We may never be able to predict earthquakes – but we can already know enough to be prepared


Hadi Ghasemi, Geoscience Australia and Phil R. Cummins, Australian National UniversityYesterday’s earthquake in eastern Victoria shook the ground for hundreds of kilometres around and damaged buildings as far away as Melbourne – and took many people by surprise.

While Australia doesn’t compare with seismic hotspots like New Zealand and Japan, relatively small quakes are expected, with Geoscience Australia’s quake tracker listing more than a dozen in the past week alone.




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Even though earthquakes happen all the time, we still can’t predict when the next one will strike, or where, or how big it will be. Unfortunately, we may never be able to make that kind of prediction.

But we can estimate the likelihood of future quakes – and often, that’s enough to make sure our cities are prepared to cope with them.

Why we can’t predict earthquakes

Earthquakes are caused by sudden slips or ruptures in the rock beneath our feet, driven by the movement of the enormous tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust.

The exact timing and location of one of these slips are impossible for us to know in advance. Nobody has ever found a reliable and repeatable indicator that a quake is about to happen. We would need a highly detailed model of all the rock everywhere inside the Earth and an understanding of how it responds to tectonic stress to even stand a chance of predicting an earthquake.

However, suppose we understand the large forces driving the tectonic plates and the current level of earthquake activity, and we also study where faults have ruptured in the past. In that case, we can estimate the likelihood that different types of earthquakes might occur in the future.

What we can predict

To calculate the probability of future earthquakes, we look at the seismic activity measured since the development of seismometers about 100 years ago and knowledge of earlier earthquakes from the historical record, and combine these with information about the faults in the Earth’s crust where quakes can occur.

Australia has relatively little seismic activity, but we know there are hundreds of small faults beneath the Australian landmass. These are places where pressure created by the movement of tectonic plates can cause fault rupture or “slip”, which we experience as earthquakes that generate seismic waves and ground shaking.

Red lines show faults beneath Victoria detected by scientists. The orange circle shows the location of yesterday’s quake.
Geoscience Australia

When we discover a fault, from studying earthquakes or looking at aerial imagery, we often send out teams of geologists to dig trenches across the fault to find traces of past, often prehistoric, earthquake rupture. Depending on the type of signature past earthquakes have left in the soil profile, we can estimate the age and extent of fault movement and develop a history of earthquake activity extending hundreds or often thousands of years into the past.

Identifying prehistoric events is important because the time between large earthquakes on major faults may be longer than the instrumental or even historical record. Without knowledge of prehistoric events, we would have to rely exclusively on the relatively short history of instrumentally recorded earthquakes.

This may cause us to miss the big earthquakes that happen very rarely. We know that longer faults, for example, can usually produce bigger quakes – so if even if we haven’t seen a big quake at a long fault, we know it may be possible in future.




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By combining knowledge of the large earthquake history of nearby faults, and the level of activity of random, smaller earthquakes that may not rupture major faults but occur often enough to be estimated from the instrumental record, we can make a computer model of the likelihood of earthquake occurrence.

For this earthquake occurrence model to be helpful in estimating hazard, we also need to calculate the strength of ground motion generated by each earthquake. This depends strongly on the depth, location, and size of each earthquake.

The ground motion also depends on the properties of rock in the Earth’s crust through which the seismic waves pass, with some rocks absorbing more energy than others. It also depends on the local geology and soil profile near the site of interest, with softer soil leading to stronger ground motion.

Mapping hazards

At Geoscience Australia, we have mapped some of these probabilities in the National Seismic Hazard Assessment. For everywhere in Australia, this map shows the ground motions that may be exceeded over the next 50 years, at certain levels of probability.

National Seismic Hazard Assessment of Australia map.
Geoscience Australia, CC BY-NC

This ground motion, usually expressed in terms of a fraction of the acceleration of gravity at the Earth’s surface, is what we call the seismic hazard. Its potential to damage things we value – buildings, for example, or human lives, is what we call “risk”.

From the “risk” point of view, we may not necessarily care if the hazard is high in a place where there are no people, for example, but we may be very concerned if the hazard is high in a big city.

Yesterday’s earthquake is a good example of this: a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in country Victoria is an exciting novelty for most, but the same earthquake occurring in Melbourne would cause huge problems.

Building codes use hazard maps like this to specify how much shaking buildings in an area need to withstand to keep the risk at an acceptable level. Engineers then make sure their buildings are constructed so they won’t fall when they experience the level of ground shaking forecast in the hazard map.




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However, until the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, no one realised the Australian building code needed to account for earthquake hazard. Many buildings built before this may be vulnerable even to the level of ground shaking forecast by the hazard map.

An earthquake of magnitude 5.9, if it occurs as far from Melbourne as yesterday’s earthquake did, shouldn’t cause significant damage to buildings that follow the current building code. The fact that it did likely means some buildings are built to a lower standard, and indeed we can see from news photos that many of the damaged buildings look like they were built before 1989.

Insurance companies also use hazard maps to determine the likelihood of damaging earthquakes and set their premiums accordingly.

So, while we can’t tell you where the next earthquake will strike or how big it will be, we can quantify the likelihood of ground motion intensity at the location of interest to make sure we’re all ready for it.The Conversation

Hadi Ghasemi, Senior Seismologist, Geoscience Australia and Phil R. Cummins, Professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Coalition brigade is assembling, readying for the final march to a place it once regarded as enemy territory and poisoned ground, too dangerous to approach.

Josh Frydenberg waved the flag on Friday. Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, a conscripted officer, is reluctantly falling (sort of) into step. Angus Taylor will be purchasing the requisite boots.

Scott Morrison, the general, will announce the arrival. But not until the details of a deal, heavy with technology and trade offs and pay offs, are landed with Joyce.

