Archive for October, 2011

The unedifying spectacle of clubs and pubs going the biff over gaming (aka poker) machines reforms proposed by those brave parliamentarians Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon has been downright ugly. Playing the man and not the ball has been the modus operandi against these two, and scare campaigns run by clubs in marginal Labor-held seats against elected representatives.

Australia’s addiction to so-called ‘pokies’ is strongest in NSW, with half of the country’s 200,000 machines, followed by Queensland and Victoria. Poker machine revenues are about 15% of NSW government’s $1.6b gambling tax take. To say that we are a gambling nation is a serious understatement, with $19b lost in all forms of gambling in 2008-09 in Australia – $1500 per adult. Estimated spend on pokies is $12b.

The uniquely Australian evolution has been to weave gambling, particularly poker machines, into the very fabric of society in those states where they are ubiquitous. Pubs, RSL and sporting clubs of every kind are wedded to their one-armed bandits as prime sources of revenue. Used to support sporting teams and local groups, this dependency is spread seamlessly into the non-gambling population too. With government massively on the pokies tax teat, the push for modest reforms to alleviate ‘problem’ gambling is heroic indeed. And an audience for misleading statements by the clubs and hotels industry is susceptible to easy manipulation.

Truth as the first casualty of war is no exception here. Clubs maintain that proposed mandatory poker machine pre-commitments limits would severely hit their industry and support for local communities, and at the same time, be useless and ineffective. Huh? Even footie commentors were swung into action in the patriotic war against reform. Porkies is a commonly-used euphemism, but in this case the lying and spin are too gross to malign the pork pie again. 

The shortened ‘pokies’ also sounds so much friendlier than poker or gaming machines, with that ring of something banal, harmless and everyday. As we know, language is important, and with this classic Australianism the gambling is understated, and the machine almost humanised. What a shamefully parasitic blight on us all: pokies and porkies, a winning bet? That should be unAustralian!

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Sometimes you get a really disturbing feeling that our governments have stupidly declared war on the environment and the people who are an integral part of it, which in this case means not only farmers but all the rest of us who need food and fresh water. A new mining ‘gold rush’ is on for coal seam gas in NSW, where it constitutes 4% of gas supplies (compared to 88% in QLD).

The Crown holds mining rights under everywhere, and Her Maj has allocated mining and exploration licences under some of our prime farming land, including the very productive Liverpool Plains. Against farmers’ wishes drilling rigs arrive and get to business. The extraction process consequences are unproven, with possible pollution of ground water & aquifers, as it uses toxic chemicals to fracture coal beds to release the gas, in a process thus known as fracking. The resulting mix of chemicals and saline water has then to be handled somehow. The drastic effects of this process were shown in the US film ‘Gasland’, where landscapes are dotted with drilling rigs.

As George Wilkenfeld, a Sydney energy & water policy consultant explained recently, drilling has to be continuous to maintain field production; and he outlined the unacceptable risks involved with an energy source which we don’t really need anyway. CSG extraction is very different from ‘natural gas’, which has a track record of proper management.

The threat of drilling even extended to inner Sydney St Peters, where residents recently demonstrated en masse against planned prospection under their houses and parklands. Even more scandalous is the NSW government granting a licence to Apex Energy to drill under Sydney’s water catchment area. Truly unbelievable! Worse than Dart Energy’s licence near Wollemi National Park.

Meantime, the NSW government’s submission to the Legislative Council’s ‘NSW Coal Seam Gas Enquiry’ extols the essential role for CSG in meeting NSW’s energy needs, with a “balanced co-existence of mining and agriculture….(which) necessitates appropriate management and assessment requirements on CSG and mining activities”. Weasel words to say that they are going ahead without knowing the consequences of fracking, and without the Enquiry’s findings. And to boot, the government is relying on ‘confidential’ data supplied by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association consultants to prove that CSG carbon emissions are so much lower…. puh-lease!  Whatever happened to the cautionary principle of risk management?

The final observation on this disgusting state of affairs is to state the bleeding obvious – we live on the world’s driest continent, with a dismal track record of abusing our water resources. If we can’t protect our greatest natural treasures, those mysterious aquifers, and our river systems, then we deserve to be well and truly fracked! Meantime, we continue to suck it all up, including the greed, political cynicism & expediency. And a related subject for another day: ignoring the real possibility that we can satisfy Australia’s total energy needs from renewables, including the oft-cited baseload power requirements.

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Well, actually it’s shark season all year round because the ocean is where sharks live. But as most humans don’t venture into the water much in winter we can consider the onslaught, so to speak, of the summer months as shark season. As regular KC readers know, despite its inland location Kookynie has a tradition of body surfing, practised these days by a small coterie of avid afficionados. Add ocean swimming practitioners and that makes a handful of alert citizens vigilant to the shark menace, so time for an update.

According to University of Florida shark researchers, in 2010 there were 79 attacks on humans worldwide, of which 6 were fatal. This was the highest recorded in 10 years, and represents a 25% increase on 2009, but you’ve got to concede it’s a statistically small base. That’s kinda the good news: your chances of being attacked by a shark, particularly, for example, at netted metropolitan Sydney beaches are extremely tiny.

The not-so-good news is that the south-western coast of Oztralia has witnessed three fatal shark attacks in the last year or more, so roughly half the worldwide fatalities have occurred on either side of the Great Australian Bight. Yeah, some pranksters might say that’s a spelling mistake! The latest was on a bodyboarder in September at Bunker Bay, in the vicinity of WA’s legendary Margaret River.

KC’s environmental travel team visited these southern and western coastlines back in 2009, and definitely experienced that ‘sharky’ feeling on many occasions – this photo of a tiger shark cruising in shallow water was taken in Shark Bay (oh yeah) in the exact spot we had just swum in!

So, as the local ocean-going cognoscenti gather in the Kookynie pub, over a pint or three of KB (Kookynie Bitter, of course), sober (ha!) assessments are being made about the coming season’s risks. On those lonely Bight beaches, scanning ‘out the back’ before entering the water is serious.

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Progressive forces in shooting & hunting are gathering strength, as women take a more assertive role in this male-dominated field. Linking the right to bear arms with traditional feminist concerns like women’s shelters, healthcare, skills training, crisis counselling & childcare makes so much sense. The vanguard of this enlightened approach is the International Coalition for Women in Shooting & Hunting (no kidding!), headed by (sole trader?) Dr Samara Phedran. It’s unclear who or what the ‘international coalition’ is, but it helps to think big.

ICWSH research, no doubt relying on the good doctor’s scientific training, has concluded (based on statistically insignificant sample sizes) that Australia’s draconian gun laws have not made any difference to the incidence of mass shootings here compared to NZ without such laws. Having established this unlikely nexus between useless gun control and worthy women’s issues, she argues that money currently spent on the former would be better diverted to the latter. No doubt further research will also prove that women’s hormones are a match for men’s in testosterone-dominated shooting & hunting culture. This is all cutting-edge stuff, and so beguiling!

In recent times Kookyniers have been drawn to a nascent political party struggling for recognition – the Indoor Shooters Party. It already has a solid female membership because of the domestic nature of indoor shooting, but lacks analytical resources to inform its policy platform development. Affiliation with ICWSH may help with more evidence-based policy-making.

The aim (ha!) is to galvanise our womenfolk into action and upgrade those shotguns, as feral animal control indoors can be messy. Rural Australia and possum-infested suburbs will also benefit by raised awareness of indoor recreational shooting.

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