Monday, August 19, 2019

Reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s doom are exaggerated

Master reef guide Natalie Lobartolo has a first-hand window into what the world thinks about the Great Barrier Reef. She says the most common comment from tourists after they experience the reef and waters around Lady ­Musgrave Island where she works is: “I thought the reef was dead but it’s amazing.”

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a similar experience last week when she snorkelled over two reefs off Cairns.

On her first official visit to the Great Barrier Reef, Ley said she found it difficult to reconcile what she saw in the water with what had been said around the world.  “The reef is not dead,” was her appraisal. “It is not dying. I would not even say it is on life support.

“Tourism operators want a very clear message that the reef is definitely not dead, that it is amazing and one of the true wonders of the world and it is worth visiting.

“Having seen it for myself I can certainly endorse that. That is a ­really clear message that I want people to hear.”

The results of first-hand observations from two snorkels may not meet the test of scientific rigour. But along the Queensland coast there is a pushback that challenges the now familiar message of the reef’s doom.

A lecture tour by controversial marine scientist Peter Ridd has ­attracted hundreds of people and is only half way through a program that stretches throughout the ­sugar cane centres from Bundaberg to Cairns.

The tour has been promoted by the sugar cane and other agriculture ­industries that face the prospect of strict new regulations under a reef water quality bill before state parliament. Liberal National Party MPs at state and federal level have embraced Ridd’s call for greater quality assurance of the science. But conservation groups are alarmed Ridd is getting a platform to express his views.

Ridd was sacked by James Cook University after being disciplined for not being collegiate. That sacking was ruled unlawful by the Federal Court but its finding is being appealed by JCU.

Like it or not, science groups have been forced to engage with Ridd’s message that the findings of key reef research should be checked.

Ridd’s message on his lecture tour is that coral cover has not changed and that there is still excellent coral cover on all 3000 reefs across the Great Barrier Reef system. He also says there is almost no land sediment on the reef from run-off from agricultural processes.

Ridd’s findings have struck a chord with canegrowers, who are being asked to change their practices to satisfy UNESCO requirements that Australia is respecting its obligations to retain World Heritage status for the reef.

A suite of measures by the ­Abbott government, including a ban on dredge spoils from new port developments being dumped in reef waters, was enough to ­remove the threat of an “in-danger” listing for the reef.

Since then there have been two bleaching events and damaging cyclones that have had a big impact on coral cover, which is now recovering.

The Great Barrier Reef is again due to be considered by the World Heritage Committee next year and the proposed Queensland water quality regulations are seen as part of a broader campaign to keep the reef off the in-danger watch list.

Environment groups are ­pushing for more regulation and most likely would welcome intervention by UNESCO. But the bruising campaign last time damaged the global reputation of the reef among potential tourists and left the tourism industry crying foul.

Ridd says this is a prime reason to get the science right. He says reef science is affecting every major industry in north Queensland: mining, agriculture and ­tourism.

The legislation before state parliament will hurt agriculture badly, he says. It sets nutrient and sediment pollution load limits for each of the six reef catchments and ­limits fertiliser use for crops and grain production, covering agricultural activities in all Great Barrier Reef catchments.

The message Ridd wants people to take home from his talks is that there has been a massive exaggeration of threats to the Great Barrier Reef. He accuses the reef institutions of producing untrustworthy results because of inadequate quality assurance systems and says that must be corrected before any new legislation is introduced.

And he says there is an urgent need for an independent body to run through the Auditor-General’s office and examine the science used for public policy.

Bundaberg Canegrowers manager Dale Holliss says Ridd has ­allowed many to articulate concerns they may have already had. “Peter Ridd basically when he talks says … it is the only science we have, so we do need a process where we actually check it,” Holliss says. However, environment groups say Ridd’s tour has been “simply spreading misinformation”.

The Australian Coral Reef ­Society says several of Ridd’s claims are not true, while others could be characterised as straw-man arguments that ignore much greater challenges faced by the Great Barrier Reef.

“As the reef is facing fundamental challenges from rapidly warming oceans, it is important that governments take action to support a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while taking all available steps to reduce the amount of sediments, nutrients and pesticides that reach the reef lagoon,” the society argues.

Ley says she is “not downplaying the seriousness of climate change” but acknowledges that some people are understandably confused. “Tourism operators are saying they want somewhere to go to say that is the truth,” she says. “My answer is they can go to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.”

So what does AIMS say about water quality and the issues raised by Ridd? In a statement to ­Inquirer, AIMS chief executive Paul Hardisty says there is a natural improvement in water quality from inshore to offshore reefs ­because inshore reefs are exposed to increased sediment from wind and rough seas.

