Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Bushfire smoke hits record levels

A ring of bushfires around Sydney is causing the city to experience record levels of hazardous particulates in the air, with smoke expected to linger across New South Wales for weeks. The NSW environment department reported that ($) safe guidelines for the most harmful form of small particulates were exceeded by 22 times on Tuesday, and the worst affected areas in the south-west of the city reaching levels The Daily Telegraph ($) equated to 34 cigarettes a day. “People who have heart conditions, asthma or pregnant women should be careful as the air quality would be dangerous for them,” said University of Sydney respiratory diseases scientist Dr Brian Oliver. Experts recommend staying indoors is the best form of protection, with only certain types of face masks and air purifiers effective. Guardian Australia reports that 20 per cent of the Blue Mountains world heritage area has burned in this season’s bushfires. The news comes as a new report forecasts 50 degree Celsius summer days for Melbourne and Sydney as the norm by the end of the century if carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced.   

Australian students fall behind world: The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, published on Tuesday, finds that Australian schools have recorded their worst-ever results in reading, maths, and science. The study found Australian students are 3.5 years behind Chinese counterparts in maths, and more than a year behind Singaporean students in reading. Students in South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory fell below the OECD average for the first time, with the ACT and Western Australia the only states and territories to exceed the average. Education Minister Dan Tehan said “these results should have alarm bells ringing” and urged ambitious action at next week's meeting of state ministers and education leaders in Alice Springs to discuss education strategies. Labor's Tanya Plibersek said the test scores had fallen on the Coalition’s watch. 

Samoa measles outbreak: The measles outbreak in Samoa is a sign of the expansion of an increasingly predatory anti-vaccination movement, medical experts have warned SBS News. “We’re going to see them continue this predatory behaviour, identifying communities, island nations even whole countries in order to drive down vaccination coverage so it’s a very serious threat now to global public health,” warned United States vaccine specialist Dr Peter Hotez. Anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr visited the country in June and met with fellow sceptic, the Australian-Samoan blogger Taylor Winterstein, and there has also been an escalation of social media campaigning related to Samoa, along with anti-vaxxers sending vitamins to the country. More than 50 people have so far died from the disease in Samoa, where just 30-40 per cent of the population is vaccinated.

Macron and Trump trade blows: French President Emmanuel Macron and United States counterpart Donald Trump have had a tense meeting in London. Trump at one point told Macron he could send him some “ISIS fighters” if he wanted them. Trump has criticised European countries for refusing to take back ISIS fighters captured in Syria. Macron said the number of relevant fighters was a “tiny” part of the overall problem. The two also disputed issues relating to NATO and Turkey. World leaders are in London to mark the NATO alliance's 70th anniversary.

George Megalogenis on Australia’s next decade
As the first two decades of the 21st century come to an end, George Megalogenis considers Australia’s place as a middle power and the demographics that will change our parliament.


“In the world of financial crime, this was to be a month of reckoning. A team of assessors from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was due to touch down in Australia to review how the country has been complying with global money-laundering and terror-financing standards … With bushfires raging across the east coast, a scathing FATF review would have likely been brushed off. But less than a week later, a story broke that knocked even the fires off the front page.”


“It’s hard to believe, but here we are again. The dying days of parliament for 2019 and we’re back in Canberra fighting for medical care for refugees. This time last year we were here too, lobbying to get the last remaining kids off Nauru, for the medevac laws to be passed. Then we found ourselves needing to constantly remind politicians that, with each political decision, lives are in the balance. That political negotiation bears a terrible human cost.”


“The swelling choruses of songs such as ‘Parties’ and ‘Meander’, as well as the record’s canny moments – such as the sound of a scream under the line ‘We’re screaming in the street’ on album highlight ‘Death Toll’ – pull The Wonderful World of Nature away from any potential po-facedness. Unlike many other break-up albums, this one doesn’t feel like it should be relegated to solo listening. This is a record about the inherent terror that comes with uncontrollable desire – but Elizabeth makes it sound like a dream.”


“The Liberal National Party (LNP) has suspended three members of its Young LNP over a video posted online showing one of its branch leaders smirking at a racist slur. The video was published on the Gold Coast Young LNP Facebook page on Monday night and has since been deleted. It has drawn widespread criticism including scathing comments from senior members of the Queensland Government.”


“The high court of Australia will this week examine a complicated question: can Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders be deported as aliens if they don’t hold Australian citizenship? The federal government says yes. But lawyers for two Indigenous men facing removal from the country, backed up by the Victorian state government, say there is another option: non-citizen non-alien.”


“Nitzberg said trying to tell the story of Michael Jackson through the perspective of his famous sequin glove required out-of-the-box thinking. ‘My influences were Nikolai Gogol, the Theater of the Absurd, Monty Python,’ he said. ‘Conventional storytelling could not work for this story. Knowing that the second half of his life was so strange the only way to tell it was by picking an absurd, strange way to tell it.’”

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