Monday, August 19, 2013

Supreme Court chief justice rules against controversial Kimberley gas hub approvals - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Supreme Court chief justice rules against controversial Kimberley gas hub approvals - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Richard Hunter, Goolarabooloo law boss in the media scrum outside court. — with Ketrina Ray,Sarah Yani Vann-SanderHolly Winkle and Peter Robertson.
Today, Chief Justice Wayne Martin gave the government another major headache, handing down damning verdicts on its environmental approval process.
The Wilderness Society, and Goolarabooloo elder Richard Hunter, had argued conflicts of interest in the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) assessment process resulted in just one EPA board member - chairman Paul Vogel - making the final decision.
They also said the state's then-environment minister Bill Marmion had erred by granting his approval despite the conflicts


  1. Approval for $40bn gas giant at James Price Point 'unlawful'

    Nicolas Perpitch and Andrew Burrell
    From: The Australian
    August 20, 2013 12:00AM

    THE development of vast natural gasfields off Western Australia's Kimberley coast has suffered a setback after the state's Supreme Court found the environmental approvals for a critical gas-processing hub north of Broome were unlawful.

    In an embarrassment for the Barnett government, Chief Justice Wayne Martin yesterday ruled the environmental approvals needed to build a gas hub for Woodside Petroleum's $40 billion-plus Browse Basin project at James Price Point should be set aside because of conflicts of interest among the environmental watchdog's board members. The ruling undermines the credibility of the state's Environmental Protection Agency and, in particular, its chairman Paul Vogel, whose decision-making was criticised by Chief Justice Martin.

    Dr Vogel allowed three of the board's five members to attend meetings and participate in decision-making for 44 months of the 48-month process even though, as early as September 2009, two members had declared they had shares in Woodside and another worked for Browse joint-venture partner BP. A fourth member never participated in meetings as she had been an employee of the Department of State Development, the government's proponent of the project.

    Dr Vogel made the final decision on environmental approval alone, but Chief Justice Martin found the conflicts of interest meant the assessment report he presented to then-environment minister Bill Marmion in July last year was invalid and Mr Marmion's statement authorising the precinct was also invalid.

    Woodside scrapped plans to build an onshore gas plant at James Price Point earlier this year, citing Australia's high costs.

    The Browse venture partners - Woodside, Shell, BP, Mitsubishi/Mitsui and PetroChina - requested in June that their lease on the gasfields in the Browse Basin be varied to allow them to study developments other than building a gas plant at James Price Point, 60km north of Broome. It is believed the venture was planning to develop Browse using floating LNG technology - an offshore plant.

    Premier Colin Barnett, who still wants an LNG facility developed at the site and is strongly opposed to the use of floating LNG on the basis it will create fewer jobs, said he was disappointed but accepted the court's decision. He acknowledged the process had been at fault but maintained the EPA's decision to give environmental approval and the conditions it set last year were correct, despite the court's ruling.

    "I don't think the environmental assessment failed in any way," Mr Barnett said.

    The state was likely to resubmit the environmental approvals to the EPA, which would need to find board members with no conflict of interest. Mr Barnett wants to establish James Price Point as a project-ready site for a gas precinct to encourage development of Browse and Canning basins.

    "I don't give up," Mr Barnett said. "And this is so important, James Price Point, for the future employment of workers, including Aboriginal people, so important for jobs across the state. So important for Australian and West Australian businesses to participate in major resource projects and so important to have gas come onshore so that it can be used by householders and businesses for decades to come."

    But Peter Robertson, from the Wilderness Society, which brought the court case along with Goolarabooloo man Richard Hunter, said the prospect of a gas hub at James Price Point was now "dead and buried".

    "Premier Colin Barnett must face facts (and) drop this unhealthy obsession," Mr Robertson said. He said board members had declared conflicts of interest in other projects assessed by the EPA, but it was unclear whether they had been allowed to continue participating in the process.

