Gingin bushfire predicted to escalate over ‘very fragile’ conditions


The state level 3 incident management team is also on the ground alongside police, ambulance, SES, the Department of Communities and local council representatives.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy incident controller Greg Muir described the “very fragile situation” firefighters faced as they entered the worst fire weather in recent days.

He said the forecast was for increasing and continuing east/north-easterly winds over the next couple of days in the morning and rising temperatures, with no increase in relative humidity overnight.

“So for us as fireys, a lot of dry air around and not much overnight cooling or moisture going by the vegetation out there,” Mr Muir said.

“From a fire perspective, that weather is not in our favour by any stretch but we continue to do very hard, hot work on the fireground.”

Crews have been managing fire lines but spot fires not visible to the naked eye have been dotted throughout, with air support having to use thermal infrared cameras to detect hot spots.

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Mr Muir said there wasn’t a lot of smoke and flames visible, but “it’s not over”.

“We’re still days out of woods of this fire and it’s really not until probably Monday when we get a bit of a trough movement and the wind starts to hold a bit more in the south-west,” he said.

Although a 20-30km/h seabreeze has been forecast for 3pm and tomorrow afternoon, how far it penetrated inland remained to be seen, Mr Muir said.

“So it would push any risk of fire away from the area, where we are [in Guilderton] and the two subdivisions that have been of significant interest to us,” he said.

“And that would be good news if they would persist but the fact is that we’re going back to this easterly influence over the next couple of days.”

Mr Muir said while DFES was “acutely” aware of people wanting to return to their homes, the main priority was to keep people safe.

“That’s the dilemma we’re dealing with and is holding us back from allowing everyone back into their homes and reopening travel routes,” Mr Muir said.

“Until we can get through this hot spell and the winds settle down into something more favourable we’re really not in a position to open up and get everything back to normal.”

Lancelin residents were on a watch and act alert “to reflect the pressure they could be under should there be a breakout”.

“It’s a real waiting and watching game for us now with the weather,” Mr Muir said.

An evacuation centre has been set up at the Guilderton Country Club but pets are not permitted.

Lancelin police Sergeant Michael Paterson told a community meeting at centre anyone leaving from an area with road closures would not be permitted to return.

The following roads are closed:

  • Indian Ocean Drive at Wedge Island Road
  • Indian Ocean Drive at Lancelin Road
  • K.W. Road at Indian Ocean Drive
  • Cowalla Bridge at Orange Springs Road
  • Orange Springs Road at Brand Highway
  • Mimegarra Road
  • Indian Ocean Drive at Cervantes Road
  • Indian Ocean Drive south of Cervantes Road is open to local traffic only needing to go as far south as Wedge Island.
  • Indian Ocean Drive is closed to all traffic south of Wedge Island and north of the Lancelin turn-off.

Smoke is impacting Brand Highway between Regans Ford and Cataby Roadhouse.

People camping in the area of Wedge Island or nearby coastal areas have been told to leave and relocate to a safer place by heading north along Indian Ocean Drive.

Most fire crews have been battling blazes across the state since Saturday, with strike crews from the Goldfields-Midlands and Mid-West Gascoyne having to be brought in to relieve some fighters. There are futher plans to call upon crews from lower South West and Great Southern regions.

Airtankers carried out several drops on Wednesday to put out spot fires and help firefighters battle a couple of hop-overs, where the fire escaped containment lines.

When Mr Muir left Gingin this morning, there was a very strong and hot easterly blowing over the fire ground and a lot of hot air inland.

So far there has been no damage to residences, with only the loss of a farmhouse’s outshed, a pine plantation managed by the Forest Products Commission, and agricultural pasture and fencing.

A separate bushfire broke out near Indian Ocean Drive, in Yanchep, about an hour south of the Ocean Farms and Seaview Park blaze, just after 2pm.

