Get online and discuss What Matters to you

17 April 2012

Ben Quilty spoke candidly in the online chat about what matters to him.
Ben Quilty spoke candidly in the online chat about what matters to him.

Celebrated artist and University of Sydney alumnus Ben Quilty shared his insights into why support for the arts is a critical issue in an online chat as part of the 'What Matters' campaign.

In discussion with members of the public, Quilty discussed his personal experiences as an artist, his days as a student at Sydney College of the Arts, and his views on funding for the arts and how it compares with funding for sports in Australia.

"Australia suffers from some pretty intolerable lack of art appreciation, so I think it's important for everyone within the arts to support creative endeavour," said Quilty in the chat.

When asked how he stays motivated to keep painting, Ben cited the strong camaraderie between artists:

"It's something that's been around forever, I think: people working together for something that's beyond the world's obsession with development and money. I didn't become an artist to be rich. I haven't yet met an artist who began a career in the arts for that reason," he said.

More than 5000 people around the world have this month participated in our What Matters campaign, which asks members of the public to vote for what matters to them in a bid to find out what is important to Australians and give the world a better idea of our work. More than 8000 votes have been cast since the campaign launched at the beginning of this month.

Forty-six percent of those polled so far for What Matters saw reducing our environmental footprint as a critical issue, followed by improving children's literacy (39 percent), more funding for cancer research (27 percent), introducing plain packaging for cigarettes (24 percent), and more support for the arts (19 percent).

Each month, we will be asking people to vote for five new topics that matter. Next month will feature Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) (on educating tomorrow's Indigenous leaders), Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Dean of the University of Sydney Business School (on advancing Australia's relationships with China and the US), Anna Rose, alumna and founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (on solving climate change for future generations), Professor Jennie Brand-Miller of the Charles Perkins Centre (on maintaining a health diet) and Professor John Keane, founder of the Sydney Democracy Initiative (on the impact of communications on our political environment.)

What else matters to you?

As part of the campaign, members of the public can nominate other issues that are important to them. Some issues already identified include the following:

Reducing the obesity epidemic

Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease - and related conditions, such as renal disease, breast cancer and colorectal cancer - are the leading causes of mortality and disease burden in Australia. These conditions are particularly prevalent in disadvantaged groups, including Indigenous communities.

The University of Sydney has now commenced construction of the recently unveiled Charles Perkins Centre, in a bid to reduce the prevalence, incidence and health impact of these diseases with unique research collaborations that span the University's 16 faculties.

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, who will join the What Matters campaign next month, is a leading researcher in the Charles Perkins Centre, and is internationally recognised for her groundbreaking research into the glycemic index, which measures the body's absorption of carbohydrates.

Her current research includes investigating the diets of pregnant women, with the ultimate aim of reducing childhood obesity. Professor Brand-Miller hypothesises that a low GI diet during pregnancy will lower maternal glucose levels and be superior to a conventional low fat diet.

Supporting the ageing population

More and more Australians are living and working longer, which presents both a challenge and opportunity to individuals, the wider community and government. In Australia, it is estimated that over the next 40 years the number of people of current working age will increase by 45 percent, but the number of people aged between 65 and 84 will more than double, and those 86 and older will increase more than fourfold.

The University's Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, within the Faculty of Health Sciences, looks for ways to improve ageing experiences and enhance the health of older Australians throughout their lives. From within fields as diverse as sociology, gerontology, biostatistics, medicine and allied health, the group contributes to leading bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), National Seniors Australia and state and federal governments.

In one study currently underway, Professor Hal Kendig and Dr Kate O'Loughlin are working on an Australian Research Council-funded study to examine how life expectancies of the baby boom cohort in Australia and England influence health, productivity, wellbeing and pension and service use.

In another study, Associate Professor Lindy Clemson has conducted randomised trials in the area of falls prevention, while a study led by Professor Deborah Black targets ways aged-care facilities can adapt to the increasing likelihood of heatwaves.

Providing affordable housing

Housing affordability is a large and widespread problem, and affordability problems are projected to increase in the coming decades. Housing provides shelter, but it also influences workforce participation, access to jobs and services, family stability and educational attainment.

The Planning Research Centre, within the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, is leading research in a range of areas including planning for housing accessibility, diversity and affordability, urban governance and policy, urban residential developments and coastal planning in sea change communities.

Associate Professor Nicole Gurran, who will be featured in What Matters in the coming months, is chief investigator on the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) project 'International Practice in Planning for Affordable Housing'. She believes that instead of allowing inner cities to decay and outer suburbs to sprawl, affordable housing should be a key factor in metropolitan renewal and development.

One of Associate Professor Gurran's current projects involves the establishment of the Australian Urban Land Use Planning Policy Monitor, which will enable the collective analysis of statutory controls for more than 600 local jurisdictions across the country.

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Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,