Friday, July 30, 2010

Seaweed smothering Great Barrier Reef?

This is an old, old claim -- but the reef is still there

SEAWEED is choking the Great Barrier Reef and killing coral, new research has found. Scientists in one of the largest studies of water quality pollution on the reef yesterday revealed the shock impact on the $1 billion-a-year tourism drawcard.

Poor water quality on the reef due to run-off, nutrients and high turbidity was increasing the amount of seaweed and reducing biodiversity of corals, the study found.

Hot spots include the inshore reef north of the Burdekin River and the entire Wet Tropics zone from Townsville to Port Douglas.

"Seaweeds are a natural part of the reef," said Australian Institute of Marine Science coral reef ecologist Dr Katharina Fabricius. "But what we don't want is billions of algae smothering coral. "Choking is a loaded term but when seaweed abundance becomes too high there is no space left for coral to grow."

The study has just been published in the authoritative scientific journal Ecological Applications. It used data collated from 150 reefs and at more than 2000 water quality stations across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park since 1992.

Principal investigator Dr Glenn Death said seaweed cover increased fivefold under poor water quality. "The diversity of corals was also affected, decreasing in poor water quality," he said. "Currently, the water on 22 per cent of reefs - about 647 reefs - on the Great Barrier Reef does not meet water quality guidelines."

The study predicts that if water quality was improved in these areas, seaweed would be reduced by more than one-third and the number of coral species would bounce back by 13 per cent.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park extends 2000km along the northeast Australian coast and covers 345,000sq km.


Why Labor can't stop the boats

Should the Gillard government be re-elected, the boatpeople issue will continue to plague it and Labor's internal divisions will come much more strongly to the fore.

There is no equivalence between Gillard's proposed regional processing centre in East Timor and Abbott's proposed centre on Nauru. For a start, the geography is radically different. No one will intentionally sail to Nauru. It's just too far away.

Secondly, its purpose is designed to prevent people-smugglers from being able to achieve for their clients the ultimate prize: permanent residency in Australia. It is only about solving the Australian problem. Illegal immigrants would be sent there and processed. They would be treated humanely and all their human rights observed. They would be free to go to any country that would have them, or free at any time to go home. Of course there is a small element of semi-bluff. If the boats stopped absolutely, then a future Abbott government might decide, as the Howard government did, to exercise a special act of generosity and allow some of the people to come to Australia. But that would only be after some years, and after the boats had absolutely stopped.

At the same time, an Abbott government would institute temporary protection visas without family reunion rights. Despite the braying and self-regarding protests of the Malcolm Frasers and Julian Burnsides and others in their camp, TPVs are completely consistent with the 1951 Refugee Convention. According to a recent speech by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, there are about 16 million refugees today. The vast majority of these will not be resettled anywhere, but will ultimately go home. Temporary protection is the norm.

This is not a question of compassion. This column has always supported a big immigration program, bigger than either of the main parties now supports, including a substantial refugee component. But it also supports an orderly program in which Australia chooses who gets to live here. The government's soft policies on boatpeople, and its formerly high rate of acceptance of boatpeople as genuine refugees, has encouraged many thousands to get into boats. According to the opposition, perhaps 170 people have drowned in the process. That's not compassionate.

Gillard's proposal for a regional processing centre in East Timor is entirely different from Abbott's proposal for Nauru. Her insistence that the centre has to be located in a country which is a signatory to the 1951 convention is nonsensical. Most of the refugee camps from which Australia took Indochinese refugees in the 1970s and 80s were located in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which were not signatories to the convention. Similarly, many countries that are signatories, such as Singapore, do not take any refugees for resettlement. Another convention signatory, China, has been known to force genuine refugees back to North Korea. Being a signatory to the convention is completely meaningless.

Moreover, any centre established in East Timor would become a plaything in East Timorese domestic politics, and inevitably a point of leverage for any East Timorese government in its relationship with Australia.

But most significantly, as this column has previously pointed out, it would be positive magnet of enormous power, attracting boatpeople from far away. In the joint press conference between Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and Australia's Stephen Smith, it was clear the Indonesians have absolutely no enthusiasm for this crazy idea at all. Natalegawa, the most diplomatic and helpful of men, kept stressing that the region should not focus on establishing this centre, and even less should it focus on the putative centre's location.

The Rudd-Gillard government policies that have resulted in so many boatpeople coming to Australia have been a huge headache for Jakarta. Indonesia was a significant beneficiary of the Howard government stopping the flow of boatpeople.

It is absurd to slander the Australian people for being concerned about this unregulated flow of people, mostly from Afghanistan, the nation with perhaps the broadest and longest tradition of Islamist extremism. Some estimates are that all up 10,000 boatpeople will arrive this year.

Until recently, 95 per cent were being granted, almost automatically, refugee status and permanent residency in Australia. Say next year there are 10,000 Afghan boatpeople and they are all accepted into Australia. With permanent residency there would come family reunion rights. Say then that each brings even three relatives over time. That would be 40,000 Afghans who were never part of a considered immigration program. It is entirely reasonable for the Australian people to be concerned about this.

Given her strong rhetoric but meaningless policies on this issue, Gillard could well get back into government and deliver nothing in the way of stopping the boats. This could set her up for a public reaction, as occurred against Kevin Rudd, that she promised much and delivered nothing. On the other hand, to actually stop the boats she will have to take measures that the bleeding heart section of her party will hate. This issue will run and run.


Why big families 'bring lots of happiness'

SIZE does matter for many Australians aged over 30 who say the more children they have, the happier they are.

Proving that the bigger is better theory is correct - at least when it comes to family - the AMP.NATSEM Income and Wealth Report, released today, found 40 per cent of people aged over 30 with four or more children were very satisfied with their life overall.

This compares to 28 per cent of people aged over 30 with one child and 27 per cent with no children.

Australian Institute of Social Research executive director John Spoehr said the findings reflected the rewards of having children. "I think there's a lot of pressure initially, but when you look at the whole picture, having kids brings an immense joy to your life, it balances everything out," he said.

Australians are also among the most content in the world, according to the findings, finishing equal third with the US and Sweden, in a comparison of life satisfaction levels in OECD countries.

Australians had an average score of 7.9 out of 10, behind only Ireland, Norway and Denmark (equal first) and Finland and Canada (equal second).

"Australia fared very well in the Global Financial Crisis," Mr Spoehr said. "That's why we'd rank pretty highly in the happiness stakes."

Other results showed more men were satisfied with their relationships than women and people who did not own their own home had lower overall life satisfaction.

Adelaide's Peter Newall and wife Narissa agreed having four children - sons Riley, 6, Cooper, 5, and 18-month-old twins Poppy and Lyla, made for a "fun, happy" brood.

"It's definitely a bit of a juggling act and by the end of a long day we're all very tired," he said. "But I wouldn't change it for the world. Having four children is wonderful."


Aboriginal family gets $3.2m payment for prison van death

I suppose this is better than nothing but it is a disgrace that nobody has been held responsible for killing the guy. Surely a charge of negligence could be made to stick, if not manslaughter. It should have gone to a jury instead of being prejudged. Just more West Australian corruption

THE family of an Aboriginal elder who died of heat stroke in the back of a prison transfer van have been awarded a $3 million ex-gratia compensation. The ex-gratia payment comes on top of the $200,000 interim payment they received. The West Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter today revealed the details of the compensation payment, Perth Now reported.

Mr Ward, an elder whose full name cannot be used for cultural reasons, died of heat stroke in the back of the van on the way from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in WA's Goldfields region in January 2008.

Late in June WA's Director of Public Prosecutions Joe McGrath visited Mr Ward's widow Nancy at Warburton in the Central Desert and told her charges would not be laid over his death.

He told her there was no reasonable prospect of conviction if charges were laid against the two security guards employed by the security firm GSL, now known as G4S.

Mr Ward's family were said to be distraught over the decision, which sparked protests in the city.

A broken air conditioner in the back of the van forced Mr Ward to endure temperatures of more than 50C during the four-hour non-stop journey. He was being driven to Kalgoorlie to face a drink-driving charge in court.

Last year WA Coroner Alastair Hope found the Department of Corrective Services, security officers Graham Powell and Nina Stokoe transporting Mr Ward and their employer had all contributed to Mr Ward's death. Mr Hope referred the case to the DPP because he believed a criminal offence had been committed.

But Mr McGrath defended his decision not to prosecute, saying a thorough investigation found no one had been criminally negligent. "I'm acutely aware that the death was tragic, avoidable and rightly creates outrage in the wider Australian community," he said. But he said he had to dispassionately apply the law of WA in determining if there should be a criminal prosecution.


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