Sunday, June 26, 2016

Great Barrier Reef: Qld Government's cattle station purchase 'makes agriculture sector scapegoat'

Let's be clear:  This is NOT agricultural runoff being discussed.  It is pastoral runoff.  A cattle station and an arable farm are not the same.  There are virtually no arable farms in the Northern half of Cape York peninsula and yet that is where coral bleaching is greatest -- providing an excellent natural experiment that proves Greenie claims about agricultural runoff to be false.

Pastoral runoff may however be a different thing.  The property discussed below does appear to have been badly managed, if managed at all.  Producing anything in such a remote area must encounter a lot of high costs so cutting costs on management might be expected.  In the circumstances, the steps being taken by the Queensland government are well-advised.

There is however no reason why one property must be taken as proving a generality.  For all we know, there may be no other pastoral properties in the far North that are producing massive runoff.  No-one has made that case -- Greenie hand-waving aside

The agricultural sector says it is being unfairly targeted by the Queensland Government after it purchased a cattle station to reduce sediment flowing into the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles announced on Wednesday the Government had bought Springvale Station in the state's north for $7 million.

Mr Miles said the reason for the purchase was to stem the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sediment pollution flowing from the property into the Great Barrier Reef each year.

Generations of cattle grazing has caused massive gullies, etched deep into Springvale Station's 56,000 hectares.

These gullies carry 500,000 tonnes of sediment per year into the Normanby catchment, explained Australian Rivers Institute's Dr Andrew Brooks.

"The Normanby catchment represents about 50 per cent of the total run off to the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef," Dr Brooks told PM.

Because of this Dr Brooks supported the Queensland Government's purchase, as well as plans to rehabilitate the land and prevent further sediment from damaging the reef.

"The relationship between sediment run off and impact on coral has been well established," he said.

"What we know is that these volumes of sediment coming from this property, just to put it in perspective, that's 50,000 tipper trucks worth of sediment. "These gullies don't just deliver sediment. They also deliver nutrients. So per unit area these gullies are contributing twice the level of nutrients as a cane paddock in the wet tropics."

Mr Miles said smoothing out the gullies and replanting grass will begin as soon as possible but it is too early to tell how long the whole remediation process will take.

In the meantime, former station owners have until late next year to remove the several thousand head of cattle from the land.

While a loud chorus has praised the Queensland Government's purchase as a major step forward in remediation of the Great Barrier Reef, the agricultural sector has some reservations about the $7 million sale.

Reef Alliance chair Ruth Wade said the Queensland Government needed to ensure other industries near the reef also pull their weight. "There are areas like mines, ports, tourism, a number of areas where there are impacts of varying points," Ms Wade said.  "The obvious and easy one is the impact agriculture has in terms of sediment run off.

"We're working very hard through a number of schemes funded by Federal and State Governments to improve water quality and minimise impacts of agriculture."

But Mr Miles insisted that while all industries have a role to play in reef protection, the Government was targeting agriculture for the right reasons. "We know that a clear driver of problems for the reef is run off pollution and a great deal is cause by agricultural land," he said.

"If we can substantially reduce the amount of sediment run off from just this one property we can move ourselves forward toward the targets we have set for the entire catchment and that's a huge opportunity."

Agforce Queensland general president Graham Mosley is concerned the Government will not follow through on proper land management of the station.  "It's a challenge. There's services associated with servicing that property ... ongoing maintenance," Mr Mosley said.

"What is the long-term plan here for acquisition of land in Queensland? Government needs to be clear of the path its embarking on when spending taxpayer money.

Mr Miles concedes the land management details have not yet been determined, while not ruling out a partnership with graziers. "In terms of the ongoing wider management, beyond the rivers and gullies and streams, that's where we're interested in working with partners to determine the best way to manage it going forward," he said.

"The idea is those areas which are currently grazed could well continue to be so under some kind of partnership arrangement, while those areas that are pristine could be protected as National Park, or nature refuges, while we get about the important work of repairing the riparian zones."


Volunteer firies vow to back PM

Darcy Zaina always wanted to be a volunteer firefighter. "I just reckon it's fun and I like being there for other people," the teenager told AAP on Thursday.

But the increasingly bitter battle between Victorian volunteer and career firefighters is taking its toll on her family.

Now her dad Jon is having second thoughts about letting his daughter work under changed union conditions. "I don't think I would encourage her to take it on because it's unfair," he said.

