Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Mrs Bloody-Angry of Balmoral

Mrs Bloody-Angry of Balmoral

There's a scandal in my soup

My anger started building a couple of weeks back when we attended a Sea Shepherd fundraiser. The event was primarily about the latest anti-whaling and Taiji Dolphin Defense campaigns, but there was a video on a loop for much of the time. It was about shark finning. I assumed the footage was of fishers from alien cultures until I noticed one particular statistic in a list of data about numbers of sharks killed each year: 78,000 in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Why were such large numbers of sharks being killed off the coast of Queensland and what did it have to do with shark finning?

So the following day I did some research, and I'm still reeling from shock. Shark fin soup is served in thousands of Chinese restaurants across Australia, although it's often not on the menu. You have to ask for it. Fins exchange hands in the Chinese quarters of major Australian cities for many hundreds of dollars, and there are commercial shark fisheries producing fins, among other parts, for export to countries where this 'delicacy' – or barbarism, depending on your point of view – is big business. Millions of sharks are killed each year across the globe – for a variety of reasons but increasingly for soup – and many species are now seriously threatened. Such a decline of a top predator is extremely bad news (see The sea, the sea,October 2013).

I called the Queensland Department of Fisheries to ask if it was true that sharks fished in the waters off this state don't have to be landed before finning. How could they explain finless sharks washed up on the beaches? A Fisheries Queensland spokesperson later told me:

The practice of finning sharks and dumping their bodies at sea is illegal in Queensland, and severe penalties up to $110,000 apply. Not only is shark finning illegal and wasteful, but it is simply inhumane to treat living animals in this way and will not be tolerated. Queensland's fisheries regulations are in place to limit shark catches, which includes a ban on taking sharks just for their fins. Under Queensland legislation, anyone taking a shark fin must also retain the body of the shark whilst at sea. These rules are in place to act as a deterrent to targeting these animals for their fins alone. When inspecting a commercial fishing vessel, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol checks that the number of fins matches the number of shark ‘barrels’, or bodies, and the catches are recorded in logbooks. If anyone suspects illegal fishing including shark finning, they should report it to the Fishwatch Hotline on 1800 017 116 for investigation.

If a shark is thrown back into the water without its fins it suffers an agonising death, either suffocating, bleeding to death or under attack by other predators. Do most Australians know there is commercial shark fishing on their doorsteps? Are they comfortable with the fact that being part of Asia Pacific means that barbaric practices are imported as well as manufactured goods, wealthy tourists and foreign students?

The answers to further questions you might have about shark fishing and finning in Australia can be found here, here and here.

If you would like to boycott Chinese restaurants that serve shark fin soup – or be more proactive – visit The Australian Anti Shark Finning Alliance's website and its Wall of Shame.

The circus is back in town

The 44th Parliament is underway, complete with promises of good behaviour, grown-up debate and respect. Things didn't start well this week, the first hour reaching new heights of silliness as a result of name-calling. I worry about the new speaker – another Ms Bishop, as if one weren't enough. She ruled initially that it was OK for members of the House of Reps to call the Labor leader 'Electricity Bill'. Pause to consider her credentials: 'twas she, along with Sophie Mirabella, now thankfully departed from the LNP front bench, who stood with Abbott at the notorious anti-carbon pricing rally backed by those offensive 'Bob Brown's Bitch' placards. Now Bronwyn, with hindsight, that wasn't wise, was it? It undermines your claim to impartiality, perhaps, when ruling on carbon-pricing insults. Do you think that will help dispel the Australian people's cynicism about their political representatives?

Tony Abbott is still suffering from repetition syndrome and question aversion. On 7.30 the other night, he wouldn't answer Leigh Sales perfectly reasonable question about the number of boats declined by Indonesia. He surely can't believe his policy is working or that he hasn't upset Indonesia? And I believe someone will snap soon on hearing 'stop the boats', and kill him. Same old, same old.

Check out the latest Clark and Dawe for a bit of light relief.

Climate chaos

I'm not talking about the weather. Although I might, following umpteen thunder storms since last weekend. No, I'm angry about climate-denying governments at both Federal and state levels. The last few weeks have seen another Galilee Basin mega mine approved, again with no cumulative groundwater impact study as a condition; the reduction of coal mining royalties to encourage even more mines in the Galilee and elsewhere; the dismantling of climate authorities and renewable energy agencies and the reduction of scientists at CSIRO; a refusal to send the Environment Minister to climate talks in Warsaw; the withdrawal of rehabilitation funds for developing countries impacted by climate change; and a U-turn on emissions targets.

In recognition of Australia's embarrassing stance on these key climate issues, Climate Action Network International has already presented Australia with two Fossil of the Day awards in Warsaw. A big joke, yes, but the shame of moving in a completely opposite direction from many industrialised countries isn't lost on globally responsible governments and, hopefully, those back in Oz who like to think their nation is well respected on the world's political stage.

In the meantime, a super typhoon with record-breaking wind speeds has laid waste huge areas of the Philippines and killed thousands of people. Once more comes the cry, 'You can't link specific weather events to climate change', which reminded me of, 'You can't identify the carbon emissions from one mega mine within regional or national contributions to global warming', from the Alpha Mine proponent in the Land Court recently.

Democracy is broken

Yesterday I read a sad tale of a community in far eastern Victoria trying to stop an oversized boat-ramp redevelopment which is finally going ahead following a long battle. This decades-long struggle has divided the town and broken the spirit of some campaigners. One comment summed up what I suspect a lot of people feel across this land, whether they be in communities threatened by coal seam gas or coal mining, port expansion or urban sprawl:

Something is broken in the systems of governance when the overwhelming majority of people disagree with the development and yet it continues through those structures of governance to great social and environmental cost. 

What chance of repairing a broken system in the hands of a right-wing government more in tune with their big business mates than small rural communities whose livelihoods are being bulldozed out of the way?

Angry? I'm bloomin' livid.

Clamour for change

Clamour for change

Swan Lake digging update

Swan Lake digging update