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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.”

 Professor Mike Sandiford of the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences questions whether Australia has enough uranium to supply the growing global nuclear power industry, as an alternative to fossil fuels.

BHP is set to develop Australia’s first and biggest uranium mine in more than 20 years, in Western Australia. The plans have been submitted after the Liberal West Australian Government's removal of the longstanding ban on uranium mines.

“Australia has by far the largest reserves of uranium of any country in the world. It is not the biggest supplier but this new mine will make it amongst the biggest suppliers and expand the reserves that we have to meet the growing demand for uranium,” Professor Sandiford says.

“There is a concern however that our uranium supply might not meet the demand provided by growth of nuclear reactors around the world.”

Professor Sandiford says there is an urgent need to generate new stationary energy supplies to replace fossil fuels.

"Nuclear energy is having a resurgence. More and more countries are looking at meeting growing demand for stationary energy by building reactors.”

“The consequences of rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are severe. We need to look at all alternative possibilities, for which nuclear is one of them. However it will be no good converting our stationary energy supply to nuclear if we couldn’t supply the uranium.”

Professor Sandiford adds that there is also an urgent need to understand how to deal with the waste. He says there is hope that future technologies could more efficiently burn some of the waste.

“It could turn from waste to resource but at the moment it’s accumulating at a rapid rate, at the cost of future generations.”

“I think we should develop technologies to secure it and there is a great deal of opportunity in Australia to do so.”

“Other parts around the world provide equally stable geological environments to provide a home for all the waste, which should go back in the earth from which all the uranium came.”

 

There are important efficiencies to be won for Australian school-children through the implementation of a national school curriculum, says Chair of the National Curriculum Board and Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute (MERI), Professor Barry McGaw.

Professor McGaw, who led the team of experts reviewing the structure and content of a new curriculum for Australian schools says that being a relatively small country, we would do schooling better if we did everything together.  He said it would be done more efficiently, and we would be able to draw on a better skill base of teachers and curriculum creators, if we do it nationally.

"Even though we have separate systems in the states and territories, they are not all that different.  There was a recent study looking into some of the content in physics, maths and chemistry for example, and it was found that 90 per cent of the content is largely the same - yet it has been developed seven times."

Professor McGaw says it is often argued that we need a national curriculum to better support the 80,000 students who cross state borders each year.

But he says: "Increasingly in education practice the comparisons we’re interested in making are those across international boundaries - it’s another aspect of globalisation really."

Professor McGaw says the new curriculum will specify what is that students should be able to know, and understand, and do, and will detail content, however one of its main benefits will be that is allows for a genuinely common assessment of student outcomes and school performance.

"We do have in Australia now a common assessment of literacy and numeracy, but that’s a common assessment designed in the absence of a common framework - with a national curriculum we have the prospect of a common framework to shape the tests."

Professor McGaw says standout features of the curriculum are the attention paid to Indigenous traditions, both in their own right, and in relation to settlement cultures, and a renewed emphasis on the teaching of grammar.

"In English there will be three strands: literature, language and literacy.  Traditional grammar is important to learn but not in a decontextualised way.  The reason we gave up teaching it was because it was taught in such a boring way.  We need to have reasons why we learn grammar - we need to make grammar have a point."

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is not the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions, says Senior Lecturer in Finance Dr Les Coleman.

Dr Coleman says that while there have been extensive discussions about the pros and cons of the CPRS, alternatives to the scheme have not been adequately considered and people with specialist knowledge in the area of carbon reduction have not been adequately consulted.

“The reduction of carbon emissions is a very scientific objective, yet the process of deciding how to do this is being run by politicians and diplomats. If you really want to achieve reductions in carbon emissions, you need a technical solution. This could be achieved by consulting people with specialist knowledge like scientists, chemists and people with expertise in markets and taxation and not just diplomats.”

“The Government is setting up a false market with the CPRS and we know from the recent global financial crisis that markets don’t solve all of our problems. I would much rather see a technique used that has worked successfully in the past - a simple and direct tax system.”

“The main disadvantage of a tax system however is the name, as nobody likes to be accused of introducing another tax. Otherwise it’s a fairly direct process and could be introduced as a fairly simple extension of the current petrol excise or GST.”

Media focus on the morals of a dozen National Rugby League players allegedly involved in group sex with a woman in 2002 reflects deeper societal problems regarding the perception of women in our society, says expert on media and sexuality Dr Lauren Rosewarne.

 “The focus of media in this case is that this sex act is an atrocious thing, but it has been framed within this antiquated idea over what sexual behaviour should be. What’s more disturbing is that this woman has become an anonymous person, a mysterious figure who is perceived as just this vessel to have sex with.”

“We saw a very similar thing happen at the Prahran Football Club recently where a stripper was hired to rev up players before a match, and again this seems quite disturbing to me that women are being used as an objectified figure to sexually stimulate men in their own company.”

In her book Sex in Public: Women, Outdoor Advertising and Public Policy, Dr Lauren Rosewarne says that these ideas of women being objectified are often used in advertising.

“In advertising there is a tendency to photograph women without heads and the focus is then on her body which is often unconnected to her identity. And just like the stripper in Prahan or the girl involved in the group sex scandal, we don’t know anything about these women because ultimately it seems that it doesn’t matter who they are”.

Dr Jodie McVernon says it was inevitable that swine flu would eventually hit our shores following confirmation this morning of three cases in Melbourne. Yet she assures Melbourne residents that these cases are not an indication of “wider community risk”.

Dr McVernon says surveillance measures put in place by the Department of Human Services upon the outbreak of swine flu aided containment of the virus to three boys from one family.

“The first child travelled while healthy and presented with symptoms late which is why he went to school for one day. Despite this there is no evidence at the moment that this family has spread the virus to anyone outside their family,” she says.

Dr McVernon says that while some ministers have advised people to prepare their pandemic pantries in readiness for a local swine flu outbreak, at this stage “we have a local event with three cases in one family, and no indication of wider community risk”.

“Australia is also very fortunate to have a dedicated vaccine manufacturer which has been building up its production capacity to develop a strain specific vaccine which is in process now and will take several months”.

VIDEO ALERT: Death of Tamil Tigers’ leader not a guarantee for peace, says Dr Pradeep Taneja.

The armed struggle of Tamil Tigers for an ethnic homeland in Sri Lanka is reported to have ended after 26 years, yet Dr Pradeep Taneja from the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences said peace will be short-lived if the Sri Lankan Government does not “reach out to the Tamil people and appeal to their grievances”.

Professor Taneja said the death this week of Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran will also affect relations between the Tamil people and the Indian government.

“In July 1987 the Congress Party in India signed an accord with the Sri Lankan Government which led to Indian peace-keeping forces going into Sri Lanka, but attempts at peace ended following the assassination of India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger.  Since then this relationship has not been good,” he said.

“Before the assassination of the Prime Minister there was a great deal of sympathy for the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, but a lot of that evaporated after the assassination in 1991, so now we will have to see what happens because this week both the Congress party were re-elected and in Sri Lanka the Tamil separatist war has come to an end.”

“From the Indian Government’s point of view, they now have to put more pressure on the Sri Lankan government to deal with the grievances of the Tamil people because this is a cause that goes back to the 1950s, and the death of the Tamil Tigers’ leader doesn’t mean there will automatically be peace in Sri Lanka.”


A new study has shown that the effectiveness of the Komodo Dragon bite is a combination of highly specialized serrated teeth and venom. The authors also dismiss the widely accepted theory that prey die from septicemia caused by toxic bacteria living in the dragon’s mouth.

Using sophisticated medical imaging techniques, an international team led by Dr Bryan Fry from the University of Melbourne have revealed that the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) has the most complex venom glands yet described for any reptile, and that its close extinct relative Megalania was the largest venomous animal to have lived.

Professor Joshua Gans says delays on the Federal Government’s emissions trading scheme shouldn’t effect consumer decisions on ‘buying green’.

With the Federal Government's hotly debated emissions trading scheme set to be introduced into the lower house today, Professor Gans says that the proposed one year delay in its official introduction should not be considered as "reneging on a previous timetable."

"When it comes down to it all, of the targets are to be achieved by 2020 or 2050”.

“Its going to matter to consumers to get energy efficient appliances, even if they know emissions trading is another 12 months away,” he said.

“The idea of emissions trading is to set a carbon price, and influence the investment decisions of businesses, households and government; unless those investments involve appliances that will only last two years, another delay won’t change things.”

Professor Gans said the real delay is in not passing the legislation, and the Government has already changed its policy and compromised its plan enough to accommodate various groups.

 “One of the problems we face in wanting to do more (such as the greens are asking) and having lower emission than the government is targeting, is that if the international community don’t come along for the ride, Australia’s impact on the actual problem - in the absence of an international agreement - is that we will be economising on carbon and suffering economic harm for no reason,” he said.

The announcement of a $57 billion deficit by the Federal Government on Tuesday did not surprise Associate Professor Mark Crosby; but the decisions to delay policies such as maternity leave and a pension increase have.

“It seems strange that the Government has decided to delay certain policies because if it’s a good idea why not start now?” he says.

“The effect of delaying these policy delays will have a minimal effect on revenue and taxes, as while some changes will cost the government, some are revenue raising.”

Associate Professor Crosby also said claims from the Liberals that they had built up a large surplus from which Labor are now spending is not accurate.

“While some of the reforms introduced by the Liberals – such as the GST – were good from an economist’s perspective, from 2002 onwards they simply got lucky. There was a lot of money coming in and they didn’t really use it as well as they could have,” he says.

“The challenge for the Labour party now is that they are in office during much more difficult times and will be forced to make difficult decisions.”

 Despite this, Professor Crosby says Australia is starting from a very strong position – even with such a large deficit - when compared to most global economies.

Associate Professor Mark Crosby is a lecturer in Economics at the Melbourne Business School.

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