Mr Zaina was once a Labor voter but now he's changed his mind, and the Victorian volunteer firefighter believes about half a million votes in the state could go to the coalition in the politically-charged stoush.

"There would not be a volunteer I imagine that would not vote for Liberal now - I guarantee it."

Mr Zaina said the entire state was in uproar, with CFA members set to rally for the coalition in the election.

Thousands of voters are abandoning Labor in favour of the coalition over the CFA-unions dispute, volunteer firefighters such as Alex Batty have revealed. That was the message he relayed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a meeting with the local CFA branch in the Liberal-held marginal seat of Corangamite on Thursday.

Mr Turnbull ramped up his language in the dispute, warning volunteers they were in the firing line of unions.

The government had won the fight against the road safety tribunal but unions wouldn't stop there. "You're next in their targets," he told the gathering.

Mr Turnbull said he normally would not make a political speech to volunteer groups such as the CFA, but there was a clear choice at the July 2 election against militant unionism.

He used the visit to reaffirm the coalition's pledge to amend the Fair Work Act to ensure volunteers have the freedom to carry out their duties.


Australian university students are being given 'trigger warnings' in class

At the start of lessons, lectures or subjects, academics are issuing warnings about sensitive or graphic content, giving students the opportunity to opt out if they feel confronted or uncomfortable.

University of Melbourne's Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a lecturer on gender and sexuality, told The Age she has been using trigger warnings in classes for the past 13 years of her career.

'It's like television ... you have a warning for everything from drug use to supernatural things, as a way to tell the audience that [they] may be disturbed by one of any number of topics,' she said.

'These students have grown up participating in politics through Tumblr and Instagram, and I feel that expressing ideas through sound bites and policing of other language, which is rampant online, has suddenly been translated into the classroom,' Dr Rosewarne added.

According to the Herald Sun, Melbourne's LaTrobe University Student Union has made it compulsory to provide warnings before talking about 57 separate potentially discomforting issues.

Those warning issues include 'gore', 'chewing', 'slimy things' and 'food' - on the basis they may 'negatively alter (the) wellbeing' of students.

Opponents of trigger warnings in universities complain the warnings limit educational growth and stop students from being challenged by new ideas.

Matthew Lesh, a research fellow at The Institute of Public Affairs, said he was worried Australian academics were feeling pressured to juggle the job of psychologist and educator.

'Universities should be about exposing people to as many ideas as possible, even if they are challenging,' he told The Age.


Daniel Andrews government fights flare-ups on many fire fronts

The dead weight of political recklessness is suffocating Daniel ­Andrews. The tall, stooped, ­slightly bookish Labor leader is just 19 months into his premiership of Victoria but he runs a state government crippled by its failure to consult and an addiction to a rust belt ­industrial-political framework that killed the previous Cain and Kirner Labor governments.

While outwardly the government’s problems are defined by its enterprise bargaining war with the state’s 60,000 volunteer fire­fighters, Labor’s challenges are in fact structural and have to do with a failure to communicate a ­broader economic narrative.

Such is the disconnect with the electorate that there is a deep concern among senior ministers that the Premier has killed the government or faces an unimaginable two-year battle to win back voter trust after scorching the firefighting volunteers lauded as heroes for helping to save hundreds of lives during the 2009 Black Saturday fire disaster.

Andrews’s leadership is not under imminent threat (only a handful of dissidents rally against him) but his medium-term challenges verge on the profound.

“If it’s like this in a year, then he is dead,’’ one senior figure tells The Australian.

To the firefighters dispute add these controversies: a wasted $1.1 billion of taxpayer funds after Andrews nixed the inherited ­Coalition East West Link road project, a social agenda fabled left-wing South Australian premier Don Dunstan would laud, plus the bungled delivery of suburban rail and regional trains. A storm of discontent is brewing.

Those who seek to define the Andrews government by a single dispute miss a more complex story of an administration as radical in its way as the Kennett Liberal government was in the 1990s, and certainly in a bigger rush to leave its mark than any Victorian Labor government since John Cain came to power in 1982.

While its narrative focuses on its social agenda, the Andrews government is engineering a large anti-congestion strategy that will lead, across time, to tens of billions of dollars of public transport and road infrastructure projects under­pinned by the strongest budget surpluses of any government. This includes $17bn worth of urban rail, including an $11bn underground rail network through the centre of Melbourne.

The Andrews government is not on its knees because it is lazy; it learned from the Coalition Baillieu government that the price of inaction is one term in office.

Rather, its problems seem to stem from the way Andrews has failed to transition to the premiership, despite his long-term ministerial positions under Steve Bracks and John Brumby.

Andrews, 46 next month, was considered one of the safest pair of hands Victorian Labor had produced in 20 years; today Bracks is said to be bewildered by the way Andrews is performing.

Andrews grew up in regional Victoria in a farm setting, yet he often seems to govern for the inner city and Trades Hall. Life in Wangaratta, in the state’s northeast, consisted of a Marist Brothers’ education, golf, helping to raise cattle and playing with his younger sister Cynthia.

Andrews is a creature of the Victorian Left who has done little beyond politics. When he left ­Monash University he worked as an adviser to Left powerbroker and federal MP Alan Griffin and was later elevated to ALP headquarters as an organiser and then assistant state secretary between 1999 and 2002.

Andrews is still considered factionally active, though he denies this. He does not have overt connections to a particular union but is sympathetic to Left-affiliated ­organisations such as the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

Outwardly cautious while health minister between 2008 and 2010, Andrews built a reputation under Brumby as a deeply serious young man trusted to deliver. Which he did. A core success of the Bracks and Brumby governments was that they kept the unions at bay and, when it came to social ­issues, trod carefully. Reformers, including attorney-general Rob Hulls, flew under the radar, keeping a lid on controversy by subversive rather than overt reform. The main social change — ­decriminalisation of abortion — became a cross-party cheek-slapping debate the night the reforms passed the parliament.

Contrast this with Andrews. His Facebook page is a hyper-­progressive echo chamber where the state’s dear leader is lauded by admiring commenters on issues such as medical marijuana, the Safe Schools sex education program and renewable energy, in a feel-good stream of consciousness discourse interspersed with pop culture references ranging from The Simpsons to The Lord of the Rings.

But with the exception of the promotion of transport projects, there is little to no economic narrative that drives the discussion. It is a savvy exercise in narrow casting, stepping around mainstream media gatekeepers in a way that appeals to young and inner urban voters who may drift into the arms of the Greens.

But even some within Labor are wondering if the tail has begun to wag the dog when it comes to the social agenda dominating government utterances in parliament and media conferences over the bread-and-butter business of state government ­service delivery.

“It’s not that the social agenda is bad, it’s that it is taking the available airspace from things that ­really matter to people such as jobs, infrastructure and education,’’ one senior Labor source says.

“That’s OK when you are doing well, but the moment you hit a crisis you have no stored credit in the bank.

“People might say, ‘This is bad, but they have got the runs on the board on the important stuff and I am willing to forgive a few mistakes.’ But if all you have is the social agenda — which often they don’t make the decisions about such as gay marriage or immigration — the politics of symbolism begins to take over.”

The source says even the more conservative ministers in the cabinet could live with the government’s social agenda (and support the good work the government has done on family violence) but “everyone” shakes their head that the government’s economic story is not told.

In some respects, the Andrews government has a good story to tell. There is an acceptance that the $6bn level crossings replacement program is a rare mix of good policy and politics. (Melbourne has a historical burden of hundreds of rail crossings intersecting busy roads, leading to considerable congestion and delays on the road and rail networks.)

The government is making good on its vow to build the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel and has partnered with toll road operator Transurban to deliver a second river crossing through the Western Distributor road project to ease congestion in the nation’s fastest growing suburbs.

And business is backing ­Andrews for continuing Victoria’s international engagement and drawing the state closer to China.

But these positives are negated by the $1.1bn cost of junking the East West Link. And a failure to properly engage Victorians about leasing the $6bn Port of Melbourne led to the opposition forcing a humiliating backdown on the government to secure opposition support for the privatisation. This episode is a symptom of a toxic ­relationship between the parties, which has led to parliament ­becoming dysfunctional in recent sessions. There is a visceral dislike between Andrews and Liberal leader Matthew Guy that sets the tone in the chamber.

But it is the Country Fire Authority dispute that has done more than anything to dent Andrews’s standing. The seeds for the disaster were sown when Andrews made the ill-fated decision in April to sideline emergency services minister Jane Garrett and meet directly with the United Firefighters Union’s ultra-militant leader Peter Marshall. Those who know Marshall say he’s someone who prefers a fight to a feed, and brawling was exactly what he was doing with Garrett.

At the 2014 state election, Marshall, along with his Ambulance Employees Association colleagues, had helped deliver Andrews government by refusing to negotiate with the Coalition government and then turning out members in droves to campaign for the ALP. But after a few sessions over the negotiating table with Marshall, Garrett was in no frame of mind to honour any perceived IOUs to the UFU and she bunkered down with the CFA and its volunteers in opposing the union’s push for control over the volunteer organisation.

In many ways, she was on the side of the angels. But once the row ended up in the Fair Work Commission, the UFU had a stroke of luck when conciliation was ­handed to former Australian Manufacturing Workers Union official Julius Roe. Roe staunchly defends his ­independence but the opposition accuses him of siding with the union by delivering recommendations that resembled the union’s claims with a bit of token verbiage around consultation.

It rapidly became apparent that Garrett would not back the proposed deal in cabinet. Earlier this month, Andrews returned from a trip to the US to his government in crisis. He sat down to negotiate with Garrett in what amounted to a game of chicken. Neither was prepared to give way and in the end the emergency services minister was given her marching ­orders. Since then ­Andrews has swept aside all remaining obstacles to ramming it through, installing his deputy James Merlino as Emergency Services Minister, firing the CFA board and jettisoning the ­organisation’s chief executive, ­Lucinda Nolan, a respected former senior policewoman.

Now the deal is on the verge of going through. But there’s no hiding the fact that the deal has enraged many of the CFA’s 60,000 volunteers, concerned about increasing union influence and the drop in response times the extra career firefighters will deliver in the urban fringe and regions.

The government’s sales job, sloppy as it is, may quell some anger in time for the 2018 election, but the damage to Andrews’s personal standing will be harder to ­repair. Back in the 2014 campaign ads he was styled as Everyday Dan, a mild-mannered family man lending a ready ear to ordinary Victorians’ woes. Of course, in truth Andrews has a ruthless streak — all successful politicians do — and it has been on display throughout the dispute.

The opposition accuses the Premier of bullying Garrett and Nolan out of their jobs. ­Andrews has talked a big game on bullying through his support for the Safe Schools program. But in the weeks before the dispute blew up, he surrendered the high moral ground when he was caught making a fat gibe in parliament directed at a Liberal MP.

The story itself was a one-day blip, curtailed by Andrews’s prompt apology. But the opposition is using it to ­develop a narrative around a “bullying” Premier drunk on his own power. Both parties know how effective this narrative can be — last time it was used it marked the end of Jeff Kennett’s reign. Andrews is no Kennett. But those who have been around Spring Street for a long time will know there are many similarities. Kennett was difficult to categorise and so is ­Andrews. One from the Right, one from the Left. But Kennett arrived in 1992 with ­unprecedented goodwill while Andrews was an accidental premier who profited from Coalition ­incompetence.

To suggest Andrews is on his own, however, is wrong. The broad Left faction has reaffirmed its support for him and one senior ALP figure points to Bill Shorten as a key factor in Andrews forcing the CFA dispute to a head. The story goes that Shorten, directly or indirectly, demanded that the UFU dispute be resolved before the federal election. This would explain why Andrews ­entered the debate carrying a chainsaw and wearing heavy-duty boots.

“Dan was happy for the dispute to run and run and run. It was Shorten who forced the issue,’’ an ALP source says. “The truth is he was doing Bill’s work and then Garrett blew us up. She completely overreacted and that’s why we are where we are.”

This version of events makes some sense. It would explain why a (generally) capable operator like Andrews entered the fray. Yet it is impossible to believe that Shorten would have sanctioned the way Andrews has done it, going to war with the people who helped save the state on Black Saturday.

This strategy bewildered some of the Premier’s strongest sup­porters. Andrews will be lucky to survive the fallout. The seats of Brunswick and Richmond in Melbourne’s inner north and east are under siege from the Greens and gains are hard to make given the rare clean sweep of the four bayside “sandbelt” seats in 2014.

ALP hardheads insist, however, that demographic changes will help Labor’s second-term chances, along with the natural “sophomore surge” that benefits many first-time MPs.

But never forget that Andrews is a groundbreaker. No premier has ever so recklessly picked a brawl with 60,000 firefighting volunteers to back a union mate and expect to win an election. On that political fire front, Andrews is a standout.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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