Australian news, and some related international items

Melissa Price – Australia’s Minister For Coal – but don’t we need a Minister for the Environment?

Environment Minister Price under pressure to front the public, ,By Nicole Hasham, May 20, 2019   Australia has failed to deliver a major report to the United Nations on its progress in halting the extinction crisis as pressure mounts on Environment Minister Melissa Price to front the public over highly controversial election-eve decisions.Ms Price’s absence from the federal election campaign became a national curiosity. She refused scores of media interview requests, ignored challenges from her political rivals for public debates and did not appear at government announcements relating to her portfolio.

This prompted suggestions she was avoiding scrutiny of controversial approvals she granted just before the election, such as groundwater plans for the divisive Adani coal project and a contentious uranium mine in her home state of Western Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated Ms Price will be re-appointed to the portfolio in his next cabinet.

The Department of the Environment and Energy, which Ms Price oversees, was due last December to present Australia’s sixth national report to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

The report would outline the government’s progress on conservation measures and in meeting the objectives of the convention, to which Australia is a party. However, it has not been delivered.

Australia has one of the world’s worst extinction records. The global crisis was highlighted in a shocking United Nations report this month that warned 1 million species on Earth were headed for extinction within decades.

The Morrison government has also failed to deliver an official plan to protect the nation’s animals and plants. A draft version of the plan, Australia‘s Strategy for Nature 2018-2030, was panned last year as a “global embarrassment” for its brevity and lack of specific targets.

Ms Price’s office did not respond to this publication’s questions or interview request.

Mr Morrison was grilled over the United Nations extinction report and appeared to stumble in his response, referring to government measures that do not exist.

Two days out from the election, Ms Price and Resources Minister Matt Canavan announced an independent audit of energy giant Equinor’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight, in response to deep concerns in South Australian coastal electorates.

Should Ms Price continue in the environment portfolio, she faces a number of persistent questions, including how Australia will meet its Paris climate targets if the government’s plans to use carryover carbon credits from the Kyoto period are deemed outside the rules.

In a statement, the department said it was working on the report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and that this involved “an extensive co-ordination and consolidation process”. The department hopes to finalise the report this year.

The separate national biodiversity strategy was being revised and required agreement from state and federal environment ministers, it said.

Greens environment spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison “must dump Melissa Price from the ministry … The climate and our environment can’t afford another term with Melissa Price as environment minister”.


May 21, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Yeelirrie uranium approval, Adani coal – Australia needs new and stronger national environment laws


May 13, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics | Leave a comment

Melissa Price – the Environment Minster you get from an anti environment government

May 13, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, election 2019, environment | Leave a comment

Adani project faces another hurdle – another groundwater review

The Queensland government has requested another groundwater review from Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project, again holding up the project., SBS, 13 May 19 

Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine project is facing another hurdle, with the Queensland government seeking a further review of their groundwater plans.

Adani Mining’s chief executive Lucas Dow said the new request came from the Department of Environment and Science last Friday.

“It appears this process will again go beyond the scope of what our project is required to deliver under regulatory conditions – and, put simply, is another fishing expedition,” he said in a statement.

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price signed off the company’s groundwater plans just before the start of the election campaign. ….

The new review means Adani can’t start construction on the mine which has been stuck in the courts and approval process for almost a decade.

The mine, to be developed in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin, has been a political football, with the country divided on the value of the $2 billion project.

It has dogged the federal election campaign and the coalition believes the Queensland Labor government is putting up road blocks to win over Green preferences in inner-city seats.

This is the second road block for the mine in less than two weeks, with the government recently rejecting Adani’s plans for managing the endangered Black-Throated Finch on the site………..

May 13, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, environment | Leave a comment

Scott Morrison on “cutting green tape” – commentators respond savagely and sceptically

There was a great long stack of comments on the Brisbane Times article (below) – and all condemned Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pledge to cut environmental regulations –   he chose the same day as the UN’s damning report on biodiversity loss was released. Here’s just a couple of samples .
surryridge2010, 8 May 18  History will be unkind to this COALition Govt, they sat on their hands while dangerous climate change edges closer to a point of no return.

They call it “green tape”, many others call it saving the environment from destructive ultra right policies.

Tristan, 8 May
Scott Morrison perpetuating the Liberal policy of ‘cutting environmental red tape’.

No wonder 1 million species of flora and fauna around the world are on the brink of extinction within just decades..

“Federal government botched scrutiny of plan to bulldoze pristine forest”
(SMH 27 Nov 2018) “The Morrison government has conceded it botched scrutiny of a plan to bulldoze 2000 hectares of pristine Queensland forest near the Great Barrier 

Reef and has been forced back to the drawing board following a legal challenge by conservationists.”

