Tag Archives: Open Threads

Weekly salon 23/8

1. The cost of pests

I recall we had some discussion about feral pigs, which rate fifth in a research study by Corey J. A. Bradshaw of Flinders University and Andrew Hoskins of the CSIRO in Pest plants and animals cost Australia around $25 billion a year – and it will get worse:

Shamefully, Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world. And the number one threat to our species is invasive or “alien” plants and animals.

But invasive species don’t just cause extinctions and biodiversity loss – they also create a serious economic burden. Our research, published today, reveals invasive species have cost the Australian economy at least A$390 billion in the last 60 years alone.

Our paper – the most detailed assessment of its type ever published in this country – also reveals feral cats are the worst invasive species in terms of total costs, followed by rabbits and fire ants.

Here is how they stack up:

It depends where you are:

Red imported fire ants are the costliest species in Queensland, and ragwort is the economic bane of Tasmania.

The common heliotrope is the costliest species in both South Australia and Victoria, and annual ryegrass tops the list in WA.

In the Northern Territory, the dothideomycete fungus that causes banana freckle disease brings the greatest economic burden, whereas cats and foxes are the costliest species in the ACT and NSW.

2. Humans are the biggest pest

I remember on our trip down the Rhine in 2008 a tour guide explaining that in Europe ‘nature’ had been mostly pushed into the mountains. Last week Gigi Forster and Peter Martin in the ABC RN program The Economists talk about Valuing nature, which economists mostly don’t. They tell us that humans and their domestic animals make up 96% of mammals on earth, with natural mammals squeezing into just 4%. Apparently domestic fowls make up 70% of the bird population. In the program:

A landmark report has urged the world’s governments to come up with a better form of national accounting from GDP, to reflect the value and depletion of nature. Plus, an update on carbon markets and the emerging field of biodiversity offsets.

Here’s the The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report.

See also:

Economics’ failure over destruction of nature presents ‘extreme risks’Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

This is what we amount to;

This is what we have done:

We will have to learn to live respectfully in nature, or we’ll destroy our nest. It won’t be easy. There was to be a UN biodiversity summit in 2020 in Kunming, China. This has now been delayed for third time due to the pandemic.

Can we stop the Sixth mass extinction event, the Holocene extinction, found to be accelerating?

Our future depends on what we do in the next little while.

3. Insects in trouble too

Dr Sanchez-Bayo, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney, undertook the first global review of studies of insect decline across the world and the reasons for it. See Insect population and species decline a ‘wake-up call’, scientists say:

“What we found is that 41 per cent on average of all insect species that we know are declining,” said Dr Sanchez-Bayo.

“Among those, a third of all the species are going into extinction. They’re in danger right now. The rate of extinction in insects is about eight times higher than the rate of extinction of vertebrates.”

Most of the studies surveyed were form the US and Western Europe:

One study, in Germany, saw a 75 per cent decline in insect biomass over 27 years. Another study in Puerto Rico reported losses of between 78 and 98 per cent over 36 years.

The rates of decline are so dramatic — up to 2.5 per cent a year — that Dr Sanchez-Bayo claims that at current rates there may be no insects in those regions within 10 years.

4. There is another story beneath our feet

For a long time now farmers and landholders have been told that storing carbon in soil was not only a good thing to do, it was something they could make money from by selling carbon credits.

Problem is that there is no solid science to back this up. Gabriel Popkin tells the story in A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change:

One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bacteria, fungi and other microbes than there are humans on Earth. Those hungry organisms can make soil a difficult place to store carbon over long periods of time.

It’s a long article, but the short story is that the assumption that carbon molecules stored in soil cam remain there for long periods of time. What we know now is that no such molecules can be found. Everything can be munched, although some do stick around.

Climate modellers apparently ‘simplified’ the issue by leaving microbial activity out. Some scientists are :

pushing to replace the old dichotomy of stable and unstable carbon with a “soil continuum model” of carbon in progressive stages of decomposition. But this model and others like it are far from complete, and at this point, more conceptual than mathematically predictive.

Researchers agree that soil science is in the midst of a classic paradigm shift. What nobody knows is exactly where the field will land — what will be written in the next edition of the textbook.

In short, they are in a muddle.

