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.

Stumbling into the future: living with the legacy of the great infrastructure sell-off


Phillip O’Neill, Western Sydney University

This is the fourth article in our series Making Cities Work. It considers the problems of providing critical infrastructure and how we might produce the innovations and reforms needed to meet 21st-century needs and challenges. The Conversation


The privatisation of urban infrastructure in Australia is an ironic story. The vehicles of urban infrastructure – the utilities and the state-owned enterprises – were so central to the life of cities that they became perfect entities for private sell-off. We now live with the consequences of the sell-off.

The utilities flourished in Australia as a nation-building exercise following the second world war. The Bretton Woods agreements entrenched Keynesian fiscal behaviours across the Western world.

The utilities thrived on the willingness of governments to raise capital for public works. They were also central to the development of state capacity and the assembly of a career-based professional public service. As part of the social compact, the public accepted reasonable user pricing for the availability of water, energy, public transport and telecommunications services.

Hence, the utilities and the state-owned enterprises led the roll-out of urban infrastructure in the second half of the 20th century. This roll-out shaped the nature of Australian urban life, its format and flows.

But then fiscal crisis of the state descended in the 1970s and 1980s. The sell-off of public assets was seen worldwide as a solution to state indebtedness. Arguments that private enterprise could deliver infrastructure services more efficiently added impetus.

A wholesale transformation

Few governments resisted the sell-off urge. Australian governments, state and federal, participated in the sell-off, though in a stuttering manner. Through time, however, the change has been substantial.

Abbott and Cohen calculate that the output of state-owned enterprises in Australia in 1989-90 accounted for 7% of GDP, 9% of total employment, and 14% of gross fixed capital expenditure.

By 2011-12, the output of state-owned enterprises had fallen to 1.3% of GDP. Their gross fixed capital expenditure contributed only 1.8% of the nation’s total. The authors estimate that proceeds from privatisations in Australia since 1987 total around A$194 billion (in constant year 2000 dollars).

The sell-off commercialised and privatised a raft of assets: electricity generation and transmission, gas distribution, airports, ports and telecommunication. New assets went straight to private hands: motorways, public transport, renewable energy generation, and freight handling.

The shedding of public responsibility for infrastructure meant public investment in Australia as a share of GDP fell from more than 5% in the mid-1980s to well below 3% by the end of the 1990s.

What’s in it for investors?

There is much to understand about the sell-off. Here I focus only on why private investors are willing to pay extraordinary prices to acquire urban infrastructure assets.

The attraction of investing in an urban infrastructure asset comes from the infrastructure services being embedded in the daily flows of people, water, energy and information throughout a city. The flows of a city are remarkably ordered in terms of volume, direction and timing.

How a city operates is dependent on the co-existence of decisions by infrastructure operators and users. The operators decide how and when services will be available. Households and firms decide what they will be doing across a 24-hour day and therefore how and when they will use the infrastructure services on offer.

Thus, the efficiency of infrastructure provision comes from the predictability of the flows of a city. These in turn come from a historical patterning and sequencing of behaviours by householders and firms as they read off and conform to each other’s movements.

An example is the relatively sympathetic structuring and sequencing of work hours and school hours. This ensures that public transport facilities are utilised more efficiently in peak hours, while the hours that parents and children spend together are made more convenient.

The embeddedness of infrastructure into city life means that revenue streams from user fees for infrastructure services are highly predictable and stable. And because transport, water and energy supply is usually monopolised, the householder has little choice but to continue as a consumer of an infrastructure service.

The books of a utility or state-owned enterprise, then, represent a discrete set of households well trained to pay their monthly bills. This is precisely the type of revenue stream that pension, insurance and sovereign wealth funds seek when faced with the peculiar problem of having surplus cash to lock away for at least the next two decades.

What did we lose in the sell-off?

Perhaps it was clever to have solved a government debt problem in Australia back in the day through a sell-off of assets to a new class of long-term investor. But as a consequence we have lost other things.

Infrastructure as a planning tool to shape our cities is one. Revenue streams to subsidise needy customers or supply to remote locations is another.

And, critically, we have lost the opportunity for the state to revamp energy, water and transport systems to allow for innovative supply and demand formats – such as distributed electricity supply networks – that are more appropriate to a climate-threatened planet.

Long-term privatisation contracts, most of them closed to scrutiny, lock urban infrastructure provision into 20th-century formats.

The difficult task now will be their unlocking.


This article draws on a research paper by the author in a new special issue of the international journal, Urban Policy and Research, on critical urban infrastructure. You can read other published articles in our series here.

Phillip O’Neill, Director, Centre for Western Sydney, Western Sydney University

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

Labor gains in Newspoll to move to 53-47 lead


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1710, had Labor leading by 53-47, a one point gain for Labor since last fortnight’s Newspoll that looked like an outlier. Primary votes were 36% for the Coalition (down 1), 36% for Labor (up 1), 10% for the Greens (up 1) and 10% for One Nation (steady). The Conversation

30% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (steady) and 59% were dissatisfied (up 2), for a net approval of -29. Turnbull’s ratings since the election have tended to be worse than voting intentions would imply, probably due to discontent from the hard right, who will nevertheless preference the Coalition ahead of Labor. Shorten’s net approval was up six points to -22.

