Powerful and bizarre effects of Stilnox

Olympic medallist Grant Hackett’s early morning antics at a Melbourne hotel are typical of people who have taken the notorious Stilnox sleeping pills.

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Hackett was photographed at the Crown Casino hotel on Saturday night while looking for his son, semi-dressed and apparently incoherent.

His son was found by hotel security and Hackett has flown to the US.

According to his coach he is there for Stilnox rehab, but Hackett told reporters on Wednesday that he was there for a break.

Stilnox is a quick-acting drug for insomniacs. Its package insert warns about the danger of unusual and potentially dangerous and bizarre behaviour.

It should never be taken for more than four weeks and should definitely not be taken with alcohol.

People who take Stilnox usually feel the effects in 15 to 30 minutes. Its main use is to help a patient with insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep.

“It is not a medicine to play around with,” says pharmacist Sarah Spagnardi, who heads a free phone service provided by NPS MedicineWise.

Stilnox is a branded prescription drug, but it is also sold as a zolpidem and several other brand names.

The drug has significant hypnotic effects and some users have reported unexplained sleepwalking, sleep driving, binge eating while asleep and performing other tasks while sleeping.

In Australia, Stilnox packs carry the following alert: “Warning: … may be associated with unusual and potentially dangerous behaviours whilst apparently asleep. These have included sleep walking, driving motor vehicles and other bizarre behaviours … You must not drink alcohol …”

* Call NPS Medicines Line 1300 633 424 for more information.

I was told to lie: Manus Island staffer

Liz Thompson, a former migration agent turned whistleblower, has described the administration of the Manus Island detention centre as ‘ridiculous’ and claims she was instructed to tell detainees their only option was resettlement in Papua New Guinea.

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“They (detainees) watch the news, they read the newspapers, they watch what’s going around in the camp, they know there’s no decision from the Papua New Guinean Government on resettlement,” she told Dateline’s Mark Davis.

“So what that means is… you’re never getting out of this camp, it’s indefinite detention.”

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, denied that Manus Island detainees had been told they would not be resettled in PNG. 

“With regard to reports that the transferees were advised that they will not be settled in PNG, the Minister has been advised that those reports are false,” she said in a statement.

Ms Thompson’s allegations come as the Immigration Department faced questions on the recent riots on Manus Island from a Senate Committee.

The department head described detainees pushing down fences and throwing rocks before police discharged a gas canister and fired warning shots.

Immigration and border protection secretary Martin Bowles said work was needed to uncover what happened.

“There are a range of other reports, there are interviews that need to happen with the independent reviewer to start to work through the myriad of information that’s out there,” he said.

‘Fake’ processing system

Ms Thompson is the first staff member to publicly resign from Manus Island following a recent outbreak of violence which left one dead.

She was originally bought in to conduct refugee-assessment interviews and claims she was told to tell inmates their only option was resettlement in Papua New Guinea.

Ms Thompson said she knew their only option was indefinite detention, and so did they.

“I would not go back because there is no process, nothing for me to do, no process to assist people with – it’s fake,” she said.

“It’s not designed as a processing facility, it’s designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror to deter people from trying in the first place.”

Ms Thompson told Dateline she was given a script to follow while conducting refugee assessments.

“We were informed that we were not to discuss resettlement, we were not to discuss third country options,” she said.

“It was made very clear to us every day, sometimes even twice a day, under the threat of being removed from the island, we were not to talk about a third country, we were not to suggest there were any resettlement options, we were not to suggest they would be able to get off PNG,” she said.

“We knew that this was ridiculous, but we were lying to people and we were told to keep that message going to keep it clear.”

“What’s not happening is any clarification on where they are going to end up.”

“There is no process, the process doesn’t lead anywhere except indefinite detention.”

Ms Thompson believes this is partly behind the violence that rocked the Manus Island detention centre last week.

She was in the compound on Sunday night and says she could hear the noise from her room.

“What they wanted was not just the interviews, the process, something to feel better about, something to feel involved in. They want to know where they are going,” she said.

“I believe what happened was completely predictable, that tensions were allowed to build up, that misinformation was allowed to circulate, that people were allowed to be driven into a frenzy about what was going to happen.”

“That’s what Manus Island is, it’s the active creation of horror in order to secure deterrence. And that’s why I say again, Reza Barati’s death is not some kind of crisis for the department, it’s an opportunity to extend that logic, one step further – to say ‘This happens, but deterrence continues, Operation Sovereign Borders continues.”

Elkington’s new Twitter storm

Australian golf star Steve Elkington has caused more outrage on Twitter with a remark about American football player Michael Sam while trying to criticise media coverage that refers to him as gay.

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Sam came out publicly two weeks ago – and the NFL has never had an openly homosexual player. This week Sam worked out at the NFL combine in Indianapolis and is projected to be a mid to late-round draft pick.

Elkington first tweeted that ESPN’s coverage of Sam was “embarrassing.”

He followed with this tweet: “ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine … No one else expected to throw today.”

Texas-based Elkington later deleted his tweet, and then tried to clarify his position. He posted a reply: “I’m for Sam I’m against ESPN telling me he’s gay….”

The US PGA Tour suggested a fine was in order, though it has a policy of not announcing discipline.

“Under our regulations, conduct unbecoming a professional includes public commentary that is clearly inappropriate or offensive. With respect to this matter, and consistent with our longstanding policy, we do not comment on player disciplinary matters,” the tour said in a statement on Tuesday.

Elkington created more reaction trying to explain his earlier post.

“It goes back to “a ball hit an oriental spectator”.There’s no oriental spectators..There just spectators..”like m Sam…He’s just an athlete,” he tweeted.

The 51-year-old Elkington, who won 10 times on the US PGA Tour, including the 1995 US PGA Championship, has a cult following with his “Secret in the Dirt” cartoons depicting news from the world of golf, and he’s never bashful about poking fun at players.

But he has drawn ire on Twitter for some of his social commentary.

In November, he tweeted about the helicopter that crashed into a Glasgow pub and killed 10 people, “Helicopter crashes into Scottish pub. … locals report no beer was spilt.”

He was reprimanded by the European Tour last year when he tweeted disparaging comments about the area around Royal Birkdale, where the Senior British Open was being held. He later tweeted that “couple caddies got rolled by some Pakkis, bad night for them.”

Elkington later apologised in a statement, saying he wasn’t aware that “Pakki” was an objectionable phrase in Britain, and that his comments were made out of frustration stemming from what had happened to a colleague.

Chelsea have Champions League advantage, Simeone concedes

Through to the last four of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 40 years, La Liga leaders Atletico dominated the ultra-defensive Premier League club at the Vicente Calderon but failed to find a goal and face a stiff task in the return in London next Wednesday.

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“It was a difficult game, tough, typical of a semi-final, in which neither side was able to grab the advantage,” Simeone told a news conference.

“We each approached the game in different ways but we couldn’t find the goal that would have won the match,” added the Argentine, who has transformed Atletico into a genuine force in Spain and Europe since taking over at the end of 2011.

“Each person chooses the best strategy according to the players he has. In the end, he (Mourinho) got a good result.

“At their stadium, with their fans and their atmosphere, they will feel more comfortable but we will fight with humility.”

Mourinho, back in Spain for the first time after three years in charge of Atletico’s city rivals Real, was unapologetic about his team’s cautious tactics.

The Portuguese is in the Champions League semi-finals for the fifth year in a row after appearances with Inter Milan in 2010, when they won the title, and Real in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“It was a match for men, hard-fought, tactical, balanced,” he told Spanish television.

“Atletico dominated more but despite the problems we had we came away with this result in what was the match of their lives.

“Now there is another game and it is at Stamford Bridge. It is not an incredible result but I knew it was not going to be easy to avoid defeat and we managed it.”

Chelsea will be without goalkeeper Petr Cech and captain John Terry in London, who were injured on Tuesday, as well as suspended midfielders Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel.

However, fullback Branislav Ivanovic, who missed Tuesday’s match through suspension, should be available and Mourinho said he had every confidence in stand-in keeper Mark Schwarzer.

Asked if he planned to use more attacking tactics in the return, he added: “It’s a good question but I am not going to answer.”

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Toby Davis)

Top US court wrestles with TV, copyright

A startup that threatens to shake up the television industry with mini-antennas for internet viewing and recording became the object of heated debate at the US Supreme Court.

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A powerful coalition of the broadcast and cable TV industries asked the court to rule against the startup Aereo, which allows customers to rent a tiny internet-linked antenna to watch or record over-the-air broadcasts, raising difficult copyright questions in the internet age.

A similarly strong assemblage that includes several technology firms and consumer groups is pressing for a different outcome, saying a ruling for Aereo would send a strong signal in favour of technological innovation.

At stake are billions of dollars in fees paid by cable and satellite firms, which Aereo circumvents, in what could be the most significant copyright case in decades.

Justices appeared baffled at times, questioning whether Aereo was violating copyright law and mulling a possible impact on the burgeoning cloud computing sector, which stores all kinds of materials online.

