Not many people choose the long way home from work.
But as one of a growing number of Canberrans riding a bike everyday, Bella Molloy regularly opts for the scenic route home around Lake Burley Griffin.
“I had been riding since I was a kid and like most Australians I stopped when I was a teenager and started driving a car,” she said.
“In my early 20s I took it up again, originally mountain biking, but then found a passion I forgot I’d had.”
Monday’s release of new 2016 census data showed Canberra leads the nation on riding and walking to work, along with a 5 percentage point increase in the number of people who report driving or being a car passenger.
In 2016, 74.9 per cent of ACT residents reported driving to work, up from 69.3 per cent in 2011.
A further 8.4 per cent said they rode a bike or walked and 7.1 per cent said they used trains or buses.
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The proportion of Canberrans riding to work has grown steadily from 2.1 per cent in 2006 and 2.4 per cent in 2011.
As the ACT government promotes active travel options and encourages commuters to look for alternatives to their car, Ms Molloy said Canberra was the best place in Australia to be a cyclist commuter.
A Pedal Power ACT member, she said her commute can be as little as 10 minutes door-to-door, but sometimes she adds a lap of the lake to take advantage of the daylight saving and warmer weather.
“It can be a bit daunting, with people worried about how they’ll get there, what to do once they’re at work, what they’ll wear, what about the rain and the cold.
“But once you get riding, you find it’s so easy and sets you up for the day energising,” she said.
Nationally, driving remains the most popular way to get to work as 6.5 million people or 69 per cent of the working population report driving.
A further 5 per cent or 490,000 people travelled as a passenger on census day.
The cycling advocacy group’s Cycle Works program aims to increase the number of people who ride to work in Canberra and to raise awareness of how healthy and active living can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle.
Ms Molloy said riding was good for her physical and mental health and could be quicker than taking her car.
“I find I either solve problems or forget about problems when I’m on my bike,” she said.
“My cycle commute to work gets me ready for the day, my cycle home gets me ready for the evening.”
Census program manager Bindi Kindermann said the latest Census insights were important in helping governments plan services for communities.
“From how people get to work, to what they are studying, what their jobs are and where people are moving to, this census information tells us so much about the lives of people in the ACT,” Ms Kindermann said.
“While car use remained by far the most common, as was the case nationally, it had the lowest percentage increase of 5 per cent.”
Australians are working fewer hours per week than they were in 2011, according to new 2016 Census results released today.
Average working week drops by 30 minutes
Employed women twice as likely to do 15+ hours of domestic work than men
More Australians than ever have post-school and postgraduate qualifications
Census data from 2016 showed the average paid working week for Australians was 34.6 hours — down from 35.1 hours in 2011.
More extreme working weeks were also down, with 25.7 per cent of Australians reportedly working more than 41 hours per week in 2016, compared to 28.8 per cent in 2011.
According to the data, women worked an average of 30 paid hours per week and men 39 hours.
And there were still noticeable gender differences in occupations — with men making up 84 per cent of technicians and trade workers, while 74 per cent of health professionals were women.
Truck drivers, electricians and carpenters were among popular occupations for men, while nurses, clerks and receptionists were among the most common jobs for women.
Census program manager Bindi Kindermann said female involvement in the workforce was increasing — up from just 34 per cent in 1966 for those over the age of 15, to 56 per cent in 2016.
For men that number is decreasing — 84 per cent of all men were employed in 1966, compared to 65 per cent in 2016.
The largest overall occupation category for Australians was professionals, which accounted for 21 per cent of the nation’s workforce.
Ms Kindermann said some service industries were growing.
“Comparing stats from 2016 to that from 2011 … [shows] a 27 per cent increase in fitness instructors, a 25 per cent rise in the number or beauty therapists and a 23 per cent increase in bar attendants and baristas,” Ms Kindermann said.
Professionals were also on the rise among Indigenous Australians, overtaking labourers as the main occupation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
More Aussies getting post-school qualifications
Australians are upskilling like never before to get their jobs, with 9.6 million people holding a post-school qualification — a 46 per cent increase since 2006.
Though some Australians are going even further than a bachelor degree, with postgraduate qualifications increasing by almost 50 per cent in the past five years.
And Ms Kindermann said education for Indigenous Australians had also improved across the board.
