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Dr Pradeep Taneja says that while communism in China is dead 'practically', the 60th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China is particularly significant.  "It comes about a year after China hosted the Beijing Olympics, so there's an added significance that China has demonstrated to the rest of the world that China is an important country and one that has achieved remarkable success in its economic development and modernisation."

A lecturer in Asian Politics in the School of Social and Political Sciences, Dr Taneja says that while there have been many changes over the past sixty years leading to increased personal freedom for the population, there are still many internal problems.  "These are problems not just of the Xinjiang province or Tibet, but for example employment in urban areas.  Literally millions of people have lost jobs due to China's market orientated economic reform policies."

"And in the rural areas too there is disquiet - the rural population in China feels they have not benefited as much from the economic reforms of the past thirty years as the people in the cities."

"Externally however, China's standing in the international system has grown tremendously.  China today clearly is important, there's no solution to any of our global problems without China's involvement.  That is why foreign powers - such as the EU, US and Australia - feel they have very little influence on China."

Commodity prices are set to push the Australian dollar higher in the not so distant future, according to Dr Les Coleman.  "The indicators are quite good for the global economy and it looks like there will be recovery in place next year.  That means growing demand for commodities, higher prices for commodities and in turn these prices will probably significantly support the Australian dollar, and will also  get some support in the rise in interest rates that the central bank seems keen on."

"But will we see a continuing increase?  Not so long ago the mining companies were talking about a once in a generation boom in commodity prices.  Now that was killed by the GFC, but if it comes back next year we may well see a long term uptrend in commodity prices."

Dr Coleman is a Senior Lecturer in Finance in the Faculty of Economics and Commerce.  A full staff profile can be found at http://www.finance.unimelb.edu.au/who/staffweb.cfm?StaffNo=113

An Australian study of families with genetic risk of bowel cancer has found that 50 percent of participants declined genetic testing when informed of insurance implications.

“This indicates that people have a significant fear of insurance discrimination which impacts their decision to have potentially life saving genetic testing,” says co-lead author Dr Louise Keogh, of the University of Melbourne’s Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society.

The population-based study was led by researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Cancer Council Victoria, and published in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia today.

Researchers identified 106 people from 25 families in which there were genetic mutations that increase the risk of bowel cancer. All were offered the chance to learn their own individual genetic information at a Familial Cancer Clinic.

“When we told participants about the life insurance implications of genetic testing, the number declining genetic testing more than doubled from 20 per cent to 50 per cent,” Dr Keogh said.

“In Australia, while genetic information has no implications for health insurance, it can affect life, trauma, disability and sickness and accident insurance policies, “says co-lead author Christine van Vliet, School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales.

“However this is not the case in all countries. Since we know all people have some genes which predispose to disease, it is important that the Australian life insurance industry does not deter people from learning about their genetic risks,” she says.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer for men and women in Australia. One in every 3,000 Australians carry a genetic mutation that places them at high risk of bowel cancer.

“For those at high genetic risk, screening for and removal of polyps reduces the risk of bowel cancer by more than 50 percent,” says Associate Professor Mark Jenkins of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population Health and senior author on the paper.

“Insurance-related apprehension about genetic testing could have troubling public health consequences. Screening people at high genetic risk of bowel cancer is a highly cost effective way to reduce deaths due to bowel cancer,” he says.

Dr Louise Keogh says that now that we know insurance policies are adversely affecting health decision-making, it is time to act.

“We call on the Federal Government and the Australian insurance industry to look at what other countries have done and reconsider the use of genetic information where genetic testing has the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality,” she says.

People with a strong family history of bowel cancer and concerned about the possibility of having inherited a high risk can obtain a referral from a GP to visit a Family Cancer Clinic.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has today received Australia’s first National Preventative Health Strategy from Committee Chair, Professor Rob Moodie of the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne.

The 307 page report includes a broad range of recommendations to be implemented in three stages until 2020, to reduce the burden of obesity, alcohol and tobacco on Australian’s health and wellbeing.

In total, the overall cost to the healthcare system associated with these three risk factors is in the order of almost $6 billion per year, while lost productivity is estimated to be almost $13 billion.

“This is the first ever National Preventative Health Strategy – providing the Government with a road map of guidelines to address these significant health issues,” says Professor Moodie.

‘The Strategy provides recommendations to firstly establish volunteer approaches to educate and change community behaviour before introducing regulatory, pricing and taxation approaches. This is the best opportunity we have had in a generation to significantly improve the health of Australians, “he says.

“Implementation is the key, but it must be implemented over several phases.”

“This requires progressive, comprehensive, and determined action over the next ten years. We must not let up. We must not sit on our hands.”

“This is the key role of the new proposed National Prevention Agency which will be established in early 2010.  It endorses progressive, comprehensive, determined and sustained action, “he says.

Recommendations include strategies that address:

Obesity
• Environmental planning and active transport; Working with food industry to encourage healthier food composition;  encouraging physical activity and better provision of information in workplaces, schools and to specific groups including pregnant women, low income and disadvantaged groups including Indigenous communities
• Phase out the marketing of food and beverage products aimed at children before 9 p.m. on free-to-air and Pay TV, and phase out premium offers, toys, competitions and the use of promotional characters.
Tobacco
• Increasing the price of cigarettes; major public education campaigns including reducing risk of passive smoking by children and halting all promotion of tobacco products including adopting plain packaging.

Alcohol
• Changing the way Australia grants, manages and enforces liquor licences;  changing the drinking culture; communication of information; phasing out alcohol promotions and advertising to young people ; establishing better pricing and taxation to encourage the consumption of less risky alcohol products
Professor Moodie is available for live TV interviews today via the University’s DVN line.

Despite better than expected profit reporting by Australia's major companies, the direction of the Australian sharemarket is still cloudy, says Dr Les Coleman.  "In the last few months the stockmarket reached a low in March but has rebounded almost 50% since then.  In fact its gone back about 40% of the way to its previous high in 2007."

"Generally coming out of a bear market it takes two years or so to get that kind of recovery, so the market has gone a long way very quickly - up 25% for the year already - so while it's been a very very strong recovery, that rate of increase is simply unsustainable."

"Theres an old saying in financial markets: buy the rumour, sell the facts.  And I think we're going to see a re-evaluation of the market, and that it won't really go ahead so strongly in the next few months."

"Typically coming out of these mini bull periods the market falls back about 10% and that would bring back the rate of increase to 15% this year, to about 20% for the year as a whole.  That's a fairly normal rate of increase coming out of a deep bear market like we’ve seen, so a 10% correction now and a bit of recovery later in the year is what you’d expect."

The decision by the US Government this week to pass on names of all detainees in its secret detention centres to the Red Cross is a step in the right direction, according to Professor Gerry Simpson.  "We know that in secret sites like Bagram Air Base (Iraq) and Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) that some fairly nasty things can happen, and it’s the glare of publicity that prevents torture in many cases." 

"So I think identifying and giving the names of these individuals is a big step, certainly from the perspective of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and international lawyers generally."

However a recent survey by the Australian Red Cross to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Convention found that more than a third of Australians thought torture on captured soldiers was acceptable if it was to obtain military information.  It's a debate that Professor Simpson finds suspect.  "The example always given is the terrorist with a ticking bomb, that you have to torture this individual before the ticking bomb blows up half the city.  But there’s never been a case of a ticking bomb, so I think there’s something slightly spurious about using this as a way into legitimizing torture."

A full academic profile of Professor Simpson is available at http://www.law.unimelb.edu.au/index.cfm?objectid=F9D2D075-B0D0-AB80-E2BC989969E28989&username=Gerry%20Simpson

Improvements in risk management processes can and should be made to avert the next bushfire catastrophe, says Dr Les Coleman, in the wake of the release of the bushfires Royal Commission interim report.  "It comes back to looking at the risks, putting in place mechanisms to try and reduce those risks ahead of time, and recognising that when these extreme events start to unfold, its really beyond anyone's physical resources to handle every part of it."

"It's hard to be critical of people under these circumstances. The Royal Commission has spent a lot of time looking at risk - and will spend more time looking at it - as risk is a major part of this issue: how do we understand it, quantify it, and work out what to do." 

However Dr Coleman, a senior lecturer in finance and a risk and crisis management expert from the Department of Finance, says criticism of the CFA is harsh.

"The CFA certainly came in for criticism, but if you look at the resources deployed on the day, they were huge: around 15 000 firefighters, 1000 vehicles, 50 aircraft and so on.  It's actually quite hard to work out what more they could have done.  So I think a lot of the criticism of the CFA is ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacking’ if you like, looking back on how to handle something that, at the time, they really couldn’t get more information about and didn’t have any additional resources."

"It would have been very very difficult to improve their management on the day.

Saving threatened Indigenous languages across Australia will take more than $ 9 million and a two year program, according to Dr Rachel Nordlinger from the School of Language and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne.


Dr Nordlinger’s comments come in response to the Federal Government’s funding announcement of $ 9 million for a two-year program aimed at saving threatened Indigenous languages still spoken in Australia.

 

“This funding will enable us to do some work towards recording these languages; but the funding should represent a preliminary step towards a long-term commitment if we really want to make a positive impact,” she says.


Dr Nordlinger says it is important to save indigenous languages because they are a vehicle through which cultural traditions, songs and knowledge about the natural world are conveyed. She says teaching these languages in some schools is also important for the benefit of children who live in communities where English is their second language.


“To put such children into an English only class is detrimental to their education, as research shows that children do better if they are first introduced to concepts like literacy and numeracy in their mother tongue, before this information is translated,” she says. 


“Saving these languages is a case of educational rights for these children.”

Researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering have moved a step closer in their pursuit of a zero emissions future with the launch of a highly efficient hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine. 
 
The prototype is part of a $2.93 million three-year Hydrogen Car project; a collaboration between the Brumby Government, Melbourne University and several local manufacturers.

The team at the University of Melbourne were led by Dr Michael Brear who said the project is working toward the creation of a new market for low-cost gas fuelled engines to support Victorian manufacturing into a low emissions future.

Dr Brear says the increased uptake of gaseous fuels like LPG, natural gas and ultimately hydrogen will be able to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions whilst improving our balance of trade.  

“Hydrogen fuelled vehicles offer the potential of zero greenhouse gas emissions, and are the end game in this development pathway,” he says.

“The engine technology we have developed also has applications in areas such as renewable and distributed energy production. This includes use as an off-peak electrical generator running off solar or wind generated hydrogen, or electrical generation from biogas. In all of these cases, very low greenhouse emissions are achievable using the same base engine technology.”

To optimise this research, the project will continue for a further 18 months with the aim of developing the most efficient hydrogen fuelled internal combustion engine in the world.
 
The project involves collaboration with several local manufacturers, including Ford Australia, Haskell Australasia, Mahle and Parnell, as well as the University of North Florida, through the collaborative research centre ACART (www.acart.com.au).



Why do parmesan and cheddar cheese crumble differently? And how much more cheese could manufacturers produce if they could predict and control the texture of cheese during its manufacture?

Dr Sally Gras, from the University of Melbourne’s school of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, is one step closer to answering these questions after being named a recipient of this year’s Victorian Fellowship Award. Dr Gras will travel to Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe with her $18,000 Fellowship and visit dairy-based industrial and research centres to learn about their product microstructure and functional food research.

“There is a lot we don’t know about the intermediate stages of cheese making, and I hope my team’s research will help build Victoria’s capability in cheese production to ensure it remains internationally competitive by boosting quality and decreasing waste,” she says.

Dr Gras’ research will focus on how raw ingredients such as milk proteins, fat globules and starter bacteria are transformed to make cheese and how these ingredients, together with the cheese making process, determines cheese texture.

“Cheese texture is quite important for consumers as it determines the taste and feel of the cheese within our mouth. Cheese texture is also important for manufacturers who would like to consistently produce a cheese product with the same texture and increase yield,” she says.

“Our research, which will help manufacturers predict and control cheese texture, is likely to have a big impact on cheese manufacturing and the dairy industry. Up to $5 million dollars may be realised from increased sales with just an increase of 0.5 per cent yield (resulting in 2,000 tones more cheese per year).  This will strengthen the dairy industry, improve exports and help the Australian economy."

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