The Junction University student journalism from Australia, NZ and the Pacific. Fri, 17 Jan 2020 13:50:18 +0000 en-AU hourly 1 150612437 Youth and Political Engagement Fri, 17 Jan 2020 13:50:18 +0000 Young Australians are one of our most under-represented demographics in elected Australian politics, with no members under the age of 28 in the federal parliament.

Despite popular rhetoric that young people are politically apathetic, recent studies show exactly the opposite is true: engagement in political issues, among young Australians, is on the rise.

However, while we’re seeing this increase in advocacy around political issues, there hasn’t been a substantial increase in young Australians being elected into government.

The recent ‘School Strike for Climate’ in Melbourne saw young Australians turn out in droves to support a cause they believe in, but the tangible impact of such activism is under question.


Bushfire Crisis: where nothing is left Thu, 16 Jan 2020 05:32:07 +0000 Some of the most distressing images to emerge during Australia’s bushfire crisis are of our killed and injured wildlife.

But as Mark Kriedemann discovered during a walk-through of scorched bushland near Kangaroo Valley (above) – in some places, there is simply nothing left to show.

— Contact @KriedemannMark for republication.


Debunked! Instagram names and shames fakes Thu, 16 Jan 2020 05:21:12 +0000 The role of social media in spreading false information about the bushfire crisis, had made disinformation Australia’s new battleground.

Now Instagram users are getting a taste of what that fakery looks like, with debunked posts and memes starting to pop up in their feeds.

The Facebook-owned social platform is working with independent fact-checking organisations to decry misleading content on original images, as part of a new initiative to identify disinformation in user generated content (UGC).

Facebook says it won’t be vetting political ads, but it is keen to call out memes.

Last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wouldn’t be removing the fakes but would agree to filtering and reducing visibility in search results.

But this week, users picked-up on the new safeguard and started sharing their discoveries.

So, how does it work?

Instagram says it uses a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and user-reporting to identify potentially false content, which it then refers to its fact-checking partners.

“When content has been rated as false or partly false by a third-party fact-checker … it will be labelled so people can better decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share”, Instagram explains in a media statement.

After the debunking process, image-matching technology then applies the label on every instance of the post.

AAP’s Peter Trute, confirmed the Australian media organisation’s involvement in the initiative.

“AAP FactCheck joined Facebook’s Third Party Fact Checking program in mid-2019,” he said.

“As a partner in the program we check misinformation on Facebook and since third party fact checking was extended to Instagram at the end of 2019, on that platform as well.”

Instagram says the feature is an “important step in ongoing efforts to fight misinformation”.

— Story and screen recording, Renae Barber @renaessance_ .

*Contact reporter for republication.


How Indigenous burning could address the extreme bushfires of our changing climate Thu, 09 Jan 2020 08:43:35 +0000 Australia’s deadliest bushfire season started early, in September 2019, and with months still to go, there have already been 24 deaths, over two thousand homes burned, and more than 5.9 million hectares of scorched land.

The internet has been saturated with images of charred, sculpture-like animals, as the blazes swallow huge amounts of Australia’s wild animal population.

It rained ash in Sydney’s city streets in December and by January, the smoke from the fires had travelled more than 11,000 km across the Pacific, to Argentina and Chile.

“I have never witnessed fires or debris or smoke like this in my life and I have lived in Australia all my life,” says 82-year-old Sydney resident John Neeld.

There’s little doubt among scientists and fire experts that global climate change is a leading causal factor in Australia’s worst-ever bushfire season, triggered by years of extreme drought followed by several record-breaking national heat waves.

A growing chorus also points to the abandonment of traditional burning methods, in use in Australia for thousands of years, as also contributing to the crisis as fuel loads build up to excessive levels.

Extreme Fire Season

Australia is not alone in facing increased fires. A study of global fire trends between 1979 and 2013 published in Nature found that the fire weather season has lengthened by 18.7 per cent across a quarter of the Earth’s vegetated surface.

Fires are far more likely to start when the atmosphere is hot and dry. Wherever there’s fuel to burn and a spark for ignition, wildfires or bushfires can take hold in these hot dry conditions.

In late October experts were already predicting that Australia’s 2019-2020 fire season would be of an unprecedented size across southern and eastern Australia.

“The numbers, scale, and diversity of the fires is going to reframe our understanding of bushfire in Australia,” prominent fire ecologist and director of the Fire Centre of Tasmania in Hobart, David Bowman, told Science on November 22, 2019.

“What is happening is extraordinary,” he continued. “It would be difficult to say there wasn’t a climate change dimension. We couldn’t have imagined the scale of the current event before it happened. We would have been told it was hyperbole.”

Bowman said that even places which do not normally burn have caught fire: “We’re seeing recurrent fires in tall, wet eucalypt forests, which normally only burn very rarely. A swamp dried out near Port Macquarie, and organic sediments in the ground caught on fire.”

Scientists and traditional owners of the land are coming to some consensus on one major contribution to current extreme fires: fuel loads are too high.

Traditional practices help manage the fuel load

Darren Charlwood, a Wiradjuri tour guide at the Sydney Botanical Gardens, says the situation could be fixed with traditional burning: “We’ve stopped the environment from burning and it’ll bounce right back if you burn it.”

He goes on to say, “The decrease in burning is why the bushfires are happening now.”

“When things traditionally burn each year… the plants get the benefit from it because it is part of their biology and you clear the ground,” he says.

“When all the fuel builds up the fire burns things like banksias that will usually cope with it but can’t cope with it anymore, and lots of plants have mechanisms and buffers to stop them from completely dying due to these burnings, but when that fuel builds right up the fires are out of control and it just kills everything, it burns everything,” Charlwood adds.

There’s evidence that Aboriginal burning practices have been an effective means of fire management in the past, and as the wider community has begun calling on cultural burning experts to help fuel load management, there are now cases showing these practices remain still highly relevant today.

