Wednesday, September 30, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is still grouchy about the rise of Turnbull

Ideology distorts climate measurements

Jennifer Marohasy replies to some ignorant propaganda

For the true believer, it is too awful to even consider that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology could be exaggerating global warming by adjusting figures. This doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not true.

In fact, under prime minister Tony Abbott, a panel of eminent statisticians was formed to investigate these claims detailed in The Australian newspaper in August and September last year.

The panel did acknowledge in its first report that the bureau homogenised the temperature data: that it adjusted figures. The same report also concluded it was unclear whether these adjustments resulted in an overall increase or decrease in the warming trend.

No conclusions could be drawn because the panel did not work through a single example of homogenisation, not even for Rutherglen. Rutherglen, in north­eastern Victoria, is an agricultural research station with a continuous minimum temperature record unaffected by equipment changes or documented site moves but where the bureau nevertheless adjusted the temperatures.

This had the effect of turning a temperature time series without a statistically significant trend into global warming of almost 2C a century.

According to media reports last week, a thorough investigation of the bureau’s methodology was prevented because of intervention by Environment Minister Greg Hunt. He apparently argued in cabinet that the credibility of the institution was paramount — that it was important the public had trust in the bureau’s data and forecasts, so the public knew to heed warnings of bushfires and ­cyclones.

Hunt defends the bureau because it has a critical role to play in providing the community with reliable weather forecasts.

This is indeed one of its core responsibilities. It would be better able to perform this function, however, if it used proper techniques for quality control of temperature data and the best available techniques for forecasting rainfall.

There has been no improvement in its seasonal rainfall forecasts for two decades because it uses general circulation models. These are primarily tools for demonstrating global warming, with dubious, if any, skill at actually forecasting weather or climate.

Consider, for example, the millennium drought and the flooding rains that followed in 2010.

Back in 2007 and 2008, David Jones, then and still the manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, wrote that climate change was so rampant in Australia, “We don’t need meteorological data to see it”, and that the drought, caused by climate change, was a sign of the “hot and dry future” that we all collectively faced.

Then the drought broke, as usual in Australia, with flooding rains.

But the bureau was incapable of forecasting an exceptionally wet summer because such an event was contrary to how senior management at the bureau perceived our climate future.

So, despite warning signs evident in sea surface temperature patterns across the Pacific through 2010, Brisbane’s Wivenhoe dam, originally built for flood mitigation, was allowed to fill through the spring of 2010, and kept full in advance of the torrential rains in January 2011.

The resulting catastrophic flooding of Brisbane is now recognised as a “dam release flood”, and the subject of a class-action lawsuit by Brisbane residents against the Queensland government.

Indeed, despite an increasing investment in supercomputers, there is ample evidence ideology is trumping rational decision-making at the bureau on key issues that really matter, such as the prediction of drought and flood cycles. Because most journalists and politicians desperately want to believe the bureau knows best, they turn away from the truth and ignore the facts.

News Corp Australia journalist Anthony Sharwood got it completely wrong in his weekend article defending the bureau’s homogenisation of the temperature record. I tried to explain to him on the phone last Thursday how the bureau didn’t actually do what it said when it homogenised temperature time series for places such as Rutherglen.

Sharwood kept coming back to the issue of “motivations”. He kept asking me why on earth the bureau would want to mislead the Australian public.

I should have kept with the methodology, but I suggested he read what Jones had to say in the Climategate emails. Instead of considering the content of the emails that I mentioned, however, Sharwood wrote in his article that, “Climategate was blown out of proportion” and “independent investigations cleared the researchers of any form of wrongdoing”.

Nevertheless, the content of the Climategate emails includes quite a lot about homogenisation, and the scientists’ motivations. For example, there is an email thread in which Phil Jones (University of East Anglia) and Tom Wigley (University of Adelaide) discuss the need to get rid of a blip in global temperatures around 1940-44. Specifically, Wigley suggested they reduce ocean temperatures by an arbitrary 0.15C. These are exactly the types of arbitrary adjustments made throughout the historical temperature record for Australia: adjustments made independently of any of the purported acceptable reasons for making adjustments, including site moves and equipment changes.

Sharwood incorrectly wrote in his article: “Most weather stations have moved to cooler areas (ie, areas away from the urban heat island effect). So if scientists are trying to make the data reflect warmer temperatures, they’re even dumber than the sceptics think.”