The deal to pass company tax cuts for businesses with an annual turnover of up to $50 million was announced late Friday afternoon, two days into Newspoll’s fieldwork period. Thus this poll does not tell us about public reaction to the deal. I expect next week’s Essential will have questions on the deal.

The tax cut deal is a possible danger for Nick Xenophon. Minor parties that are perceived to have compromised on their principles in dealing with major parties can be wiped out. This happened to the Australian Democrats in the years following Meg Lees’ GST deal with John Howard, and the UK Liberal Democrats were reduced to just eight seats out of 650 at the 2015 UK general election, following five years of coalition government with the Conservatives.

60% of Nick Xenophon Team preferences went to Labor at the last Federal election, and 40% to the Coalition. If Xenophon continues to make deals with an unpopular Coalition government, his left-wing supporters could desert.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, has Labor ahead by 53-47, a 2 point gain for the Coalition since a blowout 55-45 Labor lead a fortnight ago. Primary votes are 37% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

28% strongly supported the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act that were defeated in the Senate last week, 27% were strongly opposed and the rest either did not have strong opinions or did not know. 51% supported a carbon emissions trading scheme in the electricity sector, with 21% opposed.

Most organisations to whom money given is tax deductible had at least majority support to remain that way, with the exception of churches and religious groups (34% support these being tax deductible, 51% oppose) and groups that campaign on social issues (34% support, 44% oppose).

Asked whether political parties should be able to receive donations from various entities, individual Australian voters were the only supported source (47-39). All other sources of donations were opposed by at least 55-30, with casinos and foreign companies at the bottom (over 70% opposed). 41% thought activist groups, such as GetUp, should not be allowed to accept foreign donations, with 31% in favour.

50% said it was never justified to break the law, while 37% thought it was sometimes justified.

High Court rules that Bob Day was invalidly elected in 2016

Today the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, ruled that Family First Senator Bob Day was ineligible to be elected at the 2016 election, as he had a financial interest in Commonwealth property.

The Court has ordered that a recount be held to fill Day’s seat. Such a recount will very probably elect Family First’s No. 2, Lucy Gichuhi. Since October 2016, when Day resigned from the Senate, the Senate has had 75 members, with 38 votes required to pass legislation. Gichuhi’s election will bring the Senate back to its normal 76 members, with 39 votes required to pass legislation.

Bob Day was the Coalition’s most reliable crossbench supporter, but it is wrong to say his vote has been missed because the requirement to pass legislation was reduced by one in his absence. A key question now is whether Gichuhi will be a Bob Day clone on legislation, or whether she is more left wing. Gichuhi will not be able to take her seat until the Senate next sits on 9 May.

Had the High Court ruled that Day was validly elected, his replacement would have been selected by Family First. Day’s former chief of staff, Rikki Lambert, would have been the favourite. Lambert is now Cory Bernardi’s chief of staff, and would have probably been a Bob Day clone.

A final twist could occur if the Kenyan-born Gichuhi did not renounce her Kenyan citizenship prior to the 2016 election. In that case, following another High Court challenge, the seat would go to Labor’s Anne McEwen. Fairfax commentator Adam Gartrell tweeted that Family First is confident that Gichuhi is a valid candidate.

Tasmania: Shane Broad defeats Brenton Best to replace Bryan Green

Following former Labor leader Bryan Green’s resignation from Parliament on 17 March, a recount was held Monday in his electorate of Braddon to determine who would replace him using Green’s votes at the 2014 election. While both Broad and Best were Labor candidates at the last election, Best had been a troublemaker in the last Parliament; he was strongly opposed to the Labor/Greens coalition government.

After exclusion of other candidates, Broad defeated Best by 60-40. This will be a relief to Labor, which absolutely did not want Best back in Parliament.

French Presidential election update

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds. All candidates will compete in the first round on 23 April, with the top two proceeding to a runoff election on 7 May.

Current polls give the centrist Emmanuel Macron about 26% of the first round vote, followed by the far right’s Marine Le Pen on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, the hard left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon on 15% and Socialist Benoit Hamon on 10%.

In the last fortnight, the standings of the top three candidates are little changed, with Macron just ahead of Le Pen now after being narrowly behind. However, Melenchon has surged at the expense of Hamon. This probably reflects prominent Socialist politicians backing Macron instead of Hamon, causing Hamon to lose votes on both his left and right flanks.

In the second round, Macron continues to lead Le Pen by about 60-40. However, Fillon’s second round lead over Le Pen is down to 53-47 in one survey, which gives Le Pen a chance in the unlikely event that Fillon rather than Macron makes the runoff.

I will be doing an article on this election for the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch in the days before the first round.

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

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

Tropical Cyclone Debbie has blown a hole in the winter vegetable supply


Ian Sinclair, University of Sydney; Brent Jacobs, University of Technology Sydney; Laura Wynne, University of Technology Sydney, and Rachel Carey, University of Melbourne

Cyclone Debbie, which lashed the Queensland coast a week ago, has hit farmers hard in the area around Bowen – a crucial supplier of vegetables to Sydney, Melbourne and much of eastern Australia. The Conversation

With the Queensland Farmers’ Federation estimating the damage at more than A$100 million and winter crop losses at 20%, the event looks set to affect the cost and availability of fresh food for millions of Australians. Growers are reportedly forecasting a price spike in May, when the damaged crops were scheduled to have arrived on shelves.

The incident also raises broader questions about the resilience of Australia’s fresh vegetable supply, much of which comes from a relatively small number of areas that are under pressure from climate and land use change.

In 2011 the Bowen area produced 33% of Australia’s fresh beans, 46% of capsicum and 23% of fresh tomatoes, making it the country’s largest producer of beans and capsicums, and number two in fresh tomatoes.

The region also produces a significant amount of chillies, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkin, zucchini and squash, and is a key production area for mangoes and melons.

Coastal Queensland’s vegetable regions are among the highest-producing in the country, especially for perishable vegetables. The Whitsunday region around Bowen, and the area around Bundaberg further south are each responsible for around 13% of the national perishable vegetable supply.

As the chart below shows, vegetable production is highly concentrated in particular regions, typically on the fringes of large cities. These “peri-urban” regions, when added to the two major growing areas in coastal Queensland, account for about 75% of Australia’s perishable vegetables.

Proportion of State Perishable Vegetable Production by weight.
ABS 7121.0 Agricultural Commodities Australia, 2010-11

Australia’s climate variability means that most fresh produce can be grown domestically. The seasonable variability allows production to move from the south to the north in the winter, when the Bundaberg and Bowen areas produce most of the winter vegetables consumed in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The Bowen Gumlu Growers Association estimates that during the spring growing season in September—October, the region produces 90% of Australia’s fresh tomatoes and 95% of capsicums.

Besides damaging crops, Cyclone Debbie has also destroyed many growers’ packing and cool storage sheds. The cost of rebuilding this infrastructure may be too much for many farmers, and the waterlogged soils are also set to make planting the next crop more difficult.

The recovery of production in these areas is crucial for the supply. Growers who have lost their May crop will first have to wait until the paddocks dry out, then source new seedlings and plant them. It could be weeks until crops can be replanted, and storage and processing facilities replaced.

The Queensland government has announced natural disaster relief funding, including concessional loans of up to A$250,000 and essential working capital loans of up to A$100,000, to help farmers replant and rebuild.

Meanwhile, consumers of fresh vegetables in Sydney and Melbourne and many other places are likely to find themselves paying more until the shortfall can be replaced.

Fresh food for growing cities

Australia’s cities are growing rapidly, along with those of many other countries. The United Nations has predicted that by 2050 about 87% of the world’s population will live in cities. This urban expansion is putting ever more pressure on peri-urban food bowls.

Food production is also under pressure from climate change, raising the risk of future food shocks and price spikes in the wake of disasters such as cyclones. Meanwhile, the desire for semi-rural lifestyles is also conflicting with the use of land for farming (see Sydney’s Food Futures and Foodprint Melbourne for more).

These pressures mean that Australia’s cities need to make their food systems more resilient, so that they can withstand food shocks more easily, and recover more quickly.

Key features of a resilient food system are likely to include:

  • geographic diversity in production, which spreads the risk of crop damage from extreme weather events across a number of different production areas;

  • more local food production, to reduce transportation and storage costs and avoid over-reliance on particular regions;

  • a diverse, healthy and innovative farming community;

  • greater consumer awareness of the importance of seasonal and locally produced food;

  • recycling of urban waste and water for use on farms, to reduce the use of fresh water and fertilisers;

  • the capacity to import food from overseas to meet shortfalls in domestic supply;

  • increased use of protected cropping systems such as greenhouses, which are better able to withstand adverse weather.

Two recent studies of food production around Sydney and Melbourne provide examples of a range of mechanisms and policies for increasing the resilience of the food systems of Australian cities.

Our food system has served us well until now, but land use pressures and climate change will make it harder in future. When a cyclone can knock out a major production region overnight, with knock-on effects for Australian consumers, this points to a lack of resilience in Australia’s fresh vegetable supply.

Ian Sinclair, PhD Candidate. Contested Landscapes – Managing the Tensions between Land Use Planning in Strategic Agricultural Regions on Australia’s Eastern Seaboard., University of Sydney; Brent Jacobs, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Laura Wynne, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, and Rachel Carey, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

The government’s company tax cut win a triumph of politics over economics


Brett Govendir, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, University of Technology Sydney

Now that the first stage of a cut to the corporate tax rate has been passed by the Senate it’s clear the benefits are more political than economic. The cut may signal to the world that Australia wants to be competitive on corporate tax, but it won’t make much of a difference to our largest businesses and multinationals. The Conversation

Company tax cuts have been on the government’s agenda since the 2016 budget, when the cuts were announced. Ultimately, the plan was to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% by the 2026-27 financial year for all companies.

The government has secured a cut to businesses with a turnover of under A$50 million, with companies with a turnover of less than A$10 million receiving a reduction in their tax rate (to 27.5%) this financial year. But the second stage of the tax cut is still to be passed, that would give a cut to businesses with a turnover of A$100 million in 2019-20.

The impact is all in Australia’s image

Arms of multinational companies often pay a much lower effective tax rate when compared to their parent company. Until politicians across the globe can agree how to ensure companies pay tax on local earnings, which appears unlikely in the near future, tax rates will remain a signal to multinationals on where to base their business.

The tax cuts have been strongly supported by big companies and even more so by the Business Council of Australia. A major reason put forward by the business community is the need to stay competitive in a global environment.

Our major trading partners such as the United Kingdom and United States are planning to drastically reduce their corporate tax rates and countries such as Ireland (12.5% on corporate trading profit) and Singapore (by 2018 20% capped at $20,000) already have very low corporate tax rates in place. Multinational corporations have the ability to profit shift to lower taxing jurisdictions.

For instance, a multinational can employ tax accountants to structure ownership of intellectual property in a low taxing jurisdiction and reduce gross income by license fees, or via debt loading to a parent company. Tax avoidance is often siphoned through a non-reporting subsidiary, so these accounting tricks occur without the glare of public scrutiny. In other instances multinationals have been able to completely bypass Australian tax by booking revenues overseas.

How it will affect accounting for Australian companies

When you look at what a tax cut might mean to Australian companies, it’s not hard to envisage how a tax cut tied to a specific revenue level creates incentives for accountants and lawyers to exploit new thresholds.

Accounting research from the United States shows companies do take into account tax when considering how to report their profits. For example, a typical strategy is to delay recognising an expense that belongs in the current year, until the next year.

This is usually to make it seem like the company has increased its profits, making it appear better to shareholders. However there have been no studies specifically relating to how companies might do this in relation to revenue (what the Australian government is considering for the tax cut).

At any rate, the net rate of tax on Australian company profits is considerably lower than the current 30% (or the new 27.5%) company tax rate. According to our calculations it should be around 11.3%. This is lower than the company tax rate in other similar economies.

There’s also something unique to Australia which means private companies pay less tax and that’s dividend imputation. This is designed to eliminate the double taxation of dividends in the hands of Australian shareholders.

Since it’s introduction in 1987, dividend imputation has provided strong incentives for firms to pay the full statutory tax rate on all reported profits. The tax paid on dividends flowing to Australian shareholders of Australian companies is reduced by an amount equal to the tax already paid by the corporation, this is known as imputation credits. A shareholder’s marginal tax rate, and the tax rate for the company issuing the dividend, both affect how much tax an individual shareholder owes on what is called a fully franked dividend.

Companies that pay fully franked dividends in Australia, pay on average over 10% additional tax on the same level of earnings than companies not paying franked dividends. Approximately 62.3% of imputation credits are utilised by resident shareholders.

The average effective tax rate of Australia’s largest private companies are much lower than that of the largest public companies (most of which pay fully franked dividends). You can see this in the table below which shows the effective tax rates calculated by two separate studies.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/3Hvfs/2/

One of the studies by the union United Voice looked at the ASX200 companies and the otherby lobby group GetUp examined the largest private companies operated by foreign multinationals.

The corporate tax rate does figure in investment decisions of Australian companies and foreign companies wanting to do business in Australia. However, the rate of corporate tax is at best a second order effect in influencing the decisions of foreign companies. Therefore, the gains from the government win in the Senate appear to be more political than economic.

At best the tax cut may somewhat reduce the burden on smaller Australian companies, albeit at a significant cost to the budget, without impacting the largest Australian and foreign multinationals. Although prospects for further tax cuts for the big end of town (which has a greater impact on the economy) are unlikely in the next five to 10 years without Senate crossbencher support.

Brett Govendir, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, Associate Professor, Accounting, University of Technology Sydney

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

Three charts on: the incredible shrinking renewable energy job market


Paul Burke, Australian National University

This is the first piece in our new Three Charts series, in which we aim to highlight interesting trends in three simple charts. The Conversation

Australia is embarking on a transition from an electricity system that relies largely on coal to one that may one day be 100% renewable. Last week’s closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired generator was an important milestone on this path.

The development of the renewables sector has not, however, been a smooth ride.

Estimates released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that the number of direct full-time equivalent jobs in renewable energy activities has continued to fall from its 2011-12 peak. Over a period in which the Australian economy saw around 600,000 additional people get jobs, employment in the renewables sector has been going backwards.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7pTc0/2/

A small employer

The renewables sector is estimated to have directly provided only 11,150 full-time equivalent jobs in 2015-16. The Australian labour force exceeds 12.6 million people. The sector thus makes a small contribution to national employment, although one that is quite important in some local economies.

Around half of the jobs in renewables in 2015-16 were in installing (and maintaining) rooftop solar systems. Hydroelectricity generation provides 1,840 full-time equivalent jobs, a number that is likely to increase if pumped storage is to make a larger contribution to smoothing Australia’s electricity supply. Biomass provides 1,430 full-time jobs, and the wind industry around 620.

The fact that renewables is a small employer – especially once installations are up and running – is not a bad thing. If renewables were labour-intensive, they would be expensive.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/FS39f/2/

Up then down

The rise and then fall in renewables jobs is primarily a result of what has happened to installations of rooftop solar. The annual number of small-scale solar installations (PV and solar water heaters) skyrocketed over the four years to 2011. This rapid growth was spurred by generous feed-in-tariffs, rebates, and rules for federal government solar credits. There was also a national program to install solar panels on schools.

When these arrangements were curtailed, uptake fell. Annual installations of small-scale solar PV and water heaters are down by more than 60% from their peak. We are still installing a lot of new systems (more than 183,000 in 2016), but fewer than before. Employment estimates for small-scale solar closely track installation rates. The decline in employment in the wind energy sector is also worth noting.

The largest fall in renewables jobs has been in Queensland, a state that substantially tightened its feed-in-tariff scheme for rooftop solar in several steps from 2011 on. Queensland also holds the title of having Australia’s highest residential rooftop solar PV penetration rate (32%). South Australia is not far behind, at 31%.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/NGD1p/1/

Ramping up large-scale renewables

Recent years of policy uncertainty and backtracking have not helped the rollout of large-scale renewables. The termination of Australia’s carbon price and downwards renegotiation of the Renewable Energy Target had chilling effects on investment.

Those events are now behind us. With continued reductions in the cost of renewables, brighter days for the sector appear to be ahead, especially if our governments get policy settings right.

We can expect particularly rapid growth in jobs installing large-scale solar PV. Just last week, for example, it was announced that South Australia is to have a large new solar farm.

Paul Burke, Fellow, Crawford School, Australian National University

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

Electoral system flaws deny Labor and Greens WA upper house majority


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the Western Australian election held 11 March, Labor won a landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats. However, in the upper house Labor and the Greens combined won 18 of the 36 seats, one short of an outright majority. There were two reasons for the left’s underperformance in the upper house: malapportionment in favour of rural regions and the group voting ticket system. The Conversation

There are six upper house regions, three in Perth and three in the rest of WA. Each region elects six members to the upper house, so the quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.

I wrote here that Perth only has half the upper house seats despite having 77% of the state’s population. However, the problem is worse than this. As Antony Green wrote, a voter in the deeply conservative Agricultural region has almost 4 times the weight of a Perth voter. A voter in the Mining & Pastoral region, which is becoming more conservative, has almost six times the weight of a Perth voter.

At this election, about 49,000 formal votes were recorded in Mining & Pastoral region, 88,000 in Agricultural region and 194,000 in South West region. The three metropolitan regions had at least 334,000 formal votes each, more than the non-Perth regions combined.

Although Labor’s vote improved across the state from 2013, Labor and the Greens combined won two of the six seats in Agricultural region, and just barely three of the six in Mining & Pastoral. In all other regions, Labor and the Greens easily won at least three of the six seats per region. Here is the final upper house results table. Vote shares and changes from 2013 are from Wikipedia.

WA upper house.

The table shows the effect of malapportionment, with the Nationals, who only contested the non-Perth regions, winning as many seats as the Greens on half the Greens’ vote. Others in the table are the Shooters in Agricultural region and the Liberal Democrats in South Metro.

If all the non-Perth regions (South West, Agricultural and Mining & Pastoral) were combined, and non-Perth representaion reduced to six, Labor would have won 2.30 quotas, the Liberals 1.44, the Nationals 1.26, One Nation 0.80, the Greens 0.44 and the Shooters 0.33.

With One Nation short of a quota, so they would soak up right wing votes, and Labor’s surplus going heavily to the Greens, the Greens would have been likely to defeat the Liberals for the final seat, resulting in Labor 2, Liberals, Nationals, One Nation and Greens one each outside Perth, rather than the actual result of Labor/Greens 8, all Others 10.

There were three cases where a candidate who did not deserve to win won through the artificial preference flows under the group voting system, which is still used in WA. In Agricultural region, the Shooters, with 0.40 quotas, defeated One Nation with 0.82. In East Metro, One Nation, with 0.56 quotas, defeated the 2nd Liberal, who had 0.75 quotas. So much for some people’s theories that One Nation would not benefit from group voting tickets.

Most disappointing for the left, in South Metro the Liberal Democrats, with 0.27 quotas, defeated the Greens with 0.65 quotas. In that region, the Liberal Democrats were to the left of the Liberals on the ballot paper, and won 3.9% of the vote mostly due to name confusion. In all other regions, the Liberal Democrats were to the right of the Liberals, and won about 1%.

The table below represents what I think would have happened had the current Senate system been used for the WA upper house, and the malapportionment removed.

WA upper house fair.

This would give Labor and the Greens 14 of the 24 seats. In this scenario the Greens would win four seats, to one for One Nation. This may seem unfair on One Nation, but the Greens benefited from Labor surpluses, while the Liberals had no surpluses to spare to help One Nation. Individual “Others” did not receive many votes, and none would have won if not for the artificial preference flows that only happen when parties, not voters, direct preferences.

In the WA upper house, the President can only vote to break a tie. If Labor can persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to take the Presidency, Labor and the Greens would have 18 of the 35 votes on the floor. If a Labor member takes the Presidency, Labor will need the Greens and one vote from a right wing member to pass legislation.

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

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

Labor seizes 55-45 lead in Ipsos with the Greens at an unrealistic 16%


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Ipsos, conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1400, had Labor leading 55-45, a 4 point gain for Labor since late November. Primary votes were 34% for Labor (up 4), 33% for the Coalition (down 3) and 16% for the Greens (steady). The headline figure in Ipsos uses the last election preferences method; by respondent allocated preferences, it is 56-44 to Labor, a 5 point gain for Labor. The Conversation

Ipsos’ two polls since the last election have both had the Greens on 16%, while no other poll during that period has had the Greens on more than 11%. In the lead-up to the last election, Ipsos had a strong skew towards the Greens. If anything, that skew appears to have increased.

40% approved of Turnbull’s performance (down 5) and 48% disapproved (up 3), for a net approval of -8. Ipsos has given Turnbull far better ratings than Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -18, down 2 points.

Surprisingly, 44% supported reducing company tax rates to 25% over the next ten years, with 39% opposed. Two weeks ago, Essential found that 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in cuts to medium and large business, with 24% approving. Presumably, Ipsos did not mention the cost, or which companies would benefit.

63% thought that more businesses would not open on Sundays and public holidays following the reduction in penalty rates, while 29% thought more businesses would open. A Newspoll question from last week found that 59% thought penalty rates should be higher on Sunday, 29% wanted Sunday penalty rates reduced to Saturday rates, and 10% wanted penalty rates for weekend work abolished.

In Ipsos, 78% thought it should be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of race or ethnicity, with just 17% for lawful. However, Essential this week found 45% approving of the proposed change to replace “insult, offend or humiliate” with “harass”, with 34% disapproving. Question wording can make a large difference.

With Ipsos at 55-45 to Labor, and Essential at 54-46, it looks as if last week’s Newspoll that showed a 3-point recovery for the Coalition to close to 52-48 may have been an outlier. The next Newspoll will be interesting.

Essential at 54-46 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1810, was at 54-46 to Labor, a one point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 4% Nick Xenophon Team – this is the lowest One Nation support recorded in Essential since January. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

40% thought racial discrimination laws were about right, 26% too weak and 16% too strict; these figures are little changed from November.

A question on priorities for the government had 46% nominating health, followed by “ensuring big businesses pay their fair share of tax” at 30% and unemployment at 26%. Cutting company tax was at the bottom, with only 3% nominating it as a priority. Since July 2016, health is down 9 points, education and deficit reduction both down 7 points, renewable energy up 6 and same sex marriage up 4.

41% thought Australia’s relationship with the US was becoming worse, with just 6% for better, presumably due to President Trump. 59% approved of the proposal to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme, with just 12% disapproving.

Newspoll’s additional questions are sometimes skewed to the right

While voting intentions and leaders’ ratings questions are asked in the same format every Newspoll survey, additional questions on the public’s attitude to various issues have sometimes been skewed towards the viewpoint of Newspoll’s publisher, The Australian.

In this article, Kevin Bonham was critical of Newspoll’s question last week on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Yesterday, we were told that 47% were in favour of a new coal-fired power station, with 40% opposed (paywalled link).

The question is, “Would you be in favour or opposed to the Federal government helping fund the construction of a new coal-fired power station to improve energy security?” It is not established that a new coal-fired power station, which would take years to construct, would improve energy security. Those four last words should have been omitted from the question.

A February Essential found 45% opposed to new coal-fired power stations in Australia, and 31% in favour.

Rebecca White replaces Bryan Green as Tasmania’s Labor leader

Even though the party vote shares indicated a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority, the last EMRS Tasmanian poll had Premier Will Hodgman crushing Labor leader Bryan Green as better Premier 52-20. Partly as a result of this poll, Green resigned from Parliament on 17 March, and Rebecca White was elected unopposed by the Labor caucus. The next Tasmanian election is due early next year.

