Thursday, 31 December 2015

Union Royal Commission 'A political stunt'

Extract from ABC News

Opposition labels report 'political stunt'

The Federal Opposition previously released an alternative proposal for union reform, in anticipation of the final report by the royal commission.
Mr Shorten has proposed tougher penalties for wrongdoing, as well as additional powers for ASIC.
The changes would also include lowering the disclosure threshold for political donations to $1,000.
Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor, who called on the Government to discuss the Opposition's plan, said the Coalition would ultimately use the report to attack wages and conditions.
"That's not to say we're not concerned about these matters," Mr O'Connor said. "We are concerned.
"But let's not be fooled here: this is a political stunt, a political exercise, and and it's one that needs to be called for what it is and at the same time we can deal with these serious allegations."
CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan agreed, saying the report had a predetermined outcome.
"Blind Freddie knows this royal commission was set up to smear Julia Gillard, to smear Bill Shorten and to smear the trade union movement," Mr Noonan said.
"That's all it does. It's not about improving workers' rights."
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said the royal commission was "about prosecuting an ideological partisan agenda".
"We have also noted that we believe $80 million was spent on this royal commission at a time when the cost of living is hurting taxpayers, and that money could have been well spent anywhere else," Mr Oliver said. "We have always said that if there have been any serious allegations of wrongdoing, it should be referred to the appropriate authorities for further investigation."

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

It's a no-brainer – if you want school funding to be needs-based, fund Gonski

Extract from The Guardian

Reports that Gonski was dead might have been premature, but he doesn’t look well. On Tuesday, Fairfax published an interview with education minister Simon Birmingham in which he said that the government would not be funding the crucial final two years of the six-year Gonski program – the two years that would see the full benefit of funding delivered where it was needed most.
Later in the day, Malcolm Turnbull backed away from the story, saying “this is not a time for a political stoush about this” and that his government was “absolutely committed to ensuring that all Australian kids get a great education, whatever school they go to”.

Turnbull notably did not use the name of his old friend David Gonski, architect of the widely applauded review into education funding that in December 2011 recommended a six-year funding template that would see resources flow to children most in need. Needs-based, sector-blind funding that would ensure that all Australian kids would indeed get a great education, whatever school they go to.
Birmingham, too, later seemed to back off from his own interview. In a statement, he said “nothing has changed in relation to the Turnbull government’s policy on schools funding”.
Earlier, in the interview in which he categorically said the final two years of funding would not happen, he also said: “I want a school funding system that is genuinely needs-based and is targeting the money where it’s most required.”
Well, yes. This was the prime recommendation of the Gonski review in the first place, to direct money to those children who need it most: children from low socio-economic backgrounds, children with disabilities, Indigenous children, children in poor rural areas. The more layers of disadvantage, the more funding to be received.
As Gonski wrote in the report in December 2011, the proposed funding arrangements of the review – the full six years – would be “required to drive improved outcomes for all Australian students, and to ensure that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions”.
Everyone is singing from the same song sheet, but nobody can agree on the key.
Labor has not committed to the final two years of Gonski funding either, and the four states and one territory that signed up for it – New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, and ACT – are left hanging about funding post-2017. They deserve to know where, exactly, the Turnbull government stands on the signed deals, but the obfuscation continues.

The recommendations of the Gonski review have been the best chance for needs-based funding this country has seen. The name Gonski – now elevated to the lexicon as a noun – has become synonymous with equity in education.
And equity in Australian education is an issue. Much is made of Australia’s standings in the OECD’s program for international student assessment (Pisa) results, the triennial rankings that tests 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading, and how, by that measure, our educational standards have been dropping over the past 15 years.
Although there is much controversy about whether we should even pay attention to comparing countries by measuring 15-year-olds in vastly different systems, there is another OECD measure that should be more concerning for the government than whether students in Shanghai are better at maths than students in Sydney.
That is the data that shows Australia is one of the below average performers for having a widening gap between the highest performing students and the lowest performing students in relation to socio-economic background. Despite claims made by successive education ministers that Australia has a “high quality, high equity” system, the truth is that the absolute measures of those doing well, and those who aren’t, are dictated by their background.

Simon Birmingham, one of the few LNP cabinet members who is a product of the public school system, says he supports parental choice, but what real choice is there if your local public school is so under-resourced and troubled that you would consider converting to Catholicism, as some parents do, or signing up for six or more years of financial stress to exercise that choice?
Real choice would mean that all Australians feel secure in the knowledge that all public schools are funded to a level that means their children will not be disadvantaged in any way by going to the local high school. That children with learning or physical disabilities will be supported, that those who are lagging would be brought up to speed, that the gaps would be closed.
If we can do this in our education system, we have a better chance to do this in society. Because all the fine talk of being an innovation nation profiting from a glorious ideas boom will come to naught if we can’t get the basics right – all children, regardless of postcode, having access to an excellent education.