The Prime Minister wants – “needs” would be a better word – Australia to support a 2050 net zero emissions target at the November Glasgow climate conference.

No if or buts or qualifications. No having to say net zero “preferably” by 2050, as the government has been doing.

Morrison and Joyce have been talking at length about this imperative, because without the Nationals the journey – which seems so short to outsiders but so very arduous for the Coalition – cannot be completed.

Frydenberg on Friday delivered the blunt message that if Australia doesn’t step up to world expectations on climate policy, it will have trouble getting the capital it needs from overseas, in sufficient quantity and at the cheapest cost.




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The Treasurer’s speech was focused on finance, rather than the environment as such. He pitched his push for the firm target so as to appeal in hard-headed economic terms. It’s the markets (not the greenies) that are requiring us to do this, was the message.

Frydenberg is battle-hardened for the task. As energy minister, he was then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lieutenant when they carried the standard for a National Energy Guarantee, the NEG.

That succumbed to an ambush from a group of rebel troops, leaving Turnbull mortally wounded. Morrison has better armour; anyway, the Liberal sceptics aren’t heard from nowadays. The noise comes from Nationals.




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On Friday morning Joyce did his bit on ABC radio. His doubts were evident, as he pointed to power price rises and collapsing energy companies in Britain.

But he came through with the vital central line. Asked, “do you support net zero by 2050?” he replied, “I’ve got no problems with any plan that does not leave regional areas hurt”.

Later in the day he said: “Now, when people say do you support it and they don’t tell you how they’re going to do it, they’re opening themselves […] to a crisis like they’re experiencing in Europe, like they’re experiencing in the UK”.

Joyce will have problems with some of his followers, especially his one-time staffer, now senator, Matt Canavan, who can remind his leader how he not so long ago trashed the target.

But he’ll get plenty of loot for the Nationals in the final package. Even Frydenberg seems to have stopped worrying about the appallingly high cost of political living these days.

In Washington, Morrison was asked whether the government had made a decision on net zero.

“No, if Australia had made such a decision, I would have announced it,” he said. “Australia has not made any final decision on that matter … we’ll be considering further when I return to Australia the plan that we believe can help us achieve our ambition in this area”.




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While the army’s destination seems clear, there’s still work to be done, and the Nationals say the actual map is yet to be laid out on the table.

But if anything were to derail the expedition now, it would be a shock to everyone – including Morrison, and no doubt to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.

Morrison would be left in an intolerable position for Glasgow. Frydenberg made a point of noting 129 countries have committed to the 2050 target.

The PM would also be hobbled at the election, with climate an issue especially in the leafy city areas and independent candidates gearing up to run in various seats.

Embracing the 2050 target is a minimal requirement for a nation’s Glasgow policy, but the United States, Britain and other climate frontrunners are focused on countries being more ambitious in the medium term.

What Morrison and Joyce do about that will soon become the big question.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: For Morrison AUKUS is all about the deal, never mind the niceties


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison, whose COVID face masks have the Australian flag emblazoned on them, likes to talk about “the Australian way” of doing things and Australian values.

But it is not “the Australian way” to secretly plan, over a very long time, to deceive a close friend of this country, and then to treat them in a most humiliating and disdainful manner. That does not align with “Australian values” of honesty and fair dealing.

If Australia is really surprised an angry French government has withdrawn its ambassador from Canberra (as well as its ambassador from Washington) it suggests it has no grasp of the proprieties of international diplomacy.

To add insult to injury, on Sunday Defence Minister Peter Dutton suggested the Australian government had been “upfront, open and honest” – the French could have read the signals of our discontent with their $90 billion submarines contract, including in Senate estimates hearings. This latter reference brought to mind then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggesting to Barack Obama that if he’d kept up with the Northern Territory News he’d have known about Australia’s lease of the Port of Darwin to the Chinese.




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As recently as the end of August, Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held the “Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations” with their French counterparts. In the “bilateral cooperation” section of the communique came the sentence: “Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program”.

It’s telling that the unveiling of the new AUKUS agreement last week was surrounded by more showmanship than diplomacy. The leaders of Australia, the US and Britain were successfully linked for a synchronised performance. But Morrison apparently did not manage to speak personally to French President Macron when a massive contract was being torn up.

AUKUS carries Morrison’s individual branding. It may be the most significant legacy of his prime ministership; however long he is in office, it will certainly be one of them.

It has all the Morrison hallmarks: his own work, conceived and executed in secrecy, kept to the smallest possible round of colleagues, details to be worked out much later, and little concern for the incidental fallout.

If, 30 years on, historians rate it as a stroke of strategic foresight that greatly protected Australia in a time of Chinese potential aggression, Morrison will deserve all the credit. He says he’s been working for 18 months on this – the mustering of a new Anglosphere in our region – and he has managed to pull it off with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, who both had their own reasons for being receptive.

On the other hand, if after 30 years, AUKUS is judged in the rear vision mirror to have escalated tensions with China to a greater degree than it protected us from Chinese aggression, history’s judgement will be different.

Even as we’re consumed by the short term, it is always worth a look at the long view. Especially when Afghanistan is fresh in our minds – a commitment that was necessary initially, but ended in a fiasco that has restored the Taliban.

Morrison’s planned nuclear-powered subs come without any estimated cost (except they’ll be more expensive than the French ones); or precise timetable (except they won’t be available for a couple of decades); or decision about which boat will be chosen (except it will be American or British), or firm indication of how much building will be done in Australia (except that it won’t be all of it and possibly only a modest amount).

If any of these aspects returns to bite, blame will (or should) rest on Morrison’s head, whether he’s around or not.

Then there’s the French relationship to manage. How long their fury will last is anybody’s guess. But given their interests in the region, it is no small thing to deliver this rebuff in what can only be seen as a crass manner.

Marise Payne may not be of great use in repairing the tear in the relationship. Her diplomatic credibility is one of the immediate casualties of the affair, especially after the recent ministerial talks. One can only imagine how the feisty Julie Bishop would have reacted to being left so compromised.

With Australia’s ambition for a free trade agreement with the European Union in mind, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, flak jacket packed, is off to Paris next week.

Also important is the message that’s been sent to some key regional countries. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed concerns. The risk is Australia could be seen as an unexpectedly capricious player in the way it operates.

AUKUS is a mark of the supremacy of the hawks in Canberra. Although Morrison said he started planning it with former defence minister Linda Reynolds, it is a precise fit for current minister Dutton.

In thinking about defence strategy, governments of both complexions have circled around questions of long range capability, of which nuclear-powered submarines are part.

But it was not until Morrison, in the lead up to the 2020 defence strategic update, started to push Reynolds and the defence establishment to contemplate the acquisition – and potential use – of such weaponry that the real momentum came. In Dutton, Morrison has a defence minister who not only shares his instinct on this, but has a full time focus on it.




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Some months ago the secretary of the home affairs department, Mike Pezzullo, himself a hawk, wrote of hearing the “drums of war”. It was obvious well before that Australia was preparing to refurbish and expand its own drum set in the face of an assertive China already targeting Australia economically.

Dutton and others have increasingly dropped the government’s earlier attempt to avoid naming China as the potential enemy, even if we haven’t quite got back to the red arrows from the north of those 1960s depictions.

One problem with the subs deal is that, given the pace at which things move, a China-US military blow-up over Taiwan (if it comes to that) could be done and dusted, with god knows what consequences, by the time the boats are in the water. No wonder the talk now is of leasing a sub or two to fill in the gap, given the inadequacy of the Collins-class submarines we now operate.

It should be noted, incidentally, that some commentators expert in these things say the French nuclear-powered subs (as opposed to the conventionally-powered ones we’re ditching) would be more suitable to our needs than the US or UK boats.

The government says the problem is they’d need their nuclear power refuelled every seven to ten years offshore (because Australia wouldn’t have the nuclear facility), while US and UK subs are powered for their lifetimes. That would not seem a great difficulty, but obviously reworking the French deal would not have delivered the big technological and other advantages of going the full monty with the AUKUS partners.

AUKUS will bring Australia a whole lot of other US weaponry and more boots on Australian ground.

This takes us to the future of the Port of Darwin. Just as the Coalition has botched for years its attempts to get new submarines, so the Northern Territory awarding a Chinese company the lease of the Port of Darwin was a massive snafu.

It’s no good the federal Coalition saying it was all the NT government’s fault. The defence department knew about it and wasn’t worried.

Now the Morrison government has a review of the lease in train. In light of AUKUS, with enhanced military assets in the north and our assessment of the Chinese, it would seem a logical absurdity to let the lease stand. And yet quashing it would be another demonstration of Australia’s unreliability on done deals. It’s a mess.




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AUKUS will no doubt have a good many more consequences. One (not formally or totally linked of course) is expected to be a more ambitious climate policy from Australia, which Joe Biden has been urging on the Morrison government for the Glasgow climate conference.

Morrison in coming weeks will want to deliver to Biden (and Johnson), although we don’t know the extent of that delivery, or whether Barnaby Joyce will find himself struggling with any collateral fallout among his own people.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why is southeast Asia so concerned about AUKUS and Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines?


James Chin, University of TasmaniaThe announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.

In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.

The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.

First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.




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However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.

Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.

Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The potential for conflict in South China Sea

The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.

The ASEAN nations have always preached maintaining southeast Asia as a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”, free from interference by any outside powers. In 1995, the member states also signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which committed to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Not a single nuclear power has signed on to it.

Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.

A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile.
A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea.
Zha Chunming/Xinhua/AP

Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.

The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.




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The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.

Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.

Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after President Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.

Is there anyone happy about the deal?

While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.

For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.

Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.

The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.

Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations

If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.

AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.

So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.The Conversation

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems


Alexander Gillespie, University of WaikatoWe live, to borrow a phrase, in interesting times. The pandemic aside, relations between the superpowers are tense. The sudden arrival of the new AUKUS security agreement between Australia, the US and UK simply adds to the general sense of unease internationally.

The relationship between America and China had already deteriorated under the presidency of Donald Trump and has not improved under Joe Biden. New satellite evidence suggests China might be building between 100 and 200 silos for a new generation of nuclear intercontinental missiles.

At the same time, the US relationship with North Korea continues to smoulder, with both North and South Korea conducting missile tests designed to intimidate.

And, of course, Biden has just presided over the foreign policy disaster of withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration needs something new with a positive spin.

Enter AUKUS, more or less out of the blue. So far, it is just a statement launched by the member countries’ leaders. It has not yet been released as a formal treaty.

The Indo-Pacific pivot

The new agreement speaks of “maritime democracies” and “ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” with the objective to “deepen diplomatic, security and defence co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region”.

“Indo-Pacific region” is code for defence against China, with the partnership promising greater sharing and integration of defence technologies, cyber capabilities and “additional undersea capabilities”. Under the agreement, Australia also stands to gain nuclear-powered submarines.




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To demonstrate the depth of the relationship, the agreement highlights how “for more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have worked together, along with other important allies and partners”.

At which point New Zealand could have expected a drum roll, too, having only just marked the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS agreement. That didn’t happen, and New Zealand was conspicuously absent from the choreographed announcement hosted by the White House.

Having remained committed to the Five Eyes security agreement and having put boots on the ground in Afghanistan for the duration, “NZ” appears to have been taken out of ANZUS and replaced with “UK”.

