Friday, November 22, 2019

Health fears as smoke chokes cities

As the bushfire crisis spreads to southern states this week, hospital visits have spiked from the smoke enveloping cities and towns across the country. With record spring temperatures and wild winds fanning fires across the country, Sydney and Adelaide were shrouded in a haze of smoke on Thursday, while south-east Queensland’s air quality has been at levels dangerous to health for nearly two weeks, with six times as many microparticles in the air as is usual. Although healthy people should not suffer serious problems unless in close proximity to fires, authorities have warned that children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory, heart and neurological conditions should exercise caution in smoky conditions. As more than 60 bushfires swept through Victoria on Thursday, the smoke as well as a combination of thunderstorm activity and high grass pollen levels prompted asthma warnings. The news comes as the ABC reports that the Department of Human Services has apologised to members of a New South Wales family who were ordered by Centrelink to immediately return a disaster recovery payment that was initially granted after they lost everything in a bushfire.

Energy ministers meet: Power bills and Australia's future electricity sources are expected to be top of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments meeting of energy ministers in Perth today. Chief scientist Alan Finkel will present Australia's National Hydrogen Strategy, with debate expected about whether to generate hydrogen from green energy or fossil fuels, against the backdrop of a release of a report by the Australia Institute that suggests the potential value of hydrogen exports has been vastly overrated. Guardian Australia reports that Queensland energy minister Anthony Lynham is expected to demand federal backing for gas infrastructure in return for its co-operation with the federal government’s rebooted emissions reduction scheme. The Australian Council of Social Service and dozens of other community groups have argued in an open letter to the nation’s energy ministers that governments need to act to protect low-income households from severe weather conditions.

Westpac scandal fallout: Attorney-General Christian Porter told the Australian Financial Review ($) that the money laundering offences Westpac is accused of were “off the charts”, and said the bank could expect a fine well over Commonwealth Bank’s $700 million penalty for similar breaches. The company is connected to 23 million breaches, including payments linked to paedophillia and terrorism, with the ABC reporting Westpac could technically face a maximum penalty of between $17 million and $21 million per offence. The Australian reports that the Westpac board will meet today to discuss the controversy and potentially determine culpability. 

China warning: Former ASIO boss Duncan Lewis has claimed the Chinese government is seeking to “take over” Australia's political system through foreign interference operations. Foreign intrusion into Australian politics was "something we need to be very, very careful about", he said in an interview for the forthcoming Quarterly Essay, Red Flag: Waking up to China's challenge, to be published on Monday.

Netanyahu charged with bribery: Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu has become the first sitting prime minister in the country’s history to be charged with bribery and fraud. Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts and offers of positive press coverage from wealthy businessmen and media moguls in exchange for enacting favourable regulations. The announcement comes in the wake of two indecisive general elections this year, with a third potentially on the way, and at a time when the United States is the target of criticism for changing its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which it now no longer regards as “inconsistent” with international law.  

Robo-debt and China (a week in two acts)
The Morrison government has halted its robo-debt program, finally confronting issues with the troubled scheme. Separately, the government has affirmed its reliance on Chinese trade – irrespective of human rights concerns. Paul Bongiorno on the week in politics.


“Our inaction on climate change will destroy our near neighbours. Our outlook is consistently insular and selfish. Our relationship with China is irresolved and inconsistent. People call Scott Morrison a marketer, but in truth he is more like a travel agent. He hired marketers to work for tourism bodies. He views the rest of the world as a place you might visit – for a week, maybe two. He talks to Fijians about rugby rather than sea-level rises. He says they like that.”


“Any lingering doubts about the intent behind the term ‘wild dog’ soon slip away. ‘In my experience,’ says Warren Schofield, ‘these terms refer to the same animal.’ Schofield is a sheep farmer. He also spent eight years as a ‘dogger’, trapping and killing dingoes for government and private landowners … ‘It’s not politically correct to kill dingoes,’ he concedes. ‘As a trapper, I was often asked: how do you tell the difference between a dingo and a wild dog? My response was simple: wild dogs are the ones you catch and kill – dingoes are the ones that are still out there.’”


“Toriyama Sekien understood the value of things you can’t see. In 1772, the Japanese poet, scholar and ukiyo-e woodblock artist made it his mission to chronicle the yōkai, the band of otherworldly creatures that have always loomed large in the country’s imagination. He created the Night procession of the hundred demons, a silk handscroll that features intricate drawings of shapeshifting foxes; mischievous kappa, frog-like creatures that lurk in muddy waters; and nekomata, a two-tailed cat that can raise the dead by jumping over fresh corpses.”


“While her historic fur outfits will remain intact, from now on Her Majesty will only wear fake fur in the future. ‘If Her Majesty is due to attend an engagement in particularly cold weather, from 2019 onward fake fur will be used to make sure she stays warm,’ Kelly wrote.”


“Fur from raccoons and raccoon dogs, which are often mistreated in the Chinese fur trade, is being sold in the Queen Victoria and South Melbourne markets and sometimes being passed off as fake fur. Forensic test results have shown that stalls at both Melbourne markets are selling clothes and other items from the species, which are often electrocuted, bludgeoned to death or skinned alive as part of the international fur trade.”


“Orthopedic surgeon Barbara Bergin realized her bursitis symptoms—hip pains caused by an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs cushioning joints and soft tissue—eased when she opened her legs while seated. As a result, she began recommending ‘sit like a man’ or S.L.A.M. to her patients. She says that no matter what your granny tells you about real ladies keeping their legs closed, women’s bodies weren’t made to be constantly crossed at the knee or the ankle.”

Max Opray
is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.