Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Another confirmation:  Unusually hot weather in Australia goes back a long way

Australia's notorious BoM has made various declarations to the effect that modern-day temperatures in Australia are unprecedentedly high.  A recent very hot summer in Sydney was particularly targeted as "proof" of global warming.  So it is interesting to find records of Sydney weather centuries ago.  We do of course have the observations by Watkin Tench showing that Sydney had disastrously hot weather in 1790 but other sources of data are obviously very welcome.   We now have a compilation from two other early sources.  See the abstract below.

The compilation was done by Warmist scientists so it is amusing that they make no direct comparisons between average temperatures then and average temperatures now.  From what Tench reported it is a slam dunk what to conclude from that.  The authors do however concede that the general picture of weather events in Sydney in the late 18th century is extremely similar to the picture these days.  So I think it is safe to conclude that there has been no warming in Sydney for over 200 years.  I wonder how global warming missed Sydney?

A climate reconstruction of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, using weather journal and documentary data, 1788–1791

Joëlle Gergis et al.


This study presents the first analysis of the weather conditions experienced at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, during the earliest period of the European settlement of Australia. A climate analysis is presented for January 1788 to December 1791 using daily temperature and barometric pressure observations recorded by William Dawes in Sydney Cove and a temperature record kept by William Bradley on board the HMS Sirius anchored in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) in the early months of the First Fleet’s arrival in Australia. Remarkably, the records appear comparable with modern day measurements taken from Sydney Observatory Hill, displaying similar daily variability, a distinct seasonal cycle and considerable inter-annual variability.

To assess the reliability of these early weather data, they were cross-verified with other data sources, including anecdotal observations recorded in First Fleet documentary records and independent palaeoclimate reconstructions. Some biases in the temperature record, likely associated with the location of the thermometer, have been identified. Although the 1788–1791 period experienced a marked La Niña to El Niño fluctuation according to palaeoclimatic data, the cool and warm intervals in Sydney over this period cannot be conclusively linked to El Niño– Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions. This study demonstrates that there are excellent opportunities to expand our description of pre-20th century climate variability in Australia while contributing culturally significant material to the emerging field of Australian environmental history.

Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Journal 58 (2009) 83-98

Disappointing result for minor parties in Queensland

THERE is only one minor party with a presence in Queensland’s new parliament and for all his money and bluster, it’s not Clive Palmer’s.

The 2015 election was almost as bad for the minor parties as it was for the Liberal National Party.

Katter’s Australian Party has managed to keep two of its three MPs, but Clive Palmer’s lofty political aspirations failed to eventuate.

At one point in the lead-up to the election, the federal MP proclaimed his party was out to win government.  He told voters he’d stand candidates in all 89 seats, and take on his once beloved LNP to end its allegedly corrupt and damaging reign.

But that was before the only two MPs in his party jumped ship. In the end, the federal MP’s party fielded just 50 candidates and managed just five per cent of the vote.  And its star candidate, John Bjelke-Petersen, fell dismally short in his efforts to unseat Mr Palmer’s arch enemy, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney.

As for that other federal political brand that’s so often reached into Queensland, well she did better than expected. Pauline Hanson’s bid to win the seat of Lockyer, west of Brisbane, wasn’t the complete disaster some had predicted. She managed a respectable second. At last count she was trailing the LNP’s Ian Rickuss 46 per cent to his 53, after preferences.

Perhaps the real surprise in terms of under performance was the Greens.  They ran a strong campaign, primarily hung off threats to the future of the Great Barrier Reef, but despite that the swing towards the party was just 1.1 per cent.

The Greens were never going to win a seat in the Queensland parliament, but MPs had been hoping the focus on the reef would translate into a bigger jump in support.

Still, the Greens can rest content in the knowledge their preferences helped defeat the LNP. And the Greens senator for Queensland Larissa Waters tweeted that it was the party’s best ever result at a state election.

As for the three independents who were recontesting their seats, only one has survived, with Peter Wellington living to serve another term in Nicklin.

