Friday, July 03, 2015
Australia could have a Congo on its doorstep
LAST week, PNG’s former police commissioner Geoffrey Vaki was found guilty of contempt for not arresting the country’s Prime Minister on corruption charges. As Australia is to provide $477 million in foreign aid to PNG in the coming year, Australians should be better informed about activities in our closest neighbour.
At low tide Australia’s closest islands are less than 3km from PNG, well within wading distance or a short canoe trip.
The conviction of a former police commissioner is no small thing. The fact he was found guilty of contempt for not arresting Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on corruption charges magnifies the importance of this case.
Our nation played a long and honourable role in the history of what is now PNG. Nearly 6000 Australian troops fought in Papua during WWII and, until the prevalent anti-colonisation forces prevailed and PNG attained independent nation status 40 years ago, Australia was responsible for its administration.
In hindsight, independence was premature. The administrative structures were not sufficiently mature and PNG now appears to be teetering on the brink of becoming yet another failed nation.
Last June the country’s anti-corruption agency, Taskforce Sweep, accused O’Neill of official corruption relating to allegedly fraudulent government payments paid to a local law firm and an arrest warrant was issued for him.
O’Neill refused to co-operate and sacked the police commissioner, appointing Vaki.
Vaki prevaricated and refused to arrest O’Neill, saying he wanted to investigate further to make sure the case was “watertight”. In July he told media any moves to arrest O’Neill on corruption charges were “a long way down the road”.
Contempt charges were filed against Vaki by two senior police officers — Detective Chief Superintendent Mathew Damaru, head of the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, and his deputy, Detective Chief Inspector of Police Timothy Gitua — for ignoring the court-ordered warrant and, a year after the arrest warrant was issued, PNG’s Supreme Court found Vaki guilty of two charges of contempt for not executing the arrest warrant and for telling the media he would not make the arrest.
O’Neill is challenging the arrest warrant in a separate action.
PNG is drifting into very dangerous waters. The rule of law must hold or Australia may have a Congo on its doorstep.
Queensland’s gifted students neglected as teachers focus on strugglers
GIFTED students are being overlooked in the classroom, with schools instead focusing attention on strugglers.
University of Southern Queensland special education lecturer Mark Oliver said there was a danger smart students were being turned off school as they coasted through the curriculum.
Mr Oliver warned that gifted students needed support to reach their full potential.
“When you get a bored student they can refuse to go to school or refuse to participate because they don’t see the point ... it then affects their long-term attitudes to school and self-esteem,” he said.
Mr Oliver said there was a focus on teaching for tests and getting students to obtain minimum standards, rather than providing extension to gifted students. Policy change was needed across the education sector.
“Maybe that’s not the best way to go for developing the creativity and talent we need for future careers,” he said.
An Education Department spokesman said schools were committed to meeting the needs of gifted and talented students.
Mr Oliver said teachers did their best but resources were often targeted towards struggling students, rather than those who needed to be challenged.
“We want to make sure these kids are tracking into their abilities for applied creative purposes and are not just producing future worker bees,” Mr Oliver said.
Several workshops have opened over the school holidays to encourage gifted students in Queensland, aiming to give them the best chance at developing their skills.
Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children president Anthony Stevens said gifted children needed a challenge.
“People think gifted children don’t need any extension,” he said. “There’s that idea that we have got them to a certain level and can stop worrying.
“But the problems of the future are going to be solved by people who can come up with wonderful, creative solutions. That isn’t going to be the stuff taught in classrooms because we don’t know it yet.”
He said gifted students needed to be challenged with teachers often trying their best to accommodate students at all levels. “Just like anybody else, gifted kids need to experience what it’s like to work at something,” Mr Oliver said.
An Education Department spokesman said funding had been allocated to each region to support education of gifted children and to develop strategies to meet the needs of students and teachers.
“This is achieved through challenging learning experiences that engage these students in their learning and support them to keep advancing their knowledge and skills,” the spokesman said.
He said there were several programs and awards, including the Queensland Academies’ Young Scholars Program and the Peter Doherty Awards, which were geared towards recognising gifted students.
Three current articles below
Unpacking wind farm impacts in Australia
Fears over adverse health impacts caused by wind farms are being heavily scrutinised during a parliamentary inquiry into the controversial renewable energy source.
The Senate select committee inquiry into the regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines, established last November, is due to report by August 3.
The inquiry’s extensive terms of reference include investigating the impacts of wind farms on household power prices and the Clean Energy Regulator’s effectiveness in performing its legislative responsibilities.
The role and capacity of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in providing guidance to state and territory authorities is also under scrutiny.
