VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on week two of the campaign #AusVotes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini speaks with Michelle Grattan about the week in politics. They discuss the messaging and tactics of the leaders on the campaign trail, the resurrection of the issue of water buybacks, and the impact of Clive Palmer’s political advertising on his election chances and what his popularity means for preference deals.

ref. VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on week two of the campaign #AusVotes – http://theconversation.com/video-michelle-grattan-on-week-two-of-the-campaign-ausvotes-116068

State of the states: Palmer’s preference deal and watergate woes

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra

Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

There is a clear fault line in the Coalition between conservatives and moderates, reflected in the number of centre-right women challenging more conservative members.

Some sitting moderates have chosen not to renominate – Ann Sudmalis in NSW won’t recontest, while Julia Banks in Victoria has resigned from the Coalition to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. Other moderate women are standing as independents (Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall in NSW, and Helen Haines in Victoria) or as candidates for other centre-right parties (Rebekha Sharkie in SA).

What typically unites these women is a rejection of conservative social policies – and perhaps also a rejection of the alleged culture of bullying within the Coalition parties. These candidates are modernists in that they support progressive policy issues. As independents they can also sidestep the Coalition’s internal fracas about quotas and targets for women.

In NSW, independent Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah. Front and centre of her campaign is action on climate change, refugee policy and foreign aid. Her views on marriage equality contrast dramatically with Abbott’s in an electorate that overwhelmingly voted “yes” in the marriage equality postal vote.

Similarly, independent MP Kerryn Phelps, contesting Wentworth, was a significant player in the marriage equality debates and has argued forcibly for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.

Both Steggall and Phelps have complained about “dirty tricks” and the negative campaigns being mounted against them. Billboards linking Steggall to Labor, allegations that she is receiving funds from GetUp! (she is not), the renting of premises next to her office that were then plastered with anti-Steggall advertising, and the sexualising of Steggall posters all appear to be an attempt to intimidate and demean her.

A number of articles critical of Steggall have been published by the Daily Telegraph, with free copies delivered to residents who are not subscribers to the paper. This includes a front page story in which Steggall’s ex-husband and his current wife described her as “opportunistic” and “lacking the temperament of a leader”. The couple have since declared that the Telegraph article does not reflect how they feel about Steggall’s candidature.

Kerryn Phelps says dirty tricks were behind the removal of hundreds of her election posters in her campaign to retain the seat of Wentworth. Labor’s Tim Murray has also complained that his posters had been removed and replaced by Liberal posters. Liberal challenger, Dave Sharma, rejects any allegation that this activity has been sanctioned by him or the Liberal Party. Today it was reported that Sharma’s posters have also been defaced.

The seats of Wentworth and Warringah are critical to the reelection of the Morrison government and it’s clear that some supporters of the conservative wing of the Coalition have “taken off the gloves”. We can only speculate if it’s because the independents are women or because they are moderates.


Read more: Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign


Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first hustings in Herbert coincided with reports of a deal that the Coalition will preference Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) over other populist parties.

UAP’s candidate, former NRL player Greg Dowling, will run for the lower house, while Palmer has his sights on the Senate. Palmer’s big cash splash announcement may cause more of a ripple than a bounce, considering former Queensland Nickel workers will have to wait until after the election to get their money back.

With One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party (FACN) also throwing their hats into the ring, there’s now four right-leaning minor parties vying for votes.

Herbert’s 2019 election is shaping up to be a rerun of 2013. Six years ago, preferences played a huge role in deciding 97 of the 150 seats nationally. 40% of Queensland seats were decided on preference votes in 2013.

The latest polling shows UAP at 14% – almost the same as 2013 after preferences (15.52%), but this was before Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) confirmed their candidate. In 2016, One Nation preferences helped push the incumbent, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, over the line. With a preference deal between LNP and UAP, Palmer’s chance of a seat in the Senate is a good bet, but it’s now a four-way spilt for the lower house.

UAP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will be the benefactors in the Herbert electorate, placed ahead of Liberals and Labor on the how-to-vote cards. In a battle between UAP, PHON and FACN, it’s the Greens that could benefit the most.

With UAP aligned with LNP, the Greens candidate Sam Blackadder has a chance of picking up protest votes against Labor. The Greens could also take votes from latecomers, the Animal Justice Party, thanks to its clear policy on climate change – something that has eluded the major parties.

There’s a similar picture in Dickson, with One Nation, Fraser Anning and the Animal Justice Party all putting up candidates. Plus there’s former Palmer United Party, now independent candidate, Thor Prohaska running on a democracy ticket.

Like Herbert, PHON and FACN will have to fight for votes from UAP in Dickson. In 2013, Palmer’s party polled 9.8% of the vote in Dickson. With UAP favouring LNP over ALP like it did in 2013, it could help Dutton to retain his marginal seat this time around.

Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

Attention was on Bill Shorten and Clive Palmer in WA election news this week.

Bill Shorten came under scrutiny when it was revealed that three WA Labor candidates had been forced to include him in their election advertising after they were found distributing pamphlets that made no reference to the Labor leader.

Polls consistently show that Australian voters prefer Scott Morrison to Bill Shorten as prime minister. But Shorten is a bigger problem for Labor in WA than he is elsewhere – although it’s not clear by how much.

A poll last month by Crosby Textor showed that Shorten had a minus 26 favourability in the Perth seat of Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly by a margin of just 0.7%. That makes Shorten more unpopular in Cowan than he is in other marginal seats across the country. And it’s the reason that candidates would rather put Premier Mark McGowan in their campaign material.

Like the rest of Australia, many West Australians will vote Labor even though they don’t particularly like or trust Bill Shorten. So, we can expect more ads attacking Shorten as the Liberals look to capitalise on one of the few positives (or should that be negatives) they have to work with in WA.

