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ICYMI: research reform, injustice in the spotlight, Minister under fire over NDIS comments, “longevity cities” – and events not to miss

On the upside, changes are afoot at the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund, some progress is also being made on sustainable healthcare, and you might be surprised how much good news there is about climate journalism (mostly in other countries).

On the downside, a stack of organisations are very upset with Minister Bill Shorten’s comments on exclusion of sex work and sexuality services from the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“Sexual supports are critical to the well-being of people with disability,” they say in a joint statement.

“They are not mere luxuries but, as the Federal Court recognised in 2020, are reasonable and necessary supports that contribute to our holistic health and quality of life. The NDIS must continue to recognise sex, sexuality, and relationships within the context of disability and ensure access to a range of safe sexual supports and services that meet the diverse needs of NDIS participants.”

The column this week has a big focus on (in)justice systems, violence and trauma.

It reports condemnation of the Russian attack on a major children’s hospital in Ukraine, pandemic publications, and the concept of “longevity cities”. Don’t miss Conference Watch, some job opportunities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and the list of upcoming events.

The quotable?

This case highlights the growing problem of online abuse and harassment faced by people working in the public eye. Responding to the risks posed by this behaviour is an essential part of an employer’s health and safety obligations.”


Medical research reform

Statement by NHMRC: Driving a new era in Australian health and medical research

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) will work more closely under a new structure announced on 5 July.

The new advisory structure and committees aim to ensure better alignment and coordination of the MRFF and NHMRC. Nominations for NHMRC Principal Committees and NHMRC-MRFF Joint Advisory Committees close on 31 July.

The joint advisory committees:

  • Consumer Advisory Group
  • Industry, Philanthropy and Commercialisation
  • Public Health and Health Systems Committee
  • Indigenous Advisory Group.

See the Australian Association of Medical Research Institute comments


Sustainable healthcare developments

About 40 healthcare sites around Australia are piloting the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s (ACSQHC) draft Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resilience Healthcare Module.

Health services can use this framework to ensure their services are improving the safety and quality of care, while addressing the health system’s sizeable contribution to climate change.

According to a recent statement by Doctors for the Environment Australia, the pilot will enable health services to discuss their current strategies and the barriers they face in adopting the new climate resilience and environmental sustainability module.

Aligned to the Module is the Hospital Sustainability Project Tracker, designed by DEA. This will shortly be publicly available on DEA’s website.

The Project Tracker has a focus on governance and leadership, workforce education and engagement, clinical care delivery, facilities management, and procurement to provide inspiration and guidance to hospital leadership teams, clinicians, health care professionals, and staff.

It aims to introduce, track progress, and report on environmental sustainability activities across an organisation. The Project Tracker focuses on mitigation (aiming to reduce the emissions associated with healthcare delivery), rather than adaptation (aiming to make our healthcare system more resilient to our changing climate).

Healthy Futures: Discover Canberra’s First All-Electric Hospital Building Opening This August

Canberra Hospital’s first all-electric building is set to open its doors this August.

Features include:

  • 21 massive heat pumps, reducing the hospital’s carbon footprint by the equivalent of removing 760 cars from Canberra’s roads.
  • Recycled water system.
  • Use of a circular economy model during the demolition phase, when 96 percent of the materials from the previous buildings on site were salvaged and repurposed for other construction projects.
  • Throughout the building construction, electric cranes were employed instead of traditional fuel-powered cranes. This choice not only aligns with the hospital’s commitment to minimising its environmental footprint during the construction phase, but also eliminates air and noise pollution.

Occupational health

Scimex compiled a selection of expert reaction: NZ academic harassed during the pandemic wins in court

The employment court of NZ has ordered the University of Auckland to pay $20,000 NZD damages to scientist Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles after it was found to have breached its contractual obligations to protect Associate Professor Wiles’s health and safety in the wake of harassment she experienced for speaking publicly about the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also found the University breached its contractual obligations to be a good employer, including as a result of its failure to act in good faith.  Both the University of Auckland and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles have released public statements in response to the decision.

