Technology: NASA Discovers 10 Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Planets

NASA has discovered 219 new possible planets outside our solar system, including 10 near-Earth-sized candidates with potentially habitable conditions.

After four years, the Kepler Space Telescope mission has found a total of 4,034 planet candidates, with over half of them confirmed.

“With this catalog, we’re able to extend [our analysis of planets’ demographics] out to the longest periods, those periods that are most similar to our Earth,” said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist for the SETI Institute in California.

“As a result, this survey catalog will be the foundation for directly answering one of astronomy’s most compelling questions: How many planets like our Earth are actually in the galaxy?”

However, Thompson said it will still take a year for the Kepler team to find out how common potentially habitable planets are in the Milky Way galaxy.

National: NSW Budget to Spend on Roads, Buses and Hospital

The New South Wales government has announced its plans to build a new hospital, three new Sydney motorways, double-deckers and additional bus services, just a week before the state budget arrives.

Next week’s budget will allocate a billion-dollar package as planning money for three new motorways. $21 million will be allocated for the M12, whereas the F6 Motorway and the M9 Outer Orbital will receive $15 million and $2.09 million respectively.

“We want every community to be a vibrant community – and a local roads project can make a world of difference,” Perrottet said. “Some of these will be the most important links in greater Western Sydney for getting home and doing business.”

Also in the budget is a $534 million allocation to buy a site in Tweed and build a 350-bed hospital with extra cardiac and cancer services. “We believe that whether you live in the north shore of Sydney or northern New South Wales, every community deserves access to high quality health care,” said Treasurer Dominic Perottet. The hospital is expected to be built after 5 years.

Finally, the budget also aims to purchase 176 new buses. 134 of them are to replace aging fleets, while the rest is to boost the overall bus numbers. Six of these new buses will be double-deckers, set to replace bendy buses. “It’s a far better way in terms of road space to better utilise the roads, the bus commuting,” said Transport Minister Andrew Constance. There will also be over 3,300 new services for metropolitan Sydney, western Sydney, the Hills District and south west Sydney.

National: ASIO Warns Parties About Chinese Donations

Australia’s intelligence agency ASIO has warned major political parties against taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A Four CornersFairfax investigation found that ASIO has briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott as well as opposition leader Bill Shorten about the threat of CCP influence.

ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis also briefed officials from the Coalition and Labor parties privately in 2015 about billionaire property developers Huang Xiangmo and Chau Chak Wing, who have made a total of around $6.7 million in political donations along with their associates. While Lewis did not tell the parties to reject the funds, he said that the CCP has influence over businessmen, and donations might come with strings attached.

However, the parties went on to accept the money anyway. Since then, the Coalition has taken $897,960, while Labor took $200,000.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari was also found to have repeatedly assisted Huang in his citizenship application, which is currently temporarily blocked while ASIO investigation is still ongoing.

In light of the report, Turnbull ordered a major inquiry into espionage and foreign interference laws.

“The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order and it is getting worse,” Attorney General George Brandis said in a statement.

“Earlier this year the Prime Minister initiated a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, which he asked me to lead. I will be taking legislative reforms to Cabinet with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year.”

National: Federal Government Grants $1.2 Million to Food-Rescue Groups

The federal government has granted a $1.2 million funding to food rescue organizations to reduce their energy costs and improve food distribution and storage capacity.

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg said the government committed to support Oz Harvest, SecondBite, Foodbank Australia, and Fareshare through grants for energy efficiency purposes.

“They’re designed to boost energy efficiency and get food to those who need it most,” Frydenberg said.

“It could be new solar panels, or refrigerated vans or helping these groups expand their refrigerated capacity.”

The grants came after ABC’s War on Waste series, which revealed that four million tonnes of food are wasted every day in Australia, costing the economy about $20 billion.

Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey said the organization would use the funding to buy new cool rooms and more solar panels, cutting its power bills. However, Casey said more could be done by the government to ease the “crisis” that leaves one in six Australians without enough food.

Environment: Switzerland Votes to Ban New Nuclear Plants

Swiss voters have voted to ban new nuclear plants and allocate funds for renewable energy subsidies.

58.2 per cent of the voters agreed on the ban in a referendum on Sunday. “The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” said Switzerland’s energy minister Doris Leuthard. “The law leads our country into a modern energy future.”

The ban does not apply to the five existing nuclear plants in the country. Currently, nuclear power accounts for a third of electricity generation in Switzerland.

This effort to exit nuclear energy mirrors other European countries such as Austria, which banned nuclear power, and Germany, which pledges to phase it out by 2022. Last week, the newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron also appointed anti-nuclear advocate Nicolas Hulot as energy minister.

National: Jetstar to Charge Adults Traveling with Babies on Domestic Flights

Jetstar has introduced a new fee for adults with babies on domestic flights, and increased the infant charge for international travels.

Adults carrying children under two years old must now pay an extra $30 on domestic flights, and $50 on Trans-Tasman and international flights.

Jetstar’s infant fee matches Tigerair’s $30 fee for having babies sitting on a guardian’s lap. Qantas and Virgin Australia do not charge a fee for babies on domestic flights yet.

A Jetstar spokesman said the fee covers up to four oversized infant items such as strollers, highchairs, prams or portable cots.

“Like other oversized items, there is additional manual handling and equipment required for oversized infant items like prams,” he said.

“We know that fees and charges can be unpopular, but giving customers choice and charging each customer for what they actually need helps us to offer the lowest possible fares, every day.”

The New Budget 2017: Are Drug Tests OK?

Last night, the Liberal government announced its new 2017-18 budget for Australia, affecting millions of Australians over the country.

There have been criticisms of Turnbull’s Government and its decisions over the newly announced drug tests for Australians on welfare. Background checks are often a mandatory condition with most job applications in Australia, but is it morally right to initiate drug tests at random as part of a legal requirement?

Jacqui Lambie has welcomed the new drug tests for welfare recipients, but she said politicians should do the same. “It is about time politicians led by example and both on the Senate side and the House of Reps, there should be random drug testing as you come through the doors.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce defended the decision, saying to the ABC that “you can’t go to work if you are smashed or drugged out.”

Technology: Australians Should Be Wary of Mindfulness Apps Offering ‘Quick Fix’, Doctor Says

Users of smartphone mindfulness apps are urged to be cautious of quick-fix promises, as doctors call for better regulations of the digital mental health market.

Dr Quinn Grundy, a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, said her investigation of these apps revealed a worrying trend.

“There was a lot of messages around how easy and quickly the app could solve your problems,” said Dr Grundy.

“[But] if your app has promised that you’ll get better really easily and really quickly and you don’t, consumers shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with them, or that their mental health can’t be treated.”

The investigation, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), also found that only a small proportion of the apps were created by universities or healthcare professionals.

“In the end we didn’t feel comfortable in endorsing any of these apps because even the ones that were from reputable organisations didn’t provide the privacy assurances one would hope for, or if they had a great privacy policy it was unclear that the developer had any mental health expertise or that it was based on sound evidence,” Dr Grundy told AAP.

Dr Grundy also expressed concerns over the commercial nature of these apps. “We would argue that mental health consumers are perhaps in a more vulnerable position to things like targeted advertising, or in-app purchases or a subscription model,” she said.

“So for example we saw apps that would be about anxiety or depression, but at the bottom you have these banner ads advertising weight loss products.”

Dr Grundy said governments should increase regulation of the digital app market.

PhD student Jazmin Ozsvar said mindfulness apps made her anxiety worse. “At first I found the meditations useful, particularly at night,” Ozsvar said. “But the requirement for daily reporting started to get annoying, and I realised that when I rated myself as feeling down, that actually compounded those feelings, I ended up feeling worse. So I gave it up.”

Ozsvar recommended the use of these apps in conjunction with professional help.

International: Fyre Festival Hit with $100 Million Class Action Lawsuit

Daniel Jung, one of the attendees of the “disastrous” Fyre Festival, has launched a $US100 million lawsuit at the event organisers for fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract.

The class action suit, filed in the US District Court, names festival co-founders Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule along with Fyre Media.

Jung’s suit alleges that organisers went ahead with promoting the event and selling tickets when they knew “their festival was dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance”. It also alleges that organisers warned performers and celebrities not to come due to unsuitable conditions.

The suit also protests the “substandard accommodations”, “wild animals” in and around the festival area, and misleading marketing among others.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, McFarland said he and Ja Rule were “a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves”.

“There will be make-up dates, May 2018 in the U.S., free for everybody who signed up for this festival. We will donate $1.50 [per ticket] to the Bahamian Red Cross,” said McFarland. “The one change we will make is we will not try to do it ourselves.”

 

Ja Rule also said he was “heartbroken” and promised that every attendee will be refunded.

On Sunday, the Fyre Festival sent an apology email to attendees, including a link for refund. The form in the link also has an option to receive 2018 VIP passes in place of the refund.

International: Saudi Arabia Voted Into UN Women’s Rights Commission

Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women has sparked outrage, as the country has been ranked as one of the worst in gender equality.

The country was elected in a secret ballot at the UN’s 54-member Economic and Social Council last week. It is to serve from 2018 to 2022.

The commission’s aims, stated on its website, are for “the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

The election has received strong condemnations from observers. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer of UN Watch. “Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission?”

According to Human Rights Watch, women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive cars and require permission from male guardians to travel. They also have difficulty in working, doing transactions or accessing healthcare without a male relative.

Former UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark has defended Saudi Arabia’s election to the commission, saying that it is “important to support those in the country who are working for change for women”.