Climate clippings 101

A miscellany this week, with an emphasis on Australian policy and opinion.

The main links for each item is in the heading.

1. Kiribati buys land in Fiji

Millenium Island_9459385804_0e30488a67_k1-500

That’s Millenium Island in Kiribati which tops out at six metres above sea level. In parts of Kiribati the sea level is rising by 1.2 cm a year, about four times more than the global average.

Kiribati recently purchased eight square miles of land about 1,200 miles away on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island. The immediate intention relates to food security. They will use the land for agriculture and aquatic farming.

That’s not a lot of land but Kiribati itself comprises just over 100,000 people scattered across 33 low-lying coral atolls totalling about 313 square miles.

The article notes that Kiribati’s reef structure can grow at 10 to 15 mm a year, faster than the IPCC expects sea level to rise, but it is not certain such growth in coral reefs translates to habitable land. My expectation is that later in this century sea level rise will far outstrip any coral growth.

2. Australians unhappy over Coalition’s response to climate challenge

JWS Research on behalf of the Climate Institute found that 70% of Australians accept the mainstream scientific position that climate change is occurring, up 10% since 2012.

while more than half of respondents felt the federal government was the primary body which should address climate change, there was a negative rating of -18 when people were asked to rank the government’s performance.

This compares to a -1 rating from last year.

A mere 20% of those questioned said they are convinced that Tony Abbott is concerned about climate change, with 53% feeling that he isn’t. Nearly a third of people believe opposition leader Bill Shorten is worried about the problem, with around the same proportion of people thinking the reverse is true.

In a further blow to the Coalition, for the first time more people support carbon pricing than oppose it. According to the poll, 34% back the carbon pricing laws, up 6% on 2012. Public opposition to carbon pricing has collapsed by 22% since 2012, when the Coalition was repeatedly attacking the then Labor government over the policy, the poll found.

According to the poll, 47% of people think that carbon pricing is preferable to no climate change policy, with just 22% supporting the government’s alternative Direct Action policy…

3. Shorten vows to ‘re-litigate’ case for carbon pricing

He didn’t expect to have to but he’s prepared to argue the case from first principles. He says:

The real test of political leadership is a willingness to build consensus, to earn agreement, not just to yank the bell at the Downton Abbey political college and expect a servant class of obedient Australians to carry out your will.

Meanwhile confusion reigns in the public mind, so I wish Bill the best of luck. Essential Research found:

Essential report_cropped_600

Support for Direct action is thin and fading in this survey at 9%. Doing nothing rates at 33% (up 3%), nearly matching the total of 38% favouring carbon pricing.

4. Great Barrier Reef tougher than thought

Scientists have put together temperatures from the Great Barrier Reef for the last 20,000 years and found that the reef has survived a range of temperatures.

They found that corals survived a 5°C rise between 20,000 years ago and 13,000 years ago. The reef is more resilient to temperature change than previously thought.

Nevertheless there are a few caveat’s to consider before a general outbreak of optimism,

Dr Helen McGregor, a Research Fellow at the Australian National University and a member of the research team:

“The Great Barrier Reef has coped with temperature changes that have occurred over a few thousand years, but now we are looking at a four degrees Celsius temperature change occurring in 100 to 150 years, so it is much more rapid.”

Then there is the small matter of ocean acidification and other human-caused impacts.

5. Abbott slams green power industry

That was the headline on the front page of the Australian Financial Review on Wednesday. On the front page we read the Abbott spiel:

“The RET is very significantly driving up power prices,” Mr Abbott said.

This, he said. posed a threat to domestic budgets and industry competitiveness, especially energy-intensive industries.

“We should be the affordable energy capital of the world, not the unaffordable energy capital of the world and that’s why the carbon tax must go and that’s why we’re reviewing the RET.”

