Inbox and Environment News - Issue 236 

 October 18 - 24, 2015: Issue 236

 Environmental Leaders Recognised; 2015 Green Globe Awards

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Environment Minister Mark Speakman tonight announced the winners of this year’s Green Globe Awards, which recognise environmental excellence, leadership and innovation.

Mr Speakman congratulated this year’s 21 winners across 19 categories for their role in leading sustainable development across the economy and community.

“Some of the projects and causes for which this year’s winners were recognised include a world-first portable solar system, a high school student sustainability champion and Australia's first and largest community solar project,” Mr Speakman said.

A family owned northern rivers macadamia producer won the Awards’ highest commendation, the Premier’s Award for Environmental Excellence, for its commitment to sustainable processing operations.

“The prestigious Premier’s Award for Environmental Excellence was awarded to Byron Bay’s Brookfarm,” Mr Speakman said.

“Brookfarm has 288 solar panels, it saves 160 kilolitres of water a year through recycling rainwater and has planted more than 30,000 trees that have collectively stored over 2,310 tonnes of carbon.”

The Young Sustainability Champion award went to Liverpool Girls High’s Seda Hamoud for her devotion to raising awareness of sustainability issues. Three Sydney organisations were recognised; namely, The University of Technology Sydney, the City of Sydney and the Sydney Opera House. The Sustainability Champion award, given posthumously, acknowledged the tireless and passionate work of Dr Chris Reardon, who passed away in November last year.

“This award honours Dr Reardon’s work over two decades developing several influential sustainable housing training programs,” Mr Speakman said.

An independent panel of environmental experts helped select this year’s winners. The awards are considered the leading environmental awards in NSW and have been running for 16 years. 

A list of all winners is available

 Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project

Media release: 15 October 2015 - The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

The Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project has been approved in accordance with national environment law subject to 36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history.

The project is located approximately 300 kilometres inland in remote central Queensland.

In making this decision I have considered additional information provided by Adani and environmental groups, including the Mackay Conservation Group, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The conditions I have imposed take into account issues raised by the community and ensure that the proponent must meet the highest environmental standards. The strict conditions:

implement all advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC).

protect and improve 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat.

require $1 million of funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species in the Galilee Basin over 10 years.

ensure protection of Doongmabulla Springs through strict monitoring of groundwater and triggers to take action so impacts do not exceed the approved limits.

The rigorous conditions will protect threatened species and provide long-term benefits for the environment through the development of an offset package. These measures must be approved by myself before mining can start.

I have the power to suspend or revoke the approval and strict penalties apply if there is a breach of the strict conditions. Department of Environment compliance and enforcement officers will closely monitor the operation of the mine.

Protecting precious water resources from impacts of large coal mines is a priority of the Australian Government and that is why I visited the site with the previous Chair of the IESC and fully incorporated her suggestions in the approval conditions.

The proponent is required to provide a Groundwater Management and Monitoring Plan, which must receive approval from myself before mining can commence.

The previous decision to approve the project was set aside at the request of the Australian Government in August 2015 as a precautionary measure. This was due to the possibility that the advice on the approval decision had not been provided in a particular manner which may have affected the validity of the decision.

I have also remade the approval decision for Adani Mining Pty Ltd's North Galilee Basin Rail Project with 23 strict conditions, as a precautionary measure to provide investment certainty.

Further information on the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project, including a factsheet and Frequently Asked Questions, is available

 Carmichael reapproval risks threatened species, water, public funds


Only two months ago we won a Federal court challenge to the controversial Carmichael coal mine but Minister Hunt’s reapproval risks threatened species, precious groundwater, the global climate and taxpayers’ money.

Minister Hunt has again failed the people of Australia by failing to address new evidence on the devastating impacts of what would be Australia’s largest coal mine.

Hunt’s new conditions do not adequately deal with the seriousness of the implications of this mine. Simply put, these impacts are very serious, and can’t be offset. The mine should have been refused.

We launched legal action in January 2015, challenging Minister Hunt’s approval of the Carmichael megamine on three grounds: that climate impacts were not considered, that Adani’s poor environmental record was ignored, and that the Minister failed to consider the impact of the mine on two vulnerable species.

With Adani’s job figures revealed to be fictitious and the global financial markets backing away from coal and towards renewables, the sensible decision from Minister Hunt would have been to reject this mine with all its unattractive baggage.

Minister Hunt is sacrificing threatened species such as the Black Throated Finch and precious groundwater resources for the sake of a mine that simply does not stack up economically.

The Black Throated Finch will be pushed to extinction if this mine goes ahead, and countless other species will suffer as precious groundwater springs are depleted of water by the Carmichael mine.

Adjacent landholders are also rightly concerned about the impacts on their property from the billions of litres of water that will be taken from precious groundwater resources.

The project has failed to find a single financial backer in the face of a depressed coal price and ongoing concerns about Adani’s poor environmental record.

Adani has repeatedly exaggerated the economic impacts of the mine and admitted in court that total jobs from the project, including short term constructions jobs, will be less than 1,500, a fifth of the 10,000 jobs the company originally promised

Clean drinking water the real loser in Blue Mountains mine approval

16 October, 2015: Nature Conservation Council- NSW

The NSW Nature Conservation Council has called on the NSW Government to permanently protect Sydney’s drinking water supply following the Federal Government’s approval of a coal mine extension in the Blue Mountains region near Lithgow.

“The Federal Government has given the green light for a damaging coal mine in Sydney’s drinking water catchment to expand, despite its well-documented impacts on endangered swamps that act like giant sponges to secure our water supply,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.

“Springvale Colliery already discharges unacceptably saline water into the Coxs River and Sydney’s drinking water supply – it should not be allowed to increase its environmental impact by being licensed to dump even more toxic water into the environment.

“It is simply unacceptable that the NSW and federal government’s are doing everything they can to approve this mine and allow this company to threaten the life of a river and the purity of Sydney’s water supply.

“The community of Lithgow shouldn’t have to rely on an industry that pollutes Sydney’s water supply. Instead, they deserve a serious commitment from both levels of government for an orderly transition away from dirty fossil fuels."

Dirty water from the Springvale mine was treated to acceptable levels by a nearby power station until 2012 when the power station closed. Ever since, Springvale has been releasing highly saline water into the Coxs River.

“Unbelievably, both levels of Government are rewarding bad behavior by allowing the mine to continue to release waste water with salinity levels way above natural limits,” Ms Smolski said.

“The Federal Government acknowledges that the mine could harm 14 endangered species and plant communities, but still granted approval.

“The environmental impact of the mine will increase significantly if it the expansion goes ahead, so it is more important than ever that discharges be adequately treated before being pumped into the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

“This mine is further proof that our planning system is skewed towards approving mines regardless of the negative impacts, nothing short of a major overhaul will fix the system for communities and our environment.”

 Gold Coast is 8th World Surfing Reserve (WSR)

October 16, 2015

Save The Waves Coalition is excited to announce that the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia has been approved as the newest World Surfing Reserve. The Gold Coast will become the 8th World Surfing Reserve (WSR) and will join the prestigious network of other WSR’s including Malibu, California; Ericeira, Portugal; Manly Beach, Australia; Santa Cruz, California; Huanchaco, Peru; Bahia Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico and Punta de Lobos, Chile. The Gold Coast WSR is expected to become formally dedicated in 2016.

The announcement was made from the House of Commons, London, UK, during the four day Global Wave Conference attended by leading International surf & environmental academic’s including former three times World Champion Tom Curren.

“This year we received three extraordinarily high quality applications from Gold Coast, Australia, Guarda do Embáo, Brazil and Noosa, Australia.” said Save The Waves Coalition’s Executive Director, Nik Strong- Cvetich. “Each applicant was highly unique, however the Gold Coast’s combination of perfect point breaks and world champions was a deciding factor in winning the approval for 2016.”

World Surfing Reserves, a program of Save The Waves, proactively identifies, designates and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and surrounding environments around the world. The program serves as a global model for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognizing and protecting the key environmental, cultural, and economic and community attributes of surfing areas. The Queensland Environment Minister Dr. Steven Miles said “The decision would help preserve the world-renowned beaches and the surrounding environment. I’m disappointed for Noosa, but it is terrific news and great recognition for everyone who worked so hard to have the Gold Coast beaches declared a surfing reserve. It was one of our election commitments to work with Gold Coast City Council and the community to help achieve this, which is great news for the region and the environment.”

It had taken almost two years to process the Gold Coast’s nomination for a World Surfing Reserve from Burleigh Point to Snapper Rocks, approximately 16 kilometres. The final Gold Coast application was the culmination of a lot of hard work from local and regional advocates and the efforts resulted in an application highly endorsed by a range of important stakeholders. The Gold Coast application demonstrated a high degree of community support, which is an important selection criteria for the WSR governing body.

In recognition for all of this community support over those two years, Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve, Inc Chairman Andrew McKinnon stated, “We would like to especially thank the Queensland State Government, the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Dr Miles for their unwavering support and ultimately paving the way so this dream could turn into a reality. Special thanks to the Gold Coast City Council for their support in particular, the Southern End Councillors Greg Betts (Burleigh), Daphne McDonald (Palm Beach) and Chris Robbins (Coolangatta) who convinced the Mayor and fellow Councillors that we were worthy of such global recognition”.

McKinnon also said, “City of Gold Coast’s Surf Management Plan will be the local authority for the Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve with Councils Surf Management Plan Advisory Committee performing the role of the Local Stewardship Council. We feel humbled to receive this great accolade amongst such great surfing communities and environments like Noosa Heads and Guarda do Embáo, Brazil. We sincerely wish them good luck in their future approval as a WSR.”

About World Surfing Reserves

World Surfing Reserves (WSR) proactively identifies, designates, and preserves outstanding waves, surf zones and their surrounding environments, around the world. WSR is an initiative launched by Save The Waves Coalition in 2009 in conjunction with National Surfing Reserves Australia and other partners.

For more information:

Top: The Super Bank, long respected by surfers, will now be recognized as the 8th World Surfing Reserve. Photo: Sean Scott


19-25 OCTOBER 2015

Celebrate National Bird Week 2015 by taking part in the biggest citizen science project to hit Aussie shores! From 19-25 October, thousands of people from across the country are heading out into their backyards, local parks or favourite open spaces to take part in the second annual AUSSIE BACKYARD BIRD COUNT!

To get involved all you need is 20 minutes, your ‘green patch’ of choice, and some keen eyesight (or binoculars!) And it doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or an expert—we’ll be there to help you out along the way. Simply record the birds you know and look up those you don’t on our Aussie Bird Count app (updated version available for download in September) or our website. You’ll instantly see live statistics and information on how many people are taking part near you and the number of birds and species counted across your neighbourhood and the whole of Australia!

Register now and we’ll keep you up to date with exciting Aussie Backyard Bird Count news!

Register at:


Caring for Mullet Creek

Saturday 31 October, 8:30am – 12noon

Bushcare planting day at Irrawong Reserve. Come and join us for a fun family morning and help plant a tree. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with this positive environmental project. 

This six year project, now in its 4th year, aims to protect the biodiversity of Mullet Creek and tributaries from Elanora Heights down to Warriewood through Ingleside Chase and Irrawong Reserves. 

Where: Meet at the end of Irrawong Road near the main walking track. 

Please bring a hat, water bottle and wear enclosed shoes. Morning tea provided. No bookings are required for this activity. 

Wetlands to waterfall walk 

Saturday 31 October, 9 – 11am

Come and join us for a spring walk through the Warriewood Wetlands. Spring is an outstanding time to experience our wetlands come alive with wildlife and flowering plants. With a range of native vegetation communities this area provides significant habitat for many larger fauna species now lost in the Sydney region. This is a great opportunity to discover more about our amazing plants and wildlife from our expert guide. If interested you can also be part of the bushcare planting day. 

Where: Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve (meet point provided on booking) Bookings Essential! 

Online: In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception – Option 1)


24th NSW Coastal Conference 2015 and The Annual NSW Coastal Management Awards

11 - 13 November 2015, Forster, NSW

The NSW Coastal Conference Committee invites you to participate in our annual state Conference, hosted this year by Great Lakes Council.

Conference Background

The Conference has been held annually for the past 23 years and has grown to become one of the most successful coastal industry events held in Australia.

The conference attracts over 220 delegates each year, who are interested in or working within the field of coastal and estuary management research, education, service provision and policy.

Representatives from the three tiers of government, user groups and community volunteer organisations also have a high level of attendance and participation. 

Past conferences have been held in Ulladulla (2014), Port Macquarie (2013), Kiama (2012), Tweed (2011), Batemans Bay (2010), Ballina (2009), Wollongong (2008), Yamba (2007), Coffs Harbour (2006) and Narooma (2005). 

The three day event is comprised of plenary sessions, concurrent sessions, field trips (addressing some of the local coastal, estuary and marine management issues), networking events and the Annual NSW Coastal Management Awards

The Annual NSW Coastal Management Awards: Nominations Now Open

The Annual NSW Coastal Management Awards are presented to publicly recognise and acknowledge the contributions of individuals, groups, organisations and agencies toward the ecologically sustainable management of the NSW coastal zone. The Awards will be presented on the evening of Thursday 12th November at the NSW Coastal Conference Dinner. 

Find out more at: 

 Economic assessment of mining guidelines

What's this about?

The NSW Government is seeking feedback on draft Guidelines for the Economic Assessment of Mining and Coal Seam Gas Proposals.

The guidelines have been updated to ensure economic assessments are more robust and consistent across NSW. In particular, the guidelines will have a greater focus on the impact of the project on the local community, as well as the state.

Economic assessments are used to inform consent authorities about the economic impacts of a major project, and are one of a number of factors considered in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

View and comment on the revised guidelines on the NSW Planning and Environment  website until 24 November 2015.

Have your say

Submit your written feedback online  or post to:

Deputy Secretary, Growth, Design & Programs Division, Department of Planning and Environment, GPO Box 39, Sydney NSW 2001

Exhibition Date: Oct. 14 - Nov. 24, 2015

Department of Planning & Environment

23-33 Bridge Street

Sydney 2000

More Information:

 1300 305 695 

 Agency Website  Consultation Website 

 Leard Forest mining audit released

Date 09.10.2015, Departmental Media Release: Department of Planning and Environment

The Department of Planning and Environment has released a summary report for the biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage audit carried out on the Leard Forest mining precinct in February 2015.

The audit led to $12,000 in fines being imposed on the three mines operating in the area. 

The audit found that:

• Boggabri Coal had conducted 7.7 hectares of unauthorised understorey (or lower growth) clearing of native vegetation. The company was fined $6,000 and required to implement an action plan including rehabilitation of the area, providing an extra 19 hectares of offset land and a review of procedures to ensure no further unauthorised clearing.

• Maules Creek Coal had not fully implemented its biodiversity management plan. The company was fined $3,000.

• Tarrawonga Coal had not fully implemented its flora and fauna management plan. The company was fined $3,000.

The Department has also agreed to accept action plans from the companies to address the non-compliances and will follow up to ensure these are implemented.

A departmental spokesperson said that the summary report was now publicly available. 

“Our compliance officers conduct regular inspections and unannounced spot-checks of mines to make sure they are operating in accordance with project approval conditions. 

“The Department has recently doubled the number of compliance officers working across the State,” the spokesperson said.

The full audit report can be found

 Borg Panels fined $15,000 for further breaches

Media release: 13 October 2015: EPA

Borg Panels Pty Ltd has been fined $15,000 by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for breaching an air quality limit at its wood processing plant in Oberon.

“The annual air monitoring results from one of Borg’s heat plants showed solid particles were discharged at five times the licence limit,” EPA Manager Central West Richard Whyte said.

“The breach comes on top of three penalty notices that were issued to Borg Panels in October 2014 for breaches of its licence. The EPA is disappointed the company’s environmental performance continues to be below par.”

“Each of these previous penalty notices attracted fines of $1,500. By issuing a $15,000 fine the EPA is sending a strong message that the company needs to lift it game.”

“The licence conditions are there to protect the environment and the community and ongoing breaches are unacceptable,” Mr Whyte added.

“As well as the $15,000 fine, Borg must provide the EPA with a schedule of works that they will undertake to ensure that future emissions meet the licence limit.

“Borg Panels is also required to undertake additional air monitoring from the heat plant until they can demonstrate that they are adequately controlling their processes,” he said.

“In taking this regulatory action the EPA expects Borg to improve its performance and putting the company on notice that further breaches may result in stronger action, including court.”

Licence holders are required to submit an Annual Return to the EPA and state which conditions of the licence had been not been complied with in the preceding year.

“The monitoring and annual reporting process are key tools that the EPA uses to ensure that companies are meeting their licence requirements. This incident demonstrates that these tools are working very effectively.”

Penalty notices are one of the tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including prosecutions, notices and directions, licence conditions, enforceable undertakings and legally binding pollution reduction programs.

To report pollution events contact the 24 hour Environment Line on 131 555.

 Tomingley Gold Mine convicted and fined $95,000 for polluting waters

Media release: 16 October 2015: EPA

Tomingley Gold Operations Pty Ltd has been fined $95,000 and ordered to pay the prosecutor’s legal and investigation costs of $16,797 after pleading guilty to polluting waters on two separate occasions.

The judgement was handed down yesterday in the Dubbo Local Court following two incidents where sediment laden waters were discharged from the mine site. This was contrary to the provisions of section 120 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act and the mine’s environment protection licence.

On 7 March 2014 following a rainfall event, the company reported to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) that sediment laden water had entered a drainage channel which travels through the mine site. The channel ultimately discharges into three dams, two of which are located on a neighbouring private property.

After another rainfall event between the 24 and 28 March 2014 sediment laden water again travelled into the drainage channel and the neighbour’s dams.

EPA Director North Gary Davey said sediment and erosion controls, as outlined in the mine’s Erosion and Sediment Control Plan, were not adequately in place at the time of the incident.

“Although the mine had commenced operations the sediment and erosion controls were not properly installed.

“Sediment laden waters can have a major impact on local waterways and rainfall events are often unpredictable, this is why it’s important that appropriate controls are in place at all times.

“The mine put emergency stabilisation and sediment control works in place after the discharge events and then carried out longer term sediment and erosion controls.

“The EPA issued the company with a Clean-up Notice on 18 September 2014 to remove sediments from the discharge which had been deposited offsite. The mine completed these works in accordance with the notice.

“The EPA welcomes the court’s decision and this result serves as a reminder to industry of the need to ensure proper procedures and controls are in place to prevent incidents like this occurring in the future.” 

 QLD Farmer George Bender takes his life over Battle with Gas companies 

Western Downs landholder George Bender took his life on Wednesday.

He was involved in a long-running dispute with resources companies, one of which reportedly was forcing 18 gas wells onto his farm, depleting his bore water.

Voices from the Gaslands -George's story

Lock the Gate Alliance: Published on 23 Sep 2014

Landholders across Queensland are facing an invasive force as coal seam gas companies move onto their land. The landholders, many of whom have worked their properties for generations, are being forced to accept life in a gas field. The impact is huge and is taking its toll in a myriad of different ways. This is the story of a cotton farmer who is about to lose two of his property's underground water bores as the gas companies suck megalitres out of the aquifer. The companies are supposed to make good on the water loss but so far, despite 15 months of negotiations, the family are no closer to resolving their water issue than they were when the Queensland Water Commission predicted, in July 2012, that the bore would drop within three years. The family faces an uncertain future.

 Proposed land resources legislation

On 15 October 2015, the NSW Government introduced a legislative package (PDF: ) in Parliament as part of its reform of the regulation of resource exploration and production in NSW. 

The proposed reforms include the strategic release framework, land access framework, Harmonisation Bill, work health and safety framework, and the EPA as lead regulator.

Strategic release framework 

The proposed Strategic Release Framework for Coal and Petroleum exploration resets coal and gas exploration in NSW through the use of strategic release and competitive allocation of exploration licences and assessment leases.

Cross-agency input and community consultation will enable upfront assessment of the known regional geological, social, environmental and economic factors prior to any areas being released for exploration.

A competitive allocation process for licences will safeguard against claims of corruption and ensure better outcomes for the people of NSW.

The proposed reform implements recommendations of theIndependent Commission Against Corruption, the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer (PDF 243.59kb: Final Report of the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW - September 2014),  the Coal Exploration Steering Group and the commitments made in the Strategic Statement on NSW Coal (PDF 240. 86kb :Strategic Statement on NSW Coal - August 2014 ) and the NSW Gas Plan

Land access framework

The proposed land access framework offers a fairer, more efficient, consistent and transparent land access arbitration process.  

Features of the framework include:

• a rigorous selection process for arbitrators

• performance measures for arbitrators

• capped negotiation, mediation and arbitration costs to be met by the explorer

• guidance on timeframes and procedures

• the use of legal representation and site inspections

• clearer guidance on 'significant improvements'.

The reform implements the legislative components of the recommendations in the report by Bret Walker SC on land access arbitration.

Harmonisation Bill

The Harmonisation Bill brings the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 into closer alignment in matters to do with the administration of titles, conditions, and compliance and enforcement. It is the first stage in delivering a single resources act in NSW, in line with the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer's recommendations.

Work health and safety framework

This reform will establish a consistent legislative framework for work health and safety (WHS) across the petroleum and mining sectors by extending the WHS (Mines) Act to apply to petroleum workplaces. It promotes best practice risk-based WHS standards and provides clarity for industry looking to implement effective WHS measures in line with their legal requirements.

EPA as lead regulator

The Bill provides a legislative basis for the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) becoming the State's sole authority for compliance and enforcement of all non-work, health and safety consent conditions for gas exploration and production.


MEDIA RELEASE Thursday, 15 October 2015: Anthony Roberts Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Mark Speakman Minister for the Environment

Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts and Environment Minister Mark Speakman, today said the NSW Government has taken a major step in delivering the recommendations of the independent NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer around coal seam gas and the NSW Gas Plan, with the introduction of new legislation into State Parliament. Mr Roberts said the new laws build on the reforms already introduced by the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government to better regulate the state’s resources sector. “This Government has made a priority of resetting the regulation of the resources sector and we are delivering,” Mr Roberts said. “We needed to do this to ensure that we have the safe, sustainable and secure access to the state’s natural resources.” 

Environment Minister Mark Speakman said on 1 July 2015, the EPA became responsible for compliance with and enforcement of conditions of approval for gas activities in NSW (excluding work health and safety matters). 

“As the sole independent regulator of gas activities in NSW, the EPA will provide effective and robust regulation of the gas industry,” Mr Speakman said. 

“The Bills provide clearer guidance for communities and industry, help reduce land use conflict, provide upfront community consultation and better recognition of the true value of resources,” Mr Roberts said. “They also provide a vastly enhanced level of transparency and accountability and serve as the first stage in delivering a single resources Act for the state, as recommended by the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane.” 

The new frameworks proposed in the Bills include: 

1. Strategic Release Framework– Restores confidence in the NSW coal and gas exploration sectors through the use of strategic release and competitive allocation of exploration licences and assessment leases. This will ensure economic, environmental and social factors are considered, with community consultation conducted upfront, before a proposed exploration area is released for a competitive process. 

2. Land access negotiations – A fairer, more efficient, consistent and transparent land access arbitration for both landholders and explorers, as recommended by Mr Bret Walker SC. 

3. Legislative harmonisation – Provides greater clarity by bringing the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 into closer alignment. It also offers a wider range of enforcement tools, including new directions powers, enforceable undertakings and a broader range of penalty notice offences. 

4. Workplace health and safety (WHS) – A new framework promoting best practice risk-based WHS standards in the petroleum and mining sectors. 

5. Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as lead regulator – The Bill enshrines the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as the State’s lead regulator for compliance and enforcement of all non-work, health and safety consent conditions for gas exploration and production. 

The five Bills submitted to Parliament today will join the recently introduced Improved Management of Exploration Regulation (IMER) framework in providing an integrated approach to ensuring the efficient, competitive and transparent allocation and the safe use of the state’s natural resources. 

For more information visit:

 Scientists identify climate 'tipping points'

October 15, 2015

An international team of scientists have identified potential ‘tipping points’ where abrupt regional climate shifts could occur due to global warming.

In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists analysed the climate model simulations on which the recent 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are based.

They found evidence of 41 cases of regional abrupt changes in the ocean, sea ice, snow cover, permafrost and terrestrial biosphere. Many of these events occur for global warming levels of less than two degrees, a threshold sometimes presented as a safe limit. However, although most models predict one or more abrupt regional shifts, any specific occurrence typically appears in only a few models.

“This illustrates the high uncertainty in predicting tipping points,” says lead author Professor Sybren Drijfhout from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton. “More precisely, our results show that the different state-of-the-art models agree that abrupt changes are likely, but that predicting when and where they will occur remains very difficult. Also, our results show that no safe limit exists and that many abrupt shifts already occur for global warming levels much lower than two degrees,” he adds.

Examples of detected climate tipping include abrupt shifts in sea ice and ocean circulation patterns, as well as abrupt shifts in vegetation and marine productivity. Sea ice abrupt changes were particularly common in the climate simulations. However, various models also predict abrupt changes in Earth system elements such as the Amazon forest, tundra permafrost and snow on the Tibetan plateau.

“Interestingly, abrupt events could come out as a cascade of different phenomena,” adds Victor Brovkin, a co-author from Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M). “For example, a collapse of permafrost in Arctic is followed by a rapid increase in forest area there. This kind of domino effect should have implications not only for natural systems, but also for society.”

“The majority of the detected abrupt shifts are distant from the major population centres of the planet, but their occurrence could have implications over large distances.” says Martin Claussen, director of the MPI-M and one of the co-authors. “Our work is only a starting point. Now we need to look deeper into mechanisms of tipping points and design an approach to diagnose them during the next round of climate model simulations for IPCC.”

Sybren Drijfhout, Sebastian Bathiany, Claudie Beaulieu, Victor Brovkin, Martin Claussen, Chris Huntingford, Marten Scheffer, Giovanni Sgubin, Didier Swingedouw. Catalogue of abrupt shifts in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate models.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201511451 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1511451112

 Humpback whale calf freed off Bermagui

Media release: 14/10/2015

A young humpback whale has been freed from ropes by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rescue crews on the south coast off Bermagui, late yesterday afternoon.

NPWS operations coordinator, Ian Kerr said crews working with Marine Parks Authority staff managed to cut 150 metres of nylon rope and floats from the young calf off Cuttagee, just on dusk.

"Although there is one small piece of rope remaining the chances of the calf surviving has now improved greatly," Ian said.

"It was very satisfying to see the calf re-join with its mother and the pair continued to head south yesterday evening," he said.

"If the material had not been removed the chances of this whale surviving would not have been good," he said.

"Freeing the whale involved using two inflatable rescue boats with crews using hook-shaped knives on long poles which minimises risk to rescuers.

"While the conditions were good, agitated whales always makes for a dangerous operation and the team have to ensure safety is paramount.

"The successful operation would not have been possible without the support of those involved including ORRCA volunteers and staff from the Marine Parks Authority as well as the dedicated whale disentanglement teams.

"Increasing whale numbers and human use of the oceans mean there is a greater chance whales can be entangled in fishing gear, nets or ropes during their migration up and down the coast," said Ian.

The entangled calf was first spotted by a helicopter pilot off Depot Beach, near Batemans Bay, Monday afternoon but high winds and the mother’s naturally protective behaviour prevented the rescue crews from approaching the calf until Tuesday.

Top: Whale calf successfully freed from fishing gear – Bermagui. Photo courtesy OEH

 Aurora and Sea Sparkle

from James Stone - October 15, 2015

It took a great deal of conjuring and dancing to persuade Mother Nature to put on a show for us tonight, but we were rewarded with both the Aurora Australis in the sky and Sea Sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans) in the surf.

Soundtrack: 'Cissy Strut', The Meters.

 Rising seas will drown mangrove forests

October 14, 2015

Mangrove forest at high tide. Credit: Global Change Institute

Mangrove forests around the Indo-Pacific region could be submerged by 2070, international research published today says. Even with relatively low sea-level rises, many mangrove forests had a poor outlook said Professor Catherine Lovelock, a University of Queensland ecologist.

"Mangrove forests are particularly vulnerable," she said.

"Mangroves are predicted to be submerged in parts of Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands."

However the outlook in other parts of the world was more positive.

"Our modelling shows mangroves are likely to persist in east Africa, the Bay of Bengal, eastern Borneo and north-western Australia -- areas where there are relatively large tidal ranges and/or higher sediment supply," said Professor Lovelock, who works in UQ's School of Biological Sciences and the Global Change Institute.

"Even in other areas though, the good news is that through accretion of sediment and maintenance of wetland soils, mangrove forests do have the capacity to avoid inundation and keep pace with sea-level rise."

Professor Lovelock said this was why there was an urgent need to plan for the maintenance of sediment supply in river systems that were likely to be dammed or heavily modified in future.

"The Indo-Pacific region holds most of the world's mangrove forests, but sediment delivery in this region is declining, due to activities such as dam construction," she said.

"This is of particular concern as this region is expected to have variable but high rates of future sea-level rise."

Forest degradation had to be reversed because it reduced organic inputs to soils that was vital for mangrove survival, Professor Lovelock said.

Plans should be made for the landward migration of vulnerable mangrove forests to higher elevations.

"Intertidal mangrove forests occur on tropical and subtropical shorelines, and provide a wide range of ecosystem services -- to fisheries, in coastal protection and in carbon sequestration -- with an estimated value of $USD194,000 per hectare per year," she said.

"Sea-level rise could threaten the long-term sustainability of coastal communities and of valuable ecosystems such as coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves.

Professor Lovelock said the researchers analysed trends based on data from an international network of 27 sites.

UQ's Global Change Institute and the Australian Research Council funded the project.

The vulnerability of Indo-Pacific mangrove forests to sea-level rise is published today in Nature.

Co-authors are from the US Geological Survey; National University of Singapore; Cambridge University; University of Wollongong; Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia; National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand; Macquarie University; Vietnam National University; and the International Crane Foundation, US.

Catherine E. Lovelock, Donald R. Cahoon, Daniel A. Friess, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Ken W. Krauss, Ruth Reef, Kerrylee Rogers, Megan L. Saunders, Frida Sidik, Andrew Swales, Neil Saintilan, Le Xuan Thuyen, Tran Triet. The vulnerability of Indo-Pacific mangrove forests to sea-level rise. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature15538

 Seismic Exploration by Bight Petroleum

October 13: EDO NSW (Environmental Defenders Office NSW)

On behalf of International Fund for Animal Welfare - IFAW, we have filed evidence in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for the release of documents about NOPSEMA’s approval of seismic exploration by Bight Petroleum in blue whale feeding grounds near Kangaroo Island, off South Australia.

Our evidence includes a scientific report from Dr Douglas Nowacek, a leading international expert in impacts of seismic testing on marine life.

Science plays an important role in the implementation of environmental law and the development of environmental policy. Read more about our Scientific Advisory Service at our website.

Image: Blue whale. NOAA/Wikimedia Commons, Photo D Ramey Logan

 Land for Blacktown open space handed to community

09.10.2015, Ministerial Media Release: The Hon. Rob Stokes MP, Minister for Planning

Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Member for Mulgoa Tanya Davies and Member for Seven Hills Mark Taylor today announced over 17 hectares of land will be handed to Blacktown City Council for open space and cemetery lands in Western Sydney.

The total of 28 separate lots worth $4.4 million in the Prospect and Mount Druitt areas will be transferred to the council at no cost.

“Blacktown is a thriving community with a strong city centre, cultural diversity, and great restaurants, cafes and shops,” Mr Stokes said.

“This is the time to invest in parks and reserves, to open up space for one of Sydney’s major growth centres and ensure future residents of Western Sydney have the opportunity to enjoy their neighbourhood.”

The parcels of land transferred to Blacktown City Council include:

• Two recreational open space areas totalling 9.5 hectares;

• The Prospect Post Office, which is the last remaining building of the original Prospect Village;

• Land surrounding the ‘Neoblie’ heritage listed property at Mt Druitt; and

• Land around St Bartholomew’s Cemetery.

Mrs Davies and Mr Taylor welcomed the land transfer.

“We want to make sure our community has the open public space to complement the growth we’re experiencing in Western Sydney,” Mrs Davies said.

“I am delighted this land will now be used for community recreation, and for extra cemetery space which is an important asset for our community,” said Mr Taylor.

The land had been progressively acquired through the NSW Government’s Sydney Regional Development Fund for open space purposes.

For more information, visit

 Ocean beaches and headlands assessment

The NSW Government has announced its decision on the recreational fishing amnesty in NSW marine parks. Based on the Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel's advice and further consideration of social values and use conflicts, the NSW Government proposes to:

• rezone 10 sites from sanctuary zone to habitat protection zone to make shore-based recreational line fishing lawful, and to continue the amnesty at these sites until the rezoning process is finalised.

The amnesty has been removed from all 20 remaining sites and enforcement of sanctuary zone rules has recommenced. All forms of fishing are prohibited in sanctuary zones and significant penalties apply including on-the-spot fines of up to $500.

Current arrangements in marine parks 

Community and stakeholder engagement  

Have your say on the draft management rules for marine parks for inclusion in the Marine Estate Management (Management Rules) Regulation 1999. The changes will:

• rezone 10 sites within the Solitary Islands, Cape Byron, Port Stephens–Great Lakes and Batemans marine parks from sanctuary zone to habitat protection zone and to allow recreational line fishing from the shore in those areas,

• update the maps for marine parks. There are a small number of amendments that make corrections to various descriptions and spellings and ensure that the maps are consistent.

For more information please read: 

• Draft Regulation

• Consultation paper

Make a submission

It is recommended that you read the consultation paper, alongside the draft regulation, before making a submission.

• Online submission  or • Hard copy of submission form (PDF)

You can lodge your submission online, via email at or through the post at:

Ocean Beaches and Headlands- Draft Regulations, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 1, Nelson Bay NSW 2315

Submissions close on Friday 13 November 2015.

See all document and submission form at: ocean-beaches-assessment

 Global marine analysis suggests food chain collapse

October 12, 2015

A world-first global analysis of marine responses to climbing human CO2 emissions has painted a grim picture of future fisheries and ocean ecosystems.

Published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), marine ecologists from the University of Adelaide say the expected ocean acidification and warming is likely to produce a reduction in diversity and numbers of various key species that underpin marine ecosystems around the world.

"This 'simplification' of our oceans will have profound consequences for our current way of life, particularly for coastal populations and those that rely on oceans for food and trade," says Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, Australian Research Council (ARC)Future Fellow with the University's Environment Institute.

Associate Professor Nagelkerken and fellow University of Adelaidemarine ecologist Professor Sean Connell have conducted a 'meta-analysis' of the data from 632 published experiments covering tropical to artic waters, and a range of ecosystems from coral reefs, through kelp forests to open oceans.

"We know relatively little about how climate change will affect the marine environment," says Professor Connell. "Until now, there has been almost total reliance on qualitative reviews and perspectives of potential global change. Where quantitative assessments exist, they typically focus on single stressors, single ecosystems or single species.

"This analysis combines the results of all these experiments to study the combined effects of multiple stressors on whole communities, including species interactions and different measures of responses to climate change."

The researchers found that there would be "limited scope" for acclimation to warmer waters and acidification. Very few species will escape the negative effects of increasing CO2, with an expected large reduction in species diversity and abundance across the globe. One exception will be microorganisms, which are expected to increase in number and diversity.

From a total food web point of view, primary production from the smallest plankton is expected to increase in the warmer waters but this often doesn't translate into secondary production (the zooplankton and smaller fish) which shows decreased productivity under ocean acidification.

"With higher metabolic rates in the warmer water, and therefore a greater demand for food, there is a mismatch with less food available for carnivores—the bigger fish that fisheries industries are based around," says Associate Professor Nagelkerken. "There will be a species collapse from the top of the food chain down."

The analysis also showed that with warmer waters or increased acidification or both, there would be deleterious impacts on habitat-forming species for example coral, oysters and mussels. Any slight change in the health of habitats would have a broad impact on a wide range of species these reefs harbour.

Another finding was that acidification would lead to a decline in dimethylsulfide gas (DMS) production by ocean plankton which helps cloud formation and therefore in controlling the Earth's heat exchange.

More information: Global alteration of ocean ecosystem functioning due to increasing human CO2 emissions, PNAS,

 Have your say on the proposed Bylong Coal Project

Date: 23.09.2015: Departmental Media Release; NSW Department of Planning and Environment

A proposal to construct and operate an open cut and underground mine in mid-western NSW will be on exhibition from today for community feedback.

The proposed project would be located approximately 55 kilometres northeast of Mudgee. 

The Department of Planning and Environment is keen to hear the community’s views on the application which seeks to:

• construct and operate an open cut and underground mine to extract up to 6.5 million tonnes of coal a year for 23 years

•construct and operate a range of infrastructure including:

o plant for washing and preparing coal to be transported

o rail loading facility and rail loop

o mine access roads

o accommodation for workers

o ventilation shafts

o water supply and water management

o electricity supply

o communications and administration infrastructure

• transport coal from the mine by rail

• progressively rehabilitate the site.

The proposal and its environmental, social and economic impacts will be thoroughly assessed against rules set out in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

It will also be subject to an independent review by the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Environment said the local community always has an opportunity to share their views. 

A public information session on how to make a submission will be held by the Department during the exhibition period. 

“Community consultation is an integral part of the planning process and the applicant will have to respond to the feedback we receive and this is taken into consideration when we develop our recommendations,” the spokesperson said. 

“It’s easy to participate by going online and we encourage everyone to take a look and have their say.”

To make a submission or view the environmental impact statement, visit Submissions can be made from Wednesday 23 September until Friday, 6 November 2015. 

Written submissions can also be made to:

Department of Planning and Environment

Attn: A/Director- Resource Assessments and Compliance

GPO Box 39, Sydney NSW 2001

The EIS is also available to view in person at:

• Department of Planning and Environment, 23-33 Bridge Street, Sydney

• Mid-Western Regional Council, 86 Market Street, Mudgee

• Mid-Western Regional Council, 77 Louee Street, Rylstone

• Mid-Western Regional Council, 109 Herbert Street, Gulgong

• Kandos Library, Angus Avenue, Kandos

• Nature Conservation Council, Level 2, 5 Wilson Street, Newtown



 Bubble plumes off Washington, Oregon suggest warmer ocean may be releasing frozen methane

October 14, 2015

Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is 1/3 of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) depth. Credit: Brendan Philip/University of Washington

Warming ocean temperatures a third of a mile below the surface, in a dark ocean in areas with little marine life, might attract scant attention. But this is precisely the depth where frozen pockets of methane 'ice' transition from a dormant solid to a powerful greenhouse gas.

New University of Washington research suggests that subsurface warming could be causing more methane gas to bubble up off the Washington and Oregon coast.

The study, to appear in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, shows that of 168 bubble plumes observed within the past decade, a disproportionate number were seen at a critical depth for the stability of methane hydrates.

"We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed," said lead author H. Paul Johnson, a UW professor of oceanography. "So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years."

Methane has contributed to sudden swings in Earth's climate in the past. It is unknown what role it might contribute to contemporary climate change, although recent studies have reported warming-related methane emissions in Arctic permafrost and off the Atlantic coast.

Of the 168 methane plumes in the new study, some 14 were located at the transition depth -- more plumes per unit area than on surrounding parts of the Washington and Oregon seafloor.

If methane bubbles rise all the way to the surface, they enter the atmosphere and act as a powerful greenhouse gas. But most of the deep-sea methane seems to get consumed during the journey up. Marine microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, producing lower-oxygen, more-acidic conditions in the deeper offshore water, which eventually wells up along the coast and surges into coastal waterways.

"Current environmental changes in Washington and Oregon are already impacting local biology and fisheries, and these changes would be amplified by the further release of methane," Johnson said.

Another potential consequence, he said, is the destabilization of seafloor slopes where frozen methane acts as the glue that holds the steep sediment slopes in place.

Methane deposits are abundant on the continental margin of the Pacific Northwest coast. A 2014 study from the UW documented that the ocean in the region is warming at a depth of 500 meters (0.3 miles), by water that formed decades ago in a global warming hotspot off Siberia and then traveled with ocean currents east across the Pacific Ocean. That previous paper calculated that warming at this depth would theoretically destabilize methane deposits on the Cascadia subduction zone, which runs from northern California to Vancouver Island.

At the cold temperatures and high pressures present on the continental margin, methane gas in seafloor sediments forms a crystal lattice structure with water. The resulting icelike solid, called methane hydrate, is unstable and sensitive to changes in temperature. When the ocean warms, the hydrate crystals dissociate and methane gas leaks into the sediment. Some of that gas escapes from the sediment pores as a gas.

The 2014 study calculated that with present ocean warming, such hydrate decomposition could release roughly 0.1 million metric tons of methane per year into the sediments off the Washington coast, about the same amount of methane from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout.

The new study looks for evidence of bubble plumes off the coast, including observations by UW research cruises, earlier scientific studies and local fishermen's reports. The authors included bubble plumes that rose at least 150 meters (490 feet) tall that clearly originate from the seafloor. The dataset included 45 plumes originally detected by fishing boats, whose modern sonars can detect the bubbles while looking for schools of fish, with their observations later confirmed during UW research cruises.

Results show that methane gas is slowly released at almost all depths along the Washington and Oregon coastal margin. But the plumes are significantly more common at the critical depth of 500 meters, where hydrate would decompose due to seawater warming.

"What we're seeing is possible confirmation of what we predicted from the water temperatures: Methane hydrate appears to be decomposing and releasing a lot of gas," Johnson said. "If you look systematically, the location on the margin where you're getting the largest number of methane plumes per square meter, it is right at that critical depth of 500 meters."

Still unknown, however, is whether these plumes are really from the dissociation of frozen methane deposits.

"The results are consistent with the hypothesis that modern bottom-water warming is causing the limit of methane hydrate stability to move downslope, but it's not proof that the hydrate is dissociating," said co-author Evan Solomon, a UW associate professor of oceanography.

Solomon is now analyzing the chemical composition of samples from bubble plumes emitted by sediments along the Washington coast at about 500 meters deep. Results will confirm whether the gas originates from methane hydrates rather than from some other source, such as the passive migration of methane from deeper reservoirs to the seafloor, which causes most of the other bubble plumes on the continental margin.

H. Paul Johnson, Una K. Miller, Marie S. Salmi, Evan A. Solomon.Analysis of bubble plume distributions to evaluate methane hydrate decomposition on the continental slope. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015GC005955

 Tweed Shire Koala Endangered Population Preliminary Determination



The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, has made a Final Determination to REJECT a proposal to list a population of the Koala Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss, 1817) in the Tweed local government area east of the Pacific Highway as an ENDANGERED POPULATION in the Schedules of the Act. NOTICE OF PRELIMINARY DETERMINATION 

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, has made a Preliminary Determination to support a proposal to list a population of the Koala Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss, 1817) between the Tweed and Brunswick Rivers east of the Pacific Highway as an ENDANGERED POPULATION in Part 2 of Schedule 1 of the Act. 

Any person may make a written submission regarding the Preliminary Determination. Send submissions to: Scientific Committee, PO Box 1967, Hurstville BC 1481. Attention Suzanne Chate. Submissions must be received by 4 December 2015. 

Copies of these Determinations, which contains the reasons for these determinations, may be obtained free of charge on the Internet, by contacting the Scientific Committee Unit, PO Box 1967 Hurstville BC 1481. Tel: (02) 9585 6940 or Fax (02) 9585 6606, or in person at the Office of Environment and Heritage Information Centre, Level 14, 59–61 Goulburn Street, Sydney. 

Copies of the determination may also be obtained from National Parks and Wildlife Service Area Offices and Visitor Centres, subject to availability. 

Dr Mark Eldridge 

Chairperson NSW Scientific Committee.

From New South Wales Government Gazette – Published online October 9th, 2015:

 Sunday Morning Birdwatching with PNHA

Would you like to know more about our local birds? Our guides can help you discover the birdlife in these wonderful bushland reserves.

15 November, Warriewood Wetlands, Warriewood

Our birdwalks start at 7.30 or 8am and last for a couple of hours. Bring binoculars and morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome.

Contact us to book and get details for each walk. Email or ph: 0439 409 202 / 0402 605 721. 

AIS helps roll out Oar Inspired technology

14 Oct 2015: AIS

Australian rowers are set to benefit from a new collaboration between the AIS, Rowing Australia and Brisbane-based company Oar Inspired, which will underpin the rollout of Oar Inspired’s ground breaking new performance data measurement technology.

The collaboration project, titled A Next Generation Performance Instrumentation System for Elite Rowers, ensures that Australia’s elite rowing crews, coaching staff and sports scientists will be the first in the world to experience how Oar Inspired’s innovative IntelliGate® oar lock system provides crews, coaches and scientists with the most comprehensive set of measurements on key performance data ever available in rowing.

Head of AIS’ Innovation, Research and Development, Joe Winter, said the collaboration with Oar Inspired meant that Australia’s elite rowers would be the first in the world to have access to data about their performance that was more comprehensive than ever previously available in the sport.

"The Oar Inspired technology has the potential to give our athletes, coaches and their support staff “actionable data” that informs not only training load, but measures to optimise technique to get the most out of each stroke" Winter said.

"The AIS is keen to promote Aussie innovation in the quest to take on the world at major sporting events, and Oar Inspired has come up with something that will benefit our elite Australian athletes greatly."

Oar Inspired’s Founder and Solutions Architect, Des Jacobsen, said the collaboration confirmed the critical role that new technology played in developing sporting excellence.

Read more on the Rowing Australia website

 Improvements seen in elective surgery waiting times

Canberra, 15 October

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows there have been improvements in the length of time public hospital patients waited for elective surgery.

The report, Elective surgery waiting times 2014-15: Australian hospital statistics, shows that between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the time within which 50% of patients were admitted (median waiting time) for elective procedures decreased from 36 days to 35 days.

'In addition, the proportion of patients who waited longer than a year to be admitted for their procedure decreased from 2.8% in 2010-11 to 1.8% in 2014-15,' said AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

Despite these improvements, the report shows significant variation in waiting times across Australia, and for different population groups.

'In 2014-15, the median waiting time ranged from 27 days in Queensland to 55 days in Tasmania,' Ms Hargreaves said.

The proportion of patients who waited for longer than a year ranged from 0.5% in Queensland to 12.9% in Tasmania.

The report also found that the median waiting time for Indigenous Australians was higher than for other Australians (42 days compared with 35 days), and that the proportion of Indigenous Australians who waited more than a year was higher than for other Australians (2.3% compared with 1.8%).

The surgical specialties with the longest median waiting times in 2014-15 were Ear, nose and throat surgery, Ophthalmology, and Orthopaedic surgery (73, 70, and 64 days, respectively). Cardio-thoracic surgery had the shortest median waiting times (18 days).

Coronary artery bypass graft was the procedure with the shortest median waiting time  (14 days) and Septoplasty had the longest median waiting time (214 days).

Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the largest average annual increases in admissions were for Total hip replacement and Total knee replacement, which increased by about 4.5% and 4.0% per year, respectively. Admissions for Myringotomy (surgery on the ear drum for example for middle ear infections) decreased by about 5.0% per year.

In 2014-15, Australia's public hospitals admitted almost 698,000 patients from elective surgery waiting lists.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Full publication: Elective surgery waiting times 2014-15: Australian hospital statistics  

 Aerial response team deploys to Sumatra to commence firefighting operations

Media release: 14 October 2015; Minister for Foreign Affiars, The Hon Julie Bishop MP

An aerial response firefighting team departed Australia on Tuesday 13th October to assist Indonesia in its efforts to combat forest fires in South Sumatra.

Two aircraft, a L100 Lockheed C130 Water Tanker (“Thor”) supported by a Turbo Commander 690B lead plane, have now arrived in Sumatra and are scheduled to commence operations today.

An advance assessment team from Australia arrived in Palembang, Sumatra on Sunday 11 October and is coordinating arrangements on the ground with Indonesian authorities.

The aerial response team will be based out of Palembang.

I reiterate my gratitude to the NSW Rural Fire Service for its rapid response to Indonesia's request for assistance and acknowledge the contribution of Victorian Government personnel to this operation.

 Redefining temperature with precision lasers

October 14, 2015

A team of Australian scientists has produced a precision laser device that creates an accurate international standard for temperature.

Published today in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers from the University of Adelaide, University of Queensland and University of Western Australia, have come up with a new way to determine Boltzmann's constant, a number which relates the motion of individual atoms to their temperature.

The experiments contribute to a worldwide scientific effort in redefining the international unit of temperature: the kelvin. (Zero kelvin or 'absolute zero' is the absence of all thermal energy and equivalent to -273.15 degrees celsius).

"Although temperature is a familiar concept to all of us, remarkably it can only be measured accurately at a handful of locations around the globe," says project leader, Professor Andre Luiten, Director of the University of Adelaide's Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), where the experiments were conducted.

The researchers used lasers to make highly accurate measurements of the speed of individual atoms moving in a gas.

"An atom sitting at rest will absorb light of a particular frequency or colour -- if it is moving towards you or away from you then the absorbed light is very slightly changed because of something called the Doppler effect," says Professor Luiten. "This is exactly the same effect that makes a police siren sound different depending on whether the car is moving towards you or away. We use a pure laser to measure these changes in light absorption, from which we can infer the speeds of the atoms and the temperature of the gas."

By conducting the experiments with world-record precision the team came across a completely unexpected effect. The light has an apparent effect on the atoms themselves: the measurement itself ends up changing the result. One of the breakthroughs of the project was to develop an explanation of how this happened and ensuring that it didn't affect the result.

The development means any laboratory in the world with appropriate skills and equipment could accurately measure temperature. Further development could deliver this capability to industry -- something never before possible.

"Traditionally scientists kept a set of special clocks, rules and standard masses to define units such as the second, metre and kilogram," says Associate Professor Tom Stace, from the ARC Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems at the University of Queensland. "Over the last 50 years we have been getting rid of these standards and replacing them with universal quantities such as the speed of light or the frequency at which certain atoms vibrate.

"This program is completed for time, electrical quantities and length but mass and temperature still make use of special objects. In the case of temperature, it is based on the freezing point of a very special type of water to define the kelvin which makes it difficult for all laboratories around the world to agree about temperature.

"Our work will bring a universally agreed temperature scale to the globe. As with any upgrade, this one will be deemed successful if people hardly notice the transition on a day-to-day basis. But for those at the cutting edge -- whether developing new metal alloys at very high temperatures, or measuring the temperatures of the coldest substances, the need for absolute temperature is critical."

"When we started this research as an Australian Research Council Discovery Project in 2010, we decided to take a fundamentally different approach to measure temperature," says Professor Eric May from the Centre for Energy at the University of Western Australia.

"The results show that taking a different approach clearly pays off -- it has allowed us to observe and explain new phenomena.

"Creating agreed definitions of quantities is crucial for the industry and economy of all advanced technological societies."

G.-W. Truong, J. D. Anstie, E. F. May, t. M. Stace and A. N. Luiten.Accurate lineshape spectroscopy and the Boltzmann constant.Nature Communications, 2015 DOI:10.1038/ncomms9345

 The Telecommunications (Interception And Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015

13 October 2015: Attorney-General for Australia; Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC

The Government welcomes the commencement of theTelecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 today.

Metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised and major crime investigation. It is also essential for the investigation of child abuse and child pornography offences, that are frequently carried out online, and other forms of organised crime.

With the expiry of the initial six month implementation period, telecommunications companies can apply for an extension of up to 18 months (April 2017) to comply with the legislation.

The Government continues to work constructively with the industry to achieve full compliance by April 2017.

Over $131 million has been committed by the Government to contribute to the upfront capital costs of the scheme.

Telecommunications companies have always retained metadata and law enforcement agencies have been permitted access to these records for decades, however industry practices have varied. The new scheme implements a uniform standard.

The Data Retention Act standardises the timeframe and type of data held giving law enforcement and national security agencies consistent information of the kind they need to keep the community safe.

The Act also introduced new and strengthened safeguard arrangements, in particular by significantly reducing the number of agencies that can access metadata.

The Attorney-General's Department is finalising details of a grants program and it is expected that payments will be made early next year, well before April 2017.

The Government will continue to work closely with industry; the focus will be on implementation rather than enforcement.

 $60 million to reduce domestic violence

14th October 2015: NSW Government Media Release

The NSW Government is committing $60 million to help reduce domestic and family violence (DFV). The funds make up a package that targets perpetrators and supports women, men and children who experience DFV.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said that domestic violence was a plague that needed to be eradicated across NSW and Australia.

“No one should have to live in fear in their own home,” Mr Baird said.

“We need to target these offenders to change their attitudes and behaviours to make a lasting change.”

The package is in addition to the $148.5 million over four years the government committed for specialist DFV services in the 2015-16 Budget, and augments the government’s It Stops HereDFV reforms.

Targeting perpetrators

The package will target perpetrators of DVF though:

• $15 million to introduce Domestic Violence High Risk Offender Teams in all six police regions. The teams will target repeat offenders and investigate serious DFV matters. The teams will roll out over the next three years.

• The NSW Police Force will apply Suspect Targeting Management Plans for repeat domestic violence offenders. The Central Metropolitan Region has kicked off using the plans in October with a view to rolling them out across the state in 2016.

• $4.1 million to advance roll out of all 24 Domestic Violence Liaison Officers positions. These positions play a critical role for police in investigating and supporting victims of DFV.

• $19.5 million for mandated perpetrator behaviour change programs to make perpetrators face up to their actions, attitudes and behaviours.

Supporting victims

The package will support victims of DVF through:

• $20 million to increase the Specialist Homelessness Services’ capacity through additional emergency accommodation and support for women and children affected by domestic violence, and enable services to respond more quickly.

• Australia’s first Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme will begin in four Police Local Area Commands from early 2016 including Oxley, Shoalhaven, St George and Sutherland.

• $2.3 million over two years for police Non-Government Organisations (NGO) partnerships to provide NGO-led early intervention support and crisis responses to applicants of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

• $1.3 million over four years to increase Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in high-risk communities in rural and regional NSW.

• The Staying Home Leaving Violence program will expand to four new sites including Coffs Harbour, Inverell, Orange and Clarence Valley.

• The DFV Blueprint, an analysis of the service gaps in the DFV system, which is underway with experts across the NGO and government sectors. Work will be completed in 2016 as part of the It Stops Here reforms.

Getting help

Anyone in immediate danger should call 000.

For information and support call the NSW Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 or 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

For information and referral to crisis accommodation and support call Link2home on 1800 152 152.

Men having problems with violent behaviour can call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

 Uncovering the mystery of migraine

14 October 2015: University of Sydney

New study reveals more about what's happening in the brain

It's a disease that has baffled health professionals for years, but our researchers have taken a significant step forward in understanding migraine.

A new study, published in NMR in Biomedicine, reveals higher levels of the chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain of migraine sufferers, supporting the theory that migraines are linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain.

"The finding paves the way for the discovery of new, effective treatments for migraines," said lead researcher Maria Aguila, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

"For such a debilitating condition, very little is known about migraine so this is a big step forward and could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the disease in the future," she said.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA as it is commonly known, is the most abundant inhibitory brain chemical and has long been suspected to play a role in migraines due to its ability to influence pain. This study is the first to accurately measure GABA levels in the living brain.

"We still don't know what causes migraine, how it starts and ends, or why the triggers appear to differ from one person to the next, but this discovery means that we can now be much more specific with our research going forward," said Ms Aguila.

"For example, GABA could be used to help us identify migraine sufferers and track responses to drug trials, and measuring GABA levels over a period of time could well reveal what’s causing attacks.”

The study compared the levels of GABA in twenty chronic migraine sufferers to an age and gender matched control group who did not experience any form of regular headaches. Brain scans were conducted when the participants were not having a migraine.

The measurement of GABA levels in the brain was made possible by a novel spectroscopy technique associated with MRI developed by researchers at the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre.

Associate Professor in Neuroimaging, Jim Lagopoulos said the ability to directly measure these chemicals in the brain would not have been possible several years ago.

“These advances not only allow us to study fundamental changes in brain chemistry that are associated with migraine, but they also open a whole new world with respect to monitoring a patient's response to treatment and compliance," he said.

The researchers were unable to tell if the increase in GABA is related to a recent migraine attack or signalling a new one as the scanning process is currently too complex to carry out during a migraine attack.

The study design was conceived by Professor Kathryn Refshauge and executed by researchers from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Brain and Mind Centre, Neuroscience Research Australia, University of the Philippines and University of New South Wales.

 NASA | Jupiter in 4k Ultra HD

By NASA Goddard: Published on 13 Oct 2015

New imagery from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is revealing details never before seen on Jupiter. High-resolution maps and spinning globes (rendered in the 4k Ultra HD format) are the first products to come from a program to study the solar system’s outer planets each year using Hubble. The observations are designed to capture a broad range of features, including winds, clouds, storms and atmospheric chemistry. These annual studies will help current and future scientists see how such giant worlds change over time.

This video is in the public domain. It can be downloaded along with the new Jupiter globes and maps at:

 NSW Cancer Plan 2016-2020 - Invitation for review and comment

The Cancer Institute NSW provides statewide strategic direction for cancer control in NSW and has a 12 year history in developing and implementing activities that support the community to decrease their risk of cancers, utilise cancer screening services and access world class treatment services.

The Cancer Institute NSW is seeking your comments on the draft NSW Cancer Plan 2016-2020. This draft has been developed following a substantial consultation process to date on key areas of cancer control in NSW with a range of partners and stakeholders, via nine workshops held in February-May 2015, including two consultation and formative research processes with Aboriginal communities and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities. Thank you to those that have contributed as part of this process.

The current NSW Cancer Plan 2011-2015 reflected an integrated and collaborative approach to reducing the burden of cancer in NSW by coordinating priorities, resources and efforts among individuals, organisations and governments agencies involved in cancer control. We will be building on these efforts in the NSW Cancer Plan 2016-2020 where we will continue to focus on:

• reducing the incidence of cancer,

• improving the survival of people with cancer

• improving the quality of life of people with cancer

The draft plan also highlights the importance of focusing particular attention on priority populations and priority cancers to both improve cancer outcomes and lessen the gap for groups within the community who experience poorer outcomes.  

Thank you for your support and involvement in the implementation of the current NSW Cancer Plan 2011-2015. We look forward to receiving your feedback on the draft state-wide Cancer Plan for 2016-2020 and working with you to further reduce the burden of cancer in our community.

A copy of the draft NSW Cancer Plan 2016-2020 is available on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s ‘Your Say’ website. ANDHERE 

Please provide your comments and feedback on the draft plan via our online survey by 30 October 2015.

Additional comments can be sent 

Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey and review the draft NSW Cancer Plan 2016-2020. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Australia's 2015 Top GeoShots

 'Hamersley Gorge' is Australia's 2015 Top GeoShot

14 October 2015

Craig Burns from the Australian Capital Territory has taken out Geoscience Australia's 2015 Top Geoshot photo competition, with his photo of Hamersley Gorge in Western Australia.

Winning entries in the annual competition were announced in Canberra today, capturing the essence of Earth science and showcasing Australia's unique geology.

Chosen from an outstanding field of 315 entries from across Australia, Craig Burns' photo highlighted this year's theme, 'Rock Stars', by capturing the folding and rock strata in Hamersley Gorge in Western Australia's iron ore country.

Geoscience Australia's Chief Executive Officer, Dr Chris Pigram, reflected on the aim of the annual photo competition, which is a highlight of Australian Earth Science Week celebrations.

"Earth science is all around us and makes a significant difference to our everyday lives. This competition aims to raise awareness of our geological heritage and encourages people to consider the importance of geology in our world," Dr Pigram said.

"Entries in this year's competition were of a very high standard, emphasising Australia's natural beauty by creatively capturing many of our natural tourism features and magnificent landscapes."

"It was great to see such a wide representation from across the nation, with a large proportion of entries coming from New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia," Dr Pigram added.

Sanden Cook from Tasmania took out the Junior category, for ages 12 years and under, with his photo 'Sculptured by Ice', an artistic view of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania taken through a shard of ice.

The Intermediate category, for ages 13-17 years, was won by Sanden's older sister Sienna Cook, with her photo 'Dark side of the Mountain', also taken at Cradle Mountain.

The People's Choice was won by Junnel Alegado with a photo titled 'Whale Rock and Friends', taken in Wilsons Promontory National Park.

Each year Geoscience Australia encourages photographers of all ages to celebrate our amazing Earth, by entering the Top GeoShot photography competition. Entries are received in three categories: Junior, Intermediate and Open. Top Geoshot entries are judged on their creativity and fit with the theme - which in 2015 was 'Rock Stars'.

View the entries or visit us to view a selection of entries now on display in the foyer as part of Earth Science Week celebrations. These will continue to be displayed throughout the year.

Above: Red colour rock layers and trees surrounding a waterhole Top GeoShot 2015 overall winner: Craig Burns - Hamersley Gorge

Junior category

Shard of ice in foreground, with a mountain across a lake in the background - Top GeoShot 2015 Junior winner: Sanden Cook - Sculptured by Ice

Sanden Cook from Tasmania took out the Junior category, for ages 12 years and under, with his photo 'Sculptured by Ice', an artistic view of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania taken through a shard of ice.

Highly commended: Sanden Cook - Crater Peak moraine deposit, Crater Peak, Tasmania, Callan Chapman - Three colours of ochre, Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, Northern Territory and Callan Chapman - Big round rock, Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, Northern Territory

Intermediate category

Rocky mountain surrounded by fog - Top GeoShot 2015 Intermediate winner: Sienna Cook - Dark side of the  mountain

The Intermediate category, for ages 13-17 years, was won by Sienna Cook with her photo 'Dark side of the Mountain', also taken at Cradle Mountain.

Highly commended: Henry Jacups - Pebble nest, Urunga, New South Wales, Ken Herbert - Barnacled Behemoth, Depot Beach, New South Wales


14 October 2015: Prime Minister

I welcome today’s announcement from Clarence House confirming the visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to Australia from 10-15 November.

The visit will provide an opportunity to showcase Australia’s great regional and urban cities to The Prince and Duchess as they tour Adelaide and Tanunda, Canberra, Sydney, Albany and Perth.

While this will be Their Royal Highnesses’ second joint visit to Australia, it will be the Prince of Wales’ 15th visit and on behalf of the states and territories involved, I look forward to welcoming them back to Australia.

Their tour engagements will focus on areas that encompass Australia’s community, culture and conservation.

I look forward to joining Their Royal Highnesses to mark Remembrance Day in Canberra in our centenary year of the Anzacs.

Lucy and I will be delighted to welcome The Prince and Duchess and expect Australians will be eager to display our country’s hospitality to the Royal couple.

 Pebbles on Mars likely traveled tens of miles down a riverbed, study finds

October 13, 2015

The presence of rounded pebbles on Mars was evidence of a prior history of water on the planet. In a new study, researchers have used the pebbles' shape to extrapolate how far they must have traveled down an ancient riverbed. The analysis suggests they moved approximately 30 miles, indicating that Mars once had an extensive river system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

While new evidence suggests that Mars may harbor a tiny amount of liquid water, it exists today as a largely cold and arid planet. Three billion years ago, however, the situation may have been much different.

In 2012 the Mars Curiosity rover beamed images back to Earth containing some of the most concrete evidence that water once flowed in abundance on the planet. Small, remarkably round and smooth pebbles suggested that an ancient riverbed had once carried these rocks and abraded them as they traveled.

To Douglas Jerolmack, a geophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania, and his collaborator Gábor Domokos, a mathematician at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Curiosity's findings raised a fundamental geological question: Can we use shape alone to interpret the transport history of river pebbles -- on Mars, Earth or any planet?

"Thousands of years ago, Aristotle pondered the question of pebbles on the beach and how they become rounded," Jerolmack said. "But until recently, descriptions of pebble shape have been qualitative, and we lacked a basic understanding of the rounding process."

Now that has changed. In a new report in Nature Communications, Jerolmack, Domokos and colleagues report the first-ever method to quantitatively estimate the transport distance of river pebbles from their shape alone. The researchers' estimate that the Martian pebbles traveled roughly 30 miles from their source, providing additional evidence for the idea that Mars once had an extensive river system, conditions that could support life.

Determining how far pebbles have traveled could also be useful for studies on Earth, for example in identifying sources of river-transported resources, such as gold.

Jerolmack, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn's School of Arts & Sciences and senior author on the paper, contributed expertise in geophysics to the study, while co-author Domokos developed the mathematical models on which the study was based. Tímea Szabó, the lead author, worked with Domokos as a graduate student and was then a postdoctoral researcher in Jerolmack's lab. John P. Grotzinger, at the California Institute of Technology, was until recently the lead scientist for NASA's Curiosity mission and collaborated on the work.

The development of a quantitative understanding of pebble shapes began with the work of Domokos, whose research was triggered by the discovery of the Gömböc, a curious three-dimensional object with just two static balance points. A Gömböc shape self-rights on a horizontal surface just like a Weeble Wobble, however, it has no added bottom weight. The self-righting property is the result of the shape alone, which is determined to 0.01 percent accuracy by its unique mechanical properties.

As the number of static balance points on an object tends to be reduced during natural abrasion, the Gömböc represents the ultimate goal of this process and illustrates how shape alone may carry vital information on natural history. Domokos soon realized that recent pioneering work in pure mathematics -- the proof of the elusive Poincaré conjecture -- could be adapted to describe the geometry of three-dimensional structures and how these shapes evolve.

"An object's shape can itself tell you a lot," said Domokos. "If you go to the beach, natural history is written underneath your feet. We started to understand that there is a code that you can read to begin to understand that history."

Rocks flowing in rivers evolve in shape from being abraded against other rocks in the riverbed, gradually losing mass and taking on a smoother, rounder shape. Existing geophysical theory links a pebble's transport history to the mass it loses due to collisions with other pebbles. But mass data is not available for Martian pebbles. So the researchers set the ambitious goal of determining the lost mass of a pebble solely based on its current shape.

"When you land a multi-billion dollar rover on Mars, you want to extra as much information from the data as possible," Jerolmack said.

Domokos' work showed that, when two particles of similar size bang together, the way in which they influence each other's shape can be reduced to a purely geometric problem, regardless of the rock's material or the environment in which it is moving.

The research team went to the lab to test this theory, rolling limestone fragments in a drum and periodically pausing to record their shape changes and mass loss. The pattern of the rocks' shape change closely followed the curve established by the mathematical theory.

Next the researchers went to a mountain river in Puerto Rico.

"We started at the headwaters, where chunks of angular rock are breaking off from the walls of the stream, and went downstream," Jerolmack said. "Every few hundred meters we would pull thousands of rocks out and take images of their silhouette and record their weight."

Plotting the data, they again found a trend between shape evolution and mass loss that agreed with the geometric model Domokos had developed.

As an additional confirmation, they performed a similar analysis on rocks in an alluvial fan, the characteristic fan-shaped sediment deposits built up by stream flows, at the mouth of a canyon in New Mexico, an environment that more closely mirrors the location where round pebbles were found on Mars. With these data, they demonstrated that they can infer the distance a pebble traveled from its source using only the silhouette of the pebble.

With lab and field data in hand, they turned to the extraterrestrial. Using publicly available images of rounded pebbles on Mars from the Curiosity rover mission, Szabó traced their contours and performed an analysis based on the models the team had established. The results suggested that the pebbles had lost approximately 20 percent of their volume.

To translate that mass loss into a distance traveled, they relied on the findings from New Mexico as well as previous lab experiments that involved running rocks of different material through artificial "rivers" and measuring their mass loss.

Applying these calculations to the basalt material found on Mars, with a correction that factored in the reduced Martian gravity, they arrived at the calculation that the pebbles had traveled an estimated 50 kilometers, or about 30 miles from their source. The distance meshed well with what Grotzinger and the Curiosity team had suspected about the pebbles' origin, based on other analyses of the rock's composition and clues as to the direction of water flow, that they were sourced from a crater rim located approximately 30 kilometers away.

Jerolmack noted that the study is not only exciting for what it implies about Mars but for opening up a new realm of possibility to quantify what before could only be described qualitatively.

"Now we have a new tool we can use to help reconstruct ancient environments on Earth, Mars and other planetary bodies where rivers are found such as Titan," Jerolmack said.

The work also shows how a seemingly esoteric piece of mathematics can find application in the real world.

"Once math enters the subject, the subject changes forever," Domokos said.

The research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory, a Korányi Fellowship, the Hungarian OTKA and the NASA Astrobiology Institute and Mars Science Laboratory Mission.

Tímea Szabó, Gábor Domokos, John P. Grotzinger, Douglas J. Jerolmack.Reconstructing the transport history of pebbles on Mars. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 8366 DOI:10.1038/ncomms9366

 National Opera Review discussion paper released for comment

In a major review of Australian opera, a panel chaired by Dr Helen Nugent AO has delivered an extensive analysis of the four major opera companies funded by the Australian Government.

The National Opera Review was commissioned by the Government to consider the financial viability, artistic vibrancy and audience access of Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, State Opera of South Australia and West Australian Opera.

Opera companies are hugely important to the creative life of our nation but they face challenges. The panel has consulted broadly and undertaken in-depth analysis to understand the pressures that face the major opera companies and why those challenges have arisen.

The National Opera Review discussion paper outlines a range of options for addressing the major issues facing the companies.

This is an important piece of work that has significant implications for ensuring the ongoing artistic vibrancy not just of Australia's major opera companies but also performing arts companies more broadly.

Interested parties are encouraged to engage with the review and provide their submissions to the review panel.

I thank the members of the review panel — Helen Nugent AO (Chairman), Kathryn Fagg, Andrew McKinnon, and Moffatt Oxenbould AM — for their commitment and diligence in producing work of this quality and detail. It is a landmark document that will have an influence on the performing arts in Australia into the future.

To view the discussion paper and find out how to make a submission, visit:

Submissions close 26 October 2015.


The National Opera Review Discussion Paper was prepared by the review panel Helen Nugent AO (Chairman), Kathryn Fagg, Andrew McKinnon, and Moffatt Oxenbould AM. Public comments on the discussion paper are invited by 26 October.

The National Opera Review is examining the artistic vibrancy, engagement with audiences and financial positions of Opera Australia, State Opera of South Australia, West Australian Opera and Opera Queensland. These organisations are funded by the Australian Government through the Australia Council as major performing arts companies.

Part A of the discussion paper provides an analysis of the major opera companies.

It shows that Australia's major opera companies make a significant contribution to Australia culturally and economically:

• They put on 576 performances in 2014, with Opera Australia being among the most performed opera companies in the world. Collectively, the companies staged 23 mainstage productions, around half of which were either new to the company or undertaken with an international or Australian partner.

• Close to 700,000 attendees were present at the companies' performances

• They generated $86.5 million in earned revenue, with 88 percent of that coming from box office. They employed the equivalent of over 600 full time singers, craftspeople, and technical, marketing and administrative staff.

Australian and state governments recognise the significance of the major opera companies in building Australia's recognition at home and abroad for its cultural heritage and its creativity as a nation. But, the viability of the companies is likely to be threatened without government funding. In 2014, total government funding for the companies, including core and one-off project funding, was $36.8 million.

Evolving sector dynamics present challenges to opera companies in Australia and overseas:

• On the demand side, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) adversely affected all artforms both in Australia and elsewhere. For opera in Australia, that impact continued as consumers reacted to the high and increasing cost of an opera ticket.

• Better educated and travelled consumers, who use technology to access productions from the world's leading opera houses, have also increased their expectations for what they expect to see on stage.

• Audiences have changed their buying patterns: the number of subscribers has reduced; fewer performances are being taken in their packages; and they are buying tickets later.

• At the same time, a diversity of supply of opera and other performing arts productions (from venues, festivals and individual entrepreneurs presenting opera, musicals, leading opera singers and other innovative product) provides audiences with a richness of choice that has increased competition for the major opera companies.

These factors have challenged the major opera companies' cost-revenue dynamics, which are characterised by long lead times; high production, staging, performance, touring and in some instances overhead costs; and demanding venue economics.

The major opera companies have responded to these challenges in strategic and operational ways that are understandable. Faced with the evolving sector dynamics, the major opera companies have diversified their strategic approaches by:

• Changing what programs are delivered. While the responses differ by company, they have offered a higher proportion of popular operas and long-run Broadway musicals; while reducing the number of mainstage productions and performances. Some companies have increased their commitment to innovation.

• Changing where programs are delivered. Greater emphasis has been placed on offering events; touring to interstate capitals; and being involved with festivals and regional touring.

• Changing how programs are delivered. There has been an increase in the physical production values put on stage; the number of international partnerships; and the commitment to digital delivery. At the same time, because of divergent strategic responses, collaboration through Opera Conference has proven more difficult. Historically, Opera Conference has offered a mutually advantageous way of working together.

• Changing who is delivering their programs. In particular, there has been an increased use of non-Australian international singers.

At the same time, the major opera companies have moved responsibly to increase private sector income and to generate additional project funding. Government initiatives to encourage additional private sector support have been successful, with support from individual donors growing strongly despite the GFC. Generous support has been received from individuals and governments, which is often attached to new initiatives, such as the staging of The Ring or Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH).

In addition, the major opera companies have worked to improve their operational effectiveness and efficiency by increasing their marketing spend to reach new and existing audiences, and by achieving operating cost efficiencies and economies of scale in overhead costs.

However the responses of the major opera companies, while understandable, have created unintended pressure on their financial, artistic and access performance in different ways.

To varying degrees, each of the major opera companies is experiencing financial pressures. Chapter 6 of the discussion paper provides a detailed analysis of the financial situation of each company.

The major opera companies are under significant artistic pressure which may put their artistic vibrancy at risk. More specifically, this is manifesting itself in the reduced number of productions; fewer new productions being sourced in Australia; a narrowing of the repertoire; and fewer new works. In addition, there are reduced artistic opportunities, reflecting a decreased number of principal roles due to fewer productions and opera performances; greater use of non-Australian international singers; fewer ongoing principal roles in Australia's only full-time ensemble; fewer opportunities in the chorus and Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra; a reduced requirement for experienced technical staff; and fewer opportunities for younger artists.

From an access perspective, while overall attendances for the major opera companies have significantly increased, mainstage opera attendances have declined. Growing overall audiences reflect the increased offering and attendances at musicals, and HOSH.

As a consequence of these developments, the companies are at a tipping point where a cycle of success could become a cycle of decline. The challenge will be to ascertain what initiatives can be taken to address this situation.

Part B of the discussion paper outlines the nature of these challenges, the options for dealing with them, and the pros and cons of a range of different options. It should be noted that these are not recommendations, they are issues for discussion. Seven key areas are addressed.

1. Where the companies should head

2. How the major opera companies should operate.

3. Improving artistic vibrancy

4. Improving access

5. Addressing financial stability

6. Proving strong governance and management

7. Providing Government funding

The review panel looks forward to receiving submissions and consulting with stakeholders on these important issues and the options proposed.

To read the National Opera Review discussion paper and for information on making a submission, visit the Ministry for the Arts website at close 26 October 2015.

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.