A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).

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The nerds have the numbers on precious metals investments on the ASX

Will Steffen in denial of entire Holocene?

Either Will Steffen thinks humans didn’t exist five thousand years ago, or he hasn’t heard of the Holocene. The Herald Sun tells us  the extraordinary news that:

“Humans are living in the hottest temperatures they have ever lived and I can guarantee this will only get worse.”

Will Steffen also says the climate is “complex”, and “impossible to entirely predict”. I guess that means his guarantee that it will get worse comes direct from God, since it’s not possible through science. I don’t know why Matthew Dunn, technology editor of the Herald Sun, didn’t ask more about that — obviously that would be big news.

Otherwise, nearly every proxy that’s ever been proxied suggests there were a lot of warmer times in the period 5,000 – 8,000 years ago. Ice cores say it was hotter in Greenland, barnacles, corals, sea worms, and “swash” tell us sea levels were something like 2 meters higher in stable West Australia* and nearly 1m higher in Hawaii and Polynesia, oceans were 2 degrees warmer around in Indonesia, and 6,000 boreholes sunk in the oceans all over the world show it was a global deal. Australian Aboriginals apparently struggled through a 1,500 year mega drought about 6,000 year ago (see McGowan). CO2 Science lists references from South-East Asia  to the Sahara, from Antarctica to America. I am barely skimming the surface.

It was even warmer 120,000 years ago when Antarctica was over 2 degrees hotter, and seas were 3 -5 m higher and even more in some places. I’m pretty sure that homo sapiens was around then, and somehow they survived the heat without electricity, cars, hospitals or four-bedroom houses.

Here’s a few graphs of the scores I could use. Greenland has been warmer many times over the last 10,000 years*. The Roman warming of the European region was also fairly significant. Those Romans didn’t get by with togas for nothing.

In Western Australia — one of the oldest, most stable pieces of land in the world — sea levels have been falling for 7,000 years.

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Gavin Schmidt now admits NASA are only 38% sure 2014 was the hottest year

I said the vaguest scientists in the world lie by omission, and it’s what they don’t say that gives them away. The “hottest ever” press release didn’t tell us how much hotter the hottest year supposedly was, nor how big the error bars were. David Rose of the Daily Mail pinned down Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS to ask a few questions that bloggers and voters want answered but almost no other journalist seems to want to ask.


Nasa climate scientists: We said 2014 was the warmest year on record… but we’re only 38% sure we were right

Nasa admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all 

Does that mean 97% of climate experts are 62% sure they are wrong?*

The thing with half-truths is that they generate a glorious fog, but it has no substance. Ask the spin-cloud of a couple of sensible questions and the narrative collapses. This is the kind of analysis that would have stopped the rot 25 years ago if most news outlets had investigative reporters instead of science communicators trained to “raise awareness”. (The media IS the problem). If there was a David-Rose-type in most major dailies, man-made global warming would never have got off the ground.

The claim made headlines around the world, but yesterday it emerged that GISS’s analysis – based on readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide – is subject to a margin of error. Nasa admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all.

Yet the Nasa press release failed to mention this, as well as the fact that the alleged ‘record’ amounted to an increase over 2010, the previous ‘warmest year’, of just two-hundredths of a degree – or 0.02C.

The margin of error is about a tenth of a degree, so those error bars are 500% larger than the amount pushed in headlines all over the world. Gavin Schmidt of course, is horrified that millions of people may have been mislead:

GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted Nasa thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 per cent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond.

I’m sure he’s too busy contacting newspapers and MSNBC to make sure stories from NASA GISS are accurate and scientifically correct.

Read more:

In the mood for sport? Turn the torch back on the journalists who were too gullible to ask a sensible question. Let’s start asking the ABC and BBC journalists why they didn’t ask “how much hotter was it” and “how big are those error bars”.

H/t to Colin, Gardy.

*And since we’re asking — what’s with the 38% — what are the error bars on that? ;-)

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Weekend Unthreaded


More beach holidays. Apologies to Northern Hemisphere readers. We’ve had three beach holidays in two weeks with various friends and relatives. January in Australia is tough. ;-)

I love the colors of the Western Australian coast. The sky really is that intense blue, and the water is that clear. We fed stingrays at Hamelin Bay at sunset too. This is a seven year old boy hand-feeding a tame eagle ray which must have weighed twice as much as him. That one had no tail, but others did. Remarkable. Click to enlarge shots.

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Volatility from Vega – Why math models can’t predict the future

Guest post by Eric Worrall

How can we predict the climate, when we can’t even predict financial markets?

Subprime Housing Crash

US Subprime House Price Crash

Financial markets are a high stakes battle between teams of skilled traders, armed with powerful computers. [In a perfect market] The factors that affect market prices are well known, and for mathematicians, surprisingly simple to describe. Yet with all this underlying simplicity, traders don’t attempt to predict the future, because they know from bitter experience that predicting the future is futile. Instead, they use their models to gain a deeper understanding of the present.

Say you are trading financial options. Options are a right to buy or sell an underlying commodity (gold, shares in a company, tons of beef, whatever) at a future point in time, for an agreed price. The exact rules vary in different places, but essentially – your option gives you the right to buy an ounce of gold in one month, say,  for $1000.

If so, and the price of gold is $1,200 per ounce, then your option is worth $200, right?

Wrong. In one month, the price of gold might be $800, in which case your option is worthless – there is no point using the option to buy gold at $1,000, when you could simply buy it on the spot market for $800. Or in one month, the price of gold might be $1,400, in which case your option will be worth $400, double the $200 it would be worth if you exercised the option (activated the trade) at the current price of $1,200.

How do you price something based on a future price which you can’t foresee?

The answer is you try to estimate the likelihood of the price shifting significantly from its current value. You add an estimate of gold price volatility to your calculation, based on the current range of prices, how much the price of gold is jumping around in a day’s trade, versus the length of time left on the option (1 month).

Of course, there’s more to it that that. Instead of buying and holding the option, you could have put the money into a high interest bank account. So the interest you could have earned if you put the money into a savings account is part of the cost of owning the option – that has to be factored into the value of the option. And if you want to be really precise, you have to consider counterparty risk (the risk that the issuer of the option will go bust, and won’t honor the deal), market liquidity(whether there are enough buyers and sellers to ensure a “real” market, or whether the scarcity of market participants will allow big players to fix prices to maximise their profits at the expense of other participants), sovereign risk (the risk the government will step in and ruin your trade with hostile new laws), and the cost of making a trade (tax, market fees, your time, etc).

But I just said traders don’t use their models to predict the future, and isn’t what I described sounding an awful lot like predicting the future?

The point is, the model can’t tell you what the price of gold will be – it can only tell you what the price of gold might be, to give a range of outcomes with their probabilities as you see it.

So traders use their models to explore possibilities. To protect themselves from the $800 risk, they cover themselves by buying a complementary option – for example, they might buy the right to sell a large quantity of silver at $20 / ounce – the opposite kind of option to their right to buy gold option. The price of silver more or less tracks the price of gold, so buying a right to sell silver means that if the price of gold drops, rendering their gold option worthless, the price of silver will also most likely drop. If the trader gets the right deal when buying the silver option, the trader can still make a profit if the gold price (and the silver price) falls, by buying silver at a low price, and selling it at the locked in silver option price of $20. If the trader has done their job, in the event of a price drop, they will make enough profit from their silver trade to more than offset their loss on the now worthless gold option.

The skill of the trader is exploring the landscape of possibilities, to use the models to help discover paired complementary deals which can lock in a guaranteed profit, regardless of what happens to market prices.

Of course, real trading strategies are generally a lot more complicated than this simplistic example. With all the competing teams of highly skilled traders crawling over the possibility landscape all hours of the day or night, the opportunity for a profit from a deal that simple should disappear before it properly had a chance to manifest.

My point is, the models are not used to predict the future, they are used to explore the landscape of future possibilities, to discover ways to lock in guaranteed profits, and to provide alerts if the portfolio of options and other instruments has an unexpected weakness – to identify scenarios in which traders’ portfolios become exposed to a serious risk of loss, so they can patch the holes in their positions before they become a problem.

Nobody is daft enough in the financial world to believe they can predict the future. The models are only used to answer “what if” questions, to help close loopholes in their complex web of trades which might lead to dangerous losses.

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2014, NOAA NASA produce weakest science on hottest fantasy in modern record

The Art of Lying by Omission

Back in the old days, when scientists had standards, they would never get excited over one hot year and certainly not over one meaningless hundredth of a degree.

The NOAA and NASA spinmeisters are parsing their press releases carefully, using vagueness to speak in half-truth-tongues. They utter no outright lie, yet misinform the crowd with lies by omission.

NOAA and NASA don’t say their models still don’t work, that the world was supposed to be a lot warmer and the “pause” continues. Nor do they admit that it has been warmer before many times in history. They don’t say the warming trend started long before we pumped out CO2. They don’t mention how tiny the “record” is, so tiny it could, and probably will, disappear with the next man-made adjustment. They don’t mention that the record depends entirely on which dataset you pick, and better instruments, satellites, show it wasn’t a record. NASA may launch satellites, but they prefer a thermometer in a carpark or beside a runway for measuring temperatures.

All major global datasets, up to date. The pause is clear enough. The lower two lines are from satellites. Jan 2015 | Graph, Dr David Evans.

They don’t mention how much hotter it was than the last record. That’s because it looks very uncool — scientifically speaking — to get excited over two hundredths of a degree, when the error bars are 500% bigger. It’s called “noise”, in real scientific publications.

Get a grip on how much a few hundredths of a degree matters in this graph. “Get excited”.

Panic! \
Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art

If it was the hottest in 130 years, who cares? It was hotter 7,000 years ago, hotter 120,000 years ago, and hotter for most of the history of life on Earth. It doesn’t mean CO2 caused the last hot spell. It doesn’t mean warming is bad. It doesn’t mean it will continue to warm. And it doesn’t mean we understand what drives the climate.

But it does mean some people who want to seem-scientific want more of your money.

The Vaguest Scientists in the world

While NOAA and NASA declare that “… 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend…”

If they had wanted to they could have said the opposite and it would be true too. It’s a fact that we’ve been in a long term cooling trend since human civilization developed. In this case the not-to-long term  trend they refer to is 135 years long, but it has been running for 300 years. They don’t mention that either. It is equally true to say “2014 temperatures continue a warming trend that started circa 1700″. There were no coal fired power stations until 1882. Coal power is so dangerous that it causes heating 200 years before it starts producing carbon (sic).

The El Nino Spin

NOAA and NASA are pointing out that ” 2014′s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.” What they don’t say is that this is exactly what we would expect for an object that started off warm and continued to stay warm. The world has been in pretty much the same warm zone for 16 – 25 years (depending on how you measure it). In other words, El Nino-in, El-nino-out — we don’t need to add much more energy, in the big-scheme, to raise it by a hundredth of a degree.

But if I were a marketing and promotions agent, and not interested in science, I would make a big deal out of the non-el-nino which didn’t happen and doesn’t matter.

NASA wants your money

Here’s the line early in the press release which is the real point of the story:

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Who cares about accuracy or serving the public. The only decimal places that matter to these NASA scientists are the ones on the numerous grant cheques.

Gavin Schmidt knows that it is naughty to make a fuss over one hot year:

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Forgotten extreme heat, El Nino of 1878 — when miners would “knock off” at 44.4C!

What really happened in 1878?

The raw data at Nobby’s near Newcastle (graphed below) shows monster heat in 1878, 1879, and 1883 — far hotter than modern times. Its unlikely that it was recorded with modern equipment, so it’s hard to compare. Was it really hotter? We don’t know when the Stevenson screen was installed. I went hunting through our wonderful historic Trove archive of old newspaper records. It doesn’t help us make any accurate comparisons, or even tell us about annual averages, but there is a remarkable story of exceptional heat and dryness in January 1877 that few Australians know. Let’s revisit the times of forgotten people who lived when CO2 was perfect and the climate was ideal.

