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Women wanting to birth their children at home and midwives in private practice have gained some breathing space from Health Minister Nicola Roxon, but the issue of control over birth will still be there in two years time, says gender studies researcher at the University of Melbourne, Dr Meredith Nash.

A natural birth experience, control of the environment and management of birth, and avoidance of medical technologies have been persistent themes in current research of women's views of home birth. Whatever women’s reasons for wanting to birth at home, the right to give birth in the place of one’s choice is fundamentally a feminist issue for Australian women.

Former Australian Foreign Minister and President and CEO of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Gareth Evans has joined the University of Melbourne as an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences in the Faculty of Arts.

Former PM John Howard to give Melbourne media lecture Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard will give a public lecture at the University of Melbourne on the topic ‘Politics and the Media: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ next Tuesday 4 August at 6pm.   In a rare public appearance since leaving office, Mr Howard will examine the relationship between politics and the media in a lecture hosted by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.

Former Prime Minister Mr John Howard recently delivered a public lecture at the University of Melbourne on the role of the media in covering politics. The lecture was hosted by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.

Professor Tim Lindsey says the re-election of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has, somewhat surprisingly, barely rated a mention in one of it's biggest trading and diplomatic partners: Australia. 

"Perhaps this was because it was expected, but I suspect it's more likely that Australian's have barely noticed Indonesia's extremely successful transition to democracy.  Of all the countries that have gone through the economic crisis, Indonesia is one of the few in which democracy has taken hold and increased."

"Attitudes in Australia are still fixed by the old experiences of an authoritarian, military backed dictatorship under Suharto.  Despite the fact that somewhere around a fifth of Australian's have gone to Bali, no one seems to have registered the massive transition to an open, democratic and vibrant democracy."


If women are allowed to wear minimal clothing, they should be allowed to completely cover their body and wear a burqa, says Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne Professor Abdullah Saeed

Professor Saeed says French President Nicholas Sarkosy’s call to ban the burqa was interpreted by many Muslims as an attack on their faith. Yet he says Sarkosy’s address was motivated by a concern for women’s rights.

“From Sarkosy’s point of view women don’t have a lot of choice, and in his regard women are forced to wear the burqa. However, when we look at Muslims in France and the issue of veiling, roughly 50 per cent support the ban and roughly 50 per cent don’t support it,” he says.

“There are some Muslims who argue that veiling is not Islamic, for them there is no requirement in Islam in the Koran to suggest that veiling is a requirement. For them this is not Islamic and prevents women from particular aspects of modern life. But there are also some Muslims who argue that it is Islamic and argue that the wearing of burqas is supported in the Koran and should be part of Muslims life in the modern period.”

“The practice is a matter of choice and if women is allowed to wear minimum clothes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to completely cover her body,” he says.

Iranians go to the polls tomorrow in a much anticipated presidential election, with the very real prospect of a victory for the reformists and a positive change for the nation, according to Melbourne middle east expert, Associate Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh.

Although positive about the prospect of change Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says it will be a close election, with the reformist camp divided between two candidates, risking a split in the reformist vote.

"The reformers have been mobilizing quite significantly, and they’ve been tapping into the energy of this younger generation of voters," he says.  "The fact that reformist candidate Mousavi has gained the endorsement of former President Khatami is encouraging.

"The population is ready for a change, and the changing international environment allows for that degree of optimism.  In the past Iran had always managed to point to American foreign policy, point to the US and its relations with Israel as a problem in the region.

"The Iranian Government has accused the US of being a bully in international affairs, and policies pursued by President George W Bush in a way justified that accusation.  With the change in Washington, with Obama in power, there has been a change of attitude, a change of mood, which does facilitate a change in Iran.  The hardliners can no longer point to the US as a bully, and try to ‘circle the wagons’."

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says while the hardliners have been in power (about four years), Iran has effectively become a pariah state in the region, with President Ahmadinejad having mismanaged the economy and adopting a very confrontational posture toward the west, or the international community.

He says President Obama’s appeal to the people of Iran at Nowruz (Iranian new year) - in which he talked about their great civilization and his respect for their culture and contribution to peace in the region - were important and unprecedented gestures that effectively disarmed the hardliners.

"I think the people of Iran are responding to President Obama’s charm offensive, and appreciate there has been a genuine change in US policy," he says.

"President Obama is obviously concerned about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but by the same token he is putting that problem within the broader context of the middle east, he places that problem as one among many in the region, which I think is the right approach to regional politics."

In the wake of 9/11, the world was waiting for someone powerful to say that ‘our enemy is not Islam’ according to Professor Abdullah Saeed. He says this moment finally arrived when President Barack Obama made a landmark speech to the Muslim world.

“All of the issues Obama talked about in his address were closely connected to the interests of both America and the Muslim World. Obama presented the view that there is no clash of civilisations, that there is no clash between Islam and the West,” he says.

Professor Saeed says that what Obama presented to the world in his address is a view that we need to walk away from a view that Islam equals extremism.

“There are Muslims who do awful things in the word in the name of Islam, but that should not be the total story. Just as America can’t be reduced to a few voices, neither can the Muslim world,” he says.

Professor Saeed says Obama’s speech was a message of hope and optimism that should aid in creating a new partnership between America and the Muslim world.

“Of course a speech has its limitations, but this is a speech by the most powerful person in the world, and by addressing the Muslim world he is making a significant, timely and relevant step.”

“A lot will be happening in the next few months to make this work. It will require a lot of effort on part of the Muslim world and the Americans to take this gesture of good will to the next level - it will take time.”

North Korea’s underground nuclear tests have been condemned by world leaders, yet Associate Professor Tilman Ruff says the global community should not simply react by reprimanding the regime but ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

“There are around 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world and if less than half of one per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenal was targeted on cities it could result in a global climatic catastrophe that would imperil human civilisation,” he says.

“Every day we live with this terrible risk that the world could end.”

Professor Ruff says North Korea’s underground nuclear testing and violation of Resolution 1718 brings into force the need for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. He says nations who claim nuclear weapons are essential to their own security are often the same ones who are claiming these weapons are a threat when possessed by anyone else.

“This kind of nuclear apartheid is unsustainable and the only approach that really has legs is one that has a consistent standard - zero nuclear weapons for all countries,” he says.

Professor Ruff says the sooner we see serious progress toward the goal of zero nuclear weapons the better and says this goal is a lot more achievable since the Obama administration got into power.

“We have agreed on global treaties to abolish cluster munitions, land mines, chemical and biological weapons in the past, so there is plenty of precedent for abolishing whole classes of weapons by a comprehensive treaty. Many would argue that the same approach should be applied to nuclear weapons.”