Friday, 30 September 2016

University graduates struggle to find full-time work as enrolments increase, study finds

Extract from ABC News
Posted yesterday at 9:39pm
Job prospects for Australian university graduates are declining, with a new study showing less and less people are finding full-time employment after completing higher education.

Key points:

  • Graduate employment rate dropped from 89 pc to 67 pc 2008–2014
  • Research shows large increase in university enrolments, despite less graduates finding full-time work
  • Universities Australia says labour market has kept up with increase in graduates

The research by National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University shows that between 2008 and 2014, the proportion of new university graduates in full-time employment dropped from 89 per cent to 67 per cent.
Adjunct Professor Tom Karmel said students yet to complete their studies would struggle to find work as the number of available jobs shrunk against a glut of university graduates.
"That's not to say they won't get a job, but people do have to start thinking about the return that they get on their degrees," he said.
"There certainly has been a huge increase in the supply, but what you would expect over time is for the labour market demand side of things to adjust, and that hasn't happened sufficiently over that period of time."
Dr Karmel said the drop had been uniform but the student-to-work ratio of some fields was better than others.
"Nobody would be surprised to know that in 2008 almost 100 per cent of graduates from medicine had a job — 97.5 per cent," he said.
That figure had dropped to 95 per cent by 2014.
"In 2008 only 22 per cent of graduates in language and literature had a full-time job, and that's dropped to 12 per cent."
Swinburne University student Charlotte Henderson said she was confident of finding work when she finished her double degree of business and communication, but the same was not true of her friends.
"I know a lot of my friends are studying degrees that are a little bit more vague and are really, really struggling to find work in their area," she said.
"I think most of our generation is pretty aware of that it's just getting harder and harder.
"It's pretty likely that I'll be studying or searching for work for the rest of my life."
Despite the 20 per cent drop in university graduates finding full-time work, the number of commencing students jumped from just under 20,000 to over 27,000.
Dr Karmel apportioned some of the blame for the apparent over-supply of graduates to universities.
"There's been no doubt that universities have been very keen to expand their enrolments," he said.
"There's a clear financial incentive to do so but I think they're going to be under more and more scrutiny in terms of the outcomes for the graduates.
"And if they can't provide good outcomes, I think it's going to be very difficult for those universities to recruit at the margins."
Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, rejected the suggestion there was an over-supply of university graduates.
"On the whole, the labour market has absorbed the very substantial increased numbers of graduates with very little difficulty over the past 30 to 40 years," she said.
"It's also demonstrated that unemployment rates for graduates still remain well below other groups."
But Andrew Norton, the Grattan Institute's higher education program director, said there probably were too many graduates.
"We all need to think carefully about whether some of the students who are at university would be better off doing a vocational diploma or certificate III or IV course," he said.

Commonwealth Bank: coal seam gas makes property 'unacceptable' as loan security

Extract from The Guardian

Exclusive: bank turns down owners’ application for $500,000 bridging loan on grounds that Queensland property has four coal seam gas wells on it

Coal seam gas Queensland
Coal seam gas wells on a Queensland property. The Commonwealth Bank has refused to accept a property with wells on it as security for a residential loan. Photograph: Tim Wimborne / Reuters/REUTERS
Australia’s biggest mortgage provider has declared a Queensland property with coal seam gas wells “unacceptable” as security for residential lending, raising fresh concerns that people living in the state’s gasfields may be unable to sell their homes.
But Queensland Gas Company (QGC), which owns the wells on the Chinchilla acreage, has insisted that no properties that host its infrastructure have had their values negatively affected.
A letter from the Commonwealth Bank, obtained by Guardian Australia, shows the presence of four wells on the 240-hectare property, currently on the market, was the sole reason given for refusing the owners’ application for a $500,000 bridging loan to buy a new home.
The application “fails to meet the bank’s lending criteria” because the Chinchilla property was “unacceptable” as security, despite being wholly owned by a couple with no outstanding debts or credit blemishes and a primary income reaching well past the top tax bracket.
“Long form valuation has revealed coal seam gas wells on the land, making the security unsuitable for lending purposes,” the bank said.
The owners then asked QGC if it would buy the property, but the company refused.
“QGC also does not agree with the assertion that its infrastructure has had a negative impact on the value of your property, or indeed any property currently hosting QGC infrastructure,” a letter from its landholder relationships manager said.
“QGC has found no direct negative impacts to the value of rural properties upon which resource activities are conducted within the Surat Basin.”
The manager’s letter said that “in QGC’s experience, an application for finance may be declined for a variety of reasons other than the value of the property proposed to be used as security”.
Mark McGovern, a rural economics specialist from the Queensland University of Technology’s school of business, economics and finance, said the case could signal a wider unforeseen economic cost of the gas industry.
If the bank regarded property with gas wells as unsuitable security for a bridging loan, it followed it would not lend to people to buy such a property, McGovern said.
“Someone buying in as a resident wouldn’t meet the criteria of the Commonwealth bank,” he said.
The property owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he and his wife had become “sort of prisoners in our own home”.
“We can’t sell it, we can’t lend against it. It’s useless to us,” he said.
His wife said she was “ropeable” on learning of the loan rejection after QGC had given public assurances its activities would not affect property values.
QGC offered to pay for an independent valuation of the property, but the couple already had two, as well as one from the bank before it overturned its pre-approval of the loan.
The Chinchilla man said their predicament was the latest sign that residents of Queensland’s gasfields, where property owners have no legal right to refuse gas companies access, were “the guinea pigs” for an industry since banned in Victoria and strongly resisted in NSW.
“We didn’t have the people power,” he said.
Anti-gas industry activists, a local property agency manager and the president of the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) all told Guardian Australia it was the first case they had heard of a bank refusing to lend because of gas wells on a property.
Guardian Australia asked the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank if gas wells now represented a black mark under their lending criteria.
Only Westpac responded by deadline, a spokeswoman saying the bank dealt with properties “over a certain size” within its business/agricultural division, where “different lending principles [to residential loans] would apply”.
The REIQ president, Antonia Mercorella, said it was concerning if the case represented “the start of a new trend where lending institutions were suddenly deciding they were not prepared to loan money to people wanting to buy these properties”.
“We know that in regional Queensland there’s a number of properties that this is going to create issues for,” she said.
“If they’re applying a blanket rule where they’re not going to give a loan to anyone who has these on their property, then that’s obviously concerning, because it would make it very difficult for those property owners to sell their property.
“There’s not too many buyers out there who are cashed up and able to buy without obtaining finance of the purchase.”
Lock The Gate organiser Phil Laird said it was the first known case of “something we have been concerned about for a long time … flat out whether a bank will lend money based on your security”.
“It feeds into a story of people who are in the gasfields and who are trapped,” he said.
“It’s going to make it very difficult for that guy to find another bank and what’s more, it’s going to make it difficult for a lot of people in similar circumstances to find someone and it’s going to cast a pall over their situation.
“There’s a lot of reasons why people need to move and change their property holdings and when some other party who’s been imposed on top of you starts to dictate the way in which you can conduct your life, your lifestyle, your succession planning, it becomes a real problem.
“And no one’s recognising this.”
Laird said the support underpinning the Queensland gas industry represented “a government-sponsored model to transfer risk on to the landholder”.
“There’s something fundamentally wrong about this. If you did this to BHP, Lend Lease or other large property holders, there would be hell to pay.” 

Is this a new low: politicians using a natural disaster to push a fact-free agenda?

 Extract from The Guardian

Unburdened by evidence, anti-wind campaigners used the South Australian blackout to kick off a debate about renewables while others waited for facts

Up rooted trees are seen near a local church that was damaged following wild weather in the town of Blyth, South Australia
‘The outage is more likely to have something to do with the 80,000 lightning strikes and the winds that knocked over 22 transmission poles.’ Photograph: David Mariuz/AAP
Normally natural disasters are off limits to politicking, at least in the period straight after the event. So it was pretty awful watching politicians and commentators pushing their anti-renewables message on the back of a once in 50 year storm that hit South Australia and knocked out the electricity grid.These baseless claims led bulletins despite energy industry experts, upon actual analysis of the situation, reporting that there was no evidence that renewables are in any way linked to the power outage.
The outage is more likely to have something to do with the 80,000 lightning strikes and the winds that knocked over 22 transmission poles. Who knew violent storms could knock the power out?
It’s hard to imagine how coal fired power would have remained on without a grid for the electricity to flow through.
Just before the grid shut down, renewables were not offline. Wind energy was busy producing almost 1,000 Megawatts of electricity. The problem was not a lack of renewable power but a storm-ravaged grid that couldn’t get it to the consumers.

Double standard

Do you remember the outrage in October 2013 when people suggested a week after the event that the New South Wales bushfires had been affected by climate change? The then minister for the environment Greg Hunt said at the time:
The debate this week has been an attempt by some to misuse tragedy and suffering and hardship and nobody should do that.
The new minister for the environment, Josh Frydenberg, admitted that the blackout was entirely due to the weather event. But the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, missed the memo claiming that wind power “wasn’t working too well last night, because they had a blackout”.
I’m sure that South Australians that have suffered property damage would prefer that politicians focused their attention on helping them, rather than furthering their ideological agendas.
What has happened to our debate when politicians and commentators are happy to use a tragic event to push their anti-renewables agenda with absolutely no evidence, while linking climate change to bushfires and other extreme weather events, for which there is plenty of evidence, is playing politics?

Resilient renewables

The real irony is that an electricity system that has decentralised renewable energy with battery storage would be more resilient to these kinds of storms. Houses and businesses with their own batteries could have kept the lights on even when the grid went down.
In the past, renewables were more expensive – but those days are over. Renewable energy has fallen in price and battery storage is close behind. Change in how we produce electricity is coming and an anti-renewables campaign will only slow it and make the transition more difficult.
Rather than attack renewables, the government should be putting in place policies that help with the transition. The economics of renewable energy and the reality of climate change mean that it is inevitable that we will leave fossil fuel electricity generation behind. The question is how can we move to the new energy future in the smoothest way possible?
Renewable energy targets, system changes that make it easier to install battery storage, and a moratorium on new coal mines will all help.
Attacking renewables in the wake of a massive storm might help some people’s political agenda but it will do nothing to help South Australians build a reliable and resilient energy system.

Matt Grudnoff is the Senior Economist for The Australia Institute.

‘Ignorant rubbish’: Daniel Andrews slams Malcolm Turnbull over SA blackout comments

 Extract from The Guardian

Victorian premier says prime minister’s views about South Australia’s weather ideologically driven and sounded like Tony Abbott

Malcolm Turnbull (left) and Daniel Andrews
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews (right) says prime minister Malcolm Turnbull chose to link renewable energy to South Australia’s extreme weather event. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP
Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, has slammed Malcolm Turnbull’s response to South Australia’s once-in-50-years storm, saying he is peddling “ignorant rubbish” by conflating the state’s blackout with its heavy use of renewable energy.
Andrews said the prime minister’s comments about the storm on Thursday were so ideological they could have come from Tony Abbott, but at least Abbott would have waited until the natural disaster had abated before making similar statements.
He said Turnbull chose to link the two issues of SA’s extreme weather event, which knocked out the state’s transmission system, and the state’s use of renewable energy.
“The poles and wires had blown over,” Andrews told ABC radio on Friday.
“The prime minister has conflated two issues. This sort of ignorant rubbish, which I don’t think any South Australian would have appreciated in the midst of natural disaster ... his commentary yesterday, well Tony Abbott could have said it, it could have come from Tony Abbott, but I thought Malcolm Turnbull was a slightly different leader.
“And what’s more, I don’t Tony Abbott would have said it in the midst of one of the most significant events South Australians have had to deal with for a very long time.”
South Australia lost power for hours on Wednesday evening after a severe storm tore 22 transmission towers from the ground, and knocked out the state’s transmission system making it impossible to deliver power to homes.
Thousands of properties were still without power on Friday as restoration crews worked through more wild weather.
On Thursday, the morning after the storm, Turnbull said the immediate cause of the power outage had been the extreme weather event which damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines.
But he also linked the blackout to the state’s heavy reliance on renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.
He said it was time to stop the “political gamesmanship” between the states that has seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables account for only 4.5% of its mix currently.
He said Australia needed to overhaul it numerous state-based renewable energy targets and move towards a single national target.
“We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security,” Turnbull said on Thursday.
“Let’s focus now and take this storm in South Australia ... as a real wake-up call, let’s end the ideology, focus on a clear renewable target. The federal government has one as you know, 23.5% is our target.”
His comments came as government officials admitted that Australia’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reductions pledged at Paris in 2015 were made without any modelling to show whether existing policies could achieve those targets.
Andrews said on Friday the only way Turnbull would reach his renewable energy target would be through the “very state schemes that he is criticising”.
“You can’t offer no leadership on renewable energy, then in the midst of a natural disaster that is about the poles and wires blowing over that carry the energy, not the method that actually creates it, you can’t then claim that you’re a leader when it comes to innovation and taking action.”


Media Release.
Mark Butler MP.

Shadow Minister for 

Climate Change and Energy

Date:  29 September 2016
In the last 24 hours, South Australia has been hit by a massive once in 50 year super storm.
Emergency workers continue to answer emergency calls from people in distress and tens of thousands of South Australians are still without power.
The thoughts of the entire Federal Labor Party are with affected South Australians and emergency workers, who continue to do their heroic work in the most difficult circumstances. In addition, our prayers are with those Victorians who are today seeing the same storm impact their communities.
While the storm still rages, emergency services risk their lives and people across two states struggle with the impacts of the storm, we have seen a disgraceful display from the Government. The Turnbull Government is attempting to use the storm’s impact on the South Australian electricity system to continue their ideological attack on Australia’s renewable energy industry.
The facts are already clear; South Australia’s strong renewable energy generation played no part in the state wide outage experienced on Wednesday. This is the view of energy market regulators and experts alike.
The Australian Energy Market Operator has released a statement saying:
“the root cause of the event is likely to be the multiple loss of 275 kilovolt (kV) power lines during severe storm activity in the state”.
Yet the Energy Minister, Mr Frydenberg, the Agriculture Minister Mr Joyce and the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull have all stated that questions need to be asked about an “overreliance” on renewable energy and its role in the South Australian outage.
Not only does this ignore the advice of experts on the cause of the South Australian outage, it attempts to turn an ongoing natural disaster that has impacted almost 2 million Australians into a political stunt to propagate an ill-informed, ideological anti-renewable energy agenda.
This is a disgraceful and shameful display from a Government that should know better.
Australians know that renewable energy is a key part of Australia’s future and that a storm and a blackout, no matter how severe, doesn’t change that reality.
Rather than giving the people of South Australia political opportunism and misguided ideology, the Turnbull Government should give them an apology. 


Media Release.

Mark Butler MP.

Shadow Minister for 

Climate Change and Energy

Date:  26 September 2016
New reports today show Australians want a government that is serious about acting on climate change.
Unfortunately, the Turnbull Government is full of climate change deniers and a weak Prime Minister who is beholden to them.
The Climate Institute’s Climate of the Nation poll found 77 per cent of people accept that global warming is happening and 65 per cent of Australians want their country to lead the world on finding solutions.
Australians have a Government which has a weak, ineffective climate change policy under which pollution is rising.
Unlike the Liberals, Labor believes the science and understands the public want real action. That is why we took a comprehensive climate change and energy plan to the election that reduced pollution and increased renewable energy. 
Our plan included a plan to transition to a low carbon economy, a plan that would support workers and communities affected by this transition.
It’s time for Mr Turnbull to listen the Australian public and stop listening to the extreme right of his party.

Rosetta mission: Six things we've learnt about comets from the super spacecraft and its probe Philae

Extract from ABC News

Posted 46 minutes ago
If the launch of the Rosetta mission had gone to plan back in 2004, we would never have heard of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Instead, we'd be talking about a comet called 46P/Wirtanen.
But the launch was delayed by four days and 46P/Wirtanen missed its chance to be the most studied comet of all time.
Luckily, 67P had what was needed: it was a short-period comet that loops around the Sun between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth once every 6.6 years.
And it was going to be in the right place, at the right time to rendezvous with Rosetta.
When the mission began scientists knew very little about 67P, which was first discovered in 1969, other than that it was about four kilometres in diameter and travelled at a speed of about 135,000 kilometres per hour.
Twelve years later, data sent back by Rosetta and its probe Philae from 67P has drastically reshaped the way scientists think about comets.
And the work is just beginning for astronomers — it will take years to get through the huge amounts of data sent back.
Here are just six things we've learnt.

Building blocks of life found

Scientists always suspected that comets may have aided in the creation of life on Earth — and Rosetta helped them confirm it.
During the early years of the solar system, when cometary bombardments were more common, astronomers believe comets carrying organic compounds crashed into Earth, seeding future life.
If scientists could find the building blocks of life on a comet out in space, it would lend weight to the notion they helped kick-start life on our planet.
"The discovery of these elements, these complex carbon molecules, was the primary goal of the mission and Rosetta and Philae massively succeeded in confirming that," said Warwick Holmes, who worked as an avionics engineer on the European Space Agency's Rosetta project.
Using its onboard instruments, Rosetta made repeated detections of glycine — an amino acid — and phosphorus in the area around comet 67P in May this year, especially when gas jets blasted dust from within the comet out into space.
These are two of the most critical substances necessary to the creation of life. Glycine is associated with the creation of proteins, while phosphorus helps create DNA and cells and is essential to all living organisms.

Oxygen surprise in comet's coma

While oxygen is a common element in the universe, its simplest molecular form — O2 — is hard to find because it usually binds with other molecules or atoms.
Scientists were extremely surprised to find molecular oxygen in 67P, because it would have had to survive in a pristine condition since the very beginnings of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
They believe the discovery adds evidence to the idea comets come from that period, and are now exploring how the presence of oxygen in 67P might provide clues as to how the solar system formed.

Not a potato, more like a duck

When Rosetta launched from Earth, the scientists had no idea of what the comet it was setting out for looked like. Every aspect of the mission, including the landing of Philae, was designed with the team in the dark about the shape of 67P.
"We were hoping something like a potato, or even spherical. But it was anything but — it was this very strange duck-shaped feature," Mr Holmes said.
Commonly called the "rubber duck" because of its similar appearance to the common bath toy, scientists found 67P is actually made up of two roughly oval bodies joined together.
The comet is about 24 cubic kilometres in size — four kilometres by three-by-two — fitting nicely over Sydney's CBD if placed on top of it.
Scientists believe 67P was formed in a low-speed collision between two previously separate comets. That gives clues about what the early solar system would have looked like — dense, dusty, and full of rubble.

It's a dust ball not a 'dirty snowball'

67P challenged the expectations of the ESA team in other ways when they discovered its surface was covered with smooth dust plains and craggy, rocky cliffs.
Mr Holmes said the scientists expected to find water ice on the surface of the comet — in keeping with the popular "dirty snowball" hypothesis, which describes the idea that a comet is mostly made of ice, with some dust and rock inside of it.
But 67P contradicts that hypothesis — there's very little ice on its surface. Instead, its appearance is diverse and very dusty. Vast dust dunes and smooth plains cover parts of the comet. Other features on the surface include rocky boulders, cliffs, and pits.
"The popular theory is that comets are big balls of ice frosted or dusted by carbon chemistry," Mr Holmes said.
"But in our case it seems we've got a lot more dust and carbon chemistry than we have ice, different to the ratio that was first thought."
Analysis of the dust floating above the comet shows the dust is made up of spheroidal sub-micrometre grains, providing clues about how planets in our solar system first formed.

A comet like 67P probably didn't bring water to Earth

Along with being responsible for bringing substances critical to the creation of life to Earth, scientists have long thought that comets also brought water to our planet, forming the Earth's oceans, as they crash-landed into its surface after Earth had cooled.
Scientists hoped they'd find water on the comet with a similar "isotopic ratio" to that found on Earth — meaning the ratio of hydrogen and deuterium in the water on Rosetta would be the same as the ratio on Earth.
Eleven comets have previously been measured to find their "isotopic ratio" — and just one has matched the ratio on Earth, Comet 103P, which comes from the Jupiter family of comets — a group of comets that are influenced by the giant planet's gravity.
Comet 67P is also from the Jupiter family. Yet its isotopic ratio is entirely different to Earth and comet 130P, appearing to scuttle the hypothesis that Jupiter-family comets contained water similar to that found on Earth, and lending weight to the idea asteroids, rather than comets, may have greater responsibility for bringing water to our planet.
"It's actually made the answer to that question [of whether comets brought water to Earth] far more challenging. People thought there was a nice, easy answer, but there actually isn't," Mr Holmes said.

And if that's not enough … the comet 'sings' SoundCloud: A singing comet Source: ESA

When Rosetta drew close to 67P two years ago, scientists discovered it seemed to be emitting a strange, unearthly song.
Before long, they'd determined that it was the plasma in the comet's environment interacting with the magnetic field carried by the solar wind to produce "magneto-acoustic waves".
The oscillations made by these waves were picked up by the instruments on Rosetta at a frequency far below the range at which humans can hear. But by increasing that frequency by a factor of about 10,000, the comet's "song" is revealed.
The scientists said the plasma waves detected were so unusual they'd be poring over the observations for years to come.

South Australia's blackout explained (and no, renewables aren't to blame)

Extract from The Guardian

Some wrongly implicated windfarms when the entire state lost power after one of the worst storms in 50 years knocked out high-voltage power pylons

South Australia blackout
Nick Xenophon, Barnaby Joyce and others have been out blaming wind power for South Australia’s blackout. But it is simply not true. Photograph: David Mariuz/EPA
On Wednesday, something very unusual happened: the entire state of South Australia lost power. Known as a “system black,” it’s something the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) had only prepared for in theory – never having the unfortunate opportunity to put “black start” procedures into place.

What caused the blackout?

The cause was very clear. And it was not due to renewable energy (see next section).
One of the worst storms to hit South Australia in 50 years knocked out 22 high-voltage power pylons. The lines on those pylons carry electricity generated near Port Augusta to the rest of the state.
When they went down, a cascade of automatic safety switches appear to have been flipped, in order to protect the rest of the SA power network – and indeed the rest of the National Electricity Market.
Besides creating power, generators also affect the voltage and the frequency of the electricity network, which need to be carefully maintained to protect everything that’s connected to it.
Aemo carefully models how that is likely to change in the short, medium and long-term, so that the networks can then make sure it’s sitting at the right values.
When the 11 high-voltage power pylons were blown over, a huge chunk of power generation was cut off from the rest of the network.
Dylan McConnell from the Melbourne Energy Institute says the market operator can’t prepare for very rare events like this.
“They’re black swan events,” he says. “If they did plan for this, then there still might be something else that could happen, like an earthquake. A system capable of dealing with this would be very expensive.”
To protect generators and equipment in SA, the whole high-voltage power system was cut, which in turn removed supply from the local distribution networks.
In addition, to stop the voltage and frequency fluctuations affecting Victoria, the lines connecting SA to Victoria (the “interconnectors”) were also shut down.
The result was that at about 4.20pm, the entire state of South Australia lost power.

What did wind power have to do with it?

Nothing. Nick Xenophon, Barnaby Joyce and others have been out blaming wind power for the blackout. But it is simply not true.
Just before the blackout occurred, windfarms were producing about half the state’s electricity demand – they were not shut down as a result of the high winds. And ElectraNet, the owner of the downed high-voltage lines, made clear the blackout was caused by the storm damage to their network.
If the recently closed Port Augusta coal power station was still operating, it would have been cut off by the downed distribution lines too. And that would have likely made the disruption worse, since it would have created an even bigger sudden change to the network.
But that didn’t stop politicians and most media outlets reporting the false information.
The deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said on Sydney radio station 2GB this morning: “Obviously we know that South Australia has had a strong desire to become basically all renewable energy and the question has to be asked does this make them more vulnerable to an issue such as what happened last night.”
“If you turn power into just a complete social policy and say well we are going to save the planet one state at a time and in so doing you create vulnerability to your state, so that if it comes under stress with a severe lightning storm, as they did, that this makes it more likely that you will have a total blackout,” Joyce said.
South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who has often expressed anti-wind sentiments, also jumped on the bandwagon. “We have relied too much on wind rather than baseload renewables, rather than baseload power, including gas which is a fossil fuel but it is 50% cleaner than coal and a good transitional fuel,” he said.
The irony is that if anything, more wind energy might have actually made the system more robust against this sort of rare event. The disruption occurred because of a sudden change to the network’s generation. And that happened because so much power was cut off at once. If there was more generation distributed around the state, it might have limited the impact of the loss of the transmission lines.

How did the system cope with the outage?

Remarkably well, it seems.
While smaller blackouts occur reasonably frequently around the country, this appears to be the first time that any state has experienced a complete blackout.
Since the National Electricity Market was first established, it’s had procedures for how to turn a system on from a complete “system black” but it has never done it before.
That plan was put into action quickly and as of 11:42am this morning, about 80,000 South Australians were still without power. Aemo and the network operators were moving to progressively and safely restore power everywhere. Below is a map of which areas were experiencing blackouts at 11am.
McConnell says doing that is no simple matter, and the fact Aemo started to get power generation back into the network within hours was a great feat.

Tony Abbott-era funding cuts return to strike another blow to the ABC

The ABC is still trying to find savings in its budget after Tony Abbott’s government cut funding by $254m in 2014, forcing the public broadcaster to find staggered savings over three years. First the transcription service was cut, now ABC journalists’ access to wire services is being severely limited. ABC News is dropping several of the wire services it has previously subscribed to, including sports provider SNTV, Getty Images, Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse. It is expected to hit the finance journalists the hardest as they have previously relied on both Bloomberg and Reuters Eikon, which enabled them to take a wider view.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance told Weekly Beast they were disappointed there had been no consultation with staff who would have to bear the brunt of the cuts. The ABC declined to comment.

Sharri Markson heads to the press gallery

The federal parliamentary press gallery is about to get a rather colourful addition to its ranks in the form of Sydney journalist Sharri Markson, who famously went undercover as a university student in 2014 to reveal that universities were indoctrinating students to be biased against News Corp which routinely used its position to wield political power. Who knew?

Sharri Markson
Sharri Markson has been appointed the national political editor at the Daily Telegraph. Photograph: ABC News 24

Markson executed this breathtaking scoop while editor of the Australian’s Media section, a role which ended late last year before she moved on to become a senior writer on the paper. In a surprising career move, Markson is set to take on the nation’s politicians in her new role as national political editor at the Daily Telegraph.
“This is a return to covering federal politics for Sharri, having previously been Canberra correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph,” the Tele announced. “She has also held senior editorial roles including chief of staff for the Sunday Telegraph and editor of Cleo.”
Markson’s defection to the Telegraph has been on the cards since former Courier Mail editor Chris Dore arrived to run the Telegraph as the two have been close in the past. But Markson’s new gig at the Tele will not be welcomed by at least one veteran journalist. Gossip writer Annette Sharp and Markson have been openly feuding for years. Sharp once described Markson as “a woman whose talent for chasing stories is possibly eclipsed only by her ambition” and Markson has returned fire by publishing an email in which the Tele asked photo agencies for “scruffy/too casual/not sexy/bad” photos of Sunrise co-host Samantha Armytage for Sharp’s story.

Holt Street shuffle

But wait, there’s more. When editors move on to other publications their favourite writers usually aren’t far behind, as we’ve seen in the case of Markson and Dore. Now that former Daily Telegraph editor Paul “Boris” Whittaker is firmly in control at the Australian and his faithful Tele scribe Gemma Jones has moved to become the Oz’s chief of staff, another staffer has also made the switch. Simon Benson, who has made quite a name for himself as the the Daily Telegraph’s chief political reporter, is joining the Oz bureau in coming months as national affairs editor.

Brothers in arms

Chris Dore kept it all in the family on Thursday when he published an op-ed about the funding for independent schools, written by his little brother Alex Dore. The younger Dore, who is president of the NSW Young Liberals, revealed quite a lot about how the Dores managed to send young Alex to a private school: “Mum started a business with her hands despite agonising rheumatoid arthritis; dad went overseas to work so he could pay our fees, they forewent holidays, rarely socialised with friends, and went without luxuries such as expensive cars or clothes.”

Twitter gremlins unleashed at Australian Women’s Weekly

The Australian Women’s Weekly might be good at selling magazines (it is still the No 1 magazine in Australia), but its social media form has been a little odd recently. The Twitter account for the Bauer-owned publication has been sending out bizarre tweets with no context like: “Baby born without eyes”; “Did a meteor hit Queensland last night?”; “It took 826 days but ‘recovery is possible’”; “Children who go to bed after 9pm are at risk of being obese” and “Good parenting or global kid shaming?”. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Facebook and Google: most powerful and secretive empires we've ever known

Extract from The Guardian

We need better language to describe the technology companies that control the digital worlds in which we speak, play and live

We are living in the web’s goldfish bowl.
We are living in the web’s goldfish bowl. Photograph: Alamy
Google and Facebook have conveyed nearly all of us to this page, and just about every other idea or expression we’ll encounter today. Yet we don’t know how to talk about these companies, nor digest their sheer power.
We call them platforms, networks or gatekeepers. But these labels hardly fit. The appropriate metaphor eludes us; even if we describe them as vast empires, they are unlike any we’ve ever known. Far from being discrete points of departure, merely supporting the action or minding the gates, they have become something much more significant. They have become the medium through which we experience and understand the world.
As their users, we are like the blinkered young fish in the parable memorably retold by David Foster Wallace. When asked “How’s the water?” we swipe blank: “What the hell is water?”
We pay attention, sometimes, to racism, death threats, outrage. Other than that, we have barely started feeling their algorithmic undertow. We have trouble grasping the scope of it: the vast server farms, the job cuts, the barriers to entry, the public-private partnerships, the manufacturing of data, the knowing cities, the branded self, the slavish service to their metrics, the monoculture.
Google is not an “engine” that simply drives us to an objectively correct destination and then sits inert, like one of the cars that it seeks to replace with its new ride-sharing service.
Facebook is not merely a “network” for connection, like the old phone network or electrical grid, as if it had no agency, and did not take a piece of every last interaction (or false start) between friends. When and how much we interact, we rely on Facebook to say. These are not mere “edge providers”, peripheral to infrastructure, or mere “applications” that we can select or refuse.
Emily Bell, founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, offered up a more active image: “Facebook is eating the world”. She was concerned with the silos of power controlling how news is published and distributed. But the image she conjured of a ravenous engine of consumption suggested something more than mere media concentration.
Characterizing Facebook or Google as powerful media organs – even the most powerful – actually understates their power. Marshall McLuhan, 60 years ago, gave us another, fuller understanding of media. Electric light is a medium “totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized” that appears to us as media only when constituted into video content. Electrical current itself completely changes our relationship to the world and, in the process, reconstitutes us. A medium is not merely something that feeds us content. It is a condition like air or water, through which we move without noticing.
The analogy captures part of what is happening, but goes even further. Facebook and Google are not only carrying us, but constituting us. We are, in fact, their media. Geared as they are to sharing, clicking and eyeballs, these media do not measure and do not value solitary contemplation, reflection and disconnection. They thrive and pulse on popularity, not veracity. They feed on extremes, not common causes.
Summer 2016 was riddled with anxiety about the power of social media to propel public discourse and mob opinion in dangerous directions, and the failure of traditional media to check it.
The echo chamber of social media magnified the appeal of Trump and Brexit to the casualties of globalization and free trade. What remained of the traditional media lacked the interest – because truth-telling is expensive and boring – or wherewithal – because they have no money, and fading influence – to effectively call out the lies spreading like algae over the warming western world. Sometimes the old papers came through with quality reporting, but mere facts are rarely sufficient to survive the torrent of the digital slipstream.
There is the ongoing conflict over these companies’ self-identification as mere “technology” businesses, and the media critics’ charge that they are “media companies”. The issue being debated is usually whether Facebook or Google produce content or make editorial decisions, and in that sense constitute media. It’s hardly worth debating: of course they produce content, if only by algorithmically selecting, prioritizing and presenting.
Facebook and Google are not only carrying us, but constituting us.
Facebook and Google are not only carrying us, but constituting us. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

But Facebook is so much more than a media company. Traditional media companies sell advertising “real estate” and independent entities like Nielsen or the Alliance for Audited Media assess the value. Facebook plays both sides: it offers real estate (video advertising) and provides the assessments (viewership data). Not surprisingly, Facebook makes mistakes. There is no auditing, no independence; we simply take Facebook’s word for it, when and how much the errors occur. Like Poseidon, FB blows, the currents move, and content producers and advertisers are swept in new directions.
Public opinion seems to vacillate between valorizing and excoriating the digital empires. The empire is seen as bad when it interrupts the supposed neutrality of content with human hacks such as Facebook news modifications and trending topics curation (the latter now fully automated, Facebook claims). And it is seen as good when Facebook intervenes in supposedly responsible causes like Google’s elimination of payday loan ads or Facebook’s promotion of voting.
Or is it? We’re not sure. Because some experts think payday loans are not the real problem – it’s low wages – and Facebook’s promotion of democratic participation may be selective and skewed. If Facebook is good when it livecasts police shootings to hold government to account, is it also good when it partners with government to prevent terrorism? We assess the benevolence of empire on a case-by-case basis, influenced by normative commitments and superficial detail. What we don’t do is exercise some control or even suasion over the power these companies have to do anything and everything.
We enjoy the bounty of their empire. Free services, easy communication. The ever-expanding convenience of commerce.
We leave it to the media companies to worry about the empire’s tribute for this bounty: most of the advertising dollars that once went to support journalism, leaving the papers vassal to their feudal protectors.
The metaphors that we use – empire, medium, undertow – allude to the power of the all-knowing digital companies. Speaking clearly about this power and its effects is critical. Ultimately, the public needs more voice, more choice, more power. In the near term, we should pursue algorithmic accountability, independent auditing and consumer protection scrutiny, before we lose our agency as a public that is something other than their “user base.”