Timing of Turnbull ministers' departure 'shocking cynicism', says Labor

Extract from The Guardian

Acting opposition leader Tanya Plibersek says prime minister was ‘taking out the trash’ during a quiet holiday time when voters were not focused on politics

The deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, says the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, waited until the quiet time between Christmas and new year to announce the loss of two ministers so voters would not be focused on politics. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tuesday 29 December 2015 18.46 AEDT

Waiting until the quiet period between Christmas and new year to announce the loss of two ministers shows a “shocking” level of cynicism within government ranks, Labor says.
On Tuesday, Jamie Briggs announced his resignation as cities ministers after a complaint made by a female public servant of inappropriate behaviour during an official trip to Hong Kong in November.
Shortly after the announcement Malcolm Turnbull revealed that the embattled special minister of state, Mal Brough, would stand aside pending a police investigation into his role in the downfall of the former Speaker Peter Slipper.
The acting opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, said the prime minister was “taking out the trash” during a time when most voters are not focused on politics.

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“He saved up all the bad news for a day between Christmas and new year when he hopes no one was listening,” Plibersek said on Tuesday. “They’ve waited until they think people have got their feet up on the banana lounge having a nice beer in the shade.
“[The timing of the announcement] shows a degree of cynicism that is quite shocking.”
Brough has been under intense political pressure over allegations he urged former staffer James Ashby to release extracts of Slipper’s diary.
Unauthorised access to restricted data is a crime that carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.
In a statement to Guardian Australia, a spokeswoman for the Australian federal police confirmed that the investigation into Brough was active, but did not provide more details.
“As this investigation remains ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment further,” she said.
In a letter to Turnbull dated on Tuesday, Brough said he decided to stand aside as he could foresee no immediate resolution to the investigation.
“I have taken this decision at this time as I have not received any indication of when the investigation will be concluded,” he wrote. “In mid-December my lawyer again contacted the AFP informing them of my willingness to be interviewed at the earliest opportunity. The AFP subsequently indicated the earliest they could arrange an interview was after 5 Jan 2016.
“It disappoints me that this matter hasn’t been resolved by this time as all the facts have been in the public domain for years and the public statements of Mr Ashby confirm my position that at no time did I counsel or procure him for any improper purpose.”
Plibersek questioned the timing of the announcement.
“There were red lights flashing around this guy when Malcolm Turnbull appointed him to become a minister,” she said.
Brough is a strong Turnbull backer who won Slipper’s Queensland seat of Fisher in the 2013 federal election.
Turnbull backed Brough as recently as last month when the AFP searched his Sunshine Coast home in relation to the investigation.
“The answer is yes, I do have confidence in Mr Brough,” the prime minister said in November. “There are rules relating to ministers and cabinet ministers, but at this stage there’s nothing to suggest that Mr Brough should stand aside or do anything of that kind.”
The incident that sparked Briggs’s resignation happened in late November, meaning that the government has known about it for weeks, Plibersek said.
“This really beggars belief, doesn’t it? That Jamie Briggs resigns today because he says his behaviour wasn’t up to Malcolm Turnbull’s very high standards, and yet, just weeks ago, Mr Turnbull is out there defending Mal Brough.”
She said the idea that the incident was brought to the prime minister’s attention for the first time on Tuesday was a “laughable proposition”.
It is understood that the government was made aware of the allegations against Briggs several weeks ago, but that it had to go through the prescribed workplace complaint process before responding.
“After being invited to reflect on his position, he offered his resignation which I have accepted,” Turnbull said in a statement. “While disappointed by the conduct that led to his resignation, I thank Mr Briggs for his capable service as a minister.”
There was warmer sentiment from some of Briggs’s colleagues, who took to the social media site Twitter to farewell the South Australian MP.
The finance minister, Mathias Cormann, described Briggs as a “decent, hardworking and capable contributor to our cause”.
But other Coalition colleagues were scathing of Briggs’s contribution. Nationals senator John Williams told Fairfax media that the ministry was better off without the South Australian MP’s contribution.
“With Briggs leaving it means there will be no deterioration in the overall quality of the ministry, in fact it should improve,” he said.
A wholesale ministerial reshuffle is unlikely to occur in the immediate future, as the government awaits confirmation that the deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, is retiring. Speculation has been swirling for months that Truss would leave politics before the next election, paving the way for a succession challenge.
In the meantime the environment minister, Greg Hunt, will take on the cities and built environment portfolio vacated by Briggs, and Cormann will add special minister of state to his finance portfolio. The defence minister, Marise Payne, will add Brough’s defence materiel and science responsibilities to her portfolio.

Hopes dashed by Coalition decision to dump Gonski school funding model

Extract from The Guardian

State governments and the education union say they are disappointed after being encouraged by Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘positive comments’

The education minister, Simon Birmingham, confirmed on Tuesday that the Gonski funding model is no longer on the table. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

Tuesday 29 December 2015 19.34 AEDT

The federal government has dashed hopes that Malcolm Turnbull would reverse the objections of his predecessor, Tony Abbott, to the Gonski school funding model, confirming that funding for the program is not guaranteed beyond 2017.
State governments and the education union had been buoyed by comments Turnbull made shortly after taking over from Abbott that indicated that Gonski may be given a lifeline.
The sharp funding increases slated for the last two years of the reforms – 2017 and 2018 – were scrapped in the 2014 budget, and not reinstated in the most recent budget update.
The federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, confirmed on Tuesday that the Gonski funding model was no longer on the table.
“Nothing has changed in relation to the Turnbull government’s policy on schools funding,” he said in a statement.
The teacher’s union was disappointed that Gonski was no longer an option, saying that Turnbull’s “positive comments” on the program had caused many in the sector to be optimistic.
“I think it would be a shock to anyone waking up this morning,” the federal president of the Australian Education Union, Correna Haythorpe, told Guardian Australia. “People were very hopeful that the last two years would be funded.”
Shortly after becoming prime minister, Turnbull was asked if he would reconsider funding the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski funding.
“This is all being considered by the government in the context of a very tight budget,” he told the ABC in late October.
On Tuesday he said the Coalition’s education policy was up for review.
“The bottom line is that the funding after 2018 is still a matter for discussion between the federal government and the states,” he said in Victoria. “Funding is important, but there is a lot more to it, I think as we all know. The key element is teacher quality and we are very focused on that.
“Simon Birmingham, the education minister, is in discussion with his colleagues and the states, and we are certainly committed to ensuring that working together with the states, our common challenge has the outcome that all Australian kids get access to a high quality education.”
States have expressed their disappointment.
“I understand the budget pressures they are under but I strongly believe it is too early to make a decision in relation to that funding,” the New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, said.
“Yes, the funds might have to be found, but if we prove over the next two or three years that those funds are delivering better educational outcomes for our kids, particularly some of our most disadvantaged kids, what sort of government would not want to participate in that?”
Baird said NSW was committed to funding the full term of the policy and wanted the federal government to consider doing the same.
The acting Australian Capital Territory education minister, Mick Gentleman, said the government must be clear on how it was going to fund schools if it ditched the Gonski model, which allocates money to schools based on the individual needs of students.“They have to move quickly to end the current uncertainty and begin negotiations with the states and territories and non-government sectors,” he said.
Education policy will shape up to be a “key election issue” in 2016, Haythorpe predicted.
Polling of just under 700 voters in Turnbull’s eastern Sydney electorate of Wentworth found that eight out of 10 voters supported increased funding for public schools in line with Gonski recommendations.
The ReachTel poll, conducted in October, found that 73% of Liberal voters supported the proposition.
Birmingham insisted that the federal government would stick with the needs-based policy championed in the Gonski reforms.
“The Turnbull government remains committed to engaging prior to 2018 in discussions with the states, territories and non-government sector about post-2017 funding that is fair, transparent, needs-based, affordable and looks beyond just a two year horizon,” he said.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Jamie Briggs quits over late-night bar scandal in Hong Kong, Mal Brough stands aside over Slipper affair

Extract from ABC News

Updated 4 minutes ago

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Government has been rocked after two scandal-hit MPs stood down from their frontbench portfolios today.
Liberal MP Mal Brough will stand aside, pending a police investigation, while Jamie Briggs has tendered his resignation.
Mr Briggs has resigned as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment following a late-night incident involving a female public servant in a Hong Kong bar during an official overseas visit.
The South Australian MP called a press conference to say the public servant took offence at his actions in the bar.
"At no point was it my intention to act inappropriately and I'm obliged to note for the record that nothing illegal has been alleged or in fact did occur," he told a press conference.
"However, in the days following the evening, the public servant ... raised concerns about the appropriateness of my behaviour towards her at the venue.
"I've apologised directly to her but after careful reflection about the concerns she raised and the fact that I was at a bar late at night while on an overseas visit I have concluded this behaviour has not met the particularly high standards for ministers."
Minutes after Mr Briggs's press conference, it was announced Mr Brough would stand aside.
The Special Minister of State and Minister for Defence Materiel and Science has been under investigation by the Australian Federal Police over the alleged copying of the diary of former speaker Peter Slipper.
In a statement, Mr Turnbull said Mr Brough would step down from his ministerial role pending the completion of inquiries by police.
"In offering to stand aside Mr Brough has done the right thing, recognising the importance of the Government maintaining an unwavering focus on jobs, economic growth and national security," Mr Turnbull said.
The Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann will act as the Special Minister of State, and the Minister for Defence, while Defence Minister Marise Payne will also act as Minister Defence Materiel and Science.
The Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt will replace Mr Briggs as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment.
Mr Briggs, the Liberal Member for Mayo, is expected to remain in Federal Parliament as a backbencher.
"While disappointed by the conduct that led to his resignation, I thank Mr Briggs for his capable service as a Minister," Mr Turnbull said.
"I look forward to Mr Briggs continuing to make a valuable contribution to the work of the Government in the future."
Mr Briggs won a by-election for the South Australian seat of Mayo in 2008 and was the assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development until September.
Mr Briggs recently made headlines for hurting his leg during a party hosted by the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following the Liberal party leadership spill.
He first claimed the injury was sustained while running, but later admitted he had attempted to crash-tackle Mr Abbott.
The ABC understands there will be no formal reshuffle until the Deputy Prime Minister, Nationals Leader Warren Truss, makes his intentions clear.