Mid-shelf and offshore reefs typically have better water quality as these regions are flushed more frequently with waters from the Coral Sea. As such, material ­delivered into the inshore region via rivers remains close to the coast for extended periods.

When it comes to water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, researchers agree it is uncommon for sediment plumes to regularly reach outer-shelf reefs. During flood events, most sediments are deposited relatively close to river mouths.

Hardisty says enhanced sediment loads from farmed catchments increase the amount (and duration) of sediment that is resuspended locally around river mouths, on inshore reefs close to rivers and along the inner shelf.

He says analysis of 11 years of satellite imagery for the whole Great Barrier Reef shows water clarity is significantly reduced for up to six months after every big flood from the central and southern rivers, but not so much from the far northern rivers.

Several studies have shown fine particles of nutrient-enriched and organic-rich sediments can settle on inshore and mid-shelf reefs during calm periods and have the potential to kill young corals within 48 hours and adult corals in three to seven days, depending on the species.

Hardisty agrees there are many conditions that increase nutrient concentrations, including oceanographic processes and upwelling, liberation of nutrients contained in sediments, and inputs from ­riverine systems that may be ­enhanced above natural levels by residual nutrients from agricultural or industrial activities.

The AIMS says long-term monitoring of cycles of ecosystem decline and recovery tells us that the Great Barrier Reef is under stress. Its latest condition report, published last month, found average hard coral cover had continued to decline in the central and southern Great Barrier Reef while stabilising in the northern region this year.

This decline is because of ­numerous and successive disturbances including outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, tropical cyclones and coral bleaching. The central region’s highest recorded average coral cover was 22 per cent in 2016 compared with 12 per cent this year, and the southern ­region had 43 per cent coral cover in 1988 compared with 24 per cent this year. Hard coral cover in the northern region increased slightly from 11 per cent in 2017 to 14 per cent this year but was down from 30 per cent in 1988.

Hardisty says disturbances such as bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns outbreaks are ­occurring more often, are longer-lasting and more severe.

This means coral reefs have less time to recover. Right now, however, there is still plenty to see.


How red tape and high taxes have stunted home construction and sent prices soaring across the country

High taxes and regulatory red tape as well as economic factors have stunted new home construction and caused prices to surge across the country, according to an industry body.

A report commissioned by the Housing Industry Association lists levies, stamp duty, GST, council rates and land tax as factors that drive up home prices, The Australian reports.

The HIA says the cost is as high as 50 per cent of a house and land package in Sydney, 37 per cent in Melbourne, and between 29 and 33 per cent in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

The report stated that 14 per cent of total GST revenue raised came from the housing sector because most of the tax burden is being transferred directly to households.

'It is unacceptable that the red tape and tax incurred in the construction of a ''house and land'' package as a percentage of the purchase price is 50 per cent in Sydney and 37 per cent in Melbourne, as outlined in this report,' Housing Minister Michael Sukkar said.

'It is also unacceptable that the supply of new housing is so badly constrained by state and territory planning and regulatory bottlenecks.'

HIA executive director NSW David Bare said housing was 'one of the most heavily taxed sectors of the economy, alongside the ''vice taxes'' applied to cigarettes and alcohol'.

Mr Bare said having to pay $417,000 on taxes and regulatory costs when building a home was too much of a burden. 

Among some of the regulatory charges Australians have to pay are soil testing, native vegetation protection, contamination reports, heritage assessments, bushfire assessments, traffic management fees, site inspection fees, building levies, connection fees and flood assessments.

In an attempt to unlock the housing supply, the commonwealth is implementing its reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability package.

This package will make $1billion available through the National Finance and Investment Corporation.

The government will also be launching their First Home Loan Deposit scheme on January 1 2020, which aims to help 10,000 first home buyers by topping up their 5 per cent deposit with a government guarantee of 15 per cent per loan.


Albo is a footballer

This will help his image as a regular guy a lot.  A big difference from the robotic Bill Shorten

The leader of the Federal Opposition has shown off his ball skills in a charity football game.

Anthony Albanese donned his black, yellow and red Western Walers jersey, along with some seriously short shorts at the AFL Reclink Community Cup match at Henson Park in Marrickville, Sydney.

The 56-year-old Labor leader battled alongside his team against the Sydney Sailors which saw them win 41-35.

This is the third year in a row the Western Walers won the annual event. 

On his Twitter page, Mr Albanese shared several pictures leading up to the game where he is seen arm-in-arm with his fellow teammates.

After the big win he tweeted 'winners' along with an image of the team celebrating their victory.   

Money raised from the event is donated towards Reclink Australia which provide sporting and art opportunities for disadvantaged Australians.


Another day, another 600 pages of audit stuff and nonsense

Reading government reports is part of my job description. Believe me, it is an increasingly exasperating activity. What is it about government reports these days? They are always far too long, replete with silly pictures and charts, and the messaging is almost always deep-green.

Even the more sensible ones go off the rails. The recently released report of the Victorian Auditor-General on recycling had a six-minute spoken option brimming with highly simplified charts and key messages. Let me put it out there: I expect the reports of ­auditors-general to be sombre, measured and thorough — not ­entertaining.

Consider the 642-page contribution of Infrastructure Australia, released this week — The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019. It is a pitiful document, full of meaningless homilies and worthy sounding gobbledygook.

The best that can be said about it is that the contracted graphic artists must have done very well, given the page upon page of ­cartoon-like representations of various thought bubbles dreamt up by the authors. Not only are these little pictures completely misleading, they are an insult to the serious reader.

Now most of us understand very well what is meant by the term audit: it is an independent ­inspection and assessment of an organisation’s accounts. To be sure, the term can be used more broadly, but IA’s report really pushes to the limit the meaning of the term.

We learn early on that the audit is based on “strategic foresight methods”. I’m wondering whether this is just a fancy term for ­extremely well-paid bureaucrats sticking their fingers out windows to test the direction of the wind.

This is another report that is full of trendy ideas of the left. It’s all about climate change, equity and access, Australia going to hell in a hand basket — all the predictable themes. It’s a worry that the federal government department that was responsible for this useless piece of sludge was headed by the person who has recently been named secretary to the Treasury.

Don’t get me wrong: I did get a few good laughs reading the ­report. Evidently, higher education, food exports and tourism are “emerging industries”.

And here’s something to really get your creative juices going: Australians drive the equivalent of 1000 times from the Earth to the sun every year. And what about this clanger? Evidently we could build eight Sydney Opera Houses with the annual subsidies to public transport. Whether we need eight more opera houses is an unanswered question.

But wait, there’s more: by 2028, women will control close to three-quarters of discretionary spending worldwide. Why would this sort of pretend-fact even be included in this report? Although I guess that’s strategic foresight methods for you.

Let’s not forget the horizon-scanning methodology used in the report. This involves guessing “the shifts that are likely to transform how we live, and consequently what we need from infrastructure”. Unsurprisingly, there is a half-page photograph of electric vehicles being charged.

Evidently, Australia’s average annual equivalent CO2 emissions per capita is 21 tonnes, which is nearly double the OECD average. But that is juxtaposed on the same page by the fact just more than 90 per cent of Australians own a smartphone.

Unsurprisingly, there are some outright mistakes in the report. The claim is made that “job security is becoming a key issue, particularly as new sharing and ‘gig’ economies create more transient and casualised workforces”. This is just wrong. Job tenure has actually increased, the degree of casualisation remains steady and the gig economy is tiny — 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the workforce.

Leaving aside all this flim-flam, there is a fatal weakness in the ­report and that is its failure to question the central assumption that Australia’s population will grow by nearly a quarter to reach 31.4 million in 2034. This outcome will be largely as a result of immigration, with IA anticipating that almost all the new migrants will pile into Melbourne and Sydney.

I’m not sure you need a university degree to predict that much more infrastructure will be ­required to accommodate this population growth. What would have been worthwhile is an assessment of a much slower rate of population growth and the benefits this would bring in terms of ­allowing the infrastructure to catch up at a more leisurely pace.

The reality is that we pay far too much for infrastructure. The vice-like grip of the tier one contractors — now mostly overseas companies — plus the almost exclusive worker coverage of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union mean that a cost-premium of at least 25 per cent applies to all major projects. Can you recall when you last heard someone talk about a major infrastructure ­project being delivered under budget and on time? There is no reason to think these cost penalties that apply to infrastructure will end any time soon.

We know what huge costs ­increased commuting times are exacting on those who live in the major cities.

According to longitudinal survey Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia, the average commuting time in Australia has risen by ­nearly one-quarter in the 15 years to 2017.

In 2002, workers averaged 3.7 hours commuting each week; by 2017, it was 4.5 hours. Unsurprisingly, Sydneysiders had the longest average daily commutes, followed by Melburnians. Moreover, workers with the longest commuting times are the least ­satisfied with their jobs and the likeliest to quit.

But instead of querying the rate of population growth, IA simply tells us the cost of lost productivity because of congestion could double to $39 billion if the government does not act. This is pathetic stuff.

Of course, IA, along with other left boosters, hates what it terms “urban sprawl”. Evidently, “densification” is the way to go. We all need to live in inner-city dogboxes in cracking apartment buildings to enjoy all the amenities of inner-city living.

Mind you, IA is a tad concerned about the lack of green spaces. “Our fast-growing cities risk not having adequate, high-quality, ­accessible green and recreation ­infrastructure as they grow and densify, particularly in inner-urban areas.” What this means in practice is all of us living in dogboxes located in concrete jungles.

Interestingly, the IA tome has much in common with another rubbish report released this year by the CSIRO — the Australian National Outlook 2019. In that ­report, it was the clear recommendation we all crowd into “higher-density, multicentre and well-connected capital cities to reduce urban sprawl and congestion”.

And here’s another predictable bit: “(We need to) invest in transportation infrastructure including mass-transit, autonomous vehicles and active transit, such as walking and cycling.” The things you learn: walking and cycling are active transit.

It never seems to occur to these highly paid bureaucrats or the puffed-up types on the boards of IA or the CSIRO that people ­prefer to live in houses with back yards and to drive their own cars.

The most laughable part of the CSIRO report is the call for greater trust in institutions. This seems highly unlikely as long as they continue to produce such condescending drivel that insults very many quiet Australians.

The only good thing that will come out of the IA report is that it be will ignored as pretty much all IA’s output has been to date. And as for the CSIRO effort, it’s already gathering dust.


Girls not welcome at Randwick Boys' High

The NSW Department of Education has rejected a proposal to turn Randwick Boys' High into a co-ed school despite a survey showing strong support within the eastern suburbs community.

The idea was floated by the Coalition government in the lead-up to the March election to counteract a promise by Labor to build a new, co-educational public high school in the marginal electorate of Coogee.

The NSW Department of Education ran a survey in January and February to discover community attitudes and held meetings with those who would be most affected, such as parents, students and representatives from surrounding schools.

Of more than 2220 community respondents, 57 per cent strongly supported the idea, 10 per cent were in favour, and 28 per cent were opposed. The rest were neutral.

Parents and carers of girls made up more than half of the respondents, and two-thirds of them supported the idea.

But in making the final decision, the department said it weighed the survey results against the feedback from those who would be most affected, such as staff at surrounding schools and existing students of Randwick Boys' and Girls'.

Of the 192 female students who responded, 70 per cent said they would not be interested in attending a co-ed Randwick Boys', and more than half of the 300 parents at Randwick Girls' who responded said they would not send their daughters there.

There was also strong opposition from staff at other schools in the eastern suburbs network, including Randwick Girls', JJ Cahill, Matraville and South Sydney high schools, who were concerned about the impact on enrolments.

"The department has accepted [an] independent assessment that the consultation process was inconclusive in determining a meaningful community position," said Murat Dizdar, the department's deputy secretary of educational services.

"The independent analysis shows quite clearly that when you dive deeper, the views of the families and students who would be most directly impacted by a change of the provision there at Randwick did not provide clear support for the change."

Mr Dizdar said the eastern suburbs schools operated as a network, rather than a series of stand-alone schools, and there was existing capacity at schools in the south of the district, such as JJ Cahill and Matraville.

Without Randwick Boys’, eastern suburbs parents would not have the option of a public boys’ high school.

Two new or upgraded schools – Inner Sydney High and Alexandria Park Community School – were about to open, and the two Randwick single-sex schools were part of the "tapestry of provision in the area", he said.

The department would now proceed with plans to upgrade the two Randwick schools. It would also develop a strategy to improve infrastructure and curriculum offerings across the whole eastern suburbs network.

Community groups have been campaigning for a new co-ed high school in the eastern suburbs, saying there is not enough capacity to cope with the numbers of students who attend the area's primary schools.

They say the new school is needed in the northern part of the region, and that schools in the southern parts – such as Maroubra and Matraville, some of which have many vacant classrooms – are too far away for students to travel to.

"We will look at strengthening our provision across all of those schools," Mr Dizdar said. "We are well placed to cater for the demand."

Randwick Boys' P&C president Birgit Schickinger said parents would be "extremely disappointed by this outcome, especially given that the majority of people surveyed were in favour of turning Randwick Boys' into a co-ed high school".

"Randwick Boys' will continue to be a strong, caring, nurturing school for the boys in this area, and we will work with the department to make sure it gets better facilities and resources."


 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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