The federal government has confirmed it will build Sydney’s second airport after the Sydney Airport Group, owner of Kingsford Smith, announced on Tuesday it would not take up its right of first refusal to construct and operate the Badgerys Creek airport.
Sydney Airport Group chief executive Kerrie Mather said despite the opportunities the new airport would present, “the risks associated with the development and operation are considerable and endure for many decades, without commensurate returns for our investors”.
Next week’s budget will give details of the western Sydney project, which will be part of the budget’s major infrastructure focus.
The government has been paving the way for the airport project and its plan to inject funds into a Melbourne-to-Brisbane freight line by distinguishing between “good” and “bad” government debt. In broad terms, it says “good” debt is for investment that brings growth, while “bad” debt is borrowing for recurrent spending.
In a joint statement, Malcolm Turnbull and Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said the project was vitally important for western Sydney, Sydney, and the nation.
They said the airport would inject more than A$1.9 billion into the economy during the construction phrase. “It is expected to deliver 9000 new jobs to western Sydney by the 2030s, and 60,000 in the long term,” they said.
They said the government had been planning for either the acceptance or rejection by the Sydney Airport Group, and was “well positioned to move forward”.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, said often governments had to step in for the early stages of a nation-building project but that always should be a catalyst for private sector investment in the longer term.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gladys Berejiklian is undoubtedly one of the best-prepared candidates to take over the premiership of New South Wales in modern times. The Liberal partyroom confirmed her elevation as party leader and premier on Monday morning, with Dominic Perrottet to serve as her deputy.
Most of Berejiklian’s successful predecessors – Neville Wran, Nick Greiner, Bob Carr and Barry O’Farrell, for example – came to the job with much less experience of government, relying on strong performances as opposition leader. Berejiklian has successfully managed two of the most difficult portfolios – transport and treasury – with responsibility for the Hunter and industrial relations thrown in for variety. She also has experience as a senior member of the team that won a landslide victory over Labor in 2011.
However, being well prepared does not guarantee an easy time in office. Berejiklian inherits a Liberal Party that was losing public support in the last year of Mike Baird’s administration.
A vague smell of corruption over Liberal Party electoral funding practices also lingers. This is helped along by the Coalition’s recent decision to restructure the management of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – a move many saw as designed to weaken the body that exposed those funding practices.
Internal policy fights
The NSW Liberal Party is still strongly factionalised at both the parliamentary and local level. O’Farrell was able to neutralise the influence of the radical right faction, while Baird promoted a raft of economic policies that were generally acceptable to the right.
If Berejiklian, who is from the left, wants to choose a different policy mix then she can expect the right will exert its influence. The right faction does not have any viable alternative leadership candidates of its own, but has a strong enough presence in the partyroom to make life difficult.
Berejiklian’s stated intention to concentrate on economic development issues should not have factional implications, although any more PR disaster projects like WestConnex will not be well received. One of the interesting questions is how well she will be able to stare down opposition in the partyroom.
Berejiklian will certainly face a much less compliant National Party. This is a result of the recent shock defeat of the Nationals candidate at the recent Orange by-election, attributed to a perception in rural areas that the Nationals had ignored the interests of rural communities when it allowed the Baird government to ban greyhound racing (a decision it later reversed).
As a result of the by-election loss the Nationals also have a new leader, John Barilaro. He seems to have learned the lessons of the defeat in Orange.
The first issue Berejiklian will face on that front is local council and shire amalgamations. There will also be pressure to take a greater interest in the provision of good schools, hospitals and roads for country areas, which she should be able to accommodate without difficulty.
The next election and the future
Relations with the Nationals will be important as the next election approaches, since the Liberal Party is likely to be in deep trouble in its favoured electorates. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s success in Orange will certainly give it a higher profile in lower house seats. And the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will result in contests in most – if not all – rural seats.
There have been strong challenges in some electorates from local independents in recent state elections. There will be no safe seats for the Nationals.
Fortunately for Berejiklian, Labor is not in a position to profit from this situation. The “Country Labor” brand has made little impact in country areas in recent elections.
Nevertheless, given there is currently a swing against the Coalition, and a tight election is likely, a hung parliament after the next election is a real possibility.
Although Labor under Luke Foley has improved its position quickly after the catastrophic election defeat in 2011, it does not offer a great threat to the Berejiklian. Labor cannot win from opposition unless the government makes a complete mess of things – as Baird was threatening to do.
Berejiklian is a more instinctive political animal than Baird. She is less ideological, more pragmatic and prepared to compromise, so one would expect her to consult more and spend more energy on convincing the electorate of the value of her political initiatives.
Overall, while local press, radio and TV commentators prefer Liberal to Labor politicians, and were initially supportive of O’Farrell and Baird, any apparent mistakes will be jumped on. But this premier is female.
After the overtly sexist trashing of Julia Gillard by Tony Abbott, and of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump – both enthusiastically supported by right-wing media outlets – one has to wonder whether a female premier in NSW will be treated fairly.
Media handling of the state’s first female premier, Kristina Keneally, wasn’t particularly friendly, but that was not primarily because of her gender. It probably helps that Berejiklian is on the conservative side of politics.
Shock jock Alan Jones has already fired one broadside against her. But on this issue – as on many others – we will just have to wait and see.
At the 2012 Northern Territory election, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) won 16 of 25 seats, to 8 for Labor and 1 Independent. During a chaotic term, 4 CLP and 1 Labor members defected to sit as Independents, so the pre-election parliamentary numbers were 12 CLP, 7 Labor and 6 Independents.
At yesterday’s NT election, the ABC is calling 15 of 25 seats for Labor, 1 for the CLP and 3 for Independents, with 6 in some doubt. The ABC’s prediction is 18 Labor, 3 CLP and 4 Independents. Even if Labor loses all doubtful seats, they would still have a clear majority.
Two of the doubtful seats – Blain and Nhulunbuy – are cases where the incorrect final two candidates were selected on election night. The electoral commission will need to redo the two candidate count in those seats. Former chief minister Terry Mills, who was deposed by Adam Giles in the last term, will need a strong flow of preferences from the CLP in Blain.
Giles himself is in trouble in his own seat of Braitling, trailing Labor by 21 votes on a swing of almost 20 points. Former Labor leader Delia Lawrie is likely to hold her seat of Karama as an Independent; she leads by 51.2-48.8.
Overall primary votes were 43.1% for Labor (up 6.6), 31.7% for the CLP (down 18.9), 3.5% for the new 1 Territory Party, 2.8% for the Greens (down 0.5) and 18.9% for all Others (up 9.3). The Others were mostly Independents. The Poll Bludger has a breakdown of the votes and seats for each region.
There are still some booths that have not yet been added to counts, particularly in remote seats. However, most electorates are reporting postal counts, so it is unlikely that the CLP’s position will improve post-election, in the way the Federal Coalition’s position improved. Counting will resume tomorrow morning.
At this election, the voting system was changed to optional preferential voting; previous NT elections used compulsory preferential voting. However, this change appears to have helped Labor. In Braitling, Labor trails by 10.4% on primary votes, but leads by 0.4% after preferences. It is likely that minor party voters who were hostile to the CLP put the CLP last, while those who were better disposed to the CLP followed the CLP’s advice, and just voted “1”.
Shock NSW ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie
At the March 2015 NSW election, the Coalition won 45.6% of the primary vote, with 34.1% for Labor and 10.3% for the Greens. The Coalition won the two party vote 54.3-45.7.
The first ReachTEL poll since the election, conducted Thursday night from a sample of 1610, has the Coalition and Labor tied at 50-50. Excluding the 8.1% undecided from the primary votes gives 42.9% for the Coalition (down 2.7 since the election), 38.0% for Labor (up 3.9) and 8.7% for the Greens (down 1.6).
Opposition leader Luke Foley led Premier Mike Baird 51-49 as better Premier, but ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier question removes the lean towards the incumbent that other polls exhibit. Despite the Coalition’s slump, voters approved of the ban on greyhound racing by a 51-31 margin.
Polls in most states are very scarce outside election campaigns. The last NSW poll by a credible pollster was the November-December 2015 Newspoll, which had the Coalition ahead by 56-44. This ReachTEL implies that the gloss has come off the Coalition since then.
The link below is to an article that reports on Australia’s Hillsong Church and its invitation to Mark Driscoll for its Sydney convention later this month. Mark Driscoll was lead pastor at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, USA.