There has been speculation Mr Truss will retire at or before the next Federal election.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Malcolm Turnbull out of touch on Sunday penalty rates, says Labor

 Extract from The Guardian

Tanya Plibersek points to new poll showing voters in key Coalition electorates want rates kept the same or increased in the retail industry

Tanya Plibersek
Tanya Plibersek: ‘Australians value their weekends and they understand that when people are working on a Sunday they should be properly compensated for that.’ Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP
The Turnbull government is out of touch with its own voters who have expressed opposition to a cut in Sunday penalty rates, says the acting Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek.
Any moves to cut Sunday penalty rates would be opposed by Coalition voters, according to ReachTEL polling in key Liberal and National seats.
The poll, commissioned by the left-leaning Australia Institute, shows between 65% and 79% of people in the Page, New England, Warringah and Dickson electorates want rates kept the same or increased in the retail industry.
Plibersek says the Sunday pay rates are about fairness as Australians still value their weekends with family and friends.
“Australians value their weekends and they understand that when people are working on a Sunday they should be properly compensated for that,” she told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
“We expect the people who are looking after us [on weekends] to be paid decently when they are giving up time with their family and friends.”
Penalty rates were also important for workers in hospitals and emergency services, who had to keep going throughout the weekend, she said.

UK floods and extreme global weather linked to El Niño and climate change

Extract from The Guardian

Scientists say flooding in Britain, record US temperatures and Australian wildfires linked to El Niño making effects of man-made climate change worse

Fire and rescue services evacuate a woman from her flooded home in Littleborough, Greater Manchester
Fire and rescue services evacuate a woman from her flooded home in Littleborough, Greater Manchester. Photograph: Demotix/Corbis

El Niño occurs every seven to eight years and is caused by unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. This year’s event is now peaking and is one of the strongest on record, leading to record temperatures, rainfall and weather extremes.
“What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Adam Scaife, the head of Met Office long-range forecasting.
“We expect 2016 to be the warmest year ever, primarily because of climate change but around 25% because of El Niño,” said Scaife, who added that the phenomenon was not linked directly to climate change but made its effects worse.
Scientists have warned for years that extreme weather would become more common as a result of climate change, but have until recently fought shy of attributing single events to global warming.
But researchers at Oxford University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) calculated earlier this month that man-made climate change was partly responsible for Storm Desmond’s torrential rain, which devastated parts of Scotland, the Lake District and Northern Ireland. The scientists ran tens of thousands of simulations of the flooding event and found it 40% more likely with climate change.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) also expects 2015 to be the hottest year on record worldwide, with Europe experiencing its second hottest year. It was marked by heatwaves in India, Pakistan and elsewhere.
The latest floods, droughts and extreme weather are what might be expected of a strong El Niño, according to the WMO. “Severe droughts and devastating flooding are being experienced throughout the tropics, and subtropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño,” said the organisation’s chief, Michel Jarraud.
“Much of eastern Europe has been exceptionally warm, with temperatures higher than in 2014. Only in parts of Ireland were temperatures lower than the 1981 to 2010 long-term average, according to the climate indicator bulletin from WMO’s European regional climate centre.
The widespread El Niño effects are are now being felt in Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the WMO said.
In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has left 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in need of food aid. The UN says that more than 2 million people have been affected in Peru and Ecuador.
In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 10.2 million people will need help in 2016 at a cost of $1.4bn (£944m). Elsewhere in Africa, staple crops have been devastated in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. Food shortages are expected to peak in southern Africa in February.
“Over 39 million people in Africa are expected to face food insecurity by January 2016, an increase of more than 70% on January 2015”, said a spokeswoman at the Department for International Development.
The warm Pacific temperatures have also led to a record number of hurricanes and cyclones. According to the US government’s national oceanic and atmospheric administration, there were 18 named storms in 2015, including 13 hurricanes, nine of which were category three or higher. This is the highest number recorded since reliable measurements started in 1971.
In the US, many states experienced record high December temperatures. The mercury reached 30C (86F) in Tampa, Florida; 28.3C in Houston, Texas, and 18.8C in New York.
“Extreme weather will increase with global warming and thus climate adaptation measures, like flood defences, need to constantly be updated. What may appear to be sufficient to withstand a 1 in 100-year event can become quickly out of date as the incidence of extreme weather ramps up and becomes more unpredictable,” said Gail Whiteman, the chair of the Pentland centre for sustainability at Lancaster University.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Crystal Lee Sutton

Extract from The Crystal Sutton Collection

Crystal Lee Sutton is the woman on whom the Oscar®-winning movie Norma Rae was based.
Sutton’s role in the history of labor is assured. In the early 1970s, Crystal Lee was 33 and working at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., where she was making $2.65 an hour folding towels. The poor working conditions she and her fellow employees suffered compelled her to join forces with Eli Zivkovich, a union organizer, and attempt to unionize the J.P. Stevens employees.
“Management and others treated me as if I had leprosy,” said Crystal. She received threats and was finally fired from her job. But before she left, she took one final stand, filmed verbatim in the 1979 film Norma Rae. “I took a piece of cardboard and wrote the word UNION on it in big letters, got up on my work table, and slowly turned it around. The workers started cutting their machines off and giving me the victory sign. All of a sudden the plant was very quiet…”
Sutton was physically removed from the plant by police, but the result of her actions was staggering. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) won the right to represent the workers at the plant and Sutton became an organizer for the union. In 1977, Sutton was awarded back wages and her job was reinstated by court order, although she chose to return to work for just two days. She subsequently became a speaker on behalf of the ACTWU and was profiled in interviews on Good Morning America, in The New York Times Magazine, and countless other national and international publications during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“Sally Field did one heck of a job,” said Sutton about the 1979 film Norma Rae, based on her story. Although her name, as well as others, was changed due to legal reasons, she said most of what is portrayed is accurate. It won Sally Field an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Crystal Lee Sutton Awards, established in her name a few years ago, recognize individuals and organizations whose efforts have contributed to presenting positive images of working people to the American public.
Sutton, who matriculated through Alamance Community College’s Nursing Assistant program in 1988, said she chose the College as the repository of her papers because of its record in providing education for all people. She says she has been collecting material since she began her crusade for unionization in 1973 and wanted to ensure it was preserved for future historians and students.
“Thank God for ACC,” she says, “where even the working poor can come, get financial assistance, and get a new start in life.”

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Parkes radio telescope man on the moon July 20, 1969

The lost hi-resolution Apollo 11 video July 20 1969 moon landing eva

Smoko-Ho June 15, 1895.



THE executive appointed by the Michael Davitt Reception Committee in Brisbane, in compliance with the wishes of Mr. Davitt, have written to various centres in Queensland with a view of making his lecturing tour as successful as possible.

Tom Houghton is one of the secretaries to the Michael Davitt reception committee in Sydney – a good omen for the success of the reception. The old Sydney Trades and Labour Council lost its best officer when Houghton was elected to Parliament in 1891.

IN consequence of a secret meeting of bankers having taken place in Sydney, the general public are hereby warned not to allow themselves to be again caught by the confidence trick. If there is any spare coin floating about just plank it into a State bank, where it can be found when wanted.

WHEN a motion for the suppression of gambling was being discussed before the South Brisbane Municipal Council, Alderman Heaslop very pertinently pointed out that all business was more or less a game of chance right through. Right you are, Heaslop, old boy! All private industry is indeed a huge gamble.

THE sick Children's Hospital Committee appeal to the public to give what they can towards the fund for the maintenance of the hospital. As the Sick Children's Hospital is not an institution which can be used as some other charitable institutions are – for the purpose of sweating the labour of the inmates – we have much pleasure in publishing the committee's appeal.

DENMARK has a novel way of dealing with drunks. When one is found in the streets he is rushed into a cab by a policeman and brought to the lock-up. When sober the policeman escorts him home in a cab. Then the bill is sent in for police expenses, cab fare, &c., to the public house man who sold the last glass of snake juice to the drunk. And the bill has to be paid, too!

THE hon. Colonial Secretary, in reply to a deputation of prisoners at St. Helena, re the stoppage of tobacco, told the deputation, with his usual veracity, that the ex-union prisoners were responsible for the stoppage, as they went about the country telling people that through one man giving another tobacco men lost their mitigation. “You can thank the union prisoners for the stoppage of the tobacco,” said the truthful Colonial Secretary.

IN reply to a question in the N.S.W. Assembly it was stated that the Government paid for the hire of carriages to enable barristers to attend the Governor's levee. The legalised jawsmiths get home on the public every time they have the chance, whether it is in a Robb case or securing a ride in a carriage at the expense of the tax-payer. It's all the same to the members of the honourable profession of the Devil's Brigade.

WHEN Colborne stood as Labour candidate for the Valley, in 1888, he addressed an audience in which there happened to be a powerful brewer's drayman, who had been imbibing freely during the day, and was perspiring profusely, great beads of sweat falling from his face. As Colborne came to that part of his address dealing with the sweating system, which Colborne said should be stopped, the brewer's man mopped his brow and exclaimed, “The Lord save us! Would the gentleman prevent a man from sweating?”      

The year of the outer solar system: how space exploration reached new heights in 2015

Extract from The Guardian

Major Tim Peake became Britain’s first career astronaut to make it into orbit – but scientific advances and Pluto discoveries were even bigger news

Russia’s Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft carrying Tim Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Tim Kopra blasts off from Baikonur. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Science editor
Saturday 26 December 2015 05.00 AEDT

When the Soyuz rocket carrying Britain’s Tim Peake blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this month, he took much of the nation with him. He is not the first British astronaut and not even the first from Sussex, but he is the only one ever admitted to the European astronaut corps. That makes a difference. As a career astronaut for the European Space Agency, Peake is uniquely placed to inspire British children for many years to come. The launch was a historic moment, but far from the only highlight of 2015.
It was already an exceptional year in space. The face of Pluto emerged from the gloom to reveal a dazzling landscape of ridges, ice mountains and plains of solid nitrogen hundreds of miles wide. Robots on the ground and in the sky above Mars found ancient water marks and then evidence that water flows there today, leaving dark streaks on the walls of craters and gullies. Another probe plunged through frigid geysers that spray from Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons : the vapour propelled by hydrothermal energy in a global ocean under the surface.
For one group of British scientists 2015 began with a bittersweet discovery. Images from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed the fate of the Beagle 2 spacecraft. Not seen since Christmas 2003 when it parted from the European orbiter, Mars Express, the pictures showed the unmistakable Mickey Mouse-shaped remains of the little lander. Partially opened, its outer cover apparently nearby, the images showed how close the budget mission had come to success. “I had given up on ever knowing what happened to Beagle. After so many years you think you’ll never know,” said Mark Sims, the project’s mission manager at Leicester University. “It had obviously gone through its whole landing sequence and had started to deploy itself. When I first saw the images, I thought ‘My God, it might actually have made it’.”