“The development comes as confidential documents show government MPs lobbied environmental officials to wave through the proposal, which would raze land almost three times the size of the combined central business districts of Sydney and Melbourne.”

“Old growth forest in the vicinity of Kingvale Station, where 2000 hectares is set to be cleared.”

“Environment Minister Melissa Price agreed to court orders that the weak assessment applied to the Kingvale proposal was unlawful.”

Melissa Price is the Liberal member for Durack in WA.
Only 10 more days until Melissa Price can be kicked out of parliament for good.

PM shifts attack on Labor to ‘green tape’ he says costs Australian jobs, Brisbane Times, By David Crowe, May 7, 2019 Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to stop the spread of union power and stem the growth of environmental rules that he blames for costing Australian jobs, as he sharpens his pitch to voters in the final days of the election campaign.

Ahead of his final debate against Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Canberra on Wednesday night, Mr Morrison warned of a threat to the economy from the expansion of union “red tape” and environmental “green tape” that tied down employers when they should have more freedom to expand and hire workers…….

Lagging Labor in the polls with only 10 days to go until ballots are cast, the Prime Minister warned that a vote for Labor would give unions control over industrial laws and the Greens control over environmental laws.

“I don’t want to see the Labor Party get to office where they tie businesses up with all sorts of union red tape and all sorts of the Greens’ green tape, which would just cost people jobs,” he said……

The Coalition has blamed “lawfare” and “green tape” for halting or delaying mining and other projects in recent years, turning this into a major dispute with Labor and the Greens.

Mr Morrison said voters should remember that Labor sought to apply native vegetation laws more widely and increase the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to slow down developments.

“They want to hypercharge an Environment Protection Authority which will basically interfere and seek to slow down and prevent projects all around the country,” he said.


May 9, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, election 2019, environment | Leave a comment

Unfinished business: a new report on the Ranger uranium mine: what its clean-up means for Kakadu National Park

Unfinished business: Kakadu needs a new approach to cleaning up an old mine, 7 May 19,      How well the Ranger uranium mine is cleaned up is key to the long-term health of Kakadu.

A new report has found Australia’s largest national park is at long-term risk unless the clean-up of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu is done comprehensively and effectively.

Unfinished business, co-authored by the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of Sydney and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), identifies significant data deficiencies, a lack of clarity around regulatory and governance frameworks and uncertainty over the adequacy of current and future financing – especially in relation to future monitoring and mitigation works for the controversial mine site.

Mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) and parent company Rio Tinto are required to clean up the site to a standard suitable for inclusion in the surrounding Kakadu National Park, dual-listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

“No mine in the world has ever successfully achieved this standard of clean up,” said report co-author Dr Rebecca Lawrence from SEI.

“Rehabilitating what is essentially a toxic waste dump is no easy task. Rio Tinto faces a complex and costly rehabilitation job.

“The challenge is not to simply scrape rocks into holes and plant trees, it is to make sure mine tailings, radioactive slurry and toxic by-products of mining are isolated from the surrounding environment for 10,000 years.

“To ensure this in a monsoonal environment, such as Kakadu, which is already being impacted by climate change, raises enormous environmental and governance challenges.

“For the rehabilitation process to even have a chance at success, the existing opaque and complex regulatory regime needs an urgent overhaul,” Dr Lawrence said.

Tailings, the waste material remaining after the processing of finely ground ore, are one of the serious environmental risks outlined in the report. The report examines how ERA and Rio Tinto intend to deliver on the federal government’s requirement to protect the Kakadu environment by isolating any tailings and making sure contaminants do not result in any detrimental environmental impacts for at least 10,000 years.

“Long after the miners have gone this waste remains a direct human and environmental challenge,” said report co-author Dave Sweeney from ACF.

“This issue is key to the long-term health of Kakadu but there is insufficient evidence and detail on how this work will be managed and assured in the future. Without this detail there will be a sleeping toxic time bomb deep inside Kakadu.

“At its London AGM last month Rio again committed to make sure ERA has the financial resources to deliver its rehabilitation obligations, however the financial mechanism to do so remains undisclosed.

“The community and environment of Kakadu need certainty and a comprehensive clean up.

“This work is a key test of the commitment and capacity of Northern Territory and Commonwealth regulators as well as the mining companies.”

The report makes recommendations to improve the chances of a successful clean-up at Ranger. It calls for increased transparency, public release of key project documents, a better alignment of research and operations and open review processes for key decision points.