In fact, many (not most) weather stations have moved from post offices to airports, which have hotter, not cooler, daytime temperatures. Furthermore, the urban heat island creeps into the official temperature record for Australia not because of site moves but because the record at places such as Cape Otway lighthouse is adjusted to make it similar to the record in built-up areas such as Melbourne, which clearly are affected by the urban heat island.

I know this sounds absurd. It is absurd, and it is also true. Indeed, a core problem with the methodology the bureau uses is its reliance on “comparative sites” to make adjustments to data at other places. I detail the Cape Otway lighthouse example in a recent paper published in the journal Atmospheric Research, volume 166.

It is so obvious that there is an urgent need for a proper, thorough and independent review of operations at the bureau. But it would appear our politicians and many mainstream media are set against the idea.

Evidently they are too conventional in their thinking to consider such an important Australian ­institution could now be ruled by ideology.


Australia, we need to talk about Sunday penalty rates, says Frydenberg

A key cabinet minister says cutting Sunday penalty rates could be good for the economy and should be examined by the Coalition government led by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Josh Frydenberg, who was last week promoted to cabinet as the new Minister for Northern Australia and Resources, said on Sunday that weekend penalty rates were an issue the government needed to a look at.

It comes just days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the politically sensitive issue would be up for consideration by his new team.

"Malcolm Turnbull's absolutely right to point to industrial relations as one area where it does cost business and ultimately it does cost jobs," Mr Frydenberg told the Ten network.

"In the resources sector it costs 50 per cent more in Australia to have an energy project than if you were to have [it] on the US Gulf coast," he said. "Now one of the key components of that is industrial relations, which decreases productivity and increases cost."

Asked whether the government needed to look at cutting Sunday penalty rates, Mr Frydenberg said: "This is an area we need to look at because if it means more jobs and changing there, that could be good for the economy."

Kate Carnell, the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcomed the minister's comments and said high Sunday penalty rates prevented cafes and restaurants from trading longer hours or opening on the weekend.

ACCI backs bringing Sunday rates - which can be as high as double time - into line with Saturday rates, which are a maximum time-and-a-half. But it does not want to see penalties abolished completely.

"We think it's really good that the issue of workplace relations is back on the table," Ms Carnell told Fairfax Media.

"What's sensible now is we're looking at having a debate about these issues and not just putting them off the table," she said.

Ms Carnell said reducing Sunday rates would help ease youth unemployment and help grow the economy, which Treasurer Scott Morrison has said is his key priority.

The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing the Fair Work Act and has already handed an interim report to the government.

The Coalition under Tony Abbott, frightened by the savage backlash to John Howard's Workchoices, shied away from any attempt to reduce penalty rates and said it should be left to the Fair Work Commission.

This was despite sustained pressure from Liberal backbenchers and the business community.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Frydenberg's comments constitute a major shift in the government's positioning on industrial relations compared to Mr Abbott's  approach.

The former prime minister has complained about his dumping as leader as being due to style and not substance because no major policy had been announced in the two weeks since he was deposed. "In a policy sense, there is very little departure," Mr Abbott told News Corp.

"Border protection policy the same, national security policy the same, economic policy the same, even same-sex marriage policy the same, and climate change policy the same. In fact, the rhetoric is the same."
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said he agreed with Mr Abbott.

"At the moment it is about style rather than substance, I think Malcolm Turnbull does need to change the substance of his government going forward," he told Sky.

Labor opposes any changes to penalty rates.


Group of Eight universities: End Australia's 'broken, mediocre' research system

Excellence must be recognized.  Not all research is equal

Australia will not develop the innovative economy envisaged by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unless it stops rewarding mediocrity and ditches a culture of "every child gets a prize", the nation's most prestigious universities argue.

The Group of Eight universities – including the University of Sydney and University of Melbourne – is urging the federal government to fix the country's "broken" research funding system by targeting taxpayer funds at research judged to be of high quality.

This includes a contentious push for $680 million in annual funding for PhD and master's research to be restricted to institutions rated at or above world standard in their chosen fields.

The change would hit suburban and regional universities the hardest, leading to warnings it would entrench the privilege of elite institutions.

Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said: "Australia's research funding system is broken: it is over-complicated and rewards research that is below world standard.

"We are using scarce taxpayer dollars on research that is frankly mediocre.  "Instead of an egalitarian, 'every child gets a prize' approach we should be funding excellence.

"You wouldn't fund a mediocre sportsperson in the hope they can go on to win a gold medal. The Australian Institute of Sport takes athletes and invests in them because they believe they can be excellent. That's the approach we should take to research."

The Turnbull government has a slew of reviews under way including into: research funding and policy; research training; research infrastructure; and boosting the commercial returns of research.

Ms Thomson said: "It is fantastic to see the Prime Minister talk about innovation, and the key to a more innovative economy is university research and training."

Ms Thomson said 98 per cent of research at the Go8 universities is judged world standard or above, according to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) rankings. By contrast, 38 per cent of research at non-Go8 universities is judged as below world standard.

The Go8 approach would see the University of Western Sydney and University of Newcastle lose funding for PhD research in the physical sciences, Macquarie University and La Trobe University for mathematics and Charles Sturt University for history.

Universities judged as excellent in their research fields – such as James Cook University for tropical science or the University of Tasmania for oceanography – would continue to receive funding.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young said in a speech earlier this month: "My concern is that we don't target our research investment in areas of demonstrable excellence and hence our average research performance trails our national peers.

"One has to ask if Australia's more egalitarian approaches represent good use of scarce research funding and whether it yields the country the best outcomes."

Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven said he supported universities focusing on their research strengths, but accused the Go8 of self-interest.  "The argument from the Group of Eight on research is essentially: let's give rich universities all the money," he said.

"That ignores the fact that some of these universities have been around for 150 years and have had a big head start with support from the taxpayer."

Regional Universities Network chairwoman Jan Thomas said the group opposed using "narrow" research scores to allocate funding. The scores were retrospective, didn't adequately recognise engagement with industry and ignored the strategic importance of research in regional Australia, she said.

Professor Thomas said research funding should be more focused on creating links between researchers and the private sector, including by creating new PhD scholarships for industry-based research and more funding for joint university-industry research projects.

Australia ranks 29th and 30th out of 30 developed countries on the proportion of large and small businesses collaborating with higher education and public research institutions on innovation, according to the OECD.


Things are looking up for Australia's massive services sector

Led by a lower Australian dollar and surging demand from Asia, the prospects for Australia’s massive services sector are looking up.

The much-hyped economic rebalancing, although slower than what many people would like, is clearly under way with the nation’s vast tourism and education industries leading the recovery in activity.

Paul Bloxham, chief Australia and New Zealand economist at HSBC Bank, has taken a look at the recent improvement in Australian services exports, stating that the burgeoning middle classes in Asia provide Australia significant trading opportunities outside of mining exports.

Here’s a snippet from Bloxham’s excellent research note released this morning:

    “Asia’s rising middle class incomes also present Australia with significant trading opportunities outside of mining. Most apparent is demand for services, particularly education and tourism. These are already quite large exports for Australia. Over the past year, education exports were Australia’s third largest export earner, at around AUD18bn, behind only iron ore and coal. Indeed, in the past couple of years, services exports have shifted from being a net drag on GDP growth to being a net contributor and have contributed more to GDP than resources exports over the past year.”

The charts below, supplied by Bloxham, reveal the rapid improvement seen in Australian services exports, particularly for education, tourism, and to a lesser degree, financial services.

Breaking down the improvement in tourism and education exports further, Bloxham suggests that the lower Australian dollar is also assisting the sector.

“In addition to rising Asian demand for services, Australia’s services exports have also been supported by the lower exchange rate,” notes Bloxham.

“This has lowered the price of Australian service providers relative to those overseas, which has both encouraged an increase in foreign visitors and encouraged Australians to travel locally rather than abroad. China is driving much of the growth in services exports.”

The charts below tell the story. Chinese annual visitor arrivals jumped by 135% over the past five years, rising from 400,000 to 940,000, the second largest of any nation behind New Zealand, while Chinese international student enrolments have increased by 11% so far in 2015 compared to the same period a year earlier.

The charts reinforces the point that the Australian economy is far more than just “China’s quarry”. The lower Australian dollar, something that is making the nation more competitive compared to other developed, highly skilled English-speaking nations, along with the rising middle classes in China, India and ASEAN nations, presents Australia with countless opportunities in the decades ahead.

While many of the headlines of late focus on weakness in commodity prices, the “CAPEX cliff” and concerns about China’s economy, there is more than enough evidence at hand to suggest Australia’s economic transition away from mining investment to other drivers of growth is gaining traction.

There is little doubt that the full transition will take time, and result in prolonged periods of sub-trend economic growth and weak national incomes growth. However, in the absence of another global downturn – something Australia has no bearing over – the prospects for the domestic economy are not grim.

Far from it, in fact. The opportunities are everywhere.

SOURCE.  (See the original for links & graphics)

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