  2. Approval for $40bn gas giant at James Price Point 'unlawful' ....cont....

    Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said Mr Barnett, whose government selected the James Price Point site, was responsible for a saga that had cost the state at least $15m and caused turmoil among opposing Aboriginal groups.

    "He drove this," Mr McGowan said.

    Chief Justice Martin described as "misplaced" Dr Vogel's reasoning that the proponent of the LNG precinct was the minister for state development and therefore a pecuniary interest in Woodside or its Browse partners did not fall under the section of the EPA's act dealing with conflict of interest.

    He found that when the powers of the EPA were eventually delegated to Dr Vogel alone because of the conflicts of interest, he did not undertake a new assessment of the proposal but rather adopted "in substance" the invalidated work prepared with the participation of disqualified board members.

    The Wilderness Society called for Dr Vogel and Mr Marmion, now Mines and Petroleum Minister, to be sacked.

    Mr Barnett said the court's decision related to the EPA's process but the board's members had not acted improperly or sought to gain in any way. He was confident at the prospects of a fresh environmental assessment by the EPA.

    Mr Hunter vowed to keep fighting against any development at James Price Point and the Wilderness Society also claimed the ruling had national implications.

    The EPA said it would consider the ruling. The state government is seeking advice from the State Solicitor's office.

  3. Gas policy vacuum puts us on course for a 'train wreck'

    From: The Australian
    August 20, 2013 12:00AM

    AUSTRALIA is facing a natural gas "train wreck" as Gladstone LNG plants threaten to suck up more gas than is available and raise the need to at least consider reserving gas for domestic use, the head of one of the nation's biggest manufacturers says.

    Wading into the growing debate about how to deal with an expected surge in east coast gas demand as $70 billion of coal-seam gas export plants fire up in Gladstone over the next three years, BlueScope Steel chief Paul O'Malley identified rising gas prices as the biggest energy challenge his company was facing.

    "Australia is the only country in the world that exports gas without having a national gas policy and understanding how gas is positive for value-added industries as well as for export," Mr O'Malley told The Australian yesterday.

    "I think there is a problem, and quite frankly I think there's a train wreck coming."

    The steel boss stopped short of calling for a gas reservation policy, but said it needed to be considered.

    "Very quickly after the election, we need the policymakers to get all the facts so they can look at the pros and cons of whether there's reservation or no reservation, whether there should be improved ease of exploration and supply, whether there's new pipelines needed," he said.

    While Labor has maintained its longstanding commitment to not reserving gas for domestic use, the Coalition has flagged it would look at promoting acreage reservation for new projects.

    Mr O'Malley has previously let BlueScope's position on domestic gas be represented by industry groups. But he is now speaking out strongly, joining the likes of Incitec Pivot chief James Fazzino and Dow Chemicals boss Andrew Liveris in calling for action to assist manufacturers.

    "If you look at energy costs (for BlueScope), the big factor is going to be gas and just the fact that natural gas prices are increasing," the BlueScope boss said.

    "We're a bit challenged by that and we're a bit challenged by the fact that LNG (producers) probably overestimated the amount of gas they'd be able to access and now they are taking it from residential and commercial-industrial users in Australia."

    BlueScope's gas contracts are up for renegotiation in a couple of years, he said.

    The construction of three LNG plants at Curtis Island in Gladstone -- being operated by Santos, BG Group and an Origin Energy/ConocoPhillips joint venture respectively -- will almost instantly triple east coast gas demand.

    Gas buyers need to pay wholesale prices for contracts beyond 2015 that are more than double the $3 to $4 per gigajoule prices Australian gas has been priced at in recent years.

    "We need to spend the next three to six months (making policy) to ensure there is enough gas for domestic use and for a successful LNG industry," Mr O'Malley said.

    "At the moment, I don't think that is the policy setting because I don't think everyone understands we could have a significant shortfall in gas in Australia in the next three years that would be bad for industry."

