Smaller drink sizes mean better health: lessons from New York City

By Margaret Allman-Farinelli, University of Sydney

New York City’s mayor has taken issue with “super-sized” serves of sugar-sweetened drinks and is proposing a limit on their serving size to a maximum 16 fluid oz (500 millilitres) at fast food outlets, restaurants, cinemas and street-side vendors.

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Michael Bloomberg sees this as essential to improving the chance for healthy lifestyles in the obesogenic environment of the United States. Soft drinks and fruit juices will feel the impact of the measure most, as diet soft drinks and dairy-based beverages are exempt.

But is this yet another example of a “nanny state” trying to remove individual freedom to choose and will it do anything to address the obesity epidemic?

The main purpose of beverages is to hydrate us, that is, keep individuals in fluid balance. The average woman needs an intake of around two litres of fluid daily with an additional 700 mL normally ingested from foods (so adequate intake is 2.8 litres). Men require a little more, with an adequate daily intake of 2.6 litres from fluids and 800 mL from food.

What Bloomberg proposes as a maximum serving equates to a quarter of a woman’s and a fifth of a man’s daily fluid allowance. Given that the average person drinks six or more times in a day, this appears to be a very reasonable, if not high, proportion of daily intake. Some might argue that people who exercise vigorously or are experiencing extreme heat may need more hydration but this is not the case for people sitting in an air-conditioned cinema.

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock drew attention to the problems of America’s “supersizing” culture almost ten years ago. So the reduction in the individual serving size of a soft drink is a sane move for a society bent on over-consumption.

Australians consume less soft drink than Americans but “supersizing” is inappropriate in any country. We can hope that this is the start of a trend towards more snack foods being sold in portions that support getting an appropriate amount of energy.

It’d be good to accompany the ban with the provision of additional water drinking fountains in the city. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr

There’s a body of research showing that as portion sizes increase, the norm for what constitutes a serve also increases and people start to consume more at a single sitting and for those who were taught to always clear the dinner plate, larger serving sizes present an additional layer of challenge.

Research indicates calories from sugar-sweetened drinks don’t register in the way calories from food do, so people who choose sugary drinks over water or “diet” drinks consume more energy overall. That means there’s no compensatory decrease in food intake to account for energy from the sweetened beverage.

Each 500 mL serve of a sweetened drink provides 44 grams of sugar, which means 180 kilocalories (9% of the average adult male’s energy requirement) without protein, vitamins, calcium, iron or essential fatty acids.

There’s also a growing body of literature suggesting that drinking soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes – but we can’t yet say that consumption of soft drinks clearly causes these health problems. Obviously, for individuals battling weight gain, consumption of one-litre serves of soft drink several times a day is problematic.

New York is not placing a ban on sales of sugary drinks and if they want, New Yorkers can purchase multiple serves of their favourite sweet beverage throughout the day. This makes it difficult for the nanny-state argument to stick.

Manufacturers and retail outlets might find their profits hurt if they are unable to charge the same price for smaller sizes. But consumers will likely prefer them to lose out rather than have customers foot the bill if the beverages are taxed.

There aren’t any negative consequences for the health of New Yorkers from the proposed restriction of the serving size of sugary drinks. Perhaps it would be good to accompany this move with the provision of additional water drinking fountains in the city to quench the opposition.

Margaret Allman-Farinelli receives funding from HCF – A mobile phone intervention for the prevention of weight gain in young adults. She is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and sits on the Research Advisory Board for the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute.


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Australian ship is not broken, team director says

The competition in Barcelona starting on Sunday is a chance for one of swimming’s traditional powerhouses to redeem themselves after a damning external review said previous management had failed to prevent a “toxic culture” taking hold.

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Abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as flouting of curfews and bullying, had gone unchecked and contributed to Australia’s worst Olympic results in 20 years, the review by business consultants Bluestone said earlier this year.

“The ship isn’t broken in Australia,” Scott, who took charge at the start of May, told a news conference at Barcelona’s hilltop swimming complex, part of the venue for the 1992 Olympics.

“We need some refinement and we’ve started working on that,” he said, adding the team was at the beginning of a journey that will end at the next summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“The positive steps that I have seen since I started on May 1 have been significant.

“The swimmers, the coaches, the staff want a positive environment, want to see Australia take a step forward.

“So I’m confident with the pathway that we’re taking and I am very blessed with the talent of the athletes we have.”

TEAM UNITY

Flanked by experienced team members Christian Sprenger, Brenton Rickard and Cate Campbell, Scott said he was trying to get athletes to take more responsibility for running the team.

Eight had been appointed to leadership positions to help demonstrate the changes being introduced were driven also by the swimmers and not just management, he added.

“Team unity, knowing that you have the backing of the team and a supportive environment, helps support the performance culture that you need,” he said.

“A fractured team in any sport is going to impact on individual performance.”

He added that he was in the lucky position of having a team with enormous talent supported by strong coaches.

“We are working on the refinement of our performance culture and greater team unity to make sure that when the going is tough then we stick together as a team and we get through that,” he said.

“In a swimming meet every team has its good and bad days but our goal is to be at our peak in 2016.”

Scott’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit and earned praise from U.S. men’s head coach Bob Bowman earlier on Friday.

“I do think the Australians will rebound from what they did last year,” Bowman told a separate news conference.

“They’ve had a very good season from what I can see leading up to this and they’ve made some very positive leadership changes, Michael Scott who I respect very much taking over, so I think they’re going to do quite well.”

As far as Australia’s immediate targets, Scott said the goal was to significantly improve on performances at the world championship trials.

“We’ve come into this meet with some very good rankings on paper,” he said.

“We have a very talented team and if we achieve that significant improvement then the medals will flow.

“Our focus is individually and collectively achieving that improvement and doing that by being professional in and out of the pool in everything we do but at the same time doing that with team unity and enjoyment.”

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)


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Rudd sets election date for Sep 7

After returning from Brisbane, Mr Rudd called in to meet the Governor General at around 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

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‘The time has come for the Australian people to decide on our nation’s future. This election will be about who the Australian people trust’, Mr Rudd said to reporters shortly afterwards.

Full coverage: Election 2013

Mr Rudd attacked the Coalition’s ‘three word slogans’ but said his government was not without fault: ‘the key is to learn from experience’, he said.

He said the Australian economy was in fine condition but said manufacturing must be invigorated, while the National Broadband was also an important development.

He said Labor would also ‘responsibly’ return the country’s budget to surplus.

He also called on those who want to keep Tony Abbott and the Coalition from office to send the ALP ‘ten bucks’ to help with its campaign.

Mr Rudd said the Australian people knew him ‘warts and all’ and he would be ‘deeply honoured’ to lead after the election.

Watch: Voters know me warts and all, says Rudd

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said at last Australians are going to get a real choice about who they want to lead the nation.

The federal election will be a choice between the coalition’s positive plans for the future and more of the same under Labor, he said.

“At last the choice is yours, it’s not the choice of the caucus, it’s not the choice of the faceless men, it’s your choice,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

“And the choice couldn’t be clearer.”

Mr Abbott said he and his coalition team were determined to build a “better Australia”.

“We will build a stronger economy, so that everyone can get ahead,” he said.

ONLINE BOOST

Mr Rudd’s office sent an email to supporters confirming the date shortly afterwards.

‘I have a positive vision about the country we can be. In this election I’ll be talking with Australians across the county about better schools for our kids, investing so we can create good jobs, and about how the NBN can help keep our economy strong.’

Mr Rudd also took to social media, posting this image to Instagram of him preparing his speech.

‘Just left Government House. It’s time for Australians to decide. A positive plan for Australia’s future or old negative politics. KRud’, Mr Rudd tweeted.


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Qiu makes it nine out of 10 for dominant Chinese

Lying equal fifth after a fluffed first attempt at the spectacular hilltop Montjuic pool, Qiu produced a pair of stunning efforts on the third and fourth of his six dives to amass a whopping 581.

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00 points, comfortably beating Olympic champion David Boudia of United States into second on 517.40.

Boudia, who pipped Qiu for gold in London last year, finished with silver for the second world championships in a row and Germany’s Sascha Klein took bronze with 508.55 in a repeat of the top three places at the previous championships in Shanghai in 2011.