One example comes from Phil Sheppard, who co-owns a property outside of Laguna, in the Hunter Valley of NSW, in an area hit hard by the Gospers Mountain fire in late December.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald on January 6, that his property had been saved by the Indigenous burning practices he and his co-owners had welcomed three years prior.

During the fires that swept across Sheppard’s property in December, the only building lost was the one hut which had not been ‘protected’ by the burnings.

Cultural burning is used to clean up country

Leading anthropologist Petronella Vaarzon-Morel has worked with many indigenous groups who still maintain burning practices. “An important part of Aboriginal burning practices is reducing fuel load, reducing that undergrowth,” says Vaarzon-Morel. “They call it cleaning up country.”

She also says that many plants need burning in order to regrow. “Their growth is tied to Aboriginal patch burning. So, burning countries at different areas creates different patches, which allows regeneration for different kinds of plants at different periods of time.”

When this burning is not done, the equilibrium of the ecosystem is thrown out of balance.

But it’s not simply a case of randomly burning different parts of the environment.

“You have to have knowledge of when to burn and when plants are going to come up, among other things,” Vaarzon-Morel says.

There are long and complex traditions and intricate knowledge which informs the burning practices, she adds. “This knowledge about fire is encoded in the stories and songs,” she says.

Vaarzon-Morel says that non-indigenous people in Alice Springs were doing hazard reduction burning to prevent fire, but they didn’t do it correctly. “They were burning at the wrong times and they were burning dangerously because they did not understand the winds necessarily, or how things work, or the plants. Warlpiri can look at plants and know what the burn’s going to be like, how it is going to act,” she says.

Governments not using knowledge

The deeper knowledge of burning that Aboriginal groups have, comes from a 70,000-year long relationship with the land – and is particularly useful for mitigating the intensity of bushfires.

Although not all Aboriginal groups retain this knowledge because so much traditional knowledge and history was lost during the colonial period, many groups in fire-prone areas still have very useful contributions and knowledge to share.

The government has yet to make use of this extensive knowledge.

Lack of government intervention is not limited to not supporting indigenous burning practices. In this out-of-control fire season, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is still defending his decision not to hold a bushfire emergency summit, forcing fire chiefs to push for it themselves.

Slavery in civilised Australia: Dreams of a better life end in tragedy for illegal migrants Thu, 09 Jan 2020 03:19:45 +0000

Stowaways risk their lives to get through the border, hoping to escape poverty and suffering. But their illegal identities do not give them the freedom to chase their dream. The multi-billion-dollar business of people trafficking is an industry that turns people into slaves writes Hao Liu

It is the eighth year since Junyi Chen* started his life without an ID in Australia. He works more than 11 hours in a restaurant in Sydney six or seven days a week. If the restaurant is not busy, the boss may allow him to take one day off.

Chen came to the country with the hope of earning money for his family to have a better life in Fujian, a province on China’s southeastern coast, which is famous for having trafficking gangs that smuggle people to other countries.

“They [the gangs] had made this [human trafficking] a common business in Fujian,” he said.

“They post advertisements for restaurants and factories [abroad] to hire people. The employer will pay for the employee’s flight ticket and short-term visitor visa. But the employee has to work to pay back the expense by working for the employer.”

Chen also paid an $18,000 intermediary fee to the gangs to get the job, and his family borrowed the money from their relatives and friends. He did not know how long it would take for him to pay off the debt before he started the job: the boss told him the salary would depend on his work performance, and so they did not sign an employment contract.

Phaendin, Source: Shutterstock

“The only thing I could think about is to work and pay off the debt… I used to sleep in the restaurant after it closed. I can make a bed with six chairs. I did not have money to rent a room,” he said. “I don’t owe the owners money now but my family is still in debt in my hometown, so I still work more than 14 hours every day. I can’t take rest, they [owner of the restaurant] will not pay me for that.

“I clean the place in the morning and start to wash vegetables after they are delivered. When it is busy, I help to cook some simple dishes. But most of the time, I stand by the sink to wash dishes because I am not a good cook. I basically do everything here.”

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, full-time maximum work hours are 11.5 hours per day for the hospitality industry in Australia. Meanwhile, Chen’s salary is $17 per hour which is below the minimum wage standard as his illegal identity does not back him up with the right to ask for fair work conditions; the language barrier limits his ability to find a different job.

But instead of thinking himself a victim of human trafficking or forced labour, Chen is more concerned about being deported from the country if the police find out he exists.

A similar story is happening for Yu Qi*. Qi is in her early 20s but she has already carried heavy burdens for her family for three years working in a hairdressing salon in Sydney. “I have four siblings and I am the oldest one. My parents borrowed money to pay the trafficking gangs to take me abroad,” she said.

“There is no hope to earn money quickly in our town, and all the young people are leaving for a better life. I imagined I would not need to share a room with my siblings any more, but the reality is I have to share a small town-house with six co-workers.”

Asked how she got into the country and found the job, Qi declined to elaborate saying: “It is the past and there is no need to recall that memory.”

Qi practices her English communicating with her customers. Through the conversations, she found some clients have a bias about her job: “I know people in my industry can easily get involved in the sex industry. I don’t blame people who think that way because it is a common phenomenon in some communities.

“You can always find these [sex service] advertisements in local Asian newspapers. Sometimes they do not have the choice not to do that [sex service], but I am lucky because my boss does not force us to do that. Our major clients are females who want to get their nails and hair done at a low price.”

Krisnass. Source: Shutterstock

The beauty salon opens seven days a week, which means she cannot take any days off. “I do not have much freedom to go out of the city… I do not need that now. I need to save money. We work hard now so we can have more freedom in the future,” she said.