5. Pests found inside a hill in Canberra

Here it is:

Every week Federal parliament is sitting Tony Burke, leader for the opposition in the house, sends around to party members on his mailing list some pithy comments. Last week he told of one of his constituents, a woman who is 102 and lives in:

Western Sydney, which is the epicentre of the current COVID outbreak. She’s been on the pension for 40 years – and yet the government sent her a letter saying she’d be cut off unless she left the house in the middle of the lockdown zone to present proof of age documents she doesn’t actually have.

Luckily Burke’s office was able to get the matter fixed by Stuart Robert’s office. However, it continues the narrative that there is no blunder beyond the capability of this government. Their fiercest critic however is possibly Dennis Atkins, now retired and liberated from writing for the Courier Mail. He is particularly eloquent about their leader:

Where would this man be without pollsters dictating his every utterance?

A good question. Michael Pascoe this morning asks another in a must read piece if you want to understand what is going on with COVID messaging and posturing:

The COVID political ground is shifting – is an election moving it?

Here are some other recent Atkins pieces:

Scott Morrison will weaponise climate crisis in pursuit of re-election

As Scott Morrison tries to ‘get out of Dodge’, Australia needs a political reckoning

Weekly salon 8/4

1. The PM has a problem or three

Grattan on Friday says Prime Minister Scott Morrison has three pressing problems:

  • the COVID vaccine rollout
  • the budget
  • the issue of women.

Bernard Keane at Crikey says Morrison continues to see everything as a political problem to manage away. Keane was referring to his tearful mea culpa and apparent change of heart on the issue of women and the intemperate attack on Sky journalist Andrew Clennell, claiming that in Clennell’s own organisation there was an incident of harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet being pursued by their own HR department.

There wasn’t. Continue reading Weekly salon 8/4

Weekly salon 19/3

1. The loser as always is you!

To begin with something light, the Australien Government, courtesy of Juice Media, explains what is going on with the socalled Newscorp bargaining code whereby big media gets a slice of the action with big tech.

In effect, she says, they are ganging up on us, since they have a shared interest in destroying human civilisation.

The real answer is quite simple, she says, tax big tech companies and invest the funds in quality journalism. Continue reading Weekly salon 19/3

Weekly salon 16/2

1. Trump acquitted??!!

Trump is back in town having been exonerated from impeachment by the Senate.

The ABC has a detailed account of what went down and why. It seems the Republican Party is cowed by Trump with only a few willing to show dissent. The article ends with this:

    Finally, Mr Trump claimed exoneration from a “witch-hunt”, maintaining his reputation as the Teflon president.

    “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Mr Trump said in a statement issued just moments after the Senate vote.

    “In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.” Continue reading Weekly salon 16/2

Weekly salon 24/1

1. The problem with democracy

Clearly the big problem is the people, the electors, although candidates can be an issue also.

Last November popular Rockhampton mayor Margaret Strelow resigned over a perceived indiscretion.

Next problem was that the Queensland government had just passed a law saying that when a mayor disappears through death or resignation, the candidate with the next highest number of votes should automatically take over.

It happens that on this occasion the next in line was a bloke known Pineapple (Chris Hooper), who commonly rides a pushbike barefoot around town carting signs about saving the world: Continue reading Weekly salon 24/1

Weekly salon 5/1

1. Sawatdi bpi mai kap!

That is a Thai new year’s greeting I got from Mark that I posted two years ago. It means:

    May you find compassion, loving kindness and equanimity along your paths over the next year!

From a Jacquie Lawson ecard sent by my brother-in-law, we need:

    More co-operation, mutual care and love, a safer and happier world!

And more civilised politics. Continue reading Weekly salon 5/1

Weekly salon 15/11

1. Aboriginal philosophy

Every week Waleed Aly and Scott Stevens bang on at ABC RN’s The Minefield for about 40 minutes on what they see as profound ethical and philosophical questions inherent in our politics and our culture, how we see the world and how we live in it. They always have a guest to help them.

This week they asked the question Can Aboriginal political philosophy and political liberalism be reconciled? Continue reading Weekly salon 15/11

Weekly salon 6/11

1. Staff vs line authority

The question of which minister in Victoria was responsible for hotel quarantine functions can be easily resolved if we look at it in terms of an old question in management, namely, staff versus line. I say staff versus line but it should really be staff and line.

The Wikipedia article outlines the difference:

    A “line function” is one that directly advances an organization in its core work. This always includes production and sales, and sometimes also marketing.[1] A “staff function” supports the organization with specialized advisory and support functions. For example, human resources, accounting, public relations and the legal department are generally considered to be staff functions.[2] Both terms originated in the military.

Staff positions can have four kinds of authority:

    “advise authority,” with line managers choosing whether or not to seek advice from the staff person, and deciding what to do with the advice once they get it; “compulsory advice” or “compulsory consultation” in which line managers must consider the staff person’s advice, but can choose not to heed it; “concurrent authority,” in which the line manager cannot finalize a decision without the agreement of the staff person, and “functional authority” in which the staff person has complete formal authority over his or her area of specialty, such as the Personnel Department in the United States Navy. The Staff Officer in this role is typically a rank of O-3(LT) or O-4(LCDR) and is granted authority over personnel assigned to those specific roles. [5] Common types of functional authority for staff positions include authority over recruiting standards, reimbursement policies and quality standards.

Also:

    Staff workers derive influence from expert authority or “authority of knowledge,” from their control of information which may be vital to line managers, and from their closer access to upper management.

So in practice there can be co-operation, and there can be conflict. And confusion.

Top level staff managers also have line functions within, desirably employing specialists who know more and/or can do more than the top person.

I could now tell you the story of my working life, when I was employed as Supervisor, School Library Service, as a service to the ‘line’ directorates of Primary Education, Secondary, Special and at the time Tertiary (teachers colleges) and TAFE. The Department of Education expected me to install libraries within schools and would hold me responsible for the nature and quality of the service from a position where I had no line authority.

Reality was complex, but it worked pretty well until there was devolution of line authority to Education Region offices and schools in the 1980s.

In terms of Victoria, it seems to me that hotel quarantine was always a police operational matter as the line manager, but health should have been drawn in with “concurrent authority” in how it was set up and supervised. In other words, while the involvement of health should have been mandatory and ongoing, the operational responsibility should have been with the police.

Setting this up should not have been a complex management issue, but it should have been done, and wasn’t.

2. Scotty from Marketing

PM Scott Morrison has done much to annoy me recently. I thought I would highlight his sheer rudeness and contempt for his political opposition, caught in this image by Alex Ellinghausen:

Q&A caught Tanya Plibersek’s reaction. Dave Sharma’s effort to gloss over that behaviour and normalise it did not do anything for me.

Q&A showed Labor front-benchers going hard with their phones.

Plibersek is right. You don’t know what they are doing. They may be, as she says, Tweeting about what is being said.

They were firmly pointed to the front, not using body posture to communicate their disregard. Christian Porter’s body position indicates that what they did was scripted.

3. Tingle on Morrison’s Trumpian disregard for transparency

It’s interesting to see what title Laura Tingle’s weekly articles are given at the AFR and at the ABC. The online titles are often different again. Last week we had PM shows a Trumpian disregard for transparency in the AFR and at the ABC it’s It’s not just public servants feeling the ire of the Morrison Government. However, her ABC site shows We worry about Trump, but Morrison’s lack of respect for transparency should be of equal concern with this intro:

    If this week’s ANZ-bashing conga line [over its policy on climate risk in lending] tells us anything, it’s that it is hard to think of a recent government which has done more to reduce transparency or frustrate inquiries into activities carried out in its name, writes Laura Tingle.

He was fussed about Cartier watches at Australia Post, but unfussed about the three former senior Liberal Party figures on the Board, supposed to look after our interests. Also:

    unfussed about the shocking revelations concerning land near the Badgerys Creek airport site in Sydney for which taxpayers paid more than 10 times the value to former Liberal Party donors, a deal exposed by the Australian National Audit Office and now the subject of a federal police investigation.

    The Prime Minister said he was “disappointed” by the failings in the process unveiled by the ANAO.

Their reward?

    The audit office made these revelations, along with the still running saga of sports rorts, and was rewarded with a $14 million cut in this month’s federal budget (as a result of “efficiency dividends”), which will see the number of its audits cut from 48 to 38 each year.

She details other concerns, including:


    contracts made without competitive tender, including two contracts that combined are worth almost $1 million for 18 months’ work advising the government on aged care financing, given to a man who resigned as the chief executive of one of the country’s largest nursing home chains, which was accused of putting profits before people.

So:

    The more colourful, and outrageous aspects of Donald Trump’s rhetoric have always grabbed the headlines since his rise to presidential politics, and they will dominate these last few desperate days before Americans find out who will be their next president.

    But what has happened to the systems of government in the United States on Trump’s watch is much less remarked upon. Ultimately, that will be the more dangerous long-term consequence of his tenure.

    The arrogant approach of our Prime Minister and his government towards accountability and transparency should be of equal concern here.

4. Integrity commission scam

The new Morrison Government proposed integrity commission has been called a toothless tiger, a “sham” and a “feather duster”.

From what I’ve heard, the real problem is voiced at the end of this article:

    The Centre for Public Integrity director, Geoffrey Watson, a leading barrister, has described the model as a “sham”.

    “The absence of retrospectivity means Australians will never find out what really happened with the Great Barrier Reef fund, with the so-called sports-rorts program, or with the Murray-Darling water buybacks,” he said.

    Former Victorian supreme court judge Stephen Charles, who is also with the centre, said the body was designed to “protect parliamentarians and senior public servants from investigation”. (Emphasis added)

Judge Stephen Charles may be on the money, I think. The Coalition is good at making it look as though they are doing stuff when they are not. This move goes a large step further.

Indi Independent Helen Haines’ bill has had a good reception, also by Labor. See also senior law lecturer Yee-Fui Ng As the government drags its heels, a better model for a federal integrity commission has emerged.

Oh dear, Federal parliament just weakened political donations laws while you weren’t watching, unfortunately with Labor’s help.

Meanwhile at the (un)Australian Scotty From Marketing Declares That The Federal Integrity Commission Will Be Armed With The Warmest Of Lettuce:

    Australian Prime Minister Scotty from marketing has let it be known that his Government’s proposed federal integrity commission will be armed with the warmest of lettuce and they will not be afraid to use it.

    ”My Government takes corruption very seriously,” said Prime Minister Scotty from marketing. ”Take Angus Taylor for instance, he is constantly on the look out for any schemes or anything shonky that he can keep his eye on.”

    ”Rest assured Australia, if there’s anything dodgy going on, my Government is a part of it.”

5. Warwick McKibbin says…

You will have heard that the Reserve bank has lowered interest rated to almost nothing:

    The RBA reduced the policy rate from 0.25 per cent to 0.1 per cent, in addition to lowering the three-year bond target rate and the interest rate on the TFF to 0.1 per cent. The policy also included the additional purchase of $100 billion of five to 10-year government bonds.

Former Reserve Bank board member and world class economic modeller, according to John Quiggin Warwick McKibbin says the Reserve Bank did the right thing in the circumstances, and has done all that it can do.

However, the government has not done all that it can do:


    While the scale of the fiscal response in the recent Australian federal budget is appropriate to tackle the economic fallout from COVID-19, the composition of the package could have been better targeted. For example, income transfers would be a better way to stimulate the economy than tax cuts in the short term. And support for childcare would be a way of maintaining labour supply as well as an income support mechanism.

    The specific lack of support for some sectors based on ideology rather than economic reality contributes to the poor targeting. Over time the key policies that are needed are substantial economic reform and other policies that increase productivity while maintaining domestic demand.

    A vital part of the recovery plan should be policy clarity. The ideal economic policy framework implemented for a sustained recovery would be a bipartisan approach with broad support across the Government and the Opposition on the critical policy platforms. Bipartisan support for the core drivers of economic growth reduces policy uncertainty and gives a less uncertain environment for firms to invest and for households to save and invest.

    A key driver of policy uncertainty is the state of play of climate and energy policy in Australia. While the Technology Investment Roadmap was a good outline of the available technologies that would enable Australia to reach a low emissions future, there’s nothing in the Roadmap that would drive adoption of technologies by the private sector.

Energy policy and climate change, Mr Morrison. Get on with it! Warwick McKibbin says!

6. Australian exporters scramble as fears of more China trade bans grow

Australian wine, lobster, sugar, coal, timber, barley and copper exports to China are being disrupted from today.

    China’s foreign ministry urged Australia to “bring the bilateral relations back to the right track”.