But Alex Douglas and Carl Judge - the two former LNP MPs, who jumped ship to the Palmer party only to abandon it to become independents in the run up to this year’s poll - well they’re looking for new income streams.


Pervasive corruption in the NSW police

As the state's top police officer prepares to take the stand at a sensational police bugging inquiry next week, questions have emerged about his possible role in a shadowy taskforce set up with the intention of spying on a journalist.

On September 9, 2012, Fairfax reporter Neil Mercer published explosive details in The Sun-Herald about Strike Force Emblems, a long-buried internal police report into Operation Mascot, an anti-corruption surveillance exercise that controversially involved the secret bugging of more than 100 police officers and civilians on the back of suspect warrants and allegations.

It can now be revealed that nine days after the story was published, the force's professional standards command launched Strike Force Jooriland to monitor the veteran reporter and hunt down the police whistleblower leaking critical information to him.

When NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione appears before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be grilled on how the operation came to be approved.

Mercer had remained oblivious to Jooriland until last Friday when he appeared as a witness before the  inquiry.

"I am completely gobsmacked," he said on Saturday, adding: "You're exposing allegations of serious wrongdoing and criminal offences.  Their response is, let's shoot the messenger and then screw the whistleblower."

MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy also expressed alarm, stating: "The professionalism of a journalist and the ethical responsibility to protect confidential sources needs to be respected at all times, regardless of the type of inquiry."

As Mercer was left to nervously dwell on the nature - and extent - of the surveillance, biggest questions surround the broader roles in the bugging affair played by Commissioner Scipione and NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn - who at one stage was an acting commander of the special crime and internal affairs unit (SCIA).

"We can't comment on matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman," said a police spokesman when asked who had triggered the hunt.

On Friday, the inquiry heard explosive allegations about a mass cover-up that blanketed the police corruption investigation, Operation Mascot, which ran between 1999-2001.

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was a central target of the surveillance operation, which he testified had ruined the careers of many officers and triggered a suicide.

Ms Burn had been a senior officer within the operation which at one stage, was commanded by current Commissioner Scipione. The hearing heard that some affidavits presented to NSW Supreme Court judges had contained no information to justify surveillance, and some content was false. It emerged that during the operation, Ms Burn's unit had secured a warrant to bug Mr Kaldas and his family - despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Against the wishes of the NSW government, the inquiry was established last year in response to complaints about the amount of time taken by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to investigate the scandal. On Friday, Mr Kaldas launched a scathing attack on Mr Barbour, about his treatment. "We, the police, could not treat criminals this way and neither should we," he said.

Mercer had earlier published details of the secret Emblems report which showed Ms Burn had come under investigation, following a string of complaints relating to the investigation. While the report stated there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her, it noted inquiries into those complaints had hit a wall after access to crucial documents and witnesses was repeatedly denied. It was also revealed that in November 2001, Commissioner Scipione, then commander of SCIA, had been warned some officers within the branch were concerned about the legality of the telephone taps and the release of  "fictitious information" to gain listening devices. The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.


An education theorist goes practical

 Education commentator Jennifer Buckingham is no ivory tower researcher. For five years, she’s worked closely with a school in Raymond Terrace, a low-income town near Newcastle NSW, in an effort to improve its students’ results.

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters?

Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW. More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes.

Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town "as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to".

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS).

From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents. Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? "I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,"she says.

Buckingham and her husband, Scott Chapman, both grew up in Raymond Terrace, which sits on the banks of the Hunter River half an hour north of Newcastle, and it’s where they now live. Chapman actually attended Raymond Terrace Public School, but both the school and the town were then quite di fferent. In the years since, there’s been an infl ux of public housing and the level of wealth has fallen.

"None of my old friends sent their children there," Buckingham says. For the first year or two after her eldest daughter started kindergarten in 2008, she didn’t dare reveal to school principal John Picton that she worked as a think tank expert in education policy. "Working with the CIS, you don’t necessarily know how sympathetic a school principal is going to be," says Buckingham now.

For his part, Picton says he had no idea that one of his school mothers was a well-known education policy specialist and was shocked when he found out. He knew Jennifer, at that time, not as Buckingham but by her married name. "At kindy orientation, I wasn’t introduced to this educational researcher," Picton says.


But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be in fluential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done. With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance.

In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 fi gures show it is signi ficantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and numeracy standards falling against comparable countries, and a sharp ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve. What were the secrets to lifting the school’s performance?

For Picton, the discovery that he had a school parent who was not only a respected education researcher but also wanted to be more involved with the school came at the right time. He had spent most of his teaching career in low-socio-economic-status schools, and when he arrived at Raymond Terrace nine years ago there were many problems. "The place didn’t have good results and the staff were negative about what the expectations could be of the kids," Picton says. "That was the pedagogy that they were introduced to and were using."

Once he knew Buckingham’s background, the pair started talking about how to improve things. "I realised that John was interested in what I had to say and vice-versa," she says. "My getting involved in the school didn’t necessarily send it on a di fferent path. It was already on that path. All I was able to do was, with my contacts and connections, provide some extra support and external guidance than might have been available otherwise."

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bell eld Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Fleming came to Raymond Terrace to o ffer his advice. It was a turning point in Picton’s willingness to engage with Buckingham. "Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to Jennifer today,"says Picton. It led to three "pillars" – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are encouraged to aim for the best.


Buckingham was also instrumental in bringing to the school an early-intervention reading program for children whose literacy was lagging. She had heard of the work that Macquarie University’s Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Beaman had done in developing a phonics-based instruction in which children systematically learn the sounds for each letter and how to join the sounds into words. They turned their work into two programs for schools to help struggling readers – MultiLit and MiniLit.

When Buckingham discovered that Wheldall was looking to do research in a school, she seized the opportunity. "I thought, that’s a way of tapping into this program which has been getting such great results," she says. The result was that MultiLit, MiniLit and a bevy of researchers came to Raymond Terrace to work with the children who were falling behind.

Buckingham joined in, deciding to do a PhD on literacy and social disadvantage with Macquarie University, drawing her research data from the school. She completed the doctorate last year.

At this point, there was another positive development for the school – more money. Five years ago, it was given $400,000 extra annual funding for four years under the federal government’s then national partnerships program. Picton says when he heard the news, he went straight to Buckingham and said: "We’ve got $400,000. What would you do with it?"

Drawing on Buckingham’s advice, Picton decided to spend half the money on a mentoring scheme. He employed two new teachers so that two of the school’s experienced teachers could become full-time mentors. It was a risk, says Picton. "We thought that sta ff might have been quite reluctant to open themselves up to observation and demonstration of lessons. But because of the credibility of these particular teachers, it was taken on board early," he says.

The intense mentoring of teachers was the key to embedding Picton’s "three pillars" across the school. When a child moves up a year, they are taught in the same way using the same terminology. "You can go into your next class and roll on with it using the same language,"says Picton.

Based on his experience, Picton fi rmly believes that low-income children are not condemned to perform poorly at school. It’s all about expectations, he says. "If you set high expectations, if you build relationships with your kids, if you trust in their ability to be able to learn, you will get the results from them. There’s no reason why they can’t."

"If you listen and observe the dialogue and interaction of the kids in our school compared to five years ago, it’s amazing," Picton says.

Naplan scores bear this out. In 2008, Raymond Terrace was in the middle of the pack of schools from similar socio-economic areas for numeracy, reading, writing, spelling and grammar plus punctuation.

In 2013, Raymond Terrace is either at the top or close to it for all five skills in both years three and five. Nationwide, more and more students are being withheld from Naplan, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools keep poorly performing students out of the tests in order to improve their results. But that’s not how it is at Raymond Terrace. "Every child is encouraged to participate,"says Buckingham. "It’s a really big thing not to game the scores. It’s important for every child who can do the test to do the test."

That includes children in the school’s classes that cater to special needs – Down syndrome, autism and hearing problems."It does have an in fluence on our scores,"says Picton. But he says Naplan is an important diagnostic instrument. It tells teachers how students are performing and whether they need special attention.


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