Tag Archives: Australia

Australia is to build the world’s largest network of marine parks, more than three million sq km in size, ahead of the Rio +20 summit on climate change.

The country’s environment minister, Tony Burke, announced the plans on Thursday, which will also see a ban laid down on oil and gas exploration in the area, including the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef.

Burke said that the plans will make the area the “largest marine protected area in the world.”

The country currently has a total of 27 marine parks, which will increase to 60 once the new scheme is completed.

The news was met with varied opinion from special interest groups, with some praising the move, while other environmental groups criticised the areas chosen to be cordoned off from development.

The new plans are an attempt to protect the habitats of the sea creatures in the area

“Offshore petroleum exploration hasn’t been addressed properly by this process,” one campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

“This is bad news for whales and dolphins because many of the areas where industry operates or wants to operate are also important habitats for whales and dolphins.”

The leader of the opposition, the conservative Tony Abbott, criticised the scheme, claiming it would damage the rights of commercial fishers and commercial tourist operators”.

However, the WWF welcomed the plan, calling it a “milestone” in environmental policy.

“By declaring more than one third of its waters as marine parks, Australia has made a major advance in marine conservation that is both nationally and globally significant. Coming on the eve of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, this is an inspiring outcome for other countries to follow,” WWF-Australia’s CEO Dermot O’Gorman said.

The announcement comes only weeks after Gina Rinehart, the mining magnate and world’s richest woman worth nearly £20bn, had plans for a £4bn mine near the Great Barrier Reef shelved.

Her Alpha coal mining project in the area, which the environment minister labelled a “shambolic joke”, has been postponed until its effects on the reef have been investigated.

Author: Charlie Lindlar
Source: The Huffington Post UK



WHEN AUSTRALIA SUFFERED through the drought of the last decade, there were fears we’d run out of water. As year after year registered below average rainfall, people began to talk seriously about recycling our sewage to use as drinking water.

Water pours from a floodgate at Wivenhoe Dam

Ironically, it is the massive floods that we experienced after the drought that could be the strongest argument yet for using recycled water. In fact, if Brisbane had not backed away from a scheme to drink its recycled sewage, we may not have seen the rising waters that devastated our third largest city in January 2011.

There are two kinds of recycled water. ‘Indirect potable reuse’ or IPR uses advanced water treatment processes such as reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation, before discharging the recycled water back into a river, reservoir, or underground prior to re-harvesting it, retreating it and reusing it.

Much less talked about is ‘direct potable reuse’. DPR would do away with the return to the environment and the water would be pumped directly back into the city’s water supply system.

By the worst stages of the drought around 2007, it had become clear that some of Australia’s largest cities would need to adopt varying approaches to IPR in order to make full use of available water supplies. Major IPR schemes have since been partially developed in Queensland and Western Australia.

The Western Corridor Recycled Water Project (WCRWP) was developed during 2007-2010 partially as a means to supplement drinking water supplies in Lake Wivenhoe, South East Queensland. This is the primary source of drinking water supply for Brisbane and much of the surrounding area. The WCRWP uses effluent from six wastewater treatment plants, which is then subjected to advanced water treatment at three new plants at Bundamba, Luggage Point and Gibson Island.

Some of this advanced-treated water is now used for industrial purposes, but the idea of drinking it has been postponed until storage supplies drop to below 40 per cent of capacity.

Topping up Lake Wivenhoe with highly treated recycled water seemed (at least to some, myself included) to be a great idea. But the plan to drink the recycled water has not yet gone ahead because of one word: “yuck!”

That powerful psychological response to the idea of drinking treated effluent is one of the main reasons why you don’t hear any politicians advocating DPR. They don’t believe that they can successfully sell the idea. And of course, the yuck factor is normal, so politicians, engineers and scientists all experience it too.

But the disastrous flooding of Wivenhoe Dam may change all that. Now, finding some additional spare capacity in the reservoir to hold back such enormous flood surges seems an even more important priority. Fortunately, DPR offers a solution that can achieve both outcomes at once.

Like many reservoirs, Lake Wivenhoe has two conflicting roles. On one hand, it must provide security of drinking water supply by storing as much water as possible. One the other, it must protect Brisbane from otherwise inevitable regular flooding by maintaining as much empty space as possible. To achieve this somewhat schizophrenic expectation, the reservoir is divided into two distinct components. The bottom 1,165 billion litres is kept as full as possible for drinking water supply and the top 1,450 billion litres is maintained empty for flood control.

When operating at full capacity, the WCRWP can produce around 35 per cent of the total water consumption of Brisbane and surrounding areas.

If this water was used directly as part of Brisbane’s water supply, Lake Wivenhoe could be relied upon for 35 per cent less water supply. This means that the same security of water supply could be maintained while dropping the full supply capacity of Wivenhoe by 35 per cent and thereby freeing additional space for flood mitigation. The flood mitigation capacity would be increased by around 425 billion litres, which is an increase of around 30 per cent.

In terms of water storage capacity, this new-found 425 billion litres of flood mitigation space is the same as immediately constructing a new equivalent sized reservoir, without the cost of construction and without having to relocate a single home or farm. In addition to completely avoiding the environmental impacts of new dams, it would enable less water to be captured by the dam enhancing natural flow regimes in the Brisbane River.

To put this extra storage capacity into some context, a new 425 billion litre reservoir would be the fourth largest reservoir to supply drinking water to a major city in Australia (after Warragamba in Sydney, Wivenhoe in Brisbane and Thompson in Melbourne). It would be more than 70 per cent of the total water storage capacity of Perth and twice the total storage capacity of Adelaide.

Using the existing infrastructure of the WCRWP, water would be available immediately and there would be negligible construction costs. But most importantly, the freed-up storage space will also be immediately available to help capture and control major flooding events when they occur.

With careful management, this additional storage capacity would have been sufficient to capture and contain the entire peak flow into Wivenhoe Dam that occurred between 9th and 13th January 2011. There would have been no flood in Brisbane.

With all of this in perspective, the yuck factor is starting to seem like an emotional response that we would do well to live without.

Dr Stuart Khan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales

Author: Stuart Khan
Source: ABC Environment


The Federal Government says a $3.8 million upgrade to Karratha’s wastewater recycling scheme will significantly boost supplies of recycled water.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, Don Farrell, has visited Karratha to launch the upgrade, which will increase the supply of recycled water to the community by more than 150-million-litres a year.

Senator Farrell says the water will be used on the shire’s ovals and golf courses.

“Particularly ovals where you can use recycled water on quite safely and this will save water that would have otherwise …. gone to waste,” he said.

“It means we have more water for drinking purposes, which is going to be very important in Karratha as the population grows into the future.”

Source: ABC News


Both sides of politics are expecting a significant power price rise from the IPART today. They disagree on the cause. (Gary Rivett: ABC News)

The New South Wales Government is predicting households will soon be paying an extra $300 a year for electricity, but the Federal Government has rejected suggestions its carbon tax is to blame.

The state’s Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) draft recommendations for electricity prices are due out today.

State Energy Minister Chris Hartcher is anticipating a sharp increase in power prices.

He says the carbon tax and green schemes such as the Renewable Energy Target scheme are the main reasons for the price spike.

“Unless the carbon tax and the green schemes are scrapped, it’s estimated that the average household in New South Wales will pay an additional $300 a year or more,” Mr Hartcher said.

“Now power bills have been rising sharply over recent times and an increase of this magnitude, over $300 a year, is going to hit families hard, is going to hit businesses hard.

“Don’t go ahead with the carbon tax, or if you have to go ahead with the carbon tax, despite every indication that you shouldn’t, at least scrap these green schemes, which are unaffordable.”

Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has rejected Mr Hartcher’s criticism.

“When you look at what’s been driving electricity price increases in New South Wales in recent years, and what we’d expect from IPART today, the overwhelming contributing factors are state factors,” he said.

“Things such as the investment in the poles and wires or the solar panel rooftop programs that have been run out of New South Wales. That’s what’s been fundamentally driving electricity price rises.”

Mr Combet says households will be compensated for any power price rise associated with the carbon tax.

“Any electricity price rise that IPART indicates today that is attributable to the carbon price coming in is met by the Federal Government paying tax cuts to families, increasing family tax benefits for families with kids, an increase in the single pension, an increase in the pension for couples, payments for self funded retirees,” Mr Combet said.

Author: Mark Tobin – NSW political reporter
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Some scientists say regulators should require companies to feed GM foods to rats for two years before approving them for humans (iStockphoto: Creativeye99)

The Australian food authority has again defended itself against criticisms that its testing of GM food is inadequate.

French molecular biologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen made the criticisms during a recent lecture tour of Australia.

Seralini first raised concerns about genetically modified organisms early last decade when he was with the French government authority that was assessing them.

He has since founded the non-profit Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) which has been investigating the safety of GM food.

For example, in 2007 his team published a scientific peer reviewed paper on the health effects of Monsanto’s Bt corn product, MON863.

The corn, which has been engineered to produce an insecticidal protein normally produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is approved for sale internationally, including in Australia.

In the study, Seralini and colleagues reanalysed Monsanto’s raw data and concluded that rats fed the corn showed evidence of liver and kidney toxicity.

The MON863 data had originally been kept as a commercial secret by the company, says Seralini. It was only released under a court order in a case taken by the German government against Monsanto, using lawyers funded by Greenpeace.

Since the reanalysis of MON863 data, his team has also raised questions over other GM foods.

Speaking at a symposium at the University of Technology, Sydney last week, Seralini criticised the Australian food regulator’s protocols for assessing GM food safety as inadequate.

He says long-term animal feeding studies are necessary to determine whether any chronic disease including cancers develop.

“We would like to see two-year long studies in rats because they are the lab animals that are used for all kinds of drugs, chemicals and pesticides all over the world,” says Seralini.

Internationally-accepted protocols

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has approved more than 50 GM foods imported into Australia and says it uses internationally-accepted protocols to assess the foods. The authority does not agree with the usefulness of animal feeding studies.

Although not generally requiring GM companies to submit such studies, FSANZ says it has considered Seralini’s reanalysis of Monsanto’s raw data on MON863 and does not believe the issues he raises are valid.

Regulatory agencies in Europe, Canada, Japan, Mexico, US and Korea have all independently considered the safety data associated with the corn and have concluded there are no safety concerns, a FSANZ spokesperson says.

But scientists like Seralini say the tests used by regulatory authorities like FSANZ wouldn’t pick up the full range of possible impacts of GM food.

Seralini says genes from otherwise naturally-occurring proteins like the bacterial insecticidal Bt are altered when they are inserted into plants and this may produce unexpected effects.

A 2005 publication by Australian scientists doing research and development on a GM pea showed that when a bean gene was expressed in the pea, it produced a modified protein that produced an altered immune response when fed to mice.

Independence and funding

Seralini criticises FSANZ and other regulatory authorities for failing to obtain independent assessments of GM food, saying this was the case with MON863.

“All the tests were performed by the industry,” he says.

While FSANZ has published criticisms of Seralini’s work on its website, ABC Science Online could only find one rebuttal of Seralini’s work published in a peer reviewed journal, which was a study funded by Monsanto.

Seralini says his organisation accepts funding from anyone who is not involved with the biotech industry.

His Australian lecture tour was funded by Greenpeace and Seralini has provided expertise to the European Union, Ministry of Environment in Quebec, and the Supreme Court in India, among others.

CRIIGEN is now looking for donations of 3 million Euros to fund a two-year rat feeding study on three major GM foods, including MON863.

“It’s little money compared to the money that has been spent by governments to develop the biotech industry,” says Searlini. “It’s a lot more than has ever been given to one independent lab.”

Chemical effects

Seralini is also concerned about the effect of chemicals associated with GM crops.

One of the most widely used type of GM crops today is design to be tolerant to the herbicide Roundup.

Seralini’s team reports finding evidence that even low levels of Roundup residues can have toxic effects on human cells.

“We saw not only toxicity but endocrine-disrupting effects,” he says.

Seralini criticises regulators for only requiring the full range of toxicity tests on active ingredients of agricultural chemicals.

The actual formulation used in the field contains a mixture of chemicals and the toxicity of that mixture should be tested, says Seralini.

FSANZ says the toxicity of herbicides is a matter for Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and the Office of Chemical Safety in the Department of Health, but defends the safety record of Roundup.

Author: Anna Salleh
Source: ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation


THE recent clinching of a $1.9 billion Australian defence contract by the Germans illustrates to carbon price knockers that they need look no further for proof that an economy which relies on renewable energy can outsmart one dependent on fossil fuels.

Germany is currently the world-leader in installing renewable energy. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Germany’s electricity sector delivers 21 per cent of its power from renewable sources, such as the wind and the sun. Just 8.5 per cent of Australian power is provided by these sources, despite the fact that our continent has them in spades compared to the Germans.

This month it was reported that a Bendigo workshop planned to lay off 50 staff because it had missed out on a government contract to supply vehicles for the Australian Army.

The tender for Land 121 Phase 3 military vehicles was won late last year by German consortium Rheinmetall MAN which will export about 2,700 fully assembled vehicles to Australia.

The Bendigo manufacturer, operated by French engineering giant Thales, had been building the required military vehicles under a previous contract.

But now, the Thales retrenchments will add to a growing list of Australian based employers who are cutting jobs and threatening to push our unemployment rate close to six per cent in 2012, according to CommSec economists.

Anxiety over the potential of the Eurozone crisis to wreak havoc around the globe is undoubtedly driving the softness in the Australian economy.

But what of Germany, which finds itself at the epicenter of the EU debt maelstrom?

How is it possible that a nation shouldering the lion’s share of bailing out Europe’s basket-case economies has its finances in the best shape ever in two decades?

The yearly German unemployment rate keeps falling and at 6.7 per cent in January was the lowest since reunification. The Berlin based BGA Exporters and Wholesalers group estimated total German exports hit a record $US1.3 trillion last year.

This is hardly a picture of an economy that has been struggling under the impost of a carbon cost and renewable energy subsidies.

Energy production using fossil and nuclear fuels is penalised in Germany by virtue of the Renewable Energy Act, which guarantees higher prices for generators of electricity sourced from wind and solar through feed-in-tariffs.

The legislation has encouraged a phenomenal uptake of solar roof panels for a nation that hardly boasts sunny weather. Today Germany has over 150 million solar panels installed or 25,000MW, more than Australia’s entire baseload capacity.

Compare that with a mere 1,250MW of photovoltaic panels in the sunburnt country and the irony is scorching.

Critics who claim that pricing carbon using feed-in-tariffs, taxes or emissions trading is somehow linked to an underperforming economy and high jobless rates ought to be silenced by Germany’s success in bursting that myth.

And if the proof in the pudding is not enough for the naysayers, they could look to volumes of published material demonstrating that the early costs of encouraging renewable energy benefit an economy in a matter of years.
Respected energy experts Dr Wolfram Krewitt and Dr Joachim Nitsch’s published research while at the German Aerospace Centre that is regularly cited to drive home this point.

In a peer reviewed paper they wrote: “While the success of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act in supporting the use of renewable energy sources for electricity generation is widely acknowledged, it is partly criticised for imposing unjustified extra costs on society.

“[This] paper makes an attempt to estimate the external costs avoided in the German energy system due to the use of renewable energies for electricity generation, and to compare them against the compensation to be paid by grid operators for electricity from renewable energies according to the Renewable Energy Sources Act.

“… [R]esults clearly indicate that the reduced environmental impacts and related economic benefits do outweigh the additional costs for the compensation of electricity from renewable energies,” Krewitt and Nitsch concluded.

Another misleading argument renewable energy doubters like to peddle is that the rise in renewable energy use and the reduction in coal use is only possible in economies that also have a nuclear sector, to supply supposedly ‘reliable’ electricity when ‘the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow’.

Germany also recently burst this myth.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, the German government ordered the shut down of eight reactors, prompting warnings that when winter came around, a surge in energy use would cause black outs.

But not only has the electricity supply remained reliable in the coldest months, the unusually icy weather of late has seen the German energy sector prove very resilient in the absence of 9,000MW of nuclear back up. In fact during a cold snap last week, the country with the fastest growing renewable sector was propping up nuclear powered France which was importing over 6,500MW to support its fleet of old outdated nuclear plants.

