A wise silence. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is showing some political nous in largely avoiding the debate about the role of global warming in the New South Wales bushfires. The apparent involvement of the army in starting the worst of the fires just makes it even less likely than ever that the voting public will accept the argument that having a price on carbon is in anyway relevant to the loss of 200 houses in the Blue Mountains.

If Labor wants to make a contribution to stopping the rise in global temperatures, the sensible course would be to start seriously advocating a global solution. Australia on its own can put whatever price it likes on carbon emissions but it will be nothing but a futile gesture unless the rest of the world follows suit.

Not so extraordinary. You would have to call it an accurate assessment: the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in a little summary document headed Australia’s bushfire seasons has this to say about New South Wales and southern Queensland —

Spring to mid-summer — The greatest danger occurs after the dry winter and spring. The worst conditions occur when deep low-pressure systems near Tasmania bring strong, hot and dry, north-westerly winds to the coastal districts. The end of the fire season is determined by the onset of moister conditions, sometimes the result of a tropical cyclone developing near the Queensland coast.

And what has NSW had in recent months?

SEPTEMBER:  A statewide average rainfall of 27.6 mm during September, below the historical average of 34.7 mm. Temperatures the warmest on record. The statewide mean daily temperature was 3.4 °C above the historical average and 0.9 °C above the previous September record (set in 1965). September was the warmest on record for close to 75% of the state.

WINTER: The second-warmest winter on record. The wettest June since 2005 but a dry July and August.

Almost a perfect fit for the fire seasons shown on the BOM map and the accompanying note that “dry spells create a high fire risk, particularly after good rain has encouraged lush growth”. Certainly no evidence in that data to support the claims that something extraordinary is happening in the Blue Mountains this October.

The bureau’s description of “fire seasons” for other parts of the country:

Southeast Australia: summer and autumn — As grass and forests dry during summer and autumn, southeast Australia becomes vulnerable to the threat of bushfire. During late spring and early summer grass and forest fuels hold some moisture but fires can occur on hot days with strong winds. Fuels dry out in mid and late summer but winds are typically not as strong. Early autumn sees a transition to cooler conditions and generally lighter winds.

Northwest Western Australia and the Northern Territory — winter and spring — In the warm, dry and sunny winter and spring, when grasses are dead and fuels have dried, northern Australia becomes most susceptible to bushfires. Intense high-pressure systems over South Australia producing strong southeast to northeast winds increase the risk of bushfires.

Southern Western Australia — spring and summer — The greatest danger is between late spring and early autumn when fuels have dried after the winter rains. Heat troughs intensifying near the Pilbara, with surges of hot air from the interior produce dangerous fire weather conditions.

A soul-less city maybe but inhabited by people with soul. Having missed the deadline for the little Crikey contest about whether Canberra is a hellhole or a great place to live, I’ll leave it to the Greek Australians who have contributed so much to our national capital to set their countryman the Duke of Edinburgh right about the city he disparaged after a quick drive through. For me what makes Canberra a uniquely great place are the people who live here. The Canberra I know and love has at its heart, its reason for being, public service — a community where the principal purpose is not the pursuit of personal gain but of serving the public. Oh that other parts of the nation shared its very unselfishness. Australia would be a better place.

The debate about debt. As we prepare for the recommendations of Joe Hockey’s audit commission and the political talk turns again to government debt, the words below by the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf on The reality of America’s fiscal future seem applicable if we substitute “Australia” for “America”.

“The debate … is not about the debt. It is about whether Americans will pay the taxes needed to fund the government they have legislated. The US has created major social programs. But it seems unable to agree on the taxes needed to pay for them … This struggle is disguised behind the rhetoric on unsustainable debt and disincentive effects of modest rises in taxation. If the US does create a huge fiscal problem for itself, it will be because agreement on the balance between what government does and how it is financed is impossible.”

News and views noted along the way.

  • 12 enraging things only politicians ever say — “Political cliches: making Newsnight unbearable since forever.”
  • How a forty-year-old proposal became a movement for change — “Amid the often-protracted policy debates of the Rudd and Gillard years, DisabilityCare is widely seen as Labor’s most popular and effectively managed reform. The story begins during the Whitlam years, writes Mike Steketee, and takes in a highly effective community campaign.”
  • Sultan Of Brunei introduces Sharia law — “‘It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all His generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice,’ Sultan and Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah said in a statement. The new set of laws under Islamic code, the Shariah Penal Code, would broaden the scope of religious justice that is now limited to some Sharia courts dealing in personal and family issues, such as marriage disputes. The new laws, the sultan said, would go into effect in six months.”
  • The Shanghai secret — “When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers. Shanghai’s secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time.”

Peter Fray

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