Archives - July, 2019

29 Jul 19

Bush rats carry a parasite long overlooked by scientists.When Bill and Melinda Gates put out the call for a suitable animal to test drugs for the debilitating river blindness disease, geneticist Warwick Grant knew he had just the thing.
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Enter the Australian bush rat. Common in heathland areas of Victoria and NSW, the bush rat carries a parasite long overlooked by scientists.

First described 30 years ago by CSIRO scientist David Spratt, the parasite is found only in Australia, but produces the same symptoms in the bush rat that the chronic river blindness disease triggers in humans.

So Dr Grant wrote to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and secured a $100,000 research grant – one of only two Australians and 58 scientists worldwide to do so this year.

It will pay for Dr Grant and colleagues from his La Trobe University to collect parasite-carrying ticks from NSW bush rats trapped near Batemans Bay and place the ticks on laboratory rats.

The lab rat, which hails from the same family as the bush rat, then becomes an animal model on which to screen candidate drugs to replace the human treatment used by the World Health Organisation to prevent infection.

If successful, it will be the first time researchers have had an animal model on which to test the new drugs for the debilitating disease, which affects more than 37 million people in Africa.

”For most human diseases there are experiments in animals prior to clinical trials in humans,” Dr Grant said. ”That’s not possible for river blindness because there is no animal model available.”

The search for a suitable animal to study is growing increasingly urgent. While the drug Ivermectin has been successfully used for the past 25 years, it is not ideal. It does not kill the parasite and needs to be taken annually for up to 25 years.

The preventative drug, essentially the same drug given to dogs to prevent heart worm, has been around for more than two decades and there is growing concern the parasite will develop resistance.

”Eventually this drug will fail, so new drugs are desperately needed,” Dr Grant said.

River blindness affects mainly poor, rural African communities. Symptoms include permanent blindness, rashes, lesions and intense itching. It is caused by a parasitic worm that enters the body via the bite of a blood-sucking fly. Adult worms live under the skin for more than 15 years and produce millions of larvae that crawl around in people’s skin end eyes.

Dr Grant said while Australia was well known for its unique animals, the rare parasites those animals host were less appreciated.

”Our wildlife has evolved in isolation for a long time, so it follows that there is a lot of novelty in Australian parasites,” he said.

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29 Jul 19

Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, president of the Global Fund for Women. Photo: Eddie JimThe violence committed against women and girls by men is a global scourge. And it is only one of the barriers to women and girls attaining their full human rights and achieving their potential.
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In so many places around the world, the access of women and girls to economic and political participation and to basic reproductive health measures is blocked by outdated systems and structures controlled by men.

One might like to think that in liberal democracies such as Australia, women do not suffer discrimination. But that is not so. Women are sorely under-represented in positions of power here, continue to carry an unfair share of domestic responsibilities, earn less than men and are the victims of widespread violence.

Research by VicHealth shows that for Australian women aged 14 to 45, violence by intimate partners is the leading preventable cause of illness, injury and death. Every five or six days, a woman is killed in Australia by her partner or ex-partner.

Today’s guest in The Zone is one of the world’s leading activists for the rights of women and girls, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, the president and chief executive of the San Francisco-based Global Fund for Women. The full transcript of our interview – as well as a short video of Kanyoro – is at theage南京夜网.au/opinion/the-zone.

Perhaps Kanyoro’s most fundamental message is that we all lose as a result of the violence and discrimination suffered by women. It is self-evident that nations cannot reach their potential when women are blocked from economic and political participation. Such exclusion also undermines a nation’s decency and dignity, as does genital mutilation of girls and forced marriage.

Kanyoro stresses that men need to play a core role in ameliorating the situation of women and girls.

”The human rights framework basically says all people are endowed with dignity. It is about all people. This is the first easy step for men – men can recognise the humanity of women.

”That is easy. It is easy because we are all human; everybody should just know it. Recognising that humanity and then respecting that humanity as equals, as friends, as sisters and brothers, as husbands and wives, as partners, in whatever we want to do professionally or otherwise, is a big step.”

But, Kanyoro laments, it is a step yet to be taken by many men. Why? She says women have low status pretty much everywhere.

”That is why women get discriminated against – because people do not think we’re equal. So that is the first step of what we would like to do to involve the men – recognising and changing their behaviour towards women. The second step is being involved together with women for advocating for bigger issues. It is not just about what happens to women. We want to see economies grow. How can we do that together? Through the participation of all people.”

The Global Fund for Women began 25 years ago. Since then it has created more than 9000 grants, worth more than $100 million, to women-led organisations throughout the world.

It is now working with groups in more than 170 countries. Recent research by Stanford University found that through its grant-making the fund had helped bring about laws on violence against women that now cover more than 1 billion women and girls. A comprehensive list of the grants can be viewed at

Kanyoro, though, is frustrated. Applications for grants far exceed the funds available. She wants to raise another $100 million over the next five years.

Most of the fund’s money comes from private donations – by wealthy people and people with limited resources. ”We have a large donor base of individuals who give as much money as they are able to give and we believe that growing philanthropy is about actually making everybody take responsibility, not only when they have large amounts of money.

”We use a philosophy of equal generosity, because people give according to what they think they are able to give.”

She wants governments and businesses to give more, not as an act of charity, but out of enlightened self-interest. ”The work we do actually saves governments a lot of money … when women are safe, the hospitals don’t get overcrowded by sick people, children are taken care of, older people are looked after well, women participate as workers in businesses, in schools, in hospitals, women participate in decision-making at the political level. We’re actually part of that growth economy.”

One of the organisations Kanyoro met with in Australia is the Australian Women Donors Network, a Melbourne-based organisation that seeks to direct attention to the economic and social disadvantage of women and girls here and around the world and to encourage the funding of projects that invest specifically in women and girls.

During her visit, she also met with AusAID, seeking not only funding but also collaboration, particularly on projects in the Pacific, where the fund has given grants totalling $15 million.

”Certain issues are really important for the Pacific. We find the issue of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, for example, is really big, and in the Solomon Islands and in Samoa.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard raised the issue of violence against women in PNG during her recent visit there.

Kanyoro is keen to help women in PNG establish a women’s bank, a project that would mirror others elsewhere in the world.

”We believe that if there is a women’s bank in Papua New Guinea, women would have the confidence of owning and wanting to see it succeed, in the same way that we have seen, for example, women really trust something like microfinance in Bangladesh.”

Kanyoro’s commitment to women’s rights was inspired by her parents. She grew up in Kenya, and has worked internationally for the past 30 years in various human rights organisations. She was an early, leading campaigner for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

”Both of my parents were very involved in the lives of people. I saw what kind of devotion they gave to issues. I saw how much it hurt my mum when she would see a mother lost through childbirth. I saw how much my own father would suffer just to keep the children inoculated and caring for [those affected by] malaria and all the things that were killing children and people.

”I was raised to understand that we do not live our lives for our own sake alone, that it is not about us but it is about being part of the human community.”

One of the issues the Global Fund for Women has focused on from its earliest days is technology; some of its early funding came out of the digital creativity crucible that is California’s Silicon Valley.

The concentration on technology is going to increase. Kanyoro cites the impact women made through their use of social media during the Arab Spring, which saw popular uprisings bring about regime change in nations such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

She talks, too, of a simple water-purification technology developed by a young woman in Canada. ”This technology has been tested in Peru, in Kenya and in India and it costs only $10. If we can equip many people to use this kind of technology, not only will it be useful in the rural areas where women need a lot of help and where we do a lot of support for women’s groups, but it will also change the lifestyles of those women. Technology also helps to reduce the workload for women.”

Providing access to education is also one of the fund’s top priorities. It supported women in Afghanistan who set up clandestine schools when the Taliban regime banned girls from schools.

One of those grantee partners, the Afghan Institute of Learning has blossomed into a multi-service organisation providing teacher training, health education and care in addition to general education. But Kanyoro says education alone won’t ensure human rights for women and girls. Other cultural changes have to happen. ”Yes you invest in girls’ education, but you also have to lessen the work that women have to do at home and you also make sure that families do have access to certain funding otherwise they will sell their girls or they will keep them at home. You also make sure that women have access to contraceptives to have smaller families. You just have to do a lot of things that are holistic.”

Kanyoro is buoyed by the changes her organisation has helped finance. She knows how much more progress is required, but believes it will come – if men and women work together. ”I have seen apartheid end. I have seen the Berlin Wall come down. If these huge global problems can be tackled, why shouldn’t we be optimistic for women?

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29 Jul 19

Australand is still considered a takeover target. Photo: Dean OslandGPT Group has walked away from its proposed $3 billion bid for the office, industrial and development assets of Australand Property Group.
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The diversified trust set the real estate investment trust sector alight on December 10 last year when it launched an indicative, non-binding offer for the commercial, industrial and investment divisions of rival Australand.

The offer did not include Australand’s residential arm and was deemed too low by the takeover target and its major shareholder, with 59 per cent, CapitaLand.

The Australand directors said they had concerns the offer would leave its remaining residential business listed alone on the stock exchange with an uncertain future.

In mid-January, CapitaLand said it was reviewing its holding and would talk to other interested parties, after which a data room was established.

Several groups were said to have registered an interest to view the books, such as Mirvac and the global Blackstone Group.

Property analysts said at the time, that the proposed but non-binding offer by GPT would be the spark for a new round of mergers and acquisitions among the REITs – which has not occurred.

But some said on Monday that with the CapitaLand stake still on the market, Australand remains ”a takeover target”.

GPT’s directors said that after detailed due diligence and discussions, it had become apparent that a transaction at a price that GPT was willing to pay was not possible.

The group will continue with growth plans for its logistics and business parks and office portfolios and allocate capital accordingly, it said

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29 Jul 19

Westfield Miranda, one of the larger shopping malls in the country, is to undergo a $435 million redevelopment, which will act as a blueprint for future projects.
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There will be a greater emphasis on fresh food and entertainment, the opening of international clothing brands and smaller anchor department stores.

Myer will relinquish its ground floor to a larger Woolworths, while a new multi-screen Event cinema complex will be added.

The mall is 50 per cent owned by the Dexus Wholesale Property Fund and the remainder is split between the Westfield Retail Trust (25 per cent) and Westfield Group (25 per cent).

The redevelopment will also include the addition of more than 100 speciality and international retailers, possibly including Zara, Top Shop and Apple, among others.

DWPF fund manager Graham Pearson said the aim of the revamp was to transform the centre into an entertainment destination. ”It’s all about the mix in a new shopping centre and the integration of new methods of retailing,” he said.

Westfield’s managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Robert Jordan, said a feature of the redeveloped centre would be an outdoor restaurant precinct with multiple dining options.

”Westfield Miranda will also offer premium customer services including valet parking and personal styling services,” Mr Jordan said.

”As centres get redeveloped there will be a greater emphasis on restaurant precincts, cinemas and the successful international labels.”

Mr Jordan said malls were now entertainment hubs and a modern centre was a form of town centre.

In its first quarter earnings report, issued on May 13, Westfield said it had a $12 billion pipeline of development work, of which its direct share is $5 billion.

This year Westfield Group expects to start between $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion of new developments, of which its share is up to $500 million, including Miranda.

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29 Jul 19

The Australian former head of electric car venture Better Place, Evan Thornley, has blamed the company’s failure on poor management but says the shift away from petrol and diesel-powered cars is inevitable.
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Speaking to the media for the first time since Israel-based Better Place filed for liquidation over the weekend, Mr Thornley described the head office failings as his ”biggest surprise. Israel is pound-for-pound the best high-tech economy in the world. Why this company didn’t live up to Israel’s usual standards is something I will always wonder.”

Many savvy investors, including Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Israeli’s richest man, Idan Ofer, pumped about $US850 million ($885 million) into Better Place after being sold on the vision of fleets of electric-powered vehicles flooding global markets.

The company’s business model relied not only on such a transformation but on drivers turning to Better Place’s battery switching and management technology in volume.

Mr Thornley, who made a fortune with his LookSmart internet venture before a brief stint as a Labor MP in the Victorian Parliament, headed Better Place’s Australian operations before becoming global chief executive. He resigned after just three months when he disagreed with the board’s decision to close the Australian and US operations to focus on Israel and Denmark.

”The business had to get scale for the [research and development] expenses to be covered and for car makers to get manufacturing scale,” he said. “The problem was too much invested at head office, not too much invested in the field.

”Leaving the US and Australian markets left no upside for investors and therefore probably an inability to raise future capital,” he said.

Better Place’s Israel headquarters is yet to respond to Fairfax requests for comment. The company is reported to have only about 1300 customers, with about 150 of the first 500 contracts in Israel taken up by employees.

Mr Thornley said the head office, although staffed by talented employees adept at attracting risk capital, failed to mesh with the management strengths of the Australian and Danish operations, particularly in the assembly of expertise across a range of fields – from engineering to finance and software.

”I believe the underlying strategy and economics remain sound,” he said. ”But the failure of this execution will make raising capital for future attempts much more difficult, which is a great shame.”

Tiny demand

The lack of available electric models in the Australian market is one reason why their take-up has so far been minimal. This year, just 42 of the 358,165 vehicles sold have been purely electric-powered.

“With electric vehicles, because it’s still a developmental technology, (you’re seeing) smaller cars with range constraints…costing as much as a much more premium vehicle,” Andrew McKellar, executive director the Australian Automotive Association, said.

“The biggest take-up has been in markets where the governments have acted to provide strong consumer incentives,” he said. “In Australia, there are no strong incentives.”

Mr Thornton said the company had never focused on seeking government assistance “so no-one has anything to complain about there”.

“We supported government (electric vehicle) trials and did so at a loss.”

A consortium, including Better Place, General Electric and Bosch, received a “modest” investment from the government of about $3.5 million to build proof-of-concept electric Commodores, Mr Thornley said.

Technology bind

Alan Finkel, chancellor of Monash University and a former chief technology officer of Better Place Australia, said the company had been caught in a technological bind.

On the one hand, it needed to demonstrate the market’s potential scale in order to draw in the big car makers and drive down costs. On the other, it needed to get its products to market and to succeed before alternative offerings arrived.

“They were slowed down by their efforts to get to scale,” Dr Finkel said.

Among those alternatives is the Tesla Motors’s Roadster, a pricey high-performance sports car capable of driving 450 kilometres between charges, undermining the need for battery-switching services such as those offered by Better Place.

BMW’s i3 electric car, soon to hit showrooms, will be later be offered with an efficient internal combustion engine that, unlike hybrid petrol-electric cars on the roads now, recharges the battery to extend the vehicle’s range rather than drive its wheels.

Battery switching also required car makers to settle on a standard battery design – or at least a handful of them – to reduce their complexity.

While companies may settle on similar minor parts such as car seats or mirrors, the design of motors and batteries would be vital components, jealously held, to differentiate models and makes, Dr Finkel said.

According to Dr Finkel, Shai Agassi, the charismatic chief executive who founded Better Place in 2007 and served in the role until being replaced by Mr Thornley, was overly reliant on software and other experts drawn from Israeli start-ups.

His leadership presence also meant that the board of Better Place waited too long to take action, and by last September when they did move, Mr Agassi “had spent too much too soon”.

Future views

Despite the failure of Better Place, Dr Finkel – himself a successful entrepreneur and publisher of the Cosmos science magazine – sees no reason to doubt electric vehicles have a future.

“I’m a deep, deep believer of the electrification of the transportation system as a means to substantially reduce our carbon emissions profile,” he said. Expect, though, the process to take 20 or 30 years. “It will be a slow build.”

The AAA’s Mr McKellar also thinks the volume electric market will one day arrive.

“I suspect it is absolutely inevitable that alternative vehicle power-trains will develop, and come to the Australian market,” Mr McKellar said.

Electric vehicles, along with hybrid and other fuel-efficient cars, will form part of the future mix but “whether it will form the dominant technology, and over what timeframe, remains to be seen.”

Mr Thornley, who has returned to Australia, says he is exploring other low-carbon ventures, such as solar power and soil carbon – and the motor industry. ‘‘I obviously believe in the future of electric vehicles.’’

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