Archive for November, 2018

Better fuel regulation has had a perverse effect in Sydney and Melbourne. Photo: SuppliedA crackdown on poor fuel quality has inadvertently driven up dangerous ozone levels and is causing an estimated 300 deaths a year across Sydney and Melbourne, a federal government-commissioned report has found.

The report’s expert authors have called on authorities to act to reverse the phenomenon, and environmental advocates say more must be done to prevent vapours escaping at petrol bowsers, which increases harmful ozone production.

The independent review of fuel quality laws, commissioned by the Department of the Environment, analysed the impact of changes to fuel standards since the introduction of current laws in 2000.

It found that fuel regulation had led to less pollutants and improved health outcomes in both Melbourne and Sydney – with the exception of ozone formation and exposure.

In a perverse effect, a reduction in nitrogen dioxide through improved fuel standards “is contributing to increased ozone production” which has resulted in adverse health outcomes, the report found.

Exposure to daily changes in ozone pollution in Melbourne caused an estimated 465 deaths in the year 2000, rising to 636 in the year 2015 – or 171 additional deaths last year, according to the scenarios modelled.

In Sydney, 617 such deaths were attributed to ozone in the year 2000, rising to 744 last year – an increase of 127 estimated annual deaths.

In the same period, estimated deaths attributable to substances such as nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5, or very fine pollution particles, fell substantially – indicating that laws governing fuel standards are otherwise improving health outcomes.

The modelling showed higher ozone levels also led to more emergency department visits by children with asthma, the report said.

“These increases are thought to be due to the significant decreases in NO2 [nitrogen dioxide]. NO2 is involved in both the formation and removal of ozone from the atmosphere,” it said.

Air quality concern relating to ozone involves high levels at ground level, rather than ozone layer depletion in the stratosphere.

Ground-level ozone particularly affects the elderly, children and people with lung conditions. It can irritate the nose, airways and lungs, and cause coughs, worsened asthma and pain in the chest, ears, eyes, nose and throat.

It is formed when sunlight combines with a chemical mix in the air. Warm, sunny cities with moderate winds are most likely to experience elevated ozone production, and Sydney and Melbourne often experience the highest levels in Australia, the department says.

Environmental Justice Australia researcher James Whelan said ozone concentrations should be reduced through better vapour recovery measures at petrol stations, which would limit the emission of so-called volatile organic compounds.

Dr Whelan said these compounds, released when motorists filled up at the bowser and trucks delivered fuel to stations, were a precursor to ozone production. However Australia was lagging badly behind the United States and Europe in regulating them, he said.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the government was considering its response to the independent report. She pointed to a review of legislative instruments made under the act, which was announced in May.

The report was prepared by consultants Marsden Jacobs Associates and Pacific Environment. The scenarios were hypothetical but reflected relevant baselines and air quality changes.

The report recommended that “additional time and resources be dedicated by governments to investigating options to reduce ozone concentration”.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria policy and regulation manager, Dan Keely, said that state has adopted national rules on fuel standards to minimise evaporative emissions.

However an EPA review of Victorian vehicle emissions regulations in 2013 did not support mandatory vapour recovery at service stations, he said.

A NSW EPA spokeswoman said NSW was the first Australian state to introduce recovery of vapours from petrol storage tanks and 96 per cent of petrol stations had complied.

NSW was also the only state requiring metropolitan service stations that dispense more than 3.5 million litres of petrol a year to capture vapours from fuel tanks when vehicles were refuelled at the pump. The rule comes into effect in January next year.

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Attorney General George Brandis said the plebiscite was the “only way”. Photo: ABC LatelineAttorney-General George Brandis, charged with designing the plebiscite on same-sex marriage, has demanded Labor “get out of the way” and support a public vote on marriage equality.

Senator Brandis also said the majority of the LGBTI people with whom he had spoken to recognised the “surest” and “most direct” course to marriage equality was a plebiscite, given the government’s election commitment.

“I very much hope that the Labor Party gets out of the way on this and Bill Shorten doesn’t succumb to the temptation to play politics with the issue,” he told the ABC’s Lateline program on Monday.

“Mr Shorten needs to know that if the Labor Party decides to stop the plebiscite bill, then they will have stopped gay marriage for the foreseeable future.”

The Attorney-General made the statement after a day of intense political bickering over the planned plebiscite, which now stands to be opposed by the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and possibly Labor.

If Labor does join in blocking the bill, it will fail to pass the Senate – and in all likelihood put same-sex marriage on the backburner for the next three years.

Labor is calling on the Turnbull government to dump the $160 million plebiscite, which it says will unleash a campaign of homophobia and hatred, and instead allow a free vote in Parliament. Based on MPs’ public statements, such a vote would see same-sex marriage legalised.

But Senator Brandis told Lateline that “the only way” the government could deal with the matter was through a plebiscite, which it had promised at the July 2 election.

He acknowledged that for many LGBTI people, a plebiscite was “not the preferred option”. But, he argued, “most of the people to whom I’ve spoken are sensible and pragmatic enough to know that the surest course, the most direct course now, to the outcome that they want and which I support is through a plebiscite”.

The Attorney-General will now come under pressure to release details about the plebiscite, including the proposed question and structure, before Labor makes a final decision. While the opposition hardened its rhetoric over the past week, it has left the door open to supporting the plebiscite, particularly if it regards the question as fair.

The government has hinted the vote could be held in February, but has not commented on whether both sides will receive public funding for their campaigns.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop during the ecumenical service to mark the opening of the 45th Parliament on Tuesday morning. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Mr Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten before the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on Monday afternoon. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senior ministers have defended Malcolm Turnbull’s government in the face of new poor polling results, as the Prime Minister’s net popularity fell below Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s for the first time.

As MPs gather in Canberra for the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Tuesday, a Newspoll in The Australian showed Mr Turnbull’s net satisfaction rate had reached a new low, while support for the government has fallen since the July 2 election.

The Coalition and Labor are tied at 50-50, while Mr Turnbull’s satisfaction rating was at 34 per cent – the lowest level since he replaced Tony Abbott in September 2015.

His net satisfaction rate stands at minus 18 points, four points worse than Mr Shorten at minus 14.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce played down the poll before MPs took part in the traditional church service before the opening of Parliament.

“You will drive yourself crazy if you start worrying about polls at the start of the political term,” he told Channel 9.

“You just have to get into it, get stuck into it, get the hard decisions done. Do the things that take our nation forward.

“Make sure that we, number one… make sure that you do the hard work so that in 20 years’ time someone can go to a public hospital and expect that it is going to be free. If we don’t get it right it won’t be because we won’t have any money.”

Mr Joyce was it was always tough when a government returns and there are “big jobs to do”.

The poll found Mr Turnbull remained the preferred prime minister, 43 to 32 per cent against Mr Shorten. It was his smallest lead recorded against the Labor leader.

Asked if he was concerned by the Newspoll, Treasurer Scott Morrison said, “no, I’m not”.

“People elect us to get on with the job, that is what we are doing. We’ve got a raft of legislation coming in this week, there’s some 24 bills or thereabouts,” he said.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said the government had been returned at the election to lead.

“Frankly there could not be a less relevant poll for the Parliament than the one immediately after the election,” he said

“I understand the excitement of the media about the first Newspoll after the election, but we just had an election and the Australian people cast their verdict and their decision was to re-elect the Coalition government.

“We’re back with a majority government and we’re going to be making decisions that implement the policies that we took to the last election.”

Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said voters were questioning the re-elected Turnbull government’s priorities.

“The government is at war with itself,” she told ABC radio.

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Professor Andrew Blakers from the ANU in the solar lab at the university. Photo: Andrew Sheargold Associate Professor Kylie Catchpole, Professor Andrew Blakers and Fellow Dr Matt Stocks are among dozens of researchers at ANU whose jobs are in doubt if the government slashes ARENA funding. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Australia’s clean energy research efforts are heading for “the valley of death” if Parliament passes the Coalitions’s omnibus package of cuts, according to leaders in the sector.

Hundreds of researchers around Australia, including dozens at both the Australian National University and the University of NSW, will be faced with the dole queue if cuts to Australia’™s renewable energy research agency are passed by the Parliament, according to one of the sector’s pioneers.

Deep cuts to the funding of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, contained in the Turnbull government’s omnibus “œbudget repair” bill before the Parliament this week, is an “existential threat” to clean energy innovation in Australia, Professor Andrew Blakers says.

Professor Blakers of the ANU is a world leader in renewables research and he says many of his colleagues nationwide will lose their jobs if the government gets its bill through Parliament and advances that would deliver major economic benefits to the country would be lost.

The ANU and the University of NSW are world leaders in solar energy research with PERC solar cells, now the commercial standard globally with more than $9 billion in sales, invented by Professor Blakers and his colleague Martin Green at the NSW institution.

ARENA was established in 2012 by the Gillard government and abolished by the Abbott government in 2014.

The agency received a stay of execution in March 2016 but Coalition policy now wants to strip $1.3 billion of funding from ARENA and merge its funding role with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which expects to see a financial return on money it invests in research.

The Clean Energy Council has published a briefing paper that likens de-funding ARENA to “plunging into the clean energy valley of death”.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht told Fairfax that existing commitments would be met even if Parliament agreed to back the Coalition’s cuts.

“The proposed reduction in ARENA’s uncommitted funding will not affect existing commitments,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Projects currently receiving ARENA funding will continue to receive funding and ARENA will continue to oversee ongoing contract management and knowledge sharing outcomes for these projects.”

The office of Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg did not respond before deadline on Tuesday to a request for comment and Labor says it has not arrived at a position on the ARENA cuts.

Professor Blakers said the decision, if passed, may mean the end of Australia’€™s clean energy research effort and said both sides of politics would shoulder the blame.

“€œThere is an existential threat to renewable energy research, innovation and education in Australia,” Professor Blakers said.

“€œIf ARENA is dismantled, then many people would lose their jobs including dozens at ANU.

“œIn the longer term, Australia’s leadership in solar energy would vanish.

“After the fiasco involving CSIRO climate scientists, we now have a potential fiasco in mitigation of climate change.”

The research leader called on the Labor Party not to just “waive through” the proposed cuts.

“œIt appears that the ALP might waive through a change to the ARENA Act, which would allow the end of ARENA granting,” Professor Blakers said.

“€œFor 30 years there has been a renewable energy funding agency in one form or another in Australia.

“€œThis has led to phenomenal success in generation of technology and education.

“The worldwide silicon solar cell industry owes its existence in large measure to Australians who were supported by grants from government renewable energy agencies.

“Billions of dollars of benefits have accrued to Australia.”

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George Wright is stepping down. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The architect of Labor’s stronger than expected 2016 election campaign, George Wright, has quit his post as ALP secretary and will return to the corporate world through a senior post at BHP Billiton.

Victorian Labor general secretary Noah Carroll is considered the early favourite to succeed Mr Wright and engineer the next federal campaign for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Mr Wright received Mr Shorten’s blessing in standing down after five and a half years in charge of the party – a comparatively long stint compared to some of his predecessors.

In a statement, Mr Shorten said Mr Wright leaves “with honour”.

Mr Wright, who worked on the landmark “Your Rights At Work” campaign at the ACTU, endured the humiliating 2013 election loss to the Tony Abbott-led Coalition, a campaign in which relations between party headquarters and Kevin Rudd’s travelling party were severely tested.

He took the reins of the federal party from Karl Bitar in 2011.

“After two federal election campaigns, two ALP national conferences and numerous by-elections it is time for me to spend more time with my family in my home town of Melbourne,” Mr Wright said on Tuesday.

Mr Wright will take up a senior corporate affairs role with BHP Billiton in Melbourne.

He thanked the Labor leaders he has worked for.

Mr Shorten said Mr Wright had been “central to the work of rebuilding Labor”, growing the party’s membership and engaging with supporters and volunteers in new and better ways.

“I have worked alongside George in various capacities for 22 years – he’s someone whose advice I’ve always valued. He’s a man who stays calm under pressure and, even in the toughest of times, never loses his sense of humour.”

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