Weekly salon 15/2

1. Rupert gets his just deserts

The New Daily has an article News Corp in ‘dangerous times’ as audience and revenues drop in print and digital:

    Audiences deserted Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp mastheads in 2019 with its tabloid tub-thumper The Daily Telegraph losing a massive 15.5 per cent of its readership across both print and digital editions, according to research house Roy Morgan.

Continue reading Weekly salon 15/2

Scientists, bushfires and climate change

The Orroral Fire on the outskirts of Canberra on Tuesday 28th January 2020. Photograph taken by Prof. Eelco Rohling.

On Monday 3 February ABC’s Media Watch examined how News Corp’s loudest voices denied or downplayed the role of climate change. Those voices included Peta Credlin, Chris Kenny and Alan Jones:

    Passionate denial that the bushfires should make us act on climate change runs right across the Murdoch media in this country reaching an audience of millions.

    But it’s also echoed by Murdoch’s Fox News in the US…

Continue reading Scientists, bushfires and climate change

Weekly salon 28/1

1. Australia Day 2020

Australians seem to like doing crazy things on Australia Day, like pie-eating competitions and wrestling crocodiles. This time an innocent lamington-eating competition went horribly wrong when a Hervey Bay woman choked and died.

Laura Tingle asks seriously As we approach Australia Day, do we even know who we are as a nation? Continue reading Weekly salon 28/1

Bridget McKenzie’s sports rorts defence is wrong

Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre, is very clear. While what Bridget McKenzie did may not be illegal, ethically it was wrong. Politicians are elected to serve the public interest, not indulge in behaviour to promote private interests, or further the interests of a political party.

Quite simply, she should resign, or be sacked.

Part of Longstaff’s argument in his AFR opinion piece is that corrupt politicians tend to corrupt others:

    Their dodgy behaviour distorts the judgment of citizens. They deploy power in ways that punish the virtuous and reward only those who play their game. We begin by being compromised and end up being complicit.

He says that McKenzie may be a wonderful person, but she has shown herself to be an irresponsible minister who has done wrong and refuses to acknowledge this.

Then:

    Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister who stood for office as a principled man. Hopefully, we can rely on him to uphold the conventions of ministerial responsibility – even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so.

    The honourable course of action would be for the minister to resign. However, if she fails to do so, then she should be dismissed by Scott Morrison.

PM Scott Morrison gave his answer to Sabra Lane this morning (from 6:30 on the counter) – there are some legal issues the Attorney General is “clarifying”, we may learn from this, but the rules were followed, no ineligible projects were funded, the minister has made the decisions, and they were “actioned in an endorsing way by Sports Australia”.

In a sense he’s right about that last bit. Sports Australia should have refused to action decisions improperly made, and so they have become complicit.

The bottom line is that it looks as though the government is going to get away with this scam.

Which is why legal action should be considered.

Here an opinion piece in the AFR Why McKenzie’s sports rorts defence is wrong by Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney, becomes relevant. The lead-in summary is:

    Australia’s constitutional rulebook doesn’t allow federal governments to splash money on local sports groups without parliamentary approval.

Twomey says that there are at least three areas in which rules are likely to have been broken. Firstly, there is a legal obligation on ministers when acting within the scope of their powers to behave in a manner that is procedurally fair. They can’t take into account irrelevant considerations and they must not act for an improper purpose or in a biased manner.

Clearly there is a basis for what happened to be challenged legally in this regard.

Secondly, there is a question as to whether the minister had any power at all to make these grants. She says:

    The Australian Sports Commission (which includes “Sport Australia”) was established by statute as a corporate entity with its own independent legal powers to enter into contracts and make sporting grants.

    While Bridget McKenzie had power under section 11 of the Act to give “written directions to the Commission with respect to the policies and practices to be followed by the Commission in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers”, this did not allow her to exercise its function and decide who got the grants. In any case, she made no such direction.

Twomey says:

    If the minister had no power under statute to make the grants, then this was an invalid expenditure of public money, which is an extremely serious matter.

The third reason relates to the constitution itself. The constitution lists the areas where the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate, for example, external affairs, defence and banking. These are known as “heads of power”. There is no head of power for sport.

She says that the school chaplaincy program ran into a similar problem. The High Court found that direct funding by the Commonwealth was invalid.

So the funding must be channelled through the states which tend to have “more stringent accountability measures, such as codes of ethics for MPs and ministers, strong anti-corruption bodies and legal sanctions.”

In NSW what McKenzie did would likely end up with ICAC (the Independent Commission Against Corruption). Furthermore, in NSW it is a criminal offence to give any property or benefit to any person to influence votes.

That is section 209 of the NSW Electoral Act. If breached a Court of Disputed Returns must declare the election void, as actually happened in 1988 in the case of Scott v Martin.

It seems that who won and why is not relevant, it is the act of attempted influence itself that matters.

I’m not sure if that would fly under Commonwealth law, but truly, this matter is quite egregious and there should be some form of restitution. Here’s exhibit A, from the Longstaff article:

Earlier post: Bridget’s dreaming and broken democracy

Weekly salon 20/1

1. Trump’s trade deal will make us collateral damage

Kevin Rudd’s AFR article Trade deal will not stop US and China drifting apart gives us the lowdown. From the URL his heading was probably Trade war truce a symbol of the US unhinged. Seems Trump banged on for an hour about incoherent nonsense at the announcement while the head Chinese trade negotiator stood patiently by.

Rudd says intellectual property theft will be criminalised in China for the first time. Good in principle, but you will need to make your case in Chinese courts. Continue reading Weekly salon 20/1

Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow

The 25th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December last year in Madrid was generally judged a failure. After fractious negotiations exctended through two nights after the conference was due to end, delegates decided to defer some of the thorniest issues to the next UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2020. The situation is serious:

    “The global emissions’ curve needs to bend in 2020, emissions need to be cut in half by 2030, and net zero emissions need to be a reality by 2050,” said Johan Rockstrom, head of the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

    “Achieving this is possible – with existing technologies and within our current economy,” said the revered climate scientist. “The window of opportunity is open, but barely.”

Continue reading Madrid climate talks kick the can on to Glasgow

Weekly salon 12/1

1. Tingle drops the ‘f’ bomb

Yes she did. She commented on Twitter that ABC journo’s had been doing a good job in their coverage of the fires. Someone called YeaNah @YeaNah10 suggested that such a comment lacked balance.

Laura Tingle responded by telling the commenter to “go f**k yourself”, except she spelt it out.

Corrine Barraclough in Luvvie Laura and the(ir) ABC’s problem with abusive behaviour says you can’t do that. Abuse is abuse.

However, swearing is also shorthand way of expressing disgust and disapproval. Moreover, YeaNah is suggesting that ‘balance’ be privileged over the truth. Is Tingle unable to express the truth because she is working for the ABC, so she must demonstrate ‘balance’ at the expense of truth?

Continue reading Weekly salon 12/1

State of the climate 2019

Michael Mann, famous climate scientist, happens to have come to Sydney to study the links between extreme weather and climate change. He tells us Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now. He took his family to see the Great Barrier Reef while it is still there, and then up into the Blue Mountains, where all they could see was smoke.

He says:

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

2019 will always be known for the fires. So how different was the climate?

We now have BOM’s Annual climate statement 2019.

2019 was Australia’s driest year on record with nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm.

2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, well above the old record: +1.33 °C in 2013. Mean maximum temperatures were the warmest on record at 2.09 °C above average, also well above the previous record, which was +1.59 °C in 2013.

Please note the temperature is referenced against the 1960-1990 average, not pre-industrial.

At 277.6 mm, 2019 rainfall was well below the previous record from 1902 which was 314.5 mm.

The main influence was a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), one of the strongest on record. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation remained neutral throughout 2019, so I guess things could have been worse.

All this gave us severe fire weather throughout the year; the national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index was the highest since 1950, when national records began.

For images to illustrate, I’ll begin with a temperature trend for the summer months worked out by Tamino:

Looking at the graph, add about 0.5°C to get the anomaly to pre-industrial. This year looks so much an outlier that one would think it unlikely to be repeated for a few years. However, it has shown us what the future may hold.

Here are the maximum temperature deciles:

More than half the continent was the hottest on record, with average and below average bits hard to find.

Here are the rainfall deciles:

The map shows the imprint of the heavy tropical rain and flooding around Townsville, followed by Cyclone Trevor further inland. Nevertheless, every month was below the national average:

The annual bar chart going back to 1900 shows how exceptional 2019 was:

One would expect a better year for 2020, but who knows what the future pattern will be?

However, we have been warned. The BOM report gives the global temperatures for 2019 as the second highest ever:

We’ve had an El Niño contributing to warmth in four out of the last 10 years, including the record 2016. Ominously, El Niño was absent in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Climate scientist Frank Jotzo has suggested that the bushfire crisis has given the Government a political opportunity to change its policy ambition on climate:

Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent — along with the conditions for drought, flooding and storms.

So a nation-building effort to minimise risk would seem prudent.

Morrison is hiding behind the notion that solving climate change requires effort from all nations. His rhetoric is that Labor’s policy would be “economy wrecking”. Yet leading climate scientists, such as Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute say:

“Earth observations show that big systems with known tipping points are already now, at 1°C warming, on the move toward potentially irreversible change, such as accelerated melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, drying of rainforests, and thawing of Arctic permafrost”

If we don’t act now, then when?

And in terms of the economy John Quiggin estimates the cost of the fires to be north of $100 billion.

Countries are being asked to come to the 2020 meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties with increased ambition. As preparation the Climate Change Authority published a consultation paper in July, and having heard what came out of the Madrid Conference in December will shortly finalise their advice.

PM Scott Morrison could take that opportunity to show some leadership. Also he has spoken of the possibility of a royal commission on the bushfires. That could be an opportunity to pivot. However, George Megalogenis in Morrison, the political animal who missed the political opportunity to lead thinks Morrison has fluffed it, and simply does not know how to behave faced with an international pile-on.

Ben Jenkins in The people in power will let your country burn says it’s about money, politics and ideology:

this isn’t about people, it’s about ideology, and to accept the unprecedented scale of the fires and act accordingly is to accept that the climate is changing and something needs to be done. That’s it. To me, this is the most striking aspect of the crisis — the debate about how best to douse a burning country has been seamlessly press-ganged into service in the ongoing culture war, all of which is amplified and buttressed by an increasingly demented right-wing media and an absurdly powerful fossil fuels lobby.

Finally:

No one is being told to calm down anymore. The smug reassurances have given way to blind panic as it comes apparent that not even the friendly media can shield the government from the rising ire of the public. But even as the army is called in to assist in the relief effort, even as Morrison agrees to pay volunteer firefighters, even as a two billion dollar recovery fund is pledged, the government refuses to alter its climate change policy.

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff