Northern NSW is no stranger to floods, but this one was different


Joelle Gergis, University of Melbourne

The devastating flood damage wreaked by Tropical Cyclone Debbie has left many residents in northern New South Wales facing an enormous cleanup that could take months. The Conversation

Any Lismore local will tell you that flooding is a fact of life in the Northern Rivers. In the floods of 1954 and 1974, the Wilsons River rose to a record 12.17 metres. This time around, the river peaked at 11.59m, breaching the flood levee built in 2005 for the first time.

So what are the conditions that caused those historic floods? And are they any different to the conditions of 2017?

Like the current flood, cyclonic rains also caused the 1954 and 1974 events. But unlike those past events, both of which were preceded by prolonged wet weather, almost all of the extreme rainfall from ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie fell within 24 hours.

More interesting still is the fact that we are not currently experiencing La Niña conditions, which have historically formed the backdrop to severe flooding in eastern Australia.

The 1954 flood was preceded by an east coast low from February 9-11, followed by a decaying tropical cyclone from February 19-22. Thirty people were killed as flood records were set in Lismore, Kyogle, Casino, Nimbin and Murwillumbah. Some places received more than 1,000mm of rain in 14 days.

In 1974, former Tropical Cyclone Zoe unleashed torrential rain over Lismore, Wyrallah and Coraki. From March 10-13, some stations received almost 1,000mm in just four days. One analysis described the flood as a once-in-70-year event.

This time around, the remains of Tropical Cyclone Debbie delivered extreme rainfall to northern NSW towns including Murwillumbah, Chinderah and Lismore, despite having crossed the coast several days earlier and more than 1,200km to the north. Floods as far apart as Rockhampton in central Queensland and northern New Zealand show the storm’s colossal area of influence.

During the event, 20 rainfall stations in Queensland and 11 sites in NSW recorded their wettest March day on record. Mullumbimby, in the Brunswick River catchment, received a staggering 925mm during March – over half the annual average in a single month – causing major flooding in the region.

The heaviest rainfall in the Wilsons River catchment was at Terania Creek, which received 627mm over March 30-31, 99% of it in the 24 hours from 3am on March 30. Lismore recorded 324.8mm of rain in the 18 hours to 3am on March 31, its wettest March day in more than 100 years. A little further out of town, floodwaters submerged the gauge at Lismore Airport, so unfortunately we do not have reliable figures for that site.

March 2017 rainfall across Australia. Tropical Cyclone Debbie’s track down the east coast is visible in the trail of above-average falls.
Bureau of Meteorology

The main difference between the current flooding and the 1954 and 1974 floods is that the previous events both occurred against a background of sustained La Niña conditions. These tend to deliver above-average tropical cyclone activity and high rainfall totals, which increase flood risk.

During the early 1970s, Australia experienced the longest period of La Niña conditions in the instrumental record. This unleashed phenomenal deluges across virtually the entire country. By the end of 1973, many catchments were already saturated as the wet season started early, culminating in the wettest January in Australia’s rainfall records.

In 1974 the Indian Ocean was also unusually warm (what meteorologists call a “negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phase”), further enhancing rainfall in the region. When negative IOD events coincide with La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific, the warm sea temperatures reinforce one another, resulting in more evaporation and increased rainfall. This double whammy resulted in the exceptionally wet conditions experienced across the country during 1974.

In January 1974, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Australia as a whole recorded their wettest month on record, while South Australia and New South Wales recorded their second-wettest January on record. Torrential monsoon rains in the gulf country of Queensland transformed the normally dry interior into vast inland seas, flooding all the way to Lake Eyre in the arid zone of South Australia.

Vast swathes of Australia were much wetter than average during the mid-1970s.
Bureau of Meteorology

In contrast, Tropical Cyclone Debbie formed under neutral conditions, rather than during a La Niña. In fact, the Bureau of Meteorology is currently on El Niño watch, meaning that there is double the normal risk of an El Niño event bringing low rainfall and high temperatures to Australia by mid-2017.

So, unlike the 1950s and 1970s, the current flooding happened despite the absence of conditions that have driven major flooding in the past. It seems extraordinary that such a damaging cyclone could develop under these circumstances, and deliver such high rainfall over such a short time. This suggests that other factors may be at play.