    The loss of the value that is added to gas in Australia by manufacturers could be greater than the benefit of the equivalent LNG exports, he said.

  4. Court delivers gas hub blow

    Premier Colin Barnett has backed WA's environmental chief despite his role at the centre of a humiliating legal defeat that has derailed the Government's Kimberley gas hub hopes.

    In a judgment that could have wide-ranging implications for the State's environmental assessment process, the Supreme Court yesterday demolished as invalid the approval given to the Browse LNG precinct.

    The ruling upheld an appeal by the Wilderness Society against the approval, granted by former environment minister Bill Marmion in November acting on advice from the Environmental Protection Authority.

    Mr Barnett immediately signalled the Government would resubmit its application for the project, insisting the ruling reflected procedural deficiencies, rather than scientific ones.

    "I don't give up and this is so important," he said. "All the environmental evidence and surveys and research has been done over many, many years."

    As Mr Marmion distanced himself from the judgment by saying he relied on the advice of EPA chairman Paul Vogel, the Wilderness Society claimed it threw into doubt the validity of other approvals.

    Key to the Browse appeal was a claim the EPA's recommendations were tainted because they had been influenced by board members who had conflicts of interests.

    All but one of the watchdog's five-member board - Dr Vogel the exception - had to be removed from deliberations, but two of them continued to participate until just four months before the EPA released its final report in July last year.

    Chief Justice Wayne Martin agreed the EPA's report had been unacceptably compromised and this meant that neither it nor the minister had validly discharged their duties.

    "When the powers of the EPA with respect to Browse LNG … were delegated to Dr Vogel on July 5, 2012, he did not himself undertake an assessment of the proposal," Justice Martin wrote.

    "Rather (he) adopted, in substance, a report which had been prepared during the course of the assessment process which was (invalidated) by the participation of the disqualified members."

    Environmental Defender's Office principal solicitor Patrick Pearlman said Dr Vogel should have removed conflicted members from Browse deliberations and delegated a separate panel, but he failed to do so.

    The Premier yesterday maintained he had confidence in Dr Vogel and Mr Marmion despite calls for them to be sacked.

    The ruling is a major blow to Mr Barnett and threatens to add long delays to any development of James Price Point, which he wants as a supply base for the floating LNG industries.
    Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said ever since Mr Barnett intervened, the project had been a "disaster".

  5. Barnett's woes multiply...


    Fury over razor blades comment

    A high-ranking State Government official is under pressure to resign after making a gibe about handing out razor blades to a farmer from a Wheatbelt community where there have been two suicides this year.

    Department of Agriculture and Food WA executive director Peter Metcalfe made the remark during a meeting in Perth last week to discuss the crisis in the eastern Wheatbelt.

    He issued a written apology to Narembeen farmer Murray Dixon late yesterday.

    "We have already lost an 18-year-old and a 74-year-old farmer to suicide in our town this year. Both were family friends," Mr Dixon said in a complaint sent to Mr Metcalfe, DAFWA director-general Rob Delane and Agriculture Minister Ken Baston.

    It was supported by an email from Mr Dixon's wife Vicki and a follow-up complaint from the Muntadgin Farming Alliance.

    Mrs Dixon said the comment had shattered her husband.

    "The man that returned from that meeting was not the same man that left home," she said.


    Volunteer community groups and the Government-funded Regional Men’s Heath Initiative are supporting hundreds of at risk farmers and their families, promoting the message: “Before it all gets too much … talk to a mate.”

    Mr Dixon attended the meeting on behalf of the MFA, which is lobbying for a Commonwealth-backed reconstruction and development bank.

    MFA spokesman Jeff Hooper said that if Mr Metcalfe did not resign, he should be removed from his position by Mr Delane or Mr Baston.

    "The comment was extremely inappropriate," Mr Hooper said.

    Mr Metcalfe and Mr Baston would not comment on the incident.

    Mr Delane said he would not sack his executive director of regional operations and development.