The fire has burned through 100 hectares of land in Yanchep. Credit:Nine News Perth

Aerial footage captured by Nine News Perth of the fire, which is in close proximity to Yanchep Pine Plantation, shows trees engulfed by flames and thick plumes of black smoke.

A watch and act is in place for Indian Ocean Drive, Yanchep Pine Plantation and Yeal Nature Reserve with DFES warning they might be a possible threat to lives and homes.

The fire, which has torn through 200 hectares, started near the intersection of Wapet Road nad Cockatoo Road and is moving fast in a north-westerly direction.

In Perth’s south, a structure fire that broke at 12pm in the City of Rockingham has been extinguished by fire crews.

The cause remains unknown of the fire at Hokin Street, near the intersection of Safety Bay Road, in Waikiki.

Due to the severe fire weather conditions forecast, the following national and regional parks have been closed:

  • Serpentine National Park until 8.30am Sunday, January 10
  • Walyunga National Park until 8am Sunday, January 10
  • John Forrest National Park until 8.30am Sunday, January 10
  • Avon Valley National Park until midday Monday, January 11
  • Mundy Regional Park until 8.30am Sunday, January 10
  • Wungong Regional Park until 8.30am Sunday, January 10
  • The Goat Farm mountain bike park until 8.30am, Sunday January 10
  • Pinjar and Gnangara off-road vehicle areas until 8am Monday, January 11
  • Hoffman Mill located in the Shire of Harvey is closed until further notice.

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Grain harvest tipped to be second biggest on record, as trade tensions with China escalate


Australian farmers are on track to produce the second biggest grain crop ever, following years of drought and as trade relations with China grow frostier.

Commodity forecaster the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has tipped a 51.5-million-tonne national winter crop — 7.4 per cent higher than the most recent prediction in September.

ABARES said New South Wales, after unprecedented drought, was “on the verge” of a record crop, with a forecast production of more than 17.6 million tonnes.

The high yields are due to decent rainfall and growing conditions there, as well as in Victoria and South Australia, meaning winter crops such as wheat, barley and chickpeas had been given a boost.

“New South Wales has had good rain at the start of the season and all the way through the season really,” ABARES senior economist Peter Collins said.

For the major winter crops, wheat production is forecast to increase by 106 per cent from last year to 31.2 million tonnes — the second highest on record.

Barley production should grow by 33 per cent to 12 million tonnes — also the second highest — while canola production is forecast to rise by 59 per cent to 3.7 million tonnes.

NSW is expected to get its biggest crop ever this year, a welcome relief after years of drought.(ABC News: Jess Davis)

Growing conditions in late winter and early spring had been drier in southern Queensland and in Western Australia, meaning production forecasts have been revised down slightly for those states.

Mr Collins, however, said crop yields would still be strong.

“Even with the downward revision for Western Australia it is still going to be around its long-term average, so it’s not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

“And in Queensland, significant parts of their cropping area have been drier than average for large parts of the year.”

Bumper harvest as trade tensions high

Victorian grain grower David Jochinke is well into his harvest near Horsham in the state’s west, and said the results were “absolutely fantastic” for the south-eastern states.

It has been a tense year for the grains industry, after China kicked off a trade war with Australia by announcing hefty trade tariffs on Australian barley.

Mr Jochinke said he hoped this season’s high yields would help offset the financial damage caused by the spat.

“If we can’t make it up in price, we’d prefer to make it up in yields,” he said.

Two men standing in a paddock
David Jochinke hopes the high-yielding crops will make up for damage done by trade spats with China.(ABC Wimmera: Sean Wales)

But he said it would be a challenge to find markets for barley, given China had been a premium purchaser for several years.

He said growers might have already sold barley domestically while other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, were likely to buy at a discounted price.

Next week ABARES will release a report addressing the impact of China trade tensions on various commodities.

Mr Collins acknowledged growers would have to find new markets and likely sell into them at lower prices, but it would be “pre-emptive” to say more at this stage.

Big harvest means more jobs

New South Wales grain grower Sam Heagney said this year’s high yields were having a flow-on effect in the bush and creating employment.

“It actually means there are quite a few jobs going in regional Australia at the moment, which is something particularly relevant with the economic downturn we’ve seen from COVID.

“There are a lot of opportunities and jobs going. Agriculture is back in business.”

And he said while a drop in barley prices had had an impact on the industry, it was not as big a challenge as the drought.

“Compared to the droughts we’ve had, it’s fine,” Mr Heagney said.

“We’re just happy to be farming and growing things, and as long as we’ve got somewhere to sell it we’re happy.”



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Hungary and Poland escalate budget fight over rule of law – POLITICO



The leaders of Poland and Hungary doubled down on their threat to veto the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package on Thursday, rejecting efforts to tie the spending to the rule of law.

Following a meeting in Budapest, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán released a joint declaration that committed them to continue the fight: “We have decided to align our positions on these issues. Neither Poland, nor Hungary will accept any proposal that is deemed unacceptable by the other.”

Both countries are under EU investigation for backsliding on democratic standards as their ruling parties tighten their grip on the judiciary, media and other institutions. They insist they’ll only give way on the budget if there is a “substantial modification” to a contested rule of law mechanism that would allow the EU to block funding if a country breaks the EU’s fundamental principles.

Morawiecki warned that tying cash to democratic standards is “extremely dangerous for European unity. This is a bad solution which creates the danger of the breakup of the union.”

The hardening of the Polish-Hungarian position — which comes despite intensive attempts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to settle the dispute — means EU leaders are now heading for a major clash on rule of law at their upcoming European Council summit on December 10-11.

While Warsaw and Budapest are adamant that they won’t accept what they call “arbitrary” rule of law provisions, the rest of the bloc and the European Parliament insist they won’t give way on a principle they feel defines the EU’s fundamental values.

“It is clear that there is absolutely no support for reopening the conditionality mechanism in the European Parliament or in the Council,” said a senior EU diplomat. “With their statement, Poland and Hungary are moving deeper and deeper into isolation.”

The Hungarian-Polish declaration is a blow to Germany, which leads negotiation efforts as it holds the rotating Council of the EU presidency and has invested great political capital in the budget and recovery fund deal.

The Polish and Hungarian position is that the conditionality mechanism does an end-run around the EU treaties and “applies vague definitions and ambiguous terms without clear criteria on which sanctions can be based, and contains no meaningful procedural guarantees.”

Their statement also complains that the rule of law scheme allegedly goes beyond what EU leaders agreed in their budget deal in July. They insist that if the EU wants to make a link between rule of law and the budget it should be done by amending the bloc’s founding treaties — which effectively gives each member country a veto.

Speaking at a joint press conference following the meeting, Orbán said he was unconcerned about the prospect of a halt in EU funding. The two countries are among the largest recipients of EU cash, which is crucial to their economies. If the veto threat isn’t lifted soon, the EU will have no budget as of next year and would have to rely on emergency mechanisms.

“Hungary faces no financial loss if the European crisis management budget does not come together,” Orbán said.

Both leaders also insisted they were within their rights to wield the veto threat. 

“I see that the larger member states and the media would like to apply pressure saying that the Hungarian veto was somehow inappropriate,” Orbán said, adding: “I would like to emphasize that the veto is a legal tool.”

Morawiecki said Warsaw “won’t hesitate to use a veto for the good of the whole EU,” adding that the rule of law conditionality was a tool to attack certain countries.

Jan Cienski contributed reporting.





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Thailand Steps Up Response as Antigovernment Protests Escalate


BANGKOK — A confrontation between the Thai authorities and antigovernment demonstrators that has escalated in recent days jumped to an uncertain new phase on Friday, as protesters were forcibly dispersed and two of the movement’s participants were charged with violating an obscure law against endangering the royal family.

Riot police officers deployed powerful water cannons for the first time, drenching demonstrators with a stinging liquid and carrying out a spate of new arrests in a crackdown that has hit the protests with an arsenal of threats, diktats and detentions.

The invoking of the arcane law, which carries up to life imprisonment for committing “an act of violence against the queen’s liberty,” added to the tensions in Thailand, which has been periodically engulfed by political turmoil and is known for strict measures to prevent disparaging the king and his kin.

The “act of violence” was, apparently, yelling at a royal motorcade.

Two days earlier, a stretch Rolls-Royce carrying Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, the heir apparent, had made a surprise detour past some of the protesters, who have been calling for fresh elections and reforms to the monarchy for months.

“Oh, the royal motorcade,” said Aekachai Hongkangwan, a veteran political activist, throwing his hand up in the defiant three-fingered salute that the protesters have borrowed from “The Hunger Games.”

“Stay in line and keep the peace,” added Bunkueanun Paothong, a college student, through a megaphone.

That was it. Both accounts were confirmed by eyewitnesses and video footage. But by Friday, both Mr. Aekachai and Mr. Bunkueanun had been charged with violating Section 110 of Thailand’s criminal code — a provision so arcane that a database of Thai Supreme Court cases makes no mention of it.

With an army-drafted Constitution and some legal provisions that hark back to when the country was an absolute monarchy, Thailand has plenty of draconian offenses that can land people in jail for speaking out. A lèse-majesté law criminalizes criticism of the royal family and can mean prison sentences of up to 15 years. (Mr. Aekachai once served two years in prison for insulting the crown.) Sedition and computer crime acts have been used to incarcerate others.

The use of Section 110, however, was unexpected. Human rights lawyers and legal scholars were left scrambling to understand what exactly constituted an “act of violence against the queen’s liberty.” Punishment for the crime, which also applies to acts against the heir apparent, ranges from 16 years to life in prison.

“When I was a student, the lecturer didn’t teach this and just skipped this law,” said Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, an opposition politician and former law professor.

On Friday, the police searched the offices of Mr. Piyabutr’s political movement, under a new emergency decree that the government announced on Thursday morning. It bans gatherings of five or more people in Bangkok and allows the police to declare any place off-limits to protesters. The demonstrators can be held without charge for up to 30 days, without access to lawyers or relatives.

“Don’t be reckless because everyone can die today or tomorrow,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said during a news conference on Friday, in what was seen as a warning to stop the rallies. “Don’t challenge the grim reaper.”

The protesters ignored Mr. Prayuth’s advice. On Friday afternoon, thousands of them, mostly student-aged, gathered again amid a steady rain, just as they had the day before in defiance of the emergency decree.

On Friday evening, hundreds of riot police officers charged toward the protesters and used water cannons against them for the first time. They gushed a stinging blue liquid, compelling the demonstrators to pull back.

With a smaller contingent remaining, protest leaders called an end to the rally, saying that a retreat did not signify defeat. The police said that seven people had been arrested and that there had been injuries among both the security forces and civilians. The emergency decree was extended to Nov. 13.

The appearance of the royal motorcade on Wednesday was a shock for the protesters, who had never expected to be in such proximity to the queen and the prince. King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, the queen and the heir apparent spend most of the year in Germany and rarely return to Thailand. (The queen is the king’s fourth wife, and the prince is the son of his third wife; the king also has a noble consort, akin to an official mistress.)

Criticism of the royal family’s elevated status in Thailand has been taboo for decades, but the student-led protest movement has shattered this convention.

“The goal is to change the whole political system, including the monarchy and the prime minister,” said Napassorn Saenduean, a political science student at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, who watched the royal motorcade glide past on Wednesday. It was the first time that members of the royal family had gotten an extended up-close look at these discontented subjects.

Mr. Prayuth, a retired general, became prime minister in 2014, after leading an army coup that was justified, in part, as necessary to protect the monarchy. Thailand’s royal family is among the world’s richest, and King Maha Vajiralongkorn has extended his authority over military units and palace assets.

On Friday, a speech given by the king the day before was made public, in which the 68-year-old monarch underlined the role of the crown in Thailand.

“Now it is understood that the country needs people who love the country and love the monarchy,” he said.

The protests have drawn thousands of high-school and college students, who are chronicling their political awakening on social media, even as their parents worry about a violent crackdown. Dozens of people were killed when a protest movement was cleared from the streets in 2010, the most recent bout in a country accustomed to deadly political violence.

“Every one of us wants a country that belongs to the people,” said Nattarika Donhongpai, a high school student who attended the rally on Thursday evening in her school uniform. “We want everyone to come out and use their rights and voices to express everything.”

Ryn Jirenuwat and Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.



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Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate


Protest leaders declared victory after handing police a letter detailing their demands. Phakphong Phongphetra, head of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said on a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to police headquarters to decide how to proceed.

A pro-democracy supporter fixes a plaque which declares “This country belongs to the people” during a protest in Bangkok on Sunday.Credit:AP

“Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed.

At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday cheered calls for reform of the monarchy as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution and elections.

Symbolic plaque

Shortly after sunrise on Sunday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in the area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.

It reads, “At this place the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us.”

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech.

Bangkok authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is it would need to be removed, Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters.

Far from all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that had commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017, after Vajiralongkorn took the throne.

Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and that the king was above politics.

“It didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “These actions are symbolically against the king, but the king is not an opponent.”

Thai authorities have said criticising the monarchy is unacceptable in a country where the king is constitutionally “enthroned in a position of revered worship”.

Protests that began on university campuses have drawn increasing numbers of older people. That includes red shirt followers of ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who had clashed for years with pro-establishment yellow shirts before Prayuth seized power in 2014.

“The new generation is achieving what their parents and grandparents didn’t dare. I’m very proud of that,” said Somporn Outsa, 50, a red shirt veteran. “We still respect the monarchy, but it should be under the constitution.”

Protesters say the constitution gives the king too much power and that it was engineered to allow Prayuth to keep power after elections last year. He says that vote was fair.

The next protest is scheduled for Thursday. Protest leaders called on Thais to take October 14 off work to show their support for change.

“Radical change is hard in Thailand, but the movement has at least kept the momentum going,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.

Protests spread

Protests were held in major cities around the world, including London, Tokyo, New York and outside the hotel in Germany where the Thai king has taken up residence.

In Sydney, protesters gathered at Town Hall with placards reading “the king must be under the law” and “tell them not to stage a coup”. Speeches ranged from abuses in the education system, a denunciation of dictatorship, to calls for the Australian government to put pressure on Thailand over human rights abuses.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, organisers were limited to 20 demonstrators at a time but were pleased with the support they saw.

Exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, whose Royalist Marketplace Facebook community boasts 1.4 million members and shares information about the monarchy, sent a message to the Australian protesters from Japan.

Pavin told the Herald and The Age on Sunday that the protesters were brave and consistently raising the bar for discussion of the monarchy, but it was too soon to see what lasting changes would result from the movement.

“What the king is good at is basically ignoring, pretending nothing ever happened,” Pavin said.
“So as much as I appreciate them and commend them for their courage, this is only halfway. When we see that the reform has materialised, then maybe we can congratulate them.”

Pavin said his platform has shown talking about the monarchy “can be normal” in a country where it was often kept private, and it had helped set a new standard for discussing an institution protected by draconian laws.

“I wished I was part of these people and a bit younger,” he said. “When I started there were so many obstacles, to the point that I can’t go home. That is one of the main consequences. If I was able to go home and was a bit younger, I wish I had the same courage.”

Pavin hoped the number of protests would not only provide Thais overseas with a sense of political belonging, but also prompt governments to re-evaluate their dealings with Thailand.

“The noise coming from overseas will be a good reason for governments, especially Western governments, to think carefully about their policy towards the current regime and also the king.”

Reuters, with Michael Ruffles

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