Stocco fugitives had no chance: police

Fugitives Gino and Mark Stocco, who had been on the run from authorities for eight years, had no chance of escaping from the NSW farm where they were eventually caught, police say.

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The Queensland father-and-son pair were tracked to an Elong Elong property in central west NSW and arrested on Wednesday by heavily armed officers who had been hiding at the property since Tuesday.

Following the Stoccos’ arrests, detectives discovered the body of a 68-year-old Italian farmer who had been missing for more than three weeks.

NSW Police say the man is known to them.

The property, called Pinevale, is still a crime scene and officers will spend Thursday combing its 385 hectares.

Police won’t confirmed whether or not any weapons or ammunition have been found.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Clint Pheeney said on Thursday the rural property was known to police.

“We confirmed that both persons were on the premises and we moved in,” Mr Pheeney told Nine Network on Thursday.

“There was no way they were ever going to get off that property.

“We were aware that both those fellows had previously worked on the property, so we conducted some covert surveillance.”

Mr Pheeney said the pair were initially non-compliant, with one of the men allegedly refusing to take his hands out of his pockets.

“We are dealing with people that we believe may be armed … because of that there was a few injuries received, but nothing serious,” he said.

Gino, 57, and Mark, 36, have been charged with an array of offences, including murder, dishonestly obtaining property by deception, police pursuit and discharging a firearm with intent to resist arrest.

Police had previously revealed intentions to charge the duo with 13 offences, including attempted murder in relation to allegations they fired shots at police in Wagga Wagga on October 16.

The pair were also wanted on warrants for property damage in Queensland dating back to 2008.

They have been refused bail to appear in Dubbo Local Court on Thursday.

Dollar rebounds on rates news

The New Zealand dollar has rebounded after the Reserve Bank left interest rates on hold and warned the currency’s recent appreciation may keep rates low.

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Traders have taken RBNZ governor Graeme Wheeler’s “watch and wait” language as a sign an immediate fall in the kiwi isn’t warranted.

The currency recently traded at 66.97 cents, recovering from a decline of more than one US cent, after the RBNZ reiterated that it has another rate cut up its sleeve and may have to maintain a lower track for rates if the currency remains strong.

The kiwi had already taken a hit when the US Federal Reserve dropped its watch on global market volatility when reviewing the federal funds rate, leaving open the chance of a hike in December. The trade-weighted index was recently at 72.65 from 72.58 before the Fed meeting, and higher than the Reserve Bank’s projected average 70 level through the September quarter.

RBNZ governor Wheeler kept the official cash rate (OCR) at 2.75 per cent, and reiterated he was likely to cut rates again to spur tepid inflation back towards the middle of his one per cent to three per cent target band, while noting the kiwi’s 5.8 per cent appreciation since the start of September could erode tradables sector activity.

ANZ Bank New Zealand senior FX strategist Sam Tuck said the central bank’s wait-and-see approach meant investors didn’t have to react immediately to the warning, and could sell the kiwi on rallies.

“They’re waiting and seeing – the kiwi should decline over all, and if it does increase or sustain at these levels, it will mean a lower projection, but that’s down the path,” Tuck said.

Thursday’s meeting by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) may reduce some demand for the kiwi after the US policymakers dropped their reference to global markets when keeping the fed funds rate between zero and 0.25 per cent, a move interpreted as keeping alive a possible hike in December.

Still, the prospect of increased money printing programmes in Europe and Japan will continue to boost the allure of the kiwi dollar on other currency cross-rates, with New Zealand’s relatively strong economic outlook and positive interest rates.

Meet the refugees the world says are not allowed to be refugees

On tiny plastic chairs in a school room in the Palestinian refugee camp Burj al-Barajneh, on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, Amal Ammar recounts the day she left her home in Damascus, across the border in Syria.

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This could be a classroom anywhere, the walls are painted bright colours and the shouts of children playing can be heard outside, but Amal’s story is anything but ordinary. “I wasn’t at home but still, it was on our street, most of my neighbours died,” she says. “We listened to the school being bombed, the children became so scared.”

