Thursday 31 August 2023

The people of the Northern Rivers, wider New South Wales and the rest of Australia have been warned that the hands of the climate crisis clock are at 30 seconds to midnight, but it's business as usual


Australian climate scientist Dr. Joëlle Gergis, ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society and a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, has recently written

“The climate disasters unfolding in the northern hemisphere are a sign of what’s in store here, as governments fail to act on the unfolding emergency…..

...the possibility that the Earth might have already breached some kind of global “tipping point”. The term refers to what happens when a system crosses into a different state and stays there for a very long time, sometimes even permanently. We know that once critical thresholds in the Earth system are passed, even small changes can lead to a cascade of significantly larger transformations in other major components of the system. Key indicators of regional tipping points include dieback of major ecological communities….” [my yellow highlighting]

Such observations give pause for thought.

However, the elected Mayor of the third tier governing body for the Clarence Valley Local Government Area (LGA), Cr. Ian Tiley, is apparently comfortable with the idea of personally failing to act when it comes to any proposed phasing out of logging native forests in public hands within this LGA.

At least that is the impression he gives during a photo opportunity with representatives of the state government-dominated NSW logging industry.

Presumably Mayor Tiley is willing to ignore the fact that in 2021 & again in 2022 Australian university researchers warned that logging is not just increasing the risk of severe fires, but also the risk to human lives and safety.

Logging increases the probability of canopy damage by five to 20 per cent and leads to long-term elevated risk of higher severity fires, including canopy fires. Canopy fires are considered the most extreme form of fire behaviour and can be virtually impossible to control. 

It has also been known for the last two decades that intact tree canopies can buffer against rising and increasingly record air/land temperatures due to the thermal insulation of forest canopies which protects biodiversity, allowing native flora and fauna to survive climate change-induced heat extremes better than those living on open land.

Even the NSW Dept. of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources in Land Condition in the Clarence River Catchment: Report 1 - when addressing forestry as a land use - admitted back in 2014 that:

Management of forested areas for bushfire control purposes can threaten adjacent areas, cause habitat loss and encourage erosion. Public debate on this issue has been centred around the in-situ environmental impacts of the process but smoke drift over nearby population centres and the post burning effects on water quality after erosion events also impacts water supply for urban and industrial purposes. [my yellow highlighting]

Commercial logging activity occurs within the Clarence River catchment area and logged state forests do catch fire - as evidenced by Ellis State Forest near Dundurrabin south of Grafton during the 2019-20 bushfire season.

Like many other communities in the Northern Rivers region during the 2019-20 bushfire season, communities in the Clarence Valley can attest to the physical difficulties of living for days and sometimes weeks under smoke palls loaded with gases and particulate matter (including PM2.5) with a potential to affect the health.

According to the Dept. of Health's Bushfire smoke and health: Summary of the current evidence, 6 August 2020:

The Global Burden of Disease Study has shown that outdoor PM2.5 is the most important environmental risk factor in Australia, responsible for 1.6 percent of the total burden of disease in 2017. 

Evidence shows that the likelihood of an individual experiencing health effects as a result of exposure to PM2.5 depends on a number of factors. These include: the concentration of PM2.5 in air, the duration of exposure; the person’s age and whether a person has existing medical conditions (particularly cardiorespiratory disease or asthma).

It is also acknowledged that while this document focusses on the evidence relating to the physical effects that may occur as a result of bushfires smoke, bushfires have much broader mental health and societal impacts.

Clarence Valley Independent, 30 August 2023:

*click on image to enlarge*

The Mayor also expressed his personal view, describing the timber industry as vital to the Clarence Valley.” 

I wonder if  Mr. Tiley will still be of that opinion over the next high-risk seven to seventeen years......

Wednesday 30 August 2023

NSW BUSHFIRE SEASON STATE OF PLAY 2023: the Rural Fire Service Chinook helicopter which arrived in NSW in July was deployed for the first time to fight Clarence Valley fires in August 2023

From 1 September, the following NSW Northern Rivers local government areas are beginning their official Bush Fire Danger Period

Clarence Valley, Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed

Fire itself not understanding the bureaucratic love of schedules and lists decided to make itself felt in the Clarence Valley in mid-August resulting in a Sec.44 bush fire emergency declaration (localised state of emergency) to enable a co-ordinated air and ground response to fires in the the Pillar Valley region.

The new NSW RFS Chinook waterbombing helicopter was used to contain fires in the Coutts Crossing area on 20 August 2023.

The RFS Chinook aircraft was deployed for the first time after arriving in NSW last month. (Supplied: NSW RFS/Sean Leathers). ABC News 20 August 2023

As of Tuesday 29 August 2023 the NSW RFS "Fires Near Me" webpage reported that in the Clarence Valley LGA:

  • 4 remaining grass fires are Under Control with only monitoring required; and
  • of the 9 remaining bushfires 8 are Under Control and one classed as Being Controlled. 

From 1 September, the following LGAs also begin their Bush Fire Danger Period: 

Muswellbrook, Singleton, Kempsey, Nambucca, Mid-Coast, Port Macquarie-Hastings,  Bellingen, Coffs Harbour,  Gunnedah, Liverpool Plains, Upper Hunter, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, and Shoalhaven, Tamworth, Bogan, Coonamble, Walgett, Warren, Moree, Gwydir, Narrabri, Gilgandra, Warrumbungle, and Midwestern.

This is in addition to the six LGAs that commenced the danger period on 1 August: Armidale Regional, Walcha, Uralla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, and Tenterfield.

Once a Bushfire Danger Period commences landholders in these LGAs need to apply for a permit to burn off and notify their neighbours and local fire authorities 24 hours before lighting up. Free permits are available by contacting your local Fire Control Centre.

On 27 August 2023 NSW Premier Chris Minns and Minister for Emergency Services Jihad Dib issued a media release stating in part;

Iconic fire danger rating signs on roadsides across NSW are getting a digital facelift, with the Rural Fire Service (RFS) set to provide real-time fire risk information to communities via remotely operated signs.

More than 200 digital fire warning signs are being rolled out, as the state approaches bushfire season.

The signs, which are powered by solar panels, are automatically updated each day in line with fire danger ratings on the RFS website. The ratings are informed by data from the Bureau of Meteorology.

The digital upgrade means RFS volunteers will no longer need to manually change the signs daily.

The signs use the revised Australian Fire Danger Rating System, which includes four categories for fire danger: 

Moderate (green), High (yellow), Extreme (orange) and Catastrophic (red), with simple actions for the community to take at each level. On days when there is minimal risk, ‘no rating’ is used.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Australian Climate Scientist Dr. Joëlle Gergis: "Unfortunately, this coming summer will be a grotesque showcase of what we can expect as our planet continues to warm. As the northern hemisphere summer comes to an end and the El Niño ramps up in the Pacific, it will be the south’s turn under the climate blowtorch."

Excerpts from an essay, “The summer ahead“ by Dr. Joëlle Gergis, ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, writing in The Monthly, September 2023:

The climate disasters unfolding in the northern hemisphere are a sign of what’s in store here, as governments fail to act on the unfolding emergency…

As one of the few Australian climate scientists who worked on the latest United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global assessment report, witnessing the unrelenting procession of extreme heatwaves, floods and wildfires battering the world right now is becoming harder and harder to bear. After four years spent immersing myself in the minutiae of the global climate emergency, it’s painfully clear that the extremes we are witnessing right now are simply a prelude of what’s to come. For those of you trying to avoid the news, here’s a very quick wrap-up of what’s been going on. So far in 2023, brutal heat has swept across southern Europe, North America, China and South-East Asia. Temperatures soared to 48.2°C on the Italian island of Sardinia on July 24 – just shy of the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe – while Sanbao in China’s Xinjiang province registered 52.2°C on July 16, setting a new national temperature record. In Canada, record-breaking wildfires continue to burn enormous tracts of boreal forest, forcing 120,000 people to evacuate from their homes and polluting the air for millions of people across North America. Meanwhile, biblical rain has pounded many parts of the world, with India, Korea, Japan and China particularly hard hit. In the final days of July, the Chinese capital, Beijing, recorded its heaviest rainfall since records began 140 years ago, logging 744.8 millimetres in just 40 hours, eclipsing its average rainfall for the entire month of July. Torrential rain saw roads transformed into rivers, washing away cars and submerging the ancient courtyards of the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing.

As the dramatic month came to an end, the World Meteorological Organization declared July 2023 the hottest month ever recorded by modern measurements. António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, responded by declaring that, “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.” While cynics might dismiss his comment as hyperbole, the scientific community know he’s not wrong. Using geologic records that extend centuries back in time, scientists estimate that temperatures are now the warmest they have been in at least 125,000 years, when the Earth was last in a lull between ice ages. Current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are 418 parts per million – the highest they have been in at least two million years, around 1.7 million years before modern humans evolved. The IPCC pointedly states that human influence on the climate system is now “an established fact”. The evidence is so indisputable that it’s like stating the sky is blue or the Earth is round. Our report also concludes that virtually all of the 1.2°C of global warming we have experienced since the Industrial Revolution has been caused by human activities, namely the burning of fossil fuels. Or put another way, scientists can now definitively say that humanity’s use of coal, oil and gas is cooking the planet.

Although I’m writing this on a rainy Sunday from the safety of my peaceful home, I can still feel my anxiety rising as I pore over the technical reports detailing the mess we are in. Things are now so bad that scientists like me are starting to wonder how we can be most helpful during this time of crisis. Despite the endless demands of an academic job, many of us feel compelled to keep trying to sound the alarm, even though it often comes at great personal and professional costs. It forces us to face the confronting reality of our destabilising climate in graphic detail; it’s an unspoken occupational hazard that people in my industry now face. But because our profession demands fierce objectivity in the face of hostile scrutiny, sharing our emotional response to our work has long been considered taboo – people fear it will undermine our rationality. Scientists are often pilloried if we dare to share the emotional impact our work is having on us. But experience has taught me that when experts fail to engage authentically in public conversations about climate change, others will step in to fill the silence. Commentators unconstrained by the professional ethics and rigour of our discipline have generated rife misinformation that has led to the shameful complacency plaguing the political response to the climate change problem for decades.

As someone who understands the seriousness of what is at stake, some days it’s hard to not be consumed by despair, anger and grief…..

If I’m honest, most of the distress I feel about climate change these days does not stem from the sheer scale of the destruction we are experiencing in every corner of the world. Although watching communities and ecosystems being needlessly destroyed is incredibly difficult, the real stress comes from knowing that all the solutions we need to stabilise the Earth’s climate exist right now. One of the key messages of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report is that there are options available today across all sectors that could at least halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Most of the reductions come from solar and wind energy, energy efficiency improvements and habitat conservation. Yet despite the enormous potential of these low-hanging fruit, our leaders are instead choosing to support the expansion of the fossil fuel industry to the bitter end.

Here in Australia, the sunniest continent on the planet, less than 15 per cent of our electricity is currently generated by solar power. Despite the federal government’s renewable energy target of 82 per cent by 2030, only 36 per cent of Australia’s energy is generated by clean energy sources. Instead of providing unprecedented support for the immediate deployment and scaling up of renewable energy technologies, our political leaders continue subsidising the fossil fuel industry, the culprits squarely responsible for ushering in this new era of “global boiling”. In 2022–23, Australian federal and state governments assisted fossil fuel industries with $11.1 billion in spending and tax breaks, with a particular focus on gas projects such as the Middle Arm oil and gas hub in Darwin. And just as the world’s warmest month on record came to an end, on July 31 the UK government announced its intention to grant hundreds of licences for new North Sea oil and gas extraction in an attempt to “boost British energy independence and grow the economy”. These moves blatantly ignore one of the key messages of the IPCC report, which states that around 80 per cent of coal, 50 per cent of gas and 30 per cent of oil reserves cannot be burned if warming is to be limited to 2°C. And if we want to achieve the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, which aims to avoid unleashing millions of climate change refugees, those numbers need to be significantly lower. Banking on carbon capture and storage – a technology that currently only captures one tenth of 1 per cent of annual global carbon emissions – to reverse-engineer our way out of the problem is nothing short of insanity.