There was a 150 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people holding Cert III and Cert IV level qualifications since 2006.
Women still doing more housework
But despite the rise in qualifications and employment, the division of labour at home remains largely a female responsibility, according to the census, with women in full-time employment being twice as likely as their male counterparts to do at least 15 hours of unpaid domestic work per week.
“[19 per cent] of women working full-time were likely to undertake at least 15 hours of unpaid domestic work a week, compared to 8 per cent of men,” Ms Kindermann said.
“And while 9 per cent of men who were employed part-time were likely to carry out 15 or more hours of unpaid domestic work a week, for women it was 34 per cent.”
Car still the king of the road
Driving remained the dominant method of transport for Australians travelling to work.
Just under 5 million people drove or were a passenger in a car on their way to work on census day, Tuesday August 9, 2016.
Nearly half a million Australians caught a train to work and a further 104,000 people took a combination of trains and buses. About 86,000 used a mixture of driving and trains.
“Unsurprisingly, residents of Sydney were significant users of public transport,” Ms Kindermann said.
“Residents of Adelaide recorded the highest rate of people who drove to work [followed closely by Perth] … while Canberra recorded the highest rate of people walking or cycling to work.”
Melbournians were second most likely to catch public transport to work and second least likely to drive.
While Hobart residents were the least likely to catch public transport, just under 5 per cent of commuters in Brisbane chose to walk or cycle to work.
Darwin had a mixture of people driving or catching public transport, though residents were also the third most likely to walk or cycle to work.
A Canberra postmaster has described the moment a gunman dressed in industrial coveralls pointed the weapon towards his head, punched him in the face and fired a bullet into the air in the latest of a number of armed robberies.
Security footage shows Manni Singh discussing the day’s newspapers with a customer at the Rivett Post Office in Woden on Saturday, when the offender burst through the front door before calmly walking around to the back of the counter.
“I really thought it was a prank. I thought ‘are you kidding me?’ and he said ‘nah tell me where your till is,” Mr Singh recounted.
Mr Singh said the man “held the gun to [his] head” before demanding cash.
“I said ‘you’re joking right?’ and then suddenly he moved his gun from his right hand to his left hand and he punched me in the head,” he said.
Concerned for the welfare of the customer in his store, Mr Singh opened the cash register and the gunman stuffed about $1,500 into a green plastic bag he was carrying.
“On the way out he said ‘thank you’,” Mr Singh said.
Mr Singh and a few other witnesses followed the offender out of the shop and watched as he crossed the road and ran up a grass path.
“He fired a shot into the air,” Mr Singh said.
The ABC understands a car may have been waiting for the offender, suggesting at least one other person was involved in the crime.
Police said they were searching for a young Caucasian man with brown eyes, a slim build and between 165 and 175 centimetres in height.
“An aggravated robbery is always a concern and something the police take very seriously. Particularly when a firearm is used the potential for serious injury or worse is escalated,” Detective Leading Constable Daniel Shaw said.
Here lies the state of ACT politics a year after the 2016 election: an entrenched minority government coasting on victory, an opposition yet to find its feet and more local politicians than ever before.
The big Labor pledges – and the crux of Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s agenda – of light-rail stage one, health investments and “city renewal” are under way. There is no clearer indicator than the trees lost on Northbourne Avenue.
And yet, one year in, the community awaits a wider agenda beyond those promises. Incumbency can breed complacency. Even among the promises made, some will not be completed this term, and others are an experiment in grinding incrementalism.
People want their leaders to inspire them but it seems inspiration – that most intangible of political attributes – is lacking in the ACT.
Put aside the (now nixed) pill-testing trial at the Spilt Milk music festival, which is an obvious exception. The needle-exchange program at the prison is all but cremated, and several other fresh policy ideas are off the agenda for the time being.
From the state of youth detention at Bimberi, throughthe Canberra Hospital’s mental-health ward, the rising number of children in-out-of home care to increased bikie-related shootings – this year has been marked by what Winston Churchill once called “events”, and the government, on each occasion, seems to have been reactive rather than proactive.
Rattled by last year’s tough election campaign and vocal criticism during the last term in office, the Barr government embarked on an unusual year of lengthy consultation. But many business and community leaders worry that such talks are not not genuine and that the government may be using “consultation” as an excuse to kick the can down the road.
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In talking to the community – citizen juries and deliberative democracy are the current buzzwords – there seems to be a mismatch between the time given to substantial issues and those some consider of lesser import. Take the three-week public consultation on the substantive election promise of a drug court for the ACT, compared with seven weeks accepting submissions on parks and playground equipment.
While the government maintains it will meet its election pledges, as well those made in Labor’s parliamentary agreement with the Greens, housing policy epitomises how ACT politics has changed.
The 11 separate items under the agreement’s “social housing and housing affordability” measures have morphed into a seven-week consultation, and a lacklustre summit, after which no deadlines seem to apply for when the rubber will hit the road. Indeed,the original promise for a “homelessness summit” morphed from a focussed discussion about people living on Canberra’s streets into one taking in the views of powerful property developers.
Asked repeatedly for an interview for this story, Barr referred the requests to Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris.
Fitzharris says Housing Minister Yvette Berry is passionate and determined to make an impact, including by delivering a second “common ground” housing development before 2020. Berry, for her part, pledged this week a $1 million “innovation fund” for new housing ideas and about 240 extra public housing dwellings, ideas that ignore repeated calls for a substantive $100 million public housing fund.
There is ever-present speculation about Barr’s future.
While the community sector and developers publicly welcome the “engagement”, many privately question the seriousness of the government’s commitment to housing affordability for those who don’t take home a politician’s salary. Some businesspeople also ask whether Barr’s plan to return a budget surplus next year – and controversies surrounding the unsolicited bid to redevelop Manuka, the Land Development Agency and the tax waiver for the Brumbies – have led to an overly cautious approach beyond the prism of specific election commitments.
It remains unclear whether “the chief” – who has been Treasurer since July 2011 – will actually deliver that surplus before the likely handover of the economics portfolio within the year following the 2018 budget. There is ever-present speculation about Barr’s future, though he quickly rejected the idea of nominating for Canberra’s new third federal seat. Yet federal politics must remain an attractive option, even if it challenges his desire to leave a “legacy” of a redeveloped city and and a balanced budget.
Fitzharris says Labor’s 2016 election wins was one of the most “comprehensive” seen in the ACT, but says that, given Barr’s budget agenda, all ministers needed “a pretty sharp focus on prudently managing the budget”. Despite rising concerns about a lack of energy or new ideas emerging from cabinet, she says each minister has “strong ideas” but, one year in, they are still “setting the groundwork” for them.
Fitzharris says the government has built a “strong footing” in the past 12 months to execute its agenda, though it will take time to deliver outcomes. Indeed, in her own portfolio, the $500 million SPIRE health centre is unlikely to be completed until 2022, though she rejects any suggestion it will not be delivered, saying the lengthy time frame is simply a function of budgeting.
Across government, she says the community can expect continued work on “the clear vision the chief and Labor set out for the city as it grows”, and that the government believes “achieving everything would be hugely significant for the city”.
For the opposition, a leadership change and a period of navel-gazing are always expected after an election loss, but some of the Canberra Liberals’ closest stakeholders are waiting for a sign of a genuine vision for the city.
Leader Alistair Coe, for his part, acknowledges the “light-rail debate has been had”. The opposition’s questions now centre on the detail of implementing and integrating it with other transport. But he points to the opposition’s success on “revenge porn”, anti-consorting law proposals and government integrity, with constant concerns that the ACT’s two new land agencies could suffer similar ailments to the now-defunct Land Development Agency.
While Coe notes the opposition does not have a “full suite of policies”, he is focussed on “fighting battles we can win” and promising more on an “economic vision” in coming months. The expectation remains that, next year, his opposition will give the community a better idea of what the party may look like in government.
One indicator, perhaps, of a renewed opposition, and possibly of the enlarged Legislative Assembly, is the 770 questions on notice – many of which are detailed, multi-part questions – posed in the past 12 months. While in the sixth and seventh assemblies, 2441 and 2216 such questions were posed respectively, just 791 such queries were filed in the entirety of the eighth Assembly, when Zed Seselja and then Jeremy Hanson were opposition leaders.
A steady hand has brought some stability to the opposition, though not enough to dispel continued talk of a less-conservative leader returning.
Coe’s focus for the next 12 months will be on three key issues: cost of living, government integrity and “fairness”. He says he is “concentrating on the real issues rather than trying to position ourselves on some philosophical spectrum”.
For the Greens, leader Shane Rattenbury is keen to talk up his party’s power. While he sits in cabinet, the other Greens member, Caroline Le Couteur, has the freedom to loudly voice the party’s wider agenda.
There have been few Greens amendments to government legislation rejected in the Assembly, indicating that agreements are reached well before public debate begins. Indeed, the minor party has backed the government on almost all substantive motions – not just those required under the official agreement to maintain stable government.
It shows either the political reality of the two coalition partners’ interdependence, a lack of independence from the minor party, or perhaps a measure of both.
Both Fitzharris and Rattenbury speak of “a partnership”, though Rattenbury says it is a “two-party government”, despite Labor’s cabinet dominance, that the Greens “bring a different flavour to”. He says there were times when both parties persuaded each other of “a different course of action” but the public doesn’t get to see that happens “in cabinet or informal discussions”.
Rattenbury says many ideas the Greens took to the last election have “come to fruition or are under way”, such as light rail and renewable energy, and that the party’s principles of “sustainability and social justice” are now also felt in the government’s agenda.
Others question whether, now in a third successive term of minority government and given its numbers, the minor party is flexing its muscle or is merely content to continue to ride on Labor’s coat-tails.
Daniel Burdon reports on ACT politics for The Canberra Times.
Women who believe themselves to be wealthy could be more likely to have boys, and that is a significant factor behind Australia’s bucking of global declining male birth rates, new research suggests.
Women who ‘feel rich’ may be more likely to have boys
ACT’s high male birth rate bucking trend
Theory has evolutionary links
Across the world the male birth rate is declining, and the trend would also hold true in Australia if not for the ACT, where boys are born at a much higher rate.
Over a period of 12 years, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) analysed birth rates across Australia, and found that in most states boys were being born at a rate of 105 per 100 girls, but in the ACT that number was closer to 110.
Lead researcher Alison Behie said the findings seemed to bear out the Trivers-Willard theory, which suggests mothers’ circumstances can play a role in determining a baby’s sex.
She found women who perceived themselves as well off were more likely to have boys, linking the phenomenon to the higher-than-average socio-economic status of ACT residents.
“It seems to be that, certainly up until 2015, the ACT had a very divergent pattern where there were many more boys being born, just in this territory compared to the rest of the country,” she said.
“When you include them in the entire of Australia, there’s actually more boys being born, but if you take all the ACT babies out, there’s a very slight decline, which is similar to global pattern.
“So it seems to be something about the ACT, and an increase in boys being born in our territory in particular.”
Dr Behie linked the findings to a theory that the mother’s conditions at the time of conception can influence a baby’s sex.
Mums’ circumstances could influence sex
The ACT has some of the highest average education and income levels in the country among its concentrated population of 400,000, and researchers found giving birth to a boy seemed linked to the mother’s perception of her own wealth.
“We tested against a variety of things; education, income, and what we actually found to be significant was perception of wealth, so women that felt they were wealthy,” Dr Behie said.
“Mothers that felt themselves to be very wealthy or prosperous were more likely to have boys, and that was true across all of Australia.
“That could include a variety of things including their support network, their education, how much debt they have, things that don’t show up in just numerical, quantitative data.
“Obviously they’re not unique, women across Australia, lots of women have these same characteristics, so why it’s concentrated in the ACT, outside of that we don’t necessarily know.”
Dr Behie said the theory made sense, as males were “more fragile”, and able to spawn more children than females.
“The thought behind it in primates is because females are limited in their reproduction because we’re responsible for gestating and lactation, it’s more costly for us to have children,” Dr Behie said.
“If you are in really good condition and you have access to lots of resources, and your body’s really strong, then that would biologically predispose you to want to have boys.
“Then you would have some of these boys that were themselves of high quality, and they themselves would have lots of children.”
But before mums hoping for a boy started focusing on their bank accounts, Dr Behie said they should keep in mind the findings were only one potential factor.
“It’s a bit intangible,” she said.
“Previous research has shown women that have a higher calorie diet are more likely to have sons, and women that are exposed to less environmental pollutants are more likely to have sons.
“So it’s all about having that sort of best quality or condition of your body as possible tends to favour male offspring.”