Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Western NSW Water supply is under threat

Another prophet! Anybody who thinks he can predict or control Australia's weather is pissing into the wind

I’ve spent the past six months out in the Murray-Darling Basin, listening and learning. During my latest trip – to central and northern NSW – I was struck deeply by the great uncertainty many people are feeling about the future after experiencing the hottest and driest three years on record.

At the iconic internationally recognised Macquarie Marshes I saw firsthand how dryland vegetation has encroached upon the marshes – a small but significant sign (no doubt replicated in other parts of Australia) that illustrates that our drier and hotter climate is quickly changing our landscapes, communities and industries.

While the grass may be a little greener now, it temporarily masks a growing genuine concern about the future. What will the next season hold, and the one after that? What does that mean for the younger generations the future of these communities which people quite rightly feel a responsibility to protect.

I have seen firsthand how climate and water shortages are a significant threat to the security of our communities.

Climate change acts as a threat-multiplier. More frequent droughts and natural disasters increase pressure on resources, communities, institutions and infrastructure. It can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities within societies, and have a destabilising effect, worsening the factors that generate conflict and social unrest.

Even stable and wealthy nations like ours are exposed. Only 18 months ago, communities in the northern basin were carting drinking water because dams had run dry.

Our prosperity and way of life are dependent on our nation’s water and food security. And the Murray-Darling Basin is the single most important resource underpinning this security.

Last year – through the 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation – we shared a range of future climate scenarios the basin could face developed by the CSIRO. The most probable scenario is that average annual streamflow in 30 years’ time will be up to 30 per cent less than what we see today, due to a 10 per cent reduction in rainfall. We released these climate scenarios alongside a commitment to support the basin in adapting to climate challenges and increasing resilience.

Adapting to a challenge of the magnitude of climate change can seem overwhelming, paralysing. But I believe that as a nation, Australia is strong enough and smart enough to rise to the challenge. Many are already doing just that.

There are plenty of conversations happening at kitchen tables and board room tables about this challenge and what communities and industries are already doing to adapt.

Whether you call it climate change, or just changing weather patterns, it’s clear that now more than ever we all have to lean in and learn – from other communities, industry groups or governments – so together we’re tackling this complex challenge of water scarcity and hotter temperatures from all angles.

The good news is that we have numerous leaders, industries and groups charging ahead with their adaptation efforts. They are rightly proud of the work they’re doing and the progress they’re making to adapt to a drier and hotter climate.

We are bringing together these leaders from agriculture, natural resource management, tourism, finance, support services and government as part of our Basin Climate Resilience Summit, which starts on Thursday in Canberra.

The MDBA does not have all the answers. Our role is to take a basin-wide view and do what we can to supercharge the climate adaptation efforts already underway. The summit is the beginning of this journey and poses three questions. What are the key focus areas we need to consider for the basin? What impediments or lessons do we need to navigate? What are the opportunities to collaborate, and if so how?

It’s hoped the summit will contribute to the collective preparedness of all in the basin. We will ensure all interested parties are kept informed as we continue to work together so our basin communities can survive and thrive sustainably.


Energy Australia will close the Yallourn power station in Victoria's Latrobe Valley in mid-2028, four years ahead of schedule, and build a giant battery instead

Prices driven down by flood of output from subsidized renewables

Yallourn is Victoria's oldest power station and was scheduled to close in 2032. It employs 500 permanent workers plus hundreds of contractors.

Energy Australia managing director Catherine Tanna confirmed the plant would close in mid 2028. "The world of energy is rapidly changing," Ms Tanna said. "As we transition to cleaner forms, getting that approach right is something I’ve long been passionate about."

Ms Tanna said Energy Australia would build a 350 megawatt, utility-scale battery in the Latrobe Valley by the end of 2026. The battery will be located at the company’s Jeeralang gas plant.

"This will provide energy for *up to* four hours at a time, and is larger than any battery operating in the world today," she said. "We are ensuring energy storage is built before Yallourn exits the system, enabling more renewables to enter the system.

[How long at full output? Might not last long on a windless night]

"We are determined to show Australia, that it is possible to move from the old to the new in a way that does not leave people behind."

Recent analysis by Green Energy Markets and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) predicted up to five of Australia's 16 coal plants could close by 2025 because of an expected 28 gigawatts of clean energy expected to be connected to the grid.