    Mr Dixon, one of hundreds of farmers fighting for financial survival, said DAFWA and banks regarded rationalisation as a way out of the debt crisis."I was accused of being negative for saying many farmers could not leave the industry because there were no buyers for their farms," he said.


    Barnett backs Education Minister

    A Cabinet subcommittee meeting to address problems with the Education Department's books just 10 days after the State Budget was because of population growth, not ministerial mismanagement, Colin Barnett said yesterday.

    It was revealed last week that Education Minister Peter Collier's department required a $59 million top-up last financial year after it failed to implement a cap on leave liabilities.

    The Premier said the economic and expenditure review committee had to "have another look" at the department's budget but denied Mr Collier's financial management was in question.

    "No, this is an issue about more children turning up to our schools," Mr Barnett said.

    "Information came to Government after the Budget was presented showing a further growth."

    He said the Government would have to make provision for the growth in student numbers but would not reveal whether that would involve a top-up or cuts, saying Mr Collier would canvass the issue this week.
    Mr Barnett denied that an EERC meeting so soon after a State Budget was evidence of financial turmoil.

    1. WA paying thousands for "FIFO" health staff

      Western Australia is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars flying in surgeons, nurses and doctors from as far away as Oman to cover shifts in remote and rural areas.

      A parliamentary report reveals that in the last three months of 2012, travel expenses were paid 185 times for medical staff to fly in from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, New Zealand and on one occasion Oman.

      The flights cost taxpayers more than $340,000.

      The vast majority of the trips were to cover medical shifts in remote and rural regions including Broome, Karratha, Kalgoorlie, Albany and Port Hedland.

      The "fly in, fly out" health workforce included emergency department doctors, anaesthetists, psychiatrists, nurses, obstetricians and paediatric specialists.

      Health minister Kim Hames says WA is not exempt from a global shortage of specialist medical professionals.

      "WA is not exempt from the challenges this poses to recruiting a specialist medical workforce, particularly when it comes to rural and remote regions," Dr Hames told AAP.

      "Our preference is to strengthen education and training here in WA and grow our own specialist workforce."

      Dr Hames defended the practice, saying often there's not enough work to require a full-time position in smaller communities, and staff may also be brought in to cover leave periods.

      "While cost is an important factor, the safety and quality of care given to patients is our paramount concern."

      However, opposition health spokesman Roger Cook says the number of flights in just three months is indicative of the Barnett government's "lack of workforce planning and management".

      "Clearly our health dollars would go further if we did not have to fly in experienced doctors from overseas," Mr Cook said.

      Richard Choong, president of the Australian Medical Association in WA, says the practice is an unfortunate necessity to keep the state's health service running in rural regions.
      "It does not surprise me, and it is going to take time to train more nursing and medical staff for all of Western Australia," Mr Choong said.

    2. WA's State Government slashes 500 education jobs and proposes closing some high schools

      Western Australia's Education Minister Peter Collier has announced 500 jobs will be cut from the sector across the state, despite declaring he had no plans to slash positions less than a week ago.

      And, the Premier Colin Barnett has flagged the possibility of closing high schools in the Perth metropolitan area.

      He has identified Fremantle and Armadale as two areas where there is a strong case for closing and amalgamating schools to deliver better outcomes for students.

      "There are schools in the metropolitan area where the student numbers are low," he said.

      "That restricts the curriculum, it restricts the development of vocational and academic programs, and there's no doubt a good sized high school with modern facilities can provide, at face value, a better quality of education."

      The education sector is also reeling from the news that 150 jobs will be axed in the central office, while the positions of 150 specialist anaphylaxis assistants will end, and another 200 education assistants will lose their jobs.

      Mr Collier says many of the positions can no longer be justified, and the government is overhauling the system's funding model to improve efficiency.

      Under the model, schools will receive a base amount for each student, with additional funding to help children with extra needs.

      Just four days ago, Mr Collier said job losses in the education sector were not on his agenda despite budget papers estimating the department will save $280 million through public sector reforms.

      He has denied lying about the job cuts and says he simply misunderstood the question which he thought referred specifically to teaching jobs.

  6. MUA ramps up energy pay battle

    THE maritime union wants workers on major energy projects to be handed a 26 per cent wage increase over the next four years as it logs claims for a series of perks and allowances, including an extra $245 a day for those building Chevron's $52 billion Gorgon LNG project in Western Australia.

    As resource companies blame the union movement for driving up costs and jeopardising investment, the MUA is demanding energy companies pay workers on offshore vessels perks including $30 a day for sharing toilets and between $60 and $120 a day for sharing cabins.

    According to the log of claims obtained by The Australian, the union also wants workers to have a "full communications plan" including iTunes cards, Foxtel subscriptions and satellite hard drives for watching movies.

    It is also asking companies including Chevron to use foreign labour only after consultation with the union.

    The MUA wants its workers to move to a four-weeks-on, four-weeks-off shift from the five-weeks-on five-weeks-off roster.

    And it says workers on Chevron's $29bn Wheatstone project in WA should be paid a construction allowance of $200 a day.

    The industry has rejected most of the union's claims as part of negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement amid wider concerns over productivity.

    Last week the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union slammed Chevron for offering workers at Gorgon an extra $125 a day to share rooms. The AMWU warned the rise of double-bunking could eventually see the practice forced on to all workers without compensation.

    However, MUA West Australian secretary Christy Cain said last night the sharing claims had been off the table for some time. He said the Australian Mines and Metals Association had been present at more than 20 meetings where this has been discussed.

    "This includes the 26 per cent pay increase. AMMA knows we are seeking 6 per cent each year, for four years," Mr Cain said.

    "By repeatedly misleading politicians and the media over the MUA's claims, we can only assume that some parts of industry are trying to make an election issue out of things that are not an issue, for their own political reasons."

    He confirmed the MUA was seeking the job protection provisions and the roster changes, which were the industry standard.

    Chevron Australian managing director Roy Krzywosinski told The Australian: "Australia has witnessed a significant wave of investment over the past five years, but future investment will require national leadership to bring about a structural change in Australia's increasing costs.

    "Growing competition from other countries means we have a two-year window of opportunity to get the policy settings right to capture the next wave of investment. We must work together to improve Australia's international competitiveness and increase productivity, bringing about fiscal stability and reforming industrial relations."

    Chevron and its partners in Gorgon last year announced a $US15bn blowout in the project's development cost to $52bn.

  7. Sino Iron a lesson in how not to start a mine

    From: The Australian
    August 17, 2013 12:00AM

    WHEN Clive Palmer hitched his wagon to Chinese company Citic Pacific in 2006, the tycoon was licking his lips at the prospect that his pockets would soon be lined with royalties worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year from a massive new iron ore mine in the Pilbara.

    But more than seven years after signing the boom-time deal with Citic, Palmer is yet to receive any significant royalty payments from the Sino Iron project.

    It's now clear that in deciding to sell his prized iron ore tenements in the Pilbara to a company that had never developed a mining project, let alone a highly complex one such as Sino Iron, Palmer backed the wrong horse.

    And the man campaigning to be Australia's next prime minister after the September 7 federal election is not happy about it. He sued Citic earlier this year in a bid to get his hands on money he claims to be owed.

    After a series of severe delays and major cost blowouts, Citic suspended commissioning of Sino Iron's processing plant, 70km south of Karratha, in May and said it hoped to start exporting magnetite later this year.


    But every other promise made by the Hong Kong-based, Chinese government-owned company has been broken.

    The project is now almost four years behind schedule and at least $US6.5 billion over budget.

    This week, Citic had some good news -- but also more bad news -- for its long-suffering shareholders. Chairman Chang Zhenming said commissioning of Sino Iron's first production line had restarted late last month after the technical problems had been resolved.

    "So far, things are going well -- most of the major issues we encountered have been addressed and we have achieved continuous production," Chang said.

    "What we have learned from this commissioning is that the processing technology employed is viable and capable of producing good quality iron ore concentrate, which has an average iron content of about 66 per cent."

    But Chang also had to admit that repairs to a gearless motor at Sino Iron's critical second production line were taking longer than expected. He gave no estimate for when the work might be finished.

    Even if the plant were already glitch-free, Sino would still be unable to export magnetite and start earning revenue, because Palmer has taken action against Citic in the Federal Court in an attempt to have his private company, Mineralogy, appointed as the security controller of the Cape Preston port.

    The federal government must approve a port security manager before exports from any export project can occur. The case is due to be heard in the Federal Court next month.


  8. Sino Iron a lesson in how not to start a mine

    Citic's errors read like a textbook on how not to develop a major project in Australia.

    First, it misjudged the political mood in Australia by assuming it would be able to bring in thousands of cheap Chinese workers to build the project.

    Then it fell out with its main contractor, Chinese state-owned construction company MCC, which had no experience working in Australia and has struggled with the technical complexity of the project.

    And Citic's construction bill was driven up by the rising cost of wages and equipment in the Pilbara region, as well as the stronger Australian dollar.

    Perhaps the most spectacular cock-up was Citic's flawed hedging strategy, in which it tried to predict the direction of the Australian dollar -- a debacle that cost the company $US2bn and claimed the scalp of then Citic chairman Larry Yung.

    The mine will produce magnetite, a lower-grade form of iron ore that must be processed before it can be exported and is therefore more expensive to produce than hematite ore.

    The Sino project features a mine, a magnetite concentrator, a 450 megawatt gas-fired power station, a 51 gigalitre desalination plant and a new port.

    It appears to have been motivated by China's desperate need in 2006 to secure a supply of iron ore for its steel mills.

    Despite Palmer's protracted wait for royalties, his original deal was undoubtedly clever. He received $US420m at the time for selling the tenements and he has borne none of the risk or cost of the development, which is all carried by Citic.

    Citic might eventually recoup its costs and even make a profit on Sino Iron, and Palmer might eventually collect all of the royalties he has been dreaming about since 2006.


  9. Revealed: 80cm sea rise warning

    The world is on track to become up to five degrees hotter, and sea levels could rise more than 80 centimetres this century, according to a leaked draft of a landmark climate change report prepared for the UN.

    There is now a 95 per cent likelihood human greenhouse gas emissions are driving changes being observed globally, which in recent weeks have included extraordinary heatwaves in Asia and Alaska.

    That degree of certainty has been revised up from 90 per cent in the last report in 2007, 66 per cent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995. A sea level rise of up to 82 centimetres, which would have serious impacts on coastal cities everywhere, is now ''unequivocal'', Reuters reported.

    But while many forecasts have hardened, the certainty over some of the impacts of global warming has declined, with scientists struggling to predict some local effects including regional changes in rainfall, drought and wild weather.


    The final version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which will cover the expected effects of climate on Australia in coming decades, is scheduled for release in September.

    About 200 countries, including Australia, have pledged to hold temperature rises to two degrees by cutting emissions, though few nations are on track to meet that goal.

    The federal opposition rejected a report by Fairfax Media on Monday that showed banks and other major investors estimated that about $4 billion in private funding for renewable energy projects would be withheld if the Coalition won office.

    This estimate is based on work by market analysts suggesting that regulatory uncertainty and the prospect of unknown returns would stymie investment.

    Roughly $20 billion in private and public investment would be required to meet the mandatory renewable energy target - 20 per cent clean energy by 2020 - that has bipartisan political support.

    The opposition climate spokesman, Greg Hunt, said he speaks to big investors regularly and did not believe they had any concerns about the opposition's ''direct action'' climate change policy.

    The opposition intends to spend about $2.5 billion to buy emissions cuts in its first four years, and dismantle the government's emissions trading scheme, climate science advisory panel and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

    Mr Hunt said the corporation was spending far more than it needed by partnering in large-scale solar power plants and other renewable projects.

    The Climate Change Minister, Mark Butler, said the Labor policy was producing results, including a 7 per cent cut in emissions from the National Electricity Market and a 25 per cent increase in renewable energy generation in the past year. ''The Coalition's climate change policy is an expensive dud,'' he said.

  10. Asia and Alaska heat waves 2013.


    The big story extreme-weather-wise globally were the extraordinary heat waves in the central portion of Russia’s Arctic region and in eastern China. Both heat waves were unprecedented for their respective locations. The Chinese heat wave is still in progress (as of August 14th) so I will post a more thorough review of this in my summary next month. The Siberian heat wave was exceptionally remarkable for its duration and extent of the heat at far northern latitudes. See my blog in late July for details.

    Outside of eastern Asia and Russia a couple of other notable heat events took place: Dubai tied its all-time heat record with a reading of 48.5°C (119.3°F) on July 10th and the national heat record for Tajikistan was threatened on July 29th when the temperature reached 46.6°C (115.9°F) at Isambah. The Tajik record is 47.0°C (116.6°F) set at Aivadj in July 1944 and July 1983.


    .... much of China is experiencing an extreme drought.


    An historic rainstorm caused serious flooding in portions of southeastern Thailand. Chantaburi picked up 445.7mm (17.55”) of rain on July 23rd with an amazing 385mm (15.16”) of this falling in just 12 hours and an even more amazing 297 mm (11.69”) in just 6 hours!...


    It was the 3rd warmest July on record for Australia as a whole. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported thus: “The Northern Territory and all States except Western Australia placed in the top ten highest records for mean temperature while a number of capital cities also observed record or near-record temperatures: mean temperature – Melbourne, Hobart, Canberra and Sydney highest on record; maximum temperature – Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne highest on record; minimum temperature – Melbourne equal-highest on record.” Melbourne recorded its warmest July temperature on record with a 23.3°C (73.9°F) reading on July 18th.

    Rainfall was near normal.


    The highest temperature recorded during the month was 36.5°C (97.7°F) at Curtin Areo, Western Australia on July 14th....


    Sun bathers, reptiles emerge in Alaska heat as wildfires spread

    ......Temperatures have run as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with daytime highs in Anchorage climbing into the 80s in recent days, and the sudden onset of atypical warmth has been blamed for unleashing wildfires and flooding alike.


    Heat records have been broken around the state, with an all-time record high of 96 degrees reached on Tuesday in Talkeetna, the tiny town famous as the jumping-off site for Mount McKinley expeditions. The previous record high there was 91 degrees.


    In Valdez, operators of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline marine terminal halted oil-tanker loading for 4 1/2 hours late Monday night and early Tuesday morning as a precaution after temperatures at the terminal hit 92 degrees.

    "Our systems aren't used to operating in that heat," said Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

    Meteorologists blame the anomaly on rapid shift in atmospheric wind patterns. The system that brought cold air from the north during the spring changed suddenly, sending in hot air from the south and southeast.

    The rapid heat-up caused considerable flooding of mountain streams, said Tom Pepe, an Anchorage-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

    "You get big pieces of ice that jam up small parts of rivers,"

    Flooding along the Yukon River late last month caused severe damage in several Native Alaskan villages, most notably the Athabascan community of Galena, where nearly all residents were evacuated by aircraft.

    Property damage along the river was estimated at $10 million, said Tony Luiken, a state emergency management spokesman. The governor has declared a disaster.

    The heat wave also has stoked numerous wildfires, many ignited by dry-lightning strikes fueled by ample dry brush.

  11. Record-breaking floods in Russia force thousands to evacuate

    Record-breaking floods in Russia's far east have forced the evacuation of more than 19,000 people from their homes.

    Rescuers warned of worse to come as rain continued to batter the region, but there have been no reports of fatalities.

    Dozens of towns and villages are under water in the Khabarovsk region close to the Chinese border, with army troops dispatched to the area.

    "The damage is extensive, but the most significant achievement is there have been no casualties ... we cannot relax, there is still a lot of work to be done," Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a televised address.

    One of the tributaries of the Amur River, which is usually just a few hundred metres wide, stretched more than 10 kilometres across.

    The river rose to record levels in Khabarovsk, a city of 600,000 people, as authorities sent out bottled water and ran shelters for displaced residents.

    More than half the crops in the Amur region have already been damaged by the unprecedented floods, according to the agriculture ministry.

    "There is very little time," said the governor of Amur region, Oleg Kozhemyako. "Five-hundred kilometres of roads have been destroyed, bridges are destroyed, 38 villages have been cut off."


    Russia's state weather service, Rosgidromet, forecast a further rise in water levels because of the continuing rains in the Khabarovsk region.

    Water levels will hit their peak later this week, the head of the weather service said on television.

    The emergency ministry said more than 19,000 people had been evacuated from the regions of Amur, Khabarovsk, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

    Several areas have been left without power and Mr Kozhemyako said more than 43 percent of coal stockpiled for the winter had been lost in the flood.

    Television footage showed trucks dumping sand in the streets to prevent flooding and troops dispatched to the area erecting sandbag barriers.

    "Our dacha is basically swimming," one woman in a village near Khabarovsk told the NTV channel, referring to her countryside weekend home.

    "People's garages are submerged to the roof. All in all, everything is terrible."

    Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev demanded at a government meeting that payouts for damaged properties be made on time, calling the situation "very difficult".

    Russian officials are also expected to hold talks with China to agree on a common approach to the rising Amur River, which serves as the border between the two countries.

  12. Thousands flee as Manila inundated

    FLOOD-battered residents of Manila are fleeing homes or sitting on rooftops with relentless monsoon rains, which have killed seven people, submerging more than half the Philippine capital.

    Streets turned into rivers with water above two-metres in some parts of the city of 12 million people yesterday.

    More than 130,000 of them have been displaced and countless others have been forced to wait out the storm in or on their homes.

    "We have had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. A few people went to houses on higher ground, but most of us had nowhere to go," Dinah Claire Velasco, 44, a resident of a blue-collar coastal district on the outskirts of Manila said.

    "My children and other people were able to seek refuge on the second floor of my house but a lot of others had to just sit on their roofs.

    "We're waiting for rescue, for help, even just food."

    At least 60 per cent of Manila was flooded yesterday morning, with some places enduring waters climbing as high as 2.1 metres, an official with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said.

    In one part of the capital, 47.5cm of rain fell in the 24 hours to Monday morning, according to Esperanza Cayanan, a meteorologist in charge of Manila for the state weather forecaster.

    She said this was the same amount that normally falls for all of August, already one of the wettest months of the year.

    The Marikina River, a key waterway cutting through eastern Manila, began to overflow yesterday afternoon, and 20,000 people close by were ordered to evacuate, the local mayor, Del de Guzman, said.

    These people were in addition to the 131,000 people across the main island of Luzon, including Manila, that the government said were in evacuation centres or seeking shelter with relatives and friends.

    Groups involved in the rescue effort said they were being overwhelmed.

    "We are getting a lot of calls for rescue ... we would really be hard pressed to rescue all of them," a Philippine Red Cross official told a government briefing broadcast on national television.

    While no one has been reported killed in Manila, four more people have drowned in flooded farming provinces to the north.

    This brings the confirmed toll from two days of flooding across Luzon to seven.

    The economic cost has also started to grow, with the stock exchange, government offices and schools in Manila closed for a second consecutive day.

    Many domestic and some international flights at Manila's airport have been cancelled. Flooded roads to the airport are impassable.

    The state weather agency says the rain will ease today.