Gippsland News & Views

My Election Wish List

In the seat of Gippsland I wish for a substantial swing against the National Party incumbent, and that a large part of it goes to the Greens – the only party and candidate with a strong climate action platform. Doubling the Green vote to 12% may be too much to hope for and 10% of primaries would be very nice. It would also be nice if the  three reactionary parties cancelled each other out and all lost their deposits.

In Monash there are two strong climate candidates. Unfortunately, the Greens have made a preference deal with the ALP placing their candidate ahead of the Voices independent Deb Leonard. Hopefully she will poll well despite this, and finish second or third in the primaries and give the incumbent a run for his money.

Elsewhere in Victoria, I would like the member for Indi Helen Haines to expand her primary vote and for LNP seats to fall to climate independents in Goldstein and Kooyong. In country Victoria, the seats of Casey, Wannon, and Nicholls may give the LNP a worry although the independent in the latter seat has not campaigned on climate. A long shot would be for the Greens to take the seat of Higgins as well.

Across Australia, the wish list includes retaining current climate aware independents like Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie. It would be nice for the Voices candidates to take a further three to five LNP seats in Sydney and in Perth with some strong performances, perhaps even upsets, in the regions and the bush. An extra Green or two would be icing on the cake making for a greatly expanded crossbench holding the balance of power.

Failing this, I hope the LNP are evicted from the portals of power by the ALP and that the defeat will be disastrous enough for both the Libs and Nats to split on climate. Then they can reform into a true Liberal party that accepts the science and an ultra-conservative or reactionary party that doesn’t, with the latter rightfully destined for the political wilderness.

The Vote in Monash

In a series of articles in the Bass Coast Post Catherine Watson gave detailed biogs of the eight candidates and their policies in the seat of Monash. As readers of this blog will be aware, I have been a strong supporter of climate independents and Voices candidates. In this electorate, which covers west Gippsland and a substantial part of south Gippsland, this means support for the Voices for Monash candidate Deb Leonard. (see here and here)

In Monash Deb Leonard and the Greens Mat Morgan are the only candidates treating climate change as the most important election issue. Both also consider a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as an important issue. But on the matter of preferences these candidates differ with the party decisions, swaps and deals being made from head office. In this there is no accounting for local issues, strategies or the importance of an issue, in this case the need to get as many climate activists elected to the next Federal Parliament as possible. For the Greens a win in Monash is impossible, whereas the Independent has a slight chance – now made much more difficult with the preference deal.

Whilst Deb Leonard (and most of the Climate Independents) has adopted the policy of not issuing preferences the Greens have given their second preference to the ALP ahead of the Voices Independent. This ‘head office’ deal between the two parties elevates the party above the issue. The ALP in this instance is not the best second preference for climate voters in Monash whereas in Gippsland climate voters have little choice.

Likewise the Lib-Nats have done a preference deal with the billionaire’s coal party, or in some cases One Nation. The preference deals of the major parties, including the Greens, are anathema to making any progress on the climate crisis in Australia. The Greens have made a number of mistakes over the last 20 years including the failure to support the Rudd Emissions trading scheme, and the failure in Kooyong in 2019, when they put their best candidate, Julian Burnside, up against the best climate independent in Victoria. This is another.

The preference deals have made it so much harder for Deb Leonard in Monash. Not only does she have to be in the top two in primary votes, she has to be ahead of a combined Greens/ALP primaries total, or close to it, to have any chance of winning.

The Greens ALP preference deal in Monash has persuaded me not to give them my primary vote in the Senate, although eventually they will get my preference. In Monash I would urge any Greens voter for whom the climate emergency is the most important issue to consider giving Deb Leonard your first vote and, failing that, to preference her before the ALP.

Gippsland Lakes Algal Bloom and Climate Change Again

Newlands Arm (image Alister Mailer)

Currently there is a large algal bloom in the Gippsland Lakes – a natural event according to some. A long article in the Bairnsdale Advertiser (4.5) looked at the various causes of the bloom. In a letter to the editor I noted that the blooms are being caused by a number of factors including the increased salinity of the Lakes due to a deepened entrance and the run-off of nutrients from farms into the river systems. In particular East Gippsland Water’s discharge from the Paynesville sewage plant into Forge Creek and then Newlands Arm was mentioned.

As to whether the blooms are naturally occurring we have witnessed a number since the early 1980s but the earth has been gradually warming all that time. It seems more likely that they are an indication that something is clearly wrong. The USA EPA noted that “warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster. Warmer water is easier for small organisms to move through and allows algae to float to the surface faster. Algal blooms absorb sunlight, making water even warmer and promoting more blooms.”

In a blog on a bloom in the Gippsland Lakes in the summer of 2016 I wrote that they “are a direct and immediate threat to the [local] economy and are directly related to climate change and other changes to the Lakes system.” And that they “can flourish with a number of factors one of which is warmer waters, which in turn is a direct response to our warming planet. The shallow waters of the Lakes are warming faster than our oceans which in turn are already warming faster than our land.”

A scientific audit is needed. It should be continuing, include literature searches, and monitor a wide variety of data including salinity, nutrients, heavy metals and temperatures. On the bigger question of global warming and the Gippsland Lakes, the future does not look promising. By the time the climate emergency is adopted across the country and the earth, much of the damage inflicted on the lakes system may be irreparable. But that is not a cause for inaction and we must work hard to save what we can.

Castrating the CSIRO: a climate crime

The CSIRO were world leaders in climate science for many years. From the 1975 Monash conference on climate change in which a number of the CSIRO’s scientists participated, through the 1987 GreenHouse conference and into the era of IPCC reports these scientists were prominent. I have blogged about them a number of times and two years ago I wrote “The real heroes of Australia are the climate scientists once found in the CSIRO’s division of Atmospheric Research. As well as Barrie (Pittock) and (Graeme) Pearman, they include Roger Francey, Tom Beer and Ian Enting amongst many others.” The advent of the climate change denying Liberal National Party (LNP) coalition government in 2013 changed all that.

A recent Climate Council report ‘The Lost Decade’ noted that science “is essential for the well-being of Australians, underpinning our economic and social success and informing our responses to profound societal challenges like COVID-19. Climate science is no exception, and over a number of decades Australia developed a world-class climate science capability. However, this capability has been seriously eroded by an almost decade-long Liberal-National Government attack on science. These attacks have been diverse and debilitating, ranging from funding cuts to the CSIRO, which seriously stunted its climate research capability…”

The attack on science included drastic budget cuts that “played a large part in the loss of almost one-third of CSIRO jobs (from 5,000 to 3,500 total staff) in the two years up to June 2015. This, combined with the CSIRO CEO’s decision in 2015 to significantly diminish the organisation’s climate research capacity, put in jeopardy Australia’s ability to understand, respond to and plan for the escalating climate crisis.” And then in 2016 “54 full time researchers were cut from the Oceans and Atmosphere Division, most of those from the Earth Assessment and Oceans and Climate Dynamics units”.

Recently ex-CSIRO scientist Dr Michael Borgas noted “CSIRO advice on climate science has famously been ignored in Canberra and many State capitals — repeatedly, year after year, it seems. For all of Australia, what we need is leadership from our elected representatives, leadership which relies on the best scientific advice. We also need responsibility from all citizens to assess, and to learn to assess, the scientific advice that impacts on how we are going to live our lives: from lockdowns, hygiene, energy use, climate adaptation, pollution mitigation; this advice is crucial to the future economy and the creation of jobs.”

A handy start to all this will be to remove the LNP from the portals of power. It is probably the worst punishment that they will receive for their crimes.

The Vote in Gippsland

The East Gippsland and Wellington Climate Action Networks* (EGCAN and WELCAN) have just released a climate scorecard for the Gippsland electorate. The scorecard noted that it “has been made clear by the United Nations and the latest IPCC report there is still a chance to keep global heating under 1.5°C. The troubling message is that many countries, with Australia a named offender, are just not doing enough” and that “climate action is clearly in the minds of residents in Gippsland – 61% of people in Gippsland believe greater action on climate change will strengthen the Australian economy.”

“Our Climate Scorecard shows where the candidates’ parties stand on key questions in this election. We included integrity issues because of the clear link between failures in governance and failures in climate policy. Scores are based on Party policies from their websites and information from Lighter Footprints. The scorecard rates candidates on five key climate policy areas and two policies related to government integrity. Each policy has been scored as GOOD, FAIR or POOR based on the candidates’ published policies.”

The scorecard also notes that the “groups do not endorse any party or candidate.” However a brief look at the scorecard (above) shows that those wanting to vote climate in Gippsland have very little choice. The Greens candidate is outstanding and the ALP ticks a few boxes but the other four candidates are either tied to coal, in climate change denying parties, or both. Darren Chester, the sitting member, is a moderate within the Nationals – a party like the Liberals and is also a ‘split waiting to happen’. Chatting recently to some Labour voters they repeated the fairly strong gossip that Darren would make a great Independent. At the other end of the spectrum is the “a vote for Darren is a vote for Barnaby” school with which I have strong sympathies.

The scorecard also has an explanation of how preferences work but in this electorate for climate voters once your preference reaches the ALP it will stop there. Recently I told someone my conundrum was not who to vote for, but who to put last – whether the party of the coal billionaire or one of the climate deniers. This means I will probably end up putting the incumbent number 3. I still hope for a strong swing against him and for the Greens to poll close to 10%. But it is in Monash and elsewhere that the chance for major change lies.

*contact EGCAN here and WELCAN here

Speaking Truth to Power by Dr Michael Borgas

Michael speaks at the Inverloch rally (image Andrew McEwan)

Thank you for the invitation to speak to the Inverloch Climate Rally today. First of all, I want to thank you as citizens participating in the democratic process to change our damaging human climate footprint. You are vital for the planet and us!

I have long involvement in the science of climate and atmosphere and the never-ending task of ‘speaking truth to power.’ Scientists see the problems first and my CSIRO colleagues spoke truth to power for decades. Then they came for us. Our society gifts power to elected politicians, government bureaucracies and corporations. In the past when Australia strove to better its version of society, it was necessary to listen to truths, whether scientific, economic or social.

But popularism has increasingly empowered manipulative vested interests to ignore truths on climate and our social responsibilities. We are driven away from a sustainable future, or even a safe climate to enable most humans to aspire beyond survival.

The truth to power is now based on popular opinions and fantasies. Scientists are told to influence opinion in a fractious and ignorant political, media and fake-news landscape.

This is why you are vital citizens. You listen, make judgements on evidence, and influence your friends and neighbours in the community. In this modern world you are as important as the greatest scientist, most strident activist, or even peak forums like the IPCC. Your local politician will listen to you more than any of these authorities. You are more likely to have read and made judgements on the key messages from the science and experts than your representative in government. Your message to the powerful has never been more important.

There are exceptions, like Bass Coast Shire and the local Mayor who is here today. But the powerful in Australia are not leading the way, and we are recognized internationally as extremists and climate action laggards.

But do not despair, because truth cannot be denied in the long run. Have anger, because the denial and delay by the powerful is doing more damage to our climate and environment than necessary. Have hope, because we have pathways to a decarbonized economy with projects like Star of the South offshore wind and many community-based renewable energy developments. Have compassion to find a just world for the many people that will suffer climate emergencies and the wildlife and environment we plunder until we learn and act.

By protesting today, by standing up for climate action, you are taking responsible and just actions. The truth to power now means those messages reaching more and more citizens and our power finally cowering our insipid political leaders. Surveys clearly show more and more people want climate action and a sustainable future. There are even begrudging and fawning commitments to net zero by 2050 by most politicians.

Thank you again for demanding a more sustainable and just community. Our votes must change the current pathway to catastrophe and we must hold the powerful to account.

*The Author was in CSIRO 1987-2017 Atmospheric Research, Aspendale and President of their Staff Association 2002-2017. Yanakie, South Gippsland (Just Transition South Gippsland Inc)

The “Climate First’ Election by Jessica Harrison

The XR “Sybils” lead the march down A’Beckett Street Inverloch. Photo Andrew McEwan

Republished from the Bass Coast Post with permission

MORE than 120 people rallied and marched for the climate in Inverloch on Easter Saturday. The Climate Calamity Choir entertained the crowd and the XR “Sybils” – No More Coal, No More Gas and No More Oil – led the march down A’Beckett Street to the Glade.

The rally was organised by the Monash Community Climate Coalition (contact) , which is urging voters to think of the climate when they vote in next month’s federal election. If they don’t have a policy, ask them why not? Monash candidates Deb Leonard (Independent), Mat Morgan (Greens) and Jessica O’Donnell (ALP) attended the rally.​

Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Michael Whelan said the Federal Government’s target of zero emissions by 2050 was too late. “The Bass Coast Shire Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and has prepared a Climate Action Plan for the whole community to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. We must act now. Climate change is at a critical stage – you only have to look at the Inverloch beach and the loss of 70 metres of coastal dunes in a 10-year period.”

Dr Michael Borgas, who was president of the CSIRO Staff Association from 2001-2016, said it was more important than ever for citizens who listened to science to demand climate action and decide their votes accordingly. “Science has been speaking truth to power on climate action for decades, but decision makers haven’t listened. Increasingly our political leaders are extremists, opposed to science advice and our collective interests. Our votes must change this pathway to catastrophe.”

Wonthaggi doctor and former president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr Nola Maxfield, spoke of the health impacts of climate change. “Climate change doesn’t just affect the health of our planet, it also affects our physical and mental health. The cumulative effects of multiple disasters, caused by a warmer world with increased energy in the weather systems, has significant impacts on our mental health. For our children and young people, the emotional distress caused by environmental change is something we need to deal with.”

South Gippsland Conservation Society president Ed Thexton was unable to attend but sent a message…“This is where leadership comes from – the community! One person with persistence is all it needs. Remember with climate change we all want the same thing – a beautiful world for our children. Kids – take home a sticker or two for your car and your house. Most importantly, when your parents vote, it’s absolutely critical that you tell them to place a vote that’s best for you and your future. This is the election where the interests of kids come first.”

Jessica Harrison is a member of the Bass Coast Climate Action Network.

A Plea for Bipartisanship on Climate by Tom Moore

‘Just another summer’ by Ray Dahlstrom

We should endeavour to remain a-political on the subject of climate change. It should be free of partisan politics and our government should not lightly dismiss the evidence-based research. The extraordinary amount of research that has been published for all to read and respond to by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be a real game changer for our mainstream politicians – but it isn’t. Some take it on board as a concern that needs to be addressed in the future – some completely dismiss it – some actively work against it. Therefore, it is imperative that we should speak out when the evidence quoted by our politicians is, to say the least, severely tainted with their own political views.

Surely the two linked articles (see here and here) help illustrate clearly why the Coalition cannot be trusted with the future of our planet, yet alone with the future of our economy, both of which will impact multiple generations that follow us. Always exaggerating the cost of taking action but always ignoring the cost of inaction – always promising but rarely delivering – always taking the credit for what is being achieved in reducing emissions whilst doing nothing concrete themselves to encourage it.

This current government obviously has no plan to tackle climate change, no plans to transition to a new world and no plans to change our economy to benefit from the natural advantages from which Australia could build a brilliant future. This government will stand firmly in the way of any of us who wish to act on the advice of our scientists. There is but one solution – vote them out!

Labor is, of course, only marginally better at this stage. But they are marginally better! And we should not lose sight of the fact that they are only marginally better because to stick their necks out and be as good as they should be at this stage would translate into a certain electoral defeat.

Perhaps the best we can hope, for the time being at least, is that the Independents (yes, and the Greens) will have the balance of power in the Senate and perhaps even in the House of Representatives – this outcome would be a direct out-working of the performance of the current bunch of mainstream politicians. No doubt, of course, I’ll be incorrectly quoted as saying this is the best solution, but short of a “miracle” (one that PM Morrison would not want to see happen), it’s better than the status quo.

One would hope that such a result would see a move to much more critical and logical thinking and perhaps even some action.

*Tom is a Metung Author

Remembering our Bushfires

The bushfires that raged across eastern Australia in 2019-20 mainly affected four states – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Wikipedia noted that this “period of bushfires in many parts of Australia… due to its unusual intensity, size, duration, and uncontrollable dimension, is considered a megafire”. Although known as the ‘Black Summer” the fires burned in all seasons. Over 11 months they burned about 30 million hectares, cost over $103 billion, and there were 33 direct fatalities plus a further estimated 445 from smoke inhalation. 

The influence of climate change on these events was obvious. From the initial ignition of the fires by more frequent lightning strikes (denied and ignored by the News Corp) through the extended dry period in eastern Australia to the extreme heat, meant that the fire season duration and fire intensity has been substantially increased. Also in many areas current logging and tree removal practices may have exacerbated the situation.

The Climate Council wrote that in “April 2019, a group of former fire and emergency services chiefs formed Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA). They shared deep concerns about the potentially catastrophic impact of the imminent 2019-20 bushfire season following serious bushfires in Queensland, NSW and Tasmania in 2018, and continuing drought. The ELCA group were united around the unequivocal scientific evidence that climate change, driven mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas, is worsening extreme weather events, including more hot days, heatwaves, heavy rainfall, coastal flooding, and catastrophic bushfire weather – disasters they had all experienced during their long careers.”

In Gippsland the bushfires commenced on the 21.11.19 and it was not until 27.3.20 that they were declared contained, burning for a record more than 100 days. During this time I blogged regularly, which included catastrophic days of fire expansion, the declaration of a State of Emergency, and sitting under the smoke cloud as the fire front crept towards us. My blog on the 1987 predictions of CSIRO scientist Tom Beer, with over 7000 readers, remains my most read blog by far. The firestorm and the evacuation of holidaymakers from Mallacoota made headline news around the world.

Both the old prediction of the CSIRO and the more recent one by ELCA were ignored completely by a succession of Liberal National coalition (LNP) governments. As eastern Australia was engulfed in its ‘Black Summer’ our Prime Minister holidayed in Hawaii. The governing coalition continues to support and promote fossil fuels – a major source of greenhouse gases and a big part of the problem. Hopefully this election voters will remember this, connect the dots, and consign the LNP to the dustbin of history.

My election crystal ball

Election outcomes, like economic predictions are very difficult to get right. Currently the Liberal National (LNP) government is on a precariously low majority of one. After eight years of mismanagement on climate, endless porkies from the PM, and dissension within LNP ranks, it is hard to see them being returned. But we are barely into the official election campaign and there appears to be a strong media bias in their favour. Labor seems to be copying the Howard 1996 campaign of making themselves as small a target as possible, but in contrast the media then were all for Howard. To this can be added the effect of Palmer’s millions, if any. A Liberal victory is something I don’t even want to think about.

At the moment there are two most likely outcomes. The first and most likely is a hung parliament with Independents and Greens in the middle. The other – if the opinion polls hold – is an ALP majority with the LNP smashed. If the latter occurs and the Libs were to lose three or more seats to Independents it may well bring about a split in the Liberal Party that I have been predicting for some years.

With the situation in Gippsland a strong swing against both sitting members is possible with a small chance of change in Monash. Hopefully Dr Helen Haines MP, who has campaigned tirelessly for renewable energy in Indi will get a bigger majority. A landslide to the ALP would see Monash change hands, as would a very strong Independent vote.

The Climate 200 backed independents are getting a lot of attention – especially Monique Ryan in Kooyong and Zoe Daniel in Goldstein. Their Voices groups have been active for some years, and in the case of Kooyong had a strong ‘Climate Independent’ in 2019. The result can clearly be seen in the large crowds they are drawing to their meetings and their enthusiastic volunteers. It is these candidates plus activists in extra parliamentary groups and on the social media that are making this into a real climate election.

Should either of these outcomes materialise there will still be a lot of work for activists post-election, starting with countering the predictable reaction of the fossil fuel lobby and the media – led no doubt by the climate criminals at News Corp.