China won all 10 golds in Shanghai but were denied another sweep in Barcelona after the German pair of Klein and Patrick Hausding won Sunday’s 10-metre synchronised platform.

China’s Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan, the Olympic champions, finished third behind the Russians.

“The best thing is that I won two medals at the world championships this year, I’m so happy I just can’t believe it,” Klein told reporters.

Britain’s Tom Daley, the 2009 world champion ahead of Qiu and bronze medallist in London, battled through the pain of a damaged tricep muscle to take sixth.

“I found out yesterday after a scan that I’ve torn my tricep again,” Daley, who missed last month’s European Championships because of an elbow injury, told reporters.

“I’ve been diving with a numb arm which is a bit of a weird sensation. I can’t straighten my arm properly which makes entry to the water really difficult,” he added.

“This year has just been one thing after another. But I really wanted to compete. I would’ve competed even if my arm was falling off.”

(The story has been filed again to correct the spelling of Chinese diver’s surname to Qiu.)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)


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Explainer: nature, nurture and neuroplasticity

By Anthony Hannan, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

The human brain is the most complex and extraordinary structure in the known universe.

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And while there are many awe-inspiring facets of the brain, I will focus here on “neuroplasticity”, a term that has been bandied about a lot in the last couple of years.

This is not simply a curious by-product of complex evolution but serves important functions such as learning, memory and response to brain damage.

Neuroplasticity is constantly occurring in both the developing and adult brain, but this article will focus on the adult brain and how some of the types of neuroplasticity affect the healthy and diseased brains.

Marvellous neuroplasticity

The human brain is thought to contain over 100 billion neurons interconnected by over a trillion synapses (the points of contact between neurons which transfer and store information). Over recent decades, it’s been shown that a key mechanism whereby we lay down new memories is via “synaptic plasticity”.

Changes occur in brain wiring, modifying the strength of connections between neurons. This form of neuroplasticity can involve adding or removing new synapses. If you remember anything you’ve read in this article, then you may have stored that new information in your brain via the formation of new connections between specific subsets of neurons.

Another form of neuroplasticity now known to occur in the brains of humans, and other mammals, is known as “adult neurogenesis”. It was thought for most of the 20th century that new neurons could not be born in the adult brain of mammals, such as humans. But part of the scientific revolution of brain research in recent decades has been the realisation that there are specific regions within the brain where neurons can be born throughout life.

Adult neurogenesis in a part of the brain called the hippocampus is thought to contribute to memory formation. In another part of the brain, the birth of new neurons is thought to contribute to our sense of smell.

This neuroplasticity gives the brain another of its many unique features, the fact that it never really ceases to develop. Indeed, the formation of new neurons and synapses in the adult brain constitutes a process of “microdevelopment”, which forms a continuum with the “macrodevelopment” of the embryonic and postnatal periods.

Neuroplasticity’s limitations

All of this neuroplasticity occurs in the healthy brain, so why can’t the brain repair itself following the onslaught of devastating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and dementia? The implication is that the toxicity of these disease processes, due to both genetic and environmental factors, may overcome the brain’s capacity for self-repair and functional compensation.

But other brain disorders, such as stroke and traumatic brain injury, have revealed that neuroplasticity can occur in response to brain insults. Researchers have shown that substantial remodelling occurs to allow some recovery of function following a stroke, and can happen within hours of the event if the patient is encouraged to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible.

Research I’m involved in has shown that environmental enrichment, with increased levels of cognitive stimulation and physical activity, can delay disease onset and slow progression in a genetic model of the fatal inherited disorder, Huntington’s disease.

Prior to this work, Huntington’s had been considered the “epitome of genetic determinism”. But this discovery suggests there’s no such thing as a purely genetic brain disorder and that “exercising the brain” can influence or even delay the progress of a disease.

Therapeutic neuroplasticity

Our recent work is influencing the design of new clinical trials, with the demonstration that dementia and depression in Huntington’s can also be delayed by increased cognitive activity and physical exercise. Environmental enrichment has been found to be beneficial in models of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders, which involve abnormalities of brain development.