The full report is here.

May 7, 2019 Posted by | environment, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

UN Report – One million species at risk of extinction – Australia not interested?

May 7, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

The black-throated finch – a species threatened with extinction, if Adani coal project goes ahead

Adani’s Carmichael mine and the small endangered bird that is proving a big problem, ABC News 3 May 19

Key points:

  • The range of the black-throated finch has contracted by 80 per cent
  • Birdlife Australia says it is already extinct in NSW
  • The Carmichael mine proposal would consume one of the finch’s key habitats

Last night, the proposed coal mine was dealt a massive blow when the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) rejected Adani’s current management plan for the southern black-throated finch.

It told the Indian miner the management plan “does not meet the requirements of the company’s environmental authority”.

The Carmichael mine would take up one of the last remaining healthy habitats for the black-throated finch.

A DES web page on the endangered bird explains that the black-throated finch (southern subspecies) once extended from Inverell in north-east New South Wales, through eastern Queensland, to the Atherton Tablelands and west to central Queensland.

It said the finch (southern subspecies) range had “contracted by approximately 80 per cent of its former extent over the last 20 years and is now restricted to the northern part of its former range”.

“The black-throated finch (southern subspecies) inhabits grassy woodland dominated by eucalypts, paperbarks or acacias where there is accessibility to seeding grasses,” DES said.

“Recent records from Queensland suggest that riparian habitat is particularly important as it seems to provide shelter within a highly fragmented and modified environment.”

Sean Dooley from Birdlife Australia said the finch was already extinct in New South Wales and that there were now only two small populations left in the world, both in Queensland.

There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 black-throated finches still alive.

There is a small population west of Townsville, but the main population is on the footprint of the Adani mine lease in the Galilee Basin. “Carmichael coal mine is ground zero for this bird,” Mr Dooley said………

Mr Dooley congratulated the Queensland Government for rejecting the company’s environmental management plan for the finch.

“Obviously the Queensland Government would have been under a lot of political pressure and pressure from interest groups to allow this to go through,” he said…….

May 4, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, environment | Leave a comment

Traditional owners fight Adani coal project, – fear destruction of their sacred wetlands

May 2, 2019 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, fails the environment with secretive Yeelirrie uranium approval.

April 27, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics, uranium | Leave a comment

It’s not worth wiping out a species for the Yeelirrie uranium mine

SBS,   BY GAVIN MUDD  26 Apr 19,     Like the rest of the Western Australian outback, there’s a wonderful paradox where the land appears barren, but is, in fact, rich with biodiversity – and animals are under threat of extinction if the mine goes ahead.   The Western Australian outback may look bare at first glance, but it’s teeming with wildlife, often beneath the surface.

The Tjiwarl Traditional Owners have fought any uranium mining on their land for the last 40 years, and the decision by the government wasn’t made public until the day before Anzac Day……..

This region is home to several of Australia’s deposits of uranium and not only holds cultural significance as part of the Seven Sisters Dreaming Songline, but also environmental significance. If the mine goes ahead, groundwater levels would drop by 50cm and wouldn’t fully recover for 200 years. And 2,422 hectares of native vegetation would be cleared.

I visited the site 16 years ago and, like the rest of the Western Australian outback, there’s a wonderful paradox where the land appears barren, but is, in fact, rich with biodiversity.

Native animals living in underground water, called stygofauna, are one such example of remarkable Australian fauna that aren’t obvious at first glance. These animals are under threat of extinction if the Yeelirrie uranium mine goes ahead.

Stygofauna  are ecologically fragile

Most stygofauna are very tiny invertebrates, making up species of crustaceans, worms, snails and diving beetles. Some species are well adapted to underground life – they are typically blind, pale white and with long appendages to help them find their way in total darkness.

n 2016, the Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised against building the Yeelirrie uranium mine because it would threaten the stygofauna species there, despite the proposed management strategies of Cameco Australia, the mine owner.

Stygofauna are extremely local, having evolved in the site they’re found in. This means individual species aren’t found anywhere else in the world. EPA chairman Tom Hatton said:

Despite the proponent’s well-considered management strategies, based on current scientific understanding, the EPA concluded that there was too great a chance of a loss of species that are restricted to the impact area.

Yeelirrie has a rich stygofauna habitat, with 73 difference species recorded.

And to get to the uranium deposit, the miners need to dig through the groundwater, a little like pulling the plug in the middle of the bathtub. Stygofauna have adapted to living at different levels of the water, so pulling out the plug could dry out important parts of their habitat.