A rapidly warming climate means that storms are now occurring in a “super-charged” atmosphere. As temperatures increase, so does the water-holding capacity of the lower atmosphere. The oceans are also warming, especially at the surface, driving up evaporation rates. Global average surface temperature has already risen by about 1℃ above pre-industrial levels, leading to an increase of 7% in the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere.

Ocean evaporation, before and after ocean warming.
Climate Council

Of course, it is hard to determine the exact impact of climate change on individual storms. However, climate scientists are confident about the overall trends.

Australia’s land and oceans have warmed by 1℃ since 1910, with much of this warming occurring since 1970. This influences the background conditions under which both extremes of the rainfall cycle will operate as the planet continues to warm. We have high confidence that the warming trend will increase the intensity of extreme rainfall experienced in eastern Australia, including southeast Queensland and northern NSW.

While it will take more time to determine the exact factors that led to the extreme flooding witnessed in March 2017, we cannot rule out the role of climate change as a possible contributing factor.

CSIRO’s latest climate change projections predict that in a hotter climate we will experience intense dry spells interspersed with periods of increasingly extreme rainfall over much of Australia. Tropical cyclones are projected to be less frequent but more intense on average.

That potentially means longer and more severe droughts, followed by deluges capable of washing away houses, roads and crops. Tropical Cyclone Debbie’s formation after the exceptionally hot summer of 2016-2017 may well be a perfect case in point, and an ominous sign of things to come.

Joelle Gergis, ARC DECRA Climate Research Fellow, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New NSW premier will have her hands full with issues that took the shine off Baird


Michael Hogan, University of Sydney

Gladys Berejiklian is undoubtedly one of the best-prepared candidates to take over the premiership of New South Wales in modern times. The Liberal partyroom confirmed her elevation as party leader and premier on Monday morning, with Dominic Perrottet to serve as her deputy.

Most of Berejiklian’s successful predecessors – Neville Wran, Nick Greiner, Bob Carr and Barry O’Farrell, for example – came to the job with much less experience of government, relying on strong performances as opposition leader. Berejiklian has successfully managed two of the most difficult portfolios – transport and treasury – with responsibility for the Hunter and industrial relations thrown in for variety. She also has experience as a senior member of the team that won a landslide victory over Labor in 2011.

However, being well prepared does not guarantee an easy time in office. Berejiklian inherits a Liberal Party that was losing public support in the last year of Mike Baird’s administration.

A vague smell of corruption over Liberal Party electoral funding practices also lingers. This is helped along by the Coalition’s recent decision to restructure the management of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – a move many saw as designed to weaken the body that exposed those funding practices.

Internal policy fights

The NSW Liberal Party is still strongly factionalised at both the parliamentary and local level. O’Farrell was able to neutralise the influence of the radical right faction, while Baird promoted a raft of economic policies that were generally acceptable to the right.

If Berejiklian, who is from the left, wants to choose a different policy mix then she can expect the right will exert its influence. The right faction does not have any viable alternative leadership candidates of its own, but has a strong enough presence in the partyroom to make life difficult.

Berejiklian’s stated intention to concentrate on economic development issues should not have factional implications, although any more PR disaster projects like WestConnex will not be well received. One of the interesting questions is how well she will be able to stare down opposition in the partyroom.

Berejiklian will certainly face a much less compliant National Party. This is a result of the recent shock defeat of the Nationals candidate at the recent Orange by-election, attributed to a perception in rural areas that the Nationals had ignored the interests of rural communities when it allowed the Baird government to ban greyhound racing (a decision it later reversed).

As a result of the by-election loss the Nationals also have a new leader, John Barilaro. He seems to have learned the lessons of the defeat in Orange.

The first issue Berejiklian will face on that front is local council and shire amalgamations. There will also be pressure to take a greater interest in the provision of good schools, hospitals and roads for country areas, which she should be able to accommodate without difficulty.

The next election and the future

Relations with the Nationals will be important as the next election approaches, since the Liberal Party is likely to be in deep trouble in its favoured electorates. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s success in Orange will certainly give it a higher profile in lower house seats. And the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will result in contests in most – if not all – rural seats.

There have been strong challenges in some electorates from local independents in recent state elections. There will be no safe seats for the Nationals.

Fortunately for Berejiklian, Labor is not in a position to profit from this situation. The “Country Labor” brand has made little impact in country areas in recent elections.

Nevertheless, given there is currently a swing against the Coalition, and a tight election is likely, a hung parliament after the next election is a real possibility.

Although Labor under Luke Foley has improved its position quickly after the catastrophic election defeat in 2011, it does not offer a great threat to the Berejiklian. Labor cannot win from opposition unless the government makes a complete mess of things – as Baird was threatening to do.

Berejiklian is a more instinctive political animal than Baird. She is less ideological, more pragmatic and prepared to compromise, so one would expect her to consult more and spend more energy on convincing the electorate of the value of her political initiatives.

Overall, while local press, radio and TV commentators prefer Liberal to Labor politicians, and were initially supportive of O’Farrell and Baird, any apparent mistakes will be jumped on. But this premier is female.

After the overtly sexist trashing of Julia Gillard by Tony Abbott, and of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump – both enthusiastically supported by right-wing media outlets – one has to wonder whether a female premier in NSW will be treated fairly.

Media handling of the state’s first female premier, Kristina Keneally, wasn’t particularly friendly, but that was not primarily because of her gender. It probably helps that Berejiklian is on the conservative side of politics.

Shock jock Alan Jones has already fired one broadside against her. But on this issue – as on many others – we will just have to wait and see.

The Conversation

Michael Hogan, Associate Professor and Honorary Associate, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Baird’s early exit means NSW loses a leader whose best years were yet to come


Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

It used to be the case that participation in political life was considered to be a vocation, and that those who chose it were in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. The most prominent example of this in Australian history was Billy Hughes. Even after he lost the prime ministership in early 1923 he continued to be a member of the House of Representatives until his death in 1952.

That has all changed. Mike Baird’s resignation, both as New South Wales premier and from the state parliament, comes as somewhat of a shock. He is only 48, has been an MP for less than ten years and premier for less than three. One would have thought his best years in public life were ahead of him.

No scandals and no internal ructions

Baird has cited personal reasons for his decision to leave politics, and one can well sympathise with him in regard to the health of his parents and sister. Public life is demanding and invariably takes a toll on the personal lives of those who participate in it.

One should point out, though, that this is the case in many occupations, including the law, high-level finance and executive positions in the public service.

Baird is the fifth NSW premier in the last ten years, and only one of them lost their job as the result of an election. His predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, resigned in the wake of allegations he had failed to declare a bottle of Grange Hermitage as a gift.

One should ask if it is a good thing that the NSW premiership has been turned over so often in recent times. In this regard, it seems to resemble the turnover at the federal level.

Baird’s resignation was not caused by scandal or political machinations leading to him being overthrown. In his relatively short time as premier he has performed reasonably well. NSW has performed quite well in economic terms; there have been no issues in the area of power generation; and, as Baird points out, there has been infrastructure development.

Sure, there have been a few problems over the past year relating to council amalgamations and the attempt to close down the greyhound industry. Certainly 2016 was a much more difficult year for Baird than 2015.

The great unknown

One could argue, though, that the problems of 2016 could have been an important aspect of Baird’s political education, and one would have hoped it would make him a better and more effective premier. Alas, that is not to be the case.

Politicians like to argue that a political career is like any other career. This means they develop skills and capacities that make them good at their job. It also means they should become more effective the longer they spend in politics.

This was certainly the case with John Howard, who did not become prime minister until he had been in public life for more than 20 years.

In this regard we shall never know just how effective Baird might have been as a political leader. He became premier in 2014 and initially enjoyed considerable popularity. He won an election. And, like any political leader, he made a few mistakes that dinted his popularity.

At this stage, one would have expected that he would have taken advantage of his setbacks, as did Howard, to grow as political leader.

We will now not know the true capacities of Baird as a leader. Instead, a successor will have to take over and learn the ropes. It will be interesting to see how the NSW people react to yet another change in leadership.

The issue would seem to be that in the new world, for many politicians, a time in politics is just another stage in their careers as they progress to other things. This is not to deny that political life is a hard life. The problem may be the modern way of thinking of it as a career, as something one does just to satisfy ambition.

Australia, both federally and at the state level, needs good leadership if it is to thrive. Good leaders just don’t appear out of nowhere. They become good leaders by working hard and growing into their jobs.

The Conversation

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Hillsong and Mark Driscoll


The link below is to an article that reports on Australia’s Hillsong Church and its invitation to Mark Driscoll for its Sydney convention later this month. Mark Driscoll was lead pastor at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, USA.

For more visit:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3112154/Hillsong-Church-receives-backlash-inviting-disgraced-pastor-described-women-penis-homes-conference.html