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New study sparks fresh call for seagrass preservation

Edith Cowan University Media Release

An increase in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 5 million cars a year has been caused by the loss of seagrass meadows around the Australian coastline since the 1950s.

The stark finding was made possible by new modelling done by marine scientists at the Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia.

PhD student Cristian Salinas calculated that around 161,150 hectares of seagrass have been lost from Australian coasts since the 1950s, resulting in a 2 per cent increase in annual carbon dioxide emissions from land-use change.

The figures derive from Mr Salinas’s research into the current carbon stocks of Cockburn Sound off the coast of Western Australia.

Cockburn Sound lost around 23 sqkm of seagrass between the 1960s and 1990s due to nutrient overflow caused by urban, port and industrial development.

Mr Salinas said the finding is significant because seagrass meadows play such a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Known as ‘Blue Carbon’, seagrass meadows have been estimated to store CO2 in their soils about 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests,” he said.

“Seagrass meadows have been under constant threat in Australia through coastal development and nutrient run off since the 1960s. On top of that climate change is causing marine heatwaves that are catastrophic to the seagrasses.

“This study serves as a stark reminder of how important these environments are.”

Mr Salinas said the study provided a clear baseline for carbon emissions from seagrass losses in Australia and warned of the need to preserve and restore the meadows. The inclusion of seagrass into the Australian Emission Reduction Fund could contribute to achieve this goal, he said.

Carbon flushed away

The ECU researchers assessed how environmental factors such as water depth, hydrodynamic energy, soil accumulation rates and soil grain size related to changes in soil carbon storage following seagrass loss.

Results showed that the degradation and loss of seagrass alone was not enough to cause the carbon loss from the soil — hydrodynamic energy from waves, tides and currents also played a significant role.

“Without seagrass acting as a buffer, the hydrodynamic energy from the ocean releases the carbon by moving the seabed sand around,” Mr Salinas Zapata said.

Researchers found hydrodynamic energy from water movement was much higher in the shallow water and associated low levels of carbon were recorded in these bare areas.

However, seagrass meadows established in shallow waters were found to have significantly more carbon stored compared to those growing in deeper areas.

“This means that nearshore meadows are particularly important to preserve,” Mr Salinas said.

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Cuts to local content threaten Australian TV and culture

By William Olson  

As if the recent budget cuts to the ABC weren’t bad enough – and cuts which the Morrison government denies are actually cuts at all – now comes word that a permanent abolishment of requirements for local content across Australian television and streaming services is in the works.

And the decision by Paul Fletcher, the federal communications minister, has come under attack from several opposition politicians holding arts and communications portfolios, and the salvos being fired against Fletcher are as potent as when the cuts to the ABC were announced a fortnight earlier.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ senator from South Australia who holds both portfolios for her party, has led the attacks, imploring Fletcher to stand up for Australian content appearing not only on local television screens, via free-to-air and Foxtel alike, but also on major streaming services such as Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus as well.

“Letting broadcasters out of local content requirements and failing to immediately regulate streaming services put the jobs of every person who works on Australian drama, documentaries and children’s TV shows from actors, to writers, to crews at risk,” Hanson-Young said on Monday.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), broadcasters are currently required to account for 55 percent of domestic content on primary channels and a minimum of 1460 hours of domestic programming on non-primary channels, all between the hours of 6:00am and 12:00midnight each day.

However, now that submissions for a Fletcher-sponsored discussion paper on the matter have closed, Fletcher is said to be giving a thumbs-up to ditching those quotas – something which Hanson-Young insists is unacceptable.

“The big wigs of streaming and broadcasting can’t be allowed to call the shots when it comes to Australian stories on our screens,” she said.

“Regulating streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Stan should be part of the government’s arts and entertainment industry COVID-19 recovery package, which is woefully inadequate, and therefore treated as a matter of urgency,” she added.

Previously, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland had called out the Morrison government for their latest round of cuts to the ABC, where the expected shedding of up to 250 jobs comes on top of a previous 800 jobs lost at the national broadcaster since the initial cuts in 2014.

While stating that all forms of Australian media and news are struggling as well as those in creative industries as well, Rowland has warned that specific to the ABC, their creative efforts in programming that has produced such acclaimed shows of great variety in recent years as “Hard Quiz”, “Gardening Australia”, “Bluey”, “At Home Alone Together”, and “Mystery Road”, to name but a few, may be seen to dwindle without minimum quotas required for Australian-made and -produced content.

And that’s in spite of the Morrison government announcing a $250 million stimulus package for the arts – oddly enough, announced the day after revealing its cuts to the ABC.

“Our creative industries are struggling. Even as the Government considers a belated relief package, the ABC has been forced to reduce its commissioning budget by $5 million per year and show even fewer Australian stories,” said Rowland.

“The ABC warned these cuts would ‘make it difficult for the ABC to meet its Charter requirements and audience expectations’.  These warnings are now materialising and will mean less Australian stories, less news and less sport,” added Rowland.

As for streaming services, the likes of Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, among others, currently have no obligatory quotas unlike their free-to-air and pay-TV counterparts to produce content for the Australian market, and that is seen as a hindrance for Australian content as a whole.

“Australian stories are vital for our culture and social fabric and the sustainability of our arts and entertainment industry,” said Hanson-Young.

And with regard to the global phenomenon that the Brisbane-made and -produced children’s program “Bluey” has become, rivalling even “The Wiggles” as an Australian export, Hanson-Young added:  “Good quality children’s content is good for the community and it creates jobs.”

Tony Burke, in his role as the shadow minister for the arts for the ALP, suspects that Fletcher may have a bigger agenda with regard to content numbers on Australian screens and devices.

“Minister Fletcher has previously described quotas as “red tape”, displaying an appalling lack of understanding from the man who is meant to be the voice of the creative industries in Cabinet,” Burke said last month, after the Morrison government announced the stimulus package for the arts sector.

“Now just three days after finally delivering some assistance they’re seeking to take away a critical support for our creators. It’s yet another example of the Government using this crisis as cover to push through extreme and permanent changes,” Burke added.

Whereas local content requirements were suspended in light of the pandemic, here’s hoping that Fletcher listens to his critics to return to them and extend them.

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An Australian Outcry

By Jennifer Michels  

An Australian Outcry: Political Offices, Churches, Libraries and Grave Sites Destroyed.

With #BlackLivesMatter such a hot topic around the world I have not only been challenged in many of my views lately; I have dished out my fair share of opinion challenges myself during online debates. One of the points I often find myself referring to in these discussions is the topic of Aboriginal Land Rights. Pointedly, the injustices our Traditional Owners face when Sacred Sites, with such a huge impact to culture and our way of life, are damaged or destroyed.

Recently Rio Tinto caused significant damage to a Sacred Site in Western Australia. Juukan Gorge was said to be over 46 000 years old, containing a cave showing evidence of human habitation during the last Ice Age. Now while Rio Tinto has received widespread backlash for the damage to Juukan Gorge, BHP have received approval to destroy a further 40 sites, all with significant value to heritage, all within Western Australia.

I do not dispute the importance of the mining companies within Australia, but to allow this continued desecration of Sacred Sites is sacramental to the Aboriginal People. Our ties to land do not give us the same ownership our fellow citizens value; quite the contrary, our lands own us. They own us because we not only draw our life directly from the land and sea, our bodies have become the very dirt that is being exploded across what appears to be nothing more than barren, red earth.

Many only see minerals such as iron ore ready to be dug from the ground. To the First People of Australia there is a great deal more than meets the eye. For our People, this land holds our ancestor’s bones, record our histories, are the locations our laws were made and provides our places of worship; just to name a few! In other words, our Political Offices, Churches, Libraries, and our grave sites are being blown up to extend another mining operation or increase roads within Australia.

While these sites are damaged or destroyed Australia has a long line-up of buildings seen upon heritage lists. Buildings where paint colours cannot be changed; let alone see the buildings placed upon a list to be destroyed. These buildings are aspects of Australian history without the age and in many cases lacking the same combined significance as the Sacred Sites; not to mention the fact a building can be re-built. A cave used for thousands upon thousands of years cannot be recovered once it has been blown apart, nor can the history be recovered after the fact.

Mining companies within Australia have suggested electronically recording the sites proposed for destruction; however even my eight-year-old understands the difference between seeing something electronically and the value of viewing it with your own eyes. My son would not give up the ability to see an eclipse in person for the option of having them online instead, and I doubt anyone would be happy to see a horse or a dog only available via online means.

Would a church be better captured virtually to be prayed in? Can a library share the volume of knowledge via an online image of covers stacked upon shelves? Would recording family gravesites to only see them in an online fashion bring the same comforts to our souls?

Yet this can be considered by highly educated individuals as compensation for losing another place of worship, another burial ground, and generations upon generations of history; especially when significant portions were lost generations ago.

Herein lies a furthering of the difficulties for the Aboriginal People; religious beliefs are protected within Australia. They cannot be discriminated against without legal repercussions. Nor can the rights of the various religious beliefs be overruled or undermined in other professional undertakings. For example, an employer cannot insist an employee miss Sunday Mass as it is a protected right under Australian Law. Break down exactly what the term Dreamtime means, and it quite clearly fits into the category accepted around the world as religion. Dreamtime records the history of the First People. It explains the afterlife, defines laws and teaches social structures. If one were to look at the dictionary meaning of religion these topics are exactly what you will find. Yet the cultural and religious connections of the First People are not protected in the same manner. The rights of the religious beliefs held by Aboriginal People are not upheld under Australian laws like other religions are within this country.

Personally, I have come to believe the main reason for this relates directly to the minimal understanding of what the Dreamtime is. Those outside the communities, or Aboriginal family networks, are not regularly exposed to the spiritual beliefs or the connections to land and how they affect our afterlife; or in other words the First People’s many versions of Heaven.

When the term Dreamtime was made popular the Aboriginal Elders would have had a revolt on their hands had they described Dreamtime as religion, a result of Aboriginal history that has compounded this misunderstanding of culture and religion further. Religion is the word given to what was taught to the Stolen Generations, resulting in Dreamtime being referred to as culture instead of “many religious beliefs aligned in a similar fashion within a single ethnic group.” Because the Dreamtime of one Aboriginal Person is not the same as another Aboriginal Person. Each area of Aboriginal land has their own version of Dreamtime, their own individual Heaven. And you must die upon your own land to join the Elders and other ancestors of your family, meaning those forced from their homelands, those who die in another person’s land never see their loved ones again. They spend eternity without their siblings, never again to see childhood friends, their children cannot even share the same Heaven if they do not die upon the same lands.

If this was the way of your religious belief system, would you too raise your voice against an injustice to your loved ones when your communities were closed or you had been provided no choice but to leave your homes and the land you love so dearly?

Another reason for saving these Sacred Sites are the benefits lost to scientific communities around the world! Scientific communities that can give our society a much clearer understanding of our history. The scientific benefits have barely even scratched the surface to explain to the First People what their ancestors ate, where they hunted or how they lived. With the current finds surrounding Stonehenge the world has come alive with new talk inspired by history; including the recent discoveries in the Pilbara with the amazing find underwater. Imagine the ancient discoveries that could be found if more research were done into the past of this great country!

Imagine the benefits new information could provide the next generations seeking
employment or benefiting from scientific advancements. What about tracking where the Stolen Generations came from? Enough full genomes of our descendants could potentially reconnect families and finally heal the losses felt for generations. None of these things will come to pass if we continue destroying the Sacred Sites!

Considerations shown by the Australian Government since the introduction of Traditional Land Rights can be described as nothing short of lacking! How many times do amendments need to be put on the back burner by the very people elected to run these departments?

How many more election promises need to be broken before the changes we have asked for are considered, let alone made? How many times do the voices of the Traditional Owners need to be ignored before their objections are taken seriously? How much more of our history needs to disappear forever before more can finally be rediscovered? How much longer until the value of our history and culture can be understood for the enormity it really is?

I have often asked myself; “What if the heritage listed buildings were to suddenly become the target of approved destruction? Would my fellow citizens be so silent on the matter? If other religions beliefs were so blatantly discriminated against; would Aussies sit back in complacency? If significant political buildings were repetitively blown up, would our population turn a blind eye? If our combined historical records were so keenly targeted; would our society see high value to prevent such destruction? If churches were demolished across the country with such frequency, would the protests become a deafening roar?” Personally I think there would rightfully be an enormous outcry if any of these things were to become a reality for many other Australians; yet not enough are or have been actively seeking to prevent similar losses of significance to the Aboriginal People.

Aboriginal Elders have often sought advancements in areas such as tourism as a way of creating economic value within their communities; thus, becoming a benefit to the rest of Australian society. How many people travel the world for cultural value? How much do they spend? Tourism is widely accepted as one of Australia’s largest economies; yet vastly undervalued upon Aboriginal Lands!

Could the creation of real tourism in communities be valuable as a post-COVID recovery plan? How many new jobs could be created in building infrastructure? Would TAFE and other RTOs around the country benefit from teaching community members? What benefits would be generated by teaching the community members how to run their own businesses? How much of an injection could the Australian economy generate with a tourism industry dedicated to Aboriginal culture?

Appreciation for Aboriginal art, music and other cultural values has already spread the world over. Might opening these doors wider offset the losses felt by mining giants from denying the destruction of Sacred Sites? Please join your voice to the outcry and help our great country finally save our First Peoples’ Churches, Political Offices, Historical Libraries and Burial Grounds for future generations.

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Morrison’s Trojan Horse – The ABC and the Battle for Eden-Monaro

By Jon Chesterson 

While we must love our ABC, absolutely but not absolute, right now the ABC (like Morrison and his Ministers incestuously tripping over their own policies) spend more time suppressing and attacking the Opposition or leaving them in oblivion than examining the truth and tackling the lies, excesses and abuses of the Liberal and Federal Government in power, doing their bidding.

They follow Morrison’s announcements every day, word for word interrupting any news on the ABC News channel giving Morrison and his ministers unprecedented free air time for him to go on and on with his sermons, admonishments, self-praise, lies and attacks on Labor who haven’t been in office for over 7 years. Funding for this and that, and more than half promised never sees light of day unless it is to fund his own party pocket and himself, big body corporates, mining and Trump’s USA.

You’ll hear no critique or analysis of Liberal policy and government from the ABC except the occasional satire, which I am expecting will be the next commentary suite of programs and comedy to disappear under the holy cow of appointed cronies and CEO on the ABC Board by the Liberals; and their spending cuts (an inverse oxymoron of their infamous Indue welfare scam, Great Barrier Reef, Sports fraud, electoral pork-barrelling, bushfire, Jobseeker, Jobkeeper, latest military spending and hedonistic carnival of other Liberal pleasures) sending us to Poseidon’s global den of iniquity.

We are on a road to Patriotic Pentecostal destruction as Morrison takes useless mindless pokes at the Dragon… agh! Anyone would think he was St George but the moron will be knocked off his horse long before he gets his pitiful lance up, and we will suffer for it – We already are. The kingdom of heaven is at hand! (Anyone remember his maiden speech? It wasn’t that long ago).

… and where is the ABC other than shitting themselves about their jobs, attacking Labor and progressive social policy – Enter compatriot bully Patricia Karvelas voila!

One thing’s for sure, the Trojan Horse, the Greeks are bringing down Troy and our ABC by turning everyone against it, for Achilles to drag the ‘devil’ Hector and much needed progressive social, human and environmental policy all around the walls of our Liberal infested fiefdom. You won’t find our ABC there but that is where they damn well should be – Calling this government to account, our number 1 media priority in the public interest and the interests of our country and our children.

Tomorrow is Eden-Monaro, another Trojan Horse now set up and loaded by Morrison and ‘his’ ABC to continue the curse. For God’s sake people don’t vote Liberal!

What the words

we poets sow

if a thousand lies undo

what’s dead rise again

  this long dark night subdue

Sweet as the desert

  sand on sea

no one lies

  no one dies tonight

you and I

  so what say we continue

  this rebellion?

(Soliloquy from Patriot Lies by Barddylbach, 24 June 2020).

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Birth of an International Tradition: The Post-Covid Commemoration Day

By Jennifer Michels  

Many agree that recognising the heroes who saved the lives and livelihoods of Australians during COVID-19 should be a very important aspect of Australian society moving forward. Scott Morrison suggests we essentially piggyback off Australia Day as a way of commemorating these individuals. Personally, I feel that is a little short sighted. COVID-19 is not an Australian problem, this is something that has impacted the entire world. Which leaves me asking about a day of commemorations dedicated to our heroes worldwide instead? How about a date to recognise the effort the COVID-19 heroes have made worldwide? Recognising the lives lost worldwide, the shutdown of economies worldwide and the sacrifices each and every member of society have made and continue to make, worldwide.

Quickly labeled as The Great Shutdown; a period in society that took us by utter surprise. Vast majorities came together in the beginning only to turn on each other, almost to the point of falling apart, before the pandemic had even finished the first sweep of the world. Fears were heard for a second spread and dare I say a third or fourth before the peak had been seen; a fear now sadly becoming a reality for many parts of the world, Australia included.

Moving forward this is a time in our life we could use to reflect upon in the future, a time used to bring us together and recognise how difficult our battle has been, and still is. Teaching our future children and grandchildren the important lessons this crushing blow has taught us. This is a time in our lives that has created unforeseen uncomfortably and unforgettable uncertainty worldwide!

The very people who worked night and day to save lives; who stepped up their rush of products for consumers; who spent hours longer cleaning the very places needed to provide essentials; who reinvented themselves to provide the absolute basic necessities! These are all heroes who need to be recorded upon the pages of history. Yes every worker is an essential worker during a crisis; but some are considered to have slightly more value, some deserve highlighting, some deserve more than we can ever give back! So why not honour them in the most significant manner society can and has ever provided?

Our leaders say let’s include a ceremony on a day our people cannot even agree about. I wonder how many feel the same as I do? I want to recognise the phenomenal impacts of this virus worldwide. Highlight the acts of kindness. Celebrate the lives saved while we also commemorate the lives lost. And I want this focus not just within Australia, but around the world. I want to see our countries come together after all the turmoil seen in recent times. This virus, international tensions, recessions, riots, the worldwide impacts of 2020 are going to be felt for generations. Why are our political leaders only looking to bring Australia together, not seeking the same with those we call our friends; our international neighbours. Extending the hand of healing towards our foreign relations on a never before seen worldwide scale.

Parts of the world come together for sporting events, education and for many other reasons. But have we ever had the need for such international recognition? Has anything impacted the planet with such drastic results? Lives have never before been lost on this scale, economies have never seen shifts of this magnitude. Even our impact on the environment has seen large scale change!

International partnerships have strained revealing many facets with rising complications. No single society can say they have avoided negative impacts in more than one area of their country’s ability to provide. Using these similarities can surely be a means of providing countries a deeper level of connection to each other, finding a wider understanding of each other, establishing a more open acceptance of each other. Coming together as a single people worldwide could surely go a long way to mending the cracks we are seeing in every society across this remarkable planet!

For nations who turned towards discussing commemorative events on an international scale; might aid in establishing new friendships that open up new avenues for trade between parties, while further establishing Australia’s positive relations on the world stage.

A comment I stumbled across on social media recently has stuck with me: we are humankind and should be both; human and kind. So, I for one say; “No, let’s not only celebrate on Australia Day. Let’s instead be the country that suggests generating worldwide communication, worldwide healing, and worldwide reconciliation for all of humanity in the aftermath of 2020.”

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Has COVID-19 put the AFL season in a dire state?

By William Olson  

Over the last few weeks, play in the AFL hasn’t been brilliant in all games. Generally speaking, skills have been quite average, games have been low-scoring, and tactics have been focused around boring, conservative play.

But at least AFL fans have had games to barrack around, debate about, and even talk trash to mates who support rival clubs.

Quite a relief for not having any footy for the previous few months due to precautions taken around the COVID-19 pandemic, and just being able to watch AFL games again has given fans a sense of normalcy – albeit for a few hours at a time here and there.

However, the way that the COVID-19 cases have had a recent spike in Victoria – where ten of the AFL’s 18 teams hail from – places that perceived return to normalcy through life’s escape of sport into great danger.

A general peek at the “Manhattans” of daily coronavirus cases on the ABC’s nightly 7pm Melbourne news bulletin shows the last several days of double-digit reported cases in the state of Victoria. Most of the time, those numbers have risen from one day to the next, and this is after weeks and months of single-digit cases occurring.

Victorians had been beating their collective chests to be the toast of the nation, if not the world, on how to deal with this global pandemic. Ever hear of premature celebrations? If there was ever a grand example of this, here we have it.

Evidence in this current climate, in the context of the AFL’s rebooted season, can lead to only one recommended conclusion: if its CEO, Gillon McLaughlin, had the courage to call the season off, very few would blame him for doing so, either out of circumstance or out of sheer frustration.

And evidence points to why he should. The way things are going in Victoria around COVID-19 cases and the pandemic in general, McLaughlin would have a lot of luck to ride to maintain a season which at the moment is quite viable.

Outside of the state’s borders, and AFL headquarters, it seems like a different level of emergency altogether.

On Tuesday, the Queensland government announced that it would shut down their borders to anyone who has visited the state of Victoria in the last 14 days, or else face a quarantine for the same interval of time. New South Wales and South Australia, as states neighbouring Victoria, haven’t followed suit yet.

However, a collective attitude towards the Victorian outbreak has perhaps been exacerbated by instructions from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for residents from her state to “stay out of Victoria.”

And as if Victorians haven’t been made to feel like pariahs enough, its own state government announced – after the announcement of 64 new cases in the previous 24 hours – that Stage 3 lockdown measures would be enacted, measures which also included putting 36 Melbourne suburbs, mainly in the city’s north and west, under specific lockdown procedures.

So what does this mean in the context of the current AFL season under jeopardy?

The Queensland government decision looms mightily in the way of possessing the potential for dire implications for the AFL. All eyes should be on the blockbuster in Geelong on Saturday afternoon – and not just for the sake of the surprising Suns being in second place taking on the Cats, currently sitting sixth on the ladder. The Suns and the Brisbane Lions have been fortunate to have played all their games so far at their home grounds since play has returned.

However, beyond whether or not the Suns can beat the Cats, the real victory would come under the guise of zero positive cases once they return to Queensland… not so much for the Suns, but moreover for the AFL.

Amid the societal and medical implications around sport in 2020, especially with the COVID-19 developments in Victoria, the AFL and McLaughlin cannot afford to have as little as one more thing go wrong that would compromise a balanced season which is already on a knife’s edge.

The league, spurred on by the Queensland government’s decision towards Victorians on Tuesday, has already rearranged some of its Round 5 fixtures for this weekend. McLaughlin can only do so much dancing around the fixture, because any further cancellations would render an unbalanced schedule where not all teams would even play each other once.

But would he have the courage – and the common sense – to call the season off. Granted that the AFL under McLaughlin’s leadership has its vested interests at heart, not the least of which come from the fans and the league’s commercial partners. It remains to be seen whether or not the season can be salvaged, in the best interests for all concerned, and especially for footy’s best interests, if the league incurs any more detrimental setbacks.

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Drinking water under threat from bushfire

Edith Cowan University Media Release

Rainfall after fire brings immediate relief but the environmental effects can sometimes be as significant as the fire itself.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) environmental experts Professor Pierre Horwitz and Dr Dave Blake are investigating the long-term impacts of water supply contamination after fire has swept through a region.

Over the next four years in collaboration with the Water Corporation, the ECU researchers will lead a comprehensive investigation of forested water catchments in the Perth Hills from Mundaring Weir to Collie.

Dr Blake said that water quality is not at the forefront of people’s minds during the management of a fire, but this could result in problems with community’s water supply for years.

“After vegetation cover is burned, and the soil is scorched, what’s left is the concentrated and chemically transformed ash, exposed and vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Heavy rainfall will wash this ash, topsoil and incompletely burned vegetation into streams and water reservoirs,” he said.

“All of this eroded matter is accompanied by dissolved organic compounds, carcinogens and heavy metals from the soil that are exposed and concentrated after a fire.

“Water treatment plants aren’t set up to deal with this sort of contamination and can suspend water supply if faced with this sort of contamination.”

Lessons from Yarloop

The ECU team completed an initial study in the Yarloop region in South West WA after the devastating bushfire destroyed more than 69,000 hectares of land in 2016.
Professor Horwitz said water was one of the big concerns of the Yarloop community after the megafire.

“After the danger had passed Yarloop residents were looking for immediate guidance on how to protect their water assets from the effects of the fire. So, having a better understanding of the long-term consequences for water would be a powerful tool to help to guide fire management protocol,” he said.

Investigations in Yarloop helped researchers map erosion hotspots and variable fire risk to determine potential contamination risks around water catchments.

“We found that in this region erosion was particularly harsh on steep terrain where the fire had been very severe,” Dr Blake said.

“Now we want to expand our work to a wider region, and consider land after fires of different burn intensities, like prescribed burns and wildfires, and wherever possible, collect pre-fire and fire history information as well.”

Professor Horwitz said the research would lead to tools for environmental managers to apply in their areas to prevent post-fire erosion and subsequent water contamination.

“By factoring in the land topography, fire severity and rain intensity we can identify how long it takes burnt material to make its way into reservoirs used for water supply, then perhaps we can prevent the contamination altogether,” he said.

“Understanding why some areas are particularly vulnerable will tell us where to go, and when and how, to stop particular sources of contamination from soil erosion after a fire.”

Assessment of post-wildfire erosion risk and effects on water quality in south-western Australia and can be read here in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.

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Morrison morphs into ‘Strict Father’ mode

By Ad astra  

Back in 2013, I wrote a piece with the curious title: The myth of political sameness. Its purpose was to debunk the commonly held view that ‘politicians are all the same’.

I drew on the comprehensive work of George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, best known for his thesis that the lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena. He explained his thesis in a Penguin book: The Political Mind.

The essence of his thesis rests on a central metaphor: ‘Nation as Family’. He elaborates on this as follows:

The Nation is a Family.
The Government is a Parent.
The Citizens are the Children.

Building on the ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. (Note that in our system of government, these terms apply to the Coalition and Labor respectively). When applied to the ‘Nation as Family’ metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:
The Strict Father model, and
The Nurturant Parent model.

The Strict Father model is at the centre of the conservative worldview. The progressive worldview centres on a very different ideal for family life, the Nurturant Parent model, which encompasses both parents.

Lakoff asserts that the Strict Father model is a metaphorical version of an economic idea. He explains:

It is based on a folk version of Adam Smith’s economics: If each person seeks to maximize his own wealth, then, by an invisible hand, the wealth of all will be maximized. Applying the common metaphor that ‘Well-Being Is Wealth’ to this folk version of free-market economics, we get: If each person tries to maximize his own well-being (or self-interest), the well-being of all will be maximized. Thus, seeking one’s own self-interest is actually a positive, moral act, one that contributes to the well-being of all.

Does that remind you of Scott Morrison’s interpretation of his Pentecostal beliefs, namely that wealth is good?

Lakoff goes on to cite some words and phrases used over and again in conservative discourse, words that reflect the Strict Father model:

Character, virtue, discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, backbone, standards, authority, heritage, competition, earn, hard work, enterprise, property rights, reward, freedom, intrusion, interference, meddling, punishment, human nature, traditional, common sense, dependency, self-indulgent, elite, quotas, breakdown, corrupt, decay, rot, degenerate, deviant, lifestyle.

How many times have you heard Morrison and other Coalition members use words such as these?

If in your mind you’re questioning the proposition that Morrison is now behaving as the ‘Strict Father’, reflect on some of his utterances over recent times: ‘Just do it’, or ‘Don’t do it – is that plain enough?’ Or simply ‘Stop it’ – it’s ridiculous!’ Recall how many times he has lectured the electorate on what he regards as acceptable, and what is not. I’m sure you will have no difficulty bringing such instances to mind; the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many. Nor will you forget his dictatorial attitude in giving us such directives. Even media commentators are now characterising Morrison as ‘an angry father.’

Some of you will accept this behaviour as reasonable and appropriate. That’s fine, so long as you realize what sort of national leader we have. While this behaviour might be acceptable to some, I suspect even they would have a caveat: so long as he’s right!

In accepting Morrison’s ‘Strict Father’ behaviour, we are also accepting his judgement, which in turn is predicated on his political ideologies and his belief system. To expect the electorate to accept unthinkingly his decisions on this basis is a big call.

What are you prepared to accept from our national leader?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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The inhumanity around gig economy jobs

By William Olson  

The ever-increasing practices of home delivery of Chinese food, “Taco Tuesday” tacos, burgers, pizza, and other lunch or dinner items agreed upon as being quite delectable to one’s palate may be quite convenient in the realm of our fast-paced society.

However, do spare a kind thought or two for the good men and women who deliver your food on behalf of delivery services such as UberEats, Deliveroo, MenuLog, or DoorDash, and so on.

As well as those who drive for ride-sharing services such as Uber, Didi, or Ola, to name a few of those.

In a multi-university survey commissioned by the Victorian state government, workers in the gig economy – to the surprise of no one, really – are worse off in their compensation than regular casual workers are, and certainly versus those in secure employment.

The Victorian government’s report, from a survey done under the auspices of treasurer and industrial relations minister Tim Pallas, involved the legwork research performed by Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and University of Technology Sydney, with the intent of uncovering justifications about community concerns over wages and conditions in the gig economy.

Furthermore, the survey revealed unknown information about the nature and inner workings of the gig economy and its workforce – and perhaps some statistics that would shock the public.

While the report revealed that while nearly two-thirds of all Australians use gig economy delivery services, its workers are exploited in a manner even more shocking than originally assumed.

Some of the statistics, among roughly 14,000 respondents:

  • Among more than 100 different companies in the gig economy, a ratio greater than one in three of its workers are employed by more than one platform, often via a variety of platform apps.
  • The demographics tend towards younger people, and males.
  • Those who speak English as their second language are 1.5 times more likely to engage as platform workers.

And then it gets more shocking – and, arguably, more inhumane and exploitative:

  • More than 30 percent of respondents did not know whether their platform has a dispute resolution process.
  • Nearly half report that their platform does not provide them with work-related insurance.
  • Two out of every five respondents, when asked about the details of their remuneration, did not know any of those details. (Here’s a hint: as for salary alone, it’s less than the legal minimum wage outlined by the Fair Work Commission.)
  • Gig economy workers are spending upwards of five hours per week on unpaid platform activities, ranging from seeking work, updating profiles, and ultimately quoting and searching and bidding for work.

Is the ignorance in a state of bliss here? Truly a case of not knowing terms, conditions, or even their own rights. Or even if they have any. Truth is, their rights are less than those of the typical worker – even those on casual status.

For gig economy workers, these are basically sweatshop conditions – if the ultra-modern sweatshop is comprised of any of a multitude of restaurants and anything between two and four wheels. And in many cases, pedal power.

Makes one ponder what recourse workers in the gig economy even have.

How can they right the wrongs thrust upon them? Can they unionise, even in a means of banding together? Can they collectively bargain? Or do can they even gain the rights to take any action whatsoever?

One would presume that as long as the perception exists that one not being an employee but rather that of a freelancer or independent contractor, for one company or several, those rights would be hard to come by. A ruling from one Canadian tribunal over the ability for gig economy workers to unionise earlier this year does give their Australian comrades a glimmer of hope. But how likely is that precedent to repeat itself in Australia?

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), at the height of its “Change The Rules” campaign two years ago, called for gig economy workers to be put on an equal footing as those with secure employment.

“Everyone deserves these rights. We need to change the rules so everyone has basic rights, including the right to collectively bargain,” said ACTU national secretary Sally McManus at the time.

It is a slow and arduous process to make those changes happen, but at least McManus and the ACTU have let the growing sector of the gig economy know that the union movement is on their side.

In any event, reform is needed to bring gig economy workers in line with the minimum national employment standards. Whether that happens in tribunals or the courts, or via collective bargaining, remains to be seen.

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Solar farm powering Newcastle operations and revenue

City of Newcastle Media Release

A solar farm built by the City of Newcastle on a rehabilitated landfill site has exceeded expectations in its first six months of operation, generating almost twice the revenue it was expected to make annually.

The five-megawatt facility, which spans an area equal to five football fields at the City’s waste management centre, generated more than $420,000 in revenue between mid-November and the end of April, well above original forecasts used in the business case of $250,000 a year.

Selling energy back into the electricity market, the 14,500 photovoltaic-cell facility saw the Council become a net exporter of electricity when the January bush fires damaged the state’s energy grid.

A renewable power purchase agreement with a wind farm that came into effect on 1 January, making Newcastle the first NSW Council to be powered 100 per cent by renewables, saved the City a further $30,000.

“The business case showed the solar farm would save rate payers around $9 million, after costs, over its 25-year lifespan – and so far, it’s on track to do even better,” Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“The solar farm at our Summerhill Waste Management Centre has helped us exceed our renewable energy goals under the Newcastle 2020 Carbon and Water Management Action Plan, which targeted 30 per cent of our electricity needs from low-carbon sources.

“By combining solar installations, battery storage and the purchase agreement to power all our operations, the City has created a resilient energy strategy that will protect us from future electricity price spikes.

“Working in concert with the power purchase agreement, these investments give us price stability, create financial savings for rate payers and have already enabled us to reduce our operational carbon emissions by 77 per cent, compared to the 2008 baseline.”

Partly funded with a $6.5 million loan from Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the solar farm is a “fantastic accomplishment” by a local government, says Climate Council of Australia’s Cities Power Partnership Director David Craven.

“City of Newcastle has again stepped up as leader in renewables and as a leader amongst local governments taking significant action on climate,” Mr Craven said.

“Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new energy generation and is proving to save Novocastrians millions, while creating a healthy future for this community.”

The City is also paving the way for electric transport by converting its fleet to electric vehicles and installing a charging network powered by solar panels and battery storage.

Meanwhile, the City is increasing solar-energy generation on its buildings.

“We recently added an additional 100-kilowatt roof top photovoltaic system to our Waratah Works Depot, doubling the capacity of the system installed onsite in 2013 and taking total generation of our 12 solar systems to almost 9 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy each year,” Councillor Nelmes added.

“Our five-megawatt solar farm and over 660 kilowatts of rooftop solar provide the equivalent energy needs of more than 1,770 Newcastle households a year with clean, renewable energy.”

For its commitment to renewables and reducing carbon emissions, the City won the prestigious Local Government Sustainability Award in 2019 and is currently a finalist for Environmental Leadership and Sustainability in the 2020 NSW Local Government Excellence Awards.

Aerial footage of the $8 million solar farm at the Summerhill Waste Management Centre west of Newcastle is available here.

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In defence of an arts and humanities education – and critical thinking

By William Olson  

Recently an old friend of mine from California sent me a nice little relic that took me down memory lane: a copy of the old student newspaper from my university days that contained my first real byline, and thereby my initial entry into journalism.

That newspaper, a weekly summer edition of the Cal State Pioneer based at the California State University at Hayward (now the CSU of the East Bay), has survived very well, for a 30-year-old piece of eight-page newsprint. The aging of time has turned the newsprint’s parchment into an orange-to-brown hue, but the memories inside are still quite sharp. I served as a community sport reporter for the paper – quite challenging in the university community during the summer months – in addition to being the lead copy editor in the run-up to publication on Wednesday nights ahead of a Thursday lunchtime release on campus.

Mind you, these were the days before the world wide web, and long before any viral activity on social media. We even did layout by hand, with the aid of an archaic version of PageMaker, and sticky tape. But those of us who worked on that newspaper, we thought we had hit the big time. Since I received this lovely relic, I’m wondering if any of those who I worked with on that project in that summer are still around the traps in the journalism profession. Such was our tight-knit group, amid pizza runs to get us through each publication night – and a final weekly 1:30am beer run to celebrate, once the paper was “put to bed”.

The Cal State Pioneer represented a quality staple of not just on-campus life in the summer of 1990, but it was a cornerstone of the mass communication department at CSUH. And as such, that which constituted a highly enriching liberal arts and humanities-based education in the CSU system at that time.

Fast-forward 30 years, and such a broad-based education path has come under attack in Australia, by the federal government, and specifically Dan Tehan, the Minister for Education.

Last week, Tehan proposed, in an effort to stimulate the “jobs and growth” agenda by the federal government, a blueprint reform of the tertiary education system – to basically halve the course fees for degree programs leading to vocational jobs in areas such as nursing, teaching, agriculture, information technology, and other sectors anticipating high employment growth, while virtually doubling fees for any study pathways relating to the arts and humanities.

A shocking development, considering it was the LNP which significantly slashed funding to TAFE schools and the VET sector since 2013 to the point where their budgets are now severely compromised. It would figure that if the Morrison government wants to inspire the economy through that “jobs and growth” agenda, why not simply re-invest in the TAFEs and the VETs?

Moreover, this revelation by the federal government in tertiary education fees policy, intended to drive young people of university age towards vocational-based degrees, is also seen as an attack not just on the arts and humanities, but also on critical thinking. And the lively university experience of a well-rounded education as well.

Especially without a Bill of Rights in Australia which would broadly define what residents’ rights and liberties are, a gradual attack by the LNP governments over the years upon those who oppose its policies and attacking the right to protest and dissent has been underway for quite some time – and the abilities around intellectualism and critical thinking are deemed essential to defend these actions.

Hypocrisy abounds in the halls of the federal parliament in this proposed policy, given the number of LNP ministers and senators who are in possession of Bachelor of Arts degrees from their university days. Not only does Tehan hold one, but so do 12 others in the LNP alone, with a majority of all MPs from all parties holding a double degree in law and some form of the arts.

The reason why arts degrees among our movers and shakers in Canberra exist is quite simple: a liberal arts education with a grounding in critical thinking skills better prepares one for the real world and how it operates, than that of a vocational background alone does. While work and employment can define who a person is, one’s experiences should be greater.

It’s done me no harm over the last 30 years living in two countries, and the same goes for countless hordes of others like myself globally since then. An education in critical thinking, the arts and humanities, it has been said, may not prepare one for a career, but can prepare one for several of them. And for the diversity of life itself.

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Change the Meaning not the Date: Australia Day, Meet ANZAC Reverence

By Jennifer Michels  

Australia’s special day of celebration; 26th January, the date Aussies have branded Australia Day. For others, a date for mourning. The Aboriginal people have heavily objected to Australian Day since its introduction. For those who do not understand why; 26th January 1788 is the date Captain Arthur Philip raised the Union Jack (the flag of Great Britain) and Australian soil was proclaimed British Territory. For the Aboriginal people, this date signifies the beginning of 200+ years of war, loss and hardships that can only be described as slavery by many who are still alive today.

With all the discussions regarding racial discrimination lately, I have taken time to contemplate both sides of the story as they apply to me personally. Considering I am a descendant of Aboriginal background, and as much as I may wish to just close my heart to what for years my own prejudice called “that other side” of my ancestry; I should not! My hands were not responsible for what we now know are “atrocities.” And although I grew up with family members who experienced some of these “atrocities,” my hands did not personally experience these either. Therefore, I should not feel the guilt as I believe a child does not shoulder the errors of their forefathers. Yet I cannot escape the guilt or the other emotions that travel hand in hand with both sides of the Australian story.

My eyes cannot close to these injustices as the effects are still relevant in our society today. This means my feelings are amplified in January. Amplified because it seems my fellow citizens show a lack of empathy towards the pain celebrating and discussing Australia Day creates. Because we chose this date to celebrate a special patriotic connection to each other. While simultaneously failing each other in recognition of the sacrifices and benefits, both parties have and still do bring to the table.

Drawing my own conclusions from discussions flying around social media I will admit some of my opinions have changed forever, but not in the way I would have imagined! If someone asked me last month what I thought about changing the date, I would have instantly replied with a blunt explanation backing the call. Yet I have been forced to admit the prejudices and ignorances within my views; after the frenzied replies to online comments challenging my opinions regarding Australia Day and the call to change the date. I was forced to admit I feel the same way about other dates of mourning within Australian history and culture, namely Remembrance Day, ANZAC Day, and the bombing of Darwin.

After contemplating these challenges of my opinions, it is hard not to draw parallels between ANZAC Day and Australia Day. Especially as it seems to be a popular reason to undermine the call for changing the date.

I am by no means trying to say these days should not be celebrated. They are extremely important dates for me, as they rightfully are for many Australian and New Zealanders in the case of ANZAC Day. Without these heroes in our history, I might not be here or have the freedom today to even write this. Especially when one considers the fact my great grandmother was evacuated from Groote Eylandt during the bombing of Darwin.

However, the biggest difference I personally draw from these days is the reverence applied to our days of mourning such as ANZAC Day. Reverence that brings us together.

Australians memorialise the sorrow and celebrate the freedoms saved by some aspects of our history. Each year speeches are heard around the world recognising not only the support, but also the losses of our fellow ANZAC heroes. Including acknowledgements of these same impacts on those who were on the opposite side of our lines. Ceremonies are conducted to commemorate the Australians who fought to protect Darwin when it was bombed in 1942 by Japan. Commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice saving a country they never saw again.

Those same principles of reverence have not been applied to a date that left a deep scar in our history books, a date that is of similar significance to many Australians. The date that changed everything for both sides. The date that signifies the conception of the Australian society as we know it today. The same society the ANZACs and our other heroes in history fought so hard to protect.

This deep scar that has been talked and argued about for decades, without successful resolutions agreed upon. Remove either party’s involvement in the Australian story and our country would not be the multi-cultural community it is today. Nor would our fellow citizens know and understand the sacrifices nor the benefits both our ancestors have contributed to this beautiful land.

Now I ask, if our ANZAC heroes are so highly regarded; if the Bombing of Darwin and Remembrance Day have ceremonies still held in their honour; why are similar ceremonies not practiced around Australia to commemorate the founding of the country we all love today?

Recognising the fallen Aboriginal ancestors? Commemorating the fallen British Settlers, Convicts and Soldiers? Bringing an aspect of recognition? Clearing the misunderstandings? Resolving at least some of the feelings of both sides to our historical story?

Ceremonies from both sides of our proud cultures provide platforms for all Australian voices to be heard equally. Finally achieving political correctness, with what should be one of the most highly regarded and celebrated days in Australian culture.

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