Down & Out: Tangled. Politics and other shark tales


After eight days on tenterhooks while votes were counted, PM Malcolm Turnbull declared:  “It’s always a good time to deliver a victory speech”. His coalition was left with a majority of only one, while the Labor opposition was strengthened. Among an assortment of independents and fringe parties elected was One Nation, headed by Queensland’s Pauline Hanson. Her platform: Australia is being “swamped by Asians” and she also wants a ban on the construction of new mosques. One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, a climate-change denier, says there is “political fabrication of global warming alarm” and that climate science is controlled “by some of the major banking families in the world” who are colluding “in a tight-knit cabal with the UN”.

“I started finding out things about the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation of Australia) and the Bureau of Meteorology. That led me to the UN, which has been driving this. Then I started following the money trails.” These, he said, could be traced back to a few families making “trillions” of dollars. One Nation, which is also protectionist, anti-free trade and anti-foreign investment, has four senators and the largest crossbench senate bloc in the new parliament, other than the Greens.

The popular independent senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, says the Turnbull government is fundamentally misguided to believe that a concerted public advocacy effort will turn around the broad-based electoral backlash against globalisation and free trade. Xenophon’s main platform has been an anti-gambling push, and he wants online games such as the hugely popular Counter-Strike series defined in law as gambling. “This is the Wild West of online gambling that is actually targeting kids,” he warns.

It would make a huge international news story if it weren’t so remote, says James Cook University Professor Norm Duke of the death of 7,000 hectares of mangrove shoreline in the far-north Gulf of Carpentaria and in Karumba, Queensland; the result of El Nino conditions and virtually no wet season in 2015. He said that remote sensing had indicated the death of the trees occurred in November and December.

“It’s a major event in habitat response to an adjustment in climate…  it may be just the beginning of a chain of events caused by the rotting of the trees’ roots. Mangroves prevent erosion of mud banks and, as they’ve died, a lot of the sediment is going to be released and make the water dirtier and that will kill seagrass and coral. If it involves seagrass, then the implications extend much more broadly, you’re talking about turtles and dugongs... the rangers who are observing locally what’s going on say they’ve seen lots of dead leaves and the shellfish living under the trees are now dying or dead.”

On a more positive note, WWF has bought a $100,000 commercial shark fishing licence for Great Barrier Reef  to prevent anyone else getting hold of it. The licence permits the dragging of a 1.2km net anywhere along the length and breadth of the reef, to target sharks, but it also permits fishing with lines to catch almost anything it passes over, including endangered dugongs, dolphins and turtles. Shark catches on the Great Barrier Reef almost doubled between 2014 and 2015: from 222 tonnes to 402 tonnes – about 100,000 sharks.

WWF says protecting apex predators is particularly important after the unprecedented bleaching event that has devastated the reef. Removing them from coral reefs disrupted the ecosystem, making it harder to recover. “After bleaching, algae spreads, and where sharks are removed by overfishing, smaller predators like snapper became more abundant. These kill the algae-eating fish and the algae then overwhelms young coral.”

The New South Wales government has banned greyhound racing after a report found that the industry appeared “incapable of reform” by condoning and participating in the mass slaughter of thousands of healthy dogs annually – estimated over the past 12 years at up to 68,000. Industry officials were found to have been aware of the illegal practice of using smaller animals such as possums as live bait for the dogs.

Greyhound racing is a working-class sport in NSW, attracting wagers of about $1 billion-a-year and employing about 1,000 people. The industry body, Greyhound Racing NSW, protested that there were many thousands of responsible participants “who treat their greyhounds like family”.

Residential tenancy law reforms will see victims of domestic violence in NSW able to flee faster and without penalty for abandoning a rental property. The new laws, to be introduced during the first half of 2017, will allow tenants who provide evidence of domestic violence through a provisional, interim or final Apprehended Violence Order, or court order, to terminate residency immediately. Agents and landlords will not be allowed to list them on a database where a debt or property damage arose because of a violent partner.

The owner of a store which sold a $4.95 charger is facing legal proceedings after a woman was found dead, with burns on her ears and chest while wearing headphones – the result of a high-voltage electrical pulse into her phone, which transferred to the earphones she was using, connected to a laptop. Maximum penalties for those selling unapproved electrical products are up to $55,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment for an individual and $550,000 for a corporation.

Read and weep. A young man whose brother died in 2012 after being “king hit” (one random punch) by a drunk in the centre of Sydney late one night, has taken his life at the age of 18. His family had championed a campaign against inner-city late-night drinking and was subjected to online vilification, abuse and verbal abuse. The “viciousness betrayed a worrying trend in public discourse”, said one commentator. Intentional self-harm is the leading cause of death for Australians aged from 18 to 44 years old. One in three of the deaths of 15 to 19 years old is due to suicide.

Make Bullying History founder, Brett Murray says students acting up by cyberbullying are in search of emotional validation that they should have been getting from parents.

“Their parents are probably so busy with their multi-million-dollar corporations that they can be totally disengaged as parents. Children have all the devices and internet access they want and upper-echelon parents are “clocking off,” he said.

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