Nonetheless, expect to hear more of the carbon capture industry’s virtues during COP28, the next UN climate summit, to be held in December this year. The event is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, and headed by Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Given that COP28 is being run by a top fossil fuel executive who has plans for a large expansion in his company’s production, it’s easy to feel extremely pessimistic about the likely outcomes of this meeting. It is clear that the urgency of the clean energy transition is being downplayed by vested interests with a criminal disregard for science and morality. As researcher Pascoe Sabido from the Corporate Europe Observatory bluntly observed in The Guardian: “The UN climate talks have become an oil and gas industry trade show, not the flagship for climate action. An entire industry has successfully co-opted the process and is leading us in a death spiral to climate catastrophe.”

Despite the IPCC clearly demonstrating that the burning of fossil fuels is causing the type of extreme conditions being experienced right now, our political leaders are not prepared to be brave and shut down these polluting industries fast enough to avoid locking in destructively high levels of global warming. We know – without a shadow of a doubt – that increasing levels of carbon dioxide from the use of coal, oil and gas is leading to a rise in global temperatures, which causes heatwaves to become hotter and extreme downpours more intense. Unless we urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global-scale disruption we experience in 2023 will soon be considered mild compared to what is to come. Right now, climate policies implemented globally have the world on track to warm between 2.5 and 3°C by the end of the century, with temperatures continuing to rise until we begin to drastically remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reach net zero emissions. The world’s collective policies represent a catastrophic overshooting of the Paris Agreement targets, which promises to reconfigure life on our planet as we know it.

If the political commitment to achieving net zero targets ends up being nothing more than empty promises based on dodgy carbon credit accounting schemes and the “business as usual” exploitation of global fossil fuel reserves, the latest climate models show that under a very high emissions pathway, global average temperatures could warm as much as 3.3 to 5.7°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, with a central estimate of 4.4°C. Under this fossil fuel–intensive scenario, land areas of Australia are projected to warm between 4 and 7°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, with a central estimate of 5.3°C (note that, on average, Australia has already warmed 1.47°C since national records began in 1910). Such catastrophic levels of warming will render large parts of our country uninhabitable, profoundly altering life in Australia. The IPCC report patiently explains that the risk of heat extremes increases substantially with higher levels of warming. For example, heatwaves that used to occur once every 50 years on average in pre-industrial times will be nearly 10 times more frequent with 1.5°C of warming, and 40 times more likely at 4°C. Even with 1.5°C of global warming, 40 per cent of the largest cities in the world will become heat-stressed, endangering the lives of millions of people each year. Unless we rein in the burning of fossil fuels, we risk a future where humanitarian disasters are likely to play out every summer across the world.

The truth is that some scientists fear that the writing is already on the wall. If we are struggling to cope with the major disruption to society caused by the 1.2°C of global warming we have experienced so far, then what will warming of 1.5 degrees, or 2 degrees, or 3 degrees or beyond bring? Once again, the IPCC report provides detailed information on what we can expect in every single region of the globe. We know from the geologic record that 1.5 to 2°C of warming is enough to seriously reconfigure the Earth’s climate. In the past, this level of warming triggered substantial long-term melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, unleashing six to 13 metres of global sea-level rise that lasted thousands of years. Once 2°C is passed – which could happen as early as the 2040s on our current trajectory – the only glaciers that will be left will be limited to polar areas and the highest mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas.

The current loss of ice means that we are already committed to a cascade of changes – even if we manage to stabilise our greenhouse gas emissions – as the world’s oceans reconfigure to increased influxes of meltwater, altering the behaviour of ocean currents that distribute heat around the planet. This process is now irreversible and will go on for centuries. Bear in mind that a quarter of a billion people already live on land less than two metres above sea level. The IPCC report doesn’t mince its words here, stating that beyond 2°C, adaptation is simply not possible in some low-lying coastal cities, small islands, deserts, mountains and polar regions. We are tragically unprepared for the warming that is already in the pipeline, and we haven’t seriously begun the colossal task of decarbonisation.

Unfortunately, this coming summer will be a grotesque showcase of what we can expect as our planet continues to warm. As the northern hemisphere summer comes to an end and the El Niño ramps up in the Pacific, it will be the south’s turn under the climate blowtorch. Coral reef scientists are already panicking, as global reefs are being besieged by record ocean temperatures. On July 24, sea surface temperature around the Florida Keys in the United States reached a staggering 38.4oC, a level commonly found in a hot bath. Record heat has now triggered severe coral bleaching in the region, which has already seen 90 per cent of coral cover disappear since the 1970s. As awful as this is, these impacts are entirely consistent with what scientists expect. The IPCC warns that even with 1.5°C of warming, which we are set to breach in the early 2030s, 70 to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed. That number rises to 99 per cent with 2°C of warming, which could happen as early as the 2040s. An entire component of the Earth’s biosphere – humanity’s planetary life-support system – could be lost in under 20 years. Given that 25 per cent of all marine life depends on these areas, it’s hard to comprehend the domino effect that will be unleashed as these key ecosystems start collapsing globally…..

It’s hard not to feel cynical about the politics playing out here. According to James Cook University’s Professor Terry Hughes, one of the world’s foremost experts on coral reefs, “The Morrison government successfully lobbied individual members of the world heritage committee to ignore UNESCO’s recommendation for an in-danger listing in 2021.” And since November 2022, Labor’s environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, has been pressuring UNESCO to ignore the scientific reality of the degradation of the site, saying that there is no need to “single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way”. It’s pretty easy to understand why Australia wants to avoid an “in-danger” listing – tourism on the Great Barrier Reef supports around 65,000 jobs and generates more than $5 billion for the Australian economy each year. Any tarnishing of the reef’s condition on the world stage will cost our tourism sector dearly. But the truth is, warming ocean temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest threat to the reef, and our government is still committed to the expansion of the very industry responsible for making things worse. No amount of political spin can hide the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is in terminal decline; we must face the fact that we are soon likely to witness the death of the largest living organism on the planet. I dread to see what this summer will bring.

As overwhelming as all of this is to take in, the imminent demise of the world’s coral reefs isn’t the only thing keeping scientists up at night right now. There is something far more sinister plaguing our minds – the possibility that the Earth might have already breached some kind of global “tipping point”. The term refers to what happens when a system crosses into a different state and stays there for a very long time, sometimes even permanently. We know that once critical thresholds in the Earth system are passed, even small changes can lead to a cascade of significantly larger transformations in other major components of the system. Key indicators of regional tipping points include dieback of major ecological communities such as the Amazon rainforest, boreal forests and coral reefs; melting of polar ice masses such as Arctic sea ice and the West Antarctic ice sheet; and disruptions to major circulation systems in the atmosphere or oceans, including changes in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s pretty safe to say we are witnessing dramatic new developments in all of these elements right now…..

Read the complete essay at:

Monday 28 August 2023

Dystopian Australia: just the tip of the iceberg.....


In Australia it sometimes feels as though there has never been any hope of a genuine level playing field developing in a society whose institutions are hampered by a thick 18th century British-European exoskeleton.

That the notion of universal welfare has always been distorted by perceptions of class and a false narrative of the deserving and undeserving poor.

In modern Australia the following is just another example of what happens when instead of the creation of constructive social policy, poverty merely stops being an exploitive cottage industry for religious charities and instead expands into a gold mine for rapacious secular opportunists.

The Saturday Paper, 26 August 2023:

Outsourced employment service providers are funnelling millions of dollars in government funding earmarked for people on welfare through their own companies, related entities and labour-hire outfits, creating paper empires out of their impoverished clients.

Under the $6.3 billion, five-year Workforce Australia model, private and not-for-profit job service providers are able to receive “outcome” payments for placing jobseekers in “work” within their own organisation and receive funding to refer them to other services and training, which can also be delivered by subsidiaries or related parties.

In short, a provider can be paid to take on a welfare recipient by the federal government and then be paid to place them into training within their own organisation and then be paid again by placing the person into work somewhere else in that organisation’s network.

This comes at the same time as an increasing awareness that mutual obligations – the system by which people on welfare must apply for an arbitrary number of jobs, enrol in training or perform set activities each month under threat of payment suspension – is damaging and does not lead people to employment.

Data released under freedom of information laws and through budget estimates reveals that in the year to June 30 the Employment Fund made $33.6 million in commitments to job providers within their own organisation, for example for counselling services provided by an entity with the same ABN.

Excluding wage subsidies, which cannot be claimed in this way, the spending represents a quarter of the more than $100 million allocated from the Employment Fund in total. One provider alone made $5.5 million worth of claims via its own entities in a nine-month period to March 31.

While the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has tallied the figures for organisations using the same ABN, it took longer to come up with a figure for how much providers were spending on related companies – such as those that shared a director or major shareholder – because providers self-report and the reports are often unreliable.

The Saturday Paper has been told the dollar value for related-party claims from the fund is $9.2 million in the year to June, bringing the total amount of money being recirculated within companies to $42.8 million…..

Read the full article here.

Sunday 27 August 2023

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) issues media release in response to factual errors and misleading comments concerning national referendum voting instructions


Despite the legislation concerning national referenda being clear (as evidenced by the above interview with Antony Green), misinformation and at times deliberate disinformation is to be found in both mainstream and social media concerning the proposed 2023 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament referendum.

The level of factual inaccuracy has become a matter of concern.....

Australian Electoral Commission, AEC Newsroom, Media releases 2023

Media advice: Referendum voting instructions

Updated: 25 August 2023

Australian voters are rightly proud of their electoral system – one of the most transparent and robust voting systems in the world. As a result, there is an intense, and highly appropriate level of public interest in all aspects of that system, and associated commentary online and in mainstream media. Sometimes this commentary is immediate and based on emotion rather than the reality of the law which the AEC must administer.

There has been intense commentary online and in mainstream media regarding what will and will not be a formal vote for the 2023 referendum; specifically around whether or not a ‘tick’ or a ‘cross’ will be able to be counted. Much of that commentary is factually incorrect and ignores:

  • the law surrounding ‘savings provisions’,

  • the longstanding legal advice regarding the use of ticks and crosses, and

  • the decades-long and multi-referendum history of the application of that law and advice.

The AEC completely and utterly rejects the suggestions by some that by transparently following the established, public and known legislative requirements we are undermining the impartiality and fairness of the referendum.

As has been the case at every electoral event, the AEC remains totally focussed on electoral integrity. Indeed, electoral integrity is a central part of the AEC’s published values; underpinned by, and supported through, complete adherence to all relevant laws and regulations.

How to cast a formal vote

The formal voting instructions for the referendum are to clearly write either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, in full, in English.

It is that easy: given the simplicity, the AEC expects the vast, vast majority of Australian voters to follow those instructions and cast a formal vote.

Previous levels of formality

It is important to keep scale, or a lack of it in this instance, and precedent in mind when discussing this matter.

More than 99% of votes cast at the 1999 federal referendum were formal. Even of the 0.86% of informal votes, many would have had no relevance to the use of ticks or crosses.

AEC communication

Instructions for casting a formal vote – to write either yes or no in full, in English, will be:

  • part of the AEC’s advertising campaign,

  • in the guide delivered to all Australian households,

  • an instruction by our polling officials when people are issued with their ballot paper,

  • on posters in polling places, and

  • on the ballot paper itself.

This is why the level of formal voting at previous referendums has been so high and why the AEC expects the vast, vast majority of voters to follow those instructions.

The law

Like an election, the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 includes ‘savings provisions’ - the ability to count a vote where the instructions have not been followed but the voter’s intention is clear.

  • The AEC cannot ignore the law and cannot ignore savings provisions.

The law regarding formality in a referendum is long-standing and unchanged through many governments, Parliaments, and multiple referendums. Legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, provided on multiple occasions during the previous three decades, regarding the application of savings provisions to ‘ticks’ and ’crosses’ has been consistent – for decades.

This is not new, nor a new AEC determination of any kind for the 2023 referendum. The law regarding savings provisions and the principle around a voter’s intent has been in place for at least 30 years and 6 referendum questions.

The longstanding legal advice provides that a cross can be open to interpretation as to whether it denotes approval or disapproval: many people use it daily to indicate approval in checkboxes on forms. The legal advice provides that for a single referendum question, a clear ‘tick’ should be counted as formal and a ‘cross’ should not.

Media resources:

AEC Newsroom


AEC imagery (AEC Flickr)

AEC media contacts



The Guardian, 24 August 2023, excerpts:

Voters in the upcoming voice to parliament referendum are being urged to write “yes” or “no” on referendum ballot papers – and being warned that if they use a cross, their vote may not be counted.

The well-established and longstanding rule which will mean ticks are likely allowed but votes that use crosses are likely excluded has prompted criticism from the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, the former prime minister Tony Abbott and the no campaign, which claims the requirement will “stack the deck” against them.

The rule has been on the books, without controversy, for 30 years and six referendum questions, and when asked about ticks and crosses on Thursday, an Australian Electoral Commission spokesperson simply said: “Please don’t use them.”.

Fair Australia tweeted: “Looks like just another attempt to stack the deck against ‘no’ voting Australians.”

Abbott claimed on 2GB that “there’s a suspicion that officialdom is trying to make it easier for one side … This is the worry all along that there is a lot of official bias in this whole referendum process.”

Dutton, also speaking on 2GB, called it “completely outrageous” and claimed the situation “gives a very, very strong advantage to the ‘yes’ case”. The opposition leader said he would ask the government to draft legislation to change the rule.

The Coalition opposition did not propose amending this rule during debate on the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act earlier this year, and supported the government’s legislation....

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 2023, excerpt:

Despite Dutton’s insistence that an X should denote a No vote, in his 2022 election candidate nomination form he repeatedly placed an X in a box to indicate a Yes to questions about his citizenship and the country of his parents’ birth, for example.

Click on image to enlarge

In fact across the entire Dutton_Q47P document “x” was used interchangeably by Peter Dutton to denote Yes, No, and Not Applicable.


History of Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 can be found at

Friday 25 August 2023

Blockade Australia August 2023: climate crisis activists court appearances update


BLOCKADE AUSTRALIA, media release, 23 August 2023:

Emma Dorge appeared before Magistrate Breton at Penrith Local Court today. Emma was found guilty to resisting arrest by plain clothes officers at Springwood train station.

The Magistrate did question why the initial arrest was even made for breaching bail, as police were unable to specify the breach or provide any evidence, and did not lay this charge. Police prosecution claimed that police were acting in good faith, despite concurrent bail breach accusations against Emma of not being allowed in NSW and not residing at a NSW address. In response to this, the Magistrate stated, "I suggest otherwise, it seems there was no breach of bail, meaning there would have been no power to arrest her at all".

"Despite the obvious lack of reason for my arrest, the magistrate still decided that me turning to get out my phone to contact help constitutes resisting arrest. The judicial system has once again protected police mis-use of power; over the rights of people affected by it."

"As we see increasing over-reach by the police and courts, we also see increasing extreme climate events around the world. We must match this with resistance." Emma Dorge

Blockade Australia is a growing network of people commitment to targeting the economic pinch points that materially disrupt the exportation and exploitation that this political system relies on. This was demonstrated in a simultaneous week of actions at Brisbane, Newcastle and Melbourne ports in June.

Blockade Australia acknowledges First Nations Peoples as the custodians and true owners of this land

Earlier Blockade Australia media news announcement, 23 August 2023:

Emma Dorge, who was arrested in June 2022 in a spree of arrests made by police to repress Blockade Australia's planned mobilisation in Sydney last year, is facing court today [Wednesday 23rd] at Penrith Local Court. Several other Blockade Australia activists have faced court or had charges dropped by police this past week - details below. Two of these people - Daniel Heggie and Emma Dorge will be available for comment at court today.

Emma Dorge is pleading not guilty to resisting arrest when being apprehended by two undercover officers at a train station in June last year. The police attempted and failed to bring a detention order on Emma. Emma has been living with `bail conditions for 14 months, including: not to associate with 25 others, including their partner, had to move house and leave NSW. These conditions, whilst extensive, have been used against various activists arrested in the period in association with Blockade Australia.

At the same time in June last year, Max Curmi and Daniel Heggie were being held in custody after the bungled Colo surveillance operation which led to the large scale raid. Both were given a significant list of charges each. Daniel was facing charges of aid and abet in the commission of a crime, for unloading a trailer at Colo, was subsequently on bail for over a year, only for all charges to be dropped the day before the court date. Max was charged with conspiracy and affray, for which he was held on remand for over 3 weeks, along with Tim Neville who was also arrested during the raid.

