Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Valley Watch Inc: the idea that water can be diverted from one river system to another is flawed

The Daily Examiner, letter to the editor, 8 November 2019, p.9:

Water diversion lesson seemingly unlearnt
The issue of water availability for agriculture and communities has been a hot topic this year and the diversion of water from the Clarence River to areas west of the range is again to the forefront.
The idea that water can be diverted from one river system to another is flawed. Commentary on the mismanagement of the Murray-Darling has been with us for the last decade. Have we learnt nothing from that?
Originally water licences were attached to the land and passed with the land when land was sold. Subsequently water licences were separated from the land and could be sold on the open market. This entitled those who acquired large water allocations to collect and store large amounts of water.
We have seen the Upper Darling sucked dry, leaving little water for downstream farmers or the wildlife. The ensuing ecological catastrophe is a national disaster.
This brings us back to the Clarence. It makes no sense to tamper with this complex estuary by diverting water from it. One could argue that floodwater is wasted running out to sea, however flood is a natural phenomenon. Floods provide fertile soils, richer harvests, healthier forests and habitats for a variety of fish and wildlife.
Only the large corporate operators will benefit. It won’t be the small landowners or fishers who most need it.
What the Clarence Valley offers is a natural environment that underpins our tourism, fishing and agricultural industries. We urge politicians and local council to look at long-term and sustainable management of this wonderful waterway.
Graeme Granleese,
Valley Watch Inc.

Mark Zuckerberg called to account in Sorkin open letter

The more outrageous the lie, the better it is for Facebook’s bottom line'" [Los Angeles Times, 9 Novemer 2019]

The New York Times, 31 October 2019:


In 2010, I wrote “The Social Network” and I know you wish I hadn’t. You protested that the film was inaccurate and that Hollywood didn’t understand that some people build things just for the sake of building them. (We do understand that — we do it every day.)

I didn’t push back on your public accusation that the movie was a lie because I’d had my say in the theaters, but you and I both know that the screenplay was vetted to within an inch of its life by a team of studio lawyers with one client and one goal: Don’t get sued by Mark Zuckerberg.

It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates. I admire your deep belief in free speech. I get a lot of use out of the First Amendment. Most important, it’s a bedrock of our democracy and it needs to be kept strong.

But this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.

Don’t say Larry Flynt. Not even Larry Flynt would say Larry Flynt. This isn’t the same as pornography, which people don’t rely upon for information. Last year, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook. Of course the problem could be solved by those people going to a different news source, or you could decide to make Facebook a reliable source of public information.

The tagline on the artwork for “The Social Network” read, in 2010, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” That number sounds quaint just nine years later because one-third of the planet uses your website now.

And right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. Every square inch of that is a lie and it’s under your logo. That’s not defending free speech, Mark, that’s assaulting truth. 

You and I want speech protections to make sure no one gets imprisoned or killed for saying or writing something unpopular, not to ensure that lies have unfettered access to the American electorate.

Even after the screenplay for “The Social Network” satisfied the standards of Sony’s legal department, we sent the script — as promised over a handshake — to a group of senior lieutenants at your company and invited them to give notes. (I was asked if I would change the name of Harvard University to something else and if Facebook had to be called Facebook.)

After we’d shot the movie, we arranged a private screening of an early cut for your chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. Ms. Sandberg stood up in the middle of the screening, turned to the producers who were standing in the back of the room, and said, “How can you do this to a kid?” (You were 26 years old at the time, but all right, I get it.)

I hope your C.O.O. walks into your office, leans in (as she suggested we do in her best selling book), and says, “How can we do this to tens of millions of kids? Are we really going to run an ad that claims Kamala Harris ran dog fights out of the basement of a pizza place while Elizabeth Warren destroyed evidence that climate change is a hoax and the deep state sold meth to Rashida Tlaib and Colin Kaepernick?”

The law hasn’t been written yet — yet — that holds carriers of user-generated internet content responsible for the user-generated content they carry, just like movie studios, television networks and book, magazine and newspaper publishers. Ask Peter Thiel, who funded a series of lawsuits against Gawker, including an invasion of privacy suit that bankrupted the site and forced it to close down. (You should have Mr. Thiel’s number in your phone because he was an early investor in Facebook.)

Most people don’t have the resources to employ a battalion of fact checkers. Nonetheless, while you were testifying before a congressional committee two weeks ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked you the following: “Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?” Then, when she pushed you further, asking you if Facebook would or would not take down lies, you answered, “Congresswoman, in most cases, in a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves.”

Now you tell me. If I’d known you felt that way, I’d have had the Winklevoss twins invent Facebook.  [my yellow highlighting]

Aaron Sorkin is a playwright and screenwriter. He won an Academy Award for “The Social Network” and, most recently, adapted “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the stage.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

As the bushfires continue in northern New South Wales the Rural Fire Service warns "fires will not be contained in time and will threaten lives and properties"

NSW Rural Fire Service:

Large areas of the state are also forecast to experience Severe and Extreme fire danger. This includes in the north coast and northern NSW areas, where there is a large number of fires already burning. These fires will not be contained in time and will threaten lives and properties.

Based on latest forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology, the following fire danger ratings are expected on Tuesday. These are subject to change as forecasts are updated:

  • Catastrophic – Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter (including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast areas) and Illawarra/Shoalhaven
  • Extreme – North Coast, Central Ranges, Northern Slopes and North Western 
  • Severe – Far North Coast, New England, Far South Coast, Southern Ranges, Lower Central West Plains......
An overview of the areas likely to be impacted is available here. Check our Major Fire Updates page for updates on affected areas.

A statewide total fire ban has been declared for all areas of NSW for all 
of Tuesday 12 November 2019.


MSN News, 11 November 2019:

In the past I’ve have heard some federal politicians dodge the question of the influence of climate change on extreme weather and fires by saying, “It’s terrible that this matter is being raised while the fires are still burning.” But if not now, then when?

“Unprecedented” is a word that we are hearing a lot: from fire chiefs, politicians, and the weather bureau. I have just returned from California where I spoke to fire chiefs still battling unseasonal fires. The same word, “unprecedented”, came up.

Unprecedented dryness; reductions in long-term rainfall; low humidity; high temperatures; wind velocities; fire danger indices; fire spread and ferocity; instances of pyro-convective fires (fire storms – making their own weather); early starts and late finishes to bushfire seasons. An established long-term trend driven by a warming, drying climate. The numbers don’t lie, and the science is clear.

If anyone tells you, “This is part of a normal cycle” or “We’ve had fires like this before”, smile politely and walk away, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

In NSW, our worst fire years were almost always during an El Nino event, and major property losses generally occurred from late November to February. Based on more than a century of weather observations our official fire danger season is legislated from October 1 to March 31. During the 2000s though, major fires have regularly started in August and September, and sometimes go through to April.

The October 2013 fires that destroyed more than 200 homes were the earliest large-loss fires in NSW history – again, not during an El Nino.

This year, by the beginning of November, we had already lost about as many homes as during the disastrous 2001-2002 bushfire season. We’ve now eclipsed 1994 fire losses.

Fires are burning in places and at intensities never before experienced – rainforests in northern NSW, tropical Queensland, and the formerly wet old-growth forests in Tasmania.

On Friday, the NSW Rural Fire Service sent out an alert that fires were creating thunderstorms – pyro-convective events. In my 47 years of fighting fires I don’t remember this happening much. Now it happens quite regularly. On Friday, the atmosphere was relatively stable and therefore shouldn’t have been conducive to these wildly unpredictable and dangerous events. Yet it happened. Unprecedented.

The drought we are facing is more intense than the Millennium Drought, with higher levels of evaporation due to higher temperatures. This has dried out the bush and made it easier for fires to start, easier for them to spread quickly, and as we saw on Friday, enabling spot fires to start twice as far ahead of the main fires as we would normally expect.

Warmer, drier conditions with higher fire danger are preventing agencies from conducting as much hazard reduction burning – it is often either too wet, or too dry and windy to burn safely. Blaming "greenies" for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim.

Together with 22 other retired fire and emergency service chiefs, I spoke out earlier this year. We felt we had a duty to tell people how climate change is super-charging our natural disaster risks. I wish we were wrong, but we’re not.

The Daily Examiner, 11 November 2019:

Multiple homes in and around Nymboida have been destroyed after a fire storm swept through the area on Friday night. 

The Liberation Trail fire was one of at least 14 out of control blazes simultaneously at Emergency Warning status during in was described by NSW Rural Fire Service as an unprecedented level of fire activity. 

Residents were evacuated over to locations at Grafton including Headspace and Hawthorne Park. The Armidale Rd remains closed at Coutts Crossing and many are yet to return to find out the full extent of damage to their properties. 

However, one Nymboida resident did stay to successfully protect his home from devastation. 

As fire fighting resources were depleted, so too were those of the national media, with the Clarence Valley largely off the radar as networks concentrated on fires further south. But one crew did manage to reach Nymboida resident Peter Simpson. 

Mr Simpson’s actions coupled with a solid fire plan almost certainly saved his home. 

While resources were stretched with every available RFS vehicle on the ground assisting with the fires, the breadth of fires meant crews simply couldn’t be in every danger zone. 

“It was like an inferno, it was like the apocalypse, it was like hell on earth,” Mr Simpson told Channel 7 reporters. 

“I hosed and hosed and hosed, drained my dams, and I just hung here for the whole night. I’m glad I put my buffer in and had a fire plan. 

“It’s carnage. Every second house on this road’s gone, the whole of Fricker Road’s gone, village gone, and surrounding houses, most of Nymboida is going to be displaced because they have nowhere to live. 

“I’m just glad that I’m safe, and I’m really sorry for every person in this whole area that’s lost out. My heart bleeds for them. 

“I can’t believe there was no help. There were no water bombers.” 

At Tallawudjah Creek near Glenreagh, RFS aerial support helped to save Renay Hayes’ property. 

Ms Hayes said the past few days had been the most terrifying of her life and she thanked some “legends” in the sky. 

“The fire got really close,” she said. “There were flames we could see coming over the mountain at us,” Ms Hayes said. “It was so scary.” 

“We didn’t have warning really. We knew it was there, but it was a matter of 20 minutes between us being in the safe zone and the flames coming at us.” 

Ms Hayes said the sounds of helicopters made her even more petrified, but as the fire got closer, those same helicopters attacked the fire and saved her property. 

“The chopper was doing 1 minute 43 seconds from pick up to dump,” she said. 

“It was terrifying, and we were pretty sure our house was gone, but that legend or legends in that chopper saved us. 

“Whoever was in that craft saved my house, and I cannot thank them enough.” 

Ms Hayes walked her horses 3km to safety. 

“We are still on evacuation list, but unless the wind comes back we are okay,” she said on Saturday night. “There were friends who lost their houses, but I’m not certain how many are gone. I know two for certain, it’s still mighty orange here.” 

“I’ve been here for 32 years and never seen it like this.”

The Daily Examiner, 11 November 2019, p.5:
A collapsed bridge has restricted access to properties in the Kangaroo Creek area as residents return to assess the damage from bushfires.
The bridge located 18km along Kangaroo Creek Rd collapsed after being damaged by fires in the out of control Liberation Trail bush fire, which has now burnt more than 113,100 hectares of land.
Grafton real estate agent Adam Crawley took the photo on Saturday while going to check on a friend’s place who is currently in India.
“I wasn’t out there last night (Friday) and I’m glad I wasn’t it looks pretty hairy,” Mr Crawley said.
“(There’s) no burnt houses that I saw but everything else is burned. All the way up to people’s sheds, water tanks and cars.”
The road to Nymboida is closed at the Kangaroo Creek Road turnoff, and authorities are urging any non-essential travel to be postponed to alleviate congestion in fire hotspots.
A 50km stretch of the Armidale Rd between Coutts Crossing and Clouds Creek which includes Nymboida is closed in both directions.
Motorists are advised to avoid the area.
The Daily Examiner, 11 November 2019, p.3:

A woman was killed trying to protect her home from a bush fire near Glen Innes.
Vivian Chaplain was at her property at Wytaliba on the upper reaches of the Mann River on Friday night when flames tore through the town.
She was found near her shed unconscious and suffering burns to at least 40 per cent of her body.
Tasmanian fire fighters, deployed to NSW to help with the bushfire emergency, performed CPR and first aid on the victim for "several hours".
She was eventually flown to Concord Hospital and died overnight.
The Coffs Coast Advocate, 11 November 2019:

RESIDENTS in the Orara Valley are being advised to consider leaving their properties tonight as a catastrophic 24-hours looms, in what potentially could end as one of the worst days for bushfire destruction in NSW's history.  
This morning the Rural Fire Service has staged an emergency briefing at its fire control centre in Coffs Harbour. 
Information on dangerous fire and conditions has been circulated for residents in the Nana Glen, Lowanna, Ulong, Megan/Cascade, Coramba, Karangi, Orara, Bucca and greater Coffs Harbour areas....
The Rural Fire Service's Greater Coffs Harbour Fire Prediction Map released this morning.

7 News
, 10 November 2019:
Wytaliba is "burning like a BBQ" after a devastating bushfire descended on the northern NSW town, claiming the lives of two people.
On Sunday afternoon the out-of-control fire, which has burnt through more than 12,450 hectares, was rated at watch and act.
It has been reported the second victim of Friday's firestorm, who was found in a burnt car near Glen Innes, is George Nole.
Those who knew Mr Nole, an elderly man from Wytaliba, took to Facebook to pay tribute to him.
"He was such a gentlemen. Will be missed by many," Crystal Grob posted.
RFS member Peter Chaffey, who has command of Wytaliba area, said it was likely the community wouldn't be allowed down the steep, winding, 12-kilometre road to the town, until Monday morning.
"The whole hill has been impacted by fire and every time we go down there, we have to clear the road," he told AAP.
"It is a crime scene down there and we have to let the police do their thing."
Mr Chaffey said a press photographer in the town early on Sunday morning focused on the car Mr Nole died in - an act that had "stirred up the community to no end".
"We've got a really sensitive community," he said.
"I know the world wants to see the pictures.
"But I was speaking to a woman who said 'I haven't been able to get in there, I had dogs chained up and other pets. I know they're deceased.'
"She needs to go in and deal with that - not see it (first) on the news."

In NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government's 2019-20 Budget, Rural Fire Service funding was $26.7 million less than in 2018-19 with capital expenditure funding $49.9 million less.

Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition presentation on "Flying-Foxes: Little Aussie Battlers", 5.30pm Monday 18 November 2019 at Grafton Public School

Monday, 11 November 2019

One of Scott Morrison's election campaign team bragging about how they came to 'own' voters during 2019

Banning, blocking, sanitising, hiding negative comments, using deliberately misleading labels or memes were tools used by Morrison's digital campaign team to convince fool FacebookTwitter and Instagram users into believing that Scott Morrison was the man to support at the 2019 Australian federal election.

ABC News, 8 November 2019:

Appearing before a Sunday afternoon session at the Australian Libertarian Society's annual Friedman Conference, Guerin spent 18 minutes humblebragging about the tradecraft TG used to ambush its opponents and influence the voting public....

It shows Guerin giving a blow-by-blow account of how TG won what he called "the battle of the thumbs".
He also boasted about weaponising "boomer memes", deploying a strategy called "water dripping on a stone", and unlocking "arousal emotions" to maximise the impact of the Liberals' social media posts.
And he talks about how social media feeds for another political client were sanitised to downplay criticism and negativity in order to give the impression of broad, enthusiastic support.
The video is more than just a recap of a successful political marketing campaign, it's a guided tour of the dark arts of contemporary information warfare.
Topham and Guerin came up through the ranks of the Young Nationals, the youth wing of New Zealand's conservative National Party, and worked on the fringes of political campaigns both in New Zealand and Britain before launching their own firm in 2016.....
Through their connections — including with Crosby Textor, the Liberal Party's go-to political advisory firm — TG ended up doing some work for state Liberals in elections in South Australia in 2018 and New South Wales earlier this year.
The big break came when the Liberals hired TG to take a leading role in the digital campaign ahead of the May poll, working in the election engine room alongside the party's federal director, Andrew Hirst, and his team.
A Liberal Party spokesperson declined to say if the party was still using TG's services but noted Topham Guerin "did an outstanding job for the party during the recent election campaign".
But six months on from the election, the Liberals are still paying for Facebook ads to sell Scott Morrison, posting attacks on Labor, and two of the page's administrators are identified as being New Zealand-based....
The Liberal team, he [Guerin] said, had out-gunned their opponents in both volume and engagement, concentrating their efforts in marginal seats.
"That's how you win an election that no-one thinks you're going to win," he told the mainly centre-right-leaning audience.
And achieving mastery of Facebook — which has become the key platform in digital campaign strategy — is at the core of the TG playbook.
When the average Facebook user spends just 1.7 seconds on each post, the challenge is to get them to "stop long enough on our content, to process it, to react with it, to interact with it and then share it with their friends".

"This is the single most important point: the best social media strategy is water dripping on a stone. You've got to be pushing the same consistent message day-in, day-out," he said.
In Australia, the main anti-Labor "dripping water" message was, according to Guerin, that "Bill Shorten is the bill Australia can't afford".
That was expressed in ads and posts designed to stir up concerns about property taxes (changes to negative gearing), retirement tax (scrapping franking credits), car taxes (electric vehicle subsidies) and resurrecting the death tax bogey.
On the flip side the "I'm standing with Scott" mantra was hammered home....

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The scale of NSW bushfires is beginning to emerge in November 2019

The New South Wales Northern Rivers region has been experiencing widespread  bushfires since September 2019. According to the NSW Rural Fire Service est. 1,055,168 hectares were on fire on 8-9 November - that's over 2,607,376 acres.

On 9-10 November est. 195,347 hectares on the Mid-North Coast were alight - that's another 482,713 acres.

Elsewhere, between 8-10 November the Tenterfield area had 48,991 hectares burning and another 29 local government areas were also battling bushfires.

Today 41 NSW local government areas officially have a High fire danger rating and another 26 have a Very High fire danger rating, with no rain forecast except for 1mm between Albury and the coast on the NSW-Vic border.

As of 12.30am there were 74 bush fires still burning across the state, 43 are still not under control, 1 fire remains at Emergency Warning and 15 are at Watch and Act.

The end is not yet in sight.

In 2019 the NSW Police have been in the news and not for the best of reasons

With NSW Police being the subject of negative media reports this year concerning conduct while on duty, perhaps now is the time to look at how matters concerning allegations of police misconduct are handled by government agencies.

Law Enforcement Conduct Commission 2018-19 Annual Report gave this overview with regard to the last financial year:

furnished 11 reports to the NSW Parliament;
assessed 2547 complaints;
conducted 207 investigations, comprising 85 preliminary enquiries, 73 preliminary investigations and 49 full investigations. The number of full investigations almost doubled for the financial year, up from 28 in 2017-18;
conducted 78 private examinations;
monitored 32 new NSWPF critical incident investigations, of which 27 critical incidents were attended by Commission staff. Commission staff also continued to monitor 31 existing critical incident investigations from the previous financial year;
reviewed 1221 and monitored 16 misconduct matter investigations as part of the Commission’s oversight function;
visited Dubbo, Nowra, Forster, Taree, Kempsey, Maitland, Port Macquarie, Casino, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Newcastle, Wagga and the greater Sydney region as part of the Commission’s community engagement program; and
presented to solicitors and community organisations at a range of forums including the Law Society of New South Wales, Gosford Court open day, the Aboriginal Legal Service, Community Legal Centres quarterly conference, multiple domestic violence services, Red Cross Young Parents program, Koori interagency meeting and Legal Aid Cooperative Legal Service Delivery groups around the state, amongst others.

In 2018-19 there were 1,384 (93.7%) complaints received from the general public, 94 (6.3%) from people identified as police officers, 4 (0.2%) from the NSW Crimes Commission and 63 (4.07%) from the NSW Independent Commission against Against Corruption.

During 2018-19 the LECC worked on 207 investigations, comprising 85 preliminary enquiries, 73 preliminary investigations and 49 full investigations. Of these, 104 matters were completed and 103 were ongoing at 30 June 2019.

Of these full investgations 2 were referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration of prosecution, 5 resulted in a dissemination of information to the NSW Police Force and 2 that resulted in information being disseminated to other law enforcement agencies (LEA).

According to The Sydney Morning Herald the 49 full investigations last financial year only represented 2% of the 2,457 assess complaints received.

One of these 2,2457 assessed complaints became the subject of an ABC News online article containing distressing footage of a young mother being arrested after a traffic stop. 

On 23 September 2019 the LECC issued a media release announcing a public hearing with regarding the strip search of an underage female at the Splendour in the Grass music festival at North Byron in July 2018 by NSW Police, and strip search practices more generally.

A report from a formal investigation into strip searching is not yet available.

In October 2019 the LECC published a Report in relation to its investigation in Operation Trieste which dealt with the stopping of a vehicle being driven by a 24 year-old woman with her stepmother as the only passenger. Body cam video footage formed part of the evidence and it was found that 2 police officers “engaged in serious misconduct during the relevant traffic stop in that they breached s 7 of the Police Act, breached the NSWPF Code of Conduct and Ethics and breached the provisions of LEPRA.”

The LECC recommended that consideration be given to the taking of action against Officer 1 pursuant to s 173 of the Police Act...”

In October 2019 the LECC also published The New South Wales Child Protection Register: Operation Tusket Final Report - 2019 which stated in part that:

The Commission’s investigation has established that there have been problems with the Register for 17 years. Significant errors in the application of the CPOR Act started occurring as early as 2002. These errors have included incorrect decisions by the NSW Police Force about which persons should be included on the Register, and incorrect decisions about how long persons were legally required to make reports of their personal information to police under the CPOR Act (their ‘reporting period’).

Some of these errors have resulted in child sex offenders being in the community without being monitored by the NSW Police Force as required by the CPOR Act. The Commission reviewed one case in which a person reoffended while unmonitored. Other errors have caused the NSW Police Force to unlawfully require people to report their personal information to police for a number of years. As a result, people have been wrongly convicted, and even imprisoned, for failing to comply with CPOR Act reporting obligations, when in fact those obligations did not apply to them at the relevant time. Two persons were unlawfully imprisoned for more than a year in total.

The NSW Police Force has been aware for a number of years that there were significant issues with the Register. In 2014 the NSW Police Force Child Protection Registry (the Registry), the specialist unit in the State Crime Command responsible for maintaining the Register, started filing internal reports warning of systemic issues causing inaccuracies in the Register. Multiple reports from the Registry prompted the NSW Police Force to review 5,749 Register case files. This review was started in 2016 and took two years to complete. In October 2018 it concluded that 44 per cent (2,557) of those Register case files had contained errors.