Clive Palmer was in WA news for the same reason he was in everyone’s news: the Newspoll that showed that his United Australia Party would change the result in some marginal seats. That includes one of one of ours: Pearce.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: All is forgiven in the Liberal embrace of Palmer


Pearce is held by Christian Porter and this election is a big moment for him. Porter was Attorney-General in Scott Morrison’s government, and he has a high profile in WA. He was also on the way to becoming premier when he took a detour into federal politics. Porter undoubtedly has ambitions and is one of the bright young(ish) things in the WA Liberal Party, so his future is important to his party’s fate in the West.

After One Nation’s disastrous campaign in the last state election, WA voters are obviously looking elsewhere and Palmer has spent a lot of money on the UAP campaign. Christian Porter and the WA Liberals will be hoping that it isn’t enough to make the difference in Pearce.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

It would be ironic, to say the least, if former Labor state Premier Jay Weatherill’s legacy will be to have delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Turnbull-Morrison governments.

Last week, water policy dominated the political and campaign agenda, with the issue of water buybacks causing significant problems for the Coalition, and the Nationals in particular. Yet the groundwork for this poisonous issue was laid when the Weatherill government set up a state royal commission into alleged water theft by the upstream states.

Since then, the issue has been a lingering problem, exacerbated by the dead fish in the Menindee. Since the revelations of the water buybacks story, this has proved a problematic issue, culminating with a remarkable interview on the ABC with the former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.

he Darling River and the Menindee Lakes are under pressure from low water flow as a result of the continuing drought affecting more than 98% of New South Wales. Dean Lewins/AAP

While elections are rarely ever decided in key marginal South Australian seats, this issue could be the exception. It’s striking how it has unified South Australians. When the original allegations of water fraud were revealed by the ABC, there was a press conference with all key South Australian senators, including Sarah Hanson-Young, Cory Bernadi, Nick Xenophon and Penny Wong. Commonwealth governments rarely benefit from this issue in the state where the Murray ends.

The Nationals have no presence in South Australia, and the electoral damage is likely to be limited to the Liberals in the seat of Mayo, where Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie has been strong on water policy. But this issue, so close to South Australian politics, could prove problematic on the national stage.

Tasmania

Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change

The Tasmanian North West Coast seat of Braddon is sitting on a knife-edge. Braddon is notoriously fickle, having changed hands five times since 1998, and margins are always tight.

Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat from the Liberal’s Brett Whitely in 2016. She retained the seat after having to resign and recontest it in the July 2018 citizenship byelections, but failed to make any electoral gains. She is now defending a very slim 1.7% margin.

In 2018, Keay had seven opponents. This election she is up against eight:

  • Karen Wendy Spaulding from the United Australia Party
  • independents Craig Brakey and Brett Michael Smith
  • Shane Allan from Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party
  • Liberal Gavin Pearce
  • The National’s Sally Milbourne
  • Phill Parsons from The Greens
  • Graham Gallaher from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Braddon is hard to call. In the absence of polling, local commentators are looking to the betting odds which presently place Keay as clear favourite at $1.45, with Pearce at $2.65. Despite that, some see Braddon as Liberal Party’s best chance of winning a seat in Tasmania – especially since an electoral boundary redistribution in 2017 added the more affluent Port Sorell area.


Read more: Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers


There is no single electorate-wide issue here. Braddon is a diverse mix of regional centres and agricultural districts extending from Devonport and Latrobe in the east, through Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard, Stanley, Smithton and Waratah, then down the west coast to the mining towns of Rosebery, Zeehan, Queenstown and the tourism and fishing village of Strahan. It also includes King Island in Bass Strait.

Tasmania’s recent economic renaissance has been slow to reach many areas of this electorate. So, candidates are aiming their promises at people’s concerns over economic development, jobs, youth training, health services and education. And both major parties have been careful to match almost anything the other side offers up.

Labor’s commitment of a A$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team has emerged as one big point of difference in the strongly pro-football Braddon, while the Liberals run a campaign on what better uses that money could be put to.

Victoria

We’ll be back with an update on Victoria next week.

ref. State of the states: Palmer’s preference deal and watergate woes – http://theconversation.com/state-of-the-states-palmers-preference-deal-and-watergate-woes-115910

Why New Zealand needs to translate its response to Christchurch attacks into foreign policy

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Hanlie Booysen, Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington

During his two-day royal visit this week, Prince William has met with survivors of the Christchurch mosque shootings and has praised New Zealand’s response to the attacks.

To the people of New Zealand and the people of Christchurch, to our Muslim community and all those who have rallied by your side, I stand with you in gratitude to what you have taught the world in these past weeks.

Earlier, Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan described New Zealanders as “citizens of the future”.

Globally, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the attacks is seen as a new way of reacting to violent extremism. With an emphasis on what unites people, communities in different countries were motivated to express solidarity across religious and cultural divides.

In contrast, the opportunistic linking of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with Christchurch will once again serve to divide humanity.


Read more: Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka terror attack. Here’s what that means


Solidarity at home

Domestically, the terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch was met by a display of unity. A heartfelt exchange of respect between the country’s leadership and the minority Muslim community characterised the days and weeks following the attack.


Read more: From Mahometan to Kiwi Muslim: history of NZ’s Muslim population


A renewed rejection of racism in all its forms, including Islamophobia, led to a public discussion of the Crusaders rugby team’s name. The government took decisive action by tightening gun laws and instituting a royal commission of inquiry into New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies.

But the question now is whether New Zealand can translate its new-found domestic cohesion and goodwill into foreign policy.

Support for Palestinian sovereignty

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a good place to start. If solidarity at home is to influence global understanding and cooperation across cultures, Palestinian sovereignty must be a foreign policy priority.

The international community’s failure over the past 72 years to find a just and sustainable solution to the “Palestine question” is an ongoing source of discord between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Shortly after its establishment, the UN Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) noted:

The Israeli military occupation of Palestine has been perceived in the Muslim world as a form of colonialism and has led many to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel is in collusion with the “West”.