The first public hearing was held at Portland in Victoria on March 30 while two were held in Cairns and Canberra in May.
About 460 public submissions have been received with four more public hearings scheduled for June in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra.
At the most recent hearing in Canberra on May 19, witnesses presented a range of conflicting views about the adverse health impacts of wind turbines, particularly around low-frequency infrasound.
Family First Senator Bob Day said the inquiry had heard extensive evidence from state and local governments that they were struggling with regulating the wind turbine industry.
Senator Day said infrasound did not appear to be covered by regulations, “which mostly cover audible decibel measured sound”.
He said evidence from hearing expert Dr Andrew Bell claimed infrasound cannot be measured, and it was unknown how the ear coped with infrasound.
“It is just not possible to measure it – all you can do is accept the overwhelming evidence that people are affected by it,” he said.
Dr Bell said large infrasonic impulses – whether from a wind turbine, coal mine or a gas turbine or “whatever” – can have an effect of altering the middle ear and causing a pressure effect, “maybe headaches, maybe seasickness and things like that”.
“I think infrasound by itself with very large low-frequency pressure pulses does disturb the human ear,” he said.
“Exactly how it happens is unknown; my suspicion is that it is the middle ear muscle – the gain-control before the cochlea – but we are just beginning to do work in this area.”
The annoyance factor
The Australia Institute research director Roderick Campbell referred to a report on the wider impacts of wind energy written by researchers at the Nossal Research Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne.
Mr Campbell said the institute’s medical researchers concluded in the report that there was “no credible peer-reviewed scientific evidence that demonstrates a causal link between wind turbines and adverse physiological health impacts on people”.
But he said they found that there was some connection between annoyance from wind turbines and sleep disturbance.
“They felt that attitudes towards wind farms have a considerable influence on these factors and the extent to which noise, visual disruption and social change resulting from wind farms can cause stress or annoyance, which in turn can contribute to health issues,” he said.
“Any effects from such exposures are therefore likely to vary considerably across communities and are best considered indirect effects.”
Mr Campbell said the Warburton review – along with almost every other review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) “which is dominated by wind energy” – found that the RET either has a minimal impact on household prices or, in the longer term, is likely to put downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices.
‘No problems whatsoever’
Australian Wind Alliance national co-ordinator Andrew Bray said evidence also existed of people living near wind farms with no reported problems.
Mr Bray said he had also spoken personally to people who were in “great distress” – and “I certainly do not want to say that they are making stuff up”.
However the danger of looking at those cases selectively was “that you miss the much larger pool of people who live near wind farms who have no health problems whatsoever”.
Mr Bray said if a study was undertaken of all people living around a wind turbine, “you would find that the incidence of health problems is not high”.
However, NSW Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm said: “With cigarettes, the incidence of lung cancer was not high either”.
Public Health Association of Australia CEO Melanie Walker said complaints from people affected by noise from wind turbines must be recognised and managed, with fair and reasonable solutions developed.
Ms Walker said allegations of harm to health from wind turbines must also be placed in the context of minimal evidence supporting some claims and the considerable evidence supporting harm from other energy sources.
She said governments should also support wind power as one of the viable evidence-based renewable energy options to rapidly transition the economy from fossil fuels.
“This is supported by the Public Health Association on both health and safe climate grounds,” she said.
“We know that people who are disturbed by noise become annoyed, and we know that if you are annoyed you become more acutely sensitive to the cause of your disturbance,” she said.
“We are also aware that if you are annoyed and disturbed that you are going to have interrupted sleep, and we know that this is not good for people’s health in the short term.
“The linkage from the short-term annoyance to longer term health problems is more problematic, because there is a chain of events that takes decades to work through.
“But we do know from the broader social determinants of health literature that there are some connections between psychological distress and, over a period of years, the emergence of chronic diseases.
“So we are not saying that this does not happen, but we are saying that it is a long-term, not immediate, effect.
“We are also aware that people who live near coalmines in the Hunter Valley or people who live in Morwell in Victoria also have sources of stress in their environment which is contributing to their sense of unease as well.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said the committee had heard from people who favoured having wind turbines erected on their properties and were also very supportive of renewable energy.
But he said after the wind turbines were erected, some of those people then reported suffering adverse health effects.
Bass Strait's artificial structures good for hungry fur seals
Greenies will hate this, Everything artificial is BAD, according to them
A study looking at the feeding behaviour of Australian fur seals in Bass Strait has found the animals benefit from the shipwrecks, pipelines and cables in their underwater world.
