Australian news, and some related international items

Sydney Morning Herald up to date coverage of New South Wales bushfires

New South Wales braces for unprecedented fire danger | ABC News

Message from the Editor: Our bushfire coverage, SMH, By Lisa Davies,

“Catastrophic” is not a word used flippantly. The highest possible level of bushfire danger across NSW has led the Premier Gladys Berejiklian to declare a State of Emergency for the first time in six years.

As a result, the Herald will provide open access to our coverage – meaning that for the duration of this crisis, bushfire stories will be free for all readers…..

the conditions forecast for Sydney, the Hunter region, the Blue Mountains and Central Coast have worsened – similar to those experienced in Victoria on Black Saturday, which saw 173 people killed and thousands of homes lost.

Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the predictions were unprecedented for the greater Sydney area.

“We could not find a time in history … where we saw indices reaching what we now know are catastrophic levels here in the Greater Sydney environment,” he said. “We are talking about something we haven’t experienced before in Sydney in the Greater Sydney environment.”

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell has announced 300 schools will be closed and expects the number to rise.

So what does a “catastrophic” fire emergency mean?

It means high winds and extreme heat can cause embers from existing fires to travel more than 20 kilometres ahead of the main firefront, Mr Fitzsimmons explained……..

We will be updating readers live via our blog and at…….

November 11, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Sydney and surroundings – “Catastrophic” fire warning.


How near to Lucas Heights nuclear facility are the fires?

Catastrophic’ fire warning a first for Sydney   RFS raises Sydney fire warning to ‘catastrophic’, SMH  Helen PittLisa VisentinLaura Chung and Lucy Cormack, November 10, 2019
Catastrophic fire danger is forecast for Sydney and its surrounds on Tuesday for the first time, as a statewide total fire ban is enforced today to help contain more than 60 fires across the state.
It’s the first time the NSW Rural Fire Service has issued the maximum level of warning for the city since the introduction of the “catastrophic” alert in 2009 in the wake of the Victorian Black Saturday blazes.
Yet both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian have refused to be drawn on the contribution of climate change to the fires which have so far killed three, injured at least 35 and destroyed more than 150 homes.
The Sydney region is now drier than before the 2001 Black Christmas fires, as authorities warn more “lives and homes” will be at risk when the mercury soars to 37-38C tomorrow…….

November 11, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Massive bushfires in New South Wales are NOT “part of a normal cycle” – fire-fighting expert.

This is not normal: what’s different about the NSW mega fires, SMH, By Greg Mullins, November 11, 2019 —I write this piece reluctantly, because there are still possible fire victims unaccounted for; people have lost loved ones; and hundreds of families have lost their homes. My heart goes out to them. I don’t want to detract in any way from the vital safety messages that our fire commissioners and Premier will be making about Tuesday’s fire potential.

Everyone needs to heed the fire service warnings to prepare, to have a plan, and to leave early if you’re not properly prepared. Know that the best firefighters in the world – volunteer and paid – will be out in force from NSW agencies and interstate to do battle with the worst that an angry Mother Nature can throw at us. But as we saw on Friday, the sheer scale and ferocity of mega fires can defy even the best efforts.

In the past I’ve have heard some federal politicians dodge the question of the influence of climate change on extreme weather and fires by saying, “It’s terrible that this matter is being raised while the fires are still burning.” But if not now, then when?

“Unprecedented” is a word that we are hearing a lot: from fire chiefs, politicians, and the weather bureau. I have just returned from California where I spoke to fire chiefs still battling unseasonal fires. The same word, “unprecedented”, came up.

Unprecedented dryness; reductions in long-term rainfall; low humidity; high temperatures; wind velocities; fire danger indices; fire spread and ferocity; instances of pyro-convective fires (fire storms – making their own weather); early starts and late finishes to bushfire seasons. An established long-term trend driven by a warming, drying climate. The numbers don’t lie, and the science is clear.

If anyone tells you, “This is part of a normal cycle” or “We’ve had fires like this before”, smile politely and walk away, because they don’t know what they’re talking about..…

November 11, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

New South Wales Labor calls for suspending parliament, as bushfires rage


November 11, 2019 Posted by | New South Wales | Leave a comment

Australia’s out of control bushfires (all along the region where the nuclear lobby wants to put reactors!)

‘Uncharted territory’: Dozens of out of control bushfires burn across New South Wales and Queensland,    Hot, windy conditions are wreaking havoc across New South Wales and Queensland.

Australian firefighters warned they were in “uncharted territory” as they struggled to contain dozens of out-of-control bushfires across the east of the country on Friday.

Around a hundred blazes pockmarked the New South Wales and Queensland countryside, around 19 of them dangerous and uncontained.

“We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the ABC. “We are in uncharted territory.”The RFS said on Friday afternoon it received multiple reports of people being trapped in their homes at several locations.

Homes have also been destroyed, the RFS added.

A mayor on New South Wales’ mid-north coast said on Friday the bushfires ripping through the region were “horrifying and horrendous beasts”.

MidCoast Council mayor David West said a fire near Forster threatened a council building on Thursday night.

“It was literally a wall of yellow, horrible, beastly, tormenting flames,” the mayor said.

The mayor was particularly concerned about an out-of-control fire burning near Hillville south of Taree.

November 9, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales, Queensland | Leave a comment

Climate change is bringing more extreme weather events to Sydney and Melbourne

Hail, cyclones and fire: Extreme weather risks on the rise, SMH, By Peter Hannam, November 1, 2019, Sydney and Melbourne will most likely be exposed to more intense hailstorms, tropical cyclones will track further south and bushfire risks will increase in most of Australia as the climate warms, new research shows.The modelling based on a 3 degree temperature rise is contained in a severe weather report to be released on Friday by IAG, the country’s largest general insurer, and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

“Climate change is not just about the future,” the report states. “There is already solid evidence that there have been measurable changes to weather and climate extremes with the [1 degree of] warming to date.”

Changing insurance claims data are among the indications that major damaging hail events for Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne have already been increasing in the past decade……

Insurance and other financial firms have been reassessing their risks to climate change, prodded in part by international groups such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

IAG managing director Peter Harmer said there was “an urgent need for Australia to prepare for and adapt to climate change”.

“[It] is critical there is a co-ordinated national approach from governments, industries and businesses to build more resilient communities and reduce the impact of disasters.”

Executive manager of natural perils at IAG Mark Leplastrier said that, apart from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, communities had two main tools to shape the future risk profile: the tightening of land planning and improving building codes.

“There’s a huge opportunity to adapt,” he said……..

November 2, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales, Victoria | Leave a comment

85 fires burning across New South Wales

Warnings issued as dozens of bushfires burn across New South Wales, Almost 1200 firefighters are tackling large bushfires on the NSW mid-north coast among scores of blazes around the state. SBS, 27 Oct 19,

Warning levels for two bushfires on the NSW mid-north coast have been increased to watch and act, with close to 1200 firefighters battling 85 blazes around the state.

An out-of-control blaze in the Darawank area, north of Forster-Tuncurry, has burnt more than 2300 hectares, the NSW Rural Fire Service said.

Fire activity has increased under the influence of erratic winds, it said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.   The fire has crossed The Lakes Way and is burning towards Failford, where smoke and ashes may be encountered.

“There are a number of small active areas throughout the fireground,” NSW RFS said.

“Firefighters and aircraft continue work to slow the spread of the fire.”

The blaze is producing large amounts of smoke……..

At midday some 85 fires were burning across the state with 45 not contained.

Nearly 1200 firefighters are working to contain the fires, NSW RFS said.

Embers from the Tuncurry blaze travelled kilometres ahead of the fire front on Saturday, creating spot fires in suburban backyards and the headland at Forster Main Beach……

October 28, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Australia’s climate crisis: destruction of forests

Stripped bare: Australia’s hidden climate crisis, Guardian,  Anne DaviesMike BowersAndy Ball and Nick Evershed16 October 2019
An epidemic of land clearing is sabotaging efforts to address climate change. Farming communities are bitterly divided over the issue – but it also has global consequences

Roger Fitzgerald’s family has been farming near Moree since 1925. But these days he feels under siege on his own farm. His 1,700-hectare property, 50km north of the town, is now surrounded by the operations of the sprawling agribusiness Beefwood Farms, which has been steadily buying up land in New South Wales to expand its operations.

The old easement to Fitzgerald’s cottage across the sprawling Beefwood property has been planted over with crops. His letterbox has mysteriously disappeared on several occasions, making it hard for visitors to spot the entrance to his farm. But it is the extent of land clearing by his neighbour, Beefwood’s owner, Gerardus Kurstjens, that has upset him the most.

Fitzgerald says the microclimate of the nearby Welbon plains has moved a kilometre further on to his property since losing a tree line on Kurstjens’ property that once sheltered his land.

Pockets of remaining vegetation have been ripped from the grey soil to expand cultivation and square up paddocks – and the first Fitzgerald knows of it is when the bulldozers arrive.

“There is something seriously not right about the extent of land clearing in my little part of the world,” he says.

Think of land clearing like a rezoning in the city. Land cleared for cropping west of Moree sells for $2,500 a hectare whereas grazing land will sell for between $700 and $1000 a hectare. East of Moree most of the prime land has already been converted to crops and sells for $6,800 a hectare, three times the value of grazing land.

Clearing vegetation has the potential to add millions to a property’s value, as well as yielding high returns in a good year.

That alone is enough for farmers to risk up to $1m in fines for illegally clearing, according to one former NSW Office of Environment and Heritage compliance officer, who asked not to be named.

But while land clearing might benefit individual farmers in the short term, the loss of native vegetation comes with enormous costs for the rest of us.

“Land clearance and degradation is one of the greatest crises facing Australia and the world,” says Bill Hare, the chief executive and senior scientist with Berlin-based Climate Analytics. “It undermines the basis for food production, is causing species loss and ecological decline, destroys climate resilience, degrades water resources and reverses carbon storage on the land.”

Pollution from land clearing is projected by the federal government to remain at about 46m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year to 2030, roughly equivalent to emissions from three large coal-fired power plants. The rate at which we are clearing land in Australia is almost immediately wiping out gains being made under tax-payer funded schemes to address climate change.

Australia is among the 11 worst countries when it comes to deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Queensland, with its vast swathes of untouched land on Cape York, has the highest clearing rate, but NSW is rapidly becoming a hotspot – and there is less to lose, with only 9% of the state’s vegetation in its original state.

What is becoming clear is that successive NSW governments have failed to explain the science behind preserving native vegetation – both in relation to climate change and protecting the landscape and endangered species – to farmers and the public.

Instead, land clearing laws in the state have been successively weakened, first by Labor and then more comprehensively by the Coalition, with the introduction of amendments to the Local Land Services Act in August 2017.

“NSW’s native vegetation laws were [once] based on the principle that broad-scale land clearing would not be permitted and clearing could only proceed if it could be shown to maintain or improve environmental outcomes,” says Rachel Walmsley, a solicitor at the NSW Environmental Defenders Office.

“The new act brought in a new approach with the twin stated objectives of arresting the current decline in the state’s biodiversity while also facilitating sustainable agricultural development.”

But while farmers are mostly happy with the new rules, environmentalists say they have ushered in an environmental disaster because they allow farmers to self-assess whether clearing is permissible.

The old act also protected paddock trees; the amended act has made it much easier to get rid of them.

Critics say farmers have been given the green light to clear.

“I have sat in meetings where arguments have been put that driving a tractor around a tree is a significant cost in diesel for farmers,” Walmsley says.

“There’s no valuation of the ecosystem services these trees provide: clean water, clean air, healthy soils and hosting pollinators. There’s no dollar value put on vegetation.”………

The facts are unequivocal. NSW is losing vegetation at an alarming rate…………………

October 17, 2019 Posted by | business, climate change - global warming, environment, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Severe fire danger for northern New South Wales

October 17, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

With temperatures heading for 40C, New South Wales and Queensland at bushfire risk

Large swathes of NSW at bushfires risk as temperatures set to reach 40Cm 
Bourke and Brewarrina brace for 40C day as dust storms set to sweep western parts of state, Guardian,
Australian Associated Press, Sun 6 Oct 2019  The Bureau of Meteorology says an unseasonal heatwave hitting western and north-western New South Wales could demolish October heat records and place large swathes of the state at bushfire risk.While Sydney’s top temperature was expected to reach a mild 23C on Sunday, Bourke and Brewarrina braced for their first 40C day since March.

Wilcannia, Cobar and Dubbo were also set to exceed 37C while dust was forecast for most parts west of Griffith and Bourke.

The BoM warned the fire danger rating in almost every NSW/ACT region was high or very high for Sunday, prompted by heat, high winds and low humidity.

By early afternoon, no bushfires were rated higher than “advice” alert level.

Meteorologist Jake Phillips said the bureau was particularly concerned by conditions to the west of the Great Dividing Range. “It’s quite unusual to see temperatures this warm,” Phillips said.

“In large areas of the state we’re seeing daytime temperatures between 8C and 12C above average for this time of the year, and in some places more.

“As we move into tomorrow, it’s quite likely we will see some places getting pretty close to or maybe breaking October records, the most likely areas being the northern tablelands and north-west slopes.”

Very high fire danger was forecast in ACT and 10 NSW regions: greater Hunter, central ranges, southern ranges, Monaro alpine, lower central west plains, upper central west plains, far western, New England, northern slopes and north western. On Sunday afternoon none were yet subject to total fire bans.

All other regions except eastern Riverina had a high fire danger rating…..

The BoM said Queensland was also set to scorch through another heatwave this week, with hot, dry and windy conditions increasing fire danger, particularly in the south-east…..

October 6, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales, Queensland | Leave a comment

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro wants to “normalise”nuclear power

NSW Deputy Premier calls for nuclear vote within three years, AFR,  Aaron Patrickn 30 Sept 19, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro suggested holding a non-binding vote at the next federal election to approve the introduction of nuclear power, a step that could help overcome entrenched opposition from the left to the low-emissions technology.

The leader of the state National Party is one of the leading political advocates for nuclear power, which is currently being investigated by parliamentary inquiries at the federal level and in NSW and Victoria.

“We could quite simply have a plebiscite at the 2022 election,” he told a conference run by the Australian Nuclear Association in Sydney. “We need to normalise [?] the conversation.

“Bit by bit it has become the norm. The negativity isn’t happening anymore. Australia is welcoming the conversation.”[?]

Supporters of nuclear power have been buoyed by the new political interest in nuclear, which received a boost when federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor initiated the federal inquiry last month.

At the University of Technology Sydney on Friday, several hundred engineers, regulators and policy experts gathered at the conference to discuss international developments and the Australian outlook.

“The conference is genuinely standing room only,” South Australian nuclear advocate Ben Heard said. “I have never seen it like this. Something is changing down under.”

The federal Coalition’s current policy is not to legalise nuclear power, but some federal and state Coalition MPs hope that developing community attitudes, and the pressure for action on global warming, could change the political environment.

The Labor Party and the Greens remain adamantly opposed. Labor climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler has challenged the government to identify which cities, suburbs or towns would be the location for future nuclear reactors……..

Under a plan advocated by members of the Australia Nuclear Association, the federal government would build at least 20 nuclear power plants from 2030 to 2050.

At a cost of around $6 billion each, each plant would have a generating capacity of 1000 megawatts, which is about half AGL’s NSW Liddell power station, which is due to close in 2023…….

Nuclear critics, including former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, have said that the cheapest way to reduce emissions is to combine wind and solar power with some form of storage.

Although batteries have very limited capacity at the moment, experts expect them to improve in coming years.

September 30, 2019 Posted by | New South Wales, politics | Leave a comment

Climate change now brings Queensland into a new era of bushfires

‘This is an omen’: Queensland firefighters battle worst start to season on record   More than 50 bushfires are burning with the most dangerous in the Gold Coast hinterland destroying the Binna Burra Lodge, Guardian, Australian Associated Press 8 Sept 19,  Queensland is in uncharted territory as firefighting crews battle to get the upper hand in the worst start to the fire season on record.

More than 50 fires were burning across Queensland on Sunday afternoon, the most dangerous in the Gold Coast hinterland where it had destroyed homes and the heritage-listed Binna Burra Lodge.

One of the oldest nature-based resorts in Australia, which dates back to the 1930s, now lies in ruins………

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services’ predictive services inspector, Andrew Sturgess, said the state had never before seen such serious bushfire conditions, so early in spring.

“So this is an omen, if you will, a warning of the fire season that we are likely to see in south-eastern parts of the state where most of the population is,” he said.

The acting premier, Jackie Trad, said climate change meant the state was facing a new era of fire risk.

“There is no doubt that with an increasing temperature with climate change, then what the scientists tell us is that events such as these will be more frequent and they will be much more ferocious,” she told reporters.

Fire authorities have warned the danger posed by the Binna Burra fire will not be over for days, with strong winds expected to persist until Tuesday.

“We’re still very much in defensive mode,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services’ assistant commissioner, Kevin Walsh, said on Sunday………

Dams and water tanks on rural properties are empty. Stanthorpe itself is subject to emergency water restrictions of 100 litres per person per day, with the supply not expected to last until the end of the year. After that the council will have to truck water in.

“We need rain. That’s the only thing that’s going to save us,”  Stanthorpe woman Samantha Wantling  said.

In New South Wales firefighters were battling several out-of-control bushfires with strong winds making for challenging conditions. Despite cooler weather, damaging winds of up to 70km/h were expected to ramp up fire activity with very high fire danger in the state’s far north coast, north coast and New England areas. …….

September 8, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales, Queensland | Leave a comment

Indigenous landowner challenges Sussan Ley’s decision for coal mine

Legal challenge over Sussan Ley’s decision to put potential mining jobs at Shenhua Mine before cultural heritage, ABC News, By Indigenous affairs correspondent Isabella Higgins and Sarah Collard  25 Aug 19, A family fighting to defend their traditional country from mining are suing Environment Minister Sussan Ley after she rejected their heritage protection bid in favour of a controversial Chinese coal project.

Key points 

  • Environment Minister is being sued for rejecting heritage protection in favour of a proposed coal mine
  • Lawyers say it could be an important test case if the decision is found to be unlawful
  • Traditional owners fear important sacred sites will be destroyed if the mine goes ahead

Last month, the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians failed in a bid to have sacred sites in north-west New South Wales preserved and protected from development due to cultural importance.

The land near Gunnedah had already been earmarked for the $1.2 billion Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine, which gained conditional federal approval in 2015 and has state development consents.

Ms Ley rejected their application on the grounds that the potential jobs generated from the mine were more important than cultural preservation.

She acknowledged the project could cause “mental health impacts … a sense of dislocation, displacement and dispossession,” among Indigenous people, but determined the social and economic value of the project took priority.

On behalf of the Gomeroi people, traditional owner Dolly Talbott has launched legal action against Ms Ley, with the case due before court for the first time on Wednesday.

She is being represented by the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) which will argue that the minister’s decision was “unlawful” and contravenes the constitutional basis of the heritage protection act.

“If we don’t try to save these sites, then we are not fulfilling our obligations to our elders and our ancestors … and our children and grandchildren,” Ms Talbott said.

“[The national Indigenous heritage laws] are supposed to be there for the protection of Aboriginal culture and it doesn’t seem to be working.”……

Benefits of mine outweigh destruction of heritage: Minister

When deciding on the intervention request, Ms Ley acknowledged the mine would result in the “likely destruction of parts of their Indigenous cultural heritage”.

“I considered that the expected social and economic benefits of the Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine outweighed the impacts on the applicants [Gomeroi people]” she said in the rejection document seen by the ABC…….

The Minister has the final say on which applications receive protection status, under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. …….

Shenhua development courts controversy

This legal battle is the latest saga, in a long-running series of controversies involving the mine.

It sparked vehement protests in recent years, with farmers, environmentalists and Indigenous groups all fiercely opposed to the development.

They have raised concerns about how the mine will impact groundwater and wildlife and whether it’s economically viable.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce previously labelled the project “ridiculous” after his own government approved the mine, which falls in his New England electorate.

The NSW Government bought back half of the company’s mining exploration license in 2017, at a cost of $262 million, which at the time it said was to protect prime farming land.

Winning this case would mean Gomeroi people can continue to teach their children culture on country, Ms Talbott said.

“The stories of the land that we continue to tell our children today, and hopefully these sites are still there so they can tell their children.

August 27, 2019 Posted by | aboriginal issues, legal, New South Wales | Leave a comment

Drought-stricken NSW braces for an early bushfire season with not enough water to take them on

Drought-stricken NSW braces for an early bushfire season with not enough water to take them on ABC New England By Jennifer Ingall  2 Aug 19,  Firefighters in parched New South Wales face the unenviable predicament of preparing for the impending fire season in a state where 98 per cent is in drought or short on water.

Key points:

  • Firefighters brace for a hot summer with depleted water resources
  • BOM’s August to October climate outlook suggests a drier than average three months for large parts of Australia
  • RFS assures farmers it will replace water used to fight fires

“When you’ve got a drought like that, particularly in bush areas, the fuel is so dry it doesn’t take a lot to get it to burn and burn hot,” acting Rural Fire Service (RFS) deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said.

August was traditionally a cool but windy month, but add to that the dry fuel load and it could be a recipe for disaster.

“So you’ve got the dry fuel and the strong winds — if you add a high temperature, and if we don’t get an easing of the drought through rainfall, then that’s quite concerning going into summer proper,” he said.

Resources already depleted

In the state’s north, the community of Tenterfield does not have enough water to supply the townsfolk, let alone an allocation of the precious resource to fight fires.

The drought has left the town supply with less than 200 days of water, requiring the Tenterfield Council to take the drastic measure of bringing in a temporary desalination plant.

In February this year, the region depleted a lot of its water resources fighting fires.

The RFS pulled water from private dams and even household tanks which then had to be replenished…….

August 3, 2019 Posted by | climate change - global warming, New South Wales | Leave a comment

New South Wales Parliament inquiries on uranium, nuclear, and energy

Dan Monceaux shared a linkNuclear Fuel Cycle Watch South Australia , 1 Aug 19
In the NSW Parliament there are two inquiries underway that are relevant to this group’s discussion. There are opportunities to make submissions to both.

1. Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019 (Submissions close 18 October 2019)

2. Sustainability of energy supply and resources in NSW (Submissions close 15 September 2019)

August 1, 2019 Posted by | ACTION, New South Wales, politics | Leave a comment