A gap in international refugee law means that second wave Palestinian refugees are treated as stateless persons rather than refugees and the distinction is important.

Amal is Palestinian Syrian. She grew up in Yarmouk, a Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus before fleeing to Lebanon with her husband and three children in 2012. Among the horror of war and mass displacement in the current Syria crisis, Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) are one of the most vulnerable and forgotten groups. A gap in international refugee law means that second wave Palestinian refugees are treated as stateless persons rather than refugees and the distinction is important.

PRS are unable to register with the UNHCR and therefore have little hope of resettlement. In Australia’s intake of 12,000 Syrians, PRS will miss out because of their dubious status under international law. Instead of being registered with the UNHCR, PRS fall under the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), set up in 1949 to provide direct relief and work programs for Palestinian refugees following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. In Lebanon, PRS mostly live in the overcrowded and poverty stricken Palestinian camps.

Director of Aspire, an organisation trying to bring PRS to Australia, is Yousef Alreemawi. He started the organisation eight years ago when Palestinians from Iraq were faced with a similar situation. Yousef is now in discussions with the Federal Government to grant PRS refugee protection in Australia. “This project has so much value to me personally and to them of course on a collective level,” he says. Yousef has family members from Yarmouk who are now stranded in Lebanon and Egypt without hope for their future.

Yousef says many families have come to a point of frustration and are risking their lives on boats to get to Europe. He says his cousin Samer would have done the same if it wasn’t for him. Yousef hopes the Federal government’s focus on minorities will include the Palestinians. “There is another minority, we are a minority,” he says.

Tensions are rising in the camps and Palestinian refugees from Lebanon (PRL), many of whom have spent there whole lives in these camps, are consequently suffering. Spokesperson for UNRWA Zizette Darkazzaly, says they are struggling to provide even the basic needs for PRS and radicalisation has become an imminent risk. “The rise of extremism mixed with extreme poverty is not a good mix,” she says. 

 “These camps are overcrowded, the health situation is not good, the environment is not good, violence is there, protection issues are always there.”

Not only have PRS places increased pressure on jobs, housing and education, Darkazzaly says the psychological impact of another wave of Palestinian refugees shouldn’t be underestimated. “Instead of seeing light at the end of the tunnel they see a tunnel at the end of the light,” she says. “Instead of seeing a way out, they see another plight.” 

UNICEF’s Palestinian coordinator Nazih Yacoub, grew up in a Palestinian camp in the north of Lebanon. He says before the current Syria crisis, the conditions in the camps were already bad and the recent influx of refugees has only exacerbated the existing problems. “These camps are overcrowded, the health situation is not good, the environment is not good, violence is there, protection issues are always there,” he says.

Life in the ‘Tower of towers’

Burj al-Barajneh, where Amal and others now live, translates into “the tower of towers”. The camp has increasingly taken on the literal form of its name and as the population grows upwards so do the tiny, windowless apartments. Before the Syrian crisis, the one-square kilometre of the camp held a population of around 20,000 Palestinians. In four years, the number has surged to an estimated 35,000.

Darkazzaly says apartments now house two or more families and a rental blackmarket has emerged, pushing up housing prices. “You have PRS renting garages or tiny rooms, more than one family and paying rent,” she says.

Amal’s apartment lies deep within the labyrinth. She says life in the camp is extremely hard. “The water we drink is salty, the electricity is always cutting out, there are many difficulties,” she says. “And we don’t have any sun in our house.”

“So you have a whole generation of Palestinians that’s going to be born now without any certificate that proves their existence, any official one.”

Ufran Sufi lives in the apartment directly above Amal. She fled Syria a year ago with her husband and two children. Her family is unable to afford visa renewals and her husband works illegally, from one day to the next. Ufran’s family has been reliant on UNRWA’s rent assistance since arriving in Lebanon. In June this year UNRWA cut the rent assistance that went to 95% of PRS in Lebanon because of a lack of funding. Without the extra money Ufran says they will try to pay rent but food and clothing will be hard. “It’s on God,” she says.