Don’t mention the nukes

The obvious first question is whether New Zealand was asked to join the new arrangement. While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the new partnership, she has confirmed: “We weren’t approached, nor would I expect us to be.”

That is perhaps surprising. Despite problematic comments by New Zealand’s trade minister about Australia’s dealings with China, and the foreign minister’s statement that she “felt uncomfortable” with the expanding remit of the Five Eyes, reassurances by Ardern about New Zealand’s commitment should have calmed concerns.




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One has to assume, therefore, that even if New Zealand had been asked to join, it might have chosen to opt out anyway. There are three possible explanations for this.

The first involves the probable provision to Australia of nuclear-powered military submarines. Any mention of nuclear matters makes New Zealand nervous. But Australia has been at pains to reiterate its commitment to “leadership on global non-proliferation”.

Similar commitments or work-arounds could probably have been made for New Zealand within the AUKUS agreement, too, but that is now moot.

The dragon in the room

The second reason New Zealand may have declined is because the new agreement is perceived as little more than an expensive purchasing agreement for the Australian navy, wrapped up as something else.

This may be partly true. But the rewards of the relationship as stated in the initial announcement go beyond submarines and look enticing. In particular, anything that offers cutting-edge technologies and enhances the interoperability of New Zealand’s defence force with its allies would not be lightly declined.




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The third explanation could lie in an assumption that this is not a new security arrangement. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that New Zealand is not the only ally missing from the new arrangement.

Canada, the other Five Eyes member, is also not at the party. Nor are France, Germany, India and Japan. If this really was a quantum shift in strategic alliances, the group would have been wider — and more formal than a new partnership announced at a press conference.

Nonetheless, the fact that New Zealand’s supposedly extra-special relationship with Britain, Australia and America hasn’t made it part of the in-crowd will raise eyebrows. Especially while no one likes to mention the elephant – or should that be dragon? – in the room: New Zealand’s relationship with China.The Conversation

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New preliminary evidence suggests coronavirus jumped from animals to humans multiple times


Hamish McCallum, Griffith UniversityThe origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic, has been hotly debated.

This debate has caused substantial difficulties in the Australia-China relationship, with a call by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for another inquiry into its origin being considered by China as a hostile act.

What’s not in doubt is the closest relatives of the virus are found in bats. How, where and when the virus spilled over into humans is the contentious issue.

One widely supported hypothesis is the spillover occurred in the “wet markets” of Wuhan, where many species of wildlife from across China are held in crowded conditions.

However, there’s no evidence the species of bats in which the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 are found were sold through the Wuhan wet markets at any time in the two years before the pandemic. This hypothesis requires the existence of a “bridge host”, another species that becomes infected via spillover from the original bat hosts, and then passes the virus onto humans.

Bridge hosts are well-known in many emerging human diseases. For example, Hendra virus, which my group studies, has flying foxes as its reservoir. Hendra spills over to horses with some frequency. Horses then amplify the virus as a bridge host and can infect humans.

Fortunately, this is extremely rare, with only seven known cases. Tragically, four of those people died. Hendra has never been known to spread directly from flying foxes to humans.




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More evidence a lab leak is very unlikely

A second, much more contentious hypothesis is the origin of the pandemic was the result of a “lab leak”.

Wuhan has one of the most sophisticated virological laboratories in China, and the laboratory does work on bat viruses. The suggestion is the virus may have inadvertently been released into the general community via one of the workers. No direct evidence supports this hypothesis.

A new pre-print study, released online this month, provides strong evidence to support the “natural spillover” hypothesis, with results that are hard to reconcile with the “lab leak” hypothesis.

The study is yet to be peer reviewed. But it’s based on a detailed examination of the genetic sequences of two early lineages obtained from people infected in late 2019 and early 2020.

For convenience, these two lineages are called A and B. The two lineages differ by just two nucleotides (letters in the genetic code) at two different key sites in the genetic sequence.

If there was a single lab escape event, the separation into lineages A and B must have happened after the lab escape. We would therefore expect to see a substantial number of intermediate lineages, with the lineage A nucleotide at one site, and the lineage B nucleotide at the other site.

However, if almost all of the genetic sequences obtained from humans are “pure” lineage A or pure lineage B, this suggests there were at least two different spillover events, either directly from bats or via bridge hosts.

And the evolution of the two lineages occurred before humans were infected.

The researchers downloaded all complete genetic sequences for SARS-CoV-2 that had been lodged in a widely used genomic database. Of these sequences, 369 were lineage A, 1,297 were lineage B and just 38 were intermediates.




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Genetic sequencing isn’t perfect. Close examination of the 38 intermediates strongly suggested they were more likely to be sequencing errors of pure lineage A or lineage B than to be true intermediates.

The genetic evidence, therefore, suggests very strongly there have been at least two separate spillover events into human populations, one being from lineage A and another being from lineage B.

Did a human bring SARS-CoV-2 to the wet markets?

The data don’t tell us there have been only two spillover events — there may have been more. Nor do they tell us whether these spillovers happened directly from bats, or whether some or all happened via an intermediate bridge host.

A Nature news article suggests this evidence points to the spillover having happened via the wildlife trade, but I think this is taking it a step too far.

While some of the wildlife species sold through the Wuhan wet market can indeed become infected with SARS-CoV-2 (for example raccoon dogs and mink), there’s no evidence any sold through the market were infected.

Many of the earliest human viral sequences (all lineage B) were recovered from the Wuhan seafood market, but wet markets and abattoirs are well-known to be places where the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads very well from human to human.

So, it may have been a human who brought the virus to the Wuhan seafood market, rather than a species of wildlife.

One thing we do know is this pandemic originated through a human coming in contact with another species infected with the virus.

It’s unknown whether this was a bat or a bridge host, and whether this contact occurred in a wildlife market, or in a bat cave, or somewhere else entirely different.

Nevertheless, as humans encroach more and more on the habitats of wild animals and as wild animals are brought more frequently into close contact with humans, we can expect further spillovers and pandemics to occur.




Read more:
How do viruses mutate and jump species? And why are ‘spillovers’ becoming more common?


The Conversation


Hamish McCallum, Director, Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Melbourne earthquake: what exactly happened, and what’s the best way to stay safe from aftershocks?


James Ross/AAP

Mark Quigley, The University of MelbourneA magnitude 5.8 earthquake has struck about 115 kilometres east of Melbourne in Victoria, causing damage to buildings and forcing residents to evacuate across the city. The quake, which started near Woods Point at a depth of 12km, was also felt in Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and even as far as Launceston, Tasmania.

I and the co-author of this article, Dee Ninis, work as earthquake scientists at the Seismology Research Centre. Researching earthquakes is our life’s work. Here’s what you need to know to understand why today’s earthquake happened, and the geological conditions that triggered it.

Where was it exactly?

On-ground sensors distributed by the Seismology Research Centre have confirmed the earthquake was of a 5.8 magnitude, with an epicentre about 60km south-east of Mansfield in Victoria. The preliminary focal mechanism of this earthquake is strike-slip, meaning the rocks likely slid past each other laterally on what is probably an east-west oriented fault.

The earthquake was felt across the region at around 9.15am today. Geoscience Australia had received 32,409 felt reports as of when this article was published.
Screenshot/Geoscience Australia

Australia experiences fewer earthquakes than plate boundary regions, such as New Zealand. Many of Australia’s suspected neotectonic faults (faults which have hosted earthquakes in recent geological times) have not been thoroughly investigated, commonly due to lack of funding and resources for earthquake research.

However, earthquakes basically happen for the same reason in Australia as they do in New Zealand: there is a buildup of elastic strain energy in the crust, which eventually needs to be released. And most of this energy release occurs due to the rupture of weak zones in the crust, called faults.

Geoscience Australia hosts a database of what we think might be active faults across Australia, but few of these faults have been studied on the ground.

Most of the neotectonic faults near today’s earthquake were identified from remote elevation data — and this alone doesn’t reveal information such as when, how big and how often previous earthquakes on these faults occurred.

What we look for here is displacement at Earth’s surface, formed by movement during previous quakes. Such displacement is only caused by moderate to large earthquakes relatively close to the surface.

If it’s deep enough, it’s entirely possible for a quake to happen at a fault that never ruptures the surface — so we can’t see evidence for it. At a magnitude of 5.8 and a depth of 12km, we don’t expect today’s event to have an associated surface rupture, although it is remotely possible.

The Conversation’s readers sent in their accounts of the earthquake, which was felt across Melbourne’s suburbs.
The Conversation

Is this an unusual event?

While some early reports suggested today’s earthquake was the “largest on-land earthquake in Australia since 1997”, this isn’t the case. Australia has an earthquake of magnitude 6 or higher every six to ten years, on average. That’s based on an instrumental record going back about 150 years.

The 2016 Petermann Ranges earthquake in the Northern Territory was a magnitude 6.1 quake. And while Australia is not a tectonic plate boundary, it is still quite seismically active.

This morning’s earthquake was the largest onshore quake ever recorded in Victoria. Other recent earthquakes include two magnitude 5 quakes: one in 1996 near Mt Baw Baw, and one in 2012 near Moe.

But just because we haven’t seen such a high-magnitude earthquake in our time doesn’t mean they don’t happen. For instance, there is geological evidence for a possible magnitude 7 earthquake occurring sometime between 70,000 and 25,000 years ago, on the Cadell Fault near the Victorian town of Echuca.




Read more:
The earthquake that rattled Melbourne was among Australia’s biggest in half a century, but rock records reveal far mightier ones


Earthquakes are more intense and frequent in plate boundary regions. The Pacific plate boundary, which passes directly through New Zealand’s South Island, lies to Australia’s east.

But despite this — and although the tectonic deformation rates across Australia are lower than the deformation rates at plate boundary regions — Australia has seen earthquakes in places you wouldn’t expect (unless you’re an earthquake scientist).

For instance, the Tennant Creek earthquake sequence in 1988 saw three separate shocks erupt within 12 hours, with magnitudes of 6.2, 6.3 and 6.6 (the main shock).

What about aftershocks?

Several aftershocks followed the main event this morning, some occurring within the hour. In an earthquake sequence, an “aftershock” is defined as an earthquake that’s smaller than and which follows the main shock. The strongest aftershocks come soon after the main event and slowly taper off.

We do expect the region around today’s earthquake epicentre to remain active, and we will probably have more felt events in the next few days. In fact, we would expect aftershocks to continue up to decades afterwards, although through time most of these will become too small to be felt (the Tennant Creek earthquake sequence of 1988 is still ongoing).

If, under unfortunate circumstances, we experience an even larger earthquake soon — then that will become the main event, and the quake from this morning will be designated a “foreshock”.

So we all have to stay alert. Even if the aftershocks aren’t as intense in magnitude, smaller quakes can still be incredibly damaging depending on their depth and location. In the 2011 Christchurch disaster, it was an aftershock of magnitude 6.3 which wreaked the most havoc, and led to many people’s deaths.

How to prepare?

In terms of personal safety, the best thing to do during an earthquake is drop to the ground, take cover and hold on. If you’re inside a house or other building, try to crawl under something sturdy to protect yourself, such as a solid table. This will help save you from anything that might fall.