Palestinian casualties, dispossession and suffering due to the occupation fuel resentment and radicalisation in the Muslim world. The impunity an American veto allows Israel further enhances the perception of Western hypocrisy. The US and Israel’s disregard for the legal status of Jerusalem as corpus separatum undermines both the potential for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and an international rules-based system.

New Zealand needs to be more vocal in international forums in criticising Israel’s occupation policies.

Challenging Islamophobia

Islamophobia, or an anti-Muslim bias that incorrectly presents Muslims as a dangerous monolithic group, is both a domestic and global concern. The real danger is that Islamophobia becomes the norm.

Politicians, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, promote the notion of a clash of civilisations when they present Muslims as a threat to Christian Europe. The United Kingdom’s security strategy in response to the terrorist attacks in London on July 7 2005, called Prevent, is an example of anti-radicalisation policies that target people based on their faith, specifically Muslims.


Read more: Terror, Muslims, and a culture of fear: challenging the media messages


Islamophobia also finds expression in conflating radical and moderate Islamists. These groups may share the pursuit of an ideal state, based on Islamic teachings, but they differ drastically in their methods and interpretation of Islam. Autocratic governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region fuel Islamophobia when they dismiss these differences in order to demonise their moderate Islamist opposition.

This can be explained by the fact that moderate Islamism offers an authentic alternative to authoritarianism. For example, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad, have a history of demonising and repressing the moderate Islamist Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) to ensure the regime’s political survival. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in the wake of the 2010-11 Arab uprisings, which threatened autocrats across the MENA region.


Read more: Competing foreign interests trump Syrian aspirations for political change


A rules-based international system

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are key markets for New Zealand. They are also members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), our eighth-largest trading partner. In equating moderate Islamism with terrorism to contain domestic dissent, these states contribute to international disunity and hate.

New Zealand needs to resist pressure from these partners as well as from some other member countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to view Islamists as monolithic. It also needs to enhance support for initiatives that strengthen global understanding and cooperation between non-Muslim and Muslim-majority countries such as the UNAOC.

At the UN General Assembly in September 2018, Ardern signalled a clear direction for foreign policy by calling for kindness, collectivism and an international rules-based system. This is in stark contrast to US President Donald Trump’s portentious rejection of globalism.

New Zealand’s response to the Christchurch terrorist attack showed the world values that, in Ardern’s words, “represent the very best of us”. The expectation remains that our foreign policy will follow through.

ref. Why New Zealand needs to translate its response to Christchurch attacks into foreign policy – http://theconversation.com/why-new-zealand-needs-to-translate-its-response-to-christchurch-attacks-into-foreign-policy-115556

Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ross Guest, Professor of Economics and National Senior Teaching Fellow, Griffith University

Bill Shorten is holding out the prospect of protecting Australian workers from foreign ones.

He has pledged to tighten the visa system for short-term skilled migrants, ensuring they have to be paid more so that “it isn’t cheaper to pay an overseas worker than pay a local worker”.

But the evidence does not support his claim that his policy proposal will boost local jobs and wages. He said

There are more than 1 million underemployed Australians wanting more work and youth unemployment is at 11.7%

At the same time, there are almost 1.6 million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia, with the top end of town turning to temporary work visas to undercut local jobs, wages and conditions

Requirements have already been toughened

The first point to note is that Shorten’s policy relates only to short-term visas for skilled migrants. Up until 2017, these were known as 457 visas. Their number peaked at 126,000 in 2012-13.


Parliamentary Library


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull replaced the 457 visa with the 482 visa, partly in response to evidence that some employers had exploited the 457 to employ foreign workers on low wages.

The new visa required

  • applicants to demonstrate work experience (minimum two years) and English language proficiency

  • the sponsoring employer to demonstrate lack of success in finding a local worker to do the job

  • the salary level to be at the market level for the role, and above what is known as the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold. This is now about A$54,000.

Since August 2018, employers of workers with 482 visas have also had to pay a fee to the Department of Education and Training to subsidise apprenticeships. Known as the Skilling Australians Fund Levy, it ranges from $2,400 to $7,200, depending on the length of the visa and the employer’s annual turnover.

The core of Labor’s policy is to increase the income threshold to $65,000, a figure that will be indexed annually. The skilling levy would be 3% of the income threshold, a level that for some businesses would be an increase of 63%.

Skilled migrants are not the problem

The most recent statistics published by the federal government (for 2017-18) show a total of 83,470 people on temporary skilled worker visas (both 482 visas and residual 457 visas).

This means Shorten’s reference to the almost 1.6 million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia – such as backpackers and international students (who we know are often exploited by unscrupulous employers) – is something of a red herring. Labor’s proposal won’t make any difference to them.


Read more: Crackdown on foreign workers is part of Shorten’s wages campaign


Even if the 83,470 workers that the policy would affect were being employed to undercut local wage expectations, their number – less than 1% of Australia’s 10 million total employees – is simply not enough to influence market wages. In no occupation are visa holders more than 1% of total employees.

But there’s scant evidence to suggest the 482 visas are routinely used to employ cheaper workers. The average base nominated salary for visas in 2017-18 was $94,800, well above the average full-time wage (about $85,000) and even higher than the $54,000 or Labor’s proposed $65,000 minimum.

Admittedly, averages don’t tell the full story. But in only one sector – food and accommodation, accounting for 10.7% of visas granted – was the average wage lower than $65,000.

It suggests that raising the income threshold won’t have much impact.

Labor’s proposals would be felt in the regions

There is one possible exception to this: regional and remote Australia, which has benefited the most from temporary skilled worker visas. If the market wage for say, an early career chef, is below $65,000 (which it could be for some places in Australia), a restaurant or café employer in a small town would no longer be able to employ a migrant worker at the going rate, and it might also struggle to find would be be a $7,800 levy.

Labor’s proposal would impose higher relative costs on regional employers.

Claims about the impact of temporary work visas on employment and wages have been heard but seldom subject to rigorous analysis.

A significant inquiry into short-term migrant work visas in Australia was conducted by a Senate select committee in 2015-16. It noted an inverse relationship between 457 visas granted and the unemployment rate. In other words, the visas were associated with low, rather than high unemployment rates.

This suggests visas are meeting genuine skills shortages rather than displacing Australian workers.

Migrants create as well as fill jobs

Migrant workers are also consumers. They spend their income, contributing to demand for goods and services from local businesses, which adds to the demand for workers generally.

The same dynamics apply as those involving all migrants. As peer-reviewed research by researchers at the Australian National University has shown, migration has had “no detectable effect on employment or wages of all workers who have lived in Australia for more than five years”.

These findings are essentially supported by the Productivity Commission.

In sum, there’s little evidence that Australia’s current visa program for temporary skilled migrants has a negative effect on local jobs or wages.

Labor’s plans are unlikely to achieve anything positive. They might even hurt.


Read more: Dog whistles, regional visas and wage theft – immigration policy is again an election issue


ref. Labor’s crackdown on temporary visa requirements won’t much help Australian workers – http://theconversation.com/labors-crackdown-on-temporary-visa-requirements-wont-much-help-australian-workers-115844

New Zealand’s dismal record on child poverty and the government’s challenge to turn it around

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Fletcher, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, Victoria University of Wellington

The latest statistics on childhood poverty in New Zealand suggest that, on some key measures, things are worse than previously estimated.

About one in six children (16% or 183,000) live below a before-housing-cost relative poverty measure, but that figure jumps to almost one in four (23% or 254,000) once housing costs are accounted for. And 13% (148,000) are living in households that experience material hardship – 6% in severe hardship. These children don’t have such basic things as two good pairs of shoes. Their families regularly have to cut back on fresh fruit and veggies, put up with feeling cold and postpone visits to the doctor.

The data show that the government will need to do much more to reach its targets for reducing childhood poverty.


Read more: One in five NSW high school kids suffers “severe” deprivation of life’s essentials


Measuring child poverty

New Zealand introduced the Child Poverty Reduction Act at the end of last year. It was a bold move reflecting the Ardern government’s commitment to do something about New Zealand’s dismal child poverty statistics. Earlier this month, Stats NZ released the first set of baseline statistics required under the act.

Previous governments, both National and Labour, may have talked about child poverty but shied away from binding targets. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has also made herself minister for child poverty reduction, has put through clear legislation, eventually winning cross-party support for it.

The act does two main things. First, it requires the government statistician to report annually on a set of four “primary” and six “supplementary” measures of child poverty. (One primary measure, poverty persistence, does not come into force until 2025.)

Second, it requires governments to set three-year and ten-year targets for each of the primary measures and to report on progress to parliament. Any failures to meet targets must be explained.

The three primary measures are:

  1. Relative poverty, before housing costs: the proportion of children living in households whose equivalised disposable income before housing costs is less than 50% of the median. This measure compares a household’s income for the previous 12 months to the current median for all households. The median will move from year to year due to inflation and economic changes. A low-income household will improve its situation if its income moves by more than the median.

  2. Constant value poverty after housing costs: the proportion of children living in households whose equivalised disposable income after housing costs is less than 50% of the base-year median. This measure gives an indication of the spending power households have after paying either rent or mortgage repayments, rates and insurance.

  3. Material hardship: the proportion of children living in households that are experiencing material hardship, defined as having a score of six or more on the DEP-17 deprivation index.

The government’s targets

Well before the act was finalised, the prime minister had announced the government’s ten-year targets: 5% on the first measure, 10% on the second and 7% on the third.

These are ambitious targets, which would put New Zealand near the top of the OECD rankings. That said, they still imply a significant number of children in poverty.

During the evolution of the legislation, the government also decided to bring forward the starting year for measurement of the targets to 2018-19, therefore making the baseline year 2017-18. This has the advantage of ensuring the impact of its Families Package contributes to achieving the targets, but the disadvantage that targets had to be set before the official Stats NZ baseline measures were available.

The three-year targets were therefore expressed in percentage-point decreases, rather than in absolute terms (reductions of 6, 4 and 3 percentage points respectively).

Ironically, the worse-than-expected figures make the government’s short-term targets slightly easier to reach. Taking six percentage points off a larger number is easier to achieve than if the baseline had turned out lower than expected. Nonetheless, it must still lift 72,000 children over the first line, 42,000 over the after-housing-cost measure, and 37,000 out of the material hardship category.

How to reduce childhood poverty

The Families Package, announced before the 2017 election, will go part of the way. Its increases in the Working for Families tax credits and, to a lesser extent, the changes to the Accommodation Supplement will reduce child poverty, especially against the first before-housing-cost measure. Treasury has estimated that the Families Package will reduce the number of children below this measure by 64,000 by 2021.

The impact on the after-housing-cost measure is likely to be smaller because of rising rental costs, which grew by an average of 5.2% during 2018. The reduction in the number of children living under material hardship is also likely to be less substantial.

Other changes might have some effect. The government is committed to increasing the statutory minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2021. It was $15.75 for most of the baseline year, rising to $16.50 on April 1 2018. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment analysis, however, suggests minimum wage increases will have a “relatively limited impact” on poverty among households with children because most poor kids are not living in households with a minimum-wage earner.

Housing initiatives, especially more state housing, will help eventually but will take too long to have any impact on the three-year poverty targets. The 2018 budget extensions to free and low-cost doctors’ visits for children and the broadening of access to the Community Services Card can be expected to help families experiencing material hardship, as will other changes such as the banning of tenancy letting fees. But these can only be expected to have marginal impacts.


Read more: NZ budget 2018: gains for health, housing and education in fiscally conservative budget


Substantial further initiatives will be needed over the next two years. The size of the task is illustrated here.

Michael Fletcher, CC BY-ND

The after-housing-costs measure must come down the most but has been heading in the right direction following the global financial crisis. This reflects the fact that it is adjusted only for price inflation and the incomes of some poor households have been rising more quickly than prices. The material hardship measure has also been trending down, probably for similar reasons.

The most challenging target will be the relative poverty measure. Recent good economic growth and a strong labour market have done nothing to reduce this measure. Indeed, it has been more or less constant for over a decade.

Cutting poverty on this measure requires bringing poor households nearer to the median, reducing inequality between the poor and those in the middle. A rising tide that lifts all boats equally will do nothing to reduce relative poverty.

The government will also need to ensure its policies help the poorest of the poor. Reaching the three primary targets but not cutting the numbers below the lowest poverty line would be a hollow achievement. Most of these children are in families reliant on benefit incomes. Part of any successful strategy to reduce child poverty must involve increasing the level of assistance to families on benefits.

ref. New Zealand’s dismal record on child poverty and the government’s challenge to turn it around – http://theconversation.com/new-zealands-dismal-record-on-child-poverty-and-the-governments-challenge-to-turn-it-around-115366

Solomon Islands police remain on high alert in the wake of political unrest

A member of the Police Response Team in Solomon Islands on patrol during the election of the prime minister in Honiara. Image: Gino Oti/RNZ Pacific

By Koroi Hawkins in Honiara

Police in Solomon Islands remain on high alert after Wednesday’s riots which broke out across the capital Honiara shortly after Manasseh Sogavare was announced the country’s prime minister.

So far 50 people have been taken into custody in connection with the unrest which saw opportunists taking advantage of the chaos to continue to loot and destroy public and private property up until the early hours of Thursday morning.

The police commissioner Matthew Varley said the situation was now under control and he is urging residents of Honiara to go about their daily lives.

LISTEN: The full Koroi Hawkins interview with Police Commissioner Matthew Varley

Varley said he was disappointed in the individuals who decided to take part in the lawlessness and reassured the wider Solomon Islands community that police will be working around the clock to protect them and to keep the peace.

“Anyone who comes out tonight and continues with this sort of behaviour I say is being opportunistic, looking to cause trouble, looking to loot and steal and to get into a fight,” Commissioner Varley said.

-Partners-

“And police are trying to send a message out through chiefs and leaders in communities today that we don’t want to see a repeat of what occurred last night but at the same time we are taking precautions to make sure police officers are highly visible and ready to respond to anymore issues that might arise.”

This article is published under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

Solomon Islands Police Commissioner Matthew Varley updates media on election security operations. Image: Koroi Hawkins/RNZ Pacific

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Why the idea of alien life now seems inevitable and possibly imminent

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cathal D. O’Connell, Researcher and Centre Manager, BioFab3D (St Vincent’s Hospital), University of Melbourne

This article is an edited extract from an essay, The search for ET, in The New Disruptors, the 64th edition of Griffith Review.

We’re publishing it as part of our occasional series Zoom Out, where authors explore key ideas in science and technology in the broader context of society and humanity.


Extraterrestrial life, that familiar science-fiction trope, that kitschy fantasy, that CGI nightmare, has become a matter of serious discussion, a “risk factor”, a “scenario”.

How has ET gone from sci-fi fairytale to a serious scientific endeavour modelled by macroeconomists, funded by fiscal conservatives and discussed by theologians?

Because, following a string of remarkable discoveries over the past two decades, the idea of alien life is not as far-fetched as it used to seem.

Discovery now seems inevitable and possibly imminent.

It’s just chemistry

While life is a special kind of complex chemistry, the elements involved are nothing special: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and so on are among the most abundant elements in the universe. Complex organic chemistry is surprisingly common.

Amino acids, just like those that make up every protein in our bodies, have been found in the tails of comets. There are other organic compounds in Martian soil.

And 6,500 light years away a giant cloud of space alcohol floats among the stars.

Habitable planets seem to be common too. The first planet beyond our Solar System was discovered in 1995. Since then astronomers have catalogued thousands.

Based on this catalogue, astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley worked out there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the so-called “habitable zone” around their star, where temperatures are mild enough for liquid water to exist on the surface.

There’s even a potentially Earth-like world orbiting our nearest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri. At just four light years away, that system might be close enough for us to reach using current technology. With the Breakthrough Starshot project launched by Stephen Hawking in 2016, plans for this are already afoot.

Life is robust

It seems inevitable other life is out there, especially considering that life appeared on Earth so soon after the planet was formed.

The oldest fossils ever found here are 3.5 billion years old, while clues in our DNA suggest life could have started as far back as 4 billion years ago, just when giant asteroids stopped crashing into the surface.

Our planet was inhabited as soon as it was habitable – and the definition of “habitable” has proven to be a rather flexible concept too.

Life survives in all manner of environments that seem hellish to us:

Tantalisingly, some of these conditions seem to be duplicated elsewhere in the Solar System.

Snippets of promise

Mars was once warm and wet, and was probably a fertile ground for life before the Earth.

Today, Mars still has liquid water underground. One gas strongly associated with life on Earth, methane, has already been found in the Martian atmosphere, and at levels that mysteriously rise and fall with the seasons. (However, the methane result is under debate, with one Mars orbiter recently confirming the methane detection and another detecting nothing.)

Martian bugs might turn up as soon as 2021 when the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin will hunt for them with a two-metre drill.

Besides Earth and Mars, at least two other places in our Solar System might be inhabited. Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus are both frozen ice worlds, but the gravity of their colossal planets is enough to churn up their insides, melting water to create vast subglacial seas.

In 2017, specialists in sea ice from the University of Tasmania concluded that some Antarctic microbes could feasibly survive on these worlds. Both Europa and Enceladus have undersea hydrothermal vents, just like those on Earth where life may have originated.

When a NASA probe tasted the material geysered into space out of Enceladus last June it found large organic molecules. Possibly there was something living among the spray; the probe just didn’t have the right tools to detect it.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has been so enthused by this prospect, he wants to help fund a return mission.

A second genesis?

A discovery, if it came, could turn the world of biology upside down.

All life on Earth is related, descended ultimately from the first living cell to emerge some 4 billion years ago.

