Thursday, January 03, 2013

Climate change wiped out blacks

Probably the pygmies

AUSTRALIA'S original inhabitants may have died-off during a 1500-year-long "mega drought", new research suggests.

Researchers investigating rapid climate change in the Kimberley region found the intense drought coincided with the disappearance of a pre-Aboriginal style of rock paintings about 7000 years ago.

Ancient rock art from the region is divided into two distinctive styles: Gwion and Wandjina.

The Gwion rock-art style lasted some 10,000 years before the final image was painted. Wandjina paintings only began about 4000 years ago.

The study, sponsored by the Kimberley Foundation of Australia, for the first time offers an explanation for this 3000 year gap.

"The likely reason for the demise of the Gwion artists was a mega-drought spanning approximately 1500 years, brought on by changing climate conditions that caused the collapse of the Australian summer monsoon," says associate professor Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland's School of Geography.

Researchers survey excavation sites of Gwion rock art in the north Kimberley. A sheer rock face is protected by a shallow overhang leaving a perfectly preserved Bradshaw or Gwion painting depicting unusually large figures.

The study found the plant density and land surface had changed at this time, combining with increased dust in the air. The effect was the failure of monsoon rains - peaking about 5500 years ago.

"This confirms that pre-historic aboriginal cultures experienced catastrophic upheaval due to rapid natural climate variability," he said.

"This is contrary to the conventional view that Australian Aboriginals lived a highly sustainable hunter-gatherer existence in which their knowledge of the landscape meant they adapted to climate variability with little impact."

Wandjina painters appear to have only moved into the area after the climate again became more favourable about 4000 years ago.

The report, published in the American Geophysical Union Journal, was compiled by researchers from the University of Queensland, Central Queensland University and Wollongong University.


Bureaucratic assholes who don't give a damn about other people

A DARWIN businessman is angry that a full load of precious cargo - including a hand-carved temple - was destroyed after mould was found on some items.

The entire consignment of goods were broken up and burnt by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (formerly AQIS - Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) after the foreign mould was found on about 10 items.

One of the pieces of furniture destroyed was a hand-carved temple bound for a museum display.

Darwin importer Mike Taylor said the destruction had ruined his business.

Mr Taylor estimated the container load was worth $18,200 with 160 pieces of furniture worth $12,000 and several thousand boxes of clothing worth about $7000.

But he spent a fortune on legal fees, rent and on setting up a warehouse that had to be dismantled, and is now claiming a loss of income of more than $150,000.

Mr Taylor said not all the furniture needed to be destroyed.  "I've been an importer for 20 years," he said. "They just needed to refumigate them and sort out the pieces."

The clothing has not been burnt but it has not been returned either - despite being held by DAFF for more than a year.

The NT News has contacted DAFF and is waiting on a response.


Immigration review exposes risk of failure

THE crisis-ridden Immigration Department is poorly managed, its workers mistrust each other and its executives' financial illiteracy poses serious risks, an independent review has warned.

The frank report, written by a panel of government and business specialists, also describes a culture of buck-passing, in which few staff take responsibility for problems.

The review of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), overseen by the federal Public Service Commission, found weaknesses in each of the 10 areas it assessed and offered little praise for the leaders of the 10,000-strong workforce.

It warned the department remained at risk of "another high-profile failure" such as the illegal detention of Australian citizens Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon, which prompted government inquiries in 2005.

Immigration's long-serving secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, left the post late last year to head the Agriculture Department. His replacement, Martin Bowles, said he accepted the findings and agreed there was "significant room for improvement".

"I am confident [the department] will be a better agency for our staff, for our clients and for the government as a result of this capability review."

The review team, led by the former mandarin Ken Matthews, acknowledged Immigration's work was complex and highly contentious compared with other agencies.

However, it found the department failed to plan or innovate effectively because it focused on reacting to crises.

It also said many senior executives believed "risks and issues are 'glossed over' to provide good news stories rather than delivering difficult messages".

The report told of a "heavily risk-averse" culture, in which basic decisions were "routinely escalated because there has been an excessive reliance on the risk-scanning intuition of a small number of senior people".

This "led to a low tolerance for error, with staff believing that their ideas will not be seriously considered by managers", it said.

While the department's mid-level executives were "proficient technical managers", their core management skills were "patchy", the report said.

"Managers, particularly [senior executives], do not always understand their financial management responsibilities, which poses serious risks."

Managers were also often unclear about their responsibilities, saying "they were not always sure who to go to and that 'there are so many fingers in the pie that no one owns the problem'."

The review found some public servants from other agencies had low regard for Immigration's senior executives, saying they were "not always present 'in the forums that matter', are slow to acknowledge risks and impacts on other portfolios, are not always open to ideas when consulting, and do not always represent the department as a whole".

A 2011 survey found 33 per cent of Immigration staff believed recruitment decisions were routinely not based on merit, a higher proportion than the public service average of 25 per cent.

The review said this "perception is discouraging and indicates mistrust among staff members".

Among its recommendations were greater support for managers and involving all staff, rather than a select few, "in the risk-scanning process".

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said the department had "made it very clear it made a number of changes" in response to the review.

"We're confident it will continue to make those improvements," he said.


Home prices fall for second straight year

Australian capital city home prices have ended in the red for the second year in a row.

The latest home value index from real estate analysts RP Data and Rismark shows capital city prices eased 0.3 per cent in December, to be 0.4 per cent down over the year.  That is a better result than 2011's 3.8 per cent decline.

RP Data spokesman Cameron Kusher says home prices improved slightly over the second half of 2012.  "Capital city home values remain 5.7 per cent lower than their historic highs of November 2010, however, dwelling values are up 1.8 per cent from their low of late May 2012," he noted in the report.

However, it has taken 175 basis points of official interest rate cuts by the Reserve Bank to generate any property price growth, and Mr Kusher says that is a sign the housing boom of the early 2000s is long gone.

"It is important to note that despite the fact that standard variable mortgage rates have fallen by an average of 85 basis points over the past year and by 135 basis points since October of last year, the housing market has still been unable to record growth in values over the year," he said.

"Home values remain below their historic highs across each capital city and have increased at an average annual rate of just 1.9 per cent over the past five years.

"It is clear that the previous strong value growth conditions to which many home owners became accustomed of recent years are well and truly behind us."

Darwin was the best performing market over the past year, rising 8.9 per cent, although prices there eased 2.5 per cent in December.

Sydney was next best, with prices rising an average 1.5 per cent over 2012 despite falling 1 per cent in December.

That has kept the harbour city firmly in top spot as the nation's most expensive, with the median home costing more than $580,000.

Hobart remained the nation's cheapest capital city to live in, with a median price of $317,500.

Prices in the Tasmanian capital were virtually unchanged over 2012, but rose 0.7 per cent in December.

Melbourne had the worst price declines over the past year, with home values down 2.9 per cent, despite a 0.5 per cent rise in December.

Brisbane and Adelaide saw 0.8 per cent declines over the past year, while Perth had a 0.8 per cent rise.

The nation's capital saw prices down 0.3 per cent in 2012, with Canberra home values sliding 1 per cent in December.

Outside the capitals, home prices across regional cities, towns and rural Australia rose 0.2 per cent over the past year and 0.4 per cent last month.

RP Data says consumers have become more cautious and focused on saving, making large home price rises unlikely, even if interest rates are cut further.

The company's analysts are predicting home price growth this year as likely to be somewhere between consumer price inflation and wage growth, which would be somewhere around the 3 per cent level.


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