The findings show that neuroplasticity may be harnessed to delay onset, slow progression and possibly even reverse symptoms of various brain disorders.

One idea which has emerged from these experimental findings is that of “enviromimetics”. We are exploring the possibility of enviromimetics as a class of new drugs that mimic or enhance the beneficial effects of enhanced cognitive stimulation and physical exercise. No, not a drug that means you don’t have to exercise!

The idea is that these putative drugs would complement the beneficial effects of exercise and environmental stimulation. Enviromimetics could possibly achieve therapeutic effects via enhancement of neuroplasticity, thus providing a “brain boost” to help this extraordinary organ protect and repair itself.

These new discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity have implications for how each of us may protect our brain from the relentless weathering of ageing and disease. It’s known that lifestyle factors that are good for the body, such as regular physical exercise and a healthy diet, are also beneficial for the brain. And those who keep their brains stimulated with regular complex mental activities (such as reading The Conversation and conversing) may also help delay onset of common brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The harsh reality of life is that we are each dealt a genetic deck of cards at conception, which we can do nothing about. However, our growing knowledge of neuroplasticity demonstrates that we can all engage in healthy lifestyles to help protect our brains. Neuroscientists are now attempting to develop new therapies to enhance neuroplasticity, to combat the enormous and expanding burden of brain and mind disorders.

Anthony Hannan receives funding from ARC and NHMRC.


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Blog: Team orders causing rifts in top F1 teams

SBS World News Sports reporter Nick Vindin examines how a decision to ignore a team order during the Malaysian Grand Prix could splinter a Champion F1 Team.

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Red Bull screeched across the line taking out first and second spot on the podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix. You would think euphoria would follow after success on the Sepang circuit – instead a hollow radio message filtered to the winner Sebastian Vettel, “You looked like you wanted it bad enough but still – there will be some explaining to do.”

As the three time world champion walked into parc ferme he was all but ignored by his fellow Red Bull driver and second-place getter Mark Webber. The Australian driver was seething and only reminded the German champion of team-protocol, “Multi 21 Seb, Multi 21.” The team-code that means hold stations and don’t pass – an instruction Webber followed and Vettel recklessly ignored.

Webber led the Grand Prix from lap six, and as he dived out of the pits for the final time he was still in front. It was then the Australian received a team message to ease up and nurse the car to the finish, “After the last stop obviously the team told me the race was over, we turned the engines down.” Webber adhered to that order and with his teammate behind him and daylight for third there was no reason to push the car unnecessarily.

The 36-year old was about to feel betrayed. After being told to ease the car home an attack came from his fellow Red Bull. Vettel protested that Webber was too slow and began trying to pass him. A remark crackled into Vettel’s cockpit “Seb, this is silly.”

Silly and dangerous as the two almost collided – the team reportedly reminded Vettel to maintain a gap to Webber. He didn’t. With ten laps to go the German sped past his teammate to take the victory.

Webber spent the remainder of the race contemplating what had just happened. Why had he loyally adhered to the call of “Multi 21” in the past, when he hadn’t received the same support? His emotions hadn’t cooled when it was time for the podium presentations, his body language and cool words said it all – “In the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”

It’s not the first time Webber has felt Vettel has had favoritism, after winning the British Grand Prix in 2010 the Australian ribbed his team principal after crossing the line, “Not bad for a number two driver,” comments broadcast to the entire watching audience.

Webber could feel further aggrieved now knowing what was unfolding for third and fourth place behind him in Malaysia.

In third was Mercedes recruit Lewis Hamilton who, like Webber was told to ease his car in the closing stages. Behind him was teammate Nico Rosberg who felt he had the pace to get over Hamilton. Rosberg was told not to pass, and unlike Vettel he followed his team instruction.

On crossing the finish line Rosberg reminded his team that he had shackled his individual desire for the glory of the team, “Remember this,” he buzzed through the team radio. And it seems his team did. Lewis Hamilton was thankful and gracious for his support, “Nico should be standing here [on the podium]. Generally he had better pace than me throughout the race. He’s a great teammate and did a fantastic job today.”

Vettel conceded what he did was wrong, “I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s [Webber] upset.”