Qi’s boss took her passport from the trafficking gang when she arrived in the city, and the boss explained it is to protect her from being deceived by strangers. With the hope that her boss will sponsor her for a permanent resident visa, Qi works hard to realise her dream as she has no choice but to believe what the boss has told her.

Both Chen and Qi’s experiences involve human trafficking and forced labour but they do not consider themselves victims. The reasons for this are various.

People smuggled into the country illegally are afraid of being identified by the police, and they would not ask for help from legal services if they face a safety crisis. Secondly, most of the victims’ families are under the surveillance of human trafficking gangs. Even if the victim is free from their control in Australia, the gangs can still find their families in their hometown and control them.

Most people think slavery does not exist in Australia, but the reality is the opposite.

According to the Global Slavery Index 2018, around 15,000 people are living under the condition of modern slavery in Australia.

Emma Burn from Anti-Slavery Australia said: “The various difficulties facing survivors of slavery tend to stem from a lack of awareness of their own rights under Australian law, as well as a lack of awareness in Australian society generally of slavery’s existence within Australia, and what modern slavery looks like.

“The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates that 4 out of 5 victims of slavery go undetected in Australia, and unfortunately this inevitably means that some victims of slavery will fall through the cracks.”

Asked about the future of the slavery in Australia, Burn said: “Thanks to the recent Commonwealth and NSW Modern Slavery Acts, Australians are becoming more aware of slavery and exploitation as issues.

“And increasing awareness only benefits the survivors of slavery, increasing the likelihood of slavery’s detection and in turn, increasing the likelihood of survivors receiving the help they need and their exploiters being held accountable.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Hao Liu is a student enrolled in the University of Sydney’s Media Practice program. She worked as a press officer in London before getting into USYD, and is passionate about the media and communication industry. Hao is determined to apply content creation skills to a media-related field. 

Shot, blinded and beaten: the price of Chile’s unrest Tue, 24 Dec 2019 07:44:38 +0000 UTS’ student Tys Occhiuzzi is in Chile, where he’s been filing updates for Central News on the country’s civil unrest. In his latest report, he speaks to a protestor who has payed dearly for taking on the government.

In October, Diego Foppiano Jara joined millions across Chile to protest against the severe wealth gap crippling his country.

After just five minutes at a demonstration in his Santiago neighbourhood, he was shot in the eye.

The rubber-coated lead pellet fired by police left him half blind for the rest of his life. He cannot go to university and suffers ongoing psychological trauma.

Diego’s case is not unique against the backdrop of Chile’s protests, which are now in their third month. According to the United Nations Mission to Chile, 352 people have suffered eye injuries in the protests. At least two people have been blinded in both eyes.

Chile’s Medical College and the Chilean Ophthalmology Society have declared that more people have lost their eyes during the country’s unrest than in any other case of social turmoil in the world.

Tys Occhiuzzi speaks to seriously injured protester Diego Foppiano Jara

Human rights mission

Twenty-six people have died in the protests since mid-October.

The UN has heard allegations of deaths from gunshot wounds; victims being beaten to death by police; and protesters run over by military vehicles. Nearly 5000 people have been injured, with a further 28,000 jailed between October 18 and December 6.  Many arbitrarily, the UN says.

It has found that the majority of these victims were young people exercising their right to assembly and it alleges that the police and military used a disproportionate level of lethal and non-lethal force, including the use of tear gas close to hospitals and schools.

Chile protest

Tear gas was used during October’s anti-government rallies in Santiago (Photo: Tys Occhiuzzi)

The report refers to 133 specific cases of torture, which include beatings in detention, but also psychological torture such as death threats, threats of rape, threats to “disappear” the victim, and beatings of family or friends in front of the victim.

The UN also highlights 24 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by the army and police. However, Chile’s national human rights watchdog has filed criminal complaints relating to hundreds of other cases.

These potential violations of international human rights have led the United Nations to recommend that members of the national police and army should be prosecuted.

In response, the Ministry of the Interior says over 2700 members of security forces have been injured. It lists 243 separate attacks on police stations, as well as 130 of Santiago’s 136 metro stations.

How the protests started

Since its transition to democracy, Chile has earned the reputation of being one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations. But Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship has left a fundamental impact on the country.

Subsequent governments have not effectively responded to Pinochet’s hard-line neoliberal economic agenda, which was implemented until his removal from office in 1990. Wealth in Chile remains highly concentrated with 10 per cent of the population owning over two thirds of the country’s wealth.

On October 19, at the beginning of the protests, Chile’s billionaire conservative president Sebastián Piñera, addressed the nation, saying: “we are at war against a powerful enemy”, before announcing a military curfew and national state of emergency.

This only galvanised protestors, and reached a climax on October 25 when over a million people took to the streets of Santiago. The government has since estimated that the protests have caused more than 4.3 billion dollars in damages across Chile.

– Tys Occhiuzzi @TysOcchiuzzi

A land of droughts, flooding rains and shame campaigns Sun, 22 Dec 2019 23:20:56 +0000 At the height of Cape Town’s headline-grabbing 2018 drought, the South African climate scientist Piotr Wolski shared a story from an old Kenyan herdsman.

Sometimes, he said, his village would be hit by a cattle-killing drought. Every decade, this would escalate into a goat-killing drought (goats being more durable than cows), and once in a lifetime, the village would suffer a man-killing drought.

And then came this latest devastating long dry. “So is Cape’s drought [a] cattle-, goat- or man-killing one?” Wolski asked.

For four years, from 2015 to 2018, rainfall had reached record breaking lows for South Africa’s “Mother City”. By summer 2017, dam levels were at less than 20 per cent and the army was on standby as the city was declared a national disaster site.

By January 2018, the countdown for the so-called“Day Zero”, when the municipal taps would run dry, was fast approaching.

The fear in Cape Town that this was shaping into a man-killing episode was high.

Cape Town had become a land of beige, dead lawns, two minute showers with a bucket to catch grey water, and expensive bottled water shipped in from Johannesburg as restaurants refused to serve tap water.

The city’s four million residents were limited to 50 litres a day per person, a severe measure that ultimately staved off Day Zero until the rains finally came in winter 2018.

Right now, with drought-ravaged communities across large parts of Australia facing the prospect of their own Day Zero, are there lessons for them in Cape Town’s pain?

The South African city’s experience provides insights into how behaviour change campaigns can rally citizens to overcome dire situations. But it also reveals how even the best efforts can be derailed by politics.

There are enough similarities between the Australian and South African geographic and climate realities to make comparison instructive.

“The physical environment, rain patterns, are quite similar between southern Australia and southern Africa,” says Professor David Karoly, one of Australia’s most eminent climate scientists, and leader of the CSIRO’s Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub. “So having drought there and seeing it is really an example of a similar risk here.”

Australia already has a highly variable climate, he says – as famously documented in Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic homage to this “land of drought and flooding rains”.

As these wild swings in natural variability are overlaid by extremes powered by human-driven climate change, Australian cities will be in big trouble if they don’t manage future dry spells on an infrastructure and human level, says Professor Karoly.

There’s now little doubt about the culprit in the Cape Town emergency.

Scientists have determined that climate change had made the event three times more likely, as past trends gave no indication of what was to come. It was the worst short term drought in the city’s history.

On our side of the planet, findings by Melbourne Water and the CSIRO have stated that Melbourne could be at risk of a water crisis similar to Cape Town’s within the next 10 years.

What ultimately saved Cape Town was a strategy of massive urban behaviour change, underwritten by some innovative psychological methods such as the cleverly pitched – albeit frightening – Day Zero countdown.

These are strategies Australian communities may seriously need to consider as factors like climate change and rapidly growing populations drive up water consumption and the probability of drought.

Cape Town’s water usage per person was just 50L per day per person – way less than the 155 litre limit Melbournians were urged to stick to during the Millennium Drought, or the 129 litre average realised by Brisbane residents through that long dry, when Queensland implemented some of the toughest urban water restrictions in Australia.

Historically, the trend in Melbourne and many Australian cities has been to throw money at droughts rather than implement more stringent water restrictions, says Professor Lee Godden, director of the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law at the University of Melbourne.

She points back to the controversial decision by the Victorian Government in 2007 to build a $4bn desalination plant at the height of the Millennium Drought.

“That’s why it was the political decision to build the desal plant. It was politically much more palatable to put in a technical solution than to continue with what would be quite unpopular restrictions.”

While the desalination plant means Melbournians may never have to countdown to “Day Zero”, the reality of longer, harsher droughts will have deep financial implications for Australians if governments sticks to this strategy rather than encouraging any change in behaviour around water consumption, says Professor Godden.

In that same vein, the controversial announcement in October by the Federal and NSW Governments about a new dam to relieve the drought has copped criticism for being hugely expensive and, given the long time-frame for construction, providing no relief in the current crisis.

“If you are west of the divide in NSW at the moment your concern isn’t about a dam, your concern is about water today and tomorrow,” said NSW shadow minister for water, Clayton Barr.

Local businesses around Cape Town proudly displayed their efforts to save water in a city-wide effort to transform its urban water use and slash consumption. Image: Anthea van den Bergh

But there are other effective ways to manage drought, as the Cape Town experience shows, having used a number of innovative psychological and behavioural measures to slash water consumption.

These included posting updates on the current dam levels on electric signs along freeways, a local bus company whose new branding read “Saving Water One Dirty Bus at a Time”, and even exercising some public shaming by publishing a list of the top 100 residential water users.

One of the most controversial but compelling tactics enlisted as the drought worsened was the publicly available “City Water Map”. This opened up residents’ private meter readings to scrutiny as a Google Maps layout detailed their addresses and daily water usage.

A happy green dot appeared over those households who were saving water, but non-complying households were very obviously left blank.

“Psychological means are effective when socially engineered in the right way,” says Dr David Olivier, a research fellow from the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

“For example, it’s far more effective to send the message ‘people in our area save water’, which puts social pressure on people to conform to the area they are in, than to say simply ‘save water’.”

Australia has already had a taste of this kind of social engineering harking back to the “Don’t Be a Wally with Water” television campaign in the late ’80s, a gentle but cleverly crafted campaign enlisting humour to teach lessons in water-wise behaviour.

But when it comes down to a drought crisis like Cape Town’s, it was necessary to create messaging that packed a bit more of a punch, argues Dr Olivier.

The ominous “Day Zero” catchphrase, for example, had an almost instant effect on slashing water use.

“Probably the greatest psychological leverage during the Cape Town drought was the Day Zero countdown – but it was borderline panic-inducing too. So, it’s a fine line,” he says.

These behavioural campaigns ultimately saved the day in Cape Town, despite the fact that the city had been doing the hard yards to plan for a water-safe future over many years.

Despite widespread misconceptions, Cape Town’s water planning had been internationally recognised, including by the C40 Cities Awards, Imperial College London and the American Water Works Association. It’s achievements included reducing water loss from leakages to less than 15 per cent, which is half of the global average (40 per cent) and almost on par with Australia and New Zealand at 10 per cent.

But a schism between the national and provincial governments – represented by the country’s two opposing national parties – meant Cape Town’s plight wasn’t taken seriously by the national government until the city was in the thick of it.

This included a breakdown in water allocation where the national government gave too much water to agriculture, effectively sucking Cape Town’s residential population dry.

It could be argued that similar political fractures are playing out in Australia as New South Wales threatens to walk away from its obligations under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, a central grievance being that too much water is given to the environment ahead of people.

As anger and distress flow through NSW in the absence of water, a full-scale kerfuffle between the federal and state governments is underway over who gets what from the drying Murray-Darling.