The researchers found these structures act like artificial reefs, attracting fish and other marine life. This makes them a happy hunting ground for hungry fur seals, which feed on a variety of bony fish, squid and octopus.
Revealed by the study's GPS tracking data and underwater "seal-cam" footage, the results showed the animals from the Kanowna Island colony off Wilsons Promontory favoured particular foraging routes.
"In one case we looked at the GPS track and it was a straight line, which made us think that the seal might be following fishing vessels," said John Arnould from Deakin University.
On closer inspection the researchers realised something else was at play: the animal's foraging path mirrored a pipeline. And it wasn't alone. Others were doing the same.
Underwater infrastructure in Bass Strait includes the high-voltage Basslink power pipeline, communications cables, wells and numerous shipwrecks.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE on Thursday, the findings showed this infrastructure benefited the fur seals because by forming an artificial reef, marine life became concentrated in what was otherwise a sandy seafloor with very little habitat variation.
Associate Professor Arnould said the Australian fur seals, which feed almost exclusively on the seafloor, appear to have cottoned-on.
"For some individuals it influenced where they were foraging and for some of the 36 studied, the artificial structures were heavily influencing where they were foraging," he said.
The research team, including scientists from the University of Tasmania and the University of California Santa Cruz, also looked at how far from the infrastructure the seals were feeding.
In some cases it was up to 100 metres but Associate Professor Arnould said this still indicated the artificial environment was having an impact on foraging behaviour.
"Structures can influence currents and therefore nutrient transport," he said. "So even if seals aren't always feeding on the pipeline, the pipeline is influencing where they forage."
On one case, black and white video footage of a seal foraging around an oil rig revealed a surprising number of fish concentrated in the area.
"The amount of fish around this structure was unbelievable," Associate Professor Arnould said.
Thirty-six Australian fur seals were fitted with a GPS tracker and dive recorder as part of the study. Two of the 36 had an underwater camera attached to their dorsal fur.
Heavily hunted for their coats in the 1800s, the Australian fur seal population dipped to as few as 20,000. Now protected, the seal population is recovering at about 3000 pups a year, or 2 per cent.
Huge subsidies needed for electric cars: Australian government not interested
Renault Australia boss Justin Hocevar has held up the delivery of the Renault Nissan Alliance's 250,000th electric car as evidence the Australian government has the wrong approach to motoring.
The partnership sold the landmark car, a Renault Zoe hatch, to French resident Yves Nivelle, who took advantage of a €10,000 ($14,500) subsidy to buy a €21,990 ($31,885) car for little more than half its retail price.
"The government's environmental bonus was a big factor in my decision to get an EV," Nivelle says.
The French subsidy encourages drivers to trade in older diesel models for a new electric car.
For customers who aren't prepare to pay cash for the car, other French subsidies allow drivers to lease an electric Renault for just €99 ($145) per month.
Australian drivers miss out on the Renault Zoe as tawdry charging infrastructure and a lack of rebates provide little incentive for people to choose electric cars.
"The lack of support for electric vehicles certainly impacts the business plan for Renault to introduce electric vehicles to Australia," Hocevar says.
"Currently electric vehicles in Australia carry a price premium over their internal combustion engine counterparts and in such a competitive and price sensitive market; this does make it difficult for us to look at introducing product."
Asked whether the Federal Government would consider subsidising electric cars, a spokesman for Ian Macfarlane, Minister for Industry and Science, says the main encouragement for people to consider green cars lay in the Green Vehicle Guide website that helps consumers compare cars "based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions".
The government also charges less in luxury car tax to prestige vehicles that use less than 7.0L/100km, however that threshold (set at $75,375) hasn't changed in four years.
Minister MacFarlane is on the record as saying electric cars are "an idea, not a solution", and that he is more interested in hydrogen-fuelled cars than machines that primarily use coal-sourced electricity.
That's not a notion supported in Norway, where government subsidies have pushed electric car sales to around one in five of all models. More than 50,000 electric cars are on the road in Norway, where battery-powered motorists benefit from reduced taxes, toll-free use of motorways, free parking and the use of public transport lanes.
Hocevar says "it would be fantastic if we could emulate this support in Australia", but "at this stage we don't believe there is a plan for the government to introduce support in the near future". "The lack of support for electric vehicles in Australia is disappointing," he says.
The difference between Australia and Norway is that the majority of local power comes from coal, whereas the Scandinavian nation relies on hydroelectric energy [Those wicked DAMS!] . Yet plenty of other federal, state and local governments around the globe provide strong incentives for green cars, and Hocevar isn't the only Australian executive to criticise the government's approach to electric machines.