Both Mercedes pilots adhered to team instructions and while there is no doubt there will be tension between the silver-arrow drivers – at the core the team came first. While in the Red Bull garage the question of favoritism and inequality will again be omnipresent with seventeen races remaining this season.

Follow @Nick_Vindin on Twitter


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On assignment in PNG

SBS correspondent Kathy Novak reports from Papua New Guinea on the country’s eighth election, which is set to end months of political stalemate during which two men claimed to be prime minister.

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Friday July 6 – Voting deadline extended

Voting in Papua New Guinea’s general elections was due to wrap up today, but the deadline has been extended after bad weather and logistical problems caused delays in some provinces.

Sun July 1 – PNG deputy wants top job

While Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is on track to hold his seat in the southern highlands, his deputy minister Belden Namah could be his biggest competition.

Sat June 30 – Fears PNG will have no female MPs

Papua New Guinea enters its second week of elections, but with the only female MP in PNG retiring, there are fears no woman will be elected in her place.

Thur June 28 – I’ll make sure O’Neill’s jailed, Somare says

EXCLUSIVE: Former PNG prime minister and candidate Sir Michael Somare told SBS he will defeat incumbent PM Peter O’Neill at the election and that ‘Peter will go to jail’.

Mon June 26 – Hela province key to PNG future

The province of Hela is at the centre of Papua New Guinea’s economic future, but locals say they are missing out on their fair share from the boom.

Sat June 23 – PNG goes to the polls

It’s the first day of voting in Papua New Guinea in elections that will carry on for the next two weeks and monitors are expecting some violence and fraud.

Fri June 22 – O’Neill campaigns in PNG central highlands

Incumbent prime minister Peter O’Neill used the last day before the elections to campaign in Tari in the central highlands.

Wed June 20 – Security tightens ahead of PNG elections

Officers from the Australian Defence Force arrived to the Papua New Guinea Highlands – a region notorious for election-related violence – to help beef up security.

Tues 19 June – Poverty, disease key to PNG elections

For many voters, access to housing, transport and health care remain major challenges. And as PNG struggles with an HIV/AIDS epidemic, there are also concerns the election itself will spread more disease.


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Comment: Steps to lower computers, software prices

By Mark Gregory, RMIT University

Australians are paying about twice as much as they should for a range of tech products including computers, software and digital downloads.

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It’s time for the government to act to bring this shameful situation to an end, to stop foreign multinationals from ripping us off. But until then, people should take steps to lower the cost of buying tech products. How? Read on.

Choice report into high IT prices

The Australian consumer watchdog Choice made a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into IT Pricing last week. It found the cost of IT products to Australian consumers could not be justified and that price discrimination was a systemic problem.

The Choice report highlights that the high cost of IT products disadvantages all consumers and prevents Australian companies from competing in the digital economy. The flow-on effect was higher prices for everyone in Australia.

Choice reported that for one product – Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate with MSDN (New Subscription) – it would be cheaper to fly an employee to the US and back twice, and for this employee to purchase the product while overseas. The product’s retail monetary price difference is US$8,665.29 between Australia and the US.

Excuses made for high prices

Multinationals have argued that rental, labour and transportation costs, and the associated GST, cause the disparity. Another gem of a reason was the argument by foreign companies that Australia was a small market and therefore the cost of selling products here would be higher due to marketing costs.

The excuses are flimsy and transparently false. The Choice report states that these cumulative costs do not account for the doubling in prices for IT hardware and software. Digital downloads from some foreign multinationals are sold to Australians more than 50% higher than to US consumers.

Choice spokesman Matt Levey said:

Global companies [are] pricing these products at a point where they think people are going to buy it, regardless if that’s at parity with other countries.

They use a number of technological barriers to actually prevent Australians from accessing these products from parallel importing them and direct importing them from cheaper markets.

How to purchase directly from the USA

Many large US based online stores such as Lands End and L.L. Bean offer similar products to those available in Australia at quite amazing prices and provide international shipping.

But some companies utilise a range of practices to prevent international customers from purchasing directly from the USA. The company might reject the purchase based on the shipping address, the type of credit card used or because your computer is located in Australia.