If you experience a quake while you’re outside, make sure you’re as far away from buildings and other structures as possible, as these too can fall on you. You need to be in an open area. Victoria’s State Emergency Service has more recommendations on what to do, including:

  • staying away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls and anything that could fall such as lighting fixtures
  • not using a doorway unless you know it is strongly supported and is close to you
  • keeping in mind the electricity may go out, and sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

Finally, if you’re considering any activities that might put you at risk, such as roofing, gutter cleaning, and other activities that involve the use of ladders, it is prudent to reconsider whether these are essential in the short term.


Acknowledgment: this article was co-authored by Dee Ninis, who works as an earthquake geologist at ESS Earth Sciences’s Seismology Research Centre based in Richmond, Victoria.The Conversation

Mark Quigley, Associate Professor of Earthquake Science, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coalition still well ahead in NSW poll, Newspoll premiers’ ratings, and WA upper house electoral reforms


AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneA New South Wales state Resolve poll for The Sydney Morning Herald gave the Coalition 41% of the primary vote (down two since July), Labor 30% (up two), the Greens 11% (down one), the Shooters 2% (up one) and independents 10% (steady).

Resolve does not provide two party estimates, but analyst Kevin Bonham estimated 53-47 to the Coalition, a two-point gain for Labor since July. I previously covered issues with the independent vote in Resolve and the lack of two party estimates.




Read more:
Coalition gains in federal Resolve poll, but Labor increases lead in Victoria


Incumbent Liberal Gladys Berejiklian led Labor’s Chris Minns by 48-21 as preferred premier (55-16 in July). This poll would have been conducted concurrently with the August and September federal polls from a sample of about 1,100. The federal Resolve polls in those months have had a strong lean to the Coalition compared with other polls (see below).

By 65-17, voters supported “the plan to ease restrictions in mid-October with 70% vaccination rates”. The SMH article implies the Coalition’s position was stronger in September than August, as vaccination uptake makes reopening soon realistic.

The same situation applies to the federal government. Once lockdowns are over, the economy is likely to rebound quickly, and this will assist the Coalition in an election in the first half of next year.

Newspoll: Andrews has best approval out of Vic, Qld and NSW premiers

The Poll Bludger reported that Newspoll asked for premiers’ ratings in last weekend’s poll from a larger than usual national sample of 2,144.

The states considered were NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews had a 64-35 satisfied rating (net +29). Queensland Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 57-38 satisfied rating (net +19). Berejiklian had a 56-40 satisfied rating (net +16).

On handling COVID, Palaszczuk scored far better than her overall rating at 67-31 good, while Andrews and Berejiklian scored nearly the same (63-35 good for Andrews, 56-41 good for Berejiklian).

Nationally, Scott Morrison had a -4 net approval in Newspoll; he was at +15 in Queensland, -3 in NSW and -16 in Victoria.

Nationally, Morrison had a 49-48 poor rating for his handling of COVID, unchanged from six weeks ago. By 53-42, voters expressed more concern with relaxing restrictions too fast than too slowly (62-34 in January).

WA upper house electoral reform: group ticket voting and malapportionment to be scrapped

The massive WA Labor landslide at the March state election gave them large majorities in both chambers of the WA parliament – the first ever Labor majority in the upper house.




Read more:
Coalition and Morrison gain in Newspoll, and the new Resolve poll


Labor set up a committee to look at reforming the upper house’s electoral system. There are two current major problems: malapportionment and group ticket voting (GTV). The Mining & Pastoral region and Agricultural region elect one-third of the upper house on just 10% of the state’s population. GTV allowed Daylight Saving to win a seat in March on just 98 primary votes.

Labor will adopt the committee’s proposals to change to a statewide election of 37 members, up from the current 36. GTV will be replaced by optional above-the-line voting, in which a single “1” above the line will stay within the party it is cast for. Voters can number “2”, “3”, etc, above the line to continue directing preferences after their original party is excluded.

This system is the same as is currently used in elections for the NSW and SA upper houses. However, these states elect half their upper house at each election (21 seats up each election in NSW and 11 in SA). The WA proposal is for all 37 seats to be elected at once, so the quota will be just 2.63%.

With optional preferential voting, parties will be able to win seats from much lower vote shares than 2.63%. It’s likely to lead to cluttered ballot papers at the next election.

ABC election analyst Antony Green has much more on the WA reforms. I hope the Victorian government scraps GTV before the 2022 state election – Victoria is now the last Australian jurisdiction with GTV.

Other state developments: NT, Victoria and Tasmania

The Labor Northern Territory government gained Daly at a September 11 byelection by a 56.0-44.0 margin over the CLP, a 7.2% swing to Labor. Bonham said this is the first time a government gained from an opposition at a byelection anywhere in Australia since Benalla (Victoria state) in 2000.

Matthew Guy ousted Michael O’Brien as Victorian Liberal leader at a leadership spill on September 7. Guy led the Liberals to a landslide defeat at the November 2018 state election.

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 7-9 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 49% (steady since the May election), Labor 28% (steady) and the Greens 13% (up one). Incumbent Peter Gutwein led Labor’s Rebecca White as preferred premier by 59-29 (61-26 in EMRS’ last state poll in February).

Coalition leads on estimated preference flows in federal Resolve poll

A federal Resolve poll for Nine newapapers, conducted September 15-19 from a sample of 1,606, gave the Coalition 39% of the primary vote (down one since August), Labor 31% (down one), the Greens 10% (down two), One Nation 4% (up two), Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party 3% and independents 9% (down one).

No two-party estimate was given, but Bonham estimated 51-49 to the Coalition, a one-point gain for the Coalition.

There’s divergence in voting intentions between Resolve and Newspoll, which was 53-47 to Labor. But there’s been movement in all recent polls to the Coalition, which was up one in Newspoll and up two in Morgan to a 52.5-47.5 Labor lead.

49% gave Morrison a good rating for his performance in recent weeks, and 45% a poor rating, for a net +4 rating, up five since August. Albanese’s net approval was up three to -16. Morrison led as preferred PM by 45-26 (46-23 in August).

The Liberals and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 42-24 on economic management (44-19 in August). On COVID, the Liberals led by 37-24 (37-22 last time).

Canadian election called two years early gives nearly status quo result

I live blogged the results of the Canadian election that PM Justin Trudeau called two years early for The Poll Bludger. At the 2019 election, Trudeau’s centre-left Liberals won 157 of the 338 seats and the Conservatives 121, despite a 1.2% lead for the Conservatives in vote shares. In 2021, the results are nearly the same.

The German election will be held Sunday, with polls closing at 2am Monday AEST. Parties need to either win at least 5% nationally or three of the 299 single-member seats to qualify for a proportional seat allocation. The Guardian’s poll aggregate
suggests the overall left parties have a narrow lead over the overall right. I will be live blogging for The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The earthquake that rattled Melbourne was among Australia’s biggest in half a century, but rock records reveal far mightier ones


Mark Quigley, The University of Melbourne and Januka Attanayake, The University of MelbourneAn earthquake that struck near Melbourne today is one of the largest in Australia since instrumental seismic records began. However, the geological record of ground-breaking fault ruptures tells us much larger earthquakes have occurred across the continent. Some of these earthquakes would have been witnessed by Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

Several quakes were felt near Melbourne today, the largest of which was recorded at a magnitude of 5.8. A magnitude 4.7 aftershock happened about 15 minutes after the main shock, which was at 9:15am local time. A typical aftershock sequence could go on for weeks to years. Aftershocks went on for about 40 days following the Thorpdale, Victoria earthquake of magnitude 5 in 2021.

In Australia we get magnitude 5.8-6.0 or greater earthquakes, on average, once every four to 20 years. The highest since instrumental records began in Australia was the magnitude 6.6 quake in the Western Australia town of Meckering in 1968.

Earthquakes are considered a low probability, high consequence hazard — the rate of earthquakes is low compared to our seismically active neighbours in New Zealand, PNG, and Indonesia, but we have vulnerable infrastructure such as unreinforced masonry buildings that present a risk.




Read more:
‘Like tearing a piece of cheese’: here’s why Darwin was rocked so hard by a distant quake


How this quake compares

There are some big quakes in our recent past.

There was a magnitude 5.3 quake in 2018 in Western Australia.

Near Uluru in 2016, there was the Petermann earthquake, which had a magnitude of 6.1.

The largest in the record since instrumental records began in Australia was in 1988; it was part of the Tennant Creek series of quakes in the Northern Territory, and that was magnitude 6.5.

Then there was the aforementioned one in 1968 in the WA town of Meckering; that was 6.6.

But the geological record tells us we have had earthquakes in Australia’s deeper past that were much, much larger — possibly up to magnitude 7.0 and beyond.

The energy released by a magnitude 7.0 quake is 32 times larger than the energy from a magnitude 6.0 quake.

For each one point up the scale, the amount of energy released is about 32 times greater.

Why are quakes of this strength not common in Australia?

Compared with places like New Zealand and Indonesia, large quakes are not common in Australia. That’s because Australia is in the middle of a tectonic plate so what we call the “strain rate” — the rate at which energy builds up due to plates pushing against each other — is slow.

Indonesia is on a plate boundary, so the strain rate — the rate at which the Earth is being deformed — is much higher. That energy is released mainly through earthquakes.

Even though Australia is in the middle of a plate, strain can nevertheless build up over time — and eventually needs to find release.

Australia is moving northwards as part of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, which is colliding with the plate near PNG and Indonesia, and that is pushing back — building up strain. New Zealand is also imposing a force onto the Australian plate.

A quake like today’s would normally cause a lot of damage

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake is a big deal. If such a quake occurred directly under one of our major cities, we could expect billions of dollars of damage and fatalities.

In many parts of Australia, such as Melbourne, earthquakes are felt at greater distances than in countries like New Zealand, because our crust is stiffer. Seismic waves travel more efficiently through Australian crust.

In Melbourne, the soft sediment south of the CBD and in other areas likely caused the seismic waves to slow down but also amplify. The seismic waves get bigger and can cause more damage when they are in soft sediments.

The scenes of toppled brickwork reflect the seismic energy that has travelled quite effectively 130km from the source of the tremor (which is reported to be near Mansfield).

They have almost certainly been amplified by the soft sediments, and the direction of the waves may make certain buildings more vulnerable than others.

Crucially, Melbourne has many buildings that are highly vulnerable to quake shaking: buildings with big overhangs, buildings that are unreinforced, or those that have been weathering away for decades without repair.

The sort of shaking that wouldn’t cause damage in other locations is causing damage in places like Melbourne.




Read more:
10 years since the Darfield earthquake rocked New Zealand: what have we learned?


The Conversation


Mark Quigley, Associate Professor of Earthquake Science, The University of Melbourne and Januka Attanayake, Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coalition gains a point in Newspoll, but Morrison slides back into net negative ratings


AAP/Joel Carrett

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted September 15-18 from a sample a little over 1,500, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Labor (down two), 37% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady).

50% (up three) were dissatisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 46% (down three) were satisfied, for a net approval of -4. Morrison dropped into net negative ratings six weeks ago, but recovered to +2 in the last Newspoll. This is his worst net approval in Newspoll since the start of the pandemic.




Read more:
First negative Newspoll rating for Morrison since start of pandemic; 47% of unvaccinated would take Pfizer but not AstraZeneca


Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s ratings also slumped, with his net approval falling four points to -11, his worst since becoming opposition leader. Morrison led Albanese by 47-35 as better PM (50-34 previously). Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger.

The vote for all Others in this poll was 12% (up one). It’s plausible Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly’s campaign promoting United Australia Party has lured some anti-lockdown voters. At the 2019 election, UAP preferences split 65-35 to the Coalition.

If the proportion of the Others vote supporting UAP is higher than usual, this would explain why the Coalition’s two party figure in Newspoll was a point higher than would be expected from primary votes according to analyst Kevin Bonham.

There’s good news for the Coalition in other polling on voting intentions and COVID handling. The Morgan poll last week had the Coalition up two for a 52.5-47.5 Labor lead. The Essential poll had the federal government’s COVID rating up to 43-35 good from 39-36 in late August.

The Guardian’s datablog has 37.2% of the population (not 16+) fully vaccinated, up from 27.2% three weeks ago. We rank 33 of 38 OECD countries in share of population fully vaccinated (35th three weeks ago). The Age shows 46.7% of 16+ are fully vaccinated and 71.7% have received at least one dose.

Employment and GDP reports from the ABS suggest that the economy was in good shape before the Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns began. Once these cities reopen, the economy is likely to recover rapidly, boosting the Coalition’s chances.

It is too soon to know whether there has been any impact from the decision to enter into the so-called AUKUS pact with the US and UK. A snap Morgan poll found voters approved by 57-43, but Morgan’s SMS polls have not been reliable, and this poll was taken before more negative publicity about the deal.

Two Essential polls

In the mid-September Essential poll, the federal government’s rating on response to COVID rose to 43-35 good from 39-36 in late August and 41-35 in mid-August. The Victorian government’s “good” rating was up six to 50%, after falling 12 in late August, and the NSW government was up six to 46% after dropping two.

41% thought states with low or no COVID should be able to keep their borders closed for as long as they think it necessary, 37% until 80% of the 16+ population is fully vaccinated, and 23% until 80% of the total population is fully vaccinated.

39% thought restrictions for fully vaccinated people should be relaxed immediately, 44% thought they should be relaxed when everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated and 17% thought vaccinated people should not be treated differently to unvaccinated.

In the late August Essential poll, 50% approved of Morrison’s performance (steady since early August) and 41% disapproved (up one), for a net approval of +9. Albanese’s net approval increased five points to +1. Morrison led as better PM by 47-26 (45-26 previously).

56% of NSW respondents thought the lockdown restrictions in their area were about right, 28% too strong and 16% too weak. In Victoria, these figures were 57% about right, 35% too strong and 8% too weak.

61% said fewer than 100 COVID deaths a year in Australia was acceptable to “live with”, 25% between 100 and 1,000 deaths a year and 19% between 1,000 and 3,000. Before COVID in 2019, there were over 169,000 deaths from all causes in Australia.

Coalition gains two points in mid-September Morgan poll

A Morgan poll, conducted September 4-5 and 11-12 from a sample of over 2,700, gave Labor a 52.5-47.5 lead, a 2% gain for the Coalition since late August. Primary votes were 38.5% Coalition (up 1%), 35% Labor (down 3.5%), 13% Greens (up 1.5%) and 3% One Nation (steady). The late August Morgan poll had Labor’s lead up 0.5% from mid-August.

A separate SMS Morgan poll, conducted last Thursday from a sample of over 1,700, had voters approving 57-43 of the government entering the AUKUS pact.

Late August YouGov COVID poll

A YouGov poll for the News Corp papers, conducted August 20-25 from a sample of over 3,000, was reported by The Poll Bludger. By 41-37, respondents thought lockdowns should be ended when “everyone has the opportunity to be fully vaccinated”. WA respondents were most pro-lockdown, while NSW and Victorian respondents were least so.

66% supported proof of vaccination being required to participate in a range of public activities, 63% supported only opening state borders for the vaccinated, and 68% the same for international borders. Just 23% were opposed to employers being able to demand their staff be vaccinated, with 69% support for this in public facing jobs and 45% support in all industries.

Given a choice between “lockdowns should be ended immediately”, “lockdowns must be part of Australia’s future until COVID is eliminated” and “vaccination is the pathway to ending lockdowns”, 64% selected the third option, 22% the second and 14% the first.

Participation down in August jobs report

The ABS reported last Thursday that the unemployment rate in August dropped 0.1% from July to 4.5%. However, this was because the participation rate fell 0.8% to 65.2%. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Australians employed – fell 0.7% to 62.2%.

The ABS reported on September 1 that GDP in the June quarter increased 0.7% from the March quarter, and a massive 9.6% since June 2020 as the economy rapidly rebounded from the 7.0% COVID-caused crash in the June 2020 quarter.

With Sydney and Melbourne in lockdown for most of the September quarter period, it is very likely GDP will contract. But once restrictions are eased, economic activity is likely to rebound quickly, and this will assist the Coalition.

Canadian and German elections

The Canadian election is Tuesday AEST, with most polls closing at 11:30am AEST. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau called this election two years early, hoping to win a majority for his centre-left Liberals. But the Liberals’ position deteriorated quickly.

However, the rise for the right populist People’s Party has hurt the Conservatives. According to the CBC Poll Tracker, the Liberals are likely to again win the most seats, but be short of a majority under Canada’s first past the post system.

The German election is next Sunday September 26, with polls closing at 2am Monday AEST. In the Politico poll aggregate, the centre-left SPD leads the conservative CDU/CSU, which has been in government since 2005 under retiring chancellor Angela Merkel. Overall left parties hold a narrow lead over overall right parties.

I will be live blogging both these elections for The Poll Bludger. I live blogged last week’s California recall election, in which the Democratic governor easily defeated Recall.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.