Then over on page four we read the truth:

ACIL modelling for the Warburton review finds keeping the RET will cut average household power bills by $56 per year by 2021-2030 [sic] and extending it to 30 per cent will save householders $158. Source ACIL Allen

Andrew Richards, head of external affairs at Pacific Hydro, said recently approved gas price rises in NSW will add up to $240 a year to the average household bill. There are bigger fish to fry.

It’s a pity that the AFR can’t tell the truth on the front page – that Tony Abbott is telling porkies again.

Reminder: Use this thread as an open thread on climate change.

The Heartbleed security vulnerability

Over the past couple of months, I have written a series of articles at The Conversation about one of the most serious software security flaws in history – the evocatively named “Heartbleed”.

The most recent article discusses the continued fallout from the event, and the tardy response of some system administrators and software developers. However, if you didn’t follow this story when it emerged in April, the first article explains the problem and the consequences in some detail, and the second article discusses how the discovery of the first bugs encouraged more scrutiny that found yet more problems.

Tomorrow, something on climate – a followup of sorts to Jess Hill’s cracking article in The Monthly about power prices.

Philip Nitschke crosses a line

Philip Nitschke has been accused of moving into uncharted territory.

Personally I think he has crossed a line. He helped Nigel Brayley, a troubled 45 year old who said he intended committing suicide Brayley implemented his plan by taking the euthanasia drug of choice, Nembutal, which he imported illegally. Brayley had an exchange of emails with Nitschke.

Exactly what Nitschke advised him is not clear, but he made no effort to suggest Brayley seek help for his suicide plans. Nitschke takes the view that Brayley had made a rational decision and to interfere would be curtailing his freedom. Nitschke saw his role as supporting Brayley in his decision.

if a 45-year-old comes to a rational decision to end his life, researches it in the way he does meticulously, and decides that now is the time of life, now is the time I wish to end my life, they should be supported, and we did support him in that.

This is wrong-headed on several counts. First, no decision is entirely rational. We never escape emotions and values.

Secondly, ‘rational’ is not always good. One could rationally come to the conclusion that humans are vermin in the planetary ecosystem and should be destroyed on sight.

It seems to me that being pro-life is a fundamental value position if we are to live as social beings. There are limits, though. I can’t, for example, wish the Ebola virus God’s speed in going about its business.

But assisting people in the dying process at the end of their natural lives is essentially pro-life. That’s my view.

My impression also is that Nitschke has become obsessive about helping people die and has lost his ethical bearings.

Asylum seekers returned directly to Sri Lanka?


Refugee advocates and the Tamil community are increasingly concerned that a boat load of 153 Tamil asylum seekers has been handed over the the Sri Lankan navy.

There was regular contact with the boat from last Thursday to last Saturday morning, when communication ceased.

On Thursday the boat started leaking oil. On Friday they were almost running out of water and some of the younger people were not well. One adult also was “facing some physical conditions”.

The Government is refusing to comment on whether the boat even exists.

Daniel Webb, Director of the Human Rights Legal Centre, says that if refugees are returned directly to the place they are fleeing from without their claims being processed there can be no clearer breach of our obligations under the Refugee Convention.

The fact that the boat may be in international waters has no relevance. The idea that the asylum seekers’ claims could be assessed in transit is ludicrous.

Turning boats back to Sri Lanka is completely different to turning them back to Indonesia, which is a transit country and as such not the source of the fear of persecution or worse.

The Guardian says that:

Sri Lankan asylum seekers are subject to the “enhanced screening process” in Australia, which has been condemned by the UNHCR as an “unfair and unreliable” process for determining refugee claims as it involves short interviews, often without the presence of a lawyer.


In October, Morrison said he was “completely comfortable about the process”, adding: “If you’re coming here to try something on to get access to Australia from Sri Lanka, you’ll go straight back.”

Surely asylum seekers would not be subject to ‘enhanced screening’ in transit!

The Sri Lankan high commissioner in Canberra said he had not been informed by the Australian government of the boat’s existence and hence he was in no position to comment.

The boat actually departed from India and the nationality of all on board in unclear. India is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

The image above is from AAP courtesy of SBS who report that the Sri Lankan military says it’s unaware of any arrangements with Australia to return asylum seekers.

From the SMH on Monday:

Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said it had become apparent that Australia had intercepted the asylum seekers.

“It has been 48 hours and under Scott Morrison’s own rules he would have had to announce there had been an incident at sea by now, so you can assume they have been taken off their boat.”

More generally, I reported last week, the Government is introducing new rules for assessing asylum seekers:

  • People arriving without travel documents will be refused protection visas unless they can provide a “reasonable explanation” for not having identification.
  • A lower threshold for assessing harm to returning asylum seekers who have sought complementary protection, where the chance of harm is more than 50%.
  • Asylum seekers who have arrived by boat will be refused visas unless the minister determines “it is in the public interest to allow them to do so”.

As SBS highlights, this means that asylum seekers facing a 49% chance of death or torture could be sent home. Surely the cross bench in the Senate will vote the legislation down.

While it is too early to rush to judgement in the case of the Tamils, Scott Morrison never ceases to appal so nothing would surprise.

Morrison_Sowhothebloodyhellareyou _500

I’m not sure of the source of that image which I had on file, but it has the title Sowhothebloodyhellareyou!

The politics of personal destruction


There is no trail that leads to Gillard

Mark Latham comments on the obsessional pursuit by right-wing blogger and journalist at The Australian newspaper, Michael Smith of Gillard and the socalled AWU affair 20 years ago.

In practising the politics of personal destruction, The Australian hasn’t been after the truth. It’s been after Gillard.

In a second column he fingers this development for what it is:

A terrible precedent has been set. Anyone rising to the top of Australian politics can be the victim of smear campaigns related to their employment before they entered Parliament. It’s an American trend, the politics of personal destruction, whereby rumours are spread and reputations are sullied for the purpose of tearing down one’s opponents.

Thousands of pages of documents have been examined in the AWU/Slater & Gordon affair – by Hedley Thomas and Michael Smith at The Australian, by the Victorian police and now the Abbott government’s royal commission – and none has revealed impropriety by Gillard. (Emphasis added)

How are these smear campaigns perpetuated in the media? Usually, by telling half the truth – by raising questions about someone’s character, while ignoring evidence and facts that exonerate them. Hedley Thomas has this technique down pat.

He then gives an instance of Thomas’s ‘journalism’ about how AWU funds were allegedly used to pay for renovations at Gillard’s home by a Melbourne builder, Kon Spyridis, way back in 1995.

In August 2012, Spyridis declared this to be untrue, telling the Herald Sun: “The union has got nothing to do with Julia’s payment for the house; Julia paid me”.

Latham then outlines how Thomas, in a story in April this year, through half-truth and innuendo implied that Gillard was guilty.

Journalism of this kind is not only incompetent, it’s wilfully malicious. It’s a betrayal of professional standards, whereby the public should be given the whole story, not just selective quotes for political purposes.

But then it got worse. In previewing the royal commission’s hearings on the Bolt Report on June 8, Thomas declared that Spyridis’s “evidence will be really interesting because he has said little on the public record”.

This was brazenly untrue. Spyridis had said a great deal, all of it clearing Gillard. Thomas seemed psychologically incapable of allowing these words to pass his lips.

Latham points out that in the two-party system where one side only needs only a few votes more than the other to win government, “there’s a built-in incentive for tearing down the rival party through smear and scare campaigns.”

During the last term of Parliament, the Liberals manufactured outrage around two big lies: that the carbon tax was destroying the economy and that Gillard was a crook.

Here’s the long term two-party preferred voting intention according to Nielsen:


Late in 2012 the ALP was competitive again at 48-52 TPP. Newspoll at that time had the parties 50-50. Cynically in October 2012 Julie Bishop launched a remorseless attack in question time for two weeks implying that Gillard had been involved in criminal activity in 1995. At one point Abbott announced the matter settled, which was blatantly false.

It seems clear that this scurrilous behaviour had its reward, although in 2013 Gillard herself managed a few own goals, detailed along with the good stuff in Mungo MacCallum’s book The Mad Marathon: the Story of the 2013 Election.

Abbott told lies every day for three years about the carbon ‘tax’.

If a net 2 or 3 out of 100 change their vote as a result of these lies it can win an election.

Now we have these defamers and prevaricators running the affairs of the nation.

Rudd, Gillard and Beyond

Troy Bramston’s book Rudd, Gillard and Beyond has on its front cover “Why Labor lost and what it must do to win again and stay in power”. It is short, strikes a reasonable balance on the whole and contains a good deal of new material. It focusses primarily on the narrative arc of the Labor Party in and out of power since the Whitlam years. The clash of personalities and the political scheming are seen in that context.

In this piece I write about the book and it’s subject, rather than attempt a review as such.

Bramston draws on Whitlam’s foreword to The Whitlam Legacy (edited by Bramston) which forms a ‘valedictory’ message to the party he led in opposition and in government for a record 11 years. He draws on interviews with Hawke, Keating and Rudd for the book, also Beazley and Simon Crean as former leaders. Gillard declined to be interviewed.

On the 2010 leadership change, Bramston subscribes to the view that Rudd’s administration at this time was increasingly centralised, chaotic and paralysed in terms of decision-making. His communication with the people through the media became confused.

That is the view I got from Bramston. Not as vivid as the language apparently used in Philip Chubb’s book, according to Stephen Mills’ review of Bramston, but contra Mills, in substantial agreement with Chubb.

Crean view is that cabinet worked well under Hawke and Keating but never worked as a vibrant decision-making forum under either Rudd or Gillard. Under Rudd cabinet was effectively replaced by the ‘gang of four’ (Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Tanner). Towards the end it too was supplanted. Gillard complained in the email, reproduced in full, that she sent Rudd two days before the challenge, that work to be done in broader consultation had been folded into the Prime Minister’s Office and decisions communicated to the back bench of which she knew nothing.

Gillard was increasingly concerned and tried hard to rectify matters. Along the way she did sound out certain people about putting herself forward, but her claim that she made the final decision on the day is probably true. Certainly she knew about the plotting and did not discourage it, but resolutely refused to make herself available. This is a reasonable summary of Gillard’s position:

‘Gillard was the last person onboard,’ says one MP… ‘There was no strategy, no planning, no move on Rudd in advance. Gillard did everything she could under the worst possible circumstances to help. He just wouldn’t listen.’

According to Mills’ review Rudd couldn’t listen, he was in such a state.

Certainly Gillard’s staff prepared a speech for her in the event she became PM, Bramston says at least two weeks before the event.

Gillard denies that she gave any instruction in this regard. In my view, even if she did, Gillard did nothing unethical. Nevertheless the manner of coming to the prime ministership was highly problematical in public perception and hence in political impact.

Bramston’s scoop is an email Gillard sent Rudd and Alistair Jordan two days before the famous meeting. This graphically shows how even Gillard was left in the dark, with back-benchers being briefed on matters of which she had no knowledge.

It is arguable that Gillard put herself forward in the best interests of the party, just as it is arguable that Rudd’s desire to regain the office took no shape until Gillard was in a hopeless position politically.

Bramston records Rudd’s account of what went on in the famous meeting in June 2010. Rudd said that Gillard agreed he would continue in the job until an election was due to be called. If the government was then not in a winning position he would hand over. Then Gillard’s adviser, Amanda Lampe, entered the room without authorisation to say that Gillard was needed on the phone. Gillard took the call in his outer office, came back and said that she had decided to challenge. Rudd took this as reneging on an agreement, rather than changing her mind in the face of new information. Rudd thereupon terminated the meeting.

Bramston says that the person on the other end of the phone was Stephen Conroy, who told her that it was all over the news and there was no way she could exit the meeting and say everything was OK. Quite clearly Rudd would be given no space to rebuild his position.

Rudd came to regard Gillard’s action as an ‘original sin’ and sought to right the wrong. Bramston simply asserts that Rudd began his attempt to regain the leadership immediately, although I’ve seen no evidence that he became active in that regard before around December 2012, when Gillard airbrushed him from Labor history in a speech to the national ALP convention. Certainly Bramston cites no evidence.

On the leaks during the 2010 campaign Bramston says:

It is widely understood within Labor that these leaks came directly from Rudd or his supporters.

This is lazy journalism and neglects the possibility that the leaks could have come from Abbott supporters within the public service.

Bramston rather neglects the role of the media in the political process. He does mention the egregious attitude the media took to Gillard, but it comes late and is underdone.

Bramston cites opinion poll research at various points. In June 2010 he notes a UMR report that Gillard had a positive rating of 22% in doing her job. Rudd was on net -17%. The report compiled ‘word clouds’ about the politicians. Rudd was seen as arrogant, untrustworthy, disappointing, hopeless, dud, liar, incompetent and trier. Gillard was seen as strong, positive, intelligent, competent, good, smart and confident. This research was shown around caucus, some say by Gillard herself.

There awere no word clouds in 2013, but the ratings were very much reversed.

In the 2013 election Rudd’s best chance would have been to project calmness and rely on the fact that he was neither Abbott nor Gillard. Bramston’s summary account is that Rudd blew a winning position by over-agitation, hair-brained ideas, and trying to do everyone’s job accept his own. Certainly the election campaign office was staffed by Gillard loyalists, who had worked up a campaign for Gillard.

There is a serious question whether Rudd in fact saved the furniture. Bramston describes detailed ground work done in marginal NSW seats by the party and by the unions throughout Australia.

By the end of the campaign, 396,408 phone calls had been made by over 500 volunteers to undecided voters. US research shows this is the most effective way to target undecided voters, other than doorknocking.

The unions worked on similar strategies across the country including targeting their own membership.

Bramston has a succinct summary of what each Labor prime minister achieved in office and notes their failures. Whitalm perhaps comes out best. Bramston feels that history may become kinder to both Gillard and Rudd. Amazingly he thinks Gillard did her best work in foreign affairs. For example, securing an annual leaders forum with India and China had eluded her predecessors.

One of her biggest failures was to do exactly nothing about party reform, when her party needed it most. Part of Rudd’s legacy is that he started the party reform ball rolling.

Keating is perhaps most eloquent about what Labor is about:

‘I believe the public has accepted the Labor model: an open, competitive, flexible economy grafted to a social wage guaranteeing access and equity in health, education, in superannuation and in social policy generally.’

He says Labor is losing the debate about how you facilitate the organic development of that construct.

Shorten’s shorter creed:

‘Labor believes in building a good society. A good society is founded on jobs, education, healthcare, good retirement incomes, a fair go at work.’

Shorten admires Hawke’s ‘consensus’ political model, Keating’s ‘bravery’ and Whitlam’s ‘reform vision’. Bramston thinks he’ll need all three.

Finally Bramston gives his own ideas on party reform under the headings of

  • leadership reform
  • candidate selection
  • unions
  • conferences, and
  • members.

Problem is all changes need to be approved by the ALP convention which is not due until 2015.

Overall Bramston’s book is good value. I’d also unreservedly recommend Mungo MacCallum’s The Mad Marathon: the Story of the 2013 Election for what it covers. Jacqueline Kent’s Take Your best Shot is useful on Gillard’s prime ministership. Kerry-Anne Walsh’s The Stalking of Julia Gillard is brilliant on the role of the media, but marred in my opinion by a visceral hatred of Rudd which affects her objectivity.