It’s a classic farming versus people debate which, as the Cape Town experience suggests, could undermine hard-won agreements around water sharing and allocation.

The vulnerability of even the best laid plans around water to adversarial politics makes behavioural change campaigns all the more imperative, argues Dr Olivier. Such campaigns “remain the only immediate response there is when a water crisis hits, because water augmentation infrastructure takes so long to build.

“The drought is usually over by the time the project comes online. And psychological means remain by far the most economically efficient way to get through a crisis.”

Lights, Camera…RepresentAsian Fri, 20 Dec 2019 02:35:11 +0000 Why the key to Australia’s on-screen diversity lies behind the writer’s room

 With Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh off the Boat and The Farewell, the tides for Asian representation in the US are finally turning, and fast. Yet on our own home turf, aspiring actors and writers are questioning why Australia’s television industry is falling behind.

Actor Rizcel Gagawanan, who was raised in an Australian Filipino household, said that during her first audition for a major television role it became apparent that racial discrimination in the industry was still prevalent. “I wanted to turn down the audition the moment I read the script. The Filipino characters were stereotyped as maids, gold diggers and people who stole from their employees – it was appalling to read,” she said.

Yet after her agent’s advice, Ms Gagawanan auditioned for the part. “I know many of my fellow actors have even been asked by them [casting directors] to put on an ‘Asian accent’ which is extremely uncomfortable. This is the sort of pickle that many Asian Australian actors find themselves in. We want to stand up for what we believe in but at the same time we need to earn a living.”

Statistics based on Screen Australia (2016), Reflections on diversity in Australian TV drama.

Unfortunately, television roles open to Asian Australian actors are scarce. According to Screen Australia’s Seeing Ourselves Report (2016), Australians from a non-European heritage accounted for 17 per cent of the population, yet less than 10 per cent of Australian TV characters represented this cultural demographic.

Earlier this year, The Bachelor sparked a wave of criticism from viewers for its portrayal of Kristen Czyszek. Despite coming from a European background, Kristen’s appreciation for Chinese culture, along with her fluency in Mandarin, led to her being tagged as the show’s “China Girl”. The show featured the sound of a gong, along with ‘Chinese music’ each time she appeared on screen. Many were quick to point out that this was problematic, considering that only two contestants from an Asian background have appeared on the show over the course of its seven seasons.

One twitter user wrote, “You know what would be better than Kristen who loves China? An actual Chinese bachelorette on #TheBachelorAU.

Casting director Graeme de Vallance said: “It’s a sad thing to say but the reality is that the majority of applications we receive come from Caucasian individuals.” Since its establishment, Mr de Vallance’s A Cast of Thousands has been the casting company for Australia’s major tv shows. On the question of The Bachelor’s lack of diversity he said: “There is never a requirement from producers to skew our casting choices. It’s never based on cultural background.”

Mina Kang behind the camera for her most recent film, Secret. (Source: Kevin Shin)

Screenwriter Mina Kang said the issue doesn’t start at the audition but within the writer’s room. Ms Kang worked as a director and writer for Jubilee Media in LA earlier this year. “Working over there made me realise the power writers have to create roles that can showcase under-represented voices. Then when writers are given the added duties as showrunner, they can help executives decide how and who is going to bring the story they ideated to life,” she said.

In US television productions, the ‘writer/showrunner’ model is used in which the writer is in control of the creative direction of the show, script distribution and casting. The current system in Australia still finds the executive producer responsible for these decisions, meaning the writer is often excluded from final casting choices.

Ms Kang explained: “TV shows like The Family Law are proving that a great writer, who can both capture the authentic experience of Asian Australians and normalise diversity, is key to great television. We need to give them greater creative control.”

Along with many screenwriters, Mr de Vallance also hopes to see the production system change. “As a casting director, I’m usually kept at arm’s-length. So, I would definitely appreciate being more closely involved with writers because it really is a puzzle when casting individuals, and the right individuals, to tell the story you want,” he said.

Many Australian organisations, like Screen Australia, have recognised the need to empower screenwriters from minority backgrounds.  In August it launched the ‘Digital Originals’ with SBS, a program aimed at developing content by under-represented screenwriters, including culturally and linguistically diverse individuals.

Rizcel (right) one of the lead actors in Secret filmed in October. (Source: Kevin Shin)

Rizcel Gagawanan worked as an actor for Mina Kang’s original screenplay, Secret. This was her first time working with a director/writer who was Asian Australian. “I could finally relate to a character; her race wasn’t used as a ‘marketing tool’ – she was multifaceted and comedic, and her cultural background was just an incidental part of it,” she said.

“Of course, it’s tempting to just fly to the States, but I know opportunities for more Asian Australian actors will grow if we first embrace and empower our diverse writers. I want to be part of that process.”

Ms Gagawanan will be running this year as the first Asian Australian committee member for the Women in Theatre and Screen Organisation where she hopes to develop opportunities for talented female writers from minority backgrounds in Australia.

Victoria Lonergan is currently majoring in Media Communications and Film Studies at the University of Sydney. As an aspiring writer and filmmaker, she believes in sharing stories that give a voice to those who are not often afforded the opportunity.

Code White – Inside an emergency department in crisis Wed, 18 Dec 2019 03:53:41 +0000  

It takes just two minutes and 205 steps to walk from the staff carpark to Flinders Medical Centre’s Emergency Department, but it’s enough to gather yourself for the storm awaiting inside. Flinders is the second largest hospital in South Australia, and its emergency department (ED) is rarely below maximum capacity.

Patient numbers are recorded on a colour-coded graph – below capacity is orange, above capacity is red, and over 125% of capacity is white – or 66 patients in a department designed for 53. It’s rare that Flinders ED has a day without entering white for several hours – data collated from SA Health’s own monitoring system reveals “code white” conditions 49 percent of the time over a typical month.


Movies and TV shows create the expectation that ED’s are hives of constant frantic action – loud alarms from equipment, staff running and shouting “stat”. In reality they’re unexpectedly calm, the striking sound is that of chatter. Communication is key in an ED.


At the changeover of every shift, the medical staff meet to handover patients, news and gossip. On her way to handover, Tamsin*, a senior doctor in the Flinders ED, passed the glass wall that looks out to the waiting room. The sight wasn’t positive. No one wants to be in a hospital waiting room, yet the view that morning was a sign of what was to come. In one of the blue armchairs a lady was seemingly asleep under a blanket, apparently having been waiting overnight. An elderly couple came prepared, sitting quietly with knitting needles. A security guard sat bored on an office chair at one end – half watching the TV on the opposite wall, half watching the cross section of humanity spread across the room, all in need of attention but not knowing when it would come. This was a typical sight, Tamsin recounts, and the feeling of guilt hit. “You know that they’re there, but there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no space to do anything.”


As she approached handover one of the doctors from the previous night shift looked up. He looked like hell. “Sorry. It’s not good news,” he said, exhausted. Handovers regularly begin with an apology to the next shift.


The team ran through the patients in the department, the situation in the waiting room, and any news from the previous day. There’s no time for complaining, they know they just need to get on and provide the best care they can in the situation they face. Even under-resourced and over-worked, it’s some of the best medical care around.


“Wow there’s a lot of admitted patients here.” It’s the phrase said every day. Looking through the patient list Tamsin recognised several patients who had been in the ED during her shift the day before. These are patients who have been admitted to the hospital but are waiting for a bed in specialist wards. They might be people in need of cardiac care, mental health, or general medical observation. They’ve been seen, stabilised and handed over to the ward, but the hospital is in bed-block – there aren’t beds to put admitted inpatients into, so they’re just left in ED.


With those inpatients in the ED, the capacity of the entire department is reduced. It not only removes one bed from the quota, but also staff time. With less ability to move patients through the ED, waiting times increase.


Tamsin’s first job was to assess those inpatients waiting to go “upstairs”. Once a patient is stuck in ED, internal politics takes over. Even though they’ve technically been admitted to the hospital and the specialist team is meant to take over their care, because they’re in the ED it falls to the ED staff to continue looking after them – despite not necessarily having the specialist knowledge required.


That was what Tamsin was facing. An admitted patient was blocked from entering a specialist ward, and their condition was deteriorating. “Where’s the admitting team? They need to be taking care of this.”


“You know they’re not going to come down.”


“Far out. Call them. We need to make a decision here and it needs to involve them.”


“They’re not coming.”


Frustrated, Tamsin called over the consultant – the most senior doctor on the floor. “Look at this patient … we’re going to need to talk to the family and have an end-of-life discussion with them. The inpatient team aren’t coming, so we’re going to need to make the call.” This is not an easy decision to make, and requires a long talk with family discussing all the possibilities and options.


The consultant walked out to the family to have one of the hardest talks doctors face. With ultimate responsibility for the patient, the team from the ward should have been having the discussion, but instead it fell to an already overstretched ED team.


“They shouldn’t have had to do that, but did because it was the right thing for that patient. But it meant she couldn’t do what she was supposed to, which was see patients in the ED,” Tamsin says.


For the following hours the ED was one senior doctor short as they talked to the family. Meanwhile, the patients kept coming.


There’s some turnover as patients are discharged from the ED, and other patients are discharged from wards allowing ED patients to move upstairs. But others remain stuck. Records later reveal there are multiple patients in the ED waiting for a ward bed for over 12 hours, and often at least one patient waiting over 24. The average wait to be seen rises to more than 100 minutes. The ED was over-full, every bed was in use, even the resuscitation bays meant to be reserved for the most serious Category 1 patients who have an immediate threat to their life.


“Cat.1 inbound, Ambulance four minutes out,” Tamsin hears.


“Where are we going to put them? We don’t have a resuscitation room free.” Tamsin swung immediately into action – first priority is to find a space to treat the patient. The team end up moving a patient from a bay into a corridor, shuffling a patient from a resuscitation bay into the regular bay in a different section of the ED, and reset the “resus” bay before the ambulance arrives.


Moving patients around the ED wastes time that could be better spent preparing for the incoming patient. “If you’re thinking about which of your patients is safe to move, then you can’t focus completely.” Other cases weren’t so lucky. It is later revealed a lack of space meant a patient in a life-or-death situation was assessed and treatment commenced in a corridor. While fast thinking and skilled clinicians meant that patient survived, the staff were described as being in a panic to try to stabilise the patient without having access to the acute treatment area.


The next time it happens – and doctors who spoke out are sure it will – the patient might not be so lucky.


Cat.1 patients can take hours of treatment by a team of clinicians. With these staff unavailable, the rest of the department is essentially in a holding pattern – creating its own vulnerabilities. Other patients who are classified as lower risk get bumped and end up in the waiting room for up to eight hours, including Category 3 patients whose cases are serious enough that they are meant to be seen in less than 30 minutes. As higher category patients arrive they are prioritised, increasing waiting times for Cat.3 patients, despite them still being sick patients in need of semi-urgent care. “They could get worse, they often do get worse, and no one notices,” Tamsin says later.


It was now seven hours into her shift, and Tamsin realised she hadn’t even been to the toilet. A knowing nod from a nurse releases her for that comfort break, on hold for three hours.


The department was well into code white now. Tracking eventually shows the department topped out at 81 patients. Earlier that week had been multiple days over 90, including one of 94 – well over its capacity of 53. That’s not even a record. Flinders’ ED has previously hit double capacity – 106 patients.


The rest of Tamsin’s shift is a blur of activity and frustration. Patients are brought in from the waiting room, assessed, and then sent back into the waiting room. “I’m really sorry I don’t have a bed for you. I’m doing what I can,” she tells one. Another’s assessment shows they can’t be sent back to the waiting room, but there is no bed in the ED. They’re placed in a corridor.


More urgent patients arrived and were treated the best they can – but one resus bay had been filled with a mental health patient. ED’s are particularly unsuited for mental health patients as the constant light, noise and uncertainty of the area increases anxiety and agitation. Every doctor spoken to, including Tamsin, has had an incident with an aggressive mental health patient. In order to protect the patient, staff and other patients, they are sometimes placed in resuscitation bays due to their larger area.


Bed block continued – the mental health patients are stuck in ED as there isn’t care available, other patients are left in ED as wards refuse to take them.


Finally, the next shift arrived for handover. Maybe someone can finally get out to the poor 80 year old who has been waiting for six hours. “Sorry. It’s not good news,” she says to the incoming crew.


“Wow there’s a lot of admitted patients here,” they replied. “I know that one from yesterday.”




A week later Tamsin is sitting in a café. It’s been a blur of over-capacity shifts, patients and a system creaking under its own weight. Her hands grasp her mug. She is visibly shattered.


It’s easy to be impressed by the resilience of ED doctors. They seem to have never-ending reserves to get on with it and deliver world-class care. But there is a limit.


“Patients are at risk. Everyone says it, everyone knows it. Everyone keeps saying ‘someone’s going to die in the waiting room’” she says, clearly exasperated.


“The staff are disgruntled. Over it. There’s a sense of apathy from some of them.”


Peter*, a doctor in the ED at the flagship Royal Adelaide Hospital agrees. “For it to reach white, you are so are overcapacity you’re about to fall in a heap.”


“I don’t think there is one solution to all of this. But I don’t think the solution lies within the ED. Long waiting periods are not purely an ED problem. It’s that there’s no scope to get patients out,” he says.


The overcrowding problems faced by emergency departments around Adelaide is a complex puzzle of issues. However, to those on the front lines, bed block is the biggest.


The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, responsible for training emergency physicians across Australia and New Zealand, has expressed concern about overcrowding in SA ED’s. “Patients are experiencing longer and longer waits in South Australian emergency departments. We know that the longer a patient is blocked in an emergency department, the higher the likelihood of adverse patient outcomes”, says ACEM President Dr Simon Judkins.


“We believe that no patient should spend longer than 24 hours in an emergency department.”


According to SA Health data, an average of 350 patients exceeded that time every month over the last half of 2018.


The lack of beds is not a new issue, but has never been effectively addressed. Unbelievably however, not all beds in hospitals are made available for use. These are so-called flex beds – beds which exist, but a conscious decision has been made to not put them into operation.


“There are physical beds there, but if they choose not to open them or staff them, they don’t exist. It’s amazing,” Tamsin says, shaking her head.


“When we call out and say ‘help’, they can open these flex beds. But why aren’t they open all the time?” A shrug accompanies the obvious question in a time of chronic overcrowding.


“You’re looking for a logical explanation,” says Bernadette Mulholland, Senior Industrial Officer with the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association (SASMOA). “There is no logic. If you’re looking for logic you expect those beds to open.”


SASMOA is the professional association representing employed medical doctors in SA. However, after hearing concerns from clinicians, Mulholland says her role changed to one advocating for patient interests.


“Flex beds aren’t funded, so you’re incurring a cost (to open them). So they don’t like to do it,” she says.


“At the end of the day they’re putting a price on the patient. What is that price? ‘We’re not going to open that bed, we’d rather have someone elderly sit out in that ramp.’ It’s cheaper to have that ambulance sitting there rather than bringing them to the back. Cheaper financially, not to patients or the community.”


Health Minister Stephen Wade has put the onus on the individual hospitals for managing bed numbers, stating in Parliament “I expect managers to manage. On a day-to-day basis, they will flex up and they will flex down.”


Yet there’s no official explanation about why beds are kept inactive when the system faces regular overcrowding, caused in part by a lack of beds for patients. Neither the Minister’s office nor SA Health responded to requests for comment.


“There is ever increasing budget pressure. They’re spending money on the wrong things … not putting an emphasis on patients,” says Mulholland. She adds that hospital administration fail to engage clinical staff on processes.


One of those processes that could vastly improve the situation is “over-census”. The idea seems simple – in busy periods, each ward in the hospital accepts an extra admitted patient above their capacity, thereby spreading the patient load across the hospital instead of concentrating it in the ED. A minimal inconvenience for each ward would make a huge difference to the ability of the ED to maintain patient flow, and improve patient care by getting them onto specialist wards sooner, say clinicians and ACEM.


Half a world away in Alberta, Canada, over-census saw the number of admitted patients blocked in ED drop by almost half. That translated to an extra half-a-million hours of ED bed availability for incoming patients across nine hospitals, during an eight-month period. Decreases in ED overcrowding were also seen during a similar trial at Canberra Hospital. However, despite this evidence, local hospitals have been resistant to implementing the option during crisis periods.


Other wards “don’t see it,” Tamsin says. “Sometimes they come down and say ‘wow this is really busy’, and we say ‘no, this is normal’.


“If each ward took one stable admitted patient from the ED, it would add a tiny inconvenience to each ward. But the ED might go from 40 admitted patients to 20 admitted patients. It would make a huge difference to the emergency department.”


Peter agrees.


“I’m not sure you can ever really appreciate what it’s like to be in ED when it’s busy unless you work there and all those pressures are your problem,” the doctor says. “I don’t think you get all of that feeling of how busy and stressed they are unless it’s your stress.”


Tamsin sighs. “Nothing is going to happen until a politician’s family member dies in the back of an ambulance, or has to sit in a waiting room for eight hours.”


As she leaves the café she turns back, a steely determination filling her eyes. “It’s ridiculous, and it can’t keep going on like this.”


She disappears into the night, knowing that in just a few days she’ll be walking back into that storm.


*names have been changed to protect medical staff and patient identities.

The right to squeal: farmers versus activists Thu, 12 Dec 2019 05:36:55 +0000 A new law to protect farmers from trespass has gotten civil liberty groups up in arms, writes Marco Stojanovik.

Pig farmer Ean Pollard stands at a locked gate plastered with security warnings. The signs caution trespassers and those breaching biosecurity zones will be prosecuted.

It may seem excessive but since being raided by animal activists in 2013, Mr Pollard worries what another break-in could mean for his pigs and his business, Westmill Products, a farm outside Young, Central West NSW.

He’s hoping controversial tough legislation being debated in the NSW parliament for farm trespass and incitement to trespass will deter future breaks-ins. When he found out about the break-in to the pregnant sow section of his piggery he was “gutted”.

“It was absolute shock,” he said.

As the protesters left no sign of a break-in, he only learnt about the raid when a journalist who had viewed footage online contacted him. The footage, still available on the website Aussie Farms, shows activists moving up and down aisles shining torches and rattling sow stalls. A chorus of squeals are erupting from the sows’ salivating snouts. They are biting frantically at their cages when expectations to be fed are not met.

“I couldn’t believe somebody would taunt my animals to that point to obtain sensational footage,” Mr Pollard said.

It’s a marked difference from the pigs’ reaction to us entering their enclosure the day I visit. They plod over to greet their owner, nibbling his gumboots and tugging on the sleeves of his white overalls. The protective clothing is mandatory for anyone entering the piggery. Any introduction of pathogens or diseases that affect the health of the pigs would be “devastating” to his business and the wider industry.

According to 2013 modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics a large multi-state foot and mouth disease outbreak would cost the Australian economy between $49.3 billion and $51.8 billion over 10 years.

African Swine Fever is the latest scare. With no known cure, it has already killed an estimated quarter of the world’s pig population. On Australia’s doorstep, having reached Timor-Leste, border security is on high alert to prevent contaminated meat entering from an affected country.

Mr Pollard, chairman of the NSW Farmers’ Association Pork Committee, is working with other farmers to strengthen their biosecurity in preparation for a possible outbreak in Australia. Threats such as these are one of the reasons the association has been lobbying for increased penalties for trespass as a necessary protection.

“The existing laws don’t constitute a reasonable deterrent from people entering farm businesses,” president of the NSW Farmers’ Association, James Jackson, said. “Sharpening up the penalties for this sort of activity… is a recognition that the impacts of these trespasses can be and often are quite significant.”

Ean Pollard and his pigs. Photo: supplied

Heeding these calls, NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall introduced the Right to Farm Bill 2019 in September. It includes new penalties for offenders who illegally enter properties of up to three years’ jail and fines of up to $13,200. The bill also creates a new offence for directing or inciting others to trespass, which is punishable by a maximum 12 months’ jail and an $11,000 fine.

The Bill passed through the NSW Legislative Assembly on October 16 and will now be voted on in the NSW Parliament’s upper house where the government will need the support of crossbenchers if it is to become law.

“We are delivering on our election commitment to step up and protect farmers from vegan vigilantes, illegal hunters and extremist activities,” Mr Marshall said.

In a recent government inquiry into the bill, he cited a 27 per cent increase in the number of recorded incidents of trespass on farms and rural properties.

But legal groups, unions, and environmental organisations are lobbying against the bill. Submissions to the inquiry described it as “antidemocratic” and “draconian” with “disproportionate” penalties which are unnecessary given the current “adequate” law. In 2016 the Inclosed Lands Protection Act increased the fines from $550 to $5,500 for trespass onto private property for the purpose of interfering with the conduct of business.

Submission authors also expressed concern that the bill could cover anyone protesting. Evidence was given that the addition of the word ‘hinder’ broadened the scope of the provision beyond interfering with a business or an undertaking to include passive, peaceful protests such as sit-ins. The broad definition of  ‘inclosed lands’ was criticised as, defined by the legislation, it could apply to public places enclosed by a temporary barrier.

In response Mr Marshall amended the bill to clarify the penalties would only apply to offences on agricultural land. He earlier commented that the laws will not impact on peaceful protests but only apply to those trespassing.

Vice-President of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, finds this attempt to quell criticism “outrageous”. He said the bill was part of a bigger trend in NSW and across Australia since 9/11 of terror and bikie laws applied to civil society.

Australia has an implied right of political communication in the constitution and has agreed to uphold rights such as freedom of association and freedom of assembly that could be used for protest.

“The extension through those laws and cases has come full circle to now engage political process and freedom of press,” Dr Schofield-Georgeson said.

Under successive NSW Liberal governments, laws have been introduced to increase penalties for people protesting at mining and fracking sites and to prevent people protesting outside abortion clinics. Police powers have been expanded to “move on” people taking part in any gathering, meeting, or assembly and ban people from public places and events without a judge’s approval.

Dr Schofield-Georgeson said he is confident that the Right to Farm Bill has gone too far and will accordingly be struck down by the Australian High Court if it is to become law.

In a similar case, Brown v Tasmania, the High Court of Australia ruled that the provisions of the 2017 Tasmanian Protesters Act were unconstitutional as they targeted the implied freedom of political communication. The law prohibited people from taking part in protest activities in or around business premises, including on forestry land.

“[The Bill] is an impost on our most basic right… to freedom of speech and fundamental communication about politics and political affairs,” Dr Schofield-Georgeson said.

Marco Stojanovik is a graduate student of Media Practice at the University of Sydney. He has a strong interest in Australian and international political affairs and social justice issues. He can be reached at or on twitter @MarcoStojanovik.