An artist’s impression of Beagle 2.
Photograph: European Space Agency/PA

It was not the last we heard from Mars. In March, Nasa drew on the world’s most powerful telescopes to show that the red planet once hosted a vast, ancient ocean that covered nearly half of the northern hemisphere. That Mars had once been warm and damp was nothing new, but the amount of water was a revelation. The scientists envision the north of Mars under around 20 million cubic kilometres of water, more than is found in the Arctic ocean. The huge body of water stood for millions of years but as the atmosphere thinned the ocean was lost to space. What remains, a mere 13% of the water, is locked up in the planet’s polar ice caps.
More breathtaking, though, was the finding in September that there is liquid water on Mars today. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the same probe that found Beagle 2, had swung around the planet taking pictures of strange dark streaks that appeared on crater walls and canyons during the planet’s summer months. Infrared analyses of the images found the hallmarks of hydrated salts on the surface, but only when the streaks were present. It looked a sure sign that liquid water was either condensing on the surface, or rising up from the briny reservoirs in the ground.

Hale crater on Mars, showing Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter signs of liquid water. Photograph: NASA/Getty Images

Water is regarded as a prerequisite for life, or at least for life on Earth. The discovery that water flows on Mars means the planet may, in some parts, harbour niches where microbes evolved and exist even now. That would be in line with the discovery of methane plumes on Mars last year, though chemical reactions on rocks can release the same gas.ment
The prospect is tantalising but the practicalities are frustrating. To find life elsewhere would answer one of the greatest questions of human existence. But there is a glitch. Planetary protection guidelines say that robotic landers must not spread Earthly microbes to sites where life might exist on other planets. Nasa’s Curiosity rover was not sterilised before launch and so is not clean enough to venture on to Mars’s damp patches. Nor is its twin, a rover planned for launch in 2020. It is a quandary that scientists may work around though. Trundle about on Mars for long enough and the radiation may kill off any microbes that hitched a ride. Expect more in 2016.
“It looks more and more like Mars was a very habitable world three to four billion years ago,” said Monica Grady, professor of planetary science at the Open University. “What we don’t really know is: did life develop there? If you asked me 20 years ago I’d have bet heavily against the possibility of life. But nowadays we know Mars was a pretty habitable place. The question is: did it start and did it go anywhere?”
Between Mars and Jupiter, a spacecraft named Dawn became the first to visit a dwarf planet. At 300 miles wide, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt. As Dawn approached, two mysterious shiny spots became clear on the surface. The nature of the bright patches sparked a debate among astronomers, with the latest spectral images from the spacecraft suggesting they are not ice, as some suspected, but salts.

The surface of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet as seen from the Philae lander, which stirred back to life this year after extra sun fell on its solar panels. Photograph: Handout/ESA via Getty Images

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, the first to drop a lander on a comet, continued to orbit the body, sniffing oxygen in its gas cloud and flying close enough to film its own shadow on the comet’s surface. The Philae lander which landed not once, but thrice, fell silent three days after touchdown. But as the comet neared the sun and more light fell on its solar panels, Philae stirred to life again, long enough to call Rosetta. The moment was the highlight of the year for Grady, who works on the Ptolemy instrument onboard. “It powered up and it could still happen again,” she said. For now, the comet is too active for Rosetta to fly close enough to make contact.

Cassini spacecraft image of Saturn’s moons Dione and Rhea. The distance between Dione and Rhea was roughly 330,000km (205,000 miles). Photograph: HO/Reuters

Meanwhile, on the sixth moon of Saturn, Nasa’s veteran Cassini probe went looking for signs of life. The spacecraft dived down to Enceladus and passed through geysers that erupt from a saline ocean under the surface. Scientists are still analysing the chemicals detected in the plume. If they turn out to include hydrogen gas, researchers would have good evidence for hot vents at the bottom of the moon’s ocean and good reason to consider Enceladus the most promising place to find life beyond Earth.
Orbiters and rovers have peered and poked at Mars for a long time. But other corners of the solar system had gone unexplored until this year. As John Bridges, a planetary scientist at Leicester University, puts it: “2015 was the year of the outer solar system.” It was an important year for images too. For 85 years, the best pictures we had of Pluto showed no more than a blurred blob. In July, the US space agency’s New Horizons probe changed all that. Barrelling past the dwarf planet on the edge of the solar system, the spacecraft captured Pluto in all its staggering beauty.
“It’s opening up our view of the outer solar system,” Bridges said. “We have this idea of the outer solar system being this cold, inert place of dust and ice. But the key thing now, when we get a close-up view, is that there’s geological activity going on out there.” Inactive planets and moons are pocked with ancient impacts but active ones look different: the ground is turned over and refreshed. The Pluto images showed clear signs of activity in the form of giant regions of smooth, young terrain. “These are halcyon days for planetary science,” said Bridges. “There’s no question about that.”
The year produced, a fine demonstration of the fates of space hardware. In April Nasa crashed its Messenger probe into Mercury once it was done mapping the planet. A month later, the Russian cargo ship, Progress 59, fell back to Earth after going wrong en route to the International Space Station. In the race to develop a reusable rocket, Elon Musk’s SpaceX failed to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a barge at sea and then succeeded on land, while Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company landed its New Shepard rocket at a West Texas launch site. He made sure the world knew, too.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lights up the sky. Photograph: Craig Rubadoux/AP

With ever more powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, astronomers added to the haul of thousands of planets spotted beyond our own solar system. One is Kepler 438b, claimed by Kepler mission scientists to be the most Earth-like planet found to date. But the alien world, which lies 470 light years away, is not the most habitable. Intense blasts of radiation from the planet’s host star are thought to have stripped the atmosphere, leaving the planet Earth-sized but less than Earth-like.
The search for life beyond Earth took an extraordinary turn in October when an astronomer from Penn State University suggested that strange signals around a distant star might be the signature of a swarm of alien “megastructures” in orbit around the planet. In December the possibility, which was seriously speculative from the start, was dealt a blow. Scientists dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti) used an observatory in Panama to look for signs of life around the star and found none.

