If you think the weather this month has been like Groundhog Day (albeit much hotter), you’d probably be right! Much like a stuck record, weather systems seem to have stalled over most of the country.
Brisbane residents are questioning the lack of rain, storms and heat. Darwin has just endured its second-latest monsoon onset on record after weeks of heat and humidity. Interior towns and cities have experienced significantly hot weather with a number of new maximum and minimum temperature records broken, along with records for consecutive days over 35℃.
Perth has largely escaped the heat so far this summer, while Sydney and Hobart have had a mixed bag. Coastal sea breezes have tempered conditions in the south and southeast of the continent. However, heatwaves are forecast for Melbourne and much of the southeast, with the arrival of strong, hot northerly winds. This will also bring extreme or severe fire weather conditions in many areas, including Tasmania. Adelaide, meanwhile, has sweltered through the hottest day on record for any Australian capital.
These weather patterns across the country are largely due to a stubborn blocking high-pressure system that has remained over the Tasman Sea since early January, affecting weather on both sides of the ditch. This type of strong high-pressure system typically forms further south than usual, and remains almost stationary for an extended period, thus blocking the west-to-east progression of weather systems across southern Australia.
Sometimes, these blocking highs position themselves over the Great Australian Bight. They can occur at any time of year, and can stay in the Australian region from several days to several weeks.
Winds rotate anticlockwise around high-pressure systems in the Southern Hemisphere. On the northern flank of the blocking high, southeast trade winds have been affecting northern New South Wales and eastern Queensland due to a persistent ridge of high pressure. These winds have been largely cool and dry, with only the far north of Queensland experiencing significant showers. The ridge has kept the inland trough further west over inland NSW and Queensland, preventing normal afternoon thunderstorm activity in the inland, and adding to the woes of the extended drought.
Cool, moist weather from the Southern Ocean is being displaced southeast by the blocking high, resulting in prolonged continental heatwaves and lack of rain. On the western flank of the blocking high, hot dry northerly winds from the arid centre are pushing through South Australia and Victoria, generating heatwave conditions.
Across the ditch, cooler and drier southerly winds are affecting much of New Zealand. Only the southwest of the South Island is getting any significant rain due to persistent moist westerlies on the southern flank of the blocking high.
An unusually strong ridge of high pressure across Queensland, extending up to Cape York, has kept the monsoon trough north of the continent. This pattern is forecast to change as a deep tropical depression forms in the Gulf of Carpentaria over the coming days and moves south into northern Queensland. Unfortunately, the stubborn ridge of high pressure over central Queensland is likely to block the rain-bearing low from moving much further south over drought-stricken parts of inland Queensland and NSW.
Coping with heat waves: 5 essential reads
While parts of the country have sweltered, the far southwest of Australia has experienced cooler and wetter than average conditions this month. Cape Leeuwin, Australia’s most southwesterly point, set a 123-year daily rainfall record for January, recording a massive 57mm of rainfall.
In the short term, there is no indication that the blocking high will break down or move eastward. Forecasters on both sides of the Tasman expect the pattern to continue until February at least.
Last night, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its recommendations from its review of Australia’s compliance with a key human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The committee harshly criticised Australia for failures in key areas. These included the treatment of refugees, Indigenous rights and inadequate protection of human rights, including the lack of a national human rights act.
What is the UN Human Rights Committee?
This is the treaty body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee is made up of 18 independent human rights experts. Its key functions are to:
monitor and review state parties’ compliance with the treaty; and
decide complaints made by individuals against state parties.
What did the committee say about Australia’s human rights record?
The committee noted areas in which Australia’s record had improved. These included the establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the introduction of protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
The committee also commended Australia for its commitment to ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture.
However, concerns far outweighed improvements in human rights.
The rights of refugees
The committee widely criticised Australia’s refugee policy for breaching Australia’s human rights obligations under the convention.
It raised concerns about refoulement (the forcible return of refugees to their home countries), mandatory detention, Operation Sovereign Borders and offshore detention. This includes the recent closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.
The committee urged Australia to end offshore processing and bring the men on Manus to Australia or another safe country. It emphasised the need for detention to be used to assess individual risk, not as a general deterrent. It also found that Australia has “effective control” over the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The rights of Indigenous people
The committee expressed concern about disproportionately high (27%) Indigenous incarceration rates. It recommended that measures such as mandatory sentencing and imprisonment for not paying fines be repealed.
The committee further recommended that Australia provide adequate funding to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and consider constitutional change to reflect the special status and fully protect the equal rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
As it has done before, the committee urged Australia to establish a national reparations scheme for members of the Stolen Generation.
The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
The committee roundly criticised unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people, particularly intersex infants and children. It recommended that the requirement for Family Court authorisation for second-stage hormone treatment for young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria be removed.
Barriers to gender and sex recognition on documents were also criticised.
The committee took a strong stance on the same-sex marriage postal survey. It stated that:
resort[ing] to public opinion polls to facilitate upholding rights under the Covenant in general, and equality and non-discrimination of minority groups in particular, is not an acceptable decision-making method.
The committee recommended that the Marriage Act be amended, regardless of the outcome of the postal survey.
The rights of women
The committee noted the endemic nature of violence against women, and the disproportionate impact this has on Indigenous women and women with a disability. It recommended that Australia increase its efforts to prevent all forms of violence against women.
The committee again raised concerns about the involuntary sterilisation of women and girls with intellectual and cognitive disability, and recommended that Australia abolish this practice.
The human rights framework
As in previous reviews, the committee recommended that Australia introduce a comprehensive national human rights act to give effect to the human rights protections in the covenant.