The analysis found if power prices continued to decline Yallourn, along with the Eraring, Mt Piper, Vales Point B and Gladstone black-coal plants would be making a loss by 2025.

Environment groups and the union movement have previously raised concerns about the early closure of Yallourn.

They do not want to see a repeat of the 2017 Hazelwood power station closure, which shut with six months' notice and sent the Victorian government scrambling to put in place a $266-million adjustment package to deal with the loss of 750 jobs.


The young senator styling herself as a free speech culture warrior

In her maiden speech, Liberal senator Claire Chandler observed that few couples spend the first six months of their marriage on the campaign trail.

But that’s essentially what happened to the 30-year-old Tasmanian, who married in November 2018, enjoyed a brief honeymoon in New Zealand and then hit the hustings ahead of the bitterly-fought May 2019 federal election.

Chandler is the second-youngest person in federal Parliament (after Greens senator Jordon Steele-John, who is 26), the youngest woman and the youngest member of the government. But her political views wouldn’t be out of place among much older conservatives. Indeed, she is fashioning herself as one of the Coalition’s next-generation cultural warriors.

Since arriving in the Senate, Chandler has crusaded against what she calls “the steady decline of academic freedom and diversity of thought” at universities. This contentious issue has at times been an obsession of the Morrison government, too: as education minister, Dan Tehan tasked former High Court chief justice Robert French to review free speech on campus, and the government is now attempting to insert a definition of academic freedom into university funding laws.

Chandler has an impeccable Liberal pedigree. She was president of the Tasmanian Young Liberals, president of the federal Young Liberals, a member of the party’s federal executive, and a long-serving delegate to the party’s state council and women’s council in Tasmania. She worked at Deloitte for several years before politics, and is a member of the Institute of Public Affairs.

She says she experienced university groupthink first-hand. “Most people on campus knew what my political leanings were,” she says. “My tutors or fellow students would dismiss the views I put forward on the basis of, ‘oh, you’re just a Young Liberal’.”

Chandler contends: “The culture of not considering alternative viewpoints certainly seems to have gotten a lot worse in the intervening decade”.

This claim, chiefly advanced by cultural warriors on the political right, is disputed by many vice-chancellors and academics, who insist universities are still pluralistic domains where ideas can be robustly debated in the name of truth and learning.

Asked for contemporary examples of free speech being stifled, Chandler gives two. She says certain student groups “aren’t being allowed to have a stall at university market day because of the views that they might hold”, pointing to a 2020 case in which the Queensland University of Technology Student Guild rejected Generation Liberty, the IPA’s youth network, from its Market Week because of its “values”.

To be clear, that was a decision of the student body not the university. Vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil later explained the Student Guild had incorrectly cited “values” as the reason for the rejection, and that the university had offered Generation Liberty a place at its own Orientation Week (which, curiously, the IPA-linked group had knocked back).

Chandler also complains students “might be taken through administrative tribunals on university campuses for putting forward their views on how the university is run”, citing the case of Drew Pavlou, a University of Queensland student who was suspended following his protests about the university’s ties to China. The details of that case are complicated but the university contended Pavlou breached conduct policies by engaging in bullying and harassment.

The real question for policymakers here is whether these examples represent an actual problem at universities or whether they are just isolated incidents (or worse, gripes that have been trumped up for deployment in the culture wars).

Chandler believes these cases are the tip of the iceberg and says she has spoken with numerous students and academics who feel they cannot challenge dominant viewpoints.

“What I actually worry about is how often it is happening but not being reported,” she says. “That’s the broader concern here: that we don’t even know the full quantum of the issue because people are scared to speak up.”

Vice-chancellors have conceded some of these concerns are valid, but pushed back against the notion of a free speech “crisis” on campus. In 2019, UNSW’s Ian Jacobs said any trend toward “no-platforming” people at universities - denying people an opportunity to put their views - was “not acceptable”. At the same time, Sydney University’s Michael Spence - who concluded his term as vice-chancellor in December - said it was a “problem” if students were censoring their views for fear of repercussions, but this reflected a broader social phenomenon of people shouting down speakers with whom they disagreed.

Chandler thinks that’s a cop-out. “I don’t think we would be in the situation we currently are if vice-chancellors, university leaders across the country, had taken this issue seriously,” she says.

Of late, Chandler has an additional fixation: what she calls “an attack on women’s rights” and the erasure of gender from language. She is campaigning against trans women being able to participate in female sports or use women’s change facilities and other spaces, arguing they should be accessed only by people who are “biologically” female.

