UQ student Sebastian Thomas, who has received a Prime Minister's Australia Asia Award to work on climate change policy in Borneo
UQ student Sebastian Thomas, who has received a Prime Minister's Australia Asia Award to work on climate change policy in Borneo
8 December 2010

Blue Carbon projects in Borneo, better support for parents of children with autism, and Australia's relationship with China are UQ research projects to be explored in 2011, thanks to scholarships awarded by the Prime Minister.

Two postgraduate and one undergraduate student received Prime Minister's Australia Asia Awards, which fund up to one year of study at a University in Asia.

Sebastian Thomas will head to the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, where he aims to determine ways for coastal communities in Borneo to engage with the global climate policy framework and international carbon market.

He said Borneo was already experiencing significant climate change impacts so was an ideal location in which to explore the benefits of Blue Carbon projects - projects that seek to rehabilitate or protect marine and coastal environments.

"The goal is to understand the political economy of carbon markets in Malaysia, so I'll be looking at the climate change policy mechanisms currently in place which might not necessarily incorporate blue carbon," he said.

The work will form part of his PhD on how climate change policy can contribute to the sustainable development of coastal communities in developing countries.

"A lot of people are uncertain about what carbon offset actually means," Mr Thomas said.

"For traditional cost-benefit reasons, very few offsets are generated through carbon sequestration or forestry - most are derived from the destruction of industrial gases with a smaller component in renewable energy like wind farms or hydro-electricity.

"We're looking at shifting the playing field by finding ways to communicate the nature of different offsets and recognise the additional benefits of carbon in natural systems.

"By rehabilitating coastal zones you can improve food sources, biodiversity and climate regulation, and also earn carbon credits."

For Winnie Lau, a psychology PhD candidate, the scholarship will help her to develop better ways of helping families cope with children who have autism spectrum disorder.

"Parents of children with ASD have an overwhelmingly high rate of psychiatric illness and divorce rate, incurring an estimated health care cost between $4.5 to $7.2 billion per annum in Australia," Ms Lau said.

"The Australian government has made a remarkable commitment in servicing this population through the Helping Children with Autism Package, however there is a lack of guidelines in how to best utilise these resources, especially in intervention for the parents."

Ms Lau said research showed that social support was one of the most effective buffers against poor mental health for parents with children with special needs.

"Nevertheless, there remains question on what mechanisms of social support that are particularly helpful to these parents," she said.

Ms Lau will travel to the National Taiwan University, allowing her to investigate the impact of social support on sense of competency and marital satisfaction among Taiwanese parents of children with ASD.

"The proposed research activity in Taiwan aims to help consolidate my findings on an exceptionally cost effective intervention for the ASD families in our society," she said.

"Results from my research are hoped to bring fundamental implications to our welfare system in a holistic manner."

Ms Lau said her research would help to build a collaborative working relationship between the ASD experts in both countries.

"The Taiwanese research on medical and genetic factors in ASD would complement the ASD research being conducted in Australia which could further help in developing cutting-edge intervention for families," she said.

Arts/Law student Timothy Mason received one of the undergraduate scholarships, which will allow him to explore Australia's relationship with China, Hong Kong and other Asian countries.

In January 2011, he will undertake a semester of study at the University of Hong Kong, and hopes to follow this with a six-month internship at the Centre of Comparative and Public Law.

“Australia has an interest in a close economic and diplomatic partnership with China and in encouraging the protection of human rights and equitable economic development across the Asian region as a whole,” Mr Mason said.

“The clash between legal regimes, economic development and rights protection is at its most violent in the burgeoning modern China.

“Australia has a pressing interest in this process as an important economic partner and a responsible democracy.

“I believe that there are lessons to be learned in the established legal systems and rights protection regimes of both Australia and Hong Kong as examples for developing countries within the Asia-Pacific region.”

Having travelled to the Ho Chi Minh City School of Law for the LawASIA Moot, Harvard University for the Harvard Model United Nations Conference, and to Japan, Dubai and India on the Ship for World Youth, Mr Mason is no stranger to international study experiences.

“I appreciate the growth in knowledge, friends and perspective that comes from international exchange, study and immersion,” he said.

“The program will allow me to do this and it will allow me to focus particularly upon those areas of study and research that interest me most.”

The postgraduate awards are worth up to $63,500 each, while the undergraduate awards are worth up to $41,500.

Only 20 scholarships in each category are awarded annually.

Media: Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)