With a 100 per cent target, renewable energy is a fact of life in Germany, tried and proven.

The vocal and incessant deniers of this evidence have only ideologies, opinions and a gaping lack of comprehension.

Matthew Wright is executive director of Beyond Zero Emissions.

Author: Matthew Wright
Source: ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation


While cattle have been stopped for now, the issue raises a bigger question of conflict of interest.

IT IS A PECULIAR TWIST of logic that we elevate a small handful of Australian actors to be called national treasures, yet our national parks struggle to make even B-grade celebrity status.

In truth, our national parks are ‘national’ in name only. Largely the creation of state governments, these should-be national treasures enjoy very little national oversight or protection.

In an important move, the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke’s decision to stop cattle grazing in Victoria’s Alpine National Park illustrates the critical need to place our national parks under federal oversight.

When the Baillieu Government made the decision to introduce cattle into a national park it walked away from its responsibilities to manage the state’s natural environment. At a state level, the decision was widely viewed to be politically motivated. At a national level, it highlighted the fundamental flaws in our national legislation to protect these critical areas.

It started in 2010 when, despite an electoral promise to do so, the Coalition failed to release its environmental policy as part of its election campaign. In place of a policy, a multitude of special interests jostled for precedence and only months after the election, the results of this policy vacuum were evident in the hoof prints that had trampled a delicate, finely balanced ecosystem.

Under the guise of a scientific grazing trial the government quietly, if not secretly, introduced 400 cattle to the Alpine National Park. Popularly compared to Victoria’s version of Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling, the decision ran contrary to scientific evidence and was widely criticised by the scientific and wider communities alike, including in open letter from 125 leading ecologists.

Freedom of Information requests and investigations by both conservation groups and the media found a litany of holes and flaws in this ‘scientific’ trial which, as it transpired, was the first instalment in significant and disturbing list of government actions that continue to chip away at core environmental management controls in Victoria.

In the last 12 months, the Baillieu Government has exposed a number of threatened species to logging by changing the key regulatory instrument of the Code of Practice for Timber Production. In effect, changes to the code of practice allow the Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries to exempt areas identified for logging from threatened species laws.

At the sweep of pen we have also seen the government dismantle a necessary system of firewood permits in Victoria’s state forests that had been in place since the Bolte Government in the 1950s. The government also introduced legislation to extend firewood collection in red gum national parks.

In the 1990s the states and the Commonwealth agreed that states would have responsibility for threatened species management in areas targeted for logging under regional forest agreements. In short, national environmental laws do not apply in logging areas, an issue that places our threatened species at the mercy of state-owned logging interests.

This may explain why, in early December, the Baillieu Government released a Timber Industry Action Plan effectively sanctioning logging in parks and reserves. Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh later ruled this out but there has been no apparent change to the formal written policy.

Since 1993 Australia has been a party to the global Convention on Biological Diversity. Under the Australian constitution, the federal government is responsible for delivering on international obligations for nature protection, with states largely responsible for land management, a point formalised in the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment in the early 1990s.

Recently, Minister Burke proposed a regulation that damaging activities such as cattle grazing, mining and land clearing in national parks and other key protected areas are referred to the federal government for review and approval. The regulation is still open for feedback but it would certainly be an important step in making national parks national and would restore greater integrity to our magnificent network of national parks and protected areas.

Taking it a step further, the Victoria National Parks Association and other environment groups are discussing the desirability of national parks becoming truly national by making their management a ‘trigger’ under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.

Some state governments, including Victoria’s, have responded negatively to this perceived attack on their rights. But can it be really claimed as a ‘right’ if a government abrogates its responsibility to care for key area under its jurisdiction? The return of cattle grazing to Victoria’s Alpine National Park illustrates this point.

The federal Environment Minister stepped into Victoria’s cattle debate because of the potential impact of grazing on the threatened alpine tree frog and the nationally listed alpine sphagnum bogs and fens are listed under national environmental law. The fact that the trial was in a national park was not in itself a trigger for federal involvement.

National parks are the most efficient and effective way of conserving nature, particular threatened species. Now is time to recognise the importance of national parks to the nation as a whole.

Matt Ruchel is executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association.

Author: Matt Ruchel
Source: ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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