.

However, drought also lowers herd numbers, which lowers farm profit when herd value is accounted for.

Higher temperatures, lower winter rainfall

Australian average temperatures have increased by about 1°C since 1950.

Recent decades have also seen a trend towards lower average winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast.

This drying trend has been linked to atmospheric changes associated with global warming.

However, while global climate models generally predict a decline in winter season rainfall across southern Australia and more time spent in drought, there is still much uncertainty about what will happen in the long term, particularly to rainfall.

Climate shifts have cut farm profits

ABARES has assessed the effect of climate variability on farm profits over the period 1950 to 2019, holding all other factors constant including commodity prices and farm management practices.

We find that the shift in climate conditions since 2000 (from conditions in the period 1950-1999 to conditions in the period 2000-2019) has had a negative effect on the profits of both cropping and livestock farms.

Effect of 2000 – 2019 climate conditions on average farm profit

Farm profit percentiles for the period 2000-2019 relative to 1950-1999, holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES

We estimate that the shift in climate has cut average annual broadacre farm profits by around 22%, which is an average of $18,600 per farm per year, controlling for all other factors.

The effects have been most pronounced in the cropping sector, reducing average profits by 35%, or $70,900 a year for a typical cropping farm.

At a national level this amounts to an average loss in production of broadacre crops of around $1.1 billion a year.

Although beef farms have been less affected than cropping farms overall, some beef farming regions have been affected more than others, especially south-western Queensland.

Read more: Drought is inevitable, Mr Joyce

Like previous ABARES research this study finds evidence of adaptation, with farmers reducing their sensitivity to dry conditions over time.

Our results suggest that without this adaptation the effects of the post-2000 climate shift would have been considerably larger, particularly for cropping farms.

Effect of post-2000 climate on average annual farm profits

Per cent change relative to 1950-1999 climate, holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES farmpredict

Risk and income volatility have also increased

The changed climate conditions since 2000 have also increased risk and income volatility.

This is particularly so for cropping farms, where we find the chance of low-profit years has more than doubled as a result of the change in climate conditions.

Effect of climate variability on typical cropping farm

Distribution of farm profits for 1950-1999 climate and 2000-2019 climate. See report for more detail. ABARES farmpredict

Handle with care – the drought policy dilemma

Drought policy faces an almost unavoidable dilemma, that providing relief to farm businesses and households in times of drought risks slowing industry structural adjustment and innovation.

Adjustment, change and innovation are fundamental to improving agricultural productivity; maintaining Australia’s competitiveness in world markets; and providing attractive and financially sustainable opportunities for farm households.

Read more: Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma

For these reasons, the strategic intent of drought policy has shifted away from seeking to protect and insulate farmers towards the promotion of drought preparedness and self‑reliance.

The best options for reconciling the drought policy dilemma focus on boosting the resilience of farm businesses and households to future droughts and climate variability, including through action and investment when farmers are not in drought.

The government’s Future Drought Fund, which will support research and innovation, is a good example of this approach.

Developing new insurance options is one worthwhile avenue of research which could provide farmers a way to self-manage risk. It would require investments in data and knowledge to support viable weather insurance markets: where farmers pay premiums sufficient to cover costs over time.

Read more: Better data would help crack the drought insurance problem

Supporting farm households experiencing hardship is legitimate and important, but for the long term health of the farm sector this needs to be done in ways that promote resilience and improved productivity and allow for long term adjustment to change.

ref. New study: changes in climate since 2000 have cut Australian farm profits 22% –


MIL-Evening Report: Baby Yoda: the meme child making it a very Disney+ Christmas

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nathalie Collins, Academic Director (National Programs), Edith Cowan University

Now the high of Game of Thrones has faded, another pop culture token has arrived. It takes the form of a green alien baby from the Star Wars television series The Mandalorian – a key offering from Disney+ when it launched last month.

In “Baby Yoda” (he is officially called The Child), we are introduced to a new version of someone we already love. The tiny, revered elder of the films has been further miniaturised and transformed. No longer a wizened oracle, he is presented as a vulnerable infant.