Those impatient for contact with alien life should not lose heart though. The world’s most comprehensive search for ET begins in earnest in January with backing from Yuri Milner, the Russian internet billionaire. Backing the launch earlier this year, Stephen Hawking said: “Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know. We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Abbot Point: Federal Government approves huge coal port expansion near Great Barrier Reef

Extract from ABC News

Updated about 2 hours ago
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given the go-ahead to the expansion of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal near Bowen in north Queensland, making it one of the world's largest coal ports.

Key points:

  • The expansion will make it one of the world's largest coal ports
  • Approval has been granted with strict environmental conditions
  • Conservationists lobbied hard to have port project rejected, saying it puts the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding environment at risk
The controversial project involves dredging 1.1 million cubic metres of spoil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which will then be disposed of on land.
The approval has been granted with strict conditions, the Federal Government said.
Abbot Point is located about 25 kilometres north of Bowen on the north Queensland coast, about 400 kilometres from the vast coal reserves of the Galilee Basin.
The expansion would enable coal to be shipped from proposed mining projects in the Galilee Basin, like Adani's $16 billion Carmichael mine.
The Carmichael mine is Australia's biggest mining project and consists of six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, and will supply Indian power plants with enough coal to generate electricity for up to 100 million people.
Adani is one of the proponents of the Abbot Point terminal, as it plans to ship coal that would potentially come out of its Carmichael mine.
The Abbot Point port expansion was proposed because there was the expectation that there would be millions of tonnes of coal to go offshore.

Strict environmental conditions imposed

There have been a number environmental concerns with the port's expansion, particularly surrounding its location and the proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.
The terminal is on the edge of the reef, about 19 kilometres from the closest coral.
There had been approvals that were given and reneged upon, and the project had been submitted in different forms to gain approval.
When the new State Labor Government came into power earlier this year, it said the plan to dredge and dump spoil would not go ahead.
It put a new proposal forward to the Federal Environment Minister, which outlined plans to dump that spoil on land, rather than go back into the ocean.
Today, Mr Hunt approved this proposal, which allows the port expansion to proceed.
Mr Hunt has put strict environmental conditions on the expansion, such as monitoring the water quality around the area, monitoring ship movements, and making sure that dredge spoil does not go back into the ocean.
I have made it very clear that this is a private company and ... Adani must get the finance independently if they're going to go ahead.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk
In a statement, Adani welcomed today's announcement by Mr Hunt.
"The expansion of Abbot Point, the lifeblood of Bowen, is key to Adani's plans to deliver 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and $22 billion in taxes and royalties to Queensland," the statement said.
"Adani welcomed and willingly supported the move to an onshore disposal of dredged material last year, when a site not previously available became a viable option for proximate, well-managed disposal of dredged material.
"This is the third time a well-managed, strictly regulated, science and evidence-based expansion approval has been the subject of a state and federal government approval process since 2010.
"The approval given by Minister Hunt to the Queensland Government mirrors the approvals given to Adani's mine at Carmichael and North Galilee Basin Rail projects, in that they reflect the strictest, world's best practice environmental safeguards.
"Adani, working with the Queensland Government, is confident that the strict conditions placed on this project will enable the jobs and economic benefits that will flow from the expansion of this vital port for exports from our state to proceed."
But Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the expansion would not go ahead unless Adani could afford it.
"Once again I have made it very clear that this is a private company and the private company Adani must get the finance independently if they're going to go ahead," she said.
"There will be no State Government, no taxpayers' money, going towards this project."
Ms Palaszczuk also said the State Government would be attaching a number of strict environmental conditions.
"That is a matter that the state Environment Department is currently assessing at the moment - we must protect our iconic Great Barrier Reef," she said.

WWF fear for wildlife in 'high conservation area'

Supporters have said the expansion would provide thousands of jobs and pump millions into the local economy.
Local federal MP George Christensen tweeted the approval was "good news" for central and north Queensland, adding that it delivered "coal for Christmas".
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said in a statement the latest approval was another important step in the creation of thousands of jobs in the region.
"This environmental approval with strict conditions, which follows an extensive public consultation process, paves the way for the construction of a second terminal at Abbot Point for exports to a coal-hungry India," he said.
"The conditions also align with the Reef 2050 plan that ensures protection of the iconic Great Barrier Reef."
But conservationists had lobbied hard to have the project rejected, saying it would put the reef and surrounding environment at risk.
Conservation groups said they were disappointed with the latest decision.
World Wildlife Fund spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said the port was in a delicate environmental area.
"Abbot Point is on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area," she said.
"We know there are turtle nesting beaches, there are dugongs, there are snub fin dolphins, there are thousands of endangered birds.
"This is a very high conservation area and it's not an appropriate site for dredging or a coal port development."
Greenpeace reef campaigner Shani Tager said in a statement the approval to dredge was irresponsible for the reef.
"It's illogical to expand the port to make capacity for the proposed Carmichael mine, because it is a dead-end prospect," she said.
"Adani hasn't got the $16 billion [for the Carmichael mine] - no-one's lending it to them and coal prices are tanking.
"Even the International Energy Agency (IEA) is questioning the project.
"Queensland Labor promised at the last election not to proceed with Abbot Point unless the Carmichael mine achieved financial closure.
"The mine has not found any backers, and the IEA has declared it is not likely to be operational by 2020, if ever."

Adani's credit rating may be downgraded to 'junk status'

At the same time as the Federal Government approved the port expansion, a leading credit rating agency threatened to downgrade Adani's credit rating to junk status.
Global ratings agency Moody's had warned Adani it was considering downgrading debt associated with the Abbot Point coal terminal.
Adani's Abbot Point Coal Terminal is on the lowest rung of investment grade ratings.
A downgrade would see its debt rated as junk, forcing the company to pay a higher interest rate on any future debt raisings.
"The rating action reflects the increasing downside risk for AAPT's credit profile, a consequence of the financial pressures facing the company's coal mine counterparties from challenging coal market conditions," Moody's analyst Mary Anne Low said.
Moody's said plunging global coal prices had raised the risk that some of the coal loader's supply contracts could be terminated early, or not renewed.
It added the terminal owner "no longer [had] sufficient financial flexibility under its existing capital structure to manage these escalating risks".
While Moody's acknowledged the terminal owner had the right to raise prices to compensate for a supplier going under, other transport operators possibly would take the same action.

Should that occur, the agency concludes remaining coal mine owners might not be able to afford across-the-board price hikes, placing a question mark over the coal loader's ability to maintain its revenue stream.

Abbot Point coal terminal expansion given approval by Greg Hunt

Extract from The Guardian

Federal environment minister gives green light for dredging and disposal of spoil to create one of the world’s largest coal ports, which would be linked to the proposed $16bn Carmichael coalmine

The Abbot Point coal terminal, near Bowen in Queensland, is set to become one of the world’s largest coal ports after being given environmental approval.
The Abbot Point coal terminal, near Bowen in Queensland, is set to become one of the world’s largest coal ports after being given environmental approval. Photograph: Tom Jefferson/Greenpeace

The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, has given the green light to expanding the Abbot point coal terminal in northern Queensland, on the condition that the dredge spoils are properly disposed of.
The approval, granted by the Department of Environment on Monday, lists a number of strict conditions that the project must fulfil before going ahead, including how and where the sediment can be moved.
About 1.1m cubic metres of dredge spoil from the project would be dumped in nearby industrial land, rather than in the Great Barrier Reef marine park as originally proposed.
Approving the terminal’s expansion would allow coal from other projects, like Adani’s Carmichael mine, to be shipped for export.
“All dredge material will be placed onshore on existing industrial land. No dredge material will be placed in the World Heritage Area or the Caley Valley Wetlands,” a spokeswoman for Hunt said. “The port area is at least 20kms from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted.”
The spokeswoman said any changes to the project lie in the hands of Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government.
“This project was proposed and developed by the Queensland government. Further approvals are required from the Queensland government,” she said.
The Greens said the project was dangerous to the environment and a waste of money.
“This destruction on behalf of big mining companies like Adani will be paid for by the state Labor government at the expense of Queensland taxpayers,” Greens deputy leader, Larissa Waters, said. “The federal Liberal and state Labor governments are teaming up to do Adani’s dirty work to turn our Great Barrier Reef into a highway for coal ships to cook the planet.”
Conservationists have also condemned the decision to let the project go ahead.
“Thousands of tonnes of seafloor will be torn up and dumped next to the internationally significant Caley Valley wetlands. Sea grasses which feed dugongs and turtles will be torn up for the coal industry,” Imogen Zethoven from the Australian Maritime Conservation Society, said. “Hundreds more coal ships will plough through the reef every year.”
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the alternative proposed for disposing of the sediment is not much better than dumping it at sea.
“Although we’re pleased that the dredge spoil can no longer be dumped at sea, it’s not appropriate to place it beside an internationally significant wetland, when there are better locations available further inland,” spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said.
Advocacy organisation,, said the decision makes a mockery of Australia’s pledge at the recent Paris climate conference to limit global warming.
“The Turnbull government can’t seriously sign on to deals which limit climate damage to 2 degrees and then give a green light to massive coal export projects which guarantee that the 2 degree target can never be met,” community campaigner, Moira Williams, said. “The Abbot Point project is a gateway for foreign mining companies to unlock one of the largest stores of climate-wrecking carbon on the planet – the Galilee Basin coal mines.”
“It’s ludicrous that Hunt has given the tick to a project which has no money, no social license, is universally hated, will wreck one of the greatest wonders of the natural world and which has been rejected by most of the world’s largest banks,” Williams said.
“With coal prices at an all time low, support for climate action and protecting the Great Barrier Reef at an all time high, the Turnbull government is treading a dangerous line in approving this climate and reef-wrecking mega coal project. Their actions will come back to bite them at the ballot box next year,” she said.