Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Australia gags environmental science

Australian environmental scientists are experiencing widespread and worsening suppression of their work by industry and government, according to a new study. A survey by the Ecological Society of Australia of 220 scientists found roughly one-third reported undue modification of their work on topics including the impact of the climate crisis, mining, and land clearing. About half the government scientists and nearly 40 per cent of those working for industry claimed to have been blocked from releasing or discussing what they had found either publicly or internally, and slightly more than half said constraints were becoming stricter in recent years. Lead author Don Driscoll said the study indicated policies on issues such as bushfires may not be informed by the best science. “In reality, these findings may be the tip of the iceberg,” he told Guardian Australia. “It reflects on a type of corruption that’s going on in the system.” It comes as an injunction was filed in the Federal Court on Tuesday as part of a class action to stop approval of the Vickery coal mine expansion, arguing it would harm young people by exacerbating climate change.

An inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine system has heard how returned travellers wandered into public spaces and visited convenience stores. The inquiry also listened to accounts of how private security guards worked multiple jobs and lived in “crowded, dense accommodation”, and that some did not tell contact tracers that they worked in hotel quarantine. Hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment by the guards at the hotels was “below the appropriate standard”. It comes as The Age reports that 531 elderly Victorians have died in aged-care homes during the pandemic, with many of the facilities hit hardest given a clean bill of health by the federal regulator months earlier.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei's detention in Beijing is related to “carrying out criminal activities endangering China's national security”, the country's foreign ministry claims. It is the first official explanation of why Cheng was detained by authorities last month. Cheng remains under “residential surveillance at a designated location” in Beijing, which can last up to six months before a suspect is formally arrested or charged. It comes as the last two other Australian journalists in the country, Bill Birtles from the ABC and Michael Smith from The Australian Financial Review, were evacuated from China.

The 2021 Tamworth Country Music Festival has been cancelled, after a vote by local councillors to suspend all council-run events due to Covid-19 restrictions. “Today is a sad day, not only for Tamworth, but for the artists, and the country music industry,” festival manager Barry Harley said. The annual Country Music Awards of Australia as well as the Golden Guitar Awards will proceed via livestream events.

Death tax for booty
Inheritance taxes are a feature of most advanced economies, including the UK and the US. But in Australia they haven’t been levied for 40 years, and their abolition has contributed to growing inequality in the country.


“‘Are the hardest decisions in front of you, or behind you?’ ... ‘It’s a good question,’ Morrison says. There’s a pause while the prime minister mulls. Watching him gather his thoughts, I’m curious. Will the response be a formulation, or an answer? I leave the silence there, and in the silence, Morrison chooses truth.”

“On December 30 last year, Andrew Bosworth, a key lieutenant to Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, sent an extraordinary memo to the social media company’s staff, laying out its rationale in refusing to be an arbiter of truth. At one point in his 2500-word post, Bosworth posed the question: ‘So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?’”

“Kelly, the member for Hughes, is part of the wing of the Liberal Party that believes expert consensus is a cause for doubt. He accuses medical officers of having ‘misled the Australian public’ ... As on climate change, ideology has rotted the brains of these people. The lens they have through which to interpret the world is curved by culture wars that can make no sense of health emergencies or environmental catastrophe.”


“Rio Tinto's board is being forced to consider dismissing senior executives over the blasting of two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters as an investor campaign for greater accountability from the miner gathers pace … A company insider said there was a growing verdict within Rio that ‘heads will roll’.”  


“A bill proposed following the destruction of a 46,000-year-old heritage site at Juukan Gorge will not prevent similar incidents happening in the future, West Australian Indigenous leaders have said ... those who damaged cultural heritage could use the defence of having an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage (ACH) permit in place or an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan (ACHMP). ‘The penalty for non-compliance with an ACH permit or an ACHMP is only $20,000,’ Mr Jeffries said.”


“Work is hard here, especially for us, without English, and also without any special skill. We can only do very hard work, and that is exhausting. I’ve got aches in my body – my back, my fingers, my feet and the joints of my legs. Even a machine will wear out after being used for a long time.”


“A new sound was heard in a medieval church in the German town of Halberstadt on Saturday. An organ, which has been playing a piece by late avant-garde composer John Cage, changed chords for the first time in nearly seven years. ‘The sound from October 5, 2013, until today, September 5, Cage's 108th birthday, is the longest uninterrupted sound,’ said Rainer Neugebauer of the John Cage Organ Project in Halberstadt.”

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