Other factors you need to check on before making an international purchase are whether the product will work here and if the warranty will be supported.

To purchase directly from the USA it’s important to only use reputable mail forwarding companies and to read the fine print before any purchase. Mail forwarding has become a very competitive market so check competitor prices often.

To purchase directly from the USA follow these steps:

Register with a company that provides a USA address and mail forwarding. Examples are Shipito, MyUS, ForwardIt, and the Australian-based PriceUSA.

Register with an international payment provider that provides purchase insurance, such as PayPal.

If you wish to purchase on a site such as Ebay USA, set the USA address you have been provided with by the shipping company as your registered PayPal address and current shipping address.

Another hurdle to overcome is the use of geo blocking by websites such as Apple iTunes. Geo blocking is a recent move by global online stores to segment the world into markets and control access to products and pricing.

A recent article by Dan Warne on Australian Business Traveller provides a step by step guide on how to create a US iTunes account in Australia. Unfortunatel,y if you also have an Australian iTunes account or sync over multiple devices, you may need to log out of one account and in to the other when carrying out updates or making purchases.

Another approach is to purchase US iTunes gift cards and have them shipped to you from the USA. You cannot use Australian iTunes gift cards (available from stores such as Coles and Woolworths) on the US iTunes website.

Why the Australian government has to act

I have written in the past about the mobile phone data plan rip-off and the international roaming rip-off. The common theme here is that international multinationals consider Australia to be affluent and therefore a target for overpricing.

The Australian political mantra that free trade and low tariffs will be to the Australian consumer’s benefit is obviously not working.

Choice’s three recommendations to combat international price discrimination are:

1) Educate consumers through government initiatives so people know their rights when shopping online – particularly in relation to returns and refunds, accessing legitimate parallel imports from foreign markets, as well as privacy and security.

2) Investigation by the Federal Government into whether technological measures enabling suppliers to discriminate against Australian consumers, such as region-coding or identifying IP addresses, should continue to be allowed.

3) Keep the low-value threshold (LVT) exemption for GST and duty on imported goods unchanged at A$1,000.

It seems Choice has advocated a softly-softly approach to solving the problem of high IT prices in the hope that the Australian government may take baby steps toward solving this problem. I fully support what Choice is advocating, but Australians need to demand more urgent and immediate steps to stop multinationals from price gouging.

Further Reading:

Verizon Wireless vs Telstra: the great mobile rip-off continues Are Australian international roaming charges the greatest rip-off in history?

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


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Sudan executes Darfur fighters

A seventh defendant, also from the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), was jailed for 10 years, lawyer Tahani Abdelrahim said

Abdelrahim said the sentences will be appealed.

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The government announced two years ago that the seven were captured in West Darfur after a battle.

About 100 relatives of the accused attended the hearing at a downtown Khartoum court but everyone, including journalists, was ordered out for the sentencing by Judge Moutasim Tajalsir.

Abdelrahim said the accused stood and shouted in praise of JEM’s late leader Khalil Ibrahim as they heard the verdict.

“Khalil is a martyr. We are following his path,” she quoted them as saying.

Government forces said they killed Ibrahim in December. His brother took over as leader of the movement.

JEM spokesman Gibril Adam Bilal condemned the death sentences against its “prisoners of war” and called on the international community to ensure the punishment is not carried out.

One of those condemned to hang is from South Sudan.

More than 100 JEM rebels received the death penalty after the movement staged an unprecedented march to the outskirts of Khartoum’s twin city Omdurman in 2008 before being repulsed.

President Omar al-Bashir later remitted many of the sentences.

Bashir and Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes committed in Darfur.

In 2003, JEM and other rebels drawn from Darfur’s non-Arab tribes rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. In response, the regime unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.

Since then, much of the violence has degenerated into banditry.

The United Nations estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, while almost two million people remain displaced.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Last year, the government signed a peace deal in Doha with an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions, but JEM and other key rebels refused to sign.

Instead, they and insurgents fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states formed the Sudanese Revolutionary Front to topple the regime they regard as unrepresentative of the country’s political, ethnic and religious diversity.


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Scientists push for nuclear power in Australia

A group of scientists and engineers has called on Australian political leaders to consider the introduction of nuclear power as an effective way of combating climate change.

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The call has come from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. The Academy’s concerns have been backed by a number of scientists and engineers from countries across Europe.

As Darren Mara reports, many of them argue that fears over potential mishaps from nuclear power have been vastly overstated.

The President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Professor Allan Finkel, says he believes there has been a lot of unnecessary scaremongering around nuclear energy.

He says this has particularly been the case since the accident at the Fukushima reactor in Japan in 2011.

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Dr Finkel says there were no deaths from nuclear radiation after the earthquake and tsunami and he believes the risk of radiation-linked cancers was near zero.

He believes nuclear technology is safe and could prove to be more effective than solar and wind power in reducing carbon emissions.

“In Australia, nuclear power would need to be eminently safe with minimal low grade waste and strict management of raw material at every stage. We would need a vigorous regulatory system and we would need to adopt internationally proven standard reactor designs. Perhaps we could even use small modular reactors of 300 megawats or less which are the sort that have been used in ships and submarines for nearly 60 years with an excellent safety record.”

That is a view shared by another scientist- Professor Ken Baldwin, who is the Director of the Energy Change Institute at the Australian National University in Canberra.

He believes Australia is at risk of falling behind other countries in the fight against climate change because its political leaders are not prepared to consider nuclear power.

“And if we cut ourselves off from a particular avenue to reducing this carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere, then we are essentially fighting the carbon challenge with one arm tied behind our backs (only partially). So that’s really the reason why we need to advance on all fronts simultaneously as hard as we can in order to fill that carbon gap and keep the carbon dioxide levels down to a reasonable level.”

Across Europe, a number of countries have relied upon nuclear power for decades.

The French government estimates three quarters of that country’s electricity is generated by nuclear energy.

Australian-born Dr Ron Cameron is the head of the Nuclear Development Division at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency in France.

Dr Cameron says he believes there would be clear long term economic and environmental benefits if Australia started building nuclear power plants.

“I think the debate around nuclear energy needs to happen and it needs to happen in Australia because of its really heavy reliance on fossil fuels which makes it difficult for Australia to say to other countries in the world, you need to control your emissions when it’s not taking leadership itself.

“So I think the low carbon argument is very strong. The argument of security of supply is very important and that’s where nuclear can help as well and the argument of affordability because Australian electricity prices are increasing rapidly and nuclear would provide a long-term stable electricity price.”

Another nuclear scientist from France, Dr Massimo Salvatores says the industry in his home country is closely monitored by independent safety authorities.

However he concedes that nuclear agencies have often struggled to explain their work to the general public.

“If you have the local people with you I think everything becomes much easier and much more under control. This has been, by the way, the experience in France, where the local population who have been the most informed and who get the most benefits from the installation of power plants in their area- they are the ones who are the most favourable and most in support of nuclear (power).”

Brisbane-based climate scientist, Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe says he believes political leaders need to confront public fears before there can be a sensible debate around nuclear energy in Australia.

He says he can relate to some of these fears, especially if plans were put forward for nuclear reactors in earthquake-prone areas.

“The concern people have I think is that when catastrophic events happen, the consequences if radio nuclear material is involved are much more serious than if it’s coal or gas or solar or wind. The nuclear waste problem is in principle solveable given enough political commitment and technical effort. But so far it hasn’t been solved 50 years into the nuclear power experiment.”

The concern over the disposal of nuclear waste is shared by environmental activist Natalie Wasley from the lobby group Beyond Nuclear Initiative.

She believes past experience has shown that the nuclear industry does not consult as effectively as it should with local communities over where to dump its waste material.

“In the last eight years, there has been a sustained community campaign in the Northern Territory to stop the federal government forcing its plans for a low to intermediate radioactive waste dump there. The government never asked Traditional Owners and local community members or at the time the Northern Territory Government about that proposal.

“That’s the sort of top-down secretive approach we see from governments all around the world in regards to nuclear facilities. It is very important that we do manage radioactive waste safely. As of yet, there is no high level radioactive waste facility operating anywhere in the world.”


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