Sydney, Dec 12 (IANS) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he intends to run for a seat in the Australian Senate in the next elections.
Plans to set up an Australian WikiLeaks party are “significantly advanced”, the whistleblowing organisation’s founder was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
Assange said that “a number of very worthy people admired by the Australian public” have expressed interest in standing for a yet-to-be registered Australian WikiLeaks party.
A draft party constitution has been prepared and is being subjected to legal review.
AAP said party registration with the Australian Electoral Commission would require confirmation of at least 500 members listed on the electoral roll.
Assange said he had not yet registered to vote but believes he will be able to register in either New South Wales or Victoria as an overseas voter.
The Australian citizen has been holed up at the Ecuador embassy in London since taking refuge there in June in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over rape allegations.
Sydney, Dec 12 (IANS) Australian consumer confidence deteriorated in December despite the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cutting the cash rate to its lowest level in three years, showed a survey released Wednesday by Westpac Banking Corp and the Melbourne Institute.
The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell by 4.1 percent to 100.0 in December, down from 104.3 index points in November, reported Xinhua.
A reading of 100 indicates equal numbers of pessimists and optimists among respondents.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the result for December was unexpected, following a 5.2 percent rise in the index in November and the RBA’s 25 basis point rate cut in December.
“With that in mind it was therefore reasonable to expect that the index would respond quite positively to the rate cut the Reserve Bank delivered last week,” Evans said in a statement.
“Instead the index fell back to near its October level and is now 3.2 percent below its November 2011 level.”
He said Australia’s households with a mortgage responded positively to the rate cut with their confidence rising by 4.4 percent, but other respondents were quite downbeat.
Negativity surrounding local economic conditions, the international economic conditions and employment was weighing on consumers, he said.
Sydney, Dec 10 (IANS) Two Australian radio hosts have said they are shattered and heartbroken following the death of an Indian nurse in Britain who fell prey to their hoax call about the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy.
2Day FM radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian have spoken of being “shattered, gutted, heartbroken” by Jacintha Saldanha’s death after their prank phone call last week, reported Sydney Morning Herald.
Saldanha, 46, a mother of two, was found unconscious last Friday in the quarters of the King Edward VII Hospital in central London where she was working as a senior nurse. She was pronounced dead when rushed to the hospital.
The two radio jockeys from Sydney had called up the hospital Dec 4. Jacintha picked up the call in the absence of the receptionist at that time (5.30 a.m.) and transferred it to another duty nurse who briefed them on the health condition of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton), who was admitted to the hospital Dec 3 after she complained of acute morning sickness.
In a prerecorded interview with “A Current Affair”, host Tracey Grimshaw asks them who came up with the idea for the prank call.
“It was just the team sitting down before the show – just had the idea for just a simple harmless phone call,” Christian said. “That when we thought about making a call it was going to go for 30 seconds we were going to be hung up on, and that was it.”
Greig added: “We thought a hundred people before us would’ve tried it, we thought it was such a silly idea and the accents were terrible and not for a second did we expect to speak to Kate let alone have a conversation with anyone at the hospital. We wanted to be hung up on.”
On how they reacted when told of Saldanha’s death, both DJs broke down in tears.
Greig described it as “gut wrenching”.
“Shattered, gutted, heartbroken and obviously you know… our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends,” he said.
The news about the hoax call and the subsequent death caused outrage the world over.
Sydney, Dec 9 (IANS) ‘Begging’ dolphins that interacted with humans for food are at greater risk of getting entangled in nets or hit by boats than other dolphins, says a study.
Feeding dolphins is illegal and a key conservation issue.
The Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP), in an earlier study in 2008, reported that a group of dolphins resident in Cockburn Sound exhibited behaviours indicative of being conditioned to human interaction by food reinforcement (approaching and remaining close to the research boat).
In the current winter 2012 season, adult male Backpack, not previously known as a beggar, has approached the research boat on three different occasions, according to a CEDP statement.
Backpack is an old male (first seen in 1993), resident in Cockburn Sound and recently observed up to Freshwater Bay in the Swan Canning Riverpark.
He mainly associates with Fingers, another old male (first seen in 1993) who has also shown similar ‘begging’ behaviour.
The Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) collects photo-identification, behavioural, and longitudinal data to support the long-term conservation of bottlenose dolphins in metropolitan waters of Perth, Western Australia.
Sydney, Dec 7 (IANS) The felling of giant trees can be disastrous from the ecological perspective, possibly triggering a vicious cycle of more forest shrinkage and carbon emissions.
Big old trees face a dire future globally from agriculture, logging, habitat fragmentation, exotic invaders, and the effects of climate change, warn leading scientists.
William Laurance, professor of ecology at James Cook University, Australia, reveals a dramatic decline among the world’s “biggest and most magnificent” trees and the range of threats they face, the journal Science reported.
“Their demise will have substantial impacts on bio-diversity and forest ecology, while worsening climate change. To persist, big trees need a safe place to live and long periods of stability but time and stability are becoming very rare commodities in our modern world,” he said, according to a James Cook statement.
Giant trees offer critical shelter and food for innumerable species of mammals, birds and insects, while emitting massive amounts of water through their leaves, contributing to local rainfall.
Old trees also lock up large amounts of carbon and thereby help to slow global warming. But their ability to store carbon and provide other vital services is threatened by human activities, according to Laurance and his co-authors David Lindenmayer at ANU in Canberra and Jerry Franklin at the University of Washington, US.
Some of the world’s largest trees are particularly targeted by loggers.
The oldest trees are among the most valuable and therefore the first to be cut in “virgin” forest areas. Big trees are also sensitive to habitat fragmentation, which exposes them to stronger winds and drier conditions.
Laurance’s research in the Amazon rain forest has shown substantial die-off of canopy giants in small forest fragments.
Their susceptibility seems counter-intuitive given big trees’ life histories, which invariably include periods of drought and other stress.
Sydney, Dec 7 (IANS) Researchers have pinpointed the hotspots where the world’s largest earthquakes are most likely to occur with greater accuracy than ever before.
“Subduction zones, where one plate slips under another, have long been known to harbour very powerful earthquakes but our research suggests that regions where fracture zones on the seafloor meet subduction zones are at much higher risk,” said Dietmar Muller, professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences.
“The advantage of our new method is that it picks up many of the regions prone to recurring powerful earthquakes over long time periods, including some where no large earthquakes have occurred in the last 100 or so years. Our results could contribute to much-needed improvements of long-term seismic hazard maps,” said Muller.
Fracture zones are like rail tracks on the sea floor, tracking the history of plate motions and often tied to enormous submarine ridges elevated by up to three kilometres above the surrounding abyssal plains, the journal Solid Earth reported.
The Pacific ‘ring of fire’, an area of high earthquake and volcanic activity, and other regions where two tectonic plates converge, are sites for some of the world’s largest earthquakes, according to a Sydney statement.
“We found that 87 percent of the 15 largest (8.6 magnitude or higher) and half of the 50 largest (8.4 magnitude or higher) earthquakes of the past century are associated with areas of intersection between oceanic fracture zones and subduction zones,” said Muller, who led the research with Thomas Landgrebe, also from the School of Geosciences.
The coasts of Southern Chile and Peru, Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, and several regions along the eastern Eurasian coastline, are some of the regions prone to great earthquakes.
The researchers considered about 1,500 earthquakes in their study.
They used geophysical data, mapping fracture zones and subduction zones, and a database of significant post-1900 events.
They analysed the information by applying a recently developed data mining method previously only used to match internet users to consumer goods.
Sydney, Dec 6 (IANS) Smartphones doubling up as diagnostic labs may soon become a reality, thanks to the initiative of a University of Sydney researcher.
“This method makes heart rate research more inexpensive, portable and straightforward,” said James Heathers, the doctoral student from University’s School of Psychology behind the project.
“The sensor, placed on a finger instead of using electrodes on the chest, is so small we can mail it to study participants,” added Heathers, according to a Sydney statement.
Data on tiny fluctuations in our heart rate provides critical information on the state of our nervous system, and is essential for a range of psychological research including on anger, anxiety, stress and self-control.
At the moment, heart rate variability (HRV) research is done in a university lab with a group of study participants. Electrodes are attached to their chests to measure HRV and the data is recorded, one person at a time, using a lab computer.
“The idea struck me because I’m by nature impatient and my area is psychophysiology — which is all about the relationship between physiological and psychological states,” said Heather.
“By providing people with a sensor and then using their smartphone to process the data, we are no longer tied down to booking appointments in a university laboratory, and can record dozens of separate data streams at the same time.”
Heathers collaborated with Simon Wegerif, a biomedical engineer. Wegerif’s company, HRV Fit Ltd, already had an HRV phone app — iThlete — widely used by professional sports teams and athletes, for whom heart rate variability is an important measurement of their performance and recovery.
The challenge was to adapt a similar app into a tool that can collect and provide HRV data in a way useful to researchers.
“We have run tests of our sensor linked to a smartphone and the software is working very well. I expect it to be up and running — and available for free — in the next few months,” said Heathers.
Heathers plans to use the HRV data to expand theories on the day-to-day fluctuations of the nervous system, and to collect data from groups that are traditionally hard to access.
These results were presented at the Australasian Society for Psychophysiology conference 2012.
Sydney, Dec 6 (IANS) Australia’s unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point to 5.2 percent in November, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced Thursday.
The ABS reported the number of people employed increased by 13,900 to 11.55 million in November, reported Xinhua.
According to the ABS, the number of part-time jobs rose by 18,100 to 3.41 million in November while full-time jobs fell by 4,200 to 8.13 million.
The number of people unemployed in November decreased by 16,300 to 637,400.
The labour force participation rate in November was 65.1 percent, compared with 65.2 percent in October.
Australia’s St George Bank chief economist Hans Kunnen said the fall in unemployment in November showed Australia was doing better than most other places.
Sydney, Dec 6 (IANS) Pregnant women who drink water with traces of arsenic may give birth to babies who have increased odds of respiratory infections, says a new study.
The study from the University of Western Australia (UWA) has uncovered links between arsenic in drinking water and higher risk of developing chronic lung disease.
“These findings are significant because whilst arsenic is well known for its cancer-causing properties, its impact on lung health is less known,” Kathryn Ramsey, UWA environmental health researcher, was quoted as saying in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“When we examined mice that had been exposed to the same levels of arsenic in drinking water as many humans, we were able to see just what sort of impact this chemical can have on lung development,” said Ramsey, according to a university statement.
“What we found was abnormal lung development and structural damage to an extent that is likely to cause problems later in life. We also found that arsenic increased the amount of mucous produced by the lungs which may reduce the ability to clear respiratory pathogens.”
A previous report from Chile has shown that exposure to high levels of arsenic via drinking water in early life increases by 40 times the likelihood of dying of a chronic lung disease as an adult.
“The contamination of drinking water with naturally occurring arsenic is a significant environmental health problem which affects millions of people around the world,” he said.
“The next step in our research is to try and identify at what concentration arsenic causes detectable changes in lung growth so we can better inform public health policies around water quality,” concluded Ramsay.
Sydney, Dec 5 (IANS) Everyday an average person gobbles up 4.1 litres of diesel fuel, 29 kg of soil and 2.2 tonnes of fresh water, according to an Australian study, which describes ‘eating’ as taking a big toll on the Earth’s health.
“That’s what it takes to feed the typical human being – and when you multiply it by seven billion people, our food system is devouring a huge amount of resources that are increasingly hard to replace,” science-writer Julian Cribb told the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra.
Cribb, who has authored “The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and how we can avoid it,” says that an average person’s “eating” probably leaves their largest personal impact on the planet – but most people are unaware how great it is.
In his paper to the Second Australian Earth System Outlook Conference, Cribb warns of a series of ‘tipping points’ – points of no-return – that will be reached by the global food system in the coming half century, unless there is radical change to farming systems, cities and the world diet.
“Take soil. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, half the planet is already degraded, and we’re losing around 75-100 billion tonnes of topsoil a year, mostly into the oceans. Soil takes thousands of years to form, so it is not going to be replaced any time soon,” according to Sciencealert.
“Despite progress in places like Australia, soil degradation is getting worse, not better. Some scientists say we could run short of good farming soils within 50-70 years. This is what’s driving today’s global land-grab – which has so far swallowed an area as large as western Europe,” it said.
Cribb says the picture is similar for water, with more than 4,000 cubic kilometres of groundwater being extracted – most of it unsustainably – every year. Places such as north China, the Indo-Gangetic region, the Middle East and midwest US face critical scarcity by the 2030s.
At the same time, there is a huge worldwide grab by megacities and gas companies of farmers’ water – making the task of feeding the world much harder.
“Regardless of when you think peak oil is or was, world car production is growing 8-10 times faster than oil production – so a major oil shock is increasingly likely. Since food accounts for 30 percent of global energy use, there could be a very large impact on world food prices and supply,” Cribb says.
However, Cribb says, what most governments and commentators on food security have failed to recognise is that scarcities of water, land, oil, nutrients, technology, fish and finance are now acting in synergy – and being amplified by climate shocks.
“Because these scarcities are operating in sync, we are likely to reach tipping points in the food system much more quickly and unpredictably than many people realise,” he said.
“There is still time to act – but the action must be fast and it must be universal, as globalisation means everybody is now affected by food prices, supply and the conflicts and migratory floods that arise when the food chain fails,” Cribb added.
Cribb also says there are opportunities for major new developments in food production, including a 300 percent growth in world aquaculture, a massive new industry in algae farming to produce food, feed, fuel and plastics, a spectacular rise of urban agriculture and totally new ways to produce low-cost food sustainably with bio-cultures.
Sydney, Dec 5 (IANS) A school in Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) was evacuated Wednesday after a student brought a hand grenade, the police said.
The students of the Hunter Christian School at Mayfield in Newcastle were taken to a nearby park, police said.
The school principal called police in the morning after it became known that the Year Five student had brought a grenade to the school.
Specialists from police and the Australian Defence Force were examining the World War II “pineapple” model grenade believed to be inert, reported Xinhua.
Sydney, Dec 5 (IANS) Australia’s economy grew by 0.5 percent in the September quarter, taking annual pace of gross domestic product (GDP) growth down to 3.1 percent, data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said Wednesday.
The ABS said growth for the September quarter was driven by a 0.5 percent contribution from private business investment, a 0.3 percent contribution from changes in inventories and a 0.2 percent contribution from household consumption expenditure, reported Xinhua.
These increases were partially offset by a 0.5 percent fall in public investment, the ABS added.
Mining, manufacturing and health were the industries that drove economic growth in the September quarter.
Macquarie Bank senior economist Brian Redican said the rate of growth for the September quarter was fairly sluggish, predicting the Australian economy was likely to weaken in 2013.