C

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings! My thanks to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani for yet again an irresistible Christmas card.

I live on the southern edge of Sydney at Bundeena surrounded by the Royal National Park. The submarine cable across Port Hacking to us was recently damaged, leaving many of us without internet and land-line communication for weeks. I half enjoyed it and succumbed: reading and listening to Radio National. However it has also been frustrating as there is work to do, travel plans to India to finalise and Christmas!  Some of you were concerned about my silence – thank you.

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

WORLD: China is now the biggest economy in the world giving the USA something to think about – and get used to. It will be fascinating to see how the Chinese use their power. Presidents Xi and Obama unexpectedly signed a concrete agreement for greenhouse gas reductions post 2020. This was just one of several recent humiliations for the Australian government for their inaction over climate change.

The Australian government had tried (unsuccessfully) to exclude climate change from the agenda at the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, claiming that it was not an economic issue.

In a speech at a Queensland university Obama dared to express concern (like many other people and experts) over the deterioration of the endangered Great Barrier Reef. With the UN Lima conference and then Paris later next year aiming at binding emission targets, don’t you think there is again a real momentum in the general community for action? It was horrifying how vested interests and climate change deniers so successfully sabotaged efforts last time after the Copenhagen conference, despite the overwhelming scientific data and analysis.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather and the changes we are all experiencing should be enough to convince most intelligent people that something is wrong.

In the US Warren Buffet is buying solar farms while our government does its best to sabotage the renewable energy industry where there has been a 70% drop in investment.

Most people are shocked but not surprised at the US Senate Report on the CIA Detention Interrogation Program.  It seems torture yields very little useful or reliable information.  Despite the horrific details, especially of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”,  the ever-charming and ever-unrepentant Dick Cheney said “I’d do it again in a moment”.

IS do not seem to have been quite so successful lately but are much better armed and funded than their opposition. Lebanon is being drawn into the conflict. Egypt seems to be getting even more repressive. Malaysia is turning more fundamental, and PM Abe was re-elected in Japan and will no doubt pursue his right wing and nationalistic agenda.  Their economy is in recession and there was only a 53% voter turnout.

The low prices for oil and gas could be a defining issue for the world in 2015.  The US, Iran and Russia are among many countries to be very affected.  On top of already imposed sanctions, the Russians are experiencing a crumbling economy and rouble.  Will this make Putin less or more pugnacious?

There was talk of an “anyone but Bibi” coalition of opposition candidates for the elections in Israel early next year.  Israel however will probably move even further to the right.  While International humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of an occupier’s population to occupied territory, an estimated 515,000 Jewish settlers live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While the Jewish settlements continue to be built relentlessly and are making a Palestinian State almost impossible, a worldwide coalition in favour of Palestinian Statehood is growing.

Ebola is less in the news and I hope this means the disease is not spreading at the same rate and not compassion fatigue.  Unfortunately the epidemic has devastated both the population (last statistics I read were 6,388 deaths out of 17,942 cases), and the economies of the affected countries.

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

INDIA: I loved attending the FIAPO conference in Jaipur in September, and I’m now looking forward to returning to India in January. I’m showing the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at the 3rd Minding Animals Conference (MAC 3) in Delhi running from 13 -20 January 2015. There is an interesting and diverse line up of international and national speakers and participants.

I’m then hoping to visit the last Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat.  Unfortunately I”ll probably miss the Jaipur Literary Festival (21-25 January 2015) but I will catch the India Art Fair (29 January – 1 February 2015).

Asiatic lion

Asiatic lions

Asiatic lions once roamed from Syria to India.  Hunting nearly drove them to extinction and in 1870 there were only 12 remaining.  The good news is that their number in the Susan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary has grown to about 400 although this apparently is now an over-population.  I am quite relaxed about actually sighting any lions and there is plenty of other wildlife, especially birds. I try not to impose, disturb or interfere in their lives unless it… happens sort of naturally. I’m just interested in learning more about them and their future.

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

CACH:  I wonder if these caged African lions in South Africa have been “petted” when cubs, then “walked” with tourists, and faced being shot?  The Australian representative of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Donalea Patman has just returned from South Africa.  She sent me these articles in the SA press (here and here) about the South African government asking the Australian government to reconsider its potential ban on the importation of lion trophies. This illustrates just how powerful the hunting lobby is, but also how effective a ban could be. The accompanying article reported that “overseas hunters are flocking to kill in SA” and that spending has soared 32% as 8000 bag 44,000 trophies.

AUSTRALIA: I remain mostly appalled by our government and I’m glad to see from the polls that a majority of people agree. The polls are the worst “in living memory” for a government at this stage of the political cycle.  Many government backbenchers are very worried and less united.  Very surprisingly, Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper has begun criticising their performance, even in editorials, although diehards Greg Sheridan, Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson are still in denial. Radio shock jocks Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and columnist Andrew Bolt who are usually blind supporters of the government, have also been critical.

When will the government start taking responsibility and stop blaming the previous government? They are rigidly ideological but with no vision, flexibility or strategy.  They have demonstrated that they are beholden to some vested interests, and from time to time are mean-spirited, arrogant, out of touch, untrustworthy and inept.

The government’s inequitable May budget is still not fully implemented and a recent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) criticises and questions a number of issues in the budget.

Unemployment has risen to 6.3%.  I can’t think of one job creation initiative – just job losses from government cuts, and businesses and manufacturers closing.  Consumer confidence is down 13%.  With falling commodity prices and less tax revenue, there is now a $40 billion deficit. When we were shamed into reluctantly contributing $200 million to the Green Climate Fund, this came out of the diminishing Foreign Aid budget which has been cut $3.7 billion.

Scott Ludlum of the Greens is the politician I have been most interested in this year, especially after his devastating Tony Abbott Welcome to W.A. speech which became a hit on YouTube.  The opposition ALP is just letting the government unravel, and that’s fine by me.  Governments lose elections.  The ALP will play it safe, and will not undertake any necessary reforms, like loosening the ties with the trade unions. I’m not expecting them to suddenly discover their compassion or conscience.

ABC: Despite a firm promise before the election, the government has cut the budget of our highly respected public broadcaster, the ABC, by 5%. 1 in 10 are losing their jobs (and 1 in 5 at the Commonwealth Science Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). Conservatives view the ABC as biased and left wing.  Many of the government’s supporters however live in rural and regional areas and are very dependent on ABC radio and television. I loved many of the diverse and informative issues discussed on Bush Telegraph which has been axed.

I think the ABC effectively interrogates whoever is in power and address the major issues of the day.  I find it addictively informative and interesting.  Some people call for more conservative commentators and presenters on the ABC but unfortunately most of the candidates are too shamelessly partisan or Tea Party nutty.  The Institute of Public Affairs seems to have an endless supply of cocky young propagandists that are used as “balance” on programs such as The Drum.

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly is a brilliant and amusing commentator-on-everything and is unfortunately leaving Radio National to co-host The Project on Channel 10.  Waleed is very well informed about politics, but his many other enthusiasms include music and sport. This year in Australia we have seen cricketer Phillip Hughes killed while batting and a footballer paralysed by a tackle. Racing saw the death of two female jockeys and then two horses in the Melbourne Cup.  Waleed wondered – like many of us – is the cost too great?

David Pocock chained to a digger

David Pocock chained to a digger

Congratulations to champion Rugby Union footballer David Pocock for having the courage to chain himself to machinery to protest against the Maules Creek coal mine in the Leard Forest NSW.  He drew attention to the danger the mine posed to the forest, and the impact of coal mining on the local community – and the planet.  Pocock said that before this protest “I have never participated in non-violent direct action.  I have always hesitated, concerned about the impact it might have on my career”.

I don’t think enough of our celebrities use their position to fight for important issues, and it is rarer for a sportsman.

JOHN KEY:  Oliver Hartwich was commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre to write about John Key, the low-key PM of New Zealand.  In an article in the SMH Hartwich described how unlike the Abbott government so far, Key has methodically and successfully implemented a conservative centre-right agenda and he has just been re-elected for a third term. “Patience, preparation and pragmatism are the defining characteristics of Key’s government style” according to Hartwich.  “Nothing ever hits the electorate by surprise.  Changes in direction are flagged well in advance, and legitimacy is sought through elections.  It is a strategy that could be described as incremental radicalism”.  As a former Merrill Lynch executive, Key does not micro-manage his ministers, but is “ruthlessly efficient”.

Jimson Weed White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe 1932

Jimson Weed  White Flower No 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe 1932

Not many Georgia O’Keeffe paintings come on the market, and this painting recently sold at auction for US$44.4 million.  It is a record for an artwork by a female artist.  (The art auction record is US$142.4 million for Three Studies of Lucien Freud by Francis Bacon).  O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98. This painting was de-accessioned from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and some – like the BBC’s Will Gompertz, think it odd that a museum is “selling an artwork by the artist it was founded to represent”.

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

CATS: I love the book Cat Lady Chic which I bought as a Christmