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Cameron's 'a la carte' EU idea just national chauvinism?

The English have always been ambiguous towards "the continent". It is, as any self-respecting English person will tell you, full of foreigners. And England's Conservatives, particularly their more reactionary, chauvinistic rump, have always been anti-European Union.

So, as the EU contemplates moving towards greater integration, it was not entirely surprising UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced overnight he would hold a referendum on whether the UK would remain within the EU and, if so, on what terms. There was some ambiguity in Cameron’s speech, with some viewing it as a bet each way on the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The Conservatives had already introduced a "referendum lock" on acceding further powers to the EU, which means further pro-EU changes have to go to a ballot. But Cameron is now looking to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU on those areas previously agreed to.

Is Hillary really going?

It may be that the process is so unruffled that many people won’t notice, but the woman who has presided over a major shift in US foreign policy – Hillary Clinton – has left her job. Not only has she left her position as US Secretary of State, she has also left with a stunning personal approval rating of 69 per cent.

Such a remarkable personal approval rating begs what will be her next career move. Having had one tilt at the US presidency and been beaten by the incumbent, Ms Clinton says she is no longer interested in that job. That, however, may be a ploy to have her drafted into the candidacy, seemingly acceding to the demands of the thronging crowd.

Kevin Rudd's plan for Syria: moral high ground or political grand-standing

When Kevin Rudd started his run in foreign affairs, when Labor was still in opposition and Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman was Laurie Brereton, he did so by being a back-bencher all over the media on international issues. Rudd’s new statement on Syria, war crimes and support of the anti-Assad forces recalls his pre-power prognostications, as well as raising a big question about how the international community should engage on Syria.

Rudd’s plan is to support Syria’s rebels to speed up the overthrow of the Assad regime. His grounds for wanting to do so are that the Assad regime has been committing crimes against humanity. This, Rudd says, invokes the morally imperative doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P).

India-Pakistan tensions escalate over Kashmir

Tensions between India and Pakistan are escalating as troops from each country have again clashed across the Kashmir Line of Control, with two Indian soldiers being killed. India claims Pakistani soldiers took advantage of misty conditions yesterday to cross the 1949 Line of Control dividing Kashmir into Indian and Pakistan controlled areas about 220 kilometres north of the city of Jammu.

The clash was the sixth in the past week and followed 75 incidents along the Line of Control in 2012. Pakistan lodged a protest against India just days ago, after one of its own soldiers was killed in what it claimed was an Indian incursion across the Line of Control.

Relations between India and Pakistan had been slowly improving following attacks by Pakistani militants against the Indian parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008. The Pakistani cricket team is currently touring in India, indicating a degree of bilateral normalisation.

Australia's strategic reorientation

Australia enters 2013 reconsidering its place in a strategically shifting world. Issues close to home have stabilised and, increasingly, considerations further from Australia are being written off as a lost cause.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to East Timor has ended, with that country now charting an independent and, for the medium future at least, stable course. East Timor’s relations with its giant and once problematic neighbour, Indonesia, are now so positive that it has been mooted that East Timor’s defence forces might start training with Indonesia’s army.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to the Solomon Islands will also end this year, bringing to a close engagement in what was once referred to as the ‘arc of instability’.

A whole new world of communication: Combating the obesity crisis

During the past forty years global rates of overweight and obesity have risen dramatically. In 2010 more than 155 million children worldwide were overweight (more than one in ten) and of these approximately 30-45 million were obese, or between two and three per cent of the world’s 5-17 year-old children.

In Australia, more than 14 million people fall within the overweight or obese range, and Australia is ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and children are at particular risk of overweight and obesity.

But the answer is probably not a ban on all marketing to children. In the first instance, simply the practicalities of a blanket ban would be incredibly difficult, particularly in trying to keep up with the constantly changing promotional environment.

My School is losing

Undertaking numeracy and literacy tests at all schools around Australia (NAPLAN), and then publishing the results on the My School website, continues to rouse both defenders and critics because the proverbial report card on My School is mixed.

The bureaucrats responsible for organising NAPLAN and the groups of sixty like schools continue to use the diagnosis defence. They praise the way publication of NAPLAN results can inform diagnosis of educational problems at particular schools compared to their like schools. Poorly performing teachers can no longer hide behind the social background of their disadvantaged students to explain their poor results when they are poorer than other students from the same background.

The current Minister of Education, Peter Garret, is keen on the diagnosis defence for My School. No doubt, Christopher Pyne or any future Minister will use it too.

Hands off our aid

The message is quite simple – hands off the overseas aid budget. The Australian aid program represents the generosity of the Australian public to those living in our region or across the globe that require humanitarian assistance to improve basic living standards or support in times of emergency.
 
Domestic fiscal constraints – especially those based on political expediency – should not drive our commitment to the world’s poor. Yet, two recent decisions have done precisely that.
 

Why are we obsessed with celebrity?

We don’t have to look far to find the pulse, the plasma of celebrity, running through the arteries and veins of society. In fact, if one was able to tune one’s magical ear into café and bar conversations, mealtimes at work, playground huddles, radio broadcasts, the chatter of the social media; or if one was to hone one’s all-seeing eyes onto bedroom walls, magazine filled coffee tables, designer and perfumery shops, all manner of goods and services, and the broad output of television and cinema, then one would find celebrity sounded out and visualised large.

 

Dietary supplements offer little benefit for most people

A comprehensive review of clinical trials involving a wide range of popular dietary supplements has found that with the exception of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, there is little evidence to support their use in Western countries by the general population.

Dietary supplements are big business, with around half of the Australian population using at least one type per year; most commonly a multivitamin and mineral pill. Many people take supplements as a form of dietary insurance in case they are not meeting their nutrient needs from foods alone. Others take them as a form of health insurance – to protect against certain diseases. Some just take them out of habit.

Supplements do have a role to play in some situations. People with a diagnosed deficiency, those with malabsorption conditions, women planning pregnancy, and people with very poor diets all can benefit from specific nutrient supplementation.

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