Imbued with traits we are biologically driven to find appealing – a large, symmetrical head, large eyes, a small mouth and a small nose – viewers have taken to this precious bundle and given him the online status he deserves: the internet meme.

There are online gifs, images and videos of Baby Yoda sipping soup, sharing a 50th birthday with celebrities, embodying extreme cuteness and – most importantly – inspiring Disney+ subscriptions.

All the Baby Yoda memes in one video.

Baby Yoda is shrouded in the mystery of uncharted territory. Unlike our first encounter with Yoda in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, this time we get to journey with him, as he and The Mandalorian explore a universe after the fall of the Empire.

The unlikely caretaker – one of the few remaining Mandalorian bounty hunters, who also made their debut in The Empire Strikes Back – discovers “the kid” towards the end of the first episode. The audience looks on with delight as the Mandalorian creates the unlikely kinship we all wish we could have with our own Baby Yoda.

Although recent Star Wars instalments didn’t hit home as strongly, we forgive all when we stare into those dark, pleading eyes.

The power of nostalgia

Disney has always marketed to the whole family, with a deep understanding of how nostalgia brands work.

Generations hand their cultural icons down with more effectiveness than any material heirloom. And yet companies need to constantly reinvent the nostalgia brand to keep it current without compromising its essential elements.

The original Yoda. Lucasfilm

To the generation who grew up with Star Wars, Older Yoda represents an elder. His key quotes from the series are repeated, referenced, and revered. He’s a voice we’ve trusted since we were as tall as he supposedly is.

Yoda was designed by George Lucas in keeping with religious and cultural traditions, with ties to Buddhist principles of mindfulness, the universal life force of Taoism, and the Christian parables of Jesus. He was designed to inspire trust – and has now been designed again to inspire wonder and affection.

For viewers without access to their own elders, Older Yoda was the grandfather we always wanted: there to guide and tell us, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Do life-long fans become life-long subscribers?

Disney is not in the movie business, nor in the cartoon business. It is in the “cultural icon” business – perhaps better described as the “clout” business.

Clout is an academic term for the power a brand or a product has to shape markets. Getting clout is challenging. Maintaining it just as challenging, if not harder.

Real clout doesn’t just sell us stuff. It redefines how we think through authentically tapping into who we are, what we believe, how we consume and – most ambitiously – how we feel. And how markets form and reform.

This is what Disney is after through Baby Yoda: in inspiring love and attachment that will capture share of heart, and then share of wallet. Baby Yoda is the perfect figure to convince customers Disney+ is not just another video streaming service: it is the streaming service you have to have.

Gathering around the water cooler for a chat doesn’t happen much these days. Work teams are often virtual and families are dispersed in all directions. The ideological chasms that divide us seem to be getting wider and deeper.

But Baby Yoda is something we can all relate to, co-creating messages and sharing a laugh – no matter where we are. Here, or in a galaxy far, far away.

ref. Baby Yoda: the meme child making it a very Disney+ Christmas –


MIL-Evening Report: Why NZ’s cannabis bill needs to stop industry from influencing policy

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sally Casswell, Professor of public health policy, Massey University

Earlier this month, the New Zealand government released draft legislation for how cannabis could be bought, grown and sold. It is a first glimpse at what New Zealanders will be voting on in next year’s cannabis referendum.

Justice minister Andrew Little said the primary objective of the draft bill was to reduce overall use and protect young people from access.

The bill proposes a minimum purchase and use age of 20 and restrictions on marketing and advertising of cannabis products. It says harm minimisation messages are to be included, consumption prohibited in public places and sales limited to specifically licensed physical stores. The cultivation and supply chain would be licensed and controlled by the government.

A clear public health orientation is to be applauded but once cannabis is made legal, I suggest the chances of increased use are high. This is not necessarily an argument against legalisation but we need much clearer thinking about the parameters of the legal cannabis market than is obvious in the current debate.

Read more: Most Australians support decriminalising cannabis, but our laws lag behind

An expanding cannabis market

Despite claims of high levels of use in New Zealand, the best data suggests only 15% of adults used cannabis in 2018/19, compared with 80% drinking alcohol.

In the US, where states have legalised medicinal cannabis and more recently recreational use, there has been an increase in cannabis use disorders among adults, prenatal and unintentional childhood exposure, use in adults and cannabis-related emergency room visits and fatal vehicle crashes.

We must expect more health harm from legal cannabis and, if legalisation is to go ahead, the government is right to draft law that protects us, and particularly the most vulnerable. But we may need to go beyond what the government is currently planning.

The level of harm from cannabis use depends on the amounts consumed, and there are many factors that drive use. These include levels of disadvantage, a sense hopelessness, familial history or personal and family crises, but one of the important drivers of heavy use is the way the products are supplied and marketed. This draft bill attempts to grapple with this.

Regulation beyond national level

The cannabis referendum provides both an opportunity and an imperative to question the proposed policy response. Our consumption is now strongly influenced by large and powerful transnational corporations, several of which produce alcohol products and will be the producers of the cannabis we smoke, vape, eat and drink.

Already alcohol companies are part owners of cannabis production overseas. The resources and influence these transnational alcohol corporates wield in the political arena weaken and prevent good legislation being passed throughout the world. The alcohol transnationals (aided by the advertising industry) have succeeded in fighting off meaningful regulation to control their marketing.

The draft New Zealand cannabis law proposes advertising regulations similar to those of the Smokefree legislation. These regulations, relevant when they were introduced in 1990, include no reference to marketing via social media platforms, where most alcohol marketing now takes place. Big data is used to target potential heavy drinkers and send messages the recipient they may not even recognise as marketing.

Read more: Children’s health hit for six as industry fails to regulate alcohol ads

Preventing industry influence on policy

Despite some voluntary restrictions on social media platforms, cannabis is being marketed with the help of influencers.

Cannabis corporates will work to weaken restrictions on marketing. Already in New Zealand, in response to the current proposals, Paul Manning, the chief executive of New Zealand cannabis producer Helius commented:

You could argue the ban on advertising is a bit tough given alcohol corporations are still allowed to advertise … .

We should expect a push from corporates around the world to bring cannabis regulation (in all its aspects) into line with very weak controls on alcohol. Countries around the world are looking at cannabis regulation and will learn from each other as the research on the impact of legalisation mounts. But the global corporations are already active and have resources to influence the policy processes.

Tobacco control has benefited greatly from an international and legally binding treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This specifically excludes corporate influence from the policy process. As a signatory to this treaty, New Zealand agreed to prevent tobacco industry influence on policy. There is no recognition of a similar intention in the draft cannabis bill (or in alcohol legislation).

Alcohol is the only drug not subject to an international health treaty and this is urgently needed.

The UN conventions on illicit drugs are not relevant when cannabis is legalised.

It is time to complement national policy on both alcohol and cannabis with a global framework that prevents industry influence on policy. This would help reduce harm by recognising the conflict of interest in maximising profits from selling addictive and intoxicating products.

ref. Why NZ’s cannabis bill needs to stop industry from influencing policy –


MIL-Evening Report: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: How rotten is New Zealand?

Article sponsored by
Dr Bryce Edwards.

How rotten is New Zealand, given the state of poverty at the end of 2019? And why do politicians and the public allow it? These are the questions that might be asked in the lead up to Christmas this year, given the wealth of information we have on disadvantage and suffering at the moment.

Auckland City Mission is currently carrying out their annual distribution of Christmas care packages across the city, but the reports resulting from this are pretty bleak. This week the head of community services development for the Mission, Brook Turner, pointed to the rising poverty and desperate situations facing beneficiary and working families as we come into the holiday season. He says “At Christmas that’s a pretty rotten thing to be happening to Kiwis” – see Carmen Parahi’s Auckland City Mission Christmas service sees families queue all night for parcels.

According to this report, the City Mission now distributes its relief from four centres instead of the traditional CBD one, and demand is badly exceeding supply: “Each centre is part of the Auckland City Mission’s Christmas service to distribute 200 family care packages per day for eight days. On the first day each centre reported turning away 50-100 families. They were expecting people would miss out every day. At Ngā Whare Waatea Marae, Māori Wardens were on site for most of the night keeping people safe as they queued. By 10pm, 60 families were camped and at 6.30am several hundred were waiting. Many missed out by the time the gate opened.”

Some families are travelling from long distances outside of Auckland to queue overnight. The Mission’s Turner reflects on this: “We were quite astonished by that. It speaks to how far those who are in need are willing to go to get the help they need.” He said it was a sign of rising inequality, food insecurity, living costs and issues around financial hardship, not just for those on benefits but also people who were working.”

TVNZ’s John Campbell visited some of those queuing at the City Mission’s Eden Park distribution centre this week, saying the existence of the centres is “a stark reminder of poverty in New Zealand”, and reported that of those camping out, “30 to 40 of the 200 people at Eden Park were children” – see: John Campbell kneels next to sleeping child at food bank, livid at state of poverty in NZ.

Reflecting on the situation, Campbell said, “People are sleeping on concrete outside and they are sleeping to get food and presents for Christmas. Imagine having to do that”. Furthermore: “This is our country and there’s no point pretending this isn’t our country because it is, and those of us who are journalist’s see it quite often. Those of us who work in this sector see it all the time.”

Campbell reports on one mother queuing at the centre: “She caught the bus before 6am, carrying two suitcases to bring back kai for her whānau, because otherwise they wouldn’t have enough.” Apparently, “The mother-of-one said she goes without power most weekends, telling her family it’s ‘like camping’.”

The poor state we’re in

The Auckland City Mission has been trying to estimate the severity of New Zealand’s food shortage problem. General Manager for Social Services Helen Robinson, who has just completed a MA on food insecurity, says “about 500,000 Kiwis are too poor to afford appropriate food” – see 1News’ ‘This is a public health crisis’ – City Mission calls for food insecurity measure to understand issue of poverty.

The government no longer measures food poverty, and that’s something Robinson is trying to change: “With the best information the mission has, we believe about 10 per cent of New Zealand is food insecure. So [there are] about 500,000 people in our country, like the hundreds that you have seen today, who don’t have enough appropriate food. What we’re calling for is to measure that.”

Robinson has also written about her disbelief that the situation is so bad: “I couldn’t understand why, that in New Zealand – this beautiful land of plenty, people simply didn’t have enough food and were forced to seek support to feed themselves and their families” – see: Christmas is about food and family – but not for all.

And it’s only getting worse: “Over the last few years, the need has increased. Our most recent information shows a 40 percent year-to-year increase in demand for emergency food parcels.” And, it’s not just a problem of those without work: “Some are working more than one job but still can’t meet all their living costs.” Such people, according to a survey of 650 people using the Mission’s food bank, are having to frequently “choose between buying food and meeting other essential costs.”

For more on the Auckland City Mission’s “8 Days of Christmas” operations, and why it’s expanded to new distribution centres around the city, you can listen to an interesting RNZ documentary – see Liu Chen’s Food parcels’ distribution on four sites to avoid ‘humiliating’ queues. Chris Farrelly, the Auckland City Missioner, explains why they shifted to four new centres outside of the CBD: “These long queues in Hobson Street stretching all night – we stopped that. There was no dignity. It was quite a humiliating”.

Other agencies are also reporting a worsening situation for those at the bottom. Trevor McGlinchey from the Council of Christian Social Services reports that charities are “telling him that demand for food is growing” – see Sarah Robson’s 10% of Kiwis experiencing food insecurity. Apparently, “An organisation that may have been distributing 100 food parcels a month five years ago today will be distributing 200 to 300 food parcels a month.”

Similarly, see Cate Broughton’s Overwhelmed charities say child poverty in NZ as high as ever. This article reports on the charity KidsCan, which helps children in low-decile schools, saying it’s facing “continued high demand for its support”, and over “the past five years the number of schools supported has almost doubled, from 388 to 740.”

New reports on poverty 

Last week the Children’s Commission released its annual stocktake of the state of child poverty – the Child Poverty Monitor – produced in conjunction with the University of Otago, and it was generally bad news – see Thomas Manch’s Child Poverty Monitor shows 148,000 children are living in material hardship.

According to this report, “More than one in 10 children in New Zealand are living in material hardship, and tens of thousands are going without healthy food.” And Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft is quoted saying that families are not able to keep up with the “ever-increasing costs of daily living, like rent and putting food on the table”.

Elsewhere, Becroft warned “We are in danger, as a country, of marginalising a group of kids and reinforcing generational disadvantage”. See Dan Satherley’s report, More Kiwi kids living in low-income households, suffering hardship, for more details of the report.

Another report, came out recently about working households living in poverty, which was carried out by AUT’s New Zealand Work Research Institute on behalf of the Human Rights Commission, and claims to be the most detailed research ever carried out on the working poor in New Zealand – see Vita Molyneux’s The staggering number of Kiwi workers living in poverty.

According to this, 50,000 households – or seven per cent – are living in poverty “despite containing at least one person who is in paid work.” The report warns of a renting “underclass” being formed due to the extreme cost of housing.

Worsening inequality

The Ministry of Social Development has recently released its annual statistical report on household incomes – you can read this here: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2018.

This report “makes for depressing if not surprising reading” according inequality researcher Max Rashbrooke, who provides a very useful overview in his blog post, Inequality and poverty: A summary of the 2019 household incomes in NZ report.

He says that, “Economic inequality remains at the very high level the country was left with in the late 1990s following 15 years of market-based reforms.” According to his calculations, based on the report, New Zealand’s level of inequality are now “noticeably higher than the OECD average”.

And Rashbrooke suggests that things have even worsened compared to Britain: “Looking at the share of income going to the various fifths (quintiles) of the population, New Zealand is now slightly more unequal than the supposedly class-ridden UK, with its poorest fifth taking less, and its richest fifth taking more, than their British counterparts”

Part of the problem is the global financial crisis that occurred a decade ago, leading to dramatic changes. However, in the decade since the crisis hit, the Herald’s business editor Liam Dann says the burden has been shared very unevenly, and not everyone has fared so badly: “if you started the decade with assets it’s been a golden age. If you started the decade poor you’ve probably gone backwards. While structural inequality has always been part and parcel of capitalism, it was supercharged by the fallout from the global financial crisis” – see: The bad joke that spoiled a golden decade (paywalled)..

Looking at changes in wealth over the decade, Dann says: “If you had all your wealth in the NZX-50 since the end of 2009, you’d have seen it increase by more than 300 per cent. If you had your wealth in housing you’d have doubled it – at least. If you were relying on wage growth to get ahead, well, I hope you got a promotion or two.” He therefore concludes that “the world still seems an uglier, less friendly place in 2019.”

Finally, although the ultimate solutions to the problems of poverty are political, individuals can still ameliorate the rotten symptoms of a severely unequal system, and Josephine Franks details how in her article, Giving at Christmas: How you can help Auckland’s homeless and others in need.


MIL-Evening Report: Robot career guidance: AI may soon be able to analyse your tweets to match you to a job

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peggy Kern, Associate professor, University of Melbourne

Imagine yourself graduating from high school, with the world before you.

But now you must decide what career you want to pursue. You hope for a job that will pay the bills, but also one you will enjoy. After all, you will spend a large portion of your waking hours at work.

But how can you make a reliable choice – beyond what your parents might be pushing for, or what your final year results will get you direct entry into.

Our study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found different professions attract people with very different psychological characteristics.

When looking for a new career, you might visit a career adviser and answer a set of questions to identify your interests and strengths. These results are used to match you with a set of potential occupations.

However, this method relies on long surveys, and doesn’t account for the fact that many occupations are changing or disappearing as technology transforms the employment landscape.

21st century job search

We wondered if we could develop a data-driven approach to matching a person with a suitable profession, based on psychological traces they reveal online.

Studies have shown people leave traces of themselves through the language they post online and their online behaviours.

Could we analyse this to find out the extent to which people doing the same job shared the same personality traits?

Read more: Employment services aren’t working for older jobseekers, jobactive staff or employers

In our research, we identified more than 100,000 Twitter users, each of whom included one of 3,513 job titles in their user profile.

Then, using a tool available through IBM’s cloud-based artificial intelligence engine Watson, and its Personality Insights service, we gave each profile a score across ten personality-related characteristics, based on the language in their posts.

We used a variety of data analytics and machine learning techniques to explore the personality of each of the occupations.

For example, to create the “vocation compass map” we used an unsupervised machine learning algorithm to cluster occupational personality data into twenty distinct clusters, grouping the occupations that were most similar in terms of personality.

An occupational map

Work has long been thought to be more fulfilling if it fits who we are as a person, in terms of our personality, values, and interests.

Our results confirmed this, and we found that different occupations tended to have very different personality profiles.

For instance, software programmers and scientists were generally more open to experiencing a variety of new activities, were intellectually curious, tended to think in symbols and abstractions, and found repetition boring. On the other hand, elite tennis players tended to be more conscientious, organised and agreeable.

Our findings point to the possibility of using data shared on social media to match an individual to a suitable job.

People belonging to different occupations generally have distinct personality traits. This figure shows the digital fingerprints of 1,200 individuals across nine occupations. Each dot corresponds to a user – with people grouped. within their self-identified occupation. Paul X. McCarthy

We used machine learning to cluster more than one thousand roles based on the inferred personality traits of people in those roles.

Read more: Inspire children with good careers advice and they do better at school

We found many similar jobs could be grouped together.

For example, one cluster included different technology jobs such as software programming, web development, and computer science. Another group included gym management, logistic coordination, and concert promotions.

You can explore more with this interactive online map we made.

The Vocations Map we created has clusters based on the predicted personalities of 101,152 Twitter users, across 1,227 occupations. Marian-Andrei Rizoiu

However, while many of the combinations aligned with existing occupation classifiers (current formal groupings that governments and other organisations use to group jobs together), some clusters included roles not traditionally grouped together.

For instance, cartographers, grain farmers and geologists ended up grouped together and shared similar personality traits to many of the technology professionals.

A data-driven vocation compass

With our results, we explored the idea of building a data-driven vocation compass: a recommendation system that could find the best career fit for someone’s personality.

We built a system that could recommend an occupation aligned to people’s personality traits with over 70% accuracy.

Even when our system was wrong, it wasn’t far off, and pointed to professions with very similar skill sets. For instance, it might suggest a poet becomes a fictional writer.

Professions are quickly changing due to automation and technological breakthroughs. And in our connected, digital world, we leave behind traces of ourselves. Our work has offered one approach to using these traces in a productive way.

Read more: Artificial intelligence may take your job, so political leaders need to start doing theirs

This approach may one day be used to help people find their dream career, or at the very least, better our understanding of the hidden personality dimensions of different roles.

ref. Robot career guidance: AI may soon be able to analyse your tweets to match you to a job –


MIL-Evening Report: Blue carbon is not the silver bullet the Coalition wants it to be

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Oli Moraes, Research Officer, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

The only Australian achievement on display at last week’s COP25 conference was “blue carbon”, paraded in three minor side events on including carbon stored in coastal ecosystems in national carbon reporting.

Blue carbon, which is the storage of organic carbon in mangroves, seagrasses and tidal salt marshes, is irrefutably important. But it is not a panacea for climate change. Australia has been using it as a smokescreen for inaction and a tool to bully our Pacific island neighbours.

Read more: Mapping the world’s ‘blue carbon’ hot spots in coastal mangrove forests

How much longer can the Coalition government defend inadequate climate commitments dependent on insufficient carbon conservation measures?

What is blue carbon?

Ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and tidal salt marshes are very good at storing carbon. They pull it out of oceans and atmosphere and store it in their roots and mud. It can remain there for thousands of years.

Mangroves in Fiji can store carbon in their roots and mud for thousands of years. Oli Moraes, Author provided

Beyond carbon storage, these landscapes provide habitat, spawning grounds and nurseries for fish, invertebrates and turtle species. They also provide protection for coastal communities from extreme weather events and rising sea level.

Shrimp farming, coastal development and agricultural expansion are a global threat to coastal ecosystems. These areas are also susceptible to heat waves, cyclones and storms, which climate change is intensifying.

When mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes are cut down, cleared or degraded, the carbon that was safely stored in mud is released back into the ocean and atmosphere as blue carbon emissions, further contributing to global warming.

So, conserving blue carbon ecosystems is critical to avoid a potential blue carbon bomb. Coastal areas in small island states, like those in the Pacific, are particularly vulnerable.

How is Australia responding?

During 2017’s COP23 climate summit presided over by Fiji, the then Australian minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, announced Australia would invest A$6 million in protecting and managing Pacific blue carbon ecosystems.

This pledge has been cited often over the past two years to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to action on climate change; most recently by the government’s inexperienced COP25 delegation led by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison cited Australia’s support of blue carbon in a much-criticised speech to the UN in September 2019.

Not the caring neighbour we pretend to be

While it is undeniably important to protect blue carbon ecosystems, there are major problems with the Coalition’s approach that must be scrutinised.

Throwing money at blue carbon projects generates carbon credits, which nominally offset Australia’s emissions. Meanwhile, Australia remains one of the world’s largest polluters per capita and the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels.

Yet our government claims the moral high ground through modest blue carbon conservation efforts.

Most wickedly, the government’s own emissions data show Australia’s pollution continues to rise. It looks increasingly like we won’t reach our own inadequate targets of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. The issue of Australia using carbon credits already earned under the Kyoto Protocol, which has been derided as exploiting a loophole, has been postponed until next year.

This is totally at odds with what regional leaders called for during the Pacific Island Forum in August. Earlier this month, former prime minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “denies climate change is happening in the Pacific”.

It is completely disingenuous for our leaders to use blue carbon as an example of Australia’s support of our Pacific neighbours in the climate crisis.

The Paris Agreement will not force Australia to undertake ambitious climate mitigation until the late 2020s. We will then be forced to buy expensive international carbon credits through schemes like blue carbon conservation and restoration.

Rather than curbing our emissions now, Australia is sinking more research dollars into cheaper carbon credits to meet these future commitments. It’s clear Australia is bullying the Pacific into bailing us out on our failure to act.

Coastal ecosystems are getting squeezed between rising seas and human construction. Oli Moraes, Author provided

Blue carbon is not a silver bullet

A UN oceans report released earlier this year highlights problems with countries depending on blue carbon as their main form of climate change mitigation.

The report says blue carbon would offset only about 2% of current global emissions and would not be an effective replacement for the “very rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions” required to avoid catastrophic climate change.

While recent studies in Australia found sea-level rise could improve coastal ecosystems’ ability to sequester more carbon, the UN report states: “[…] under high emission scenarios, sea level rise and warming are expected to reduce carbon sequestration by vegetated coastal ecosystems”.

If emissions keep rising, the speed and scale of climate change will overwhelm blue carbon ecosystems’ ability to adapt. This problem will be compounded by “coastal squeeze” as rising seas butt up against human infrastructure, leaving coastal plants with shrinking habitats.

This demonstrates the perverse reality Pacific islands now face.

Australia is essentially telling our Pacific neighbours, who are on the front line of climate change: “We will protect your coastal carbon sinks in the short term for international credit, while continuing to burn and export coal, oil and gas.”

In the long term, Pacific islands will be devastated and even destroyed by cyclones and storms. Because those mangroves won’t be able to adapt in time to the hot, acidic and rising seas.

Read more: Acid oceans are shrinking plankton, fuelling faster climate change

ref. Blue carbon is not the silver bullet the Coalition wants it to be –


MIL-Evening Report: Attention United Nations: don’t be fooled by Australia’s latest report on the Great Barrier Reef

Article sponsored by

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jon C. Day, PSM, Post-career PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

For some years, Australia has been on notice: the world is watching how we care for the Great Barrier Reef. The iconic natural wonder is the largest living organism on the planet. But its health is deteriorating.

In 2017 UNESCO, the United Nations body that granted the reef world heritage status, asked Australia to report back on how the reef was faring.

Australia this month submitted its latest report. It provides a wealth of information on many threats to the reef, such as water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish.

But the report’s overall message is that the reef’s world heritage values are fine and the threats are in hand, when the reality is far different.

Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef. OVE HOEGH GULDBERG

A global jewel

The Great Barrier Reef was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1981. It was recognised as globally significant or, in the parlance of the world heritage committee, having “outstanding universal value”.

In ensuing years, a myriad of impacts have devastated the reef’s health. They include coral bleaching exacerbated by climate change, poor water quality from land-based runoff, and unsustainable fishing and coastal development.

Read more: The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. There are a whopping 45 reasons why

UNESCO considered listing the reef as “in danger” but in 2017 decided against it. Australia was asked to report back to show it was protecting the reef’s outstanding universal value.

But Australia’s report is deficient. It claims the reef “maintains many of the elements” that make up its outstanding universal value – yet its methodology fails to properly assess this.

Why the report is deficient

The report relies on assessments made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in its five-yearly outlook report released in August. Our analysis shows four flaws in that otherwise commendable report have carried over to the report to UNESCO.

First, instead of assessing the world heritage values themselves, the report assessed the four natural criteria for which the reef was granted world heritage status.

These four broad criteria cover the reef’s exceptional natural beauty; its evolution over millennia; its outstanding demonstration of significant ecological and biological processes; and its enormous biodiversity of habitats and species.

Each of these criteria comprise many “values”, or features. The outlook report assesses the status and trends of these values but fails to identify which are specifically world heritage values – which is what UNESCO really needs to know.

A photo depicting two threats to the Great Barrier Reef: coal ships anchored near Abbot Point and a flood plume. Matt Curnock

Here’s an example. The biodiversity criterion encompasses coral reefs, sandy and muddy habitats, mangroves and seagrass, dugongs, whales, dolphins, turtles and birds.

For biodiversity, the report gives an overall grade of “poor”. But this obscures the fact large areas of coral – a key world heritage value – are in very poor health.

This method is used despite the federal government’s own legislation specifically requiring the reef’s world heritage values, not the criteria, be assessed.

Second, the latest assessment is measured against results in 2014. So it does not show the degradation since the reef was listed 38 years ago.

Read more: The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it

Third, the report wrongly assesses the reef’s “integrity”, an important part of its outstanding universal value. Integrity refers to the “wholeness and intactness” of the area and its threats, and requires separate investigation. Instead, the report assumes the assessments of the criteria answer the integrity question.

Fourth, both reports fail to acknowledge Indigenous people’s links to the reef are clearly part of its outstanding universal value.

In essence, the report to UNESCO sends the message Australia is well in control of the threats to the reef. This is misleading, and does not accord with the 2019 outlook report which downgraded the reef’s prospects from “poor” to “very poor”.

These criticisms may seem semantic. But the report will be critical when the world heritage committee meets next year in China to assess how the reef is faring.

What the report should have said

The table below demonstrates a more logical and relevant way of reporting back to UNESCO. Information in the outlook report is rearranged in this example against one of four world heritage criteria.


If a summary against all four criteria, plus integrity, is necessary, it would be better presented as per the table below showing the grades and trends of all relevant values.


Read more: The Barrier Reef is not listed as in danger, but the threats remain

Looking ahead

Problems with the government’s report to UNESCO extend beyond the issues outlined above. The government acknowledges climate change is the biggest threat to the reef, and limiting temperature rise to 1.5℃ this century is widely accepted as the critical threshold for reef survival.

Read more: ‘Sadness, disgust, anger’: fear for the Great Barrier Reef made climate change feel urgent

But the government’s report fails to explain how Australia is reducing emissions in line with this goal. A recent analysis suggests if Australia’s efforts were matched globally, warming would not be kept within 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

Without clear and unambiguous information, the world heritage committee cannot draw an informed conclusion about whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger”. The listing would not fix the problems – but it might force Australia to act.

ref. Attention United Nations: don’t be fooled by Australia’s latest report on the Great Barrier Reef –