It also recommended that federal anti-discrimination laws be strengthened to ensure effective protection against all forms of discrimination. It specifically noted the lack of federal protection against discrimination on the basis of religion.
The committee criticised previous attacks by politicians on the Australian Human Rights Commission and recommended that Australia respect the independence of that body.
Where to from here?
The council is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights, and for addressing human rights violations around the world.
Council members must demonstrate their willingness to improve their domestic human rights situation. To claim legitimacy in human rights on the world stage, Australia needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights at home.
Under the committee’s follow-up procedure, Australia must explain how it will implement selected recommendations within 12 months. The committee’s selected recommendations focus on Australia’s treatment of refugees.
Australia was criticised at the review for a history of “chronic non-compliance” with committee recommendations. The challenge for Australia will be to engage positively with the recommendations and urgently implement substantive change to promote and protect human rights.
A good starting point would be a national human rights act, to fully incorporate Australia’s international human rights obligations into law. Furthermore, Australia should reconsider its response to the Referendum Council’s recommendation of an Indigenous voice to parliament.
It was a big week for Australia at the United Nations last week. It won a seat on the leading international human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, for a three-year term. The UN Human Rights Committee also reviewed Australia’s compliance with a key human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
One would assume the Human Rights Council seat means Australia will lead on issues of human rights domestically, including in the area of Indigenous rights (one of the five pillars of Australia’s bid) and self-determination.
However, as the UN Human Rights Committee review showed, Australia is failing to meet basic human rights standards for Indigenous peoples.
Violence against women in Indigenous communities
To its credit, the Australian government delegation was open and frank in its dialogue with the committee. The delegation acknowledged key areas in which the country needs to improve.
One of the pressing issues affecting Indigenous communities is family violence. Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. The severity of the violence is also greater, with higher rates of hospitalisation.
The government delegation acknowledged that the rate of violence against Indigenous women was “appalling”. It referred to “A$25 million for Indigenous-specific measures” and a “trauma-informed approach for children affected by violence”. This is just one measure the government is adopting to deal with violence against Indigenous women.
The NGO coalition, led by Kingsford Legal Centre and the Human Rights Law Centre, agreed with the government delegation that an area for hope was the recent appointment of June Oscar as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. Oscar has been at the forefront of effective, Aboriginal-led initiatives to deal with family violence in Fitzroy Crossing.
Indeed, the NGO coalition called for the government to include Indigenous women in the monitoring and evaluation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. It also called on it to fund Indigenous community-controlled services with expertise in working with victims/survivors of family violence.
Indigenous incarceration rates
An area in which Australia continues to breach international human rights standards is Indigenous incarceration rates. The national imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults is 13 times higher than that for non-Indigenous adults. While Indigenous people are only 2% of the population, they account for 27% of the prison population.
Mandatory sentencing and imprisonment for fine default, as canvassed by the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry, are key contributors to these statistics.
The UN Human Rights Committee repeatedly noted its concern about Indigenous incarceration rates and focused on policing of Indigenous communities. A committee member raised the case of Ms Dhu, who died in custody in Western Australia after being arrested for defaulting on fines. He asked why the laws providing for imprisonment for fine default had not yet been “scrapped”.
The committee also raised the recent case of an Aboriginal woman who called WA police for help in a domestic violence situation. She was taken into custody for a fine default, leaving her five children without support.
The Australian government was asked how this represented a “trauma-informed” approach to dealing with family violence.
Self-determination and constitutional reform
One of the key areas of interest for the NGO delegation and the committee was the response to entrenched disadvantage through effective policy. This connected closely with the identification of constitutional reform as advocated by Indigenous delegates at the regional dialogue process that produced the Uluru Statement.
The NGO delegation highlighted the need for Aboriginal-led policy design as articulated in the Redfern Statement and by numerous movements agitating for Indigenous rights since colonisation. The government delegation was keen to focus on constitutional recognition, while the NGO delegation advocated strongly for constitutional reform in accordance with the Uluru Statement.
In fairness to the Australian delegation, it certainly recognised the need for Indigenous-designed policy and implementation. This flies in the face of the government’s actions in cutting funding to Indigenous-controlled organisations, including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
In 2014, funding for Aboriginal services was substantially cut from $2.4 billion to $860 million under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. And 55% of grants were allocated to non-Indigenous bodies, effectively mainstreaming services.
Where to from here?
The UN Human Rights Committee challenged the Australian government to produce policy that truly includes Indigenous people.
One of the challenges of human rights treaty reviews is to ensure that the government implements the recommendations that the committee makes. Australia has a terrible record in this area, being called out for “chronic non-compliance” by the committee.
Hopefully, the seat on the Human Rights Council will encourage the government to heed the words of the UN Human Rights Committee and ensure real progress on Indigenous rights.
One does have to wonder just how serious Tony Abbott’s comments can be taken, especially this one about ‘shirtfronting’ Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Is this a core promise or just spruiking for the camera – will there be some video record of the shirtfronting, because without it I would find it difficult to believe it has happened.
The link below is to an article that reports on Australia’s hottest summer on record and having lived through it, I can confirm it was extremely hot.
South-Eastern Australia is in the grip of a heatwave with temperatures threatening the record books. Temperatures across the country are reaching between 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), with the hottest recorded temperatures in many centres threatened, as well as the highest temperature every recorded in Australia.
For more on the fires visit:
Battlefront NSW: State on bushfire red alert | News.com.au.
Turkey’s Religious Freedom Record Slides
The following article reports on growing anti-Christian mood in Turkey, along with the latest persecution news there.
Suicide Bomber Targets Churches in Kaduna, Nigeria
The following article reports on the latest attack of Boko Haram Islamic extremists on Christians in Nigeria.
The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.