Monday, July 16, 2018

Cold snap sends temperatures plummeting across Australia's east coast – and it's not over yet

Far be it from me to challenge evidence of global cooling but I think it is only fair to note that they are talking below about the Southern half of Australia.  In Brisbane we have had some very chilly nights by our standards but I have yet to experience an afternoon when I have not sat around in just undershorts and a singlet -- with the front door wide open. Brisbane's famous warm afternoons have not deserted us yet --- even in the depth of winter.  Which all helps to show the folly of thinking that temperature aggregates tell you much about anything

The east coast of Australia is suffering through an icy weekend with the frosty temperatures expected to last into the middle of the week.

The lowest temperature recorded in Sydney was at Penrith, which dropped to below zero degrees, recording -0.9C at 5am on Sunday morning and not reaching above 1C until after 8am.

Other areas of Sydney to record low temperatures were 4.5C at Sydney Airport and 5.1C at Sydney's Observatory Hill.

A strong westerly wind of 24km/h overnight played a role in causing the icy temperatures across the state.

Inland New South Wales is also suffering through the cold with Wagga Wagga recording morning temperatures of -0.3C.

A number of other regions in New South Wales recorded below zero temperatures including Richmond, 63.4km from Sydney, which had overnight temperatures of -3.8C.

While Camden, 65km south west of Sydney, recorded overnight lows of -4.3C, the lowest overnight temperatures for the area since June 2010.

Bathurst, located 200km from Sydney, recorded freezing temperatures of -8.1C and did not break the minus temperatures until 10.20am when it recorded 0.4C. 

The lowest forecast temperatures for all of New South Wales for all of Sunday is at Thredbo, expected to reach a daily maximum of only 1C.

And according to Bureau of Meteorology Senior Forecaster Jake Phillips the east coast's glacial conditions have yet to reach their trough.

'Just about the whole state is cooler than average for this time of year. In some parts of the state it can be five or six degrees below average,' he told Daily Mail Australia. 

'Places like Penrith and Richmond the next couple of mornings are going to be down to the zero mark – maybe even below zero.

'And it’s going to get even colder, with a lot of places set to be six or even eight degrees below average for their minimum temperatures over the weekend.' 

Melbourne temperatures weren't quite as low as Sydney but that doesn't mean Melburnians weren't suffering through the cold snap.  Residents woke to temperatures as low as 7C on Saturday morning with a daily high of 9.3C.

Elsewhere in eastern Australia, the notoriously frosty city of Ballarat in central Victoria had its coldest July day in 24 years this week recording a maximum of 5C on Wednesday, one degree below the July average.

In the nearby city Bendigo, temperatures were also at a record low, freezing through its coldest July day since 1996 with a maximum recording of just 0C.

The cold weather pushed well up into Queensland with the outback town of Blackall dropping to 1.2C while Lochington, near Emerald, was just 0.5C at 7.11am. 

Brisbane experienced temperatures of 5 degrees on Sunday morning, even Rockhampton, up on the state's central coast, dropped to a low of 6.5C just before 7am.

Forecasters are expecting conditions to remain below average until Tuesday or Wednesday.

'We're definitely not through the cold snap as yet, you couldn't say that,' Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jonti Hall told AAP.

However the coldest temperatures along eastern Australia was clearly Canberra which recorded temperatures as low as -4.8C on Sunday morning.


Provide farm deposit accounts, banks told

A very sensible step -- though it is a big tax break.  You pay tax on deposits only in a loss year -- meaning low to zero tax

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud wants Australia's big banks to join a scheme allowing farmers to set aside pre-tax income in good years to plan for tough times.

Banking executives will take part in a drought roundtable in Canberra on Monday where Mr Littleproud will ask the banks for a timeline for the provision of farm management deposit accounts.

Mr Littleproud claims the major lenders have already had two years to provide the service, but resisted because it would eat into profits. "Time's up," Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.

Customers in capital cities could walk into a bank and offset their savings against a home loan. "You should be able to do that for farming families as well," the minister said.

The scheme allows farmers to remove money from their taxable income in good years by depositing it into a farm management deposit account. Primary producers can withdraw the money during a bad year and pay tax on the withdrawal then.

Mr Littleproud said the government didn't want to have to force the banks to adopt the accounts through legislation, calling on them to do the right thing. "They need to look at their social conscience," he said.

Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon accused the Nationals of pork-barrelling to hold seats rather than directing money into drought relief.

"After five years of doing nothing, David Littleproud now wants to blame the banks," Mr Fitzgibbon told reporters in Sydney. "Yes, the banks need to sharpen their pencil but farmers need the government to do something too."

A push to simplify a welfare payment for drought-affected farmers will also be on the agenda at a meeting on Monday of national and state farming bodies.

The federal government recently extended the time limit on the Farm Household Assistance payment from three years to four years.

"This buys those farming families an additional year to give them the time to structure their business to get through this drought and prepare for the next one," Mr Littleproud said.

But there's ongoing concerns about the complicated application process.

Mr Littleproud said his department is working with Centrelink to make applying for the payment easier, but noted rural financial counsellors could also help with the process.


Protesters accuse NSW library of ‘spreading propaganda’ with drag queen event

ANGRY protesters have slammed an upcoming storytelling event for children and adults which will be hosted by a drag queen.

As a gesture of support for the Wollongong Queer Arts Festival, the city’s central library is hosting the July 21 event, in which Roxee Horror — the alter-ego of Adam Larkham — will read stories, sing and make crafts.

However, the seemingly harmless event has raised the ire of hundreds on social media who have launched homophobic slurs at the event and its host.

Many accused the library of using taxpayer’s money to “spread propaganda” and “sexualising children” by choosing a drag queen to host an event that will be attended by people of all ages.

Some irate locals even wrote to the library to express their dismay and called for the event to scrapped.

However, staff hit back at some of the abusive messages posted on the library’s Facebook page.

“Thank you for your feedback,” wrote a spokesman for Wollongong City Libraries. “The libraries’ support of the Wollongong Queer Arts Festival is an opportunity to highlight that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from or what motivates you to come into the library, this is a safe and inclusive space for everyone.”

Messages of support for the event have also begun to appear on the library’s Facebook page — with one reading, “If you don’t like it, don’t come.”

Another commenter wrote: “I think this is marvellous. Teaching kids and the community that people come in all shapes and sizes through the art of storytelling, and demonstrating the importance of respect, love, kindness and education.”

Another said: “Don’t let the haters get you down. This is a wonderful opportunity for children who may be LGBTQ+ or children of parents within the LGBTQ+ community to see positive role models out and about in the wider community.”

Ms Horror, who hosts drag bingo nights and other events in the area, appeared to be excited for the event when she announced it on her public Facebook page.

“Cannot wait to read some books and do some craft!” she wrote.

The library’s manager Jenny Thompson told the Illawarra Mercury she doesn’t care about the criticism of the event.

“The central library is a pretty big place, and our community and our world is a big place and there is space for everybody,” she said.

“We offer a range of different events for all different parts of the community and this is, I guess, part of our community we haven’t done that overtly for before. “So it’s important to us that we’re getting with the program.”


Trump is calling the shots for Australia too

Donald Trump is unleashed and is changing history. Trump now is implementing what he promised — dismantling the existing global order created by America, punishing its allies for short-changing the US, imposing a new protectionism and deconstructing the governing status quo in Washington.

Trump is delivering for his voting base. He loves his base and cultivates its prejudices. Much of Trump’s global grandstanding and denigration of allies from Germany to Canada works a treat on his home front. By abandoning political niceties Trump becomes an agent of cut-through politics — draining the swamp as he pledged.

He has seduced much of the Republican Party and sent the Democrats into an incoherent and counter-productive rage. Now he is imposing a conservative ideological majority on the US ­Supreme Court with the potential to shape an entire generation of ­social policy. Trump almost totally sets the media agenda in American politics and, while it is often unfavourable, it is his agenda, focused on his issues.

Those who predicted Trump as president would quickly fall apart made the wrong call — yet again. Trump projects a sense of empowerment.

Among his more rational haters there is a real sense of fear. But the anti-Trump frenzy of many Democrats may drive the party to the Left and play into Trump’s hands. The Trump experiment is compelling as a spectacle and alarming in its consequences.

The message from Washington insiders is that Trump will press ahead with his trade war against China. He seems to have no plan; his legitimate claim against China — its huge stealing of intellectual property — does not have a trade war as its solution. But Trump has exposed the authentic picture here: America and China are engaged in a ruthless rivalry short of formal conflict and this will only spill into global and Australian calculations.

While the US economy booms off an excessive stimulus there is mounting business alarm about the scale of tariff restrictions on imports from China, with China, so far, resolute in retaliation.

Companies warn against a trade war and markets are getting the jitters — Trump risks a showdown between politics and the markets, a consequence of him pushing too hard on the wrong lever.

Australia lives in a zone of false reality. Remote from the action, shielded so far by the deft management of the Turnbull government, a lesser target because we run a trade deficit with the US and are widely liked, the worst Australian folly is to think the Trump phenomenon will leave us untouched.

Governing systems among the allied partners in Europe, Germany in particular, Canada, Japan and South Korea are in upheaval because of Trump.

His latest reckless offence is the threat to British Prime Minister Theresa May that she has ruined her chances of a US-UK trade deal down the track because Trump opposes her Brexit plan, unveiled at Chequers, saying, in effect, it is far too soft an exit from the EU. This is an unjustified intervention in British politics, undermining May in support of her hardline Brexit opponents, notably Boris Johnson, who has quit the ministry and contemplates a strike for the top job. There is no permanent immunity. Australia needs to grasp this.

Trump rejects the fundamental principles that have guided Australia’s polity for the past half-century — US acceptance of global responsibility and leadership, the liberal international order, the utility of the US alliance systems in Europe and Asia, and belief in global free trade.

He neither understands nor accepts these institutions and the logic that has sustained them. The situation is hard to grasp but the evidence from what Trump says and does is persuasive — he repudiates the global arrangements that have delivered security and prosperity to nations including Australia during the past several decades.

Australia, like other partners, faces in Trump a situation without precedent since World War II. So far Trump has been a positive president for Australia. Yet the framework he champions is contrary to our national interest.

Indeed, Trump believes this system has seen America being ripped off — he wants a looser arrangement with fewer norms where nations rise or fall off their own national power, and he thinks the US will do better in a world of transactional jungle.

This is the real meaning of “America First”. It legitimises America as a bully. It rests on the idea that pulling things apart is easier than constructing something that works. The US government is a project in schizophrenia — officials trying to operate rationally with an unpredictable president who runs his own show.

His performance at the NATO summit was Trump enjoying himself, reckless and more unleashed — but don’t think he doesn’t have a case.

Trump treats his allies with contempt, branding Germany a “captive of Russia” because of its gas import dependence. Accusing Angela Merkel of being Russia’s prisoner sits bizarrely with Trump’s appeasement of Vladimir Putin and Merkel’s past growing up in East Germany under Russian domination.

Trump knows how to overkill a winning argument. He is right on Europe’s low defence budget complacency, Germany being a major culprit. After attacking NATO partners for failing to hit the 2 per cent gross domestic product spending target, Trump said the target should be achieved “immediately”, then raised a 4 per cent target, an idea none of his advisers knew anything about.

In the guise of helping NATO, he shakes internal trust in the alliance system just ahead of the Trump-Putin summit — and recall Trump’s past refusal to say the US would support the Baltic ­nations if subjected to Russian ­interference.

Meanwhile Trump’s flawed agreement with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is undisguised.

How long the pretence of full denuclearisation can be maintained is hard to say but the bigger issue is security in northeast Asia and the extent to which Trump betrays his allies in South Korea and Japan, an issue with pivotal consequence for Australia.

Across the Western world the leadership elites are horrified. In America, the Trump voters merely say “it’s about time”. They love Trump’s break from past presidents and his language of brutal realism.

His approval ratings hover around 40-43 per cent and are stable amid the turbulence. Disapproval runs in the 53-56 per cent zone. America is getting more polarised but Republican voters endorse Trump around a huge 85-90 per cent. While Trump holds that core Republican vote he is untouchable against internal treachery.

He has a significant problem with the female vote and if the Democrats poll strongly at the midterm election then deeper cracks may appear in Trump’s brazen edifice.

The annual Australian American Leadership Dialogue was conducted in Washington last week against this turbulent backdrop. Outside the off-record meeting Tony Abbott threw a political bomb into Australia’s response to the Trump phenomenon.

Breaking from past conservative assessments of Trump, Abbott warned about the consequences of Trump. He said that Trump constituted “a new age” — while American values would endure, American reliability was now in question. Abbott said under Trump the American legions “are going home”, that Trump’s mes­sage to allies must be accepted and acted on by Australia.

That meant assuming more responsibility for our own defence. It meant recognising the long era of spending less on defence courtesy of the US alliance was ending.

Abbott seeks not to demolish the US alliance but argues that Trump, as the most unconventional and transforming US president for 70 years, is determined to implement his agenda and that means a different alliance.

Abbott said Australia must increase its defence spending well above the current 2 per cent GDP target, develop a stronger maritime capacity, refuse to tolerate a 15-year delay before getting its new submarines, acquire an anti-missile capability and fashion a defence force that can operate more independently “against even a substantial adversary”.

The Turnbull government and Shorten Labor Party prefer to restrain public debate about Trump and work behind the scenes to minimise damage and sustain the relationship. Abbott has broken free of that restraint and his intervention will drive a more public and polarised debate about the consequences of Trump.

The government’s senior minister at the Dialogue, Josh Frydenberg, spoke at the main dinner and afterwards to Inquirer with a subtle but unmistakeable message to the Trump administration.

Frydenberg said the US was the nation of the Marshall Plan, the nation of Lend-Lease aid during World War II, the nation whose president called for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and said: “That’s the America that we want and that we need.”

Frydenberg said it was known that Trump was an “unconventional” president and then quoted from the August 1, 1950, address to the US congress by Sir Robert Menzies when Menzies said: “It is not merely our privilege to be strong; it is our duty to be strong.”

Point made. The trouble, of course, is the while the American system agrees, it deals with a president who seems unreachable and often unpersuadable.

In the corridors of the Dialogue, former World Bank president, former deputy secretary of state and former Bush administration lead US trade negotiator Robert Zoellick described Trump as a “transactional” president who is “quite ambivalent about ­alliances”.

Zoellick told Inquirer that countries that “keep getting battered around begin to think about plan B and other alternatives”.

Addressing Australia’s alliance with the US, Zoellick said: “The depth of security ties with Australia means the alliance is well grounded. It has support not just from the congress but from the American public that likes Australia. I think Australians need to keep active those relationships with the US, political, military and economic. Where you can, stay under the radar screen on issues that might otherwise provoke controversy. The US has got a lot of weight to throw around and in my view it’s not doing that properly.”

The role of Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis universally is seen as decisive, with Mattis the avenue to Trump for much of the national security-alliance orthodoxy. The evidence, to this point, is that Trump still needs Mattis, a situation vital for Australia and other allies. Zoellick said Trump’s “dismissive attitude towards allies and his penchant for authoritarian leaders” revealed an insensitivity to security issues.

Talking in general terms, Zoellick felt that security arrangements were likelier than trade arrangements to withstand the Trump trauma. First, there was a strong military and strategic infrastructure better able to resist or push back. Trump had to be careful in deciding whether he “will go after these people”.

Second, because Trump “is at heart a protectionist” the trade outlook was “quite serious”. Offering a cool assessment of Trump’s trade views, Zoellick said: “If it’s a choice between raising tariffs to protect interests and opening markets then Trump will choose to close markets.”

He believes the US disadvantaged itself by creating over the past 70 years a system where it had disproportionate responsibility and paid too high a cost, whether on security alliances or trade and economics.

“Trump feels the US would be better off if we could have more autonomy and use our power to be more transactional and, in his view, use his negotiating skills. He believes that bilateral trade deficits are about losing. You don’t find many economists who agree with that. But it doesn’t matter because this is Trump’s view.

“That puts targets on the back of Mexico, Japan and China, South Korea and Germany and Europe. His trade policy seeks to reduce those bilateral trade deficits as opposed to using American leverage to open markets and devise new rules for the cutting edge economy of the future. That means there’s an opportunity cost.

“But I think Trump’s focus on trade protection runs deeper because it is analogous to his position on the wall with Mexico and immigration. It’s an issue from the start he has used to communicate with his core supporters and demonstrate not only his policy views but show that he’s a different type of politician. This is key to him being authentic. Therefore, I don’t think issues like the wall or immigration or trade will ever be resolved because they are wounds he wants to continue to pick at.

“He makes one move and if it destabilises the system and creates uncertainty he thinks that will work to his advantage because he believes America is more powerful and he is a shrewder leader.

“But when other countries retaliate then you find that companies like Harley-Davidson have to move out. That adds another dimension. Trump’s view of executive power is not confined in the traditional way. He came after Harley-Davidson became they said they were moving as a result of his protectionist policies.

“Trump believes it is the president’s right to pummel companies to change their business policies.”

Questioned about Trump’s trade conflict with China, Zoellick said: “I believe China wants to avoid a big clash. This could be destabilising enough that they would like to reach a result.”

He said the problem China had was confusion in the US administration — it was unsure who it was negotiating with or what was the American ask.

“Some of the people around Trump don’t want to really fix the problem,” Zoellick said.

“China doesn’t want to have a conflict but it’s got a sense of its own respect and honour. But Trump thinks he has the advantage because China sells more to us than we sell to them.”

Expect Trump to hang flexible on the trade war with China. He has a lot to judge — how markets react, how farmers react to retaliatory restrictions against them and the midterm elections.

But the bottom line for Zoellick is to expect “more volatility, more movements towards trade barriers, this is not a problem that’s going away”.

Trump reminds of two truisms — protection begets more protectionism; populism begets more populism. Former Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane, also in Washington, argues that Trump is a catalyst for a global phenomenon in centre-right parties. “There is a Trump faction emerging in most centre-right parties across Western democracies,” Loughnane said.

“This is not based on values or philosophy — it is based on crude pragmatism and grievance. Mainstream conservatism faces a challenge — it must develop solutions to the concerns of the populations that are driving this process.”

The big message cannot be missed: America is changing decisively under Trump and the longer he governs the more decisive that change will prove. Australia is unprepared for the challenge Trump constitutes.

This is obvious from talks in Washington during the past week. It is entirely sensible for Australia to seek to skate through and engage in damage limitation.

But that will not suffice. The only interpretation to apply to Trump at present is that he acts tough but is disposed to strategic retreat and unilateralism.

If this is the experience that Australia faces then it will constitute the greatest challenge to our role in the world for a half-century. We need to start thinking.


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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