Saturday, March 03, 2012

The powerful climate impact of oscillations in ocean currents

La Nina matters; Global warming doesn't

A SWIFT current flows past Stuart Gordon's home where once rough sand blew. Light rain shivers the eucalyptus leaves as he prepares HMAS Hopeful, a small dinghy, to ferry his children to their outback school.

During the worst drought for years, the Darling River at the foot of Mr Gordon's garden ran bone dry. Now the trees are swamped canopy-deep by its forging flow.

The equivalent of two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water every second was rushing past Bourke in central northern NSW yesterday. At that rate, the entire flow for the eight consecutive years between 2002 and 2009 would be delivered in just 15 days.

As the floodwaters that drenched Queensland and northern NSW last month wash downstream, the wide brown land has been transformed.

After the drought that plagued the first 10 years of this century, two seasons of La Nina rain have dressed the landscape in newly verdant hues. Satellite images comparing 2009 with this year show how the bloom of green has spread inland. Even older locals say they've never seen the country looking so lush.

Once the water recedes, its legacy will be abundant fodder for livestock and several years of good crops. But in the meantime, the floods are inconvenient, dangerous and messy.

Heavy rain was expected to continue to hammer large parts of Australia at the weekend, with flood warnings in place for NSW and Victoria.

Emergency services in NSW have ordered about 1500 people to leave their homes and told another 1500 to prepare to evacuate since the heavy rain began falling earlier this week.

SES Emergency Commissioner Murray Kear said yesterday: "There were heavy falls ... across parts of the state last night, and because of the duration of the event some records may be broken as far back as 1886."

The main focus for emergency services overnight was southeast NSW, where 11 flood rescues took place in areas including Tumut, Queanbeyan and Goulburn.

In western Sydney, authorities were making final preparations to deal with the imminent spill of Warragamba Dam and the release of water into the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers.

Emergency supplies were dropped to three communities in South Australia after floods cut roads across the state's north. The State Emergency Service co-ordinated the aerial drop of food and medical supplies to about 100 people in Nepabunna, Iga Warta and Balcanoona.

In Bourke, no homes have been inundated yet, but the water was already close to lapping the base of the historic Bourke bridge, built in 1883.

Mayor Andrew Lewis said the town was well prepared. "It's one of those major floods that we'll be talking about for years," he said. "Certainly, the good seasons we will be talking about for generations."

In the branches of a tree on Mr Gordon's property, a cubby house rests just above the rising flow. "When I built it, I said we should put it up high so it wouldn't flood," he said. "The river is now almost 14m above where it normally is."

If the Darling reaches its expected peak of 13.8m tomorrow, it will be the town's worst flood in 14 years. If it goes a little higher, it will be the worst since the mid-1970s.

Since flooding began three months ago, more than 25,000 people have been isolated and 5000 ordered to evacuate across various parts of northern NSW. Yesterday, about 2000 people on rural properties and in small communities remained cut off.

Over one million hectares were inundated in the state's far northwest, according to Colin Betts, senior ranger with the Darling Livestock Health and Pest Authority.

Authorities began helping farmers to prepare more than a month ago. "At one stage, we had six helicopters running for about a week ... we air-lifted about 10,000 head of sheep and moved about 3500 cattle," Mr Betts said.


Taxpayer-funded body needed to regulate media

Anyone for a free press?

A TAXPAYER-funded body should regulate all of Australia's news and current affairs across all media, an independent inquiry has urged. The Independent Media Inquiry wants a statutory watchdog to set standards and handle complaints involving all print, radio, television and online platforms.

The highly controversial measures were detailed in the inquiry's report, released yesterday by the Federal Government.

Aspects of the report already face strong opposition. Kim Williams, chief executive of News Limited - publisher of The Courier-Mail - questioned the role of government in the proposed body.

"The spectre of a government-funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified," he said. "If print and online media are to continue to be able to robustly question, challenge and keep governments in check, they must remain self-regulated entirely independent of government."

Inquiry chairman Ray Finkelstein, QC, argued strongly for the new body, a regulatory regime to cover all the media. He said existing mechanisms regulating the media were not sufficient to deal with accountability in all news and current affairs platforms.

He singled out the Australian Press Council, which handles public complaints and monitors the professional standards of its print medium members.

But the APC opposed the proposed new body. Instead, it pushed for the strengthening of its own organisation to include news and comment in all platforms. This was the alternative the APC had presented to the inquiry for consideration.


Rich people are poison?

A confirmation that hate is the basis of Leftism

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended Treasurer Wayne Swan's attack on the "vested interests" of the super rich, describing his comments as core Labor values.

In an essay published in The Monthly magazine, Mr Swan accused a handful of entrepreneurs, including Australian mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest, of using their incredible wealth to pursue vested interests.

Those interests had resulted in "ferocious and highly misleading" campaigns waged against the federal Labor government's mining tax and pricing carbon plans, he said.

Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne dismissed the comments as a form of class warfare.

Ms Gillard defended the comments, saying they represented core Labor values. "In Australia we've done something unique. We've had the ability to grow stronger, but also to continue to be fair," she told reporters in Canberra today. "That's a great Labor tradition." "That's a great Labor vision for the future, that is what Wayne was pointing to," she said.

Ms Gillard urged the "very very rich" - people she said tended to be able to exercise considerable power - to share that vision

In the essay, Mr Swan said wealthy opponents of measures such as the carbon tax and mining tax misrepresented "their self-interest as the national interest" and were part of a new global concentration of power in the hands of a few.

"Australia's fair go is today under threat from a new source," Mr Swan wrote in the essay. "To be blunt, the rising power of vested interests is undermining our equality and threatening our democracy. "We see this most obviously in the ferocious and highly misleading campaigns waged in recent years against resource taxation reforms and the pricing of carbon pollution."

Mr Swan took particular aim at Ms Rinehart, describing her recent raid on Fairfax shares as an attempt to "wield greater influence on public opinion and further her commercial interests".

The attacks come as the Government takes a tougher approach in selling its economic message. Labor is keen to prevent a repeat of the corporate backlash against its original mining tax that helped bring down Kevin Rudd's leadership and led to a weaker version of the impost at a time when the Budget is under pressure.

"This poison has infected our politics and is seeping into our economy," Mr Swan said.


Waiting for Mr Right can be wrong for Aussie women

AUSSIE women are being urged not to be too proud in their search for Mr Right, as new research reveals many are shocked to find it is hard to conceive after age 35.

Federal Women's Minister Julie Collins yesterday called for more support for women to have babies earlier if they choose to.

IVF specialist, Associate Professor Steve Robson, said women should "not be proud" and get online to find a date rather than consider donor sperm or freezing their eggs.

"The preferred option is that women fall in love. I say to them get online and start dating," Dr Robson, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists, said yesterday. "Find the right guy, but start looking now. The theatre nurses call me Dr Love."

But women's groups told them to stay out of the bedroom. Mr Close Enough was not good enough, they said. "Women don't go around looking for Mr Right; they get on with their lives and their work," Country Womens Association national president Heather Wieland said.

Ms Wieland, who has five children, 21 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said children were too important. "Women may be choosy but there's nothing wrong with that," she said. "If you marry someone just to have a child, you have to think of the future of that child and its parents need to be able to at least understand and respect each other because they will be involved for the rest of their lives."

Erin Horisk, 21, of Edgecliff, said that, like her friends, she can't see the problem in waiting until her late 20s or early 30s to have children because she wants to travel and focus on her career for now. Ms Horisk said when she is ready she won't be settling for anything less than "Mr Right" to have them with.

It comes as the average age for women to have a baby is now 31.5, up from 30.4 just a decade ago. Sixty per cent of women now have babies when they are aged more than 30, up from 53 per cent a decade ago.

UK researchers published a study in the latest International Journal of Nursing containing interviews with a group of 35 to 50-year-old women both with and without children.

Dr Alison Cooke and her research team from Manchester found half of the women interviewed were aware of the risk of infertility, but many rejected age alone as a reason for poor fertility outcomes as long as they were healthy.

The study also found women do not delay childbirth for purely selfish reasons, but most often for reasons beyond their control. Most cited a lack of suitable relationship, lack of money, infertility and illness.

Ms Collins said many women are concerned about the impact on their careers and long-term earnings from taking time off for a baby.


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