This argument is often deployed by a certain cohort of feminists who believe trans women should never be considered women. But Chandler does not identify as a feminist. “I believe we need more women making decisions about these things and speaking out,” she says. “But honestly, I don’t identify as a feminist because I think that movement has come to mean something that I don’t necessarily subscribe to - particularly in terms of saying that if you’re a man who identifies as a woman then you are a woman. That’s not something that I agree with.”

Chandler has also vigorously defended Holly Lawford-Smith, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne who launched a website that has been labelled transphobic by more than 100 of her academic colleagues.

For Chandler, this backlash is a clear example of left-wing intolerance for academic freedom. But in their open letter, the petitioners underline that they support academic freedom, while contending that “academic freedom does not mean the freedom to spread misinformation and incite hatred”.

I put it to Chandler that conservatives sometimes confuse criticism with censorship by crying “cancel culture” when opponents exercise their own free speech. She concedes this happens. “I’d like to think that I try to be careful about [that],” she says. “I’ve always said free speech is not just my ability to say something but also the ability of someone else to disagree with what I say.”

Where to draw the line? Chandler gives the example of the “unacceptable” response to author J. K. Rowling’s pronouncements on trans women. “When you had people tweeting things about her death, or acts of violence towards her or raping her or whatever it was, that’s when we start to get into a really murky area,” she says. “We need to learn how to disagree better.”

As it happens, that was the exact view Michael Spence espoused in numerous interviews, speeches and opinion pieces arguing universities must be places where people learn how to “disagree well”. I suggest to Chandler that she and Spence - one of the vice-chancellors she accuses of allowing left-wing groupthink to fester - seem to be on the same page after all.

The senator is momentarily taken aback. “I never would have expected that,” she says.


Aboriginal takeover of Moreton Island

The controversial takeover of an iconic Queensland destination looks set to go ahead despite MPs raising concerns about a lack of detail in the $30m proposal.

Moreton Island will be jointly managed by an indigenous corporation as MPs and businesses raised concerns of ‘secrecy’ at an inquiry into the controversial deal.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Stradbroke Island’s Quandamooka Yoolooburrabbee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) will be granted joint control of the world’s third-largest sand island.

However, non-government members of a Parliamentary Committee tasked with analysing the proposal raised concerns about how the island would be managed.

Opposition MPs and Katter’s Australia Party Leader Robbie Katter said the details of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, the bedrock of the island’s management, remained confidential.

“Committee members are being asked to review and provide recommendations on a Bill which provides the legislative support to the joint management agreement without knowing the contents of the underlying indigenous Management Agreement and indigenous Land Use Agreement,” the members wrote.

“With over $30m of honest Queenslanders tax dollars in play the Labor Government needs to be open and accountable around the agreements made as part of the joint management.”

Businesses on Moreton were concerned the proposal would give QYAC the ability to grant and refuse island permits, putting their viability at risk.

“If we cannot renew our commercial activity permit to land on the island, our business ceases to exist, so there would be no way for the general public or various businesses operating on Moreton Island to actually access the island,” Moreton Island Adventures CEO Elizabeth Hemmens said.

The non-government MPs called for Moreton tourism businesses to be given 15-year permits to operate.

Sunrover Expeditions Manager Robert Fergus said businesses were prepared to follow indigenous requirements but said the lack of consultation was “very frustrating”.

“There is innuendo, hearsay and Chinese whispers,” he told the committee.

Fears parts of Moreton Island would be restricted from the public under the agreement was dismissed by the committee, which said additional land would be added to the National Park.

Then-CEO of QYAC Cameron Costello told the committee the corporation would not hesitate to restrict access to “protect cultural heritage sites” if required.

“There are some areas that are sacred — areas that might not necessarily mean no access but will mean restricted access or access with conditions,” he said.

“People… are going to actually get, through our management, more knowledge from the Quandamooka people and understand more about their island than previously.”

Labor MP and Committee Chair Chris Whiting said joint management of the island could deliver economic development, conservation and tourism benefits for traditional owners and the community.

QYAC said its management of Moreton would generate positive outcomes.

“We believe joint management will benefit all residents and businesses, and we confidently predict a similar outcome to Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) where Quandamooka People are empowered to play a critical role in progressing a sustainable and vibrant future,” it said.




No comments: