Australia: NSW – Bushfire Season is Here


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Instead of rebuilding stadiums, the NSW government should focus on local sport and events


Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong

The New South Wales government’s argument for spending A$2 billion rebuilding stadiums is that Sydney is losing flagship events to other state capitals, leading to fewer tourists and less media exposure. But large investments in transportation and venues are a significant drain on the public purse, often for economic returns that rarely break even.

Our research suggests that the NSW government should invest in smaller community events and sporting organisations that make use of existing facilities. We tracked 480 community events across Australia and found that they generated A$550 million in revenue.

These events also contribute more than A$10 billion a year to their local communities, support 100,000 jobs, and help build local business networks and skills.

Parkes Elvis Festival.
John Connell and Chris Gibson (2017) Outback Elvis: The story of a festival, its fans & a town called Parkes. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing

The benefits of grassroots events

In contrast to major, one-off events that require large infrastructure and marketing budgets, there are thousands of small community events across Australia every month. Each might only attract a few hundred people, but the revenue adds up.

Places that have consciously fostered grassroots community events, such as Ballarat and Hobart, enjoy healthy visitor numbers year-round, without overwhelming the local infrastructure.

Smaller community events make good use of existing facilities such as RSL clubs, showgrounds and parks. They tend to hire labour, PA systems, portaloos and catering from the local community, keeping dollars in circulation locally.

In contrast to mega-events that subcontract management to large firms, community events integrate more participation from their local communities. This not only improves local business networks, but also enhances local skills and leadership.

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The economics of large events doesn’t stack up

The evidence also overwhelmingly shows that public investment in major events isn’t worth it. Promised benefits are often exaggerated, and in the words of a recent review of the international research:

…any increased economic activity resulting from the event is routinely dwarfed by additional public budgetary commitments.


Read more: Suspended reality: the ins and outs of Rio’s Olympic bubble


Sydneysiders may have enjoyed the experience of hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, but increases in tourism and business investment failed to materialise. Rio de Janeiro is struggling with recession in the wake of its 2016 Summer Olympics. The money spent on the Olympics would probably have been better spent upgrading hospitals and other infrastructure.

This is partly why cities are backing away from hosting major sporting events. When the International Olympic Committee opened the bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, all but two cities – Paris and Los Angeles – withdrew their bids.

The fact that no other city was prepared to bid shows that the justifications for lucrative mega-events are wearing thin, both financially and politically.

Misleading numbers

The NSW government recently defended its plan to rebuild stadiums by arguing that the revenue generated by major sporting events will easily pay for itself within a few short years. Economists beg to differ.

Such estimates are typically based on conducting visitor surveys at events and asking punters to estimate their total spending. This is not good research methodology.

For one, people are consistently inaccurate at estimating their spending on the spot, only discovering the actual amount when they open their credit card statements.

It can also be hard for visitors to differentiate between money spent while at a specific event, and their spending elsewhere on their holiday.

Visitors complete surveys at the Daylesford ChillOut Festival.
Chris Gibson

We also need to subtract all of the money that would have been spent whether or not a major event takes place. This includes spending by people who live in the area, those who rescheduled travel plans to coincide with the event, and those who would have done some other activity (also known as “time-switching”) instead of going to the event.


Read more: Sydney’s stadiums debate shows sport might not be the political winner it once was


In other words, take all the Sydneysiders, casual visitors and time-switchers out of calculations of, say, weekly NRL game revenue at the Olympic or Sydney football stadia. The actual amount of “new” revenue for Sydney is much less impressive.

This is why a sober analysis of the true costs and benefits, and actual revenue numbers, are needed before governments rush to invest in major sports and event infrastructure.

The ConversationIf NSW truly wants to foster the events economy, the evidence suggests that money would be better spent on local community events and sporting organisations.

Chris Gibson, Director, UOW Global Challenges Program & Professor of Human Geography, University of Wollongong

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

Barnaby Joyce storms home in New England byelection victory


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has been returned to parliament with a big swing toward him in his New South Wales seat of New England.

With around half the vote counted, Joyce had won a swing on primary votes of about 11%, polling about 63% compared with 52% at the 2016 election.

A delighted Malcolm Turnbull, appearing at the Tamworth victory celebration with Joyce, told the crowd it appeared to be “the largest swing to the government in the history of byelections in Australia”.

Turnbull said it been a “stunning victory” and he would relish “getting the band back together”.

Surrounded by his parliamentary team, Joyce said it was a massive win for the Nationals.

He also paid tribute to the embattled Turnbull, saying running a country was a little bit harder than running sheep through a gate – and “you need someone with the skillset of this fellow here”.

The vote follows a week in which rebel Nationals forced the government to launch a royal commission into the banks. On Friday the NSW Nationals’ leader and deputy premier, John Barilaro, launched an extraordinary attack on Turnbull, saying he should quit by Christmas.

The byelection campaign was dirty at times, with persistent chatter about Joyce’s personal life. It was forced by the High Court ruling Joyce ineligible to sit in parliament because he was a dual New Zealand citizen via his father.

The result shows voters did not blame Joyce for his failure to do the proper checks, instead extending something of a sympathy vote to him.

Joyce had always been expected to be comfortably returned but the swing is a morale booster for the Nationals in particular and the government generally. Joyce’s return to parliament and the role of deputy prime minister will bring the government’s numbers in the lower house to 75.

But for Turnbull, the test will be in Bennelong at the December 16 byelection, where John Alexander, who resigned in the dual citizenship crisis, faces a tough battle to hold the seat against Labor’s Kristina Keneally.

The Nationals’ federal president Larry Anthony told the Saturday night celebration: “This is the reset, but not just for the National Party … but for the government”.

It remains to be seen whether the result will embolden the Nationals to further differentiate their brand over coming months.

This could in part depend on how Bennelong goes, as well as whether the opinion polls remain strongly against the government. If so, the Nationals’ vote at the next election may be best maximised by running their own race.

In an interview with Sky, Joyce acknowledged there were some issues in the Coalition that needed to be “ironed out” and “we are doing that”.

Joyce has picked up a sizeable portion of the 29% of the vote that went at the 2016 election to Tony Windsor, the former independent who held the seat previously. In the field of 17 candidates, Labor, on a vote of around 11%, has achieved only a minor swing of about 4%.

The ALP put little effort into the seat, with Bill Shorten never appearing in the campaign. Turnbull ridiculed the Labor performance, saying its vote was comfortably ahead of the informal vote.

Rebel Nationals backbencher George Christensen, whose possible defection had been a matter of speculation, confirmed to Joyce by text that he would be staying in the party.

In a social media post on Saturday, Christensen said that since the banking royal commission was announced on Thursday, he had reconsidered what could be achieved within the framework of government.

He had also had discussions with local mayors and community leaders, local LNP members and party elders, and Nationals colleagues.

“The consensus is that the Nationals need to be a stronger force within the government for both conservative values and country Australia and that people like me need to remain in the Nationals and government to ensure that happens,” he wrote.

“I am assured that, with Barnaby Joyce set to be returned to Canberra by the good people of New England today, we will have a more assertive and independently minded National Party with a reinvigorated leader at the helm.

The Conversation“That’s good news for the people of Australia and should point the government in a new direction. That’s why, despite serious earlier misgivings, I will remain completely with the Nationals and, ultimately, with the government.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hdjfk-7dce11?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Go now: NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro’s blunt message to Turnbull


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has faced an extraordinary attack from the New South Wales Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro, who has called on Turnbull to give people a “Christmas gift” by quitting immediately.

Barilaro’s scathing denunciation of Turnbull’s leadership came on the eve of the weekend New England byelection, where Nationals federal leader Barnaby Joyce is seeking to re-enter parliament after being disqualified by the High Court.

It is part of the rippling fallout from last Saturday’s Queensland election, where the Liberal National Party was defeated and the Nationals were left spooked by a big One Nation vote in regional areas.


Read more: Nationals force reluctant Turnbull to dress in Shorten’s banking clothes


Barilaro was furious that Turnbull denied federal factors affected the Queensland loss. “That is just a joke,” he told Alan Jones on 2GB, saying Turnbull was “completely out of touch”.

“You’ve got a party in disarray, a Coalition government in disarray and the community is not unified. And that is all at the feet of the prime minister of Australia.”

Turnbull should have apologised to the Queensland LNP and the people of Queensland “because the shenanigans and the circus that is the federal government today is the reason that we saw the shellacking” of the opposition in that state, Barilaro said.

He said he had just spent four days travelling in the southern part of NSW, where he was confronted by people from all sides of politics who kept talking about the lack of leadership federally.

If Turnbull, who could not win an election, did not leave the leadership he would be stabbed in the back in coming months, Barilaro said.

“Turnbull is the problem, the prime minister is the problem. He should step down, allow for a clean out of what the leadership looks like federally,” he said. “What we want to see federally is a reset if the Liberals and Nationals have got a chance of winning the next federal election.”

He said Turnbull had delivered very little since becoming leader. “My view is Turnbull should give Australians a Christmas gift and go before Christmas.”

The comments follow the exposure of Turnbull’s political weakness in Canberra this week, when the government was forced into announcing a royal commission on banking after a revolt by rebel federal Nationals.

The royal commission will be led by firner High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne and will be asked to deliver a final report by February 1, 2019, with an interim report before that. The terms of reference ARE tight: “it’s not going to be an inquiry into capitalism”, Turnbull said.

The Barilaro intervention will fuel more talk about the leadership, although there are not believed to be any active moves to replace Turnbull at this point.


Read more: Queensland Liberals and Nationals have long had an uneasy cohabitation, and now should consider divorce


Turnbull reacted dismissively, saying he thought Barilaro was “just trying to ingratiate himself with Alan and telling him what he wants to hear”.

He said Barilaro had “never raised these matters with me personally”.

“If that was a serious view he held, you would think that he would speak to me directly wouldn’t you?” Turnbull said on 3AW.

Turnbull said nobody had come to him to suggest his time as leader was running out.

Federal ministers rallied around Turnbull, while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian rejected what she described as Barilaro’s “personal view”, with which she disagreed. She said she looked forward to continuing to work with the Turnbull government.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann all hit back at Barilaro.

Fifield targeted Barilaro in personal terms. “To get a run by whacking your own side requires no political skill. It’s weak. And it’s lazy. And it lacks character.” He said Turnbull “is doing an excellent job as the leader of the nation”.

This coming parliamentary week, expected to be the last for the year, is likely to be challenging for Turnbull.

A Newspoll is due, the MPs’ citizenship declarations will be considered – which also could be difficult for Labor – and the ALP will be out to put pressure on the government over penalty rate cuts and other issues in the run-up to the Bennelong byelection on December 16.

The ConversationThe mood of the week will be affected by the vote in New England. While Joyce is regarded as certain to win, there is a huge field and the size of his primary vote will be carefully watched.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

NSW ReachTEL: Coalition leads 52-48 as One Nation slumps. Xenophon tied or ahead in SA’s Hartley


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A NSW ReachTEL poll for Fairfax media, conducted 5 October from a sample of 1650, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead by preference flows at the 2015 election, a 3 point gain for Labor since a Channel 7 ReachTEL poll, conducted just after Mike Baird’s resignation as Premier in January. With 8.1% undecided excluded, primary votes in this ReachTEL were 40.9% Coalition (down 1.8), 33.7% Labor (up 5.7), 9.9% Greens (up 1.5), 8.9% One Nation (down 7.4) and 2.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. NSW uses optional preferential voting.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a 52.1-47.9 lead over opposition leader Luke Foley in ReachTEL’s forced choice better Premier question, which tends to favour opposition leaders over polls that have an undecided option.

The January poll was taken when One Nation was at its peak, both nationally and in state polls, and that poll had One Nation at a record for any NSW poll. As One Nation’s right-wing economic views have become better known, it appears that much of their working-class support has returned to Labor.

In Queensland, One Nation’s support in a recent ReachTEL was 18.1% including undecided voters. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s support for the Adani coal mine does not distinguish Labor from the LNP. If the two major parties are seen as similar, anti-establishment parties can thrive.

At the recent NZ and UK elections, the total major party vote increased substantially. I believe this increase occurred at least partly because the major NZ and UK parties had very different policies, and anti-establishment parties were denied the “this mob is the same as the other mob” line. In contrast, the major parties were in coalition before the German election, and both slumped badly, with the far-right AfD winning 12.6%.

NSW state by-elections: Nats hold seats despite big swings against

Yesterday, by-elections occurred in the NSW National-held seats of Murray and Cootamundra, and in Labor-held Blacktown; all three seats were easily won by the incumbent party at the 2015 election. The Liberals did not contest Blacktown.

In Murray, Shooters candidate Helen Dalton stood as an Independent at the 2015 state election. The Nationals won by 53.5-46.5, a 19.2 point swing to Dalton since 2015. Primary votes were 40.5% Nationals (down 15.0), 31.4% Dalton (up 13.2) and 21.0% Labor (up 4.8).

In Cootamundra, the Nationals won by 60.1-39.9 vs Labor, a 10.3 point swing to Labor. Primary votes were 46.0% Nationals (down 19.9), 24.2% Labor (down 1.8) and 23.5% Shooters, who did not stand in 2015.

With no Liberal in Blacktown, Labor romped to 68.9% of the primary vote (up 15.0). The Christian Democrats were a distant second with 17.7% and the Greens won 8.8%.

These results do not yet include postal votes, which are likely to favour the Nationals. Further pre-poll votes in Murray and Cootamundra also remain to be counted.

Galaxy poll in SA seat of Hartley: Xenophon leads Liberals 53-47, but ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie

Nick Xenophon has announced he will leave the Senate after the High Court’s ruling on whether current members are eligible has been delivered. Xenophon will contest the SA state Liberal-held seat of Hartley at the March 2018 election. A Galaxy robopoll in Hartley, from a sample of 516, had Xenophon leading the Liberals by 53-47, from primary votes of 38% Liberal, 35% Xenophon, 17% Labor, 6% Greens and 3% Conservatives.

However, a ReachTEL poll for Channel 7 had a 50-50 tie, from primary votes of 36.7% Liberal, 21.7% Xenophon and 19.7% Labor. The primary votes probably include an undecided component of a little under 10%; these people can be pushed to say who they lean to. It is likely leaners strongly favoured Xenophon, as the Liberals would lead on the primary votes provided.

The Galaxy poll is encouraging for Xenophon, but the ReachTEL poll is more sobering. Labor will target Xenophon during the campaign over votes he has taken in the Senate that have helped the Coalition pass its legislation. Currently, only those who follow politics closely are aware of these votes, but Labor’s campaign is likely to increase this awareness. Such a campaign could undermine Xenophon’s support among centre-left voters.

Essential state polling: July to September

Essential has released July to September quarterly polling for all mainland states, by month for the eastern seaboard states. In September, the Coalition led by 51-49 in NSW, unchanged on August. In Victoria, Labor led by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since August. In WA, Labor led by 54-46 for July to September, a 1 point gain for the Coalition.

In Queensland, Labor led by 53-47 in September, a 2 point gain for the LNP since August. Primary votes were 35% Labor, 35% LNP, 13% One Nation and 10% Greens. By splitting One Nation and Others preferences evenly, Essential is likely to be overestimating Labor’s two party vote.

In SA, Labor led by an unchanged 52-48 in July to September. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 30% Liberal, 18% Nick Xenophon Team and 6% Greens. If these hard-to-believe primary votes are correct, Labor is far further ahead than 52-48. The NXT won 21.3% in SA at the 2016 Federal election.

The ConversationEssential’s state polling was not good at any of the Victorian 2014, Queensland 2015 or NSW 2015 state elections.

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

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

The true cost of keeping the Liddell power plant open


Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and Zeba Anjum, Australian National University

For a long time, Australian governments have believed that the private sector should run the electricity sector. And successive governments have used market instruments to incentivise reducing emissions, by supporting renewables, discouraging coal use, or both.

Now things seem inside out: uncertainty about energy policy mechanisms is pervasive, and the federal government is attempting to broker a deal for the ageing Liddell coal plant to stay open past its planned decommissioning date. It’s possible the plan will require government payments – amounting to a carbon subsidy.


Read more: AGL rejects Turnbull call to keep operating Liddell coal-fired power station


Fear of supply shortages and an appetite for coal have combined with an inability to resolve the political side of energy and climate policy.

Power companies see coal as a technology of the past, but the government seems unready to accept that wind and solar technologies (already the cheapest option for new capacity in Australia) are the future of Australia’s power.


Read more: The day Australia was put on blackout alert


The latest suggestion amounts to deferring serious investment in renewables for a while, fixing up some of the old coal plants up so they can run a few more years, and buying time in the hope of keeping power prices down. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has backed the idea, at least in principle.

The cost of delaying the inevitable

Commissioned in 1972, the Liddell power plant is the oldest of Australia’s large coal-fired stations (after the closure of the Hazelwood station). The New South Wales government sold it to AGL in 2014, at an effective price of zero dollars.

AGL announced some time ago that it will close the plant in 2022 and has considerable financial incentive to do so. This week AGL reiterated this. The latest suggestion is that Delta Electricity might buy and continue to operate Liddell.

What might be the benefits and costs of keeping Liddell running for, say, another decade? We do not know the plant-level technical and economic parameters, but let’s look at the principles and rough magnitudes.

Keeping the plant running longer will require refurbishments, defer the investment costs in renewables, and result in additional emissions, both in carbon dioxide and local air pollutants.

Refurbishment is costly. Finkel put refurbishment costs at A$500-600 million for a 10-year extension. Such refurbishment might achieve an increase in efficiency – as GE, a maker of power station equipment, recently argued – but perhaps not by much for a very old plant like Liddell.


Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie


And refurbishment might not work so well, as the experience with the Muja plant in Western Australia shows: A$300 million was spent on refurbishment that ultimately failed. Spending big money on outdated equipment is not a particularly attractive option for energy companies, as AGL’s CEO recently pointed out.

Liddell’s power output during 2015-16 was around 8 terawatt hours – about 10% of present NSW power supply (it was more in 2016-17, and less in previous years). It might well be lower as the plant ages.

Ironically, the reduction in the Renewable Energy Target, from 41 to 33 terawatt hours per year, almost exactly matches Liddell’s present power output. With the original RET target, new renewables would have covered Liddell’s output by 2020.

Liddell emitted around 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in 2015-2016. With the assumed reduction in output and some improvement in CO₂ emissions intensity, the carbon dioxide output might be in the order of 5-6 million tonnes per year, or 50-60 million tonnes over ten years.

If the government were to pay for the refurbishment, as has been suggested, this would equate to subsidising CO₂ emissions at a rate of perhaps $10 per tonne, compared to the alternative of replacing Liddell with renewable power.


Read more: FactCheck Q&A: is coal still cheaper than renewables as an energy source?


At the same time, the government is paying for projects to reduce emissions, at average prices of around $12 per tonne of carbon dioxide, under the Emissions Reduction Fund. The contradiction is self-evident. Furthermore, keeping more coal plants operational deters commercial investment in any kind of new plants.

Of course this needs to be seen in the context of supply security, any subsidies that might be paid in future to renewable energy generators, and the possibility that a Clean Energy Target will determine overall emissions from electricity production irrespective of whether Liddell operates or not. It’s complicated. But the fundamental point is clear: paying for an old coal plant to operate for longer means spending money to lock things in, and delay the needed transition to clean power.

A possible compromise might be to mothball the Liddell plant, to use if supply shortages loom, for example, on hot summer days. But such a “reserve” model could mean very high costs per unit of electricity produced.

It is not clear that it would be cheaper than a combination of energy storage and flexible demand-side responses. And it may be unreliable, especially as the plant ages further. During the NSW heatwave last summer Liddell was not able to run full tilt because of technical problems.

A market model to pay for reserve capacity would surely do better than government direction.

Australia’s energy companies have been calling for a mechanism to support new clean investment, such as the Clean Energy Target. And many would no doubt be content to simply see a broad-based, long-term carbon price, which remains the best economic option. If the policy framework was stable, private companies would go ahead with required investment in new capacity.


Read more: Finkel’s Clean Energy Target plan ‘better than nothing’: economists poll


The ConversationMeanwhile, federal and state governments are intervening ad-hoc in the market – making a deal to keep an old plant open here, building and owning new equipment there. It is the worst of all worlds: a market-based system but with extensive and unpredictable intervention by governments that tend to undermine investor confidence.

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University and Zeba Anjum, PhD student, Australian National University

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

Dry winter primes Sydney Basin for early start of bushfire season


Matthias Boer, Western Sydney University; Rachael Helene Nolan, University of Technology Sydney, and Ross Bradstock, University of Wollongong

It might feel like the depths of winter, but Australian fire services are preparing for an early start to the bushfire season. Sydney has been covered with smoke from hazard reduction burns, and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service has forecast a “horrific” season.

Predicting the severity of a bushfire season isn’t easy, and – much like the near-annual announcements of the “worst flu season on record” – repeated warnings can diminish their urgency.

However, new modelling that combines Bureau of Meteorology data with NASA satellite imaging has found that record-setting July warmth and low rainfall have created conditions very similar to 2013, when highly destructive bushfires burned across NSW and Victoria.

Crucially, this research has found we’re approaching a crucial dryness threshold, past which fires are historically far more dangerous.


Read more: Climate change to blame for Australia’s July heat


How to measure bushfire fuel

On September 10, 2013 several bushfires in Sydney’s West caused havoc well before the official start of the bushfire season. These were a precursor to fires that destroyed more than 200 properties a month later. Warm, dry winter weather had dried out the fuels in Sydney’s forests and bush reserves beyond “normal” levels for the time of year.

The timing and severity of those preseason fires were a reminder that the region’s forests are flammable all year round; they can burn whenever the fuel they contain dries out past a certain threshold.

In most forests, there is an abundance of fuel in the form of leaf litter, dead twigs, branches and logs, lower vegetation such as shrubs and grasses, as well as higher foliage and branches.

The flammability of all these different kinds of fuel depends largely on their moisture content. Leaf litter and fine dead branches on the soil surface can dry out in a matter of days, whereas logs may take weeks or months to lose their moisture. The moisture content of shrubs and tree canopies varies depending on the amount of water in the soil, so they reflect the overall rainfall and temperatures across a whole season.

The flammability of an entire forest is therefore a complex calculation of all these different kinds of fuel (both alive and dead) and their different moisture levels.

Mapping Sydney’s forests

In a recent collaborative study, we combined data from a Bureau of Meteorology project that maps water availability levels across Australia with satellite imagery to develop new tools for mapping and monitoring moisture levels of different fuels in forests and woodlands.

We checked these tools by modelling fuel moisture levels during fires in NSW, Victoria and the ACT between 2000 and 2014, and comparing our predictions to historical bushfires.

Our research has identified critical dryness thresholds associated with significant increases in fire area. Rather than a gradual increase in flammability as forests dry out, when dead fuel moisture drops below 15% subsequent bushfires are larger. Another jump occurs when dead fuel moisture levels fall below 10%. We found similar thresholds in growing plants, although their moisture content is measured differently.

These dryness thresholds are pivotal, because they may represent the breakdown of moist natural barriers in landscapes that prevent fires from spreading. Understanding these mechanisms makes it possible to predict fire risk much more accurately.

As part of this project we compared the fuel moisture in Sydney Basin’s forested areas in 2013 and 2017. As shown in the chart below, currently the live fuel moisture level is tracking well below the 2013 values, and is approaching a crucial threshold (indicated by the dotted line).

The moisture content of dead fuel has been more variable, but it has also dipped below the 2013 curve and, if warm dry weather continues, could reach critical levels before the end of August.


The median predicted dead fuel moisture content and live fuel moisture content in forest areas of the Sydney Basin Bioregion in 2013 and 2017. Black dashed horizontal lines indicate fuel moisture threshold values. The start dates of major fires in 2013 are indicated by orange vertical lines.
Author provided, Author provided

In another worrying sign, mapping shows critically dry live fuel is much more abundant in 2017 than it was in 2013.


Remotely sensed live fuel moisture content in forest areas of the Sydney Basin Bioregion in July 2013 (left) and July 2017 (right). Click to enlarge.
Author provided

It’s clear that much of the Sydney Basin is dangerously primed for major bushfires, at least until it receives major rainfall. Forecasts for windy but largely dry weather in coming weeks may exacerbate this problem.

These new insights into landscape-scale fuel dryness provide a powerful indicator of what might be expected. They also build our capacity for week by week monitoring of fire potential.

The ConversationPreparation by both fire management authorities and exposed homeowners is now an immediate priority, to cope with the strong likelihood of an early and severe fire season.

Matthias Boer, Associate Professor, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University; Rachael Helene Nolan, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Technology Sydney, and Ross Bradstock, Professor, Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong

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

Clearing homeless camps compounds the violation of human rights and entrenches the problem


Cristy Clark, Southern Cross University

On Wednesday evening, the New South Wales state government passed legislation empowering police to dismantle the Martin Place homeless camp in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. This follows similar actions in Victoria, where police cleared a homeless camp outside Flinders Street Station. Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle proposed a bylaw to ban rough sleeping in the city.

In March, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, censured the City of Melbourne’s actions, stating that:

… the criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law.

As the special rapporteur highlighted, homelessness is already “a gross violation of the right to adequate housing”. To further discriminate against people rendered homeless by systemic injustice is prohibited under international human rights law.


Further reading: Ban on sleeping rough does nothing to fix the problems of homelessness


Real problem is lack of affordable housing

In contrast to her Melbourne counterpart, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore had been adopting a more human-rights-based approach to resolving the challenges presented by the Martin Place camp.

After negotiating with camp organisers, Moore made it clear her council would not disperse the camp until permanent housing was found for all of the residents. As she pointed out:

You can’t solve homelessness without housing — what we urgently need is more affordable housing and we urgently need the New South Wales government to step up and do their bit.

It’s no secret that housing affordability in both Sydney and Melbourne has reached crisis point. And homelessness is an inevitable consequence of this. But we have seen little real action from government to resolve these issues.

The NSW government has been offering people temporary crisis accommodation or accommodation on the outskirts of the city. This leaves them isolated from community and without access to services.

In contrast, these inner-city camps don’t just provide shelter, food, safety and community; they also send a powerful political message to government that it must act to resolve the housing affordability crisis.

Having established well-defined rules of conduct, a pool of shared resources and access to free shelter and food, the Martin Place camp can be seen as part of the commons movement.

This movement seeks to create alternative models of social organisation to challenge the prevailing market-centric approaches imposed by neoliberalism and to reclaim the Right to the City.


Further reading: Suburbanising the centre: the government’s anti-urban agenda for Sydney


We should be uncomfortable

It is not surprising that right-wing pundits have described these camps as “eyesores” or that they make NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “completely uncomfortable”. The breach of human rights these camps represent, and the challenge they pose to the current system, should make people uncomfortable.

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Unlike most comparable nations, Australia has very limited legal protections for human rights. In this context, actions like the Martin Place and Flinders Street camps are one of the few options available to victims of systemic injustice to exercise their democratic right to hold government to account.

In seeking to sweep this issue under the carpet, both the City of Melbourne and the NSW government are not only further breaching the right to adequate housing, they are also trying to silence political protest.

It is clear from Moore’s demands, and the NSW government’s own actions, that the Martin Place camp is working to create pressure for action. What will motivate the government to resolve this crisis once the camps have been dispersed?

As Nelson Mandela argued in 1991 at the ANC’s Bill of Rights Conference:

A simple vote, without food, shelter and health care, is to use first-generation rights as a smokescreen to obscure the deep underlying forces which dehumanise people. It is to create an appearance of equality and justice, while by implication socioeconomic inequality is entrenched.

We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. We must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society.

Mandela’s words were hugely relevant to apartheid South Africa, where a ruling elite had established a deeply racist and unjust system that linked political disenfranchisement and material deprivation. But they also resonate today in Australia where inequality is on the rise – driven in large part by disparities in property ownership.

The ConversationHomelessness is a deeply dehumanising force that strips people of access to fundamental rights. The policies that are creating this crisis must be seen as unacceptable breaches of human rights. We need to start asking whether our current economic system is compatible with a truly democratic society.

Cristy Clark, Lecturer in Law, Southern Cross University

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

Abbott scores big win on party reform as Coalition continues to trail in Newspoll


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Tony Abbott’s ‘Warringah motion’ for party reform was passed by 748 votes to 476.
Daniel Munoz/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Abbott forces are seeking to drive home their sweeping Sunday victory in winning rank-and-file endorsement for reforming the New South Wales Liberal Party by putting a three-month deadline on the changes being ratified.

A special convention of party members voted overwhelmingly for motions from the former prime minister’s Warringah federal electorate conference (FEC) backing plebiscites for preselecting all candidates and direct election by the party members of those who run the party organisation.

This comes as the latest Newspoll, published in The Australian, shows the Coalition continuing to trail Labor 47-53% in two-party terms. This is the 16th consecutive Newspoll in which the government has been behind.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose one point to 36%, while Labor also rose one point, to 37%. One Nation slipped from 11% to 9%; the Greens fell from 10% to 9% since the last poll a fortnight ago.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net satisfaction improved four points to minus 20; Bill Shorten’s net satisfaction was static on minus 20. Turnbull widened his lead as better prime minister from eight points to 11 points.

At the convention of NSW Liberal Party members, the plebiscite motion was passed by 748 votes to 476, and the accompanying motion by a two-to-one margin.

The endorsement of the “Warringah” model is a huge challenge to the factional grip of the state division held by the moderates and soft right.

The changes would likely see the division move to the right, in line with the political colour of its rank-and-file, and make it harder for moderates to win preselections.

But the reforms have to be approved by the state council before they take effect. Given the majorities on the key votes were so decisive, and backing crossed factional lines, it would be hard for the current powerbrokers to resist the general thrust. But there could be a struggle ahead over timing and detail.

Walter Villatora, president of the Warringah FEC, said after the two-day meeting: “These reforms now need to be ratified, which I expect will happen within three months.”

“Somewhere up above in Liberal Party heaven Robert Menzies is looking down and smiling. The party membership have clearly spoken. The era of brutal factionalism is over,” he said. “The NSW Liberal Party is now the most democratic division in Australia.”

But a statement by state president Kent Johns suggested there would not be any rush. “The convention result reflected the members’ desire to reform some of our organisation’s internal processes, and serves as a clear demonstration of participation by our membership,” he said.

“Members showed their support for introducing a plebiscite model to ensure that the NSW Liberal Party continues to preselect the best candidates …

“Discussions at the convention will inform the development of the party’s modernisation plan, which will be prepared by me and the state director, Chris Stone. Constitutional amendments will be prepared over the coming months by our constitutional committee, and proceed to the party’s governing body – state council.”

Turnbull positioned himself carefully in his address to the convention on Saturday so as not to be caught in the firing line if the Abbott push won.

He stressed his support for plebiscites, saying every member should have a say in selecting candidates. It was widely believed, however, that he would have preferred a more circumscribed model.

But the convention voted down or didn’t reach motions attempting to impose some restrictions. These included having a longer eligibility period and an “activity test” before members could vote, and the grandfathering of electorates with sitting members.

In the Warringah model the only condition on party members voting in the plebiscites would be that they must have been a member for two years.

The present preselection system has candidates chosen by panels comprising local delegates and non-local members.

Neither Turnbull nor premier Gladys Berejiklian were at the convention when the vote was taken.

Later a spokeswoman for Turnbull said that as the prime minister had said at the convention: “He has long supported that all Liberal Party members have a direct say in preselections. The PM wants to ensure that every member of the party knows that their voice is heard and respected.

“The PM made it clear yesterday that plebiscites for preselections are a good idea, but hardly a new one. Every other Liberal party division has adopted them,” she said.

Abbott emailed members in his electorate: “This is a great advance for our party – and it would not have happened without the hard work of the Warringah conference led by our president, Walter Villatora.

“There’s more to do, of course. Democratisation now has to run the gauntlet of state council; but this is potentially a wonderful new start for our party. A revitalised, less factionalised party will be really important to winning the next election.

The Conversation“This is a big ‘thank you’ to all Warringah Liberals. Let’s now do our best to build on this success.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Blaming migrants won’t solve Western Sydney’s growing pains



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Many people in culturally diverse populations in Western Sydney have lived in Australia for many years, if not several generations.
Shutterstock

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University and Kristine Aquino, University of Technology Sydney

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia. It’s also one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse, as a key arrival point for refugees and new migrants when they first settle in Australia.

Various public figures and media outlets have connected asylum-seeker intake and immigration to traffic congestion and queues at hospitals in Western Sydney.

However, this kind of reaction can pin the blame for infrastructure and affordability problems on culturally diverse populations who may have already lived in Australia for many years, if not several generations.

Growth from international and domestic migration

Greater Western Sydney includes Blacktown, the Blue Mountains, Camden,
Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield
Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Parramatta, Penrith, the Hills Shire and Wollondilly.

We examined census data compiled by WESTIR Ltd, a non-profit research organisation based in Western Sydney, partly funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. These data show that Greater Western Sydney’s population increased by 9.8% between 2011 and 2016. Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, it grew by 16%.

About 55% of those living there were born in Australia, and about 39% where born elsewhere (the remainder did not state their place of birth). Most put English or Australian as their first response when asked about their ancestry.

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New births are slightly down in the region, meaning growth is coming from other sources. This includes new international migration arrivals, but also incoming residents from other parts of New South Wales and interstate.

Greater Western Sydney has long-established cultural and linguistic diversity. The percentage of residents born overseas has increased from 34.1% in 2006 to 38.7% in 2016. Overall, the west accounts for 50.2% of the overseas-born population for the whole of metropolitan Sydney.

Reasoned debates on sustainable migration intake levels are a crucial part of discussions of urban and regional growth. There are valid criticisms of “Big Australia” policies, based on resource and environmental sustainability.

But while the number of new arrivals settling in Western Sydney has increased steadily since the second world war, with a significant jump over the last decade reflecting accelerated skilled migration policies to fill labour shortages, the majority of overseas-born living in the region are long-term settlers who have been in Australia for ten years or more.

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Increasing diversity does not always mean more new migrant settlers

The data show that 64% of Western Sydney residents have at least one parent born overseas. This is greater than the number of those born overseas. This correlates with national data indicating that Australian-born second-generation migrant residents outnumber those born outside of Australia.

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So while critics may look at non-white Western Sydney residents and assume they are recent migrants, what they’re often really seeing is multiple generations of multiculturalism. Most of these people are long-term local residents, not necessarily a sudden influx of new arrivals.

In addition, not all overseas-born residents are permanent settlers. Australia takes far larger numbers of temporary entrants than it has in the past. Most of these temporary visa holders, such as international students and temporary skilled workers, live in major metropolitan areas and their surrounds, like Western Sydney.

While some portion of these populations do stay on longer-term, they are not all permanent settlers who will add to long-term population growth. Net migration figures, which take into account people who depart Australia every year as well as arrive, and exclude short-term visitors, have generally been decreasing over the past six years.

Who do we define as ‘migrants’?

New Zealand citizens moving under Trans-Tasman agreements and migrants from the United Kingdom are still among the largest migrant groups in Greater Western Sydney.

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In many local government areas in Western Sydney – such as Wollondilly, the Hills Shire, Penrith, Hawkesbury and Campbelltown – England and/or New Zealand feature in the top five countries of birth of overseas-born residents.

If anxieties about migration and population in Western Sydney are based on genuine sustainability concerns and not xenophobia, why target mostly refugees and non-white migrants? Why focus only on areas with large non-white and non-English-speaking background populations?

Migrants do use infrastructure, but also drive economic and jobs growth

It’s never as simple as one new arrival “using up” an allocation of limited resources, whether jobs, housing, or seats on trains. In fact, new arrivals fill the gaps of an ageing workforce, and current migration policies are targeted to favour younger migrants and specific skills shortages.

Western Sydney, like many regions in Australia, has an ageing population. Residents aged 65-74 years increased from 6.2% in 2011 to 7.2% in 2016.

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Large-scale infrastructure – whether the slated new airport or the Westmead hospital – requires young and often skilled workers.

Nationally, recently arrived overseas-born residents have a lower median age and a higher level of education than Australian-born residents.

Infrastructure problems are also problems of policy, planning and funding, rather than just population numbers. Problems in transport and health infrastructure in Western Sydney cannot be easily solved by reactive anti-immigration attitudes or policies.

Cuts to programs like the humanitarian program or skilled temporary work visas, where the intake numbers remain relatively small as a proportion of the overall population, will not solve those infrastructure problems.

Western Sydney is growing, and with growth comes growing pains. But equating the region’s rich cultural diversity with a population crisis is the wrong message to send.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Shanthi Robertson, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and Kristine Aquino, Lecturer in Global Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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