Australian Politics 2019-09-30 15:48:00

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False alarm: the great rainforest fire that wasn’t

A frightening image. Pristine rainforest that has not burned for millions of years is ablaze as bushfires of unprecedented intensity roar through the hinterland of southeast Queensland. It’s difficult to imagine a more graphic illustration of the consequences of ­climate change. That is what was widely portrayed during the ­region’s fire emergency earlier this month. The only problem is, it didn’t happen.

The destruction of ancient World Heritage-listed Gondwana subtropical and temperate rainforests by fire was reported unequivocally as fact. Guardian Australia proclaimed in a headline: “Like nothing we’ve seen: Queensland bushfires tear through rainforest.” The landscape of Lamington National Park surrounding the historic Binna Burra Lodge, which was destroyed in the fires, was “blackened remnants of what used to be lush rainforest”, reported the Australian Associated Press in a story carried by many news outlets.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is working on its sixth assessment report. Australian climate scientist Joelle Gergis, a lead author of the report, declared: “What I find particularly disturbing is that World Heritage rainforest is burning. It has been hard to watch news coverage of these exceptionally rare rainforests burning … the potential loss of these areas is something I never thought I would witness in my lifetime.”

Social media lit up with expressions of despair about the rainforest losses. Typical of the angst was a tweet insisting that any journalist interviewing the Prime Minister who failed to question the climate implications of Queensland rainforests burning “isn’t doing their f..king job”.

But the Gondwana rainforests, those priceless relics of times long gone, did not burn. No news coverage showed rainforest burning. The 20,600ha Lamington ­National Park in Queensland and the adjoining 31,700ha Border Ranges National Park in NSW ­encompass the largest expanse of subtropical rainforest in the world. As on countless occasions over the centuries, fire raging in surrounding eucalypt woodland did not ­destroy the rainforest.

To be sure, bushfires of such ­intensity in the region are unusual, especially in early spring; 16 homes were lost in southern Queensland. Unlike southeast Australia with its hot and dry summers, the subtropics are usually ­afforded a degree of protection by high humidity, an absence of prolonged periods of scorching temperatures, and generous rainfall which — as in much of the country — has been in short supply lately.

Binna Burra Lodge is not encircled by rainforest, as was claimed repeatedly. The lodge is surrounded on three sides by eucalypt woodland; it came close to being lost when a control burn 20 years ago got away. This time, ­explains Binna Burra chairman Steven ­Noakes: “The fire went tearing up a steep slope through eucalypt woodland and we’re perched on a ridge at the top. With those winds there was nothing we could do.”

A camping ground and teahouse that adjoin rainforest survived the inferno; flames did not extend beyond the lodge into rainforest. A few kilometres across Lamington National Park from Binna Burra, O’Reilly’s Rainforest ­Retreat was evacuated during the fire emergency. Unlike Binna Burra, O’Reilly’s is surrounded entirely by rainforest. O’Reilly’s manager, Shane O’Reilly, says there was no need for evacuation; the nearest fires were 15km away: “The rainforest here doesn’t burn. It was pretty much eucalypt country that burned … There’s a lot of emotion surrounding this.

“A story is being propagated that it’s more of an issue about rainforest than it is.”

O’Reilly adds that an international scientific symposium at the lodge in 2011 heard the rainforest had not burned for at least three million years.

Patrick Norman, a Griffith University PhD student and former Lamington park ranger, has analysed satellite data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite over burnt forest. The images indicate about 400ha of rainforest burned, but this was primarily dry rainforest at lower altitudes known as vine scrub. Burned areas also included wet sclerophyll, a forest type comprised of tall eucalypts with some rainforest plants.

“Drawing a line between rainforest and wet sclerophyll is a tricky task,’’ Norman says. “By and large, the rainforest that burned was on the drier end of the spectrum. I am quite confident no warm or cool temperate rainforest was burned.” The affected dry rainforest mostly burned lightly, with the ground layer impacted. Norman cautions that if the forests burn again in the foreseeable future there could be more serious impacts.

Kaye Healing, the Queensland Rural Fire Service acting southeast regional manager, played a central role in fighting the fires, which continue to smoulder. Healing says while fires “burn crazily” through eucalypt woodland, they tend to “walk through” vine scrub and wet sclerophyll forest. “When it gets to true rainforest, the fire self-extinguishes,’’ he says. “You’ve got a closed canopy in true rainforest and it holds moisture. The rainforest is not on fire. The fire is in dry eucalypt forest and woodland.”

Healing says similar conditions were experienced before, for ­instance in the early 1990s: “I’m not going to get into a climate-change conversation but climate varies between floods and drought in this country and historical records show that.”

Claims about Australian rainforest burning for the first time also circulated late last year when 121,000ha of land around Eungella National Park near Mackay were scorched. At the time, the ABC published a photograph of a fire-stricken area; the caption said it had been a “rich green subtropical rainforest”. Although it was pointed out that the area had been grassland and shrubs, the captioned photograph remains on ABC websites.

The ABC reported that Eungella rainforests were reduced to cinders and would take hundreds of years to recover. Rural Fire Service manager for the Mackay ­region Andrew Houley, a former forester, says rainforest that burned around Eungella was largely regrowth on cleared land. Recent images show tree ferns and some other rainforest plants regrowing. However, the heat was so intense that 10m-15m of the edge of pristine rainforest in places was destroyed before the fires stopped. Houley adds: “Headlines say the fires are once in a lifetime but these weather patterns affect us every 25 years or so.”

A crisis facing rainforest is under way not in Australia but in Southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin and central Africa. Huge tracts of forest are being intensively logged or bulldozed for livestock or crops. Extensively damaged rainforest remnants and felled trees are then burned. In some countries, such as Indonesia, sound environmental laws are in place but are largely unenforced or ignored. In others, such as Brazil, governments are unapologetically pursuing polices to develop rainforest. Australia is fortunate its World Heritage rainforests are standing tall.

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Revealed: The thousands of jobs young Australians don't want because of 'snobbery' as the government encourage school leavers to take up trades

An increasing number of young Australians are turning their nose up at thousands of well-paying blue collar jobs because of 'job snobbery'.

The federal government is encouraging students to drop out of school in year 10 and take up a trade instead of going to university.

Nearly 290,000 Australians started apprenticeships in 2008, but just a decade on only 156,000 people took up a trade in 2018.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is encouraging students to leave school in year 10, and said they could be better off than those who opt to finish school and go to university.

Senator Cash said she wants any negative stigma around blue collar jobs to be eradicated and thinks apprentices should be proud of being a tradie. 

But Labor is encouraging students to stay in school. 'You've got a much better chance of getting a job if you finish school than if you don't finish school,' Shadow Education and Training Minister Tanya Plibersek told 7 News.

More than half of the government's list of the highest earning careers are jobs from vocational training and not university degrees.

Construction managers can earn as much as $3,500 per week ($182,000 a year).

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Same-sex unions divide what used to be the Methodist church

Uniting Church ministers who ­oppose same-sex marriage say they are being “pushed, harassed and bullied” out of the church by progressives at the helm of Australia’s third-largest denomination.

The Reverend Lu Senituli, minister of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations of the Uniting Church Sunnybank on Brisbane’s south side, said a fissure in the church was widening between large conservative congregations such as his mostly Tongan church, and inner-city churches and leadership “who want to drive us out to make way for the new church”.

Mr Senituli said the issue had come to a head since the “yes” vote in the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage. “They are using church procedures and withholding of funding and all sorts of tactics to get us to toe the line,” he said. “I have people sitting in my congregation taking notes so they can report on me to the church and have disciplinary measures enacted against me.”

However, the Uniting Church says ministers have freedom to refuse to conduct same-sex mar­riages and can continue to teach their belief that marriage may only be between a man and a woman.

Mr Senituli’s church is a member of a breakaway body in the Uniting Church established in 2004 called the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, set up for congregations that reject the progressive line on accepting gay ­clergy and same-sex marriage.

“The church now has two faith statements, or integrities on marriage,” Mr Senituli said. “One is that marriage is between a man and a woman, as according to holy scripture. But the second integrity is the covenant of love between two persons, regardless of sex.

“In practice it’s impossible to live our faith under these two integ­rities as they are contradictory. When a minister makes a statement to a presbytery to say we will not celebrate same-sex marriage, from that point the presbyteries, the regional body, begin to put the pressure on in every way.

“They start turning off the funding tap if you don’t toe the line. Life becomes extremely difficult. Regional bodies are working in collusion with liberals in congregations who find orthodox preaching offensive.

“I was removed from the nat­ional body on doctrine because my views didn’t represent the diversity of the Uniting Church. But I represent a thriving church with hundreds of members who hold traditional, scriptural views and my church has six services every Sunday.”

The president of the Uniting Church, Deirdre Palmer, was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly and the Synod of Queensland said ministers and celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church had the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

“They can continue to teach their belief that marriage may only be between a man and a woman, and can continue to use a marriage liturgy that reflects that conviction,” the spokesman said.

“At the same time, we expect all our members to respectfully engage with those who may hold different biblical and theological views to their own, and to show respect to LGBTIQ Uniting Church members, who are full members, exercising a variety of ministries, both ordained and lay within and through the life of the Uniting Church.

“All parts of the church are accountable to our governance and regulations and when matters of concern arise in particular congregations, the Uniting Church has systems in place to manage those concerns.

“The matters raised with The Australian are known to the Uniting Church and are being addressed through appropriate processes, with ongoing consultation and support provided to the congregations. They are entirely un­related to the minister’s or the congregation’s Christian understanding of marriage.”

Mr Senituli’s church adopted its current name last month, changing its signage from Sunny­bank Uniting Church in defiance of church leadership to make clear its opposition to same-sex marriage and as a protest against allegedly being bullied on the issue.

The national chairman of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, Hedley Fihaki, backed Mr Senituli’s claims, saying about 150 of the Uniting Church’s 800 congregations were ACC members.

He said ACC assemblies that had changed signs and logos to distinguish themselves from progressive congregations had received letters warning them they would no longer be under the protection of the church for issues such as insurance.

“The Uniting Church doesn’t see the dilemma we are in. The push to embrace diversity is an oxymoron, the two statements on marriage — you can’t have these two doctrines co-­existing together, in our opinion,” Dr Fihaki said.

“The Bible is very clear on this. Assembly doesn’t get why we can’t exist in this diversity framework. They are forcing us to accept it, but we can’t.”

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‘Lucky escape’: 39 vegan activists ordered to pay $100 to charity for protest which shut down CBD

A group of animal rights protesters who brought Melbourne’s CBD to a halt have escaped criminal conviction.

The 39 vegan protesters chained themselves to three vehicles to block the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets for four hours in April.

The group caused chaos, blocking Melbourne’s busiest tram corridor throughout the morning peak, at the same time as bus replacement services were running on several train lines.

The Vegan Rising activists appeared at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court this morning, pleading guilty to charges of obstruction.

They have each been ordered to pay $100 to an animal rescue sanctuary, Edgar’s Mission.

The group have also received three-month good behaviour bonds.

Seven News court reporter Sharnelle Vella said it was a light punishment. “They’ve had a lucky escape, that’s despite the Prime Minister at the time saying they should face the full force of the law,” she told 3AW’s Tom Elliott.

Outside court the protesters failed to apologise for disrupting the city.

Vegan Rising Campaign Director Kristen Leigh said the protest had the desired effect. “We are trying to get people to watch the documentary film Dominion, which exposes the reality of what millions of animals suffer in this country,” she told Tom Elliott. “We really wanted to draw attention to that film, and our actions did, thankfully. We had about 50,000+ people watch the film after that.”

The animal rights group refused to say if they had any future protests planned.

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 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here