23rd April 2017
Australia’s return to the space race could provide valuable data on upper atmospheric weather and help close gaps in satellite coverage, an expert says.
The three satellites, made Down Under, blasted into orbit this week. It was the first time in 15 years that Aussie-made satellites have been sent into space.
They are the work of 50 University of Adelaide students and staff.
Since the launch, the Australian research satellites have reportedly been successfully transferred to the international space station where they are awaiting a catapult out of a canon and into orbit.
Dr Brad Tucker, an astronomer at Canberra’s Mt Stromlo Observatory, said the satellites were part of a network being built to provide “continuing monitoring of the upper atmosphere”.
“When we talk about gaps in satellite coverage, by having tons of them (satellites) we actually end the problem of having gaps in satellite coverage,” he told the Seven Network on Saturday.
The satellites would collect data from the thermosphere on things like solar flares, upper atmosphere winds and storm systems.
“It’s really (about) predicting better monitoring and space weather monitoring,” he added.
It’s only the third time that Aussie-constructed satellites have been sent into space, with the first orbital device launched back in 1967, followed by one in 2002.
The latest Australian satellites, known as “cubesats”, join a total of 28 satellites recently launched into space on a rocket from an air force base in the US.
The small satellites weigh just 1.3kg each, but researchers say they could provide groundbreaking data on weather and communication systems.
15th April 2017
Almost 5000 WA children under 16 years old are being prescribed antidepressants, which doctors argue reflects the rates of mental health and behavioural issues.
Figures from the Department of Human Services show 4922 children aged two to 16 were supplied with antidepressants in 2015, including 178 under seven years old and 910 aged seven to 11.
Nationally, 49,000 children were prescribed the drugs, while across all ages 2.8 million Australians were on antidepressants.
It comes only weeks after a study by primary care provider 360 Health and Community found 31 per cent of GP referrals for depression help in Perth were for patients aged 10 to 19.
Three per cent, or more than 200 referrals, were for children under 10.
In December, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reiterated a warning to doctors that the use of antidepressants had been linked to a small increased risk of suicidal thinking in some children and adolescents.
The main risk was associated with the newer generation of antidepressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
Nick Kowalenko from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry, said the figures for antidepressant use in children did not seem out of order.
He said low doses of older-type antidepressants were sometimes prescribed to very young children for issues such as persistent bedwetting, to change their sleep cycle.
“I’m guessing that the rationale behind the 178 kids aged two to six on antidepressants in WA is about bedwetting rather than treating depression,” Dr Kowalenko said.
He said SSRI drugs were used to treat depression but also childhood anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders. The risks and benefits of antidepressants were always weighed up, including the risk of a child missing a lot of school if they were not treated.
Dr Kowalenko said the 2015 Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing had found that about 14 per cent of four to 17-year-olds — or 600,000 children — had been assessed as having mental disorders.
About 40 per cent of them had moderate or severe conditions such as major depressive and anxiety disorders.
“So when you look at those numbers, the prescribing rates don’t jump out as high, but the question to ask is if the right children, the most severely impaired, are being treated,” he said.
14th april 2017
Non-binary and gender diverse students are experiencing delays and unexpected cancellations of their Centrelink payments, due to Centrelink’s system only offering ‘male’ or ‘female’ as gender options.
Students who have been affected say that the disruption is occurring because they are commonly able to choose a third gender option – often listed as ‘Other’ or ‘Unspecified’ – on their university forms for enrolment, but do not receive the same option for their Centrelink details. Centrelink’s internal system then notices that a fundamental piece of of information is different to what the university is providing, so the student’s payment is disrupted.
A non-binary student at the University of Sydney said to The Guardian, “They called to say they’ve been trying to confirm whether I’m a student for the last month but every week they get a response that no student matches those details. It’s real bullshit for a few reasons. Why does gender need to come into it? My name, address and student ID all match.”
According to the student, Centrelink do not have facilities within the system to even accommodate non-binary people, despite the fact that Australian government guidelines were released in 2013 stating that “where sex and/or gender information is collected … individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female), or X (Indeterminate / Intersex / Unspecified)”
“I asked the person on the phone if she could update my gender on the Centrelink systems to match my enrolment and she said, ‘The current software means that isn’t possible. If you identify as a non-binary gender, we can only add a note to your personal record’,” they said.
The student remarked that they had never been informed of this by Centrelink: “No one seems to know how to handle this sort of thing. Everyone has systems in place but no one knows how to use them or is trained in it. This stuff is super common, to be honest – it’s annoying and tiring but unsurprising.”
Another non-binary applicant said that they didn’t know what to do when listing gender on Centrelink registration forms, saying, “I’m applying for the disability pension and I filled out their form with just male or female options, and I wrote next to it that I am non-binary,” they said. “Hopefully that doesn’t come back to bite me. People like me didn’t get a choice as to what they put on our birth certificate, but we’re still having to play by rules that define us.”
Hank Jorgen, the general manager of the Department of Human Services said that the lack of an ‘X’ gender option at Centrelink was noted, but it was a work in progress.
“The department recognises that individuals should have the option of selecting a male (M), female (F) or non-binary (X) gender value,” he said. “Because of the scale and complexities around the department’s forms and ageing IT systems, changes are being made progressively as part of a multi-year project.
“A person’s eligibility for social security payments is not conditional on their gender. The department does not cancel payments to recipients because they do not identify as either male or female.”
Executive director of Transgender Victoria Sally Goldner told The Guardian, “If other government agencies have done it, I don’t understand why it would be that hard for Centrelink to do it. The sex and gender guidelines were introduced for all government departments in mid-2013, so they’re clearly way overdue. It would also help data collection on all sorts of stuff, we could find out unemployment rates for non-binary people, which we have always suspected are much higher. There are a lot of benefits for society as a whole. It was trans day of visibility last Friday – let’s get done what needs to be done.”
Several universities across Australia offer students multiple gender options on forms, including the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland and University of Adelaide.
8th April 2017
Rawles said that despite the location of Darwin, situated on the Timor Sea and in proximity to South East Asia, it was the perfect place for Australians to flock in the event of an apocalyptic type event.
“The culpable region, would be Darwin. You have plenty of rainfall (enough resources) but you have a very light population density overall,” he said.
He said he had studied Australia after using the country as a setting for one of his novels, Expatriates.
“After the United States suffers a major socio-economic meltdown, a power vacuum sweeps the globe,” a description of the book reads.
“A newly-radicalised Islamic government has risen in Indonesia and — after invading the Philippines, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea — sets its sights on Australia. No longer protected by American military interests, Australia must repel an invasion alone.”
Rawles said the novel is a “survival manual dressed as fiction” which formed the basis for his opinion on Darwin.
“Up in the wet would probably be the most sustainable place to be, even though the tropical climate has its own set of problems.
“On balance, because of a light population density, its remoteness from major population centres on the east coast, Darwin would probably be the safest place.
“Without water, you’re a refugee. You can improvise a lot of things, but you can’t improvise water. You can store a lot of things, but water is bulky, you can’t store a couple years worth of water, certainly not in the context of a suburban home.
“Outside of water, everything else is secondary from a survival standpoint.”
5th April 2017
Georgie Stone was eight years old when the school bathroom became a battleground.
In the face of daily humiliation and bullying, going to the toilet had become an act of enormous courage.
Born biologically male, Georgie had known from an early age she was a girl.
But despite her transition at age seven — identifying as, dressing as, and asking to be recognised as a girl — she was not allowed to use the girls’ facilities at school.
Georgie’s mother said the principal told her it would confuse the other children and potentially incite tensions with parents.
It led to an incident in the boys’ swimming change room, just before Georgie’s ninth birthday, that she describes as one of the most traumatic of her life.
“I was wearing female bathers, I had long hair and people knew that I’d transitioned. I remember walking in there and it was all boys and a lot of the people who had bullied me in the past were in there,” the 16-year-old said.
“I just remember them jeering at me, making fun of me, shouting at me, saying, ‘What’s a girl doing in the male change rooms?’. It was awful. I ran out half-dressed, crying my eyes out.”
For the rest of the term, Georgie got changed for swimming behind a tree. At school, she stopped going to the bathroom altogether.
Concerned for her safety, her parents found a more understanding school. Now she is thriving and no longer lives in fear.
But the simple act of visiting the toilet remains a minefield for many trans and gender diverse students.
As global recognition of the rights and struggles of transgender people grows, the momentum is throwing up a complex set of challenges for schools, most acutely around bathroom access.
Principals are balancing the needs of trans and gender diverse young people against the potential pushback from school communities — already witnessed in the United States — where opponents argue girls born biologically male pose a risk to other students in female bathrooms.
Transgender young people and their families say they are no threat and just want to feel comfortable using toilets.
But in the absence of uniform national guidelines outlining schools’ legal obligations, some Australian students are being forced to use bathrooms that do not match their gender identity, in some instances causing them such distress that parents are pulling them out of school entirely.
Michelle Telfer, director of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital’s Gender Service, said many young transgender people go to extreme lengths to feel safe in school bathrooms.
“We’ve seen kids who’ve worn nappies to school — in high school — to avoid going to the toilet.”
“Kids who don’t drink from the time they get up in the morning to the time they get home from school so that they’re dehydrated and they don’t need to go to the toilet,” Dr Telfer said.
Melbourne student Oliver Kipnis identified as a boy, and dressed in boys’ clothing, until he transitioned at age 10. But until he came out to his classmates he felt obliged to use the girls’ bathrooms.
“When I was about nine I had an incident at school where another girl said, ‘Aren’t you in the wrong toilets?’ So I stopped using toilets in public altogether,” the 14-year-old said.
“It was such an awkward experience and I didn’t want to repeat it so I just stopped drinking water and went to the toilet at home.”
The Australian Education Union has called on state education departments to follow the lead of South Australia, which last month became the first state to introduce a new policy that requires all public schools to allow students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The education department developed the mandatory guidelines — which also allow students to use their preferred gender pronoun — following a number of queries from teachers and parents seeking guidance.
The policy states that, “failure to provide transgender students with access to appropriate toilet and change facilities may breach anti-discrimination legislation”.
Victoria and Western Australia have introduced similar, although less explicit, guidelines outlining how schools should support trans and gender diverse students, including allowing them to access bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said it was “vital” schools support trans and gender diverse students to access appropriate bathrooms.
However, there is growing opposition to the advance of transgender rights, particularly in schools, fuelling concerns trans children here will be caught up in the so-called “bathroom wars”.
Australian conservative groups — including the Australian Christian Lobby — have applauded US President Donald Trump’s recent move to wind back federal protections for transgender students, which had instructed public schools to allow students to use the toilets and change rooms matching their gender identities or lose government funding.
“There are lobbyists within Australia who are really keen to import that idea of fear of a threat that really doesn’t exist,” said Laura*, the mother of a 13-year-old trans girl from rural Tasmania, who runs the support group Gender Help for Parents.
“They’re just playing by the same playbook that they’ve used in the US. I think our kids are potentially going to be the next targets.”
After campaigning fiercely against the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, The Australian Christian Lobby has called on all state governments to “take immediate steps to allow schoolgirls to feel safe in school toilets and change rooms”.
Managing director Lyle Shelton said this meant “boys identifying as girls” should not be allowed access to girls’ private spaces such as toilets and change rooms.
When asked whether he thought transgender girls using female bathrooms was a risk to other students, Mr Shelton did not comment but said: “The idea of allowing biological males identifying as girls who have not had gender reassignment surgery to enter girls’ private spaces is new.
“It is not reasonable for parents to be required, without their permission, to have their daughters participate in such a social experiment.”
In the face of confusion and potential trauma to their transgender children, some parents are opting out of the school system altogether.
Kerri* has home-schooled her 16-year-old daughter Jasmine* since she transitioned at age seven, after her school in regional South Australia insisted she would not be allowed to use the girls’ bathrooms until Kerri provided documents from a lawyer, counsellor, psychiatrist and GP.
“They were worried about legal issues. They wanted documents that would indemnify them if other parents had an issue,” she said.
While Kerri gathered the documentation, the principal offered Jasmine the disabled or staff toilets — a common solution by schools that can often leave the student feeling more alienated.
For Jasmine, it was too late.
“We had to pull her out because she was just too distressed. She would try to hold on but she was having accidents, wetting herself,” Kerri said. “There was just so much shame and fear for her.”
As yet, no Australian student who has been denied bathroom access has publicly challenged their school.
But in the United States, Virginia teenager Gavin Grimm has become the face of the bathroom wars, taking his case to the Supreme Court, after being denied access to the male toilets and locker rooms by his school, citing breaches of federal law.
The equivalent Australian law is the Sex Discrimination Act, which Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said protected transgender students.
“Schools have a legal duty not to subject students to a ‘detriment’ or limit access to any benefit because of their gender identity,” Ms Brown said.
“In practice this means supporting students as they transition, including allowing them to use toilets that accords with the gender they live as.”
In the United States, opposition to bathroom access has centred on what equality campaigners have dubbed the “predator myth”.
Conservative groups have argued that allowing trans people to use the toilet of their affirmed gender could lead to attacks on women and girls by men or boys posing as transgender females.
In response, a coalition of more than 200 organisations working with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors last year released a statement pointing out that in the 18 states where anti-discrimination laws protect trans people’s access to the bathroom of their affirmed gender, there has been no rise in sexual violence offences.
Catharine Lumby, a Macquarie University professor who researches gender and the media, argues transgender women are more likely to be the victims of a transphobic attack than predators themselves.
“The predator mythology is a smokescreen for some people’s deep discomfort with the idea that gender is fluid … often male conservatives, who’d like return to a world where gender roles were highly structured and easy to identify,” she said.
In Australia, much of the opposition rests with a discomfort about young people transitioning too early, and a belief that some will change their minds.
David van Gend, president of the Australian Marriage Forum which opposes same-sex marriage, said he was concerned that allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity “collaborates with a child’s delusion”.
“Given the fact that the vast majority of gender-confused children get over their confusion around the time of puberty, why use the authority of the school to affirm and entrench their confused behaviour?” Dr van Gend said.
Dr van Gend said such policies were “clinically reckless” and likened them to agreeing with an emaciated girl suffering from anorexia that she is fat.
“In both cases, we must strive to help the young person come back to reality.”
Dr Telfer said studies showing children grow out of their transgender identity had been widely discredited and that young people going through gender transition do so in consultation with parents, teachers and medical professionals.
“The young people we see aren’t choosing to be trans. It’s something they’ve thought about their entire life and has often taken a lot of courage over several years to speak up,” she said.
“They’re driven to come out to save themselves from self-harm and suicide.”
Dr Telfer said Oliver’ story was an example of how transgender children can flourish when offered appropriate support.
Before he came out to classmates, Safe Schools Coalition Australia visited the school at the request of the principal and worked out a plan with Oliver, his family and staff, allowing him to use the boys’ toilets and play in the boys’ sports teams.
“Nothing really changed except that they stopped using that old name and they started using the new pronoun,” Oliver said. “It wasn’t a big deal. I was just me.”
8th March 2017
Some unvaccinated Australian children are being turned away for medical treatment because their immunisation is not up-to-date, a survey has found.
The Australian Child Health Poll of almost 2,000 parents found among 5 per cent of children who were not up-to-date with the vaccinations, one in six had been refused care — particularly those under the age of six years.
*Australian Child Health Poll
Anthea Rhodes from Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital said the finding was a concern.
“It’s been a topic in the US for a long time and it’s a complex one about rights to refuse care to unvaccinated kids,” Dr Rhodes told ABC News Breakfast.
“At the Royal Children’s Hospital we are clear in our position that all children have equal rights to access health care, regardless of their vaccination status.
“It’s concerning for us to find that this practice is happening in Australia and it needs some more research now to look at who, how, why and when.”
The study found most Australian children — 95 per cent — were fully vaccinated, but one in three parents still held concerns.
One in 10 parents believed that vaccines could cause autism, and a further 30 per cent were unsure — despite medical research showing no causal link.
“Look, vaccinations work. They are safe. They have saved many, many lives in Australia and across the world and we are pleased to see in the study that the vast majority of Australian parents do support vaccination and keep their kids up-to-date,” Dr Rhodes said.
“But there is a small number out there who continue to have unfounded worries and concerns. They need to speak to their healthcare providers to keep them up-to-date.”
The survey also found 74 per cent of parents believed they should be informed about the number of children not fully vaccinated in their child’s school, kindergarten or childcare centre.
Seven out of 10 of those parents said that information would influence their decision to send their child there.
Dr Rhodes said there were also myths around delaying vaccinations in unwell children.
“For example, around half of parents felt a child on antibiotics who was otherwise well would need their vaccines delayed. That’s untrue,” she said.
The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) Victorian president Lorraine Baker said she had never heard of any doctor refusing a child treatment.
“I’ve never heard, and I can say that with absolute confidence, of any doctor refusing treatment to an unvaccinated child where the child needed treatment immediately. You find work arounds for that,” Dr Baker said.
Dr Baker said she was unsure whether those parents surveyed were reporting an outright refusal of care or that it had been delayed.
“I consider situations where for instance a maternal and child health service may have had a baby or child visit and the nurse suspects that child has chicken pox or another infectious disease and knows there’s a mother with a newborn coming,” she said.
“What’s the advice? There’s a two-hour exclusion zone when the active virus is in your enclosed space, so I need to make sure no-one enters who isn’t immunised.
“Is it care at a given moment because it wasn’t an appropriate time to deliver care for that child exposed to a particular potential contact with another virus? I don’t know.”
The issue has been in the spotlight in recent days after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson described the Government’s ‘no jab, no pay’ policy as a “dictatorship” and said parents should do their own research into vaccinations.
8th March 2017
7th March 2017
wo WA men could face up to 10 years in prison after their alleged attempts to import banned child sex dolls were uncovered by the Australian Border Force.
The dolls, which are extremely lifelike and feature anatomically correct genitals, are designed for paedophiles and can be made to order to represent a child of any age, ethnicity or gender.
The ABF said the two WA men had each tried to import a female child doll recently from manufacturers in Asia, but their orders were intercepted at a mail-sorting centre when they arrived in Australia.
WA Police were immediately notified and it is understood the men’s homes have been raided.
Inquiries are continuing and no charges have as yet been laid. The dolls are classified as “objectionable goods” and those caught trying to import them face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $450,000 under the Customs Act.
“Objectionable goods includes material that describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a way that would offend a reasonable adult,” a border force spokeswoman said.
“This includes dolls manufactured for a sexual purpose that depict a child under the age of 18 years.”
Japanese-based company Trottla is one of several in Asia which manufacture child sex dolls and it makes no secret of what they are designed for.
Images on the company’s website show them dressed in leather or lace underwear and positioned in provocative poses.
Trottla’s owner Shin Takagi, who admits to experiencing paedophilic impulses, claims to be performing a public service by providing paedophiles with an outlet for their perversions, thereby preventing real children from being abused.
The ABF spokeswoman said attempts to import the dolls into Australia appeared to be on the rise, with several seized in other States in recent months.
Twenty-three have been seized since 2013 and investigations into those caught trying to import them often resulted in other offences being identified.
“While investigations often begin with an interception of a child sex doll by ABF at the border, subsequent warrant activity often locates additional evidence of child exploitation which may result in more serious charges,” she said.
8th Feb 2016
Queensland’s privacy commissioner is reviewing new ‘big brother’ surveillance technology being used to record video and audio of members of the public in the Moreton Bay area.
Yesterday, the Moreton Bay Regional Council announced it had deployed about 330 new devices in public spaces, with plans to install dozens more.
Mayor Allan Sutherland said it would help boost community safety.
“Moreton Bay Region now has the ability to not only see what’s going on, but to be able to hear what’s going on,” he said.
“We don’t listen on a daily basis; as requested if the police come along and say: ‘Can we have the footage?’
“Unless you’ve got anything to hide, you haven’t got anything to worry about.”
The devices record and store data for several weeks.
Queensland’s privacy commissioner Phil Green said he was enquiring to see if the use of the technology breached privacy laws.
“I’m still in the fact-finding mode — I obviously don’t act rashly, I’m trying to look into this and have a rational good public debate on the issue,” he said.
“If the public aren’t happy with this sort of development, then the State Government can enact laws, but I think the laws already possibly stop this sort of thing happening.”
He said the private sector could soon follow suit, unless privacy laws were clarified.
“Do the public want it? Because if councils do it, then the universities do it, and the hospitals do it,” Mr Green said.
“If it’s one council doing it, then it could be all the councils doing it across Australia, so we do need to look at it carefully.”
Mr Green said his office was only informed last week.
“I understand my office did receive a draft press release about it, but very scant on details and of course that’s probably not the best way of going about launching something about this when it involves a fair investment,” Mr Green said.
Councillor Sutherland was unable to comment on the development, but in a statement a spokesperson said the council had not breached any laws.
“Council provided a copy of its proposed media release and advisory signage to staff from the Office of the Information Commissioner,” the statement said.
“Council is satisfied its use of the CCTV footage and audio is consistent with its obligations under the Information Privacy Act.”
In the last budget, council announced $801,000 would be spent on upgrading surveillance cameras across public areas.
Some of the new cameras have been deployed in locations including Centenary Lakes Park in Caboolture, Burpengary Sports Precinct, and Bee Gees Way at Redcliffe.
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said the public should be concerned.
“It seems that not only big brother is watching but in the guise of the Moreton Bay council, he’s also listening,” Mr Potts said.
“I can understand why people in a public place may have no expectation of privacy, but their ordinary conversations about their friends, about their families, about their work and just the ordinary social chit-chat, should always remain completely sacrosanct.
“If the Mayor was fair dinkum in his argument that only those people who have something to hide would object to being listened to by the Moreton Bay Regional Council, perhaps he could volunteer to be listened to seven days a week, 24 hours a day, by his constituents before he understand the value of privacy.”