On these police tactics, Max wrote from prison in June last year, "I'm a political prisoner, I'm being held on prefabricated charges because I refuse to let this system continue destroying this continent, the climate and our right to a livable future".

Aunty Caroline Kirk, Ngemba Elder and Lily Bett were in Paramatta court last week for charges of obstruct and intimidate the police during the Colo raids in June last year. The intimidation and obstruct charges were laid on them for yelling at or standing in the path of, what they identified as armed intruders at a private residence.

Aunty Caroline was given $400 in fine and Lily a 6 month CRO. Both had no conviction recorded.

At the time of the charges in question, police were dressed in camouflage and black clothes, refused to identify themselves and hit several people in the process of leaving in a car. It was not until 100+ police, with dogs and helicopters made their way down the valley, smashing up the camp and holding everyone for hours, that it became clear it was a police operation.

"Over the past 18 months we have seen harsh bail conditions, surveillance and incarceration of climate activists, even when no legitimate charges end up being laid. These underhanded police tactics go hand in hand with the anti protest laws introduced early last year. Australia uses these repressive mechanisms to uphold this destructive profit-growth system and block meaningful climate action." - Emma Dorge

Thursday 24 August 2023

More than $847.25 million in wages are estimated to be underpaid each year, affecting 1.38 million workers - in June 2022 that included approx. 16,045 NSW Northern Rivers employees believed to be owed stolen wages of est. $4.8 million


Australian workers are dealing with the rising cost

of living, housing market pressures, a rental crisis,

and stagnant wage growth.

Unpaid earnings harm people who worked in good faith for their pay packet and - right now - people are having to carefully count every dollar…

More than $847.25 million in wages are estimated to be underpaid each year, affecting 1.38 million workers, or

about 11.5 per cent of the employed Australian workforce”

[McKell Institute, “Unfinished Business: The Ongoing Battle Against Wage Theft”, August 2023]

Smart Company, 22 August 2023:

Wage theft is costing Australian workers $850 million a year, demonstrating an “ingrained culture” of deliberate underpayment and the need for criminalisation at the federal level, according to a damning new report from the McKell Institute.

A fresh analysis of Fair Work Ombudsman audits stretching back to 2009 shows more than a quarter of audited businesses failed to observe the monetary obligations set out by industry awards or enterprise agreements, according to the think tank.

Its calculations show nearly 27,000 businesses were found to have underpaid approximately 1.3 million Australian workers over that time frame.

The real level of wage underpayment is likely higher, McKell Institute CEO Ed Cavanough said, as the analysis did not cover the underpayment of penalty rates, or circumstances where payment under a different award would have been more appropriate.

This is an extraordinary amount of money being stolen and it’s unacceptable,” Cavanough said in a statement.

Wage underpayment hits businesses big and small

The report arrives against a backdrop of high-profile wage underpayments claims, with Coles, Target, and Bunnings just a few of the major brands to have revealed significant wage underpayments in recent years.

Wage underpayment also stretches deep into the small business sector, with the Fair Work Ombudsman on Tuesday revealing it has levelled nearly $85,000 in penalties against two Victorian businesses accused of underpaying young workers, as a result of its latest investigation.

The Ombudsman recently launched a spate of undercover campaigns targeting small restaurants and food court vendors deemed to offer suspiciously low-cost fare.

The McKell Institute argues laws criminalising wage theft across the board are necessary to discourage employers from deliberately withholding earnings and entitlements.

The report throws its weight behind the federal government’s upcoming industrial relations reform package, which is expected to contain legislation making wage theft a criminal offence across the board….

Read the full article here.

In the NSW Northern Rivers region there are two federal electorates, Page and Richmond.

According to the McKell Institute 29-page analysis of the economic impact of wage theft in Australia, as of June 2022:

  • In the electorate of Page there were est. 1,366 non-compliant business which between them were believed to have stolen wages from 7,023 employees with a total minimum value of $4,289,664.

  • In the electorate of Richmond there were est. 1,754 non-compliant businesses which between them were believed to have stolen wages from 9,022 employees with a total minimum value of $5,510,65.