Stygofauna are also susceptible to any changes in the chemistry of the groundwater. We simply do not know with confidence what mining will do to the groundwater chemistry at Yeelirrie in the long term. Various wastes will be backfilled into former pits, causing uncertainty for the welfare of surrounding stygofauna.

The approval conditions suggest that the mine should not be allowed to cause extinction – but if this does happen, nothing can be done to reverse it. And there would be no penalty to Cameco either – which has said it can’t guarantee such a condition can be met………..

April 27, 2019 Posted by | environment, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Australia gets a very bad environmental report for 2018

Australia’s 2018 environmental scorecard: a dreadful year that demands action  The Conversation, Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University, April 4, 2019  Environmental news is rarely good. But even by those low standards, 2018 was especially bad. That is the main conclusion from Australia’s Environment in 2018, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports, released today.

Every year, we analyse vast amounts of measurements from satellites and on-ground stations using algorithms and prediction models on a supercomputer. These volumes of data are turned into regional summary accounts that can be explored on our Australian Environment Explorer website. We interpret these data, along with other information from national and international reports, to assess how our environment is tracking.

A bad year

Whereas 2017 was already quite bad, 2018 saw many indicators dip even further into the red.  Temperatures went up again, rainfall declined further, and the destruction of vegetation and ecosystems by drought, fire and land clearing continued. Soil moisture, rivers and wetlands all declined, and vegetation growth was poor.

In short, our environment took a beating in 2018, and that was even before the oppressive heatwavesbushfires and Darling River fish kills of January 2019.

The combined pressures from habitat destruction, climate change, and invasive pests and diseases are taking their toll on our unique plants and animals. Another 54 species were added to the official list of threatened species, which now stands at 1,775. That is 47% more than 18 years ago and puts Australia among the world’s worst performers in biodiversity protection. On the upside, the number of predator-proof islands or fenced-off reserves in Australia reached 188 in 2018, covering close to 2,500 square kilometres. They offer good prospects of saving at least 13 mammal species from extinction. ……..

A bad start to 2019

Although it is too early for a full picture, the first months of 2019 continued as badly as 2018 ended. The 2018-19 summer broke heat records across the country by large margins, bushfires raged through Tasmania’s forests, and a sudden turn in the hot weather killed scores of fish in the Darling River. The monsoon in northern Australia did not come until late January, the latest in decades, but then dumped a huge amount of rain on northern Queensland, flooding vast swathes of land…….

April 4, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Western Australian Aboriginal community uses solar hydropanel to solve problem of uranium in water

Buttah Windee in remote WA now has clean water thanks to solar hydropanel technology

Key points:

  • Six solar hydropanels have been installed in the small WA community, capturing 900 litres of water a month from the air
  • The community had discovered its water supply contained uranium more than twice the national health standard, and the State Government deemed it too expensive to address
  • With the help of crowdfunding and technology donated by a WA company, the residents of the community no longer need to live elsewhere

The remote Aboriginal community is 760 kilometres north-east of Perth on the outskirts of Meekatharra.

Almost a decade ago, resident Andrew Binsiar discovered the community’s water was tainted with naturally occurring uranium at more than twice the national health standard.

“I was actually very surprised,” he said.

“You’d imagine people would test the water for human consumption before people are allowed to drink it.”

Unable to drink the community’s tap water, most of the 50 people who lived at Buttah Windee left.

Too expensive to fix: State Government

But for Andrew Binsiar and his wife Janine, leaving the home where they had raised their five children was not an option.

He turned to the State Government for help, but was told fixing the water supply would be too expensive.

“They come out and put up ‘do not drink the water’ signs and that was their solution to it,” Mr Binsiar said.

The State Government offered to move the remaining residents into state housing in Meekatharra, but Mr Binsiar was apprehensive about exposing his family to the town’s social issues.

“We knocked them back … for the simple reason I’d already been there and done that. My life changed when I moved here,” he said.

“I wasn’t a very good father when I lived in Meeka.”

Solar hydropanels pull water from air

Almost a decade on, Buttah Windee is the first remote Aboriginal community in Australia to use innovative technology for its water supply.

Six solar hydropanels have been installed at the outback community, donated by a WA company who heard about the community’s plight and wanted to help out.

Director of Wilco Electrical Frank Mitchell said the units captured water from the air and produced up to 900 litres of water a month.

“Those fans, you can hear them whirring away, are just drawing in air all day, all around, and the piece of material inside collects … the moisture in the air, then condenses down into the tank where it’s got a pump straight out to the tap,” he said.

Mr Binsiar said it was a simple idea, which should be introduced to all remote communities.

“Water is a basic human right that everyone deserves,” he said.

“It could mean better health for your children … I would guarantee that most communities have bad water.”

Crowdfunding rallies support

The near decade-long battle for clean drinking water has not come easily for the Buttah Windee residents, with Mr Binsiar turning to crowdfunding as a last resort.

Word spread quickly when Mr Binsiar began the fundraising campaign last year, and people from across Australia donated nearly $26,000 in three months.

“It was a huge success. The Australian public have been awesome,” he said.

Mr Binsiar used the funds to install a reverse osmosis water treatment plant.

“Reverse osmosis takes out all the contaminants in the water … on the back end of it, it puts the minerals your body needs back into the water,” he said.

“They’ve given us a chance where no-one else would and we are really proud of what we have done here.”

Barramundi fish farm to boost employment

The two separate systems now supply the community with safe drinking water and enough water to run a small barramundi fish farm.

Mr Binsiar and several residents built the fish farm hoping it would eventually provide local employment and a potential source of income.    “Hopefully we can continue on and make it bigger and provide this region with fresh barramundi,” he said.

“I’d like to welcome everyone out to Buttah Windee and come and look at the work we do.”

April 1, 2019 Posted by | aboriginal issues, environment, solar, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Radiation found in soil at Byron Bay school

 Echo Net Daily, March 2019, Radioactive soil will be removed from Byron Bay Public School after testing showed higher-than-normal levels during upgrade works.

According to a statement from the education department, preliminary testing of soil during early construction works for the upgrade to the school has identified ‘quantities of naturally occurring radioactive material’.

‘The department has engaged an environmental consultant to assist with the management of remediation works in consultation with the school principal, NSW Health, NSW Environmental Protection Agency and Byron Shire Council,’ the statement says.

‘The health, safety and well-being of students, staff and the school’s neighbours are the highest priority for the department.’

Works are currently being planned to remove soil from the school work site with dates and times still to be advised.

The department said said the removal of the material ‘presents no health risk to the school, and will be done after hours to minimise impact to school operations’………

April 1, 2019 Posted by | environment, New South Wales | Leave a comment

We ignore the wipeout of insects at our peril

Honey, we shrunk the bee and insect species that feed us,Canberra Times, By Elizabeth Farrelly, March 9, 2019  Insects or mortgage brokers, which to lose? Hmm. Tricky choice.

After the banking royal commission targeted mortgage brokers’ secret kickbacks last month, the industry retaliated. Its Grim Reaper-style advert showed an anxious family facing an endless corridor without choice or deviation. Imagine a world without mortgage brokers, the voiceover exhorted, as though that were inconceivable. Yet – such is our species’ self-absorption – no one wasted advertising dollars on a possible extinction, revealed days earlier, that’s exponentially more worrisome: the end of insects.

Insects are often held by the eco-minded (including the UN) as a solution to world hunger. There are insect cookbooks and insect-eating Ted talks. The catch, of course, is that mass insectivorism presumes precisely the kind of destructive, industrial monoculture that has turned food-production into the planetary eco-crisis we have. But there’s also this. On current trends there may not be any bugs, period – depriving us not only of crunchy six-legged comestibles but of virtually all food except (perhaps) the synthetic.

The new report, Worldwide Decline of the Entomofauna, by Australian biologists Sanches-Bayo and Wyckhuys, collated 73 longitudinal insect population studies to identify a single downward trend: continuing decline in many insect species globally over decades. “Over 40 per cent of insect species are threatened with extinction,” it says. The worst affected are those upon which world agriculture most relies yet which it also most mistreats: butterflies, moths, bees and dung-beetles.

Factors include habitat loss, industrial agriculture, urbanisation, chemicals, pollution, disease, stress and climate change, all driven or exacerbated by humanity.
We’re like the classic bad parent; relentlessly interventionist – imposing gifts, rules and expectations – but strictly in our own interest, not the child’s……..
Bee disappearance should be a wake-up call. Honeybees are wild creatures that, although occasionally domiciled with humans, travel up to 13km for nectar, covering some 53,000 hectares …
This gives the honeybee, Apis mellifera, a unique role as wild-to-human environmental indicator. When massive bee loss showed across Europe, Asia and America (which has lost over half its bee population), scientists found pollen samples containing over a hundred different chemical contaminants. But the most obvious culprit was pesticide; in particular neonicitinoids……..

It’s an old, old story, this prioritising of profit or convenience over nature, usually cloaked by “demand”. But in the choice between insects and mortgage brokers? Reckon I’ll follow the honey.

March 9, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment