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April, 2019

‘Child in chamber’ causes stink

The ejection of a two-year old girl from the Senate has sparked calls for century-old parliamentary procedures to be modernised so they are more parent friendly.

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Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was forced to hand her daughter, Kora, to a staffer on Thursday night on the orders of Senate president John Hogg.

The child was heard crying as her mother and other senators gathered behind locked doors for a vote, a situation the senator described as the “most humiliating” of her life.

Breast-feeding stauch

World champion aerial skier turned Victorian state Labor MP Kirstie Marshall said Senator Hanson-Young had every right to feel outraged.

Ms Marshall was asked to leave the Victorian parliament in 2003 because she was breastfeeding her 11-day-old daughter Charlotte.

“She was required in her capacity in her job as a senator to vote, therefore she was being denied that opportunity based on the fact she had some responsibilities as a parent,” Ms Marshall told AAP on Friday.

“I think it’s just ludicrous.”

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has called for parents to be allowed to bring their children into the Senate during a voting division.

“We need to change … the standing orders just to make life a little more parent friendly when there’s not going to be disruptions,” Senator Brown told reporters in Canberra, adding he had a “good, long talk” with Senator Hogg.

Goward backs Hogg

But former sex discrimination commissioner turned NSW Liberal Party frontbencher Pru Goward said Senator Hanson-Young would have been better off leaving the child with a staffer.

“If you promise a little girl that she can come in with you and you run down there with her in your arms and then at the last minute because you actually didn’t check, the child is taken away from you and she cries, nobody can really be surprised,” she told ABC Radio.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said the incident was a stunt that could have been avoided.

“If it was from a party that never effected stunts, you’d say ‘well, maybe it was a one-off’, but this is a party that is known for its stunts,” Senator Joyce told reporters in Canberra.

Breast-feeding amendments

Senator Hanson-Young said the incident was not a stunt, saying she had previously brought Kora into the chamber.

“I’d just like anyone suggesting that … to reflect on what actually happened,” she told ABC Television.

But she said did not blame Senator Hogg.

“He followed the rule book,” she said, adding she would raise the issue with him on Monday when the Senate resumed.

Parliamentary procedures were changed in February last year to allow female MPs in the House of Representatives to cast parliamentary votes via the whip if they needed to leave the chamber to breastfeed.

Global warming ‘faster than expected’

Research by international scientists shows the world faces a growing risk of “abrupt and irreversible climatic shifts” as fallout from global warming hits faster than expected.

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Global surface and ocean temperatures, sea levels, extreme climate events, and the retreat of Arctic sea ice have all significantly picked up more pace than experts predicted only a couple of years ago, they say.

The stark warning comes less than six months before an international conference aiming to seal a treaty to save the planet from the worst ravages of global warming.

Planet contributing to global warming

A 36-page document summarises more than 1,400 studies presented at a climate conference in March in Copenhagen, where a United Nations meeting will be held in December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto expires in 2012.

The report says greenhouse gas emissions and other climate indicators are at or near the upper boundaries forecast by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose 2007 report has been the scientific benchmark for the troubled UN talks.

There is also new evidence that the planet itself is beginning to contribute to global warming through fall out from human activity.

Huge stores of gases such as methane which is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that have trapped for millennia in the Arctic permafrost, may be starting to leak into the atmosphere, speeding up the warming process.

The natural capacity of the oceans and forests to absorb CO2 created by the burning of fossil fuels has also been compromised, research has shown.

Temperatures ‘must not rise’

The new report, written and reviewed by many of the scientists who compiled the IPCC document, calls on policy makers to take urgent steps to keep average global temperatures from increasing more than two degrees Centigrade (3.6 degree Fahrenheit), compared to pre-industrial levels.

“Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation…is required to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’ regardless of how it is defined,” it says.

“Temperature rises above 2 C will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.”

The IPCC has said that achieving this goal would require industrialised nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The new report suggested that deep and early emissions cuts, which are some of the most contentious issues on the table in the UN talks, are essential.

“Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points” beyond which natural forces begin to push up temperatures even faster.

Many scientists agree that if those boundaries are crossed, it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to reverse the process.

Intervention anniversary protests planned

Aboriginal leaders from across the Northern Territory are pleading with the Rudd government ahead of the second anniversary of the intervention into remote Aboriginal communities to “end it, and do it now”.

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Indigenous people from more than 20 remote communities and major towns, including Alice Springs and Katherine, have converged on Darwin for protests to be held tomorrow.

“I’m travelling long way up to Darwin to join forces with other Aboriginal people, leaders, elders, men and women,” says town camp resident Barbara Shaw.

“Intervention measures have caused dispossession, confusion, fear and disempowerment… (they) have not improved child safety nor reduced rates of sexual abuse.”

Meetings of the Prescribed Area Peoples Alliance (PAPA) were held this week in Darwin and the leaders have scripted a statement they hope to hand to NT politicians at protests on the eve of the anniversary.

Their key concerns include the compulsory acquisition of Alice Springs town camps and the “paternalistic and racist” income management system, whereby 50 per cent of welfare payments are set aside so it can’t be spent on grog, drugs or gambling.

Education changes opposed

They also oppose NT government plans to scrap bilingual education in remote NT schools and a controversial homelands policy which seeks to turn 20 communities into “economic hubs”, while denying additional funds to a further 500 smaller outstations.

Ronnie Barramala from Ramingining said governments were treating his people “like we need a guide dog”.

“We are being treated as though we are blind, and have no idea where we are going,” he said.

“We know how to run a community, we know how to look after our kids, we know what we want for our future, but under these policies, our future is out of our hands.”

NT Chief Minister Henderson Paul Henderson has been invited to Saturday’s protest, along with other NT politicians.

NASA probes ‘on collision course’ with moon

NASA has successfully blasted two probes into space on a landmark lunar exploration mission to scout water sources and landing sites in anticipation of sending mankind back to the moon in 2020.

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The launch marked “America’s first step in a lasting return to the moon,” a NASA official said moments after a rocket carrying the probes launched at 5:32pm local time, one day after the US space agency scrubbed the shuttle Endeavour launch for the second time in a week because of a nagging hydrogen fuel leak.

The liftoff of the dual LRO and LCROSS missions atop an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to Kennedy Space Centre, took place one month shy of the 40th anniversary of NASA’s historic first landings on Earth’s natural satellite in 1969.

Audacious new missions

Americans have been the only astronauts to walk on the moon — with the last such outing in 1972 — and the new mission is the first step on the long journey to launch manned missions further into our solar system, to the planet Mars and beyond, from lunar colonies.

US President Barack Obama has said the program, dubbed the Constellation project, needs to be reviewed, but so far has not cast doubt on its goals.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) separated from the Centaur upper stage rocket and the other probe, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), at 2216 GMT.

LCROSS in particular looks set to be one of NASA’s most spectacular bids at discovery for years.

It will remain attached to the Centaur until October, when NASA sends the Centaur smashing into a crater on the side of the moon that never gets sunshine. LCROSS will analyse the lunar material blasted out by the impact for any sign of water ice — a critical component for any planning for manned lunar colonies.

Rockets ‘hurl themselves at moon’

After examining the lunar matter, LCROSS will follow the rocket’s lead by also hurling itself into the moon at a speed of 9,000 km/h.

In total, NASA said, the two impacts will kick up some 500 metric tons of lunar material and begin the search for a

long-frozen water source. The project will also examine the moon’s mineral makeup.

The LRO hopes to learn more about the moon through a one-year stay at an orbit of about 50km — the closest continual lunar orbit of any spacecraft.

The orbiter is expected to reach the moon on Tuesday.

Four decades after moon landing

The probes’ four-day, 384,000km return to the moon 40 years after humans first set foot on its surface is expected to illuminate our closest extra-terrestrial neighbour like never before.

“Earth is subject to erosion processes from air and water,” noted May.

“The moon itself doesn’t have this process … LRO will send back pictures daily on things we have barely seen before.”

Brace for ‘worst’ flu season

Health authorities are warning that this winter could be one of the worst flu seasons in recent years with more than 2000 cases of seasonal influenza and swine flu already diagnosed in Victoria.

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The Department of Human services (DHS) released figures on Friday showing 2,344 Victorians had been diagnosed with influenza to June 15 this year, including 1,230 confirmed cases of swine flu.

This is a huge increase compared to 81 confirmed cases at the same time last year, and just 52 at the same time in 2007.

Acting chief health officer Rosemary Lester says the flu season began earlier this year and the number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen quickly.

“The information we have currently points to the potential for this winter to be one of the biggest we’ve had in recent years for flu activity, so it is important that all Victorians remain vigilant and protect themselves,” she says in a statement.

“The notifications and surveillance data mean that Victoria’s influenza-like illness activity is now in the higher than expected range and will continue at this level for some time to come, perhaps the rest of the winter flu season.”

Small portion is swine flu

Dr Lester says although a significant amount of influenza is currently circulating in the community, only a small portion is swine flu.

She says the high number of positive tests for seasonal and swine flu reflects the increased amount of testing being carried out.

Dr Lester says the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory had allowed the state to complete a high number of tests for suspected swine flu cases for a longer period than many other countries, including the United States.

“In some ways Victoria has been a victim of its own testing success,” she says.

“We have a very thorough testing system for all infectious diseases and are at the forefront of detecting swine flu in the community.”

A DHS spokesman says there were a total of 1,298 confirmed influenza cases in 2008 and 1,591 in 2007.