How hot were the 1800s in Australia? My favorite quote is about the miners near Braidwood (in the mountains between Canberra and the coast). It reached 108F but look at the cultural norms:

“Years ago in the valley the miners always ‘knocked off’ if the thermometer registered 112 degrees (44.4C) in the shade, but times and wages are changed now, and the poor men are willing, to work on days like last Friday 18.1.78″ (see the Freeman’s Journal link below for the full quote).

Piecing together the quotes I found below, it looks like an El Nino probably formed in 1877, which caused a widespread drought right across Australia. Rivers all over NSW were running dry, and so presumably was the soil, which may explain the heat. When soils are dry they gain heat faster because there is less evaporative cooling, and less humidity in the air. Wetter soils limit the heat gains.  January 1878 was described as “intensely hot” in many places, with temperatures recorded  “in the shade” at Walgett of 120F, Coonamble, 113F,  Sydney 114F and at Hay 117F. Later in January it reach 119 at Gunndah, and 129F at Coonamble.

The rivers of NSW were empty: At Lachlan ” the water-supply has given out and residents are reduced  to great straits”. The Namoi River also dried up. And the ” upper part of the Moruya River, is completely dried up in some places — in other parts it consists of a chain of ponds.”



Jan 5 1878

WALGETT, Thursday. . The weather to-day is intensely hot, and water is very scarce. The river is drying up fast, and stock are dying. There is no appearance of rain. Tho temperature in the shade to-day was 120.

COONAMBLE, Thursday. The thermometer’s average for six weeks has been 102 in the shade. To-day it registers 113. There are no signs of rain. The grass which sprang since last thunderstorms has been quite burned up. There were no stock passings to report.

GRAFTON, Friday. The weather is intensely hot.

The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 – 1954)

Saturday 12 January 1878

“The heat is now the current topic at Hay. Business, where not entirely suspended, receives very little attention. Scarcely a soul is to be seen in the streets; and even in the stores, those who are not enjoying the cool of the cellar, may be found lolling on the counters, talking about the weather, and occasionally scrutinizing the thermometer. On Thursday the glass indicated 117 degrees of heat in the fair shade, on a wall on which the  sun never shines at noon ; in the sun the glass indicated 154 degrees. We know of one case in which a gentle man fainted in the shade, and we fear that next week will bring its records of sunstroke. On the Lachlan, the Darling, amid the Billabong, the water-supply has given out and residents are reduced  to great straits. At Hay, fortunately, there is no fear of  failure in this direction, but a few more days of this weather will certainly lead to a serious exodus to cooler latitudes.

The SMH 21 Jan 1878

“The weather has of late been somewhat,warm, in fact on Tuesday last I may say it was hot, considering the thermometer stood 114 in the shade. A southerly-burster set in about 10 o’clock at night, but the houses of our citizens were so intensely heated that even this wind did not cool them, and consequently but little sleep could be obtained during that night. Wednesday and Thursday were moderately cool, but today, we have had another scorcher. A gentleman informs me that had never experienced the ‘heat so much as he did in Sydney, on Tuesday, but even that extreme was surpassed in Maitland to-day, where the heat was far greater. We have at Newcastle, “nearly at all times, a breeze from the sea, which our northern friends are deprived of.

Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954)  Tuesday 22 January 1878

Gunnedah. — Friday. “The weather is excessively hot, and the thermometer registered 119 in the shade to-day. The Namoi   River has dried up, and there is no water suitable for drinking purposes. A meeting has been held for the purpose, of’ sinking wells on the river bank, to obtain water for the inhabitants. Coonamble, — Friday. — The thermometer to-day was 129- in the shade. The birds are dying in hundreds. There is no sign of rain.

Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932) Saturday 26 January 1878

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Sea level rise was less than thought (skeptics were right)

Skeptics, and particularly Nils-Axel Mörner have been saying that sea level rise, as recorded by tide gauges has been much slower than widely advertised. They’ve also pointed out how the rates of sea-level rise have either stayed the same or slowed down. There’s been no sign of the acceleration needed for the wildly speculative  hypothesis that your SUV, and China’s coal plants are warming the ocean.

This week a new Nature paper (Hay et al) shows the skeptics were right  — but did that view make it to any news broadcast?

Watch the sea-level scare mutate

Even in The Australian the spin from the propaganda machine gets a running, and the previous slow rise is used to pump the scare that the modern “acceleration” is even scarier. What the Australian (and selected sea level “experts”) don’t mention is that the tide-gauges don’t show any acceleration, and nor did the raw recordings from satellites. The 3mm rising sea claims apparently come from satellites that were calibrated to one subsiding tide gauge in Hong Kong.

It’s cherry picking par excellence. We might finally accept tide gauges up to 1990, but after that the tide gauges don’t count — bring in the “adjusted” satellites.

[The Australian] SEA levels increased at a slower rate last century than previously thought, according to new ­research.

A fresh analysis of tide-gauge records, published in the journal Nature, found that the sea level rose by 1.2mm a year from 1901 to 1990, compared with earlier estimates of between 1.6mm and 1.9mm a year.

Researchers said this meant the acceleration in sea-level rise to 3mm a year over the past two decades was greater than previously thought.

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The Sun and solar physicists go quiet

Sometime around 2007 or 2008 the sun’s magnetic field should’ve become more active again as part of the cycle it had been roughly following for at least 80 years. Instead it fell. The current solar cycle is not like all the other ones…

David Archibald has drawn my attention to the Ap Index and just how remarkably different the current solar cycle is. He also points out that solar physicists were cranking out predictions about this cycle during the last cycle, but now hardly anyone wants to stake a claim on what the sun will do in the next cycle.

Ap Index 1932 – 2014 | Click to enlarge

From David Archibald

The Ap Index is a measure of geomagnetic activity from eight stations around the planet and reflects disturbances in the horizontal component of the Earth’s magnetic field. Activity for the current solar cycle has peaked at about the floor activity for the prior solar cycles back to early 1930s.

David Archibald writes that solar physicists have hit a quiet cycle too.

“The solar physics community has gone very quiet.  There are almost no predictions of Solar Cycle 25 maximum.

At this stage during 23, there were more than 50 predictions of cycle 24

Either people have given up on their models or there is too much reputational risk.

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ABC got it wrong, BOM not concerned with Australian public being misinformed

In a followup to the post If the BOM was incompetent, the ABC would be the last to find out, Ken Stewart has a reply from the BOM.

The news story run by the ABC said the current Queensland drought was the worst in 80 years. When Ken pointed out that the BOM’s own graphs showed that the drought in 2003 was even worse, and the conditions were not that unusual, the ABC effectively said they were parroting BOM statements which, ahem, is all any public broadcaster could be expected to do, right? It’s not like we pay the 1.1 billion-dollar-ABC to ask our bureaucrats hard questions, is it?

Ken wrote to the BOM, who have now replied, and he’s posted it: “How not to admit a mistake”. The BOM blandly point him at their official drought statement which contradicts what their spokesman said:

The current drought in Queensland is comparable to the 2002–2003 drought, which was perhaps more severe in terms of rainfall deficiencies that occurred at times over a very large area. Historical data shows that the current drought is perhaps a one in ten or twenty year event over a significant part of inland eastern Australia (see for example the 24-month deciles map for 2013–2014), but very severe in some places. For example, some location in central Queensland the present deficiencies are the most severe on record, and in addition have been accompanied by record high temperatures. See: 24-month maximum temperature deciles map for 2013–2014.

So both the ABC and the BOM are palming off responsibility for misinformation being broadcast to the public. Neither are quoting the news story, but cite other documents which were not part of the broadcast, as if the invisible caveats makes this OK.

Ken has some questions for the BOM:

I will email them again asking for a specific reply, preferably Yes or No, to the questions:

Was Mr Jeff Sabburg correct in saying “In terms of rainfall deficiencies the comparison is we haven’t seen this across Queensland at least since the 1927- 1929 depression drought”?

Was Mr Sabburg correct in saying “37.3% of the state was covered by the lowest rainfall on record”?

If the answer to either of these is “No”, will the Bureau immediately issue a correction in a media release?

I would like to know if the BOM is concerned that the ABC has misinformed the public about a climate factor. Is it part of the BOM charter that it provides accurate information to the Australian public?  For all the farmers who are making major life and investment decisions based on BOM information and news of fictitious “drought trends”, will the BOM be compensating those who suffer financially?

Will the ABC?






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Those Green Australians! Our emissions per person fell 28% since 1990

Get ready for the startling news that Australians have been great corporate “green” citizens — on a per capita basis, all of us are so much more carbon-efficient (sic) than we were 25 years ago. Back then, in those dark days, people frivolously heated and cooled their homes without a thought to how many sinful cyclones they were creating in the Philippines. They drove recklessly in fossil fueled cars, and windmills were used to pump water a mere 10 metres, not to stop floods in Pakistan.

The amazing thing is that Australia’s population has grown by a whopping 38% since 1990. And our emission have grown with that, but the emissions per person has declined by 28% per person. Why aren’t the Greens more excited?

As with all these statistics, watch the pea for the real story.  Most of that decline is not due to solar panels, pink batts, bird blending wind towers, energy efficiency, or even economic trends — it is predominantly due to cutting down fewer trees. The “improvements” are in the “land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)” sector, of which the “LUCF” basically means deforestation, afforestation and reforestation. The decline is mostly thanks to farmers like Peter Spencer, who was not allowed to cut down trees on his land (and who, by the way, will be back to finish his case against the Commonwealth in February).

Without accounting for regrowth of trees since 1990, our per capita emissions would only have declined by 8%.


Australian per capita emissions

(Click to enlarge)

Unfortunately the graph in the report does not go back to 1990 when per capita emissions were 33.4 t.*

The details for the Quarterly update:

  • In 2013-14, national inventory emissions per capita (excluding LULUCF) were 23.2 t CO2-e per person, compared to 25.2 t CO2-e in 1989-90, representing a 7.8% decline.
  • When LULUCF activities are included, the 2013-14 estimate is 24.1 t CO2-e per person, compared to 33.4 t CO2-e in 1989-90, representing a 27.9% decline.
  • Australia’s population grew strongly over this period, from 17.1 million in June 1990 to over 23.5 million in June 2014 (growth of 37.8%).

LULUCF is a nice euphemism for letting farms and native bush go to pot, largely unmanaged, and reach a state of high-fire-risk bonanza fuel loads. They hold a lot of carbon, but it’s only until the next blaze releases it all back to the sky. We live in a land of eucalyptus that love fires.

This week, as fires threatened outer suburbs of Perth, West Australian Firefighters are calling crown land fire laws absurd.

Vice President of the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, Dave Gossage, said holes in the law have allowed governments to get away with neglecting to adequately manage bush land that presents fire risks without accountability.

“Under the Bushfires Act in WA; that Act does not bind the Crown,” Mr Gossage said.

About 93 per cent of WA’s land area is classified as Crown and include areas that were fire-ravaged.

The Bullsbrook fire affected land managed by local, state and federal governments as well as private property.

As the governments are not bound by the legislation, the land can be neglected by the relevant agency and that agency will not be held accountable.

“So you’ve got this situation, as has been previously reported, a private landowner can get fined for not doing their fire breaks but yet on the other side of the fence, on Crown land, they don’t have to do anything,” Mr Gossage said.

“And yet that will be more of a risk than what is on the private property.

“It’s bit like with the Bullsbrook fires.

“You’ve got federal land, there’s no legal requirement for them to do anything and it’s absurd.”

Remember, in Australia if you personally try to clear a firebreak on your land to protect you from Crown mismanagement, you could go to jail

That’s what happened to Maxwell Szulc.

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