Comments below have been edited for brevity; Croakey recommends reading the full text.

Professor Julie Leask, a social scientist specialising in immunisation in the School of Public Health, University of Sydney and Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases:

“This case highlights just how difficult and stressful it can be for academics who engage in the public arena. Academics can receive unwanted attention – including sometimes extreme harassment and concerns for personal safety – after sharing their expertise in the public domain. Immunisation, vaping, COVID-19 origins, the Voice to Parliament, and other issues that we bring our expertise to, can generate heated responses. Women and people of colour are more likely to be harassed. Universities need to pay attention to this judgement. Not doing so puts them and their employees at risk. They cannot afford to keep ignoring this risk, as our work and personas are increasingly accessible to the public and academics are encouraged to engage in the course of their work.”

Lyndal Byford, Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre:

“The court decision highlights the incredible levels of abuse that were directed at scientists and academics during the pandemic and contains lessons for the university and research sector in Australia. The judge’s decision makes it clear that simply telling experts that they should stop providing public commentary is not reasonable. The harassment of scientists and researchers cannot be solved by just telling researchers to “stay off the internet”. This sort of response just shuts down important conversations, removes key voices from the debate, and ultimately may pose a threat to the health of our democracy. Instead, universities and research institutions should better support scientists so that they can continue speaking to the media and engaging with the public.

“The judgement highlights that while the scale of the harassment experienced by Associate Professor Wiles may have been worse than that previously experienced by other academics, harassment was a known risk for academic staff, especially women, and a well-developed strategy for dealing with these issues might have been expected to be in place. This should send a message to Australian research institutions and universities to make sure they have clear strategies in place for managing the harassment of academics. This should include preparing researchers who are likely to speak to the media, having a simple process for reporting these issues, and having a plan for dealing with harassment and threats when they occur.”

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) has developed an online toolkit and workshops for researchers that could form part of a university’s strategy for managing the harassment of academics.

Emeritus Professor Gordon Anderson, Faculty of Law at Victoria University of Wellington:

“The importance of individual academic freedom and the role of universities as the critic and conscience of society were exemplified by the ability of Dr Wiles to effectively communicate the science and the management challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic through a wide range of media. However, as has become common over recent years, contributors to public debate often face a hostile and threatening response, particularly if they happen to be women. It follows that if academic freedom and the public role of universities is to be meaningful it is incumbent upon universities to proactively take steps to support or protect their academic staff engaged in public debate.”

Dr Dawn Duncan, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Otago:

“This case highlights the growing problem of online abuse and harassment faced by people working in the public eye. Responding to the risks posed by this behaviour is an essential part of an employer’s health and safety obligations.”

Dr Sarah-Jane O’Connor, Lecturer in Science Communication at Victoria University of Wellington:

“I was involved in the Science Media Centre’s COVID-19 work in the early part of 2020, and I saw first-hand the toll it took on experts like Professor Michael Baker and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles responding to immense need for media commentary. Few experts will be called upon to this degree in response to a public health crisis, but Aotearoa was lucky to have experts like Siouxsie going beyond the call of duty to front up over and over again on the crucial science behind the virus and resulting pandemic, including what we did and didn’t know especially in those early days as the pandemic unfolded.

“It has been distressing to witness the torrent of abuse that was directed at Siouxsie because she stepped up into this much-needed role. It would be easy for academics to shy away from public discourse, and for women and other under-represented demographics to avoid such public-facing commentary because of the harassment they have seen Siouxsie experience. At a time when we are actively discussing academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the role of universities in wider society, this case has major implications for how academics should be supported in exercising that role. As we continue to have these important discussions, I would hope our universities are taking heed of this case and considering how they can ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard. If academics are encouraged to speak out in their role as critic and conscience of society, then that needs to be all academics’ voices, and that means protecting the safety of those that we know will receive a disproportionate amount of hostility.”


