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  • Researchers risk missing a berth in race for bionic brain

    Keen for commercial exploitation: Bob Williamson, former secretary for science policy at the Australian Academy of Science.Australia must join the international race to build a bionic brain in order to share the health and economic benefits that will flow from such a prestigious global project.
    Nanjing Night Net

    However, joining means committing, within the coming year, to the funding of long-term brain research projects, according to the Australian Academy of Science.

    Without this, the nation will miss its chance to be at the forefront of work that has the potential to deliver results for some of the most common neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

    Launched on Tuesday, the Inspiring Smarter Brain Research in Australia report by the academy recommends the federal government take a long-term view and invest $250 million over 10 years to establish a co-ordinated research unit called AusBrain.

    Using the skills from researchers across the country, AusBrain would allow collaboration between scientists not used to working together, including neuroscientists, geneticists and computer scientists. At the heart of their work will be the challenge of building a bionic brain.

    It is a task that has fuelled the European Union's decision to allocate more than €1 billion to a human brain project. Last year, the US joined the race when Barack Obama dedicated $US1 billion to a decade-long brain research project. China and Norway also have brain research projects.

    ''If we're not there [in] the research, we're not going to be there in the development and we're not going to be there in the commercial exploitation,'' said Bob Williamson, former secretary for science policy at the Australian Academy of Science.

    The academy argues that funding a strategic brain research program would ensure Australia did not end up playing ''catch-up'', as was the case with Australia's lack of participation in the human genome project.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Customs may cut hundreds of jobs after minister says no to deficit

    Federal politics: full coverage
    Nanjing Night Net

    Hundreds of Australian Customs officers are facing the sack after the Abbott government refused to give the department permission to run a $30 million budget deficit.

    Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has told Customs and Border Protection chief Mike Pezzullo to save the money from his staffing budget rather than allow his agency to slip into the red.

    The decision could cost the jobs of more than 350 mid-ranking officers around the nation or more than 450 junior customs workers.

    Fairfax Media understands that Mr Pezzullo wrote to the minister in January, in accordance with protocols for public service bosses, asking for consent to run the budget deficit this financial year.

    In a statement, Senator Cormann said he wanted departments to live within their means.

    Customs refused to comment on the minister's decision.

    According to recent modelling by federal workplace authority the Public Service Commission, $30 million a year is the equivalent of about 350 mid-ranking officers or more than 450 junior officers.

    Mr Pezzullo said late last year that federal government budget cuts had seen more than half a billion dollars and 740 staff cut from the service over the past five years. He told a conference in Melbourne there was no more fat to cut in his department and that he would soon ''be going through bone'' if asked to reduce spending further.

    But Senator Cormann was unmoved by Customs' plea to run a deficit in 2013-14.

    In response to questions from Fairfax Media about his decision, the minister said Customs already got more than $1 billion of taxpayers' money and was expected to manage with that amount.

    ''All government departments are expected to manage within their budget allocations,'' Senator Cormann said.

    ''Customs has a yearly budget allocation of more than $1 billion. Naturally, our preference is for Customs to manage within their budget allocation as we expect all other agencies to do,'' Senator Cormann said.

    ''Contrary to the situation under the previous government, they now can access funding to pay for the voluntary redundancies caused by decisions made by the previous government.

    ''If despite their best efforts, as a result of the cuts imposed by Labor they can't, we will address that in the budget in the normal way and not through a premature decision immediately after the release of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.''

    The minister said the budget difficulties of federal departments and resulting job losses were the fault of the previous Labor government.

    A Customs spokesman refused to comment.

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    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Australian wartime sex slave Jan Ruff-O’Hearne hits out at ‘hideous’ Japanese denials

    Jan Ruff-O'Herne at her Adelaide home. Photo: David Mariuz Jan Ruff-O'Herne and the Korean comfort women visiting Japan circa 1993. Photo: David Mariuz
    Nanjing Night Net

    When she was a 21-year-old young woman, Japanese soldiers raped and beat Jan Ruff-O'Herne so many times she lost count.

    Along with thousands of other women across Asia she was forced to be a sex slave of the imperial army during World War II.

    Now the conservative Japanese government has questioned the testimony of the ''comfort women'' that led to the landmark apology won from Tokyo in 1993.

    The move has placed a further pall over Japan's already tense relationship with China as well as South Korea, countries the Japanese occupied and home to most of the estimated 200,000 sex slaves.

    ''It's just hideous to not acknowledge it, there are so many witnesses who have spoken out about this,'' Mrs Ruff-O'Herne said from her home in Adelaide.

    Supporters of the abused women fear an attempt to airbrush history after Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga last week indicated the government wanted to verify the authenticity of testimony from 16 South Korean women recorded in the lead-up to the 1993 apology.

    No inquiry has been launched but ultra-conservatives in Japan's parliament dismiss the stories and say there are no documents to prove Japanese soldiers forced women into sexual servitude.

    But Mrs Ruff-O'Herne, now 91, said Japanese leaders must come to terms with the country's history of war crimes. She was captured as a teenager with her Dutch parents on Java, Indonesia, and later forced into a brothel. She migrated to Australia in the 1960s.

    For 50 years, she kept secret her abuse at the hands of Japanese soldiers, even from her family until speaking out in the early 1990s in support of Korean women seeking an apology from Japan.

    ''First it was only the Korean women, and nobody took any notice because 'they were only Asian women'. But then when a European woman spoke out the world suddenly took notice,'' Mrs Ruff-O'Herne said.

    The pressure led to the Japanese government issuing a remarkable statement of ''apologies and remorse'' for abused women, with a promise to teach people about what had taken place.

    Tessa Morris-Suzuki, an expert on modern Japanese history at the Australian National University, said the ''comfort women'' had become symbolic in the revisionist drive trying to argue Japan was as much a victim as the aggressor.

    ''From the point of view of people like Mr Abe and others in his government, it is something that makes Japan look very bad … they want to say this didn't happen, or it didn't happen the way people think it did - or if it did happen, everybody else did it as well,'' she said.

    A spokesman for the Japanese embassy said his government stood by past statements yet believed in more discussions from ''an academic stand point'' on issues surrounding comfort women.

    Mrs Ruff-O'Herne said the apology must stand. ''When such a terrible thing happens, you expect an apology. It was important for my healing process. It takes a lifetime to get over a thing like that.''

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Choice reveals snack ratings in website pulled by Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash

    It's a glimpse at the ratings the federal government didn't want you to see.
    Nanjing Night Net

    Consumer group Choice has used a new healthy food star-rating system - controversially pulled from a federal website by Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash - to uncover surprisingly large differences in the nutritional content of seemingly similar snack foods.

    Choice Campaigns Manager Angela Cartwright said consumers would be shocked by the results, with a full 2½ stars out of five difference between similar products.

    ''It often comes down to whether they are cutting corners and using more saturated fat and sodium,'' she said. ''These are products that kids are eating in playgrounds around Australia every day, and people have a right to know.''

    Choice compared three products from food giant Mondelez with similar products, after Mondelez called the system ''ill-founded, unscientific and confusing''.

    Choice found its Kraft Strip Cheese received only two out of five stars, compared with Bega's Stringers, which got 4½ stars. Its Ritz Crackers got half a star, compared with Arnott's Jatz Original, which got two stars.

    Mondelez has been drawn into the controversy surrounding Senator Nash's closure of the food star-rating website, after it was revealed her chief of staff was involved and was also a co-owner of a lobbying firm that worked for the brand.

    Ms Cartwright said her group wanted to see what impact the rating would have on companies that had been critical of it. ''The health stars shot down the Mondelez product each time,'' she said.

    Senator Nash has said she intervened in the state and territory-controlled website because it would be confusing for consumers when the stars were still being rolled out. But she said she still plans for the system to begin in the middle of the year.

    A spokeswoman for Mondelez International said the system would mislead consumers and make labels more confusing.

    ''Given the health star-rating shows that Philadelphia Cream Cheese is healthier than an apple, we believe that more work needs to be done,'' she said.

    ''The algorithm which determines the number of stars on a product has changed numerous times and is expected to change again, so the results of this Choice test should be used with caution.''

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

  • Shorten’s question and whimper time sees Libs pull out all the jocks

    Federal politics: full coverageMorrison knew he was wrong on brawl death
    Nanjing Night Net

    As Opposition leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott famously reduced the complexities of the Syrian civil war to a contest between goodies and baddies.

    Not content with the Batman-ification of foreign policy, our muscular Prime Minister has introduced a wimps-versus-jocks narrative to border protection.

    It is a narrative reminiscent of an '80s college frat house movie - a genre of film much neglected by critics, and one in which someone generally ends up with a wedgie.

    ''You don't want a wimp running border protection,'' Mr Abbott told reporters on Sunday, following an admission from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison that he had been mistaken on a crucial detail of earlier media briefings.

    Morrison had led the public to believe that a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker had been killed outside the Manus Island detention centre, and therefore not on his watch. Turns out the man was killed inside the centre, when he was very much under the care of the Australian government.

    No matter. A real man faces up to his mistakes. Okay, so he might face up to them via press release, issued late on a Saturday night when most journalists have retired to bed or to the pub. But no one can say Morrison did not man up! He just manned up really late when scrutiny was at its lowest ebb.

    Following the Immigration Minister's witching-hour confession, the Greens, who have something of a reputation for political milk-soppery, came over surprisingly macho. They demanded Morrison's resignation.

    Eyes swivelled to the Opposition leader Bill Shorten in question time yesterday. A minister with a dead man on his watch, a minister who seemed to have misled the public over the circumstances of that man's death - it was just a matter of lining up the skittles and bowling a strong ball. What use would Shorten make of this great political gotcha? What mighty evisceration were we to witness? Would it be a knock-out punch or more of a frog-in-saucepan broil?

    But when Shorten rose, his spine seemed not to come with him. The Opposition leader's first question was on jobs, as was his second.

    He left the handling of Morrison's mistake to the mild-mannered shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles. Morrison responded with a tsunami of verbiage, which revealed precisely no detail on what had happened, but reminded us all that his government was simply discharging a Manus Island security contract that had been signed by the previous, Labor one.

    To say that Labor is on weak ground on this issue would be to put it far too wimpishly.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.