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14 January 2020

Welcome to our live blog! 

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, over the coming weeks Policy Forum will cover analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t miss a beat right here. If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.auYou can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.

Thanks for following!

5.09pm, Tuesday 21 January

That’s it for today for our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion – join us again tomorrow morning for more updates!

If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter.

 

Global institutions issue climate warning

4.47pm, Tuesday 21 January

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) has warned climate change could lead to the next global financial crisis in a new report. Owned by 60 central banks from around the world including the Reserve Bank of Australia, the BIS called a global carbon tax a “first-best solution”, according to Michael Roddan from The Australian

The International Monetary Fund has also downgraded its global economic forecasts, warning of the growing threat posed by climate change.

 

Bushfire victims struggling to access assistance payments

4.24pm, Tuesday 21 January

Some bushfire survivors are struggling to access support, according to this report by Alex Turner-Cohen for news.com.au. NSW south coast resident Rae Harvey lost her home in the fires. She tried twice to access the government’s $1,000 relief payment, but said red-tape got in the way both times.

“They want me to provide bank account details from when I last received a government assistance payment over 25 years ago,” she said.

 

Australian weather makes international headlines

3.49pm, Tuesday 21 January

Australia’s summer weather has continued to captivate audiences overseas, with yesterday’s freak hailstorm in Canberra making headlines abroad. Large hailstones wreaked havoc through Australia’s capital city, resulting in around 11,000 insurance claims for damaged cars and property.

The BBC has also produced an interesting visual guide to the bushfires, with imagery showing the extent of the fires, the impact of the bushfire smoke and Australia’s changing climate.

 

Donations not enough to cover damage

2.55pm, Tuesday 21 January

Despite bushfire relief donations reaching $250 million, that is probably not enough to cover the damage caused by the bushfire crisis, said the head of charitable organisation St Vincent de Paul. Despite that, Jack de Groot told the ABC he has been overwhelmed by the response of those who have donated.

“I’ve never seen this sort of generosity for a bushfire appeal across multiple states,” he said.

University of Queensland economist John Quiggan recently said the total damage bill could reach $100 billion, a figure seconded by Dr Paul Read and Dr Richard Denniss.

 

Ex-fire chief blasts “appalling” leadership failure

2.00pm, Tuesday 21 January

Former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW Greg Mullins has written a scathing assessment of the federal government, saying proposals for more resources and national coordination were “ridiculed”. Writing in The Guardian, he called on the government to take “urgent action” to address the “climate emergency”.

“There has been an appalling failure in national leadership from Canberra. Failure to recognise and prepare for what was coming. Failure to accept briefings from experts. Failure to understand and accept the government’s national support role to the states and territories. Failure to provide funding certainty for critical equipment requested by fire agencies in a detailed business case but stalled in Canberra since May 2018.”

 

NEW POST | From smog to smoke to sustainable wellbeing

1.15pm, Tuesday 21 January

More on this: From smog to smoke
The fires and smoke affecting Australia are a wake-up call to change course, writes Crawford School’s Professor Robert Costanza in a new piece for Policy Forum. While the bushfires signalled a bleak start to the new decade, environmental crises have changed the course of history for the better before, and they can do so again, he argues.

“Ultimately, we need to shift our societal goals to a broader conception of sustainable wellbeing in order to finally resolve these issues and overcome our current addiction to fossil fuels and mindless GDP growth that benefits only the top 0.1 per cent,” said Professor Costanza.

 

Reach out!

12.47pm, Tuesday 21 January

Don’t forget to reach out and share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires.

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Firefighters union chief says no to royal commission

11.39am, Tuesday 21 January

Peter Marshall, National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, has said a royal commission into the bushfire disaster will duplicate state inquiries triggered by fire-related deaths. In addition, he called on the federal government to learn lessons from previous inquiries rather than establish another royal commission into bushfires.

“We must seriously think through any reasons for a federal royal commission before we subject career and volunteer firefighters and community members to such an emotional process,” he said.

Speaking on the latest Policy Forum Pod, Professor Stephen Dovers from The Australian National University echoed these sentiments.

“A quasi-judicial inquiry often re-traumatises both responders and others. It [can become] more adversarial and blame-seeking,” he said.

 

Bowen calls for climate change health strategy

11.00am, Tuesday 21 January

The Opposition health spokesperson Chris Bowen has called for a “national climate change health strategy” in an op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald. Mr Bowen pointed to efforts being made to understand the impacts of climate change on health in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe as examples of what is possible.

“We need the impact of climate change to be much higher in the health policy agenda. We are significantly behind comparable countries in this regard,” he said.

 

Seasonal workers and the bushfires

10.13am, Tuesday 21 January

Nearly 50 ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers were forced to evacuate from Batlow in the New South Wales Riverina when fires threatened the town. While all were evacuated safely to Wagga Wagga, The Australian National University’s Dr Rochelle-Lee Bailey said more research is required to understand the impact of the disaster on the workers. In Australia on the Seasonal Worker Program, the workers were well received and even raised funds for the victims, wrote Dr Bailey on Devpolicy. But while all are safe, the disaster will put financial pressure on the workers, many of whom will have only just paid off debt they accrued as part of participating in the program.

 

Endangered species

9.27am, Tuesday 21 January

Fire has seriously impacted the habitat of 25 critically endangered species, according to experts from the University of Queensland. Michelle Ward told the ABC she and her colleagues compared NASA imagery of the bushfires and existing maps of threatened species to come to the figure. Critically endangered species are those that are “considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

As a little aside, the ABC has shared some outstanding photography of the aftermath of fires, taken by Brendan Esposito.

 

Welcome back to our live blog

9.00am, Tuesday 21 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire and analysis and opinion!

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, Policy Forum is covering analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au. You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group. More to come.


 

Thanks for joining us today!

5.07pm, Monday 20 January

Thanks for following our live blog today! We’ll be back again tomorrow morning. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a podcast for your trip home, you can listen to part two of our special new Policy Forum Pod episode on managing bushfires now. Part one is also available.

Don’t forget you can also share your favourite pieces of analysis with us. Reach out to me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Should we rebuild in fire zones?

4.33pm, Monday 20 January

After the royal commission into Victoria’s Black Saturday, a buy-back scheme was introduced for some with properties in bushfire affected areas. University of Melbourne bushfire expert Associate Professor Kevin Tolhurst told ABC Radio a compulsory buy-back scheme should be introduced.

“There’s a massive legacy there of people living in indefensible locations. So we need to recognise that there were some mistakes made from a planning point of view,” he said.

 

Small business lifelines

3.51pm, Monday 20 January

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a series of measures to support small businesses in bushfire affected areas. Among the measures are grants of up to $50,000 for business and not-for-profits that sustained damage from the fires and concessional loans of up to $500,000 for businesses that have “suffered significant asset loss or a significant loss of revenue”.

 

The $1 trillion plan to decarbonise Australia

3.09pm, Monday 20 January

Australian entrepreneur Saul Griffiths said Australia could decarbonise for around $100,000 per household in an interview with Angus Grigg at the Australian Financial Review. The process would take around two decades and involve a similar rate of spending undertaken by Australia during World War II, he said.

“Australia could be the first nation on earth of significant size to go completely carbon free,” he told the AFR

The Australian National University’s Professor Frank Jotzo said Griffith’s plan represents the “gold standard”, but decarbonisation could actually be done for much less.

 

Send us your favourite analysis

2.15pm, Monday 20 January

Don’t forget to share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires with us!

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Fears for critically endangered honeyeater

1.36pm, Monday 20 January

Fires in the Blue Mountains could have a major impact on many species living in the region, said University of Sydney’s Dr Aaron Greenville. Fires in the region have burned 80 per cent of the region’s protected wilderness, he said. One species likely to be impacted is the critically endangered regent honeyeater, said The Australian National University’s Ross Crates. The honeyeater is limited in terms of where it can breed, so with the fires damaging large swathes of wilderness, they are likely to have a major impact on the population.

“This will reduce the number of potential areas where they can nest and could have a significant impact on their breeding productivity over the next few years,” he said.

 

NEW POST | Defending Australia from future catastrophe

12.55pm, Monday 20 January

More on this: Defending Australia from future catastrophe
Some people have been calling for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to take a greater role in responding to disasters like the bushfires, but The Australian National University’s Professor John Blaxland has an alternative proposal. Rather than risk overstretching the ADF, Professor Blaxland called on the government to introduce an ‘Australian Universal Scheme for National and Community Service’.

“This could include a mix of full-time and part-time service in the Navy, Army, Air Force, Border Force, state or federal police forces, ambulance services, state emergency and rural fire services and Australian Aid abroad, akin to what was known as the United States ‘Peace Corps’,” he said.

On 7 January 2020 Federal Member of Parliament and army colonel Mike Kelly also called for a national ‘Civil Defence Corps’ that could be mobilised in the event of major disasters.

 

Australia’s costliest disaster

12.15pm, Monday 20 January

With weeks of the fire season still to come, this year’s fires will be Australia’s most costly natural disaster “by far”, according to Dr Paul Read and Dr Richard Denniss. Writing in The Conversation, the pair say the “tangible” cost of the disaster could total $100 billion. However, that figure doesn’t include “intangible” costs, such as “the social costs of mental health problems and unemployment and increases in suicide, substance abuse, relationship breakdowns and domestic violence.

 

NEW PODCAST | Managing bushfires (part two)

11.15am, Monday 20 January

Do we need a royal commission? Is there a more extensive role for the Australian Defence Force? How do we prepare for health challenges as climate change makes disasters more frequent?

Listen to part two of the special new episode of Policy Forum Pod, where we discuss the best way to respond to Australia’s bushfire crisis.

 

Building costs to rise in bushfire zones

10.46am, Monday 20 January

Tougher standards in bushfire-affected areas are will lead to increased costs for those seeking to rebuild, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Deborah Snow at The Sydney Morning Herald.

“So if you are going to rebuild, you are not building the same $100,000 house that you built 30 years ago, it’s going to be a more expensive house, and then on top of that, those bushfire protection measures. So there are some real challenges when it comes to everyone contemplating their rebuilding prospects,” he said.

On climate change, the state fire chief said the RFS has been factoring in climate science for over a decade.

 

Economist calls for no post-bushfire rate cut

10.13am, Monday 20 January

Former Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) board member, Professor Warwick McKibbin, has urged the central bank to resist cutting official interest rates, despite the bushfire crisis causing significant economic losses. Professor McKibbin, who is now based at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, told Patrick Commins at The Australian that rate cuts are losing their effectiveness as they are already very low.

“Once rates get to a certain level, the effects start to disappear quickly. There’s a balance between­ cheaper credit and making people concerned that there is a serious problem. There are much better policies to stimulate growth than cutting rates,” he said.

 

Welcome to week two!

9.03am, Monday 20 January

Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire and analysis and opinion!

We’re bringing this blog to you as part of our In Focus section on Australia’s bushfires, where we’ve also published a number of original pieces by experts in health, climate science, land management, international relations and more. We invite you to check them out.

Don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. If podcasts are more your thing, you can join our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group. More to come soon.


 

That’s all for this week!

5.00pm, Friday 17 January

Thanks to everyone for following along with our live blog this week. We’ll be back again on Monday morning with more analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t forget, if you see any high quality analysis of the crisis over the weekend you can email me on angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum. Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable weekend!

 

Emissions to rise when drought ends?

4.47pm, Friday 17 January

Emissions from farm animals is likely to significantly increase when the drought in much of Australia eventually breaks, said Professor Mark Howden, Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. After rains hit, farmers are likely to build-up their breeding herd quickly and grow their animals’ feed intake, he told The Sydney Morning Herald. This could lead to an increase of as much as 4 million tonnes of emissions per year, he said.

 

Logged forests more vulnerable to fire

3.57pm, Friday 17 January

While the changing climate is the main driver of increasingly intense bushfires, logging forests can make them more vulnerable, said ANU Professor David Lindenmayer. Logging forests make them drier and provide flammable debris, making them susceptible to more intense fire, Professor Lindenmayer told AAP. Researchers observed logged forests burned more intensely during the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

“It’s not a profitable industry. It’s adding dramatically to the fire risk. This is crazy,” said Professor Lindenmayer.

 

Our climate’s “moment of crisis”

3.21pm, Friday 17 January

Sir David Attenborough has told the BBC we have reached a “moment of crisis” in terms of climate change. In the interview, he described the Australian bushfires a “major international crisis” and said they have been driven by rising global temperatures.

 

Germany to phase out coal

2.26pm, Friday 17 January

The German government has announced a plan to phase out its coal-fired power stations by 2038. The deal struck between the central government and regional leaders included €40 billion (AU $64.6 billion) in compensation for four German states most impacted. The move will make Germany the first country to move away from both nuclear and coal-fired power, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told the BBC.

Could Australia follow suit? On Twitter Crawford School’s Associate Professor Llewelyn Hughes has pointed to a paper written by Professor Frank Jotzo back in 2015 which details a way the country could do the same.

 

NEW POST | The policy problems of fleeing disaster

1.13pm, Friday 17 January

More on this: Fleeing disaster
Australia’s fires have revealed the need to be prepared for the effects of displacement, says Scientia Professor Jane McAdam from the University of NSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. Writing for Policy Forum, she said policies must be put in place to protect those forced to move.

“No matter what action is taken globally to address anthropogenic climate change, we are set on a course that means some degree of disaster displacement is inevitable. However, we can reduce its scale and impact if we develop, fund and implement well-attuned policies now that spare others the upheaval and loss faced by those displaced by this summer’s bushfires,” she wrote.

 

NEW PODCAST | Managing bushfires (part one)

12.41pm, Friday 17 January

The new year has been anything but happy for many people in Australia. With 27 lives lost, and more than 1600 properties destroyed in this terrible bushfire season, many have started to seek answers to how we can better manage fires in the future. In part one of a two-part Policy Forum Pod episode, presenters Dr Paul Wyrwoll and Martyn Pearce speak to Professor Janette Lindesay, Dr Siobhan McDonnell, Professor Stephen Dovers, and Dr Liz Hanna about their personal experiences with the fires, and the role climate change plays in making these kind of disastrous events even more severe.

 

Royal Commission: yes or no?

11.15am, Friday 17 January

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a bushfire royal commission to review the response to the crisis. While the proposal still has to be approved by Cabinet, some have questioned whether it is necessary. 

Firefighter unions are split on the proposal, writes Maani Truu for SBS. Kevin Tolhurst, fire ecology and management expert from the University of Melbourne, expressed his doubts, having personally given evidence at seven previous bushfire enquiries.

“Rather than using time and resources on inquiry No. 58, we should instead commit to fully implement the recommendations of all the previous inquiries, reviews and royal commissions we have already held,” he wrote.

Paul Barnes, head of the risk and resilience program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, argued the royal commission can be valuable despite the risk of duplicating previous bushfire reviews.

“Great national benefit can be gained from the various reviews, including options for more proactive federal government activity and support during disasters,” he wrote in The Strategist.

 

Marsupials struggling in hot weather

10.06am, Friday 17 January

It’s not just people who feel sluggish in the hot weather, marsupials might also be struggling, according to new research by ANU PhD candidate Phillipa Beale. The research shows marsupials like koalas, possums and gliders are forced to change their eating habits in hot weather because of the toxins found in Eucalyptus leaves.

“Processing the toxins generates body heat, which is obviously not ideal when it’s hot,” said Ms Beale.

“The animals compensate by eating less, which means they have less energy for everything else – including reproducing.”

 

Good morning!

9.30am, Friday 17 January

Good morning everybody! Welcome back to our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. Don’t forget to send through your favourite pieces to angus.blackman@anu.edu.au

You can also check out all of the original pieces we’ve published in our In Focus section on the bushfires. We’ll also be releasing our first Policy Forum Pod for 2020 on fire management today, so stay tuned!


 

That’s it for today, see you again tomorrow!

5.00pm, Thursday 16 January

Thanks for joining us on the live blog today! Don’t forget to share your favourite analysis of the bushfire crisis with us. Contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter at @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Ready for change?

4.52pm, Thursday 16 January

Criticism of Australia’s emissions reduction efforts has been growing in recent times, but has this crisis become a turning point for the country’s climate policies? The Lowy Institute have regularly surveyed Australians about their attitudes towards climate change since 2006.

In 2019, but before the bushfire crisis, 61 per cent of respondents agreed that “global warming is a serious and pressing problem” and that we “should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”. This statement received the second highest response since they started polling on the issue.

Speaking to CNN, ANU Crawford School of Public Policy’s Professor Frank Jotzo said “the overwhelming majority of Australians see climate change as a real problem, see climate change as a man-made problem and say that something should be done about it.”

While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brought a lump of coal into parliament and praised its importance to the Australian economy, Swati Pandey from Reuters reports there has been a change in tone from his government since the bushfires.

“I think we want to have a high level of confidence that as a nation we are improving our resilience and our adaptation to respond to the reality of the environment in which we live,” said the PM on Wednesday.

 

Animal species under threat 

3.59pm, Thursday 16 January

A Victorian state government report has concluded 54 species of wildlife are under threat as a result of fires in the state. Obtained by HuffPost, the report said 13 amphibians, two bats, eight mammals, 11 birds, seven reptiles and 13 aquatic fauna are at risk.

This report comes after footage circulated of authority air-dropping carrots and sweet potatoes to help feed wallabies in New South Wales.

 

What do donors want?

3.21pm, Thursday 16 January

PayPal is fast-tracking the delivery of $51 million to the NSW Rural Fire Service from Australian comedian Celeste Barber’s fundraiser on Facebook, writes Dannielle Maguire for the ABC. However, Associate Professor Michael Eburn at The Australian National University said some people appear confused about where the money will go.

“The only concern, reading the comments of the donors, is that some don’t understand who or what they have donated to,” he told the ABC.

While there have been calls for the funds to be distributed to a range of organisations, Associate Professor Eburn said the RFS trust deed makes it “impossible” to direct the money elsewhere without an Act of Parliament or the approval of the NSW Supreme Court.

 

Saving the “dinosaur trees”

2.17pm, Thursday 16 January

Firefighters in New South Wales pulled off a miraculous mission to rescue the world’s only remaining wild Wollemi pine grove north-west of Sydney, Peter Hannam writes in The Sydney Morning Herald. Associate Professor Cris Brack at The Australian National University, said fossil evidence suggests the species have been around for between 100 to 200 million years. The effort included dropping water bombs, fire retardant and winching specialist firefighters into the area to establish an irrigation system on the ground. The mission was described as a “military-style operation” by the NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean.

 

NEW POST | With crisis comes opportunity

1.38pm, Thursday 16 January

More on this: With crisis comes opportunity
Australia’s fires are a chance to have global influence on climate policy, writes Tom Swann from The Australia Institute. In a new post for Policy Forum, Swann called on the Australian government to reject the use of carry-over credits and stand together with Pacific Island nations at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu.

“Pacific Island countries know a climate crisis when they see one. They now stand in solidarity with Australia. It is time Australia stood in solidarity with the Pacific, and all people facing rising climate impacts,” he wrote.

 

2019 the second hottest year globally

12.45pm, Thursday 16 January

Last year was the Earth’s second hottest on record, capping off the planets hottest decade, according to this piece in The New York Times (NYT). Data from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the US shows a clear trend of increasing global temperatures since the middle of the 20th century, according to the report.

“The surface temperature record tells us that the last decade was more than 1 degree Celsius higher than the late 19th century and we know that this has been driven by human activities,” Gavin A Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the NYT.

 

Concerns for river systems after fires

12.07pm, Thursday 16 January

There are serious concerns about the health of Australia’s river systems after the bushfires. At New South Wales’ Warragamba Dam, authorities have installed curtains and booms to prevent silt and ash from the bushfires from contaminating the water supply, according to Kathleen Calderwood from the ABC. Professor Stuart Khan from the University of NSW told the ABC the dam’s regular filtration technology would struggle with such a large amount of silt and ash surrounding it and rain forecast.

Researchers from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, have expressed concern about the health of the already-strained Murray-Darling Basin after the fires. Writing in The Conversation, the three water scientists said that sediment, ash and other debris “may decimate aquatic life” in the crucial river system once rains hit.

 

Top medical body praises bushfire smoke research funding

11.19am, Thursday 16 January

President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Tony Bartone, has praised $5 million in funding for research on the health impacts of bushfires and bushfire smoke announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt. In a statement on the AMA website, Dr Bartone said the medium and long-term impacts of exposure to bushfire smoke are not well understood.

“General practitioners are treating people in fire-ravaged areas and other communities, and seeing first-hand those affected by the physical conditions and mental health consequences of ongoing exposure to hazardous air,” said Dr Bartone.

“However, the lack of clinical and public health research evidence about the long-term impacts of the kind of exposure to hazardous air we have seen in the last few months makes public education challenging,” he said.

 

Expert calls for “World War Zero” on carbon emissions

10.35am, Thursday 16 January

Dr Bjorn Sturmberg from ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science has called on the government to fund a range of initiatives to reduce Australia’s emissions in an op-ed in The Canberra Times. Among his recommendations for government were: support carbon sequestration by farmers, increase the supply of renewable energy, encourage the decarbonisation of the transport sector and put an economy-wide price on carbon.

“Our plans and actions may not be perfect – they never are for wicked problems – but as in times of war, this is no excuse to defer. We must act as if what we do now makes a difference, because it does,” he wrote.

 

Send us your favourite analysis

9.41am, Thursday 16 January

Don’t forget to share your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires with us!

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

Funding for early warning system research

9.12am, Thursday 16 January

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has granted over $500,000 in research funding to academics from the Western Sydney University (WSU) and The Australian National University (ANU) to develop an early warning system for bushfires. Led by Dr Rachael Nolan (WSU) and Dr Marta Yebra (ANU), the research project will engage with key experts and industry partners and be part of the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub.


 

That’s a wrap, back again tomorrow!

5.00pm, Wednesday 15 January

Thank you all for following our coverage of bushfire analysis and opinion throughout the day. Don’t forget, if you see quality analysis related to the crisis and you’d like us to feature it, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

We’ll be back again tomorrow at 9am AEST.

 

Cutest fundraiser EVER!

4.50pm, Wednesday 15 January

As British six-year old has raised £2,000 (AU $3,775) for the Salvation Army Bushfire Relief fund, according to the BBC. Keira Markides shared letters with houses in her neighbourhood to get the word out about her lemonade stand, with over 100 people turning out in support. In addition to the lemonade, Keira set up an online fundraising page. Her parents also put in the hard yards, staying up until 2am GMT to make enough lemonade for everybody!

The Australian government has announced an additional $50 million for the charity sector to help them respond to the crisis, according to Sarah Martin from The Guardian.

 

Bushfire smoke to circumnavigate the planet

4.32pm, Wednesday 15 January

According to NASA, smoke from the bushfires will do a lap around Earth and return to the continent, wrote Ashleigh McMillan for The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. The fires spewed smoke over 17 kilometres into the atmosphere, according to NASA.

In a tweet earlier today, NASA said some smoke has already made the full journey and has returned to Australia.

 

Climate denial a waste of time, says Science Minister

4.00pm, Wednesday 15 January

Australia’s Science Minister Karen Andrews has called on those debate whether or not climate change is real to stop wasting time, according to Mike Foley in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Every second we spend discussing if climate change is real is a second we don’t spend addressing these issues. Let’s move on and get over this,” said Minister Andrews.

The minister’s statements are “another step in the Coalition’s recent shift in rhetoric over climate change,” according to Foley.

 

Australia to miss emissions target

3.19pm, Wednesday 15 January

While Australia will meet one of its Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions targets, it will miss another by a large margin, according to Professor Stephen Howes from The Australian National University. Australia’s pledge to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 relative to 2000 levels has fallen by the wayside, said Professor Howes, pointing to a December report released by the Department of the Environment and Energy. The report indicated Australia’s 2020 emissions are likely to be only 1.6 per cent below their 2000 levels. The 5 per cent by 2020 target was the minimum recommended by the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, according to Professor Howes, who worked on that report.

“No doubt the government will say that the multi-year target was ‘legally binding’ whereas the single-year 5 per cent-by-2020 one was just a ‘pledge’,” he wrote.

“This argument is technically correct, but irrelevant. Both commitments are there, in black and white, in the amended Kyoto Protocol. If we didn’t want to be held to the 2020 5 per cent target, we shouldn’t have signed up to and ratified a treaty in which we explicitly committed to it.”

 

Authorities confirm fifth bushfire death in Victoria

2.51pm, Wednesday 15 January

David Moresi, who was working on the Gelantipy fire in East Gippsland died in a traffic incident in late November. Victorian authorities confirmed his death was fire related, according to the ABC.

“Our thoughts and condolences go to David’s widow, Judy, and family, given this tragic set of circumstances for someone who was working to keep our community safe,” said Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

 

Reach out!

1.31pm, Wednesday 15 January

Don’t forget to reach out and share your your top analysis and opinion pieces on the bushfires.

You can contact me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

NEW POST | Smoke and mirrors: Health and the impact of climate change in Australia

12.45pm, Wednesday 15 January

More on this: Smoke and mirrors
Australia’s healthcare system is not prepared for climate change, according to cardiologist, physician and clinical lecturer at The Australian National University, Dr Arnagretta Hunter. Writing for Policy Forum, she argued “climate change is the most significant health threat the nation faces”, with vulnerable groups to be among the most affected. In addressing climate change, health and wellbeing must be front-and-centre in the conversation, she said.

“The healthcare sector can lead on this, by providing policymakers and the public with a better understanding of the health risks of continued climate change,” she wrote.

 

An unprecedented year

12.09pm, Wednesday 15 January

Climate change is leading to extreme weather events in Australia in a way never seen before, according to The Australian National University’s Joelle Gergis and Geoff Cary. While some commentators point to other severe fires in the nation’s history, they argue this recent crisis is different. As evidence, they list the enormous geographic spread of this seasons fires, the absence of El Niño conditions typically associated with severe seasons and Australia’s record low rainfall and high temperatures in 2019.

“Climate change is making extreme events even more severe, resulting in unprecedented conditions that are rewriting our nation’s history,” they wrote.

 

Bushfires a huge problem for insects

11.42am, Wednesday 15 January

Experts hold serious concerns for the future of rare insect species after the bushfires. According to Associate Professor Michael Braby from The Australian National University, many species may go extinct, especially those with specialised requirements such as specific host plants. This is not just an issue for insect population, but entire ecosystems.

“They are food for many other animals, and contribute to processes like pollination, decomposition, nutrient cycling and soil aeration, which is vital because if the flowers of certain plants are not pollinated they can no longer reproduce,” he said.

 

Pacific Island countries respond

10.43am, Wednesday 15 January

Usually an international aid donor in the Pacific, Australia became a recipient of support from Pacific Island countries in the wake of the bushfires. Not only have the governments of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu donated money to those impacted by the crisis, but local grassroots organisations have also been raising money to help those in need, according to this report by the ABC’s Brendan Mounter.

As noted in our Policy File on the bushfires, Pacific Island countries have been vocal about what they see as Australia’s climate policy failures. After Australia disappointed Pacific Island countries by failing to endorse climate commitments at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu called on Australia to earn its seat at the 2020 PIF by coming prepared with strong commitments.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama echoed these sentiments in the wake of the bushfires. “If we choose inaction, we will only be fanning the flames of this crisis for future generations,” he wrote.

 

Air pollution: legal responsibilities for employers

9.55am, Wednesday 15 January

With poor air quality persisting in much of south-eastern Australia as people return from the Christmas and New Year break, there has been significant concern about staff health and safety. Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT, called the bushfire smoke a “worker health and safety crisis” in this op-ed for The Canberra Times. In the piece White proposed a range of measures, including updating building codes so that public spaces are urgently retrofitted with air purifiers.

Associate Professor Nancy Cushing from the University of Newcastle said bushfire smoke is currently excluded from air quality legislation because it was considered outside human control. This exemption, she wrote, is no longer valid.

“It is time that corporations, governments and societies which contribute to global heating be held to account for more frequent, intense and widespread bushfires, and the smoke which billows from them,” she wrote.

Dr Elizabeth Shi from RMIT University looked at the legal responsibilities for employers in The Conversation. Dr Shi analysed the Model Act, a piece of legislation intended to harmonise the unique occupational state and territory health and safety laws.

 

GDP takes a hit

9.08am, Wednesday 15 January

Economists from multinational investment bank UBS said the bushfires could reduce Australia’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by up to 0.2 per cent, according to this report by Gerard Cockburn in The Australian. While they suggested that it is too early to know the full economic impact, they also said the fires make it “more likely” the Reserve Bank of Australia will cut official interest rates in February. 

In case you missed it yesterday, Professor John Quiggan from the University of Queensland suggested the damage bill as a result of the bushfires could reach $100 billion.


 

That’s a wrap: day two

5.22pm, Tuesday 14 January

Thanks for following along with our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. Don’t forget you can send through your favourite pieces to me directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation online on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

We’ll be back again tomorrow at 9am Australian Eastern Standard Time with more coverage.

 

Telecommunications failures

5.00pm, Tuesday 14 January

There are serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure during major disasters, according to this report by Jess Davis at the ABC. One family was forced to use their landline phone, which uses the soon to be decommissioned copper network, when the National Broadband Network (NBN), local ABC radio signal and mobile reception all failed. While the NBN told the ABC they inform customers their service won’t function in a power outage, over 100 mobile phone towers were also impacted during the bushfires.

“If the fire had come through a month later, the copper network would have been disconnected as part of the NBN rollout,” wrote Davis.

 

NSW fire service creates first all-Indigenous firefighting crews

4.04pm, Tuesday 14 January

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has established the state’s first all-Indigenous firefighting crews, according to a report by the ABC’s Jessie Davis. The crew members were selected by elders from Bourke and Brewarrina in the state’s west and will be responsible for fighting remote fires and protecting sacred sites.

“If this type of model was rolled out right across New South Wales it would contribute greatly to closing the gap,” said Indigenous elder Jason Ford from Brewarrina.

 

The cost of bushfires on children

3.08pm, Tuesday 14 January

Children can be among the worst affected by trauma stemming from natural disasters, according to Nicola Palfrey from The Australian National University. However, shielding children from bad news may not always be the best approach.

“Children need honest, simple, and age-appropriate information about what happened, focusing on the effort that is being taken to help others,” said Ms Palfrey.

Ms Palfrey was part of the team that developed the freely-accessible Community Trauma Toolkit to help support adults and children before, during and after bushfires.

 

Share your favourite analysis

2.29pm, Tuesday 14 January

Don’t forget you can share your favourite pieces of analysis and opinion on the bushfires! Reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or join the conversation on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.

 

NEW POST: Living with fire demands a long-term perspective

1.53pm, Tuesday 14 January

Policymakers must learn from Indigenous people when it comes to fire management, write Leslie Schultz, Jessica Weir and Helen Langley on Policy Forum. They argued Indigenous people have always had long-term interests in mind when it comes to protecting the landscape.

“Working together places us in the strongest position to help look after all that we value,” they wrote.

 

Reduce emissions gradually

1.10pm, Tuesday 14 January

Professor Warwick McKibbin from ANU Crawford School of Public Policy has called for an economy-wide, market-based mechanism to reduce emissions. Quoted in The Australian today, Professor McKibbin mechanism said Australia should put a price on future carbon and encourage gradual emissions reduction.

“The key is to have something that will lead to reductions in Australia that can be leveraged on the global stage to demonstrate to the world that even a carbon-­intensive economy like Australia can actually decarbonise relatively cheaply,” he said.

 

Caught lacking?

12.20pm, Tuesday 14 January

Dr Andrew Hughes, lecturer in marketing at The Australian National University, argued both federal and state political leaders were caught out in the crisis in an op-ed in The Canberra Times. He said we increasingly expect leaders to do more than just the basics of their job – we want them to lead.

“And if they don’t, as happened early on in this bushfire crisis, we feel disappointed, frustrated, and failed that we don’t have another leader as our own,” he wrote.

 

Garnaut on emissions reduction and the economy 

11.18am, Tuesday 14 January

Author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review under the Rudd government, Professor Ross Garnaut, spoke to Tom Tilley on the ABC’s RN Breakfast. Professor Garnaut said he was “very pleased” the Prime Minister signalled his government’s climate change policy will evolve.

“It’s really important that Australia be part of the international community that’s seeking more ambitious outcomes rather than a drag on the global effort. We’ve been a drag in recent years and that’s not in our national interest,” he said.

 

Bushfire damage bill

10.30am, Tuesday 14 January

This one is a few days old, but Professor John Quiggan, Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland, called for a ‘fully-fledged national organisation’ to deal with future disasters. Writing for CNN Business on the economic cost of the disaster, he described the federal government’s $2 billion relief package as a ‘drop in the bucket’, suggesting the damage bill could be as high as $100 billion.

 

Wildlife recovery

9.30am, Tuesday 14 January

Professor David Lindenmayer from The Australian National University said fire-damaged trees and half burnt logs left behind by a fire are valuable habitat for recovering wildlife. “Wanting to do something constructive, people and organisations may sometimes feel an urge to clean these up, but resisting this urge can be one of the best things people can do for wildlife,” he wrote.

“Of course where something is a hazard, like a dead tree close to a road, the hazard needs to be managed, but this could involve felling the tree and leaving it onsite for the benefit of wildlife.”

 

Live blog: day two

9.15am, Tuesday 14 January

We’re back for day two of our live blog of bushfire analysis and opinion. If you see any great pieces and you’d like us to share them, reach out directly to me at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au or let us know on Twitter via @APPSPolicyForum.


 

Payment bungle

4.45pm, Monday 13 January

The Department of Human Services has issued an apology to residents on the New South Wales South Coast who were refused a $1,000 disaster relief payment. Residents of Mogo whose houses were impacted alleged Centrelink staff were using out-of-date maps.

“Being told my home and business aren’t in a fire-affected area hurts a bit at the moment,” said one resident, according to this report in The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Bushfire relief efforts

4.40pm, Monday 13 January

Bushfire relief efforts continue apace. Australian and international music acts, including Queen and Adam Lambert, Alice Cooper, Jessica Mauboy, and John Farnham will all appear at the Fire Fight Australia concert, according to the ABC. The concert will take place at Sydney’s Stadium Australia on 16 February.

Cricket Australia will raise money for the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund during three matches, all to be held on Saturday 8 February. The fixtures include the Bushfire Cricket Bash, featuring some of Australia’s cricketing greats who will come out of retirement for the special event.

 

The new normal?

4.30pm, Monday 13 January

Many people are reporting feelings of anxiety and despair in the current crisis. In the Australian Capital Territory, many residents have been forced inside due to hazardous air pollution from bushfire smoke.

Associate Professor Fiona Jenkins, convener of the ANU Gender Institute, reflected on her personal experience over recent weeks in The Canberra Times. She described the inability to exercise due to air pollution, even inside, increased screen time and anxiety about the future.

“I suppose it is normal, feeling paralysed by this maybe climate-tipping point,” she wrote.

 

Health implications

4.20pm, Monday 13 January

Canberra Hospital has seen 120 patients for respiratory issues since 31 December, probably the result of bushfire smoke, according to Daniella White at The Canberra Times. In the same report, Associate Professor Brian Oliver, expert in respiratory biology at the University of Technology Sydney, said more research is needed to better understand the health impacts of extended exposure to bushfire smoke.

“People being exposed to bushfire smoke for more than one or two days is a whole new phenomena,” he said.

Senior figures from a leading Australian public health organisation have called on the federal government to take stronger action on climate change in the interest of public health in the wake of the crisis. David Templeman and Dr Peter Tait from the Public Health Association of Australia said the government should “adopt a leadership role in advocating for global action to reduce warming”.

“A rapid transition here and around the world is not just good for economies – it’s good for public health,” they wrote.

 

Wildlife

4.15pm, Monday 13 January

Australia’s ecosystems has suffered significantly as a result of the bushfires. According to Professor Chris Dickman, ecologist at the University of Sydney, it is likely “well over a billion” animals have died as a result of the fires. “The loss of life we’ve estimated for NSW is 800 million terrestrial animals, including birds and reptiles. But that figure doesn’t include frogs, fish, bats and invertebrates,” he told Emma Elsworthy from the ABC.

The federal government has committed $50 million to protect wildlife. David Littleproud, Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, called this pledge “the first tranche” on ABC Radio.  “Obviously there’ll be a longer term program in restoring the habitat, but there are animals out there now that can be saved and we need to try and save them,” he said.

 

Causes of the bushfire season

4.15pm, Monday 13 January

Why has this bushfire season in Australia been so severe? Graham Readfearn examined the underlying causes of the crisis in this explainer in The Guardian. Extreme heat and dryness are key influencers of fire, he wrote, and in 2019, Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record.

Readfearn pointed to two weather patterns that played a role in creating these conditions, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), and the Southern Annual Mode (SAM).

According to Professor Nerilie Abram, climate scientist at The Australian National University, positive IOD and SAM events are becoming more common as a result of climate change.

“Even from my perspective, I am surprised by just how bad one degree celsius of warming is looking,” she said. Previously, Professor Mark Howden from the ANU Climate Change Institute pointed to the impact of climate change. “It’s very clear that greenhouse gas emissions are changing the radiation balance of the Earth. Other contributors are minor in comparison,” he said.

 

Policy Forum live blog: bushfire analysis and opinion

4.00pm, Monday 13 January

Welcome to our live blog! 

In the face of disaster, misinformation can move quickly, and solutions can be hard to come by. As part of our mission to bring you relevant, fact-based, policy-focused debate on crucial issues, over the coming weeks Policy Forum will cover analysis and opinion on Australia’s bushfires.

Don’t miss a beat right here. If you see any analysis and opinion you think we should cover, reach out directly at angus.blackman@anu.edu.au.

You can also join the conversation on social media via @APPSPolicyForum on Twitter or in our Policy Forum Pod Facebook group.

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