Most are at least as well off in retirement as they were while working, and most are more financially satisfied and less financially-stressed than Australians of working age.
But not all. The huge exception is retirees who do not own their own homes.
Whereas very few retired home owners are in poverty, most retired renters are.
Income poverty rates of retirees
So bad is the divide, the review found that even a 40% increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (the payment for pensioners) would reduce financial stress among renters by only 1%.
This is because rent assistance is low, covering only about 13% of the cost of renting.
Retirees who own their own homes don’t have to pay rent (and can still get the pension should their wealth be tied up in their home), and have a source of wealth that usually eclipses both their own superannuation and the wealth of renters.
Equivalised household wealth by asset type for retirees
Most people do not regard their home as a retirement asset, a view compounded by rules that exempt it from taxes and the pension assets test.
They are also reluctant to borrow against the value of their home using facilities such as the Pension Loans Scheme, for the same reasons they are reluctant to touch any of the wealth they retire with.
Data provided to the review by a large super fund shows its members typically die with 90% of what they had at retirement.
Most retirees don’t use what they’ve got
Another study finds age pensioners die with about 90% of what they had on retirement.
Partly the reasons are psychological. The review says words such as “investments”, “savings” and “nest eggs” imply the assets aren’t for living on.
Before compulsory super, employer-sponsored schemes usually paid “defined” benefits that could be measured in terms of income per year.
In the new system, designed to break the connection between workers and specific employers, benefits were “accumulated” in funds that could most easily be measured by the amount in them.
It is difficult for most people to see how a lump sum converts into income stream, and even more difficult when it depends on the interaction with the pension.
Another reason retirees hang on to what they had on retirement might be a genuine (if misplaced) concern about the unexpected.
In fact, health and aged care costs are heavily subsidised. Most people’s spending on them doesn’t increase significantly throughout retirement, yet many people seem unaware of how little of their own funds they will need.
Partly this is because of the complexity of the aged care and health care systems and how poorly they are explained.
It’s created two systems
Providing help to retirees who actually need it (mainly renters, many of them single women) and getting people with assets in the form of superannuation, savings and housing to actually use them rather than pass them on in bequests are the two key challenges identified in the report.
They are problems that boosting the rate of compulsory super contributions (as pushed for by the funds and presently leglislated) won’t help with.
They are set to become worse.
Although home ownership rates remain high for people over the age of 65, a growing number of Australians are not entering the housing market.
Over 15 years, the number of Australians over 65 who do not own their home outright is expected to double.
As the amount in super funds grows (boosted by the legislated increase in compulsory contributions, should it take place), Australians with super are going to have even more relative to what they need and even less need to make use of it.
The report makes no recommendations, and doesn’t suggest that the solutions are easy.
Widening the pension asset test to include the home would leave many homeowners worse off and could generate distrust and destabilise the system.
Getting more Australians into home ownership has proved difficult and could never be a solution for all Australians, in any case.
We already have in place rules that require retirees to draw down their super, but often they withdraw the minimum amount permitted and then reinvest much of it in another savings vehicle outside of super.
We’ve created a system where most have enough or more than enough to retire on and others get nothing like enough.
The impacts of the bushfires that are overwhelming emergency services in New South Wales and Queensland suggest houses are being built in areas where the risks are high. We rely heavily on emergency services to protect people and property, but strategic land-use planning can improve resilience and so help reduce the risk in the first place. This would mean giving more weight to considering bushfire hazards at the earliest stages of planning housing supply.
The outstanding dedication of emergency agencies such as the NSW Rural Fire Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Service is obvious in their efforts to save lives and properties despite the increasing intensity of fires. However, strategic land-use planning could help reduce the risks by being more responsive to such changes in hazards.
Strategic planning policies and practices provide the opportunity to be more attentive to changes in bushfire hazards in particular. Planning decisions that fail to do this may leave communities exposed and heavily reliant on emergency services during a disaster.
Locating new or expanding existing settlements and infrastructure in areas exposed to unreasonable risk is irresponsible.
The increasing intensity of hazards associated with climate change makes strategic planning even more relevant. Land-use planners could help greatly with building resilience by placing natural hazards at the top of their assessment criteria.
Coordinating land-use planning reforms is itself a challenge. Planning in Australia involves many policies, institutions, professions and decision-makers. Policies and processes differ depending on the state or territory.
Furthermore, planners must reconcile the demand for residential land from population growth and the need to protect the environment. Deciding where to locate housing is often fraught with complexity, so the process needs expert early input from relevant scientific communities and emergency services.
Anticipate risk to reduce it
Land-use planning offers an opportunity in the earliest phase of development to manage the combined pressures of population growth, urban expansion, increasing density and risks of natural hazards.
When rezoning land for residential development, many issues have to be considered. These include environmental sustainability, demand for housing and the location of existing buildings and infrastructure, as well as natural hazards. It’s a complex and intricate process, but clearly the strategic planning stage is the first opportunity to minimise exposure to bushfire risk.
Existing policy and processes may defer the detailed review of bushfire risk and other natural hazards to development stages after land has been rezoned. There’s a case for policy to increase the importance attached to bushfire hazards at this early stage.
Ultimately, strategic planners aim to locate settlements away from risk of natural hazards. However, bushfires continue to have disastrous impacts on people and properties. Ongoing demand for housing may add pressure to build in areas exposed to risk.
Settlements are pushing into undeveloped areas that are more likely to be exposed to bushfire risk. The role of strategic land-use planning then becomes even more critical. The devastation we have seen this month shows why this risk must be given the highest priority in land-use planning, particularly when zoning land as residential.
The increasing intensity of bushfires points to a need to rethink planning processes and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to such hazards before they arise. This will help ease the burden on emergency services of managing a disaster when it happens. We can’t ignore the opportunities to minimise the risks at the early stages of land-use planning. Key steps include:
a policy review to mandate natural hazards, including bushfire risk, as one of the highest priorities in policy, with an objective framework for making land-use decisions
mandatory consultation with relevant science disciplines to model natural hazard risks when land is considered for rezoning
involve emergency services in the strategic planning phase to help minimise future risk.
Australian elections have been won in outer metropolitan and regional electorates, but Labor did badly in swing terms in those types of seats at the May 18 election. In inner metropolitan areas, where Labor had swings in its favour, most seats are safe for one side or the other.
You can see this particularly in Queensland. The provincial seat of Capricornia blew out from a 0.6% LNP margin to 12.4%, the outer metropolitan seat of Forde from 0.6% to 8.6% and the rural seat of Flynn from 1.0% to 8.7%.
In NSW, the rural seat of Page went from a 2.3% to a 9.5% Nationals margin, and the provincial seat of Robertson from a 1.1% to 4.2% Liberal margin. Even in Victoria, the only state to swing to Labor in two party terms, the outer metropolitan seat of La Trobe, went from a 3.5% to a 4.5% Liberal margin.
Ignoring seats with strong independent challengers like Warringah and Wentworth, the biggest swings to Labor occurred in seats already held by Labor, or safe conservative seats. There was a 6.4% swing to Labor in Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, but the Liberals still hold it by a 14.3% margin. The Liberals hold Higgins by a 3.9% margin despite a 6.1% swing to Labor.
After the election, the Coalition holds 77 of the 151 seats and Labor 68. Assuming there is no net change in the six crossbenchers, Labor will require a swing of 0.6% to gain the two seats needed to deprive the Coalition of a majority (Bass and Chisholm). To win more seats than the Coalition, Labor needs to gain five seats, a 3.1% swing. To win a majority (76 seats), Labor needs to gain eight seats, a 3.9% swing.
As Labor won 48.5% of the two-party vote at the election, it needs 49.1% to deprive the Coalition of a majority, 51.6% to win more seats than the Coalition, and 52.4% for a Labor majority. Mayo and Warringah were not counted in swings required as they are held by crossbenchers. Warringah is likely to be better for the Liberals in 2022 without Tony Abbott running.
It will be a bit harder for Labor than the 0.6% swing notionally needed to cost the Coalition a majority, as the Liberals now have a sitting member in Chisholm and defeated a Labor member in Bass. The Liberals will thus gain from personal vote effects in both seats.
There will be redistributions before the next election, which are likely to affect margins. But unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.
Had the polls for this election been about right and Labor had won by 51.0-49.0 (2.5% better than their actual vote), they would have added just three seats – Bass, Chisholm and Boothby – and the Coalition would have had a 74-71 seat lead.
The Electoral Commission will eventually release details of how every minor party’s preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition nationally and for each state, but this data is not available yet. However, we can make some deductions.
Nationally, Labor won 60.0% of all minor party preferences, down from 64.2% in 2016. This partly reflects the Greens share of all others falling from 44.0% in 2016 to 41.2%, but it also reflects more right-wing preference sources like One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP). Had preferences from all parties flowed as they did in 2016, Labor would have won 49.2% of the two party vote, 0.7% higher than their actual vote.
In Queensland, Labor’s preference share dropped dramatically from 57.9% in 2016 to just 50.2%, even though the Greens share of all others rose slightly to 34.8% from 34.1% in 2016. Of the 29.6% who voted for a minor party in Queensland, the Greens won 10.3%, One Nation 8.9%, the UAP 3.5%, Katter’s Australian Party 2.5% and Fraser Anning’s party 1.8%. The flow of these right-wing preferences to the LNP almost compensated for Greens preferences to Labor.
Parties like One Nation and the UAP would have attracted most of their support from lower-educated voters who despised Labor and Bill Shorten. As I wrote in my previous article, there was a swing to the Coalition with lower-educated voters.
Final Senate results: Coalition has strong position
In the Senate that sits from July 1, the Coalition will hold 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two, and one each for Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie. The final Senate results were the same as in my June 3 preview of the likely Senate outcome.
The table below gives the senators elected for each state at this half-Senate election. A total of 40 of the 76 senators were up for election. The one “Other” senator is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. The table has been augmented with a percentage of seats won and a percentage of national Senate votes won at the election.
There was a small swing in late counting against the Coalition. When I wrote my previous Senate article, they had 38.3% of the national Senate vote (up 3.1%). They ended with 38.0% (up 2.8%).
The Senate results are not very proportional, but this is mostly a consequence of electing six senators per state. If all 40 senators were elected nationally, the outcome would be far more proportional to vote share.
The Coalition and Greens benefitted from having large fractions of quotas on primary votes, which Labor and One Nation did not have in most states. Lambie was the only “Other” to poll a large fraction of a quota, and so she is the only Other to win.
Changes in Senate seats since the pre-election parliament were Coalition up four, Lambie up one, Labor, Greens and One Nation steady, and the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and Fraser Anning all lost their seats.
Ignoring Bernardi’s defection from the Coalition, changes since the 2016 double-dissolution election were Coalition up six, Labor and Greens steady, One Nation down two, and Family First, Liberal Democrats, Hinch and Centre Alliance all down one.
Senate preference flows for each state
In the Senate, voters are asked to number six boxes above the line or 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are now voter-directed.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota was one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. In no state was there a narrow margin between the sixth elected senator and the next closest candidate. Preference information is sourced from The Poll Bludger for Queensland, Victoria, WA and SA here, for NSW here and for Tasmania here.
In NSW, the Coalition had 2.69 quotas on primary votes, Labor 2.08, the Greens 0.61 and One Nation 0.34. Jim Molan won 2.9% or 0.20 quotas from fourth on the Coalition ticket on below the line votes, but was excluded a long way from the end. The Greens and third Coalition candidate each got almost a quota with One Nation trailing well behind.
In Victoria, the Coalition had 2.51 quotas, Labor 2.17, the Greens 0.74 and One Nation and Hinch both 0.19. Hinch finished seventh ahead of One Nation, but was unable to close on the Coalition, with the third Coalition candidate elected just short of a quota. The Greens crossed quota earlier on Labor preferences.
In Queensland, the LNP had 2.72 quotas, Labor 1.57, One Nation 0.71 and the Greens 0.69. One Nation and the LNP’s third candidate, in that order, crossed quota, and the Greens extended their lead over Labor’s second candidate from 1.8% to 2.7% after preferences.
In WA, the Liberals had 2.86 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.41. The third Liberal, second Labor and Greens passed quota in that order with One Nation well behind. The Liberals beat Labor to quota on Nationals and Shooters preferences.
In SA, the Liberals had 2.64 quotas, Labor 2.12, the Greens 0.76 and One Nation 0.34. The Greens and third Liberal, in that order, reached quota well ahead of One Nation.
In Tasmania, the Liberals had 2.20 quotas, Labor 2.14, the Greens 0.87, Lambie 0.62 and One Nation 0.24. Lisa Singh, who won from sixth on Labor’s ticket on below the line votes in 2016, had 5.7% or 0.40 quotas this time in below the line votes. On her exclusion, Labor’s second candidate and Lambie were elected with quotas, well ahead of One Nation; the Greens had crossed quota earlier.
Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the Senate system’s performance at this election, after it was introduced before the 2016 election. One thing that should be improved is the issue of preferences for “empty box” groups above the line. Such boxes without a name beside them confused voters, and these groups received far fewer preferences than they would have done with a name.
UK Conservative leadership: Johnson vs Hunt
On June 20, UK Conservative MPs finished winnowing the field of ten leadership candidates down to two. In the final round, Boris Johnson won 160 of the 313 Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt 77 and Michael Gove was eliminated with 75 votes.
Johnson and Hunt will now go to the full Conservative membership in a postal ballot expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win, and become the next British PM. I will have a fuller report for The Poll Bludger by tomorrow.
Ten years after the devastation of Black Saturday, building design has largely been unrecognised as an area worthy of research. We have advanced our knowledge of the materials used in the construction of homes in bushfire-prone areas but we continue to use the design model of the suburban home.
This needs to change. An initial starting point is to consider the way previous bushfires have damaged and destroyed buildings.
A bushfire has five different elements: smoke, wind, embers, flames, and radiant heat (the latter two are collectively called the “fire front”).
Smoke and wind are usually present throughout a fire, but are particularly high when the fire burns at its most intense levels. Depending on the type of vegetation burning, isolated flying embers may arrive hours before a fire front. Intense ember attacks usually occur 15-30 minutes before a fire front arrives, and may persist for up to 8 hours after the fire front moves on.
Radiant heat at a level that makes it impossible to survive outside will persist during the passage of the fire front, which may last anywhere between 2 and 15 minutes. However, if consequential fires are ignited by the main fire front, the radiant heat may remain at non-survivable levels for much longer.
The smoke of a bushfire reduces visibility and can turn a bright day into night. A change in wind direction can renew a threat residents thought had already passed them.
How will a bushfire attack your home?
Most people would expect that the most destructive element of a bushfire is the fire front, but rather surprisingly that’s not the case. Ember entry and associated spot fires, rather than direct flame contact, accounts for 75-80% of homes destroyed by bushfires.
Embers can be large strips of burning bark, or a tiny spark as small as a pinhead, and depending on wind speed these can travel up to 10 kilometres ahead of the fire front.
Australian research over the past 75 years has revealed more than 20 different parts of a house and its surrounding area that are vulnerable to bushfire attack. Much of this knowledge has now been incorporated into a recently updated Australian Standard: Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas.
These guidelines aim to reduce the vulnerability of each part of a house, and thus make the structure as a whole more resistant to bushfire damage. The Standard applies across Australia for new homes and renovations.
The known building ignition points
The known weak parts of a building are referred to as the “building ignition points”. Several are considered below:
In domestic homes the roof cavity is the large open space under the roof and above the ceiling. Embers in this space can cause fire to spread rapidly, making the whole building vulnerable to ceiling collapse.
Any gap in the roof, such as a poorly secured tile, can allow flying embers to enter. The burning crown of a nearby tree, pushed onto a roof by high-speed winds, can also ignite the house.
When people choose to shelter in their bathrooms they often forget the ceiling is particularly vulnerable there. It’s difficult to access a roof cavity with a fire hose, and extinguishing embers and fire invariably damages electrical wiring, plasterwork, and home contents.
Regular inspection and maintenance of roof elements can help reduce ember entry. Avoiding trees close to your house, and removing any overhanging branches, can also help reduce this bushfire risk.
Overhanging trees can cause compacted leaf litter to build up in gutters. During a bushfire flying embers land in this material, catch alight and spread flames to combustible parts of the roof structure such as wooden facia boards, rafters, roof battens, and eaves.
It’s a good idea to clear out your gutters each year as part of seasonal bushfire preparation. Some people choose to wait until a bushfire is approaching to do this, but going onto your roof for the first time in semi-darknes while embers are flying at you can put you at risk, and endanger your life.
If you’re building a new structure you can consider extending the roof line and having a water collection system on the ground to remove the need for gutters.
Vents and weep holes
Together vents and weep holes allow for fresh air to pass through a building and for excess moisture to leave, reduce condensation and mould. They are necessary for our comfort and health, and maintaining the integrity of a building.
However in a bushfire these types of external openings can allow flying embers to enter the building and start spot fires. Having steel or other non-combustible mesh with small holes in front or behind vents and weep holes can reduce the bushfire risk while still allowing air and moisture to pass through.
Often houses constructed in bushfire-prone areas are built on a sloping block of land. The area under the building (the subfloor) is left open rather than being enclosed, and combustible materials are often stored there. The danger is similar in scale to embers in the roof cavity. When embers or flames take hold in this subfloor area they can spread under the entire building and allow the fire to move up.
Plants and mulched garden beds next to the home
Garden beds and timber steps near a house are a potential danger during a bushfire. Plants with dense foliage can burn intensely and cause radiant heat damage, cracking and imploding nearby windows and glass doors.
Garden beds which have been recently mulched can trap flying embers and spread fire to timber subfloors. It’s much better to have a non-combustible paved area next to your home, with pots containing either succulents or plants with thin foliage.
Deciding whether to stay and defend a home or leave early is a difficult and contentious choice. Hopefully, knowing more about some parts of your house which are most vulnerable to bushfire attack will make that decision easier.
Many people move in the summer months, but not everyone realises that moving starts a process of identity transformation that never really stops.
I first noticed something about place changing a person when I moved to Canada. While Canada and Australia share many similarities, there were still significant differences. The clothes worn were one, and occasionally a phrase would seem unfamiliar. I was teased for saying “queue” instead of “line up”, and “no worries” instead of “no problem”.
When I moved back to Australia, to tropical Cairns, I found myself in a world that moved on “tropical time”. It could hardly have been more different from the fast-paced world of North America. I had to adapt.
Identities are created and evolve in places. Places can be physical, geographical areas and can also be places inhabited virtually, including online games, forums and blogs, or in discourse, such as books and magazines. These places continually shape our identities, changing as we live our lives day by day.
When we move to a new house, especially if it’s a big move such as from city to country or from one country to another, the process of moving inevitably changes us. For a start, we are now a newcomer and the “locals” will speak of us that way. That shapes how we are perceived and perhaps even whether and how we are accepted socially. The norms and morés of the new community may influence us in other ways, even prescribing how we are “supposed” to act in the new area.
‘City girls’ and ‘country girls’
In my recent research into how media affect lifestyle migrants in rural Queensland, I looked at how place changes people. Many of the women I spoke to described themselves as a “city girl” or a “country girl”. These women framed their identity in relation to their location.
The women who called themselves a “city girl” often chose activities that took them to places where they felt they could relate more – such as the shops, galleries and other amenities of the city. Their identification with the city resulted in weaker bonds locally and sometimes meant that they chose to return to the city. Certainly, they were less satisfied with country life.
On the other hand, women who identified as a “country girl” engaged in activities accessible in their rural locations, including crafts, cooking, gardening and outdoor activities. Their free time reinforced their emplaced nature and strengthened their ties to their place and the people in it. They adapted to being in the country and were happy with where they lived.
Knowing what to do in certain places is a form of capital, as Pierre Bourdieu outlines. Capital describes the knowledge needed to play the game in a particular place.
There are different types of capital, including cultural, economic and educational. Knowing how to act when working at a major company, for example, is different from knowing how to get on when unemployed. These are different fields, which require different capitals. One requires corporate smarts, the other stipulates smarts in various other areas.
Even if our fields don’t change as dramatically as described above, we still use differing capitals when at work, at home, with friends and as a parent.
The way we learn how to act, or adapt, is achieved through the expansion of what’s called habitus.
Habitus is the stuff we do without thinking – the beliefs, norms and ways of doing things that are a part of us. If we were in a witness protection program, these are the things that would trip us up and lead the bad guys to us. It’s simple stuff, like ordering coffee a certain way, or bigger things like thinking about the world through a particular framework or liking blue or living in the city.
To expand our habitus, we need to see new ways of doing things and imagine these for ourselves. This could happen by watching TV shows, reading books, travelling to other parts of the world or seeing someone else do something differently. It’s hard to change habitus, because we need to be open to new ideas that permeate our reality and we need to like them enough to decide to adopt them and let them become a part of us.
When we move, we are changing the field we occupy. To adapt to this, we watch how other people play the game and, to fit in, we most likely adopt these ideas within our habitus and change a bit. At the same time, we might influence the people around us, changing them a little bit too. It works dynamically.
So, yes, moving countries or to the country from the city is an identity-altering project, and the more the fields are different, the more we have to adapt.
Australia should cut its immigration intake, according to Tony Abbott in a recent speech at the Sydney Institute. Abbott explicitly cites economic theory in his arguments: “It’s a basic law of economics that increasing the supply of labour depresses wages; and that increasing demand for housing boosts price.”
But this economic analysis is too basic. Yes, supply matters. But so does demand.
And while migrants do live in houses, the federal government’s fondness for stoking demand and the inactivity of state governments in increasing supply are the real issues affecting affordability.
The economy isn’t a fixed pie
Let’s take Abbott’s claims about immigration one by one, starting with wages.
It’s true that if you increase labour supply that, holding other factors that affect wages constant, wages will decline. However, those other factors are rarely constant.
Notably, if the demand for labour is increasing by more than supply (including new migrants), then wages will rise.
This is a big part of the story when it comes to the relationship between wages and migration in Australia. Large migrant numbers have been an almost constant feature of Australia’s economy since the end of the second world war, if not earlier.
But these migrants typically arrived in the midst of economic growth and rising demand for labour. This is particularly true in recent decades, when we have had one of the longest periods of unbroken growth in the history of the developed world.
In our study of the Australian labour market, we found no relationship between immigration rates and poor outcomes for incumbent Australian workers in terms of wages or jobs.
Australia uses a point system for migration that targets skilled migrants in areas of high labour demand. Business is suffering in these areas. Migrants into these sectors don’t take jobs from anybody else because they are meeting previously unmet demand.
These migrants receive a higher wage than they would in their place of origin, and they allow their new employers to reduce costs. This ultimately leads to lower prices for consumers. Just about everybody benefits.
There’s an idea called the “lump of labour fallacy”, which holds that there is a certain amount of work to be done in an economy, and if you bring in more labour it will increase competition for those jobs.
But migrants also bring capital, investing in houses, appliances, businesses, education and many other things. This increases economic activity and the number of jobs available.
Furthermore, innovation has been shown to be strongly linked to immigration. In the United States, for instance, immigrants apply for patents at twice the rate of non-immigrants. And a large number of studies show that immigrants are over-represented in patents, patent impact and innovative activity in a wide range of countries.
We don’t entirely know why this is. It could be that innovative countries attract migrants, or it could be than migrants help innovation. It’s likely that the effect goes both ways and is a strong argument against curtailing immigration.
Abbott’s comments are more reasonable in the case of housing affordability because here all other things really are held constant. Specifically, studies show that housing demand is overheated in part by federal government policies (negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions, for instance) and state governments not doing enough to increase supply.
Governments have responded to high housing prices by further stoking demand, suggesting that people dip into their superannuation, for instance.
In the wake of Abbott’s speech there has been speculation that our current immigration numbers could exacerbate the pressures of automation, artificial intelligence and other labour-saving innovations.
But our understanding of these forces is nascent at best. In previous instances of major technological disruption, like the industrial revolution, the long-run effects on employment were negligible. When ATMs debuted, for example, many bank tellers lost their jobs. But the cost of branches also declined, new branches opened and total employment did not decline.
In his speech, Abbott said that the government needs policies that are principled, practical and popular. What would be popular is if governments across the country could fix our myriad policy problems. Abbott identified some of the big ones – wages, infrastructure and housing affordability.
What would be practical is to identify the causes of these problems and address these directly. Immigration is certainly not a major cause. It would be principled to undertake evidence-based analysis regarding what the causes are and how to address them.
A lot of that has already been done, notably by the Grattan Institute. What remains is for governments to do the politically difficult work of facing the facts.
When you live in a bushfire-prone area you can’t ignore the danger. Most individuals and families address this necessity by preparing a bushfire survival plan. The best way to survive a bushfire is not to be there when it arrives.
For most Australian fire agencies the “leave early” policy has largely replaced the previous “stay and defend or leave early” one. This
reflects an emphasis on preserving human life during a bushfire event – an emphasis that has strengthened since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Even when planning to leave early, unexpected events can occur. Not being able to find a child or family pet may delay departure until it’s no longer safe to travel. Taking refuge in your home then becomes a last resort, a worst-case scenario. But this contingency is worth considering as part of your bushfire survival plan.
If you do need to take refuge inside your home during a bushfire, which parts are likely to be the safest? As part of my PhD research, I asked 252 residents living in bushfire-prone areas which parts of their houses they would shelter in during a bushfire, which parts they would avoid, and why. I then analysed the features of these locations against the known places where people died in their home during bushfires in Australia from 1901 to 2011.
Determining the safer places to shelter is further complicated as all houses are not the same. There are many different types, with large variations in design, construction materials, location and surrounding vegetation. It is therefore not possible to give absolute answers on where people should take shelter in their homes during a bushfire, but some general guidelines can be given.
Where are the safer spaces to shelter?
Upstairs is generally a more dangerous space to seek shelter during a bushfire. Upstairs levels are more difficult to escape from. Often they have large windows and sliding glass doors which are designed to capture views, but due to radiant heat and strong winds can crack and implode. Upper levels are often constructed of lightweight materials that are more flammable and vulnerable to direct flame contact from burning trees.
The ground floor is generally a safer space to shelter. The ground level usually has more external doors from which the occupant can escape. On a sloping block, however, the easiest level from which to exit may be the first floor. The ground level often has smaller windows (except those leading to entertainment areas). From the ground floor it is easier to get to the driveway and closer to an external water source such as a water tank.
People often suggest the bathroom as a good place to shelter during a bushfire. However, the bathroom can also be dangerous. During a bushfire, mains water is often cut or the pressure is reduced to a trickle. Despite having tiled walls, non-combustible fittings and a water supply, bathrooms like other rooms are vulnerable to the collapse of a burning ceiling when embers have ignited in the roof cavity.
Most bathrooms do not have an external door that residents can use to exit the house. In a bathroom it can be difficult to see the progress of a fire. And as bathrooms are small enclosed spaces they may be more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.
My advice is to look at all the external ground floor doors (while remembering that glass doors can be dangerous because of their vulnerability to radiant heat), and determine which of them provide access to adjoining outside paved, gravel, concrete or other non-combustible areas. You should also see if there is a small window from which you can observe the progress of the bushfire, and if there is a sink close by to store water. Where possible consider installing a fire alarm that has a carbon monoxide sensor with audible and visual alerts.
When you have identified the most suitable place in the house to actively shelter during a bushfire, follow the bushfire preparation activities provided by fire authorities. Some of these will include looking out of a window to follow the progress of the fire and being aware of current bushfire updates on the radio and via mobile phone. There is no such thing as passive sheltering.
Being inside your home as the fire passes offers more protection than being outside. But it should be seen as a last resort, with leaving early the preferred action. Fire agencies work hard to inform residents of days when bushfires are likely, and to provide updates on fires that do break out. Residents in bushfire-prone areas should take these warnings and updates seriously and leave their properties when advised to do so, especially when catastrophic fires are expected.
The advice given in this article is general and may not suit every circumstance.