Ufran’s visa situation is not unusual. Due to high costs and harsh restrictions many PRS are unable to renew their visas. The legal status of PRS in Lebanon has led to what Darkazzaly describes as a “cycle of detention”. She says movement is restricted because without a valid visa PRS are arrested at checkpoints. “Some (people) are confined to the camps, they don’t go out… because they’re afraid,” she says. This also limits a PRS’ ability to work.

Ufran is pregnant and her unborn child will be among a generation of invisible Palestinians. Without visas, Darkazzaly says, PRS can’t undertake any civil registration; deaths, marriages or divorces. “While the deaths and marriages are important what are most worrying is the births,” she says. “So you have a whole generation of Palestinians that’s going to be born now without any certificate that proves their existence, any official one.”

Sixty years in limbo with no sign of a future

A 20-minute taxi ride from Burj al-Barajneh lies the Grand Serail, an impressive palatial building dating from the Ottoman era, now home to the Prime Minister’s office and the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC). At the centre of the courtyard stands a limestone and marble fountain, the clean, expansive space starkly contrasts the crowded, grimy camp. LPDC’s Chairman Hassan Mneimneh, says the PRS have more problems and suffer more than any other group of refugees in Lebanon. “If you visited the (Palestinian) camps 30 years ago and visited them again today, you would see that nothing has changed,” he says. “Poverty and misery, the worst form of misery.”

Related reading

That poverty takes its toll and cracks in Palestinian unity are starting to show. Graffiti fills the streets of the camp from competing Palestinian political factions. Tensions are rising between PRS, PRL and Syrian refugees, the latter who are coming to live in the camps because of the lower costs. Yacoub says PRS are good business people and are taking the limited jobs that are available in the camps. Work is restricted because Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in many professions, including as doctors and nurses. To legally build inside the camps is also difficult. 

He says the only solution is a political one. ”Eventually the solution is to return to Palestine.”

These strict constraints have been designed to discourage Palestinians from remaining in the country. But Yacoub says the Palestinians have been in Lebanon for 60 years and they’re not going anywhere. “One of the solutions is to review the way the Government treats Palestinians,” he says. “Give us our rights and maybe conditions will improve.”

Mneimneh says the support provided to Palestinians is only just enough to keep them alive, but is insufficient to attain a good life. He says the only solution is a political one. ”Eventually the solution is to return to Palestine,” he says.

                             

Darkazzaly echoes these sentiments and says the plights of Palestinians will only continue. “This new wave of refugees proves to the world that there needs to be a just solution,” she says.  

Political deadlock on the issue of Palestine is leaving people like Amal and Ufran in extreme poverty. With sad resignation, Amal says she hopes someday her children might have a life outside the confines of the camp.

“That’s it, I feel sorrow for my children and all the children for what they have had to live through,” she says. 

Thompson to fight Gallen on instinct

The fierce trans-Tasman rivalry will extend to the boxing ring when Sydney NRL forward Paul Gallen takes on Warriors backrower Bodene Thompson.

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The pair are on the Super 8 undercard in Auckland next Tuesday night, with Cronulla skipper Gallen looking to extend his 3-0 pro record, which includes two wins inside the distance.

Gallen, 34, has been sparring with southpaws in preparation for the left-handed Thompson.

“The southpaws I’ve sparred have probably boxed a lot more,” the NSW State of Origin captain said.

“Me and Bodene are probably going to stand there and fight each other. He’s going to be fit. He’s very aggressive. I’ve got no doubt he’ll be ready for it.”

Before his pro debut in early 2014, Gallen had two Fight for Life charity bouts in Auckland, beating All Blacks Hika Elliot and Liam Messam in successive years.

Thompson, who will be making his professional boxing debut, says he will rely on instinct rather than a game plan or big weapon for the four three-minute rounds contest.

“I just fight off instinct,” he said on Thursday.

“There will be times when I have to stick in tight and there will be times I might have to go out. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Tauranga-born Thompson, who has just completed his first season with the Warriors after spells with West Tigers and Gold Coast, said he was feeling sharp after more than three weeks of boxing training.

He has been in the ring once before, when he won a charity bout on the Gold Coast four years ago.

Thompson has added motivation to beat Gallen.

“I still owe him one, because I remember a couple of years ago, he got a try on me when he dummied me from dummy half. It’s still on my back.”

Why it’s so hard to lift the tampon tax

Michael J.

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Randall, University of Leeds

The “tampon tax” is firmly back on the European agenda. In a single month, French MPs have voted against reducing the rate of value-added tax (VAT) on sanitary products from 20 per cent to 5 per cent, and British MPs have voted against an amendment to chancellor George Osborne’s finance bill to remove VAT on sanitary products.

Currently in the UK, a rate of 5 per cent is charged on sanitary productions which equates to £3 of an average £60 yearly spend. In Hungary the rate of tax is 27 per cent but the lowest permissible rate across the EU for sanitary products is 5 per cent.

What is VAT?

VAT was first introduced in the UK as a fundamental condition of joining the EU common market. Goods and services in the UK are taxable under four different VAT categories: the standard rate (20 per cent), the reduced rate (5 per cent), the zero-rate (0 per cent) and VAT exempt. The UK government in 1975 negotiated everyday essential items that were to be classified at the 0 per cent rate. This included food and children’s clothing. The negotiation was final and, crucially, did not include sanitary products.

Sanitary products were charged at the standard rate in the UK until the 2000 budget at which point the VAT rate on sanitary products was reduced to 5 per cent.

The essential legal instrument regulating VAT application across the EU contains three provisions relevant to the tampon tax. Article 98 states that member states may apply a discretionary reduced rate to goods and services, including sanitary products. Article 99 provides the reduced rates may not be less than 5 per cent. The UK’s zero-rated items status is preserved by Article 110.

A tax on gender

Although there is a cost-saving element, there is also the fact that charging VAT on an everyday essential item for women means the tax becomes a tax on gender. It is a form of discrimination based on a natural biological process authorised by a primarily male government from 40 years ago.

Campaigners highlight that exotic meats (such as kangaroo steaks) and alcoholic dessert jellies are zero-rated. In terms of VAT classification, these items are deemed to be more essential than sanitary products. Sanitary products as a consequence are classed as non-essential luxury items.

Can the government lift the tax?

A long-term solution is difficult, because the current UK government is bound by the negotiations of a previous administration that took place four decades ago. Although unpopular with campaigners, the action of MPs to vote against the amendment is understandable: the UK is required to apply EU law and are legally correct to continue to apply the 5 per cent rate at the moment.

The long-term solution from a UK perspective is to negotiate with the European Commission to produce an amendment to the directive and the other member states to authorise the change in position.

Following the House of Commons vote, the financial chief secretary to the treasury, David Gauke said he would “raise this issue with the European Commission and other member states setting out our views that it should be possible for member states to apply a zero-rate to sanitary products.” It is surprising that a request has not been made to the European Commission sooner given the campaign to reduce and remove VAT on these items dates back to the late 1990s.

What campaigners can do

There is a way for campaigners to mandate the European Commission to investigate whether it has the ability to draft an amendment irrespective of the outcome of the commission’s review. The European Citizens Initiative is a petitioning system whereby at least a million signatories across seven EU member states can participate directly in the development of EU policies.

The UK petition has far in excess of the required number of signatures to fulfil this and the existence of similar campaign groups across the EU with a significant number of signatures shows this process may be successful.

Short-term fixes

There are certain voluntary measures that both retailers and the government can do in spite of the current legal difficulties to make the best of a bad situation.

Retailers could be encouraged to follow the example of the University of East Anglia student’s union and sell sanitary products profit free in order to mitigate the financial impact of VAT to consumers. Committing to this approach may benefit in the long run, attracting new customers who may purchase other products for profit. Still, this would be a voluntary agreement and would fail to address the underlying issue of the symbolic existence of VAT and the tax paid would still be collected by the central treasury.

The government should consider waiving the income generated from VAT on sanitary products if possible. If this is the case the chancellor may be able to allocate funds raised by the tax to good causes.

In the spring and summer budgets of 2015, Osborne allocated revenue accrued from Libor fines to specified good causes. The government could negotiate with campaigners to determine a list of appropriate good causes whereby the best is made of a bad situation and the tax, although paid disproportionately by one gender, could be used to support charities that assist women.

This would mean that the tax, although unpopular, could still have a positive social impact.

Michael J.Randall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Bacteria in space – why the International Space Station is riddled with ‘germs’

Roger Pickup, Lancaster University

Forget Ridley Scott’s Alien.

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There’s a new, real-life horror story in space. As one national newspaper headline warned this week, the International Space Station is ‘filled with germs’.

But should such a revelation really make us scream? The story stems from a new NASA study (reported in Microbiome) which found that some bacterial pathogens, including Actinobacteria – often associated with human skin – are thriving in the station, 248 miles above the Earth. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. A more level-headed microbiological newspaper under my editorship would have tweaked the headline to read ‘Microbiologists not surprised that the International Space Station is filled with microorganisms’.

For it’s time to get something straight. The press tends to think that all bacteria are germs. But they are not. Germs are synonymous with disease, but the majority of bacteria do not cause disease, they are essential to life on earth, driving nutrient cycles and preventing elements and nutrients from being permanently locked up and unavailable. Without bacteria, the Earth would not properly function and we’d become a barren planet. Now that is a horror story.

Microbes are everywhere

Microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa) are everywhere – and in large numbers. They show wide diversity, and thrive where it is hospitable while colonising areas we would not think possible, such as hot springs, in the middle of salt crystal and at the bottom of the deepest oceans.

The human body carries 20 times more bacterial cells than human cells, and we, like the environment, would suffer if we were microbiologically sterile. Bacteria in our guts process food, protect us from invasive germs and also challenge and boost our immune systems, making them stronger.

As you descend a subway escalator, just run you finger along the surfaces. That black grime is mainly human cells and associated bacteria. Humans shed millions of cells a day. Indeed, trailing dogs follow specific human scents laid down by shed skin cells in the environment. Just consider that a fully-clothed person can lay down enough cells for a dog to track them more than 72 hours later.

But what’s this go to do with ISS and NASA? Well, let’s just say that no microbiologist would be surprised or alarmed to hear that NASA has found the ISS to be filled with microbes (including a few “germs” or bacteria that cause disease). It is an enclosed unit, it has oxygen, and it is filled with people who are shedding skin and bacteria.

They also have to perform bodily functions and, even in a perfect world, toilet habits are less than spotless. Faecal material, which also carries large numbers of bacteria, may be introduced.

Canny little colonists

So the personnel on ISS are likely the main source of contamination although some bacteria may have been introduced as far back as the construction of sections back on Earth.

NASA seeks to understand how the total bacterial diversity and profile changes with time and its effect on its personnel, too. As NASA has said: “Understanding the nature of the communities of microbes – the microbiome – in the station is key to managing astronaut health and maintenance of equipment.”

After all, the ISS, like other spacecraft, is a closed community. Nothing blows in through the window – if it did, bacteria would be the least of the crew’s worries – and this environment only changes occasionally during the infrequent personnel changes, when new astronauts bring aboard their own distinct microbial communities. NASA seeks to better understand this and how it might affect future missions.

Time for a spring clean?

So should the astronauts spend a little more time cleaning? Doing a little vacuuming? A bit of dusting and polishing?

Well, they probably do that anyway. Their air is filtered and there are few reports of infections afflicting the crew. Despite the headlines that conjure up a picture of a soup of bacteria filling the ISS, infection among the crew is relatively rare.

A comparison over a three-year period showed that a high proportion of medical events were physical problems. Space adaptation syndrome and nervous system problems accounted for 50 per cent of all the medical events with infectious disease accounting for only 1.4 per cent of such issues.

Astronauts further reduce the possibility of infection through periods of quarantine prior to their mission. NASA is rightly concerned that infections could be transmitted to all in such a closed environment.

This NASA study is an important piece of research because it relates to understanding the factors that ensure the disease-free status and well-being of current and future ISS crews, where help is not immediately at hand and prevention is better than a cure.

Infectious disease is only one of the medical factors that can affect the astronauts’ health as they have other non-microbiological influences to contend with. Indeed, for them, living with microbes is likely just another much-needed reminder of home. However, coming home, with their immune systems optimised to the ISS microbial environment might possibly leave them more susceptible to challenges posed by exposure to the wider range of infectious agents on Earth.

Roger Pickup does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Nigerian army: 338 Boko Haram captives rescued

It said it raided a number of the Islamist militant group’s camps on the edge of its stronghold in the northeast’s Sambisa forest.

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The army said troops carried out the successful raid on the camps at the northeastern villages of Bulajilin and Manawashe, along the Bita and Damboa road. Reuters was unable to independently verify the details of the military statement.

Those rescued included eight males, 138 females and 192 children who have been evacuated, military spokesman Sani Usman said. He added that 30 suspected militants had been killed.

Photographs shared on Nigeria Defence Headquarters’ Facebook and Twitter pages showed what were said to be dead militants, captured assault rifles and boxes.

One photograph showed what were said to be over a dozen freed Boko Haram captives.

Suspected members of the militant group, which has killed thousands and displaced 2.1 million people in the remote northeast of Africa’s most populous nation, claimed the lives of at least 37 people and wounded 107 others last week in Adamawa and Borno states.

The vast Sambisa forest reserve, the group’s remaining stronghold, has become hard to penetrate due to widespread landmines laid by the militant group.

In the last few months the military has ramped up its offensive into the Sambisa and surrounding areas with air strikes and an increase in ground troops.

Security sources in neighbouring Niger on Wednesday blamed Boko Haram for the deaths of at least 14 people in an overnight attack on a village in the southeast of the country.

Icebreaker price yet to be confirmed

Australia’s bigger, stronger and faster new icebreaker vessel will cost about $1 billion to build and maintain.

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But while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already unveiled a model of the ship, the exact cost is yet to be finalised.

Visiting Tasmania on Thursday, Mr Turnbull announced that Netherlands-based and British-owned Damen Shipyards will build the 156-metre vessel that will call Hobart home and begin operations in October 2019.

He said funding for a new ship to replace the outdated, 25-year-old Aurora Australis was “clearly necessary” and defended engaging a foreign company to build the vessel.

“The business of building icebreakers … the market for that or the business for that is not located in Australia,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.

“This is a niche vessel, so I don’t think it’s surprising that all the tenders involved an overseas yard.”

Six tenders were initially received in a process that had been overseen by the Finance Department and independent advisers KPMG, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said.

“There’s a tender process going on,” he said.

“We are on track to a result that will represent a very successful result for Australia. We are driving a very hard bargain.”

The cost would include operating and maintenance costs for the ship until 2049, the majority of which would be spent in Australia, Mr Hunt added.

The federal government will launch a competition to name the new ship, which will be specially designed to allow scientists unprecedented access to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

New technology will enable sea floor mapping and on-board laboratories will offer scientists in situ research facilities.

While on the topic, Mr Turnbull was asked if he would be making a diplomatic appeal to Japan not to carry out whaling in the Southern Ocean.

“We strongly encourage Japan to cease its whaling operations at any time, in any season, in any year,” Mr Turnbull said, adding that Australia had made its stance clear.

AUSTRALIA’S NEW ICEBREAKER

Name: To be decided by a public competition

Price: To be confirmed

Colour: Orange

Length: 156 metres

Passengers: 116

Cargo: 1200 tonnes

Icebreaking speed: Three knots through 1.65-metre-thick ice

Range: More than 16,000 nautical miles

If you want your child to bring home better grades, stop yelling and try this

John Pickering, The University of Queensland and Jinny Hong, The University of Queensland

The end of the year is speeding towards us, and for teachers, kids and parents alike, that means one thing – report card time.

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Right now, teachers across Australia are busy marking reports for nearly 4 million school students. Each report is filled out according to different guidelines and curricula, as well as differing degrees of flexibility.

But what about parents? What guidelines, if any, can help prepare you to respond in the right way when you receive your child’s report card – especially if your child isn’t doing as well as you might like?

A recent University of Michigan study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, offers some useful advice.

Researchers asked parents of nearly 500 US children how they would respond if their 11- to 13-year-old child brought home a report card with lower-than-expected grades or progress.

They sorted those responses into two broad categories – “punitive” vs “proactive” – and then investigated whether the parents’ responses predicted better or worse school results five years later.

The study found that children whose parents said they would respond by lecturing, punishing or restricting their child’s social activities actually had lower levels of literacy and maths achievement by the end of high school.

The main reason that “punitive parenting” strategies like those are unlikely to work is that they do not directly address the underlying problems that lead to the poor result.

For example, the researchers argue, limiting social activities is only likely to improve school performance if going to too many social events is the reason underlying the poor performance.

Perhaps just as importantly, parents who use punitive parenting practices may inadvertently deny their children the opportunity to learn the very skills and knowledge they require to improve their grades. Even worse, punitive strategies may increase children’s sense of frustration and aversion to school work.

If punishment won’t work, what are some proven solutions?

On the positive side, the University of Michigan study and others have shown that children growing up in a cognitively stimulating home environment – characterised by things like access to books, musical instruments, and trips to the museum – are likely to show higher levels of achievement in reading and maths in high school.

Other evidence also points to the value of creating a less punitive and more nurturing environment with warm, consistent and responsive parenting, though still with limits and boundaries for their children.

Such an environment not only stands to enhance your child’s academic achievements, but many aspects of their biological, social, emotional and behavioural development too.

In addition, the University of Michigan study said teachers should consider providing comments with grades so that parents can understand the reasons behind the child’s performance, such as lack of comprehension of the concepts versus not submitting homework on time.

Other research has shown the importance of giving and seeking specific feedback from an external source, such as a parent or teacher, on what good performance is, how their current performance relates to the ideal standard, and how they can act to close that gap.

Teachers are a great source of information so that parents can understand the reasons behind their child’s poor performance, and not make faulty attributions about the underlying cause.

And no matter how bad the report card might be, don’t fall into the easy trap of taking out your child’s poor performance on the school.

Teachers are not only there to help, but are an important ally in helping improve your child’s school performance. Engage in co-operative and constructive collaboration with your child’s school that is built on mutual respect and understanding.

It is important to note that there are plenty of other factors that can predict academic success: genes, parents’ level of education, the age of parents when a child is born, school infrastructure and teacher performance.

Some of these factors can’t be changed, but many can.

The challenge for parents is to tune in to those things that can be changed and act on them accordingly.

Three tips to remember at report card time

    When unexpected or poor results come in, research shows that reacting with frustration, anger, lecturing or punishment isn’t the best way to get better results.

    Consistent and responsive parenting will do more good than a punitive approach.

    Give and seek specific feedback on your child’s progress – especially the reasons behind any unexpected results.

John Pickering is an employee of The University of Queensland (UQ). UQ owns The Triple P-Positive Parenting Program. The University through its technology transfer company, UniQuest Pty Ltd, has licensed Triple P International Pty Ltd to publish and disseminate the program worldwide. Royalties stemming from published Triple P resources are distributed to the University and contributory authors. John Pickering has no authorial connection to Triple P and is not a financial recipient of program dissemination.

Jinny Hong is an employee of The University of Queensland (UQ). UQ owns The Triple P-Positive Parenting Program. The University through its technology transfer company, UniQuest Pty Ltd, has licensed Triple P International Pty Ltd to publish and disseminate the program worldwide. Royalties stemming from published Triple P resources are distributed to the University and contributory authors. Jinny Hong has no authorial connection to Triple P and is not a financial recipient of program dissemination.

Iran preparing for ‘tsunami’ of tourists

Iran’s vice president says his country is preparing for a “tsunami” of foreign tourists after sanctions are lifted.

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Iran and world powers are to start implementing a landmark nuclear deal that will lift the sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

Masoud Soltanifar, who is also the chief of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation, says President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate policies and the easing of visa rules are opening the door for the return of foreign tourists to Iran.

A country rich in historical and cultural treasures, Iran will unveil an investment package of 1300 projects in the coming days to attract foreign funds and boost the badly hit tourism industry. Iran is home to 19 UNESCO-registered sites.

The number of foreigners visiting Iran has grown by 12 per cent in each of the past two years. In 2014, Iran hosted more than five million tourists, bringing in some $US7.5 billion ($A10.34 billion) in revenue.

About half were Shi’ite Muslims, the same religious denomination as most Iranians, and the other half were tourists from Europe, North America and East Asia.

“In the post-sanctions era, tourism is an industry that will get a boost more than any other sector,” Soltanifar said.

“Tourism is certainly the driving engine to get Iran’s economy out of recession. Iran’s tourism sector is a flourishing market for investors. We are anticipating a tsunami of tourists after sanctions are lifted.”

But the US State Department warns US travellers to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran”.

In particular, it has advised Americans with dual Iranian citizenships that they may encounter difficulties leaving the country. It says US citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while travelling in the country.

The country’s Revolutionary Court has convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on charges including espionage without providing details on the verdict or sentence. Rezaian, who was detained in July 2014, has now been held longer than the 52 American diplomats and citizens who were held hostage in Iran for 444 days from late 1979 to early 1981.

Besides Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati, who holds dual Iranian and American citizenship, was arrested in August 2011.

The US has also asked for the Iranian government’s assistance in finding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.

Soltanifar, a member of Rouhani’s cabinet, said officials were trying to remove obstacles for tourists and issue visas on arrival at the airport in Tehran for nationals of 190 countries.

The visas would be valid for 30 days, with the possibility of extending for another 15 days. Tourism authorities were also planning to issue electronic visas beginning next year, he said.

Americans and Brits travelling to Iran will need a visa ahead of time to enter mainland Iran, according to their respective governments. In 2014, there were 3400 American visitors to Iran, up from 1800 in 2013, Soltanifar said.

Iran aims to host 20 million tourists a year by 2025, with expectations of growing the tourist industry to $US30 billion ($A41.37 billion).

Currently, Iran lacks sufficient accommodation and transportation for that number of tourists. Iran has 1100 hotels and guest houses, 130 of them four and five-star hotels.

“We need to increase (the number of) our four and five-star hotels from 130 to 400 in 10 years,” Soltanifar said. “We are providing low-interest funds out of the National Development Fund to private investors to build modern hotels.”

Iran needs more than 400 new passenger planes to compensate for the shortages caused by sanctions during the past three decades. Of its 250 passenger planes, 100 are currently grounded because of lack of spare parts. The remaining 150 aging aircraft need to be renovated.

“We need to renovate our air transportation system and buy new planes after sanctions are lifted, but this will be time-consuming,” Soltanifar said.

Iran has a history of air crashes in recent years, leading to hundreds of casualties. Last week, an Iranian passenger plane with 426 passengers and crew members on board safely landed after part of an engine fell off.

Iran’s constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, ratified into law this week a parliamentary bill implementing the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

The UN Security Council approved the deal on July 20 and the US Congress blocked efforts by Republicans to derail the accord in September.

Soltanifar, a moderate, welcomed investors and tourists from the US, the country known by hardliners as the “Great Satan”.

“American tourists and investors are welcome,” he said. “There is no obstacle or restrictions for them to visit Iran or invest in the country.”

France and the United Kingdom have relaxed travel advice for their citizens following the historic July nuclear deal. The UK reopened its embassy in Tehran in August after a four-year closure.

Last month, an Iranian firm signed an agreement with French hotel giant AccorHotels to use the Novotel and Ibis brands for 15 years, the first deal of its kind in three decades.