ABC Leads the Way in Connecting Australians through Local Indigenous Languages Reply

by Lorda Omeisah

First Languages logo

In a history-making move, the ABC in collaboration with First Languages Australia has developed a project to broadcast greetings in local languages across Australia. “I think it’s incredibly powerful. It’s just a simple, sneaky little project but I just think the impact is huge,” says Faith Baisden, coordinator of First Languages Australia, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting local Indigenous languages. The ABC operates in 50 regions in Australia but within each of those regions, there are numerous local language groups. Listeners around the country will be able to hear greetings in their first languages.

“It’s historic to think that the ABC is acknowledging, probably on a daily basis now, our connection to these ancient languages and the importance that these languages have for the whole population,” Faith Baisden says. Local languages connect people to country because of the strong sense of place embodied in them. “For instance, here in our area, we have ‘Coomera’. The word comes from ‘kumar’, which means blood or veins and that describes the way the waterways break up and flow across that flat land,” says Faith Baisden.

Giving back a connection to ancient languages. Image: Jermone Kemarr and Joseline Kemarr, used under Creative Commons licence.

Giving back a connection to ancient languages. Image: Jermone Kemarr and Joseline Kemarr, used under Creative Commons licence.

For Indigenous Australians, connection to local languages and culture is critical for a strong sense of identity and wellbeing, according to the most recent Indigenous Languages Survey released by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (IATSIS).

“You go out to Kununurra in Western Australia and that’s a remote place, but they’re battling. You’ve got full blood people who don’t speak their language,” says traditional language expert Daryn McKenny.

The recent Indigenous Languages Survey reported that all traditional languages are at risk of declining and that from 250 traditional languages before European settlement, there are just 20 languages of any strength today.

Daryn McKenny says there are still problems with the education system from the past and that the Government’s provision for Indigenous languages to be part of the national curriculum in all schools this year is a step in the right direction, but he warns there are many hurdles to achieving this vision.

Faith Baisden says that First Languages Australia has been part of these talks regarding the national curriculum but they are still waiting on an update from the new government. Recommendations around community consultation, the lack of suitably qualified teachers and the lack of resources have not been addressed. “It’s all very well to talk about introducing curriculum but who’s going to provide the resources?” she says.

Meanwhile, the ABC is leading the way, putting the taxpayer’s dollar to work, connecting people around the country. “It’s really showing how the ABC works directly back for all members of the community,” says Faith Baisden.

A Healthy Start For Kids in the Inner West Reply

By Kristen Ochs

Jo Haylen, Mayor of Marrickville, celebrates the Marrickville South Breakfast Club with members. Image courtesy of Ms Haylen.

Jo Haylen, Mayor of Marrickville, celebrates the Marrickville South Breakfast Club with members. Image courtesy of Ms Haylen.

Like many other suburbs in the inner city, Marrickville straddles a social divide. But an ambitious new breakfast and exercise program for young people aims to change that.

Launched in January, the Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club is a joint effort by Marrickville Council, Souths Cares, an initiative of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Central Sydney GP Network, WEAVE Youth and Community Services and Barnardos Australia.

Twice weekly at 6:30am, over 20 children descend on the local Police Citizens Youth Club for a training session with the Souths Rabbitohs Under-20s, followed by a healthy breakfast, then a lift to school or work. The program has a strong Indigenous focus, with over 60 per cent of participants from an Indigenous background.

The program targets at-risk young people aged 8 to 18. “We still see pockets of genuine disadvantage in south Marrickville,” says Jo Haylen, Mayor of Marrickville.

“We see a whole range of social issues, such as truancy, families from broken homes, and we have a higher than average level of obesity,” she says.

Rhys Morris, a youth worker with Barnardos, says, “There are a lot of socially isolated young people living on the housing estates in the area and many have disengaged from school.”

He says this lack of opportunity fuels higher rates of unemployment; for example, 6.4 per cent in South Marrickville versus 5.3 per cent across the greater Marrickville Council area at the last census.

However, on the football field, age, gender and ethnic background aren’t important. “Organised sport helps to dissolve differences,” says Cr Haylen. She says being part of a group encourages leadership and communication skills, as well as a broader sense of well-being. The young participants are eager to share what they have gained from the program.

“I’ve learnt teamwork, cooperation and I’ve made new friends,” says one 17-year-old, whose school attendance has also improved. “When I come here I feel awake, so I go to school,” she says. Another Breakfast Club member says, “They drive you to school, so it’s easier to go.”

While training with the Rabbitohs encourages regular physical activity, it does much more than that.

Sam Young, a Souths Under-20s player who volunteers as a trainer, says, “The kids need a positive role model.” Mr Young says he has seen a significant improvement in the participants’ confidence and enthusiasm. “At the start, some of them weren’t getting involved but as we’ve come through the weeks, that’s changed,” he says.

Cr Haylen says, “It’s much more than rugby league.” She believes the program’s success lies in “having a dream, believing in yourself and setting goals”.

The program also encourages healthy eating habits. At breakfast, many of the young people now reach for apples and wholemeal bread and organisers couldn’t be happier.

“I don’t usually eat breakfast but the food here is good because it’s healthy and you feel full,” says a 16-year-old participant. Her 17-year-old friend says she finds it easier to concentrate at school when she’s had breakfast.

The Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club is a pilot program and its future after April is unclear.

“Council wants it to continue, but it relies on the support of other organisations,” says Cr Haylen. The Breakfast Club is now so popular with young people that a waiting list has been drawn up. One 17-year-old club member voices the group’s enthusiasm when asked if she will be returning next term: “For sure!”


A healthy start

The healthy tucker on offer at the Marrickville Souths Breakfast Club

New Program in the Illawarra to Combat Alcoholism in Aboriginal Communities 1

By Bella Peacock

A symbol of hope: the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Services

A symbol of hope: the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Services

A new home detoxification program especially tailored for Aboriginal people is being trialled in the Illawarra. The outpatient program, the only one of its kind in NSW, has been established to overcome the cultural and practical barriers preventing high-risk Aboriginal drinkers from seeking help.

“There is a huge inadequacy in New South Wales for Aboriginal-specific drug and alcohol services; there is a huge gap,” says program coordinator Leanne Lawrence, who devised the detox service while working at the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Services.

“Our mob don’t do well in rehab because a sense of freedom and sense of self are lost,” she says. Ms Lawrence developed the program in collaboration with the University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The proposed service was then funded through a Good Practice Grant from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education last year.

The Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service assists about 1,200 of the 4,000 Aboriginal people living in the area. Ms Lawrence estimates that of those clients, 80 percent are high-risk drinkers. “Alcohol and tobacco are the two major killers of Aboriginal people today,” she says.

According to Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, programs like the Illawarra home detox service are integral to overcoming the broader problem of alcoholism in Aboriginal communities.

The detox is a five-day medicated program, with each client appointed an individual social worker to counsel them through the withdrawal. Sarah Barclay, who manages the detox service, says, “We tailor the program to suit the wants and needs of the individual.”

According to Leanne Lawrence, this process works well with Aboriginal patients as they are given more freedom, confidentiality and can build up a deep level of trust with the one-on-one social worker.

The important aspect of the program is that it is “culturally comfortable”, according to Ms Lawrence. This means that the program acknowledges and respects the culture of each client, using his or her heritage to enrich the service. The program does this by drawing on aspects of Aboriginal culture such as the structure of the community and spirituality. According to Ms Lawrence, these are empowering forces that are often neglected in mainstream services.

While ensuring the confidentiality and comfort of the clients, the home service also addresses practical issues such as transport and cost.

“A detox program is definitely needed,” says Bernice Mumbulla, an Indigenous woman who has been living in the Illawarra for two years. She says there is a lot of shame in being alcoholic in the Aboriginal community and having a confidential, one-on-one service is an effective way of overcoming this.

Ms Lawrence and Michael Thorn hope to create a model from the program that can be taken up by other Aboriginal Medical Services throughout Australia.

Art Takes Central Role in New Development Reply

By Christopher Harris

At Central Park Shopping Centre in Broadway, Sydney, British artist Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours is a global artwork that places pianos in public spaces.

At Central Park Shopping Centre in Broadway, Sydney, British artist Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours is a global artwork that places pianos in public spaces.

It’s an unexpected noise in the cacophony of a shopping centre in the Sydney Broadway shopping strip. The rich sounds of Debussy cascade from a piano in the middle of a large empty room. It’s part of British artist Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours, a global artwork which places pianos in public spaces.

It is just one piece of interactive art in Level 3 Gallery, located within the Central Park Shopping Centre opposite the UTS Tower.

James Winter, director of Brand X, who manages the space, believes the piano and other pieces of interactive art encourage people to engage with their urban environment.

He says the piano resonates with visitors because it often conjures up family occasions, especially so for international students who are away from home.

The not-for-profit gallery within the Central Park complex is not only an exhibition space for artists, but also provides studio space for a minimal fee.

Mr Winter says although Frasers, which developed Central Park, and the not-for- profit gallery have a relationship, the gallery is a pop-up creative space.

“We negotiate a new term every five months, and I am confidant that we will be extended.”

Avery Harvey is a young photographer who is exhibiting her work in the space this month. She believes the tenure should be extended.

“The space is a benefit to the city because it is offering us both an affordable exhibition space and a studio space in one.

“On my first visit I was shocked to see how the public could watch artists creating their art because the creative process is traditionally a very private thing,” she says.

Georgina Bromley, of Redfern, liked the gallery because it reminds her of galleries she had visited in Asia.

“Urban living typically means less space, so Sydneysiders will have to get used to the idea of visiting a gallery in an office tower.

“I like this gallery precisely because it temporary. I think it makes the art fresher and I can see the engagement with the community.”

Baseball Tries for Home Run Down Under Reply

By Finlay Boyle


After the two much-anticipated exhibition matches between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the SCG in March, Sydneysiders can now claim to have had a proper taste of America’s pastime.

Alex Pellerano, National Commercial Manager at Baseball Australia, is optimistic about the future of baseball in Australia, although he admits there is a long way to go. “Baseball is a sport that struggles for mainstream attention,” he says. “What these exhibition matches have done is really made baseball a topic of conversation.”

He says the game has been growing for the past three years with an increase in attendance of 22 per cent and ticket sales revenue of 20 per cent.

However, for this growth to continue, baseball must woo fans away from traditional Australian sports, something that Peter Fitzsimons, sports columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald, does not see happening.

“Speaking for myself, I could stand to see a baseball match like that once every five years. I think baseball’s a fine game but you need to be sort of born and bred to it to really appreciate its nuances.”

Although he is behind growth of all sports in Australia, he is critical of using Australia solely for the purpose of exhibition matches. “If we’re going to grow baseball in this country, let’s have homegrown. I don’t want us to become an outer market for the American sporting franchises.”

Peter Fitzsimons has called the Dodgers-Diamondbacks visit “a well-executed marketing exercise” and thinks it is unlikely that we shall see “the beginning of regular Major League Baseball appearances in Australia” as a result.

Dr David Smith, of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says, “I don’t think baseball has a huge future in Australia because it can’t really compete with cricket. It’s hard for someone to switch from being a cricket fan into a casual baseball fan.”

As for the exhibition match, he believes that it should really only come as a one off. “If it was something they were doing regularly, I think the response would probably taper off.”

Australian Universities’ Investment Practices In Relation To Climate Change Research Under Scrutiny Reply

By Leslie Goldmann

The challenge now is reconciling personal values with corporate responsibilities. Reflection of the landscape in a bubble gives a fisheye appearance. The colours come from the oils on the bubble surface. Image, Bubble World, by Eric Talsted used here with Creative Commons license.

The challenge now is reconciling personal values with corporate responsibilities. Reflection of the landscape in a bubble gives a fisheye appearance. The colours come from the oils on the bubble surface. Image, Bubble World, by Eric Talsted used here with Creative Commons license.

The Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) has announced it will investigate whether the investment practices of Australian universities are in stark contrast with what their academic climate change research is telling them.

The AODP is a non-profit organisation established to find out how fund managers manage climate risk on their members’ behalf. Julian Poulter, Chief Executive Officer of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, says, “We got into this because we could not find any disclosure at all about how the big institutional investors were managing climate risks.”

Climate change is a unique risk to investors because if the Government introduced tougher regulations surrounding carbon emissions, they would lower the profit of companies that produce the most carbon and leave investors scrambling for the exits at the same time.

Mr Poulter says, “Climate change is a risk for long-term investors because it is highly certain, thanks to the climate science being highly certain, and at some point governments will have to regulate in a very short period of time. We all know what happens, when everyone tries to sell at the same time.”

The AODP normally targets large institutional investors but decided to investigate universities due to both the universities’ climate science research and their trusted status.

Tom Swann, researcher at The Australia Institute (TAI), says, “Our universities are among the most trusted institutions in society. People look to them for moral leadership, but they also have a fiduciary duty to manage their finances responsibly.”

The AODP suspects universities are not practising what their climate science is teaching them. Mr Poulter says, “Climate science is very prevalent among the universities. It would be very, very strange if the universities themselves were not looking at climate change risk on the investment side.”

Powerful conflicted interests are blocking the Government from enacting tougher new carbon emission regulations. “Neither the boards of these companies nor the fund managers are well incentivised over a long enough period,” Mr Poulter says. “There will doubtless come a tipping point where these vested interests are overcome.”

Lyndon Schneider, National Campaign Director for the Wilderness Society, thinks the tipping point will come when the boards inside companies face responsibility for carbon pollution.

“Where I think the real power is going to come, eventually, is inside the boards because they are having an increasingly difficult time of reconciling their own personal views and values with that of the personal interests of their children and grandchildren who live on the planet and their corporate responsibilities.”

New Study Finds Women Less Likely to Cycle Than Men Reply

by Ben Nielsen

In Australia, women are almost 10 per cent less likely to participate in cycling activities than men. Image: Xavi Talleda, used under Creative Commons licence

In Australia, women are almost 10 per cent less likely to participate in cycling activities than men. Image: Xavi Talleda, used under Creative Commons licence

Despite an increase in the popularity of cycling, a recent study conducted by the Australian Bicycle Council has found that women account for just 12.4 per cent of overall Australian bicycle trips.

The National Cycling Participation Survey was released as part of the National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016. The initiative, which is a joint venture between various government and private organisations, provides information on cycling behaviours and aims to increase participation in cycling in Australia.

The survey found that 3.6 million people in Australia ride a bicycle for recreation and transport in a typical week. However, women are almost 10 per cent less likely to participate in cycling activities than their male counterparts. Bicycle advocacy groups believe that this disparity is largely due to sexist attitudes towards female cyclists.

“I receive some form of unprovoked harassment or abuse nearly every time I get on the bike,” says Caitlin Turner, 24, of Wollongong. “The abuse is primarily verbal from individuals in cars, and predominantly men, tradies and seniors.”

Ms Turner currently studies Sports Business at the Australian College of Physical Education and coordinates various community cycling skills and maintenance workshops. Despite having been a target of sexist and threatening behaviour, she continues to cycle in both a recreational and utilitarian capacity.

“I receive more physical harassment when riding on my own in quiet areas, because I’m seen as more vulnerable and an easy target,” she says. “It might be being slapped from behind from someone in a moving car, or being followed by motorists.”

Pip Vice, of Bicycle NSW, says that such incidents of abuse are far too common. She has ridden a bicycle for most of her life, and claims that the National Cycling Participation Survey reflects Australia’s gender divide and general stigma towards cyclists.

“It’s definitely become more normalised to see young women on their bikes, but Australia isn’t used to a cycling culture like there is in northern Europe,” Ms Vice says.

In places such as Denmark and Holland, cycling is both common and popular. Mixed-mode commuting (cycling, public transport, and motor vehicle) is encouraged, and most cities have cycle-specific infrastructure. Children begin cycling from an early age and skills relating to traffic rules, behaviour and regulations are integrated into the curriculum.

“I think some education could be put in place, particularly in a city that isn’t really used to cyclists,” says Ms Vice. “What Bicycle NSW does is run a ride, it’s called Gear Up Girland it’s a ride specifically for women of any age. It’s basically to encourage women to ride.”

In 2008, Gear Up Girl held its first event, a mass-participation ride from Cronulla to Olympic Park. The program has since expanded into a network of organisations that provide social, fun and accessible courses and events for women.

“Confidence on the bike is a factor that contributes to many women’s reluctance to ride, and Gear Up Girl provides an environment that is safe and supportive,” says Donna Little, Bicycle NSW Events Coordinator.

Gear Up Girl’s main event is run across various major cities and usually coincides with International Women’s Day. Margie Abbott, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, and City of Sydney Councillor Christine Forster endorsed this year’s main riding event.

Despite the efforts of organisations like Bicycle NSW, female cyclists continue to be the target of unprovoked harassment, even in cities with a more overt cycling culture. Lucy Rash, 24, of North Melbourne, is regularly harassed while riding her bicycle.

“My preference is always to say something to perpetrators, because usually they don’t expect it and stop the abuse,” she says. “But, I am always running through how much stronger the perpetrator might be than me, whether it’s daylight or not, if there are people around to help me if I need it. The risk of physical violence, following verbal violence, is a real fear for women,” Ms Rash says.

“Close to 99 per cent of the abuse I experience is perpetrated by a man or a group of men and is sexual in nature. This is the experience of many women. It’s fuelled by a power imbalance in society that runs much deeper than many realise.”

Ms Caitlin Turner agrees that threatening behaviour towards female cyclists is indicative of a far more unsettling community mentality. While events and organisations are able to conquer issues of cycling safety, logistics and knowledge, Ms Turner says that society’s innate attitude of sexism also needs to be addressed.

“I think these interactions are reflections on how women are perceived and treated not only as cyclists but as a group of people in general. The abuse is of the same nature as when I’m walking down the street or driving a car,” Turner says. “It’s abuse towards women in general, and when coupled with the vulnerability of a bike rider against moving vehicles, this abuse is taken to the next level.”

Commerce, community and contemporary art in western Sydney Reply

by Laura Foss

Transforma: out of the wreckage of burnt abandoned cars emerges the monumental head of a kangaroo by artist Michel Tuffery. Images: MCA

Transforma: out of the wreckage of burnt abandoned cars emerges the monumental head of a kangaroo by artist Michel Tuffery. Images: MCA

Transforma 2

The giant head of a kangaroo towered over the crowd assembled in the Airds car park on a recent Saturday evening. It was the unveiling of Transforma and not even the persistent drizzle could dampen the enthusiasm and excitement of those in attendance.

Transforma was created during a seven-week residency of New Zealand artist Michel Tuffery as part of the C3West program that creates opportunities for artists to work with business and non-art organisations. As part of the program, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown City Council, and a number of local businesses and community organisations partnered with Mr Tuffery to heighten community awareness of the local environment and the problems of anti-social behavior, such as littering and illegal dumping, that threaten the environment.

Mr Tuffery consulted extensively with the community, and identified a recurring community concern: the ecological health of the upper St Georges River. Over the years, countless cars have been burnt and dumped along the riverbank in the area known as The Woolwash, causing substantial harm to the river ecosystem. Out of this, Transforma was born.

Transforma tries to create a sense of stewardship over the river,” says Michael Dagastino, Director of the Campbelltown Arts Centre. The shells of a number of abandoned, burnt cars were fished from the river and were transformed into a spectacular sculpture of a kangaroo during Michel Tuffery’s residency. During this time, Mr Tuffery and his team engaged with community regarding the project and ran a number of art workshops with local young people.

“He hit the ground running, started meeting with people, participating in programs and became an instant part of the community. It is this commitment that will make Transforma resonate with the community for years to come,” says Mr Dagastino.

Following its unveiling, Transforma was donated to Airds High School to be permanently displayed in the school grounds.

The C3West program was established in 2006 by the Australian Council of the Arts in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, to bring together businesses and other organisations, with art institutions and established artists to develop strategies and opportunities for collaboration.

“It’s a much more closely integrated way of designing an art project to meet some kind of need that business identifies,” says Elaine Lally, Associate Professor in Communications at the University of Technology and editor of the book The Art of Engagement: Culture, Collaboration, Innovation, a study of the C3West program and its unique arts-business-community collaborations. C3West partnerships are distinct from the traditional, sponsorship types of relationships common between corporations and artists.

The C3West program has curated a number of successful projects over the past few years, including In Walking Distance, a partnership between artist Garry Trinh and Western Sydney Parklands, and Heads Up, a partnership between Penrith Panthers and artist Craig Walsh. These collaborations can be inherently tricky, particularly with corporate, for-profit partners who can often have a bottom line mentality with regards to results.

“For profit partners and corporations have a different way of looking at the value, the return on investment. The conversations within the organisations are different,” Dr Lally says. Often success in these circumstances is dependent on skilled brokerage between the artist and the corporate partner, and an understanding on the part of the corporate partner that real success requires commitment not only during the project, but also after the project in order to carry on and take advantage of the relationships with the community developed during the project.

“Having the CEO or the person at the top of the decision-making tree understanding the value in the project,” Dr Lally says.

The C3West program is already working with Western Sydney Parklands and well-known UK artists Heather and Ivan Morison. The pair will bring out their sculpture Sleepers Awake, a large iridescent float that will hover in the sky over Bungaribee, a park located in the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. The sculpture, to be displayed over 10 days, is a celebration of the ongoing transformation of the park from a formally empty stretch of bush into a community hub.

“We want the community to participate in the awakening of this incredible space, ” says Calli Brown, Communications Officer at Western Sydney Parklands. “The Parklands is an important recreational and cultural destination for western Sydney and Sleepers Awake will be a memorable, exciting and inspiring event.”

In addition to the sculpture, Western Sydney Parklands has recruited a number of local performing artists to showcase their talents. “The community performance aspect of the installation is at the heart of this event,” Ms Brown says.

This is Western Sydney Parklands second artist partnership instigated through the C3West. “We see the collaboration with C3West and the artists as being a meaningful way of creating a sense of community through artistic expression,” says Ms Brown.

Sleepers Awake will be on display at Bungaribee from 17-26 May.


Associate Professor Elaine Lally – 0417 269 576

Michael Dagastino – 4645 4100 (Campbelltown Arts Centre)

Calli Brown – 9895 7429

Lally, E et al, The Art of Engagement: Culture, Collaboration, Innovation, (2011, UWA Publishing, Crawley Western Australia)

New Campaign Puts Universities in the Spotlight Reply

By Nicole Parodi

The Keep It Clever campaign was launched nationwide to focus attention on the role of university education and research. Image: UTS Newsroom

The Keep It Clever campaign was launched nationwide to focus attention on the role of university education and research. Image: UTS Newsroom

A 90-second animation film, Keep It Clever, on television and social media sends a warning message that Australia will be left behind without ongoing public support and investment in universities. The Keep It Clever campaign was launched nationwide in April by Universities Australia in hopes of creating a national conversation on the role of university education and research.

Apart from the short animation, the Keep It Clever campaign has been extended to include a new website, Facebook petition app, digital page takeovers and digital banners.

The campaign emphasises that global competition is growing with emerging economies like China, India and Brazil primarily focusing on tertiary education and research while Australian universities risk being left behind.

“Countries around the world are heavily investing in their universities and research programs, and we need to make sure that the Australian systems are not left behind,” Belinda Robinson, Universities Australia’s chief executive, told the ABC on the day the campaign was launched.

The campaign points to the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) figures that show Australia’s public investment in higher education as a percentage of GDP thus ranking Australia 25th out of 30 advanced economies.

“Given that Australian students have to pay for their education, unlike in some Scandinavian countries and Germany, we are already behind in terms of competitiveness with many overseas universities,” says Jennifer Hird, a law student from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

“For example, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are deterred from entering university due to associated expenses. If more students were encouraged to attend university and admin fees are not increased, then Australian universities would become more competitive just by the sheer number of students undertaking tertiary education,” she says.

University graduates are worth $188 billion to the economy and universities employ over 110,000 staff and directly contribute over $23 billion to Australia’s GDP, according to the campaign’s website which is run by Universities Australia.

The Keep It Clever campaign claims a third of jobs will require a university degree in the coming years and by 2025, it is estimated there will be a shortfall of 280,000 people with the high-level qualifications needed by various industries and the economy.

“As it stands, Australia already has a skills shortage in areas such as engineering and science. We don’t want even more shortages due to students being discouraged from undertaking study because of the cost of it and lack of services cause by reduced government funding,” says Jenna Thompson, a science student from the University of New South Wales.

The university sector continues to face $2.3 billion in funding cuts that have yet been legislated in Federal Parliament. In April last year, the then Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced $2.3 billion in funding cuts to help fund the Gonski school reforms.

The Liberal Federal Government has vowed to continue with the funding cuts to tertiary education with Christopher Pyne, the Federal Education Minister, introducing the legislation last November to Parliament, saying the government had no choice but to proceed with the cuts due to the “fiscal mess” that the previous Labor government had left behind.

For the students who are concerned about how proposed funding cuts will affect them, the matter of which side of politics is to blame is not a major issue.

“We don’t want our universities to be under-funded and have to cut contact hours with students. I have heard of certain nursing lectures being cut from one hour to 30 minutes due to funding. What good is a 30-minute lecture? You wouldn’t learn anything. And nursing is crucial in a functioning first world country,” says Natalie Harper, a business student at Sydney University.

Catarina Baker, who is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of New South Wales, adds, “Cuts to university funding will have a negative impact on Australia universities and result in us becoming less competitive with overseas universities.

“These cuts will mean that students have fewer services to assist them in their study and greater administrative fees. Students already struggle to pay for textbooks, laptops, and other resources each year, adding less free services will result in more expenses, which some students just cannot afford,” she says.





New Rapid HIV Test Aimed at Halting Spread of Virus Reply

By Kristen Ochs

Simple to perform, easy to read and fast: rapid HIV test procedures are breaking down barriers to testing. Photo:  Kristen Ochs

Simple to perform, easy to read and fast: rapid HIV test procedures are breaking down barriers to testing. Photo: Kristen Ochs

The State Government hopes new technology will help slash HIV transmission by 80 per cent.  Rapid finger-prick and oral swab HIV tests are part of a NSW Health initiative, Ending HIV, which aims to halt the epidemic by 2020.

Up to 15,000 people are currently living with HIV in NSW.  Only 70 per cent are aware they carry the virus, according to the Kirby Institute, a leading HIV research organisation at the University of New South Wales.

Alarm bells sounded in 2011 when, for the first time in 10 years, HIV notifications in NSW rose.  The trend continued in 2012, prompting the Government to step in.

Increasing testing rates among gay men, who account for 80 per cent of HIV cases in NSW, forms the basis of the Government’s strategy.

Philip Cunningham, senior scientist at the HIV State Reference Laboratory, says, “If you identify people through testing, you can put them on treatment, then their viral load goes down and they become less infectious – you control the onward transmission.”

The Kirby Institute estimates the median time between being infected with HIV and actually being diagnosed is four years.  Barriers to accessing testing account for much of the problem.

“Until recently, most places that offered testing required people to come back in a week to collect the result in person,” Phillip Keen, researcher at the Kirby Institute, says.  “It’s hard to get appointments, you have to take time off work, it’s inconvenient.”

James Gray, Manager of Gay Men’s Sexual Health Programs at ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of NSW), says the week spent in limbo between having the blood test and getting the result causes significant anxiety.

Rapid HIV testing could be the solution, with finger-prick and oral swab devices giving results within 20 minutes.

ACON now offers rapid finger-prick testing at its Surry Hills and Newtown centres

as part of a research study funded by NSW Health.  Peer educators, gay men trained to deliver the testing, provide pre-test counselling and ensure clients are referred to medical services if they test positive.

The new approach is working.  Between 40 and 50 per cent of all clients coming in for a rapid test have either never been tested or have not tested for at least 12 months, according to Mr Gray.

But there are reasons why rapid testing is not yet widely available, with the two most commonly used devices still under review by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Philip Cunningham says people need to be aware that the sensitivity of rapid tests is much lower than standard blood tests.

“One of the key limitations is that the window period is much longer,” Mr Cunningham says.

Standard blood tests can pick up a positive result 10 to 15 days after a person is infected, but rapid tests will only detect the virus after three to four weeks. But Mr Cunningham says the public health argument for rapid testing is a valid counterpoint.

“The tests are not as good as conventional lab tests but they’re better than not having a test at all,” he says.

Self-testing at home is another weapon in the fight, overcoming the stigma that some men still feel around HIV testing.

“Some gay men don’t want to be seen at a clinic,” Phillip Keen says.

Currently, home testing remains within the boundaries of research studies, with the Kirby Institute enrolling men for its two year FORTH Study (Frequency of Oral HIV Testing at Home).

But self-testing could soon become mainstream, if the Commonwealth Government agrees to a recent recommendation from the National HIV Testing Policy Committee to scrap a law that currently prohibits home testing for infectious diseases.

In the United States, oral swab home test-kits are already sold over the counter in pharmacies.

Australian concerns around the accuracy of the oral swab test, which has a lower sensitivity than the finger-prick test, are an echo of the American debate a few years ago.

“When the US Food and Drug Administration approved the oral test, it announced that as high as one in 12 positives could be missed,” Philip Cunningham says.

However, public health experts felt that boosting testing rates outweighed the risks.

Dr Anthony Santella, sexual health researcher at the University of Sydney, believes home testing in Australia is inevitable.

“People are already doing it, they’re shipping them here from overseas,” he says.  “If the Government wants any kind of control over it, it’s going to have to get involved.”

But the Ending HIV campaign is already having an impact. An extra 27,000 HIV tests were performed last year compared to the year before, according to Dr Daniel Maddedu, Deputy Director of the NSW Centre for Population Health.

While rapid testing is not perfect, it is opening the door for many who otherwise wouldn’t test.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Philip Cunningham says, “but it’s another weapon in the armoury.”