February 21, 2015 | Graham

Dog whistles must be on special

I’ve been shocked and disgusted by the racism incorporate in the reaction to the Hepatatitis A contaminated frozen berries sold by Nanna’s and used as a weapon by those seeking to advance restrictive trade practices.

While plenty were keen to accuse John Howard of allegedly “dog whistling” to racists through his tough on illegal entrants campaign, how would you describe the campaign against the frozen berries imported from China if not as “dog whistling”?

There is a confluence of interests. Old school protectionists and agrarian socialists want to protect Australia’s agriculture against overseas imports, and non-tariff methods, such as quality controls, are an old favourite.

And the green left just hate free trade agreements.

But neither side can just come out and say this. Under WTO rules you can’t just slap on protection because you feel like it, either to allow you to jack up domestic prices, as per the producer organisations, or to destroy free trade agreements, as per the left.

So you whistle up the dogs and get them upset because these are imported berries, and if they weren’t imported then Hepatitis A wouldn’t be an issue.

If you listen to the Buy Australian crowd, merely buying Australian guarantees you won’t get ill, so labelling becomes not just a matter of information, but a health imperative.

Let’s put aside the fact that Australia’s rural industries don’t actually produce the number of berries that we consume.

Where is the proof that Australian products are inherently safer? And if they aren’t, isn’t the argument based on a stereotype of overseas products that is inherently racist?

Afterall, lots of imported products have high cachet – how many cars, let alone prestige cars do we produce domestically? And when was the last time someone called for clearer labelling of imported cars from Germany just because one of their products had to be recalled, or implied that the problem with the car was that it wasn’t made in Australia?

So what is the problem with foreign produced berries, except they come from a part of the world that some of us have a problem with because they are not like us (well those of us of European extraction)?

If you Google “food poisoning cases australia” you will find any number of examples of poor health and hygience from Australian products, particularly restaurants. In fact apparently Salmonella poisoning is on the rise.

There are probably no statistics on the comparative risks between domestic and imported food in this regard, but it might be the case that an “Australian Made” label could be a warning that this product might be unsafe too.

Probably as unsafe as imported berries.

But not in the world of dog whistling, where the fact that foreigners, of an Asian character, have touched this product is enough to make it suspect. That’s why we need the labelling.

And if callers to talk back radio are to be given any credence, not only with respect to berries, but farmed fish and everything else that comes from Asia.

In another complication, it might not be that the berries in question came from China at all. As the SMH reports, the berries are sourced from China and Chile. I know they both have five letters, start with “Ch” and end in a vowel, but they have quite different ethnic origins.

Could the reason Chile doesn’t get a mention be because they are well, European, like us?

Meanwhile, the left plunges on accusing others of racism with the most recent charge from Brisbane’s resident savant manque John Birmingham, who claims that we don’t care about the impending executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran because we are racist.

Is he serious? At the same time as others of his confreres on the left are berating Abbott because he’s been too strong in his approach to the Indonesians?

There was an element of dog whistling in Howard’s attitude to refugees, as well as hard-edged practicality. I wasn’t afraid to call that in 2001.

But Howard’s policies were necessary, and were always going to appeal to racists not because the measures were racist, but because racists were likely to find them comforting. You can’t help that.

And I’m going to call the dog whistling now, and I’m calling it as far worse than Howard’s.

At the same time as Howard was tough on illegal entrants he ran an expansive and entirely colour blind immigration policy.

These dog whistlers aren’t attracting racists mostly inadvertently through a colour blind policy. They are attracting them by targeting the very races they disapprove of.

Posted by Graham at 10:50 pm | Comments (9) |

February 20, 2015 | Ronda Jambe

Water, water, everywhere yet not a drop to drink….

The Ancient Mariner ain’t seen nothin yet. Just a few items from the news. Of course mainstream media doesn’t cover these mere details that affect tens of millions. Not to mention what is happening in Queensland right now.

1. Brazil’s drought
This week’s most popular story was Fabiola Ortiz’s account of life in Brazil as the country deals with its worst drought in 84 years. Poor rains, deforestation and high water consumption has led to parts of the country declaring a state of emergency. Even carnival dancers will suffer – water used to cool them off has been banned. In the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, the mayor is close to restricting water access to two days a week.

2. From Stratfor. There are links to other articles on water scarcity at the end of this one.

Industrial Expansion Will Strain Mexico’s Water Resources

3. And let’s not mention sea level rise and storm surges

Troubled Coastlines From Louisiana To Maine

Bob Marshall on the massive undertaking of reversing a century and a half of
policies that have left the Mississippi River Delta region battered,and former Maine
State Representative Seth Berry about his state’s coastal problems.

4. Across the world climate impacts are already changing lives, and forcing people to
leave their homes. Sophie Yeo has mapped some critical areas of concern

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 6:11 am | Comments (3) |
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February 16, 2015 | Graham

Ferny Grove spanner still poised above the works

If the LNP challenges the ECQ’s decision in Ferny Grove and wins, it’s possible that the Palaszczuk government will be one of the shortest in Queensland’s history. But everyone seems to think there is no chance of the LNP mounting a challenge, or succeeding.

Having been through the 1995 Mundingburra appeal I wouldn’t be so sure.

The cost of appealing is relatively modest compared to the prize, and the chance of winning the appeal appears reasonably strong.

In assessing the case I’d been relying on this blog post by Antony Green where he argues that the High Court has ruled in Nile v Wood that it would only be in the case where a disqualified candidate wins an election that there would be grounds for a re-election.

But as Green says, he’s not a lawyer. Not much of a lawyer at all, as Wood was rejected as precedent for a lower house seat in a subsequent High Court case.

Real lawyers have put the case to me that Wood is not in fact precedent for Ferny Grove, and that in fact the ruling of the High Court in Sykes v Cleary is. Nile v Wood was a case about a Senate election, where voting really proceeds on party, rather than individual lines.

Cleary was for a lower house seat.

In Cleary 6 of the 7 judges decided that the mere fact of a disqualified person being in the ballot meant that it should be run again. The seventh found  on other grounds, so didn’t decide on this matter.

It was held to be analogous in some respects to a candidate dying between close of nominations and election day, in which case the commonwealth electoral act (and the Queensland electoral act as well), hold that the election must be re-run.

The judges held that it was impossible to know how voters might have voted in a different field.

Sykes v Cleary does seem to provide a pretty clear precedent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the court of disputed returns orders a re-election.

What I am surprised about is that the Electoral Commission, having announced its intention to send the matter to the court of disputed returns, changed its mind.

There has to be real doubt as to the actual legal status, and a referral would have been appropriately prudent.

It suggests some very heavy leaning on the commission by the incoming government. Perhaps not as much has changed in Queensland as some would like us to think.

But as the Mundingburra judgement also suggests, it can be difficult to second guess what judges will decide. I can remember thinking that case would be decided on the issue of false enrolments.

In the end it came down to soldiers in Rwanda not having received their ballot papers in time – the grounds which I thought were the shakiest.

In fact, after the Borbidge government came to power as a result of this ruling it was forced to change the act to rule this possibility out. Making Australia Post an agent for the electoral commission, which is what the judgement did, posed real practical problems for later elections.

Posted by Graham at 5:44 pm | Comments (2) |

February 16, 2015 | Ronda Jambe

Under the Moruya Moon (18)

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Late summer, almost nightly showers keeping all green. An ocean warm and welcoming, if often wilder than my timid swimming skills would like.

Amid all the bluster about the reality of climate change (internationally and locally in these blogs) I have quietly finished Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. I am waiting for my fellow humans to wake up to the freight train that is heading our way. Climate change is just half the picture.

The bad news remains the fact that we’re cooking the planet with fossil fuels. The good news is we’re running out of fossil fuels. But the really good news is that the giant oil companies are going to be squeezed, and with them, our economic substrata. For change is surely coming, as this recent excellent article by Gabrielle Kuiper in The Guardian reveals:

It might seem unethical but someone has to get rich fighting climate change

On a quick visit to New Zealand (farewell to my little cottage on a hydro lake, sacrified to personal rationalism) it was surprising to see the North Island more brown than the NSW south coast. NZ’s hydro supply and expansionary plans for their dairy industry could both be undermined if that situation becomes standard, as is happening in California. See No End In Sight For California’s Climate-Exacerbated Drought

I also discovered that a lovely red bulbous flower which I had captured and cultivated from the local bike path grows wild in NZ, although sadly labelled a weed here. (So I dutifully ripped them out, one step back for each two forward.) The Italian parsley, once coaxed as a lone plant in a pot, is now spreading its verdant vitamins in every arable patch. The tiny bush tomatoes are heading that way too, with my blessings.

Such revelations form the background to efforts here on our little coastal spread. Food and water occupy my plans, and how to process roo poo into compost for more edible items. A new tank has been delivered and installed:

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The electrician was so good as to transplant my basil when he dug up the garden for the cable to the new garage, and the tiler has done a fine job of the patios front and back. A daily walk takes me up a set of stairs near a boat ramp. I call them the ‘Rosalie Gascogne stairs’ after an artist who did interesting things with bits of wood, sometimes with yellow paint:

Ros Gas stairs

Between equally furious bouts of ping pong and weeding, we are amused by the antics of our cat:

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The antics of politicians are just as funny, and futile.

Efforts to grow food are stymied by my lack of devotion and too much time spent elsewhere. (Although the rucola in Canberra has been bountiful.) Slowly the innate potential for this block of land to become a resort is emerging. A pleasure palace palace where worries about the future take a back seat. More Caravaggio, less Calvinism. And wouldn’t that nook by the garage be the perfect place for a spa? And are we not still, for the most part, just the luckiest country ever? So I muse while looking out over my reluctant vassals, the grey kangaroos.

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Posted by Ronda Jambe at 3:28 pm | Comments (2) |
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February 10, 2015 | Graham

Seeney, councils and sea levels

Was Jeff Seeney wrong to order Moreton Bay Regional Council to remove any reference to climate change-derived sea level rises from its regional plan?

“Experts”, the local council and environment groups say he is, but the actual figures say “maybe not”.

There is no global warming occurring at the moment, but there has been global warming over the course of the 20th Century, and while CO2 levels continue to rise, the logarithmic effect this has on temperature means a lot more CO2 is required for a given amount of warming.

All of which suggests, if there was going to be an acceleration of sea level rise we should already see evidence of it, and that as long as the pause remains we shouldn’t see much sea level rise at all.

So, here are the sea level figures for Brisbane provided by the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS), a US government body, which along with its predecessors has been gathering USA tidal data for 200 years (longer than the instrumental temperature record is available).




There has been no statistically significant increase in sea level in Brisbane at all with the measured increase less than the measurement error. There are no figures for Moreton but as it and Brisbane are on the same stretch of water I think we can safely infer that the 800 mm over the next 85 years, which the council has written into its town planning instrument, is fanciful.

That would be a rise of 9.4 mm per year when over the last 49 years there has been, as best anyone can tell, one hundredth that amount of sea rise per year, if there has been any rise at all.

I’m sure it won’t take long for a commenter to point out that the IPCC forecasts are different, so the measurement must be wrong.

To this I would say two things.

First, the IPCC projections for temperature on which the IPCC forecasts are based have been invalidated by the last 15 or 18 years of temperature so that now all of the models are running hotter than reality. In which case, the best forecasting stance would be to take the business as usual case and project it forward.

Second, even if the IPCC forecasts were correct, they are global, and local effects can overwhelm global effects. The east coast of Australia is rising at the same time as the west coast is falling because the continent is tilting as continental drift pushes it up under Asia. So while there might be more water in the oceans we won’t notice it as much, or apparently at all, on this side of our island.

In which case, a council that applies an 800 mm projection is being plain ridiculous.

Of course, if Seeney had been wise, he would have commissioned a scientific committee to write all this down in a 100 pages or so.

The council claims that it may be liable for failing to take climate change into account in planning. This could easily be cured by state legislation.

Sea levels do rise and fall, with the sea being around 100 metres lower on the east coast of Australia than today a mere 15,000 years ago. The Whitsundays were mostly once mountains, and there was no Great Barrier Reef.

Any port built on the east coast at that time would now be well underwater.

We like to live near the water, and there are commercial reasons why we should build cities near the water. The idea that fear of climate change means that these should be built so far inland that they could never be affected is ridiculous.

Cities are not immutable. They change and are redeveloped. If I build in an area which is inundated in 100 years time, then that should be at my risk, and not the council’s.

On these figures, I’d be happy to take the risk.

The prices at which waterfront properties change hands suggests that the weight of money is with me. And with Jeff Seeney.


Posted by Graham at 5:24 am | Comments (19) |
Filed under: Environment,Planning

February 04, 2015 | Graham

Only six impossible things?

I’m posting this lecture invite not because I think anyone who reads this blog is going to make the trip to London to hear it, but because it is a good and amusing summary of the quandary in which IPCC climate “science”, finds itself. A bit more attention to science rather than propaganda and things would look a lot better.

Believing in Six Impossible Things before Breakfast, and Climate Models

Professor Christopher Essex, House of Lords, 11 Feb 2015


A talk by Dr Christopher Essex – Chairman, Permanent Monitoring Panel on Climate, World Federation of Scientists, and Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Western Ontario, Canada 

Has the scientific problem of climate been solved in terms of basic physics and mathematics?

No, but you will  be forgiven if you thought otherwise. For decades, the most rigorous treatments of climate have been done through climate models.

The clever model pioneers understood many of their inherent limitations, but tried to persevere nonetheless.

Today, few academics are even aware of what the pioneers understood, let alone what has been learned since about the full depth of modelling  difficulties.

Meanwhile popular expressions of the scientific technicalities are largely superficial, defective, comically nonsensical, and virtually uncorrectable.

All of the best physics and all of the best computer models cannot put this Humpty Dumpty together, because we face some of the most fundamental problems of modern science in climate, but hardly know it.

If you think you want to have a go at those problems, there are at least a couple million dollars in prizes in it, not to mention a Fields Medal or two.

But even if you don’t have some spare afternoons to solve problems that have stymied the best minds in history, this talk will cure computer cachet even for laymen, putting climate models into their proper perspective.

Posted by Graham at 6:28 am | Comments (5) |
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