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and research news

Minister Linda Burney statement: New Indigenous-managed land and sea areas across Australia

The Federal Government is establishing 12 new Indigenous Protected Areas, areas of land and sea Country managed by First Nations groups, to help deliver better nature protections and good local jobs.

The new projects combined will protect 7.5 million hectares of land and 450,000 hectares of sea Country – bigger than the size of Tasmania. This is on top of existing IPAs which currently cover 87 million hectares of land and over five million hectares of sea Country – the majority of Australia’s national estate.

The new IPAs go towards the Government’s commitment to protect 30 percent of land by 2030.


Global health

Inside Climate News: US Prisons and Jails Exposed to an Increasing Number of Hazardous Heat Days, Study Says

Nature: If bird flu sparks a human pandemic, your past immunity could help

For now, H5N1 does not spread easily between people. But scientists worry that if it gains that ability, it could spark a pandemic, given that it is genetically different from seasonal flu viruses now in circulation. Tests of people across the United States found that few have antibodies against today’s strain of H5N1. This implies that “most of the population would be susceptible to infection from this virus if it were to start infecting people easily”, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which ran the tests. Older populations might be more protected than younger ones because of exposure to ‘matched’ strains during childhood, but an H5N1 pandemic is likely to take a major toll all the same.

STAT: EcoHealth Alliance – Covid’s anti-science mob extracting its pound of flesh

Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist writes: “It scares me – and should scare you – that conspiracy theorists are winning. And because of them, we will be less prepared for the next pandemic.”

See thread: https://x.com/SimonChapman6/status/1810518173927829686

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health: Estimated changes in free sugar consumption one year after the UK soft drinks industry levy came into force: controlled interrupted time series analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2011–2019)

Longevity Cities report


Justice matters

Read the report: https://www.ombudsman.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/304534/Australian-NPM-Annual-Report-2022-23-304534.pdf

Australian Human Rights Commission statement: National Children’s Commissioner calls for children to be recognised as victims in their own right

The tragic deaths of three children in Sydney’s west over the weekend is yet another reminder of the fact that children are not just ‘witnesses’ of domestic, family and sexual violence – they are victims in their own right.

“Often, media reports focus on single incidents involving women, and these are all horrific crimes,” says National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds. “But beyond a brief mention of the children who ‘witnessed’ their mother being murdered, we don’t often get to hear about the lifetime of trauma that has potentially shaped their childhood.”

“Evidence shows that if we are serious about ending violence against adult women, we need to get serious about stopping violence experienced in childhood. This is the hidden prevention opportunity that has been ignored.”

“Just as women’s safety is a key priority for National Cabinet, we need children’s safety and wellbeing to be made a national priority. Despite decades of evidence, there is currently a lack of accountability and urgency for change.”


#AusPol

Joint Statement: Ten Organisations Call for People with Disability’s Access to NDIS Funded Sexuality Services to be Protected

Ten organisations, including People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and Touching Base, have signed a joint statement to strongly condemn recent comments made by Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Bill Shorten regarding the exclusion of sex work and sexuality services from the NDIS.

The exclusion of sexuality and sex work services from the NDIS would undermine the fundamental human rights and the choice, control and access of people with disability to essential supports that enable full participation in all aspects of life, including sexual expression, health, reproduction and relationships.

Sexual supports are critical to the well-being of people with disability. They are not mere luxuries but, as the Federal Court recognised in 2020, are reasonable and necessary supports that contribute to our holistic health and quality of life. The NDIS must continue to recognise sex, sexuality, and relationships within the context of disability and ensure access to a range of safe sexual supports and services that meet the diverse needs of NDIS participants.

See the award winners: https://minister.infrastructure.gov.au/c-king/media-release/local-government-achievements-celebrated

See the Peril in Protests report


Conference Watch

The 12th International Shared Decision Making Conference took place in Switzerland this week…


#CroakeyREAD

The Conversation: Five First Nations picture books for Australian children to read during NAIDOC week – or any time

For some impressive climate journalism, see the latest Covering Climate Now award winners.


Opportunities


Events upcoming


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