Justice Stephen Breyer queried what might happen if Aereo were found to be in violation.

“Are we somehow affecting other things such as the cloud?” he asked lawyer Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs including ABC television, the National Association of Broadcasters, and Time Warner.

“I don’t see how you get out of it.”

Justice Samuel Alito offered a similar view, saying, “I want to know what impact this will have on other technology”.

Aereo, which is backed by media mogul Barry Diller, launched in early 2012 in the New York area and was immediately sued by the major broadcast networks – ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox – for copyright infringement.

The company, which is expanding to other cities, claims its actions are legal, because it is not rebroadcasting, but giving subscribers a personal antenna in its New York warehouse that enables them to watch live TV or record it for later viewing.

A US appeals court panel agreed with Aereo, ruling that Aereo was not retransmitting “public performances”, which would be banned under copyright law, but merely allowing customers to rent antennas to receive and record free broadcasts.

Clement urged the justices to put aside the issue of cloud computing and simply consider the copyright issue, claiming Aereo gets around royalty fees that similar services such as cable must pay.

“There is a fundamental difference between a company that provides an ongoing service to the public and an online locker,” the lawyer said.

But Chief Justice John Roberts pondered the Aereo argument that it was merely renting equipment that a consumer could use legally.

“You can go to Radio Shack and buy an antenna and a DVR (digital video recorder), or you can rent it,” he said.

This point was emphasised by lawyer David Frederick, arguing for Aereo.

“We are not a cable service,” he said. “Aereo is an equipment provider.”

The lawyer said Aereo allows consumers “to replicate in the cloud what they could do on their own.”

Why co-payments for GP visits are a bad idea

By Stephen Duckett, Grattan Institute

Like a movie zombie, a policy idea that should have died has arisen from the dead and is likely to feature as a cost-savings measure in next month’s budget.

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The idea is simple: most GP patients should make a A$5 or A$6 co-payment to keep Medicare “sustainable”.

The idea was proposed in October by Terry Barnes, a policy adviser to Tony Abbott when he was health minister. Under the plan, bulk billing (without a co-payment) would be reserved for “pensioners, concession card holders and children under 16”. Barnes calculates this would save around A$750 million over four years.

It all sounds very reasonable; the amount concerned passes a “milk bar test” of what is seen to be affordable to ordinary consumers, and the “deserving poor” are protected. But once you look behind it, big risks emerge.

Save now, spend later

A co-payment will cut demand for GP visits. Some will shift to hospital emergency departments for care, a much more costly place to get health care and one which doesn’t offer the continuity of care available from a GP.

Other GP visits won’t be replaced at all. The problem is that the GP visits reduced will be not only more discretionary ones but also those that doctors think need to occur. As patients, we’re not good judges between the two classes.

To the extent that necessary visits don’t go ahead, either patients’ health will suffer, or they will eventually present for care, often with higher costs of treatment because of the late presentation.

Making sure everyone can get primary care is an investment, not a waste, even if there are some proportion of visits that turn out to have been “unnecessary”. In the long run, it saves money.

Poverty traps

A further key problem is recognised by Barnes when he noted:

The lines between bulk-billing need and capacity to pay will always be blurry.

Any form of means testing always involves problems at the margins, creating what policy analysts call “poverty traps”. There will always be families immediately above the concession limits for whom their cumulative health care expenses will be a hardship.

In Barnes’ proposal to exempt children under 16, why is someone aged 15 deserving, but are no longer so on their 16th birthday? Is it that they should leave school, get a job and start paying? On 16-year old youth wages of A$7.74 per hour and unemployment rates of over 10%? Or is it that their parents should pay, regardless of whether they have just missed out on a concession card?

People on lower incomes, who are not entitled to a concession card, are more likely to drop out of care because of the fee – and they are also likely to be sicker and benefit from care more. Already 16% of the population reports not seeing a GP or filling prescriptions because of cost; introducing a mandatory co-payment will make that situation worse.

Health-care gatekeepers

More importantly, is reducing GP demand a good thing? After all, the rest of the world is moving toward strengthening primary care.

The first point of access to the health system should be readily available, so that problems are treated early and do not develop into more serious conditions that are more expensive to treat, and often produce worse outcomes.

GPs in Australia act as gatekeepers and gate-openers to the more expensive parts of the health system: specialists, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals and hospitals. It makes good sense to encourage this part of the system to work more effectively.

It is more than 50 years since Nobel prize-winning Professor of Economics Kenneth Arrow showed why it made sense for a whole community to share the cost of health care. Shifting costs onto sick people has been seen as bad policy since then, and was wiped off the policy agenda in 1984 with the introduction of Medicare.

Better alternatives

There are a number of alternatives to ensure Medicare’s affordability. One is to adopt the policy directions of the rest of the world and strengthen primary care. Revitalise Medicare so that it better addresses contemporary concerns such as the care of people with chronic conditions, ensuring a full range of support services are available.

Another is to strengthen prevention to keep people from getting sick in the first place.

There is also waste in the system that can be cut without hurting patients or the system as a whole.

Both Terry Barnes and Health Minister Peter Dutton have dismissed increasing the Medicare Levy, but both only set out what it would mean if the levy was increased to pay for all health costs (or all costs met by the Commonwealth). This is a paper tiger: no one has proposed such a huge increase.

The Medicare levy was never designed to fund the full cost of health care, only the incremental costs of introducing Medicare. A small increase in the levy to fund health care can certainly be justified. What we judge to be unsustainable fundamentally reflects our values, our priorities and what we are prepared to fund through taxation.

Although a A$5 or A$6 co-payment has the virtue of superficial simplicity, it is not the solution to the rising costs of health care. Depending on the extent to which demand is shifted to emergency departments, there may be no savings at all. Even worse, if “necessary” visits to GPs are deferred, costs could even increase.

Stephen Duckett, along with all Australians, benefits from Medicare.

Hope and Glory sequel heads to Cannes

British director John Boorman’s long-awaited sequel to his 1987 Oscar-nominated film Hope and Glory about home front life during World War II is to be screened in Cannes next month.

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More than 25 years after Hope and Glory was a critical and box office success, Queen and Country picks up its semi-autobiographical story in the early 1950s with schoolboy Billy Rowan who is now a young soldier in Korea at the end of the conflict there.

The keenly anticipated film, starring David Thewlis and Richard E. Grant, will be shown as part of the independent Directors’ Fortnight program alongside the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera.

The hugely successful Hope and Glory depicted the war from the perspective of young Billy as he revelled in the excitement of bombs and upheaval, oblivious to the suffering endured by his mother and sisters.

In the follow-up, Boorman, 81, has drawn on his own stint as a soldier doing compulsory national service at the start of the 1950s, a period blighted by the aftermath of the war when food rationing was still in place.

Hope and Glory, frequently cited in polls as one of the best British films of recent decades, received five nominations at the 1988 Academy Awards, including best director and best picture.

Also among the 19 feature films announced on Tuesday for the Directors’ Fortnight is a restored version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, marking the slasher film’s 40th anniversary.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror movie about a group of friends who run into a family of cannibals was originally banned in several countries because of its violence.

But the low-budget film – made by Hooper for less than $US300,000 ($A322,667) – became a box office smash, leading to a hugely profitable and long-running franchise.

Continuing the British theme, meanwhile, the Fortnight also finds space for US director Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery and Matthew Warchus’s Pride.

Wiseman’s documentary goes behind the scenes of the London art gallery while Warchus’s feature starring The Wire actor Dominic West and Bill Nighy is set during the 1984 miner’s strike that pitted Margaret Thatcher against union leader Arthur Scargill.

From Asia are The Tale of Princess Kaguya, an animated film by Japan’s veteran filmmaker Isao Takahata, and A Hard Day, a crime thriller by South Korea’s up-and-coming Kim Seong-hoon.

The non-competitive Fortnight (May 15-25), an independent event started by the French Directors’ Guild in the late 1960s, runs alongside the main May 14-25 Cannes Film Festival.

It aims to showcase new talent and celebrate the work of established directors.

Chelsea may field weakened team v Liverpool – Mourinho

With his second-placed side five points adrift of leaders Liverpool with only three games left, Mourinho is clearly prioritising next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Atletico over their slim Premier League title hopes.

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The Portuguese, however, said he would speak to the hierarchy at Chelsea before making a final decision on the team he would field at Anfield on Sunday.

Asked on ITV Sport if he would select a weaker team against Liverpool, Mourinho replied: “I think I will but it’s something we have to speak about internally. It’s not a decision a manager can make on his own.

“I can’t decide by myself, that’s a decision where I have to listen to the club. I’m just the manager, no more than that.”

He said Chelsea had already tried and failed to get the Premier League to switch the Liverpool game to Friday or Saturday in order to give his team more time to prepare for the second leg against Atletico.

“The fact the match is on a Sunday puts the problem not in my hands but the hands of the people who decide the game should be played on Sunday, not Saturday or Friday,” explained Mourinho.

“We represent English football, we are the only English team left in Europe.

“Spain has four teams and gives them all the conditions to have success,” added Mourinho, referring to the fact that the top sides in La Liga often get the chance to play on a Friday or a Saturday ahead of Champions League midweek fixtures.

Chelsea will be without midfielders Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel for the second leg against Atletico after they were booked in Tuesday’s 0-0 draw.

(Writing by Tony Jimenez; editing by Toby Davis)

Nothing is private once Facebook gets into your wallet

By Adam Fish, Lancaster University

Facebook has been on a shopping spree in 2014.

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It’s looking to buy a drone company so it can bring the internet and Facebook to the remaining 6 billion people on Earth who aren’t already using it, and its acquisition of Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset firm, is aimed at making your friending, liking, stalking and humble bragging more experiential.

Now it seems the company is in discussions to purchase a London start up which has expertise in online payments. It is this creeping interest in financial technologies that should worry us more than drones or our friends turning our chats into their virtual reality.

If everything goes to plan, Facebook users will apparently be offered the chance to store and transfer money on the site, rather than having to use a service like PayPal.

Facebook reps are said to have been in talks with several London-based peer-to-peer money services that could make Facebook payments a reality. One of these is Transferwise, a company that recently hit a quintessential target for a scaling tech company when it announced that it had processed £1 billion in user payments. Another possible candidate, Dublin-based CurencyFaire, has also hit the billion mark, albeit in dollars.

So long, middle man

The convergence of social media and financial services should be seen as a profound shift in how people view, save, use, and are freed of their capital. And Facebook’s interest could mark a tipping point. Social media is being used as a gateway drug to get users hooked onto much more pernicious forms of socio-technical circuitry and economic capture.

Why would Facebook sell vague social analytics about our activity to advertisers when it could go directly to our wallets? This is the ultimate “disintermediation” or cutting out of the middleman.

Capitalism requires fluidity – the transformation of static objects into cashable objects. By making money social and digital it becomes more fluid.

And since social media corporations are already learning how to turn individual users into liquid assets, the mix is all the more potent. Fluid money and personal data pools in centralised servers owned by the millionaires and billionaires of Facebook and Google.

Facebook apps for asset management will not be designed for the financial elites whose wealth is already governed by a well-paid professional managerial class. While the discourse is about empowering the working and immigrant poor to be able to send money home without costly fees, it is really about financialising a new market, the formerly private acts that are being unlocked by social media.

The privatisation of our lives is already booming. Visit AirBnB to rent out your home, Girl meets Dress to rent someone else’s high-end clothes, WhipCar to borrow someone’s car, Rent My Items to get your hands on their power tools, or Microworkers to rent minutes of your day to do small time work for menial pay.

This is financialisation masked as the “sharing economy” but at least we get to rent a nice dress or go on holiday as a result.

Facebook has been successful in inviting us to volunteer our free digital labour in producing one of the world’s most valuable companies. Some lovingly call this “participatory culture” while I and others call it exploitation.

Facebook can capture additional users by raining down wifi from drones and by making a scroll through bachelor party pictures more immersive with 3D goggles, but these markets will be small time in comparison to the financial market of online payment and banking.

This is an explicit attempt to transform the means of our digital sociality, our online public sphere and agora into a mall, a bank, a bazaar. If Facebook is successful, users will rarely leave the site. They will forgo the dangers of the wider internet for the safe comforts of our gated virtual community where we are safe to self-promote and shop till we drop.

Or worse, this is an attempt to “gamify” money management. It will be Farmville for personal finance or 3D Candycrush for cash. This sounds stupid because it is. It represents the transformation of a complex system into a simple one. The more our social life is monitored and then digitised, the easier it is to hoard, gamify, and monetise any profitable crumbs.

This will not result in more agency but less. Banking is based on hard-to-understand calculations but it is regulated. Add complex filtering algorithms and financial technological derivatives to the picture and no sane person will understand what is happening to their money.

Online payment isn’t the problem. Facebook, Google, and others who monopolise and monetise our digital lives on closed centralised systems are. The financialisation of our private lives as well as unwarranted, indiscriminate, illegal, bulk surveillance flourish in these spaces where corporations and governments gain direct access to our private lives.

What we need is a social movement to demand an information commons, decentralised servers, and digital literacy along with so-called financial literacy. We don’t need to hand Facebook yet another key to our private spaces.

Dr. Adam Fish receives funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s “Research in the Wild” initiative for his research involving Zopa, Limited.

Brandis confuses right to be heard with right to be taken seriously

By Peter Ellerton

In a recent interview, federal attorney-general George Brandis laments that deniers of climate science are being “excluded” from the debate.

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On the surface this seems a justifiable complaint, but the point hangs on what he means by “excluded”. Brandis said he was:

…really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate change deniers.

The literal sense of “excluded” implies that no commentary is permitted that does not resonate with accepted scientific wisdom on climate change. This is clearly not the case. Australia boasts one of the world’s best examples of mainstream climate science denial, evident in both expressed political opinion and in the provision of media platforms for those wishing to express such views.

A more figurative sense of “exclusion” might be that those who do not accept the scientific findings are under social or political pressure to keep silent. This is where it gets interesting.

Echoes of vaccination and evolution ‘debates’

Debates over disparate areas such as vaccination and creationism survive because of a call to see both sides of the coin. The truth, at least for these issues, is that there is no coin. To pretend otherwise is to perpetuate an irrational approach.

Climate change is not as well understood as vaccination or evolution, and I would not put deniers of climate science in the same camp as anti-vaccination and anti-evolution movements, but there is an increasing trend among them all to adopt similar methods.

The most obvious of these is appealing to the right to be heard, to see both sides of the coin. Brandis hopes that our natural repulsion at excluding a particular view from the public arena will be aroused in support of climate science denial. This, however, ignores a vital characteristic of public debate: when ideas suffer body blows of sustained scientific refutation any attempt to maintain their status by appeal to an equal right of hearing is also an attempt to exempt them from evidential requirements and argumentative rigour.

George Brandis ought to accept that the less credible a point of view, the less prominence it gets. (Daniel Munoz/AAP)

The rules of rational engagement demand evidence and argument, not repetitive appeals for a fair hearing. If the evidence in support of a view is not forthcoming, or if the arguments in its favour are weak, its public profile should diminish.

The very nature of a fair hearing is that evidence is weighed and arguments heard, and the ultimate fate of an idea should be a function of this process. This is not to say that it can never be resurrected, or that investigation cannot continue, but simply that it must lose epistemic credibility in proportion to its failings. Anything else is dogma, and this is what much of climate science denial has become.

Brandis has confused the right to speak an idea with the non-existent right that the idea be given credibility. He says in the interview that the scientific community and its supporters simply attempt to delegitimise “the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong”. This is demonstrably false, as many attempts are regularly made to do just that.

Continually arguing for the right to engage and then refusing engagement is what earns the moniker “denier”. The explanation by “sceptics” of climate science, vaccination and evolution given to cover lack of engagement centres on conspiracy theories. Conspiracies of scientists, political movements and business interests supposedly explain the absence of argument.

Demanding a false balance of beliefs

The fact is that deniers of climate science are as free as anyone else to make their case. That the case is not being made is not a function of suppression, it is result of lack of evidence.

Other similarities with vaccination and evolution include contemptuous use of the word “believe” (also seen in the Spiked interview), which assumes an equality of cognition between belief in climate science and belief in, say, alien abduction. It ignores that belief can be the result of blind acceptance or the weight of evidence. It also portraits belief as a weakness and scepticism as a strength, but belief is not weakness if it based on evidence and argument, and scepticism is not strength if there is no engagement.

It’s bad enough that the right to be heard is misunderstood or misrepresented as the right to be taken seriously, but this is happening in the domain of public policy.

There is a difference between public expression of an idea and urging public support for that idea. The former is a statement of opinion; the latter is a call for government action (or inaction). Brandis seems to want climate science denial front and centre in debates of public policy, in the same manner that a false balance has been delivered through media representation of the issue.

It’s one thing for media organisations or community groups to attempt to represent scientific consensus as they will, but it is qualitatively different and far more dangerous for governments to do the same. Australians have the right to expect their government to act on evidence, not to promote false balance.

Deniers of climate science are not being excluded, they are being asked to step up. That they are failing to do so is nobody’s fault but their own.


Peter Ellerton does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Why is there still no World Environment Organisation?

By Lucien Georgeson, University College London

This secondary status and the subsequent lack of coherence in environmental matters harms global environmental governance.

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Wouldn’t having a World Environment Organisation (WEO) help to coordinate global environmental and climate change efforts?

Many calls, few answers

There have been 40 years of debate over a World Environment Organisation, starting with calls from US foreign policy strategists for an International Environment Agency. Instead, following the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created the following year. Despite this positive step, this was a weaker reform than many proposed, and effectively curtailed further debate over the need for a specialised agency.

Such a global body was again suggested in 1989, principally by the Netherlands, France and Norway, in order to manage the reduction of ozone-destroying CFCs under the Montreal Protocol which came in to force that year. After the Rio+5 meeting in 1997, Germany, Brazil, Singapore and South Africa again called for a global umbrella body for the environment at the UN General Assembly.

The need for the UN to attend more efficiently to environmental matters was once again recognised at the 2005 World Summit. A draft proposal for environmental governance reform was discussed in 2008, but by February 2009 efforts had stalled.

Yet again, in the run up to Rio+20 in 2012 there were calls to use this significant milestone to reform international environmental governance. The challenges identified included the need to integrate science and policy, provide a voice for environmental sustainability, secure funding, and to build a coherent and cohesive approach to working within the UN system and meeting the needs of individual countries.

In the wake of the conference, it was recognised that global sustainable development issues need a permanent international champion. But delegates failed to uphold the proposal to “upgrade” UNEP to a specialised agency. So despite more than 20 years international conferences since the first Rio environmental summit in 1992, there is today a specialised agency for industrial development, but not for sustainable development.

The compromise reached in 2012 was to grant universal membership to UNEP, meaning that any of the 193 UN member states can hold a seat on the governing council, and it will receive with more funding from the UN budget. Despite the UN statement’s claims, this does not tackle any of the structural problems identified at Rio+20, such as the lack of an authoritative, global voice for the environment, and UNEP’s weak role at the science-policy interface.

The next, small steps

There are more than 500 Multilateral Environment Agreements; these are legally binding international agreements between three or more countries to tackle specific environmental challenges, many of which have their own secretariats and legal structures. But UNEP is, on the whole, unable to help implement policies. It has around 15 offices, whereas the UN Development Programme has 177. Its budget pales in comparison to other organisations.

There is also significant overlap of function and expertise between the various organisations that currently exist (and operate autonomously) at the international level. A WEO would deliver the same institutional specialisation of expertise that has been a feature of the UN system to date, and greater coordination on environmental issues. According to a recent report, 62 of 66 countries studied have “flagship” climate change legislation in place. Countries are taking action, but international coordination is conspicuous by its absence.

 

UN body by revenue; data from UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination. Lucien Georgeson

If there are to be Sustainable Development Goals post-2015, as with the Millennium Development Goals, there needs to be an organisation that can coordinate worldwide efforts and monitor progress. If supplied with adequate funding, a specialised agency for the environment could provide greater regional presence, deliver more on the ground, as well as offer improved technical assistance and policy guidance to governments.

The lack of a WEO remains a clear sign that the environment is not given the same global status as trade, health and labour, or even maritime affairs, intellectual property and tourism – all of which are represented by UN agencies. This continues, despite the existence of high level political groups on sustainable development, or initiatives like Ban Ki-moon’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

But is it too late? There would certainly be difficulties in integrating all those involved in administering the various environmental treaties and protocols, which have filled the void left by the lack of a more powerful agency specific to the task.

Such an organisation would provide a central point for collaboration around global efforts to tackle the causes and effects all environmental challenges, of which climate change may be the largest. As summarised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) excellent What We Know report, “we are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts”.

I would argue that the reform of UNEP is a step in the right direction, but the job is far from done. Will there be renewed calls for more cohesive global governance following the latest report from the IPCC? The UN Economic and Social Council does have the mandate to create a specialised agency, a move that is strongly supported by 35 nations, but not backed by the US, Russia or China. Forty years on from Stockholm and 20 years on from Rio, a World Environment Organisation still seems a long way away.

Lucien Georgeson receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Changes to special needs education may shut out parents

By Helen Knowler, University of Bristol

Debates continue over whether certain conditions exist or not, or if they are “over diagnosed”.

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In North America, there have been discussions about whether ADHD is real. While in the UK, the use of the term dyslexia has been called into question by academics who ask whether the term is “helpful” for supporting pupils with reading difficulties.

From September 2014 the way that schools in England and Wales support pupils with special needs and their families is set to change. But there are some concerns among parents that the changes could damage communication between families and schools.

A new Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, currently in draft form, will be introduced to replace the current code that has been in use since 2001. The changes outlined in the new document will represent an important shift in the way that schools work with pupils and families, and highlights family involvement.

The new code is being introduced to fix a faltering system. The 2009 Lamb Inquiry found that a system built to support learners was instead creating negative experiences for parents and families. Parents reported that they wanted open and honest communication with schools. They wanted access to the information they need about their child’s education and better systems for assessing pupils’ educational needs.

Families at centre

There is a growing body of research showing an association between parental involvement in education and a positive impact on learning and achievement. But several studies have shown that while working with families within schools is highly desirable, it can also be a challenge.

While the new code states that families should be fully involved in decision making about their child’s education, some researchers argue that the processes it outlines could prevent schools and families working well together.

Families have to make a lot of decisions when their child has a special need or disability. They have to decide on the best school, how to get the best support once at school and how they will know educational progress is being made.

They need to know how to communicate with a range of professionals and how to read official paperwork from school and the local authority. There is evidence that this kind of involvement is incredibly stressful for families. Some families feel excluded because they do not feel involved in making education plans or because key decisions about provision or interventions were not communicated to them.

The new code suggests schools and local authorities will now be able to develop record keeping and communication processes in their own way. While it may sound as if this flexibility might support better relationships and communication, there are concerns it could mean that provision will become more variable both locally and nationally.

Communication key

At the University of Bristol and Monclair State University in New Jersey we have been discussing some of the potential challenges families may face in light of the changes to the code of practice. Parents we have talked to are concerned that these proposals could damage good relationships between schools and families.

There will inevitably be an adjustment period as local authorities and schools get to grips with new procedures. Changes are proposed in defined “areas of need” that could increase misunderstandings in how to identify special needs.

For example, “behavioural, emotional and social needs” will change to “social, mental and emotional health”, which could result in some children and young people’s educational needs relating to their behaviour no longer being accepted.

Changes in the ways that special needs and disabilities are monitored mean there will no longer be a requirement for schools to use an individual education plan. New ways to communicate targets will inevitably develop, but the standardised way of communicating to all families will be removed.

Local authorities will be required to published a “local offer” to outline how they plan to support all pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. There is still uncertainty about what this “offer” will entail. Hundreds of parents and families across the country will be unsure how the needs of their children will be met in the coming months and years, and whether the current level of provision they receive will be maintained or even possibly cut.

However, the fact that these revisions to the code of practice highlight the importance of parental and family involvement is to be welcomed.

The most important message at the heart of these changes is the recognition that families have the best insight into the ways in which special educational needs and disabilities can impact on the life, learning and achievement of their child. This is one important reason why families continuing involvement in special educational needs provision is vital if schools are to continue providing the best support possible.

Helen Knowler does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Hockey to give firm date on Audit Commission unveiling

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has promised the report will be put out in plenty of time before the budget, which is on May 13.

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In a major address, Hockey will outline the areas the commission has highlighted as pressure points for the budget into the future, which include health and pensions. But the specific recommendations from the commission will wait until the document is made public.

Hockey has been focusing for weeks in his rhetoric on areas of spending growth, as he prepares the ground for clamps in the pension and health areas.

The government is expected to raise the pension age to 70 but with a long lead time. It has indicated it may alter the indexation measure used to adjust the pension. In health it is working up a co-payment for visits to GPs, with this plan back before the expenditure review committee this week.

While much of the pre-budget speculation suggests various of Tony Abbott’s election commitments will be broken, his office insists that his promises will be kept.

The chairman of Abbott’s Business Advisory Council, Maurice Newman. is confident the PM will keep his promises.

Asked on the ABC’s Lateline whether Abbott should keep his pledge not to cut Medicare Locals and the ABC – both expected to face cuts – Newman said: “If the Prime Minister and the government made a commitment as an election promise, then my understanding is the Prime Minister and the government will keep those pledges.

“They believe in restoring trust to government.”

A former chairman of the ABC, Newman said the Australia Network – the future of which is under severe risk – should be congratulated for its recent deal with the Shanghai Media Group to get extensive access to Chinese audiences. “It’s a significant step forward towards ultimate landing rights.”

He described the Australia Network as “what we call soft power”. It was there “to promote Australia in a positive light”.

“So it is a positive for the country,” he said. But “from a government point of view, they have to weigh up whether or not the money can be spent better elsewhere”.

It was a “great tragedy” for the ABC and the Australia Network that the whole basis on which the current contract was awarded – under the Labor government – was so flawed.

Twice it had been won by another party – Sky – but then it was given to the ABC and this had left a bad taste. Australia Network , for all the good work it was doing, was suffering the legacy of that flawed process, which damaged the whole aura around the product.

He thought the contract should have been awarded to the ABC without a tender. But when it was put to tender and then eventually went to the ABC rather than the party that won, “you can’t be surprised that it left a lot of people feeling disenchanted”.

Newman said he continued to believe the ABC and SBS should be merged.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.