A November 2016 ReachTEL poll had 31.5% preferring White as Labor leader, followed by Scott Bacon on 19%, Lara Giddings on 15% and the incumbent Green on just 14%. White was ahead in all five electorates, including Green’s electorate of Braddon.

A countback using Green’s votes will be held to decide his parliamentary replacement. Shane Broad and Brenton Best are the contenders, although only Broad has so far announced he will contest. A Best win would be bad for Labor, as he was rebellious in the last Parliament.

Donald Trump’s Obamacare repeal attempt flops

At the 2016 election, Republicans won a 241-194 majority in the US House, and a 52-48 Senate majority. Despite the large House majority, Republicans were unable to pass a bill in that chamber to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to withdraw the repeal bill, and said afterwards that Obamacare would be the law for the “foreseeable future”.

The repeal bill failed because it lost the support of both hard right and more moderate Republicans. Appeasing the hard right Freedom caucus would have lost more support from the more moderate Republicans, and vice versa. Of course, Republicans could have made their bill centrist enough to attract some Democrats, but that would have been unthinkable!

It did not help Republicans that the public was strongly opposed to their Obamacare replacement plan. Midterm elections will be held in November 2018, and some Republicans were afraid that supporting this bill could cost their party many seats.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website has Trump at 42% approval, 52% disapproval using a poll aggregation method. Over the last few weeks, Trump’s ratings have dropped a net six points, likely due to the health care debate.

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

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

Tracking the storm: the science behind Tropical Cyclone Debbie


Liz Ritchie-Tyo, UNSW

Tropical cyclone Debbie has made landfall in Queensland as a category 4 cyclone with winds of more than 150 kilometres per hour. The Conversation

The cyclone crossed the coast near Airlie Beach on Tuesday afternoon. Reports of wind gusts in excess of 200km per hour and rainfall of more than 200mm of rain have been made in some areas along the central Queensland coast.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasted an average to above-average number of Australian cyclones in its October severe weather outlook. Australia receives 11 cyclones on average each year, with about four of those in Queensland. Debbie is the fifth cyclone of the season for Australia as a whole and the most intense of the season so far.

Anomalously high moisture, warm ocean temperatures, and low environmental pressures seem to have created the conditions that allowed TC Debbie to form and grow in intensity.

Perfect storm

Tropical cyclones are low pressure systems that form over warm tropical oceans. The warmth and moisture of the oceans are what gives a cyclone its energy. The low pressure, which meteorologists measure in “hectopascals”, draws in the surrounding warm, moist air, which then rises into deep thunderstorm clouds. As the air is pulled into the centre of low pressure, Earth’s rotation causes it to spin cyclonically and it continues to intensify.

TC Debbie formed at the eastern end of an active monsoon trough extending from the Indian Ocean across the top of Australia and into the Coral Sea. The monsoon trough is a region of low air pressure and thunderstorms that forms over northern Australia in the summer months, bringing with it the wet season. On March 22, a large region of active thunderstorms began to organise into a weather disturbance off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.

Over the following two days the thunderstorms organised about a circulation centre as sea level pressures began to drop and moist air converged into the area. By late on March 24 a tropical depression, a forerunner of a cyclone, had formed and begun to drift south, making a long S-shaped track.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie was named on March 25. It then came under the influence of the subtropical ridge, a zone of stable high pressure that gives much of Australia’s fine weather during the summer. This drove Debbie west-southwest towards the Queensland coast while it gradually intensified further.

Because of the relatively high amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, and relatively warm ocean waters, Debbie intensified to category 4 by 10 pm on March 27, with the strongest wind gusts reaching 225-280km per hour. On Tuesday afternoon Debbie was a strong category 4 cyclone with a central pressure of 943 hectopascals and surface sustained winds of 185 kilometres per hour. The Bureau of Meteorology downgraded TC Debbie to a category 3 at 4:00 pm EST.

To put Debbie in context, there has been only one cyclone since 1980 to have made landfall in Queensland with a lower central pressure. That was Yasi in 2011.

Of the 46 cyclones to have made landfall in Queensland since 1980, only three others arrived at the coast with pressures of less than 960 hectopascals: Dominic in 1982, Winifred in 1986, and Ingrid in 2005.

Predicting cyclones

Tropical cyclone forecasters use a variety of tools to forecast the storm’s track, intensity, storm surge, and rainfall. Because it is difficult to obtain observations of wind at the ocean’s surface under a cyclone, meteorologists have developed tools based on satellite imagery to estimate a storm’s intensity, location, and where the strongest and most destructive winds are found.

Several models are also used to aid in making forecasts – from the complex numerical weather prediction models, to statistical models. Models start by using observations of the atmosphere, and then use these data to make a forecast.

Depending on their level of complexity the models can predict the future track, intensity, rainfall, wave height, and/or storm surge. The forecasters access all of this information to then make their forecast.

Cyclone forecasts have improved considerably over time. In particular, track forecasts have improved so that the 48-hour forecast is now more accurate than the 24-hour ones were back in the early 1990s. Track forecasting has become so reliable that the US National Hurricane Centre now produces 120-hour track forecasts.

Intensity forecasts have improved more slowly, but as models have become more refined and satellite technology has improved, the ability of forecasters to accurately estimate and predict intensity is also getting gradually better.

The prediction of rainfall, the extent of the damaging wind field, and storm surge forecasts are also slowly improving. Now that they are receiving more attention, we can expect considerable improvements in these over the next decade.

Liz Ritchie-Tyo, Associate Professor, School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW

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

Cyclone Debbie: we can design cities to withstand these natural disasters


Rob Roggema, University of Technology Sydney

What happens after Cyclone Debbie is a familiar process. It has been repeated many times in cities around the world. The reason is that our cities are not designed for these types of events. The Conversation

So we know what comes next. Queenslanders affected by Debbie will complain about the damage, the costs and the need for insurers to act now to compensate their losses. The state and federal governments will extensively discuss who is to blame.

The shambles will be cleared and life will eventually get back to normal. Billions of dollars will be spent on relocating people and on repairing the damage and public works. A state-level levy may even be necessary to pay for all the extra costs. Two storms, Katrina and Sandy, cost the United States more than US$200 billion between them.

Yet we know what cyclones do. They bring, for a relatively short time, huge gusty winds. These are inconvenient but have proven not too damaging.

The greatest risk comes from storm surge and rainfall. Both bring a huge amount of water. And all this water has to find a way to get out of our living environment.

Despite knowing, approximately, where cyclones tend to occur, we never thought about adjusting our cities to their effects. It would make a huge financial difference if we did.

So, what can we do to build our cities differently to ensure the impacts of cyclones – and the accompanying rainfall and storm surges – do not disrupt urban life? The answer to all of this is design.

The usual design of current cities and towns brought us problems in the first place. We need to fundamentally rethink the design of our built-up areas.

Rethinking coastal and urban design

It starts with coastal design. We are used to building dams and coastal protection against storm surges happening once in 100 years. For comparison, the protection standards in the low-lying Netherlands are designed to protect the country against a once-in-10,000-years flood. But nature has proven to be stronger than our artificial constructs can handle.

An alternative design approach is to rely on the natural coastal processes of land forming – such as reefs, islands, mangroves, beaches and dunes. Humans can help the formation of these natural protectors by providing the triggers for them to emerge.

As an example, when we put sand in front of the coast, the currents and waves will transport the sand towards the coast and build up new and larger beaches. This example is realised in front of the Dutch coast and is known as the sand engine. But nature will build them up to form a much stronger system than humans ever could.

Instead of coasts, beaches and real estate being washed away, new land and larger beaches may be formed as a result of these processes. This requires design thinking, insights into the resilience of the coastal system, and understanding of the natural forces at play.

Second, urban design should reconsider the way we build our cities. Most urban areas do not have the capacity to “welcome” lots of water. And it is about lots of water, not the average shower or two.

Until cyclones are gone, these enormous amounts of water need to be stored for a short period in dense urban areas. This goes beyond water-sensitive urban design.

Despite the benefits of water-sensitive design in many urban developments, when the going gets tough, this is just not enough. Water-sensitive urban design can barely cope with average rainfall peaks. So, in times of severe weather events, cities need to have additional spaces to store all this water.

The general rule here is to store every raindrop as long as possible where it falls.

How and where should we redesign our cities?

So, what can be done to cyclone-proof our cities? We can:

  • Create larger green spaces, which are connected in a natural grid, increase the capacity of these green systems by adding eco-zones and wetlands, and redesign river and creek edges. Remove the concrete basins from every creek in the city.

  • Use large public spaces, such as parking spaces near shopping centres, ovals and football pitches, for temporarily capturing and storing excess rainwater. Small adjustments at the edges of these places are generally enough to capture the water.

  • Turn parking garages into temporary storage basins.

  • Redesign street profiles and introduce green and water-zones in streets. Out of every three-lane street, one lane can be transformed into a green lane, which can absorb rainwater.

  • Redesign all impervious, sealed spaces and turn these into areas where the water can infiltrate the soil. Use permeable materials.

  • Think in an integrated way about street infrastructure, green and ecological systems, and the water system.

These design interventions are not new and have been done abroad in cities such as Rotterdam, Hamburg or Stockholm. If we could add to these the redesign of roofs and gardens of industrial and residential estates and turn these into green roofs and rain gardens, the city would start to operate as a huge sponge.

When it rains, the city absorbs the huge amounts of water and releases it slowly to the creek and river system after the rain has gone. This way, green spaces and water spaces not only play an important role during and just after a cyclone, but they then add quality to people’s immediate living environment.

And maybe the best of all this: the bill Debbie and other natural disasters would present to government, industries and insurers could be much lower.

Rob Roggema, Professor of Sustainable Urban Environments, University of Technology Sydney

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