Bacteria, fungus, cacti and cockroaches are all our cousins and we all share the same basic molecular machinery: DNA that makes RNA, and RNA that makes protein.

A second sample of life, though, might represent a “second genesis” – totally unrelated to us. Perhaps it would use a different coding system in its DNA. Or it might not have DNA at all, but some other method of passing on genetic information.

By studying a second example of life, we could begin to figure out which parts of the machinery of life are universal, and which are just the particular accidents of our primordial soup.

Perhaps amino acids are always used as essential building blocks, perhaps not.

We might even be able to work out some universal laws of biology, the same way we have for physics – not to mention new angles on the question of the origin of life itself.

A second independent “tree of life” would mean that the rapid appearance of life on Earth was no fluke; life must abound in the universe.

It would greatly increase the chances that, somewhere among those billions of habitable planets in our galaxy, there could be something we could talk to.

Perhaps life is infectious

If, on the other hand, the discovered microbes were indeed related to us that would be a bombshell of a different kind: it would mean life is infectious.

When a large meteorite hits a planet, the impact can splash pulverised rock right out into space, and this rock can then fall onto other planets as meteorites.

Life from Earth has probably already been taken to other planets – perhaps even to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Microbes might well survive the trip.

In 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts retrieved an old probe that had sat on the Moon for three years in extreme cold and vacuum – there were viable bacteria still inside.

As Mars was probably habitable before Earth, it’s possible life originated there before hitchhiking on a space rock to here. Perhaps we’re all Martians.

Even if we never find other life in our Solar System, we might still detect it on any one of thousands of known exoplanets.

It is already possible to look at starlight filtered through an exoplanet and tell something about the composition of its atmosphere; an abundance of oxygen could be a telltale sign of life.

A testable hypothesis

The James Webb Space Telescope, planned for a 2021 launch, will be able to take these measurements for some of the Earth-like worlds already discovered.

Just a few years later will come space-based telescopes that will take pictures of these planets directly.

Using a trick a bit like the sun visor in your car, planet-snapping telescopes will be paired with giant parasols called starshades that will fly in tandem 50,000 kilometres away in just the right spot to block the blinding light of the star, allowing the faint speck of a planet to be captured.

The colour and the variability of that point of light could tell us the length of the planet’s day, whether it has seasons, whether it has clouds, whether it has oceans, possibly even the colour of its plants.

The ancient question “Are we alone?” has graduated from being a philosophical musing to a testable hypothesis. We should be prepared for an answer.

ref. Why the idea of alien life now seems inevitable and possibly imminent – http://theconversation.com/why-the-idea-of-alien-life-now-seems-inevitable-and-possibly-imminent-115643

Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

The integrity of Australia’s electoral processes is under unprecedented challenge in this federal election.

The campaign has already been marred by fake news, political exploitation of social media falsehoods and amplification by mainstream media of crude slurs made on Facebook under the cover of anonymity.

We have seen our first recorded instance of Facebook running Australian fake news.

It was a false post about the Labor Party’s tax policies, wrongly saying Labor intended to introduce a 40% inheritance tax.

It was interesting to trace how this fakery was created.

The false post had a link to a press release issued in January by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

It said Labor’s assistant treasury spokesman, Andrew Leigh, had written an article 13 years ago – when he was an academic – that favoured introducing an inheritance tax. Thirteen years ago – before he was even in politics.


Read more: ‘Fake news’ is already spreading online in the election campaign – it’s up to us to stop it


Then to add to the fakery, and seemingly by coincidence, the Liberal Party had a black van driving around city streets with large signs saying “Labor will tax you to death”.

The Liberals have denied being involved in the duplicity and there is no evidence to suggest they were. But the false post had just enough of an impressionistic link to the Liberal attack to make its message plausible: a tincture of “truthiness”.

Then the Coalition made mischief with it.

George Christensen, Nationals MP for the Queensland seat of Dawson, put up a Facebook post three days after the original, saying:

Labor does the bidding of their union bosses [and] the union bosses have demanded Bill Shorten introduce a death tax.

The original post also generated memes from far-right political groups, piling new lies on top of the old.

Labor has demanded Facebook take down the original, but there is no sign it has done so.

The delay is not only unconscionable, but has given the likes of Christensen and others the opportunity to cloak the original falsehood in political commentary, creating the basis for a specious circular argument. It goes like this:

Facebook posts a lie. It generates political reaction. The political reaction absorbs the lie into political speech. Political speech should not be censored. Therefore taking down the original lie would be censorship.

This is yet one more way in which Facebook’s irresponsibility taints the democratic process.

So much for the fine promises made by Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, last year on what became known as his “apology tour” of Washington and Brussels.

He told officials he would stop the spread of fake news and voter manipulation on Facebook.

He told a US Senate committee that every advertiser who wanted to run political ads would need to be authorised, and that would mean confirming their identity and location.

Yet the ABC is reporting that just months after Zuckerberg’s “apology tour”, Facebook was playing ducks and drakes with the Australian Electoral Commission over precisely this question of authorisation.

The ABC reports that it has obtained documents under freedom-of-information that show a prolonged battle last year between the commission and Facebook over unauthorised political ads from a mysterious outfit called Hands Off Our Democracy, which was paying for sponsored posts attacking left-wing groups and political parties.

The posts eventually disappeared, but only after Facebook tried to give the commission the brush-off.

The ABC is also reporting that almost a year after Zuckerberg made his promises to clean up Facebook’s act, and with Australia’s federal election only three weeks away, Facebook still has not brought its new authorisation rules to Australia.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission is on the front foot about fake news.

A Google search for “Facebook carries fake news about Labor’s tax policy” brings up as its top item an ad from the commission warning people not to be misled by disinformation.

The commission has set up a special electoral integrity taskforce, which includes the Australian Signals Directorate and ASIO, to try to head off potential threats to the democratic process.

A further threat to the integrity of Australia’s electoral process is the interplay between Facebook and elements of the mainstream media.

A few days ago, the convoy protesting against the Adani coal mine arrived in Queensland, led by environmental activist and former Greens leader Bob Brown.

Simultaneously, a private Facebook group called Stop Adani Convoy posted a number of repugnant messages, including a reference to gas chambers.


Read more: Australian governments have a long history of trying to manipulate the ABC – and it’s unlikely to stop now


The post was anonymous, but it was picked up and amplified by Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper under the heading: “Bob Brown’s mob of revolting protesters liken coal mines to gas chambers”.

Well down in the story, the newspaper said it was not suggesting Brown had anything to do with this statement, an inclusion that was all about avoiding a writ for libel.

Brown said: “Some of the headlines in the Murdoch media are simply disgraceful. They’re a disgrace to journalism”.

This interaction of social media and elements of the mainstream media, in which extremist language and feverish controversy are exploited as a means of dividing the community and of promoting a reactionary political worldview, was a potent feature of the 2016 US presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum the same year.

Where the issue is highly controversial and emotive – as with climate change, immigration or Brexit – the extremism expressed on social media makes headlines in the mainstream media, raising the political temperature and fuelling further partisanship.

There is a lot of research that shows how these effects are damaging democracies around the world. The findings are laid out in books such as those by Cass Sunstein (#republic), Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (How Democracies Die) and A.C. Grayling (Democracy and Its Crisis).

An important long-term issue in the 2019 federal election is how robust Australia’s democratic institutional arrangements turn out to be in the face of these pressures.

ref. Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign – http://theconversation.com/lies-obfuscation-and-fake-news-make-for-a-dispiriting-and-dangerous-election-campaign-115845

Think you’re allergic to penicillin? There’s a good chance you’re wrong

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Greg Kyle, Professor of Pharmacy, Queensland University of Technology

Are you allergic to penicillin? Perhaps you have a friend or relative who is? With about one in ten people reporting a penicillin allergy, that’s not altogether surprising.

Penicillin is the most commonly reported drug allergy. But the key word here is “reported”. Only about 20% of this 10% have a true penicillin allergy – so the figure would be one in 50 rather than one in ten.

People may experience symptoms they think are a result of taking penicillin, but are actually unrelated. If these symptoms are not investigated, they continue with the belief that they should steer clear of penicillin.


Read more: Weekly Dose: penicillin, the mould that saves millions of lives


This can become a problem if a person is sick and needs to be treated with penicillin. Penicillin and related antibiotics are the most common group of drugs used to treat a broad range of infections, from chest or throat, to urinary tract, to skin and soft tissue infections.

The overestimation of penicillin allergies is also not ideal because it means people are being treated with a broader range of antibiotics than necessary, which contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Yes, penicillin comes from mould

To understand more about why so many people think they’re allergic to penicillin, we need to look at a brief history of the drug.

Penicillin (benzylpenicillin or Penicillin G) was first discovered in 1928 and first used in 1941.

It was grown from a mould, as it is today. The liquid nutrient broth the mould grew in was drained, and the penicillin purified from it.

In the 1930s and 40s, and even through the 1960s and 70s, purification techniques were not as efficient as they are today. So, many early allergic reactions are thought to be due to impurities in the early penicillin products – especially injections.

Penicillin is now more versatile and can kill a wider range of bacteria than in its earlier days. From shutterstock.com

Penicillin and the range of antibiotic compounds that followed it revolutionised how we treat bacterial infections.

This led to widespread, and sometimes inappropriate, use of these medicines. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, but are sometimes prescribed for bacterial infections that occur while people have viral infections such as glandular fever.

We know using penicillin while a person has glandular fever can cause a rash that looks like penicillin allergy but is not related.

People may report symptoms to their health professionals that seem like a reaction to penicillin. Perhaps these symptoms are not fully investigated because it takes time and can be expensive – they’re just put down to the common penicillin allergy.

Further, some people perceive other side effects of a penicillin antibiotic such as nausea or diarrhoea as an allergy, when these are not, in fact, allergy symptoms.

From this point, the penicillin family will not be used to treat these patients.


Read more: We know _why_ bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, but _how_ does this actually happen?


The problem of antibiotic resistance

An allergy to penicillin can also limit the use of some other antibiotics which may cross-react with the allergy.

Cross reaction occurs when the chemical structure of another antibiotic is so similar to the structure of penicillin that the immune system gets confused and recognises it as the same thing.

To avoid this, doctors need to look to antibiotics from other medication classes when prescribing patients with a documented penicillin allergy.

But we need to be careful when drawing on a wider range of antibiotics. This is because the more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more likely they are to develop resistance to these antibiotics.

The range of penicillins we have today came from experimenting with the chemistry of the original penicillin molecule and changing its properties. From shutterstock.com

To address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, we now try to restrict antibiotics as much as possible to the lowest level one that will kill the specific bacteria.

We don’t kill tiny ants in our gardens with a sledgehammer, so likewise, we use a narrow-spectrum antibiotic wherever possible to keep the broad-spectrum antibiotics for severe and complex infections.

The penicillin family contains both narrow and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Ruling out this family and its “cousins” when we don’t need to can limit the choice of antibiotics and increase the chance of making other antibiotics less useful.

Can I get tested?

Studies show penicillin allergy reduces over time. So even if you did have a true penicillin allergy, it may have gone away over several years.

Under the guidance of your doctor, it is possible to be tested to see if you’re allergic – or still allergic – to penicillin.

A skin “scratch” test involves injecting a small amount of penicillin and monitoring for a reaction. Rescue medications will be on hand in case you do have a severe reaction. Your GP will probably refer you to an allergy specialist to get this done.


Read more: Common skin rashes and what to do about them


If you have been told you’re allergic, you should first try to find out when the reaction occurred and what happened in as much detail as possible.

Let your GP know all this information and he or she can then decide whether a skin test might be appropriate.

Do not try a test dose at home – the risk of a life-threatening reaction is not worth it.

And if you believe you are allergic to penicillin, the most important thing to do is tell each health professional (doctor, pharmacist, nurse, dentist, etc.) you come into contact with.

ref. Think you’re allergic to penicillin? There’s a good chance you’re wrong – http://theconversation.com/think-youre-allergic-to-penicillin-theres-a-good-chance-youre-wrong-112687

Bizarrely distributed and verging on extinction, this ‘mystic’ tree went unidentified for 17 years

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gregory John Leach, Honorary Fellow at Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University

Sign up to the Beating Around the Bush newsletter here, and suggest a plant we should cover at batb@theconversation.edu.au.


Almost 30 years ago, the specimen of a weird tree collected in the southern part of Kakadu National Park was packed in my luggage. It was on its way to the mecca of botanical knowledge in London, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

But what was it?

With unusual inflated winged fruits, it flummoxed local botanists who had not seen anything like it before. To crack the trees identity, it needed more than the limited resources of the Darwin Herbarium.

Later, we discovered a fragmentary specimen hidden in a small box at the end of a little-visited collection vault in the Darwin Herbarium. And it had been sitting there quietly since 1974.

Most of the specimens inside this box just irritate botanists as being somewhat intractable to identify. This is what’s known as the “GOK” box, standing for “God Only Knows”.

Together with the resources of Kew Gardens, the species was finally connected with a genus and recognised as a new species.

A year later, it was named Hildegardia australiensis.


The Conversation


Mysterious global distribution

The species is the only Australian representative for an international genus, Hildegardia. Under Northern Territory legislation, it’s listed as “near threatened”, due to its small numbers and limited distribution.

The genus Hildegardia was named in 1832 by Austrian botanists Schott and Endlicher. They named it after Hildegard, the eleventh-century German abbess and mystic, the “Sybil of the Rhine”.

The genus retains some of this mystical and elusive nature. It’s rare with small isolated populations, traits that seem to dominate for all bar one of the species in the genus.

Twelve species of Hildegardia are recognised: one from Cuba, three from Africa, four from Madagascar and one each from India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.

This bizarre global distribution is even more unusual in that almost the entire generic lineage seems to be verging on extinction.

The Australian species fits this pattern of small fragmented populations and, despite being a reasonably sized tree at up to 10 metres tall, remained unknown until 1991.

God only knows what unidentified specimens are in this box. I.D. Cowie, NT Herbarium, Author provided (No reuse)

Rarely seen and hard to find

Generally, Hildegardia species are tall, deciduous trees of well-drained areas, often growing on rocky hills.

Their trunks have a smooth, thin bark which smells unpleasant and exudes a gum when wounded. Most species have heart-shaped leaves and bear a profusion of orange-red flowers when leafless. These are followed by strange, winged fruits with one or two seeds.

Hildegardia australiensis would have to be one of the most rarely seen trees in Australia in its natural habitat. It is native to the margins of the western Arnhem Land Plateau with scattered populations on limestone and sandstone scree slopes.

These are all difficult locations to visit, so if you really want to see it, a helicopter is recommended. Fortunately it is easy to grow and has found its way into limited cultivation.

Several trees have been in the Darwin Botanic Gardens since the early nineties and a few are known to have been planted in some of the urban parks in greater Darwin. The plantings have been more to showcase a rare and odd-looking tree rather than any great ornamental value.

Growing on ‘sickness country’

In the NT the tree is so poorly known that it has no common name other than the default generic name of Hildegardia.

It appears to have no recorded Indigenous uses, which is perhaps not surprising as much of its distribution is in “sickness country”.

Hildegardia australiensis often grows in rocky fields. I.D. Cowie, NT Herbarium, Author provided (No reuse)

This is country with uranium deposits, and was avoided by the traditional owners. Rock art showing figures with swollen joints has been interpreted as showing radiation poisoning.

But it does have one claim to fame. A heated debate between conservationists and miners was sparked during a proposed development of the Coronation Hill gold, platinum and palladium mine in Kakadu National Park.

The main population of H. australiensis is only a stone’s throw from Coronation Hill and the species became one of the key identified biodiversity assets that could have been threatened by development of the mine.

The area around Coronation Hill, or Guratba in the local Jawoyn language, is also of considerable spiritual significance to the Jawoyn traditional landowners and forms part of the identified “sickness country”. A creation deity, Bula, rests and lays dormant under the sickness country and should not be disturbed.

Eventually, these concerns culminated in the Hawke government on June 17, 1991 to no longer allow the mine development.


Read more: The Price of God at Coronation Hill


So are the seeds edible?

While there appears to be no known uses of the Australian species, the tree may have hidden potential.

The closely related trees Sterculia and Brachychiton are well known as bush tucker plants and good sources of fibre. The local Top End species Sterculia quadrifida, for instance, is commonly known as the Peanut Tree and is a highly favoured bush tucker plant.

The fibre potential of H. australiensis is being explored by internationally acclaimed Darwin-based papermaker, Winsome Jobling. Cyclone Marcus whipped through Darwin in 2018 and one of the casualties was a planted tree of H. australiensis in the Darwin Botanic Gardens.

The strange winged fruit of Hildegardia australiensis. I.D. Cowie, NT Herbarium, Author provided (No reuse)

Thankfully, material was salvaged. Winsome has material stored in her freezer awaiting extraction and processing to see what the fibre potential is.

H. barteri, an African species in the Hildegardia genus, has a broad distribution through half a dozen African countries. And the West African locals have a number of uses for it, from eating the seeds to using the bark as fibre for ropes. But we don’t know just yet if the flesh or seed in the Australian species is edible.

Whether the Australian species might also harbour such useful properties still awaits some testing and research. Fortunately, with the creation deity Bula watching over the natural populations the species, unlike many of its close relatives, appears secure in the wild.


Sign up to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely Australian.

ref. Bizarrely distributed and verging on extinction, this ‘mystic’ tree went unidentified for 17 years – http://theconversation.com/bizarrely-distributed-and-verging-on-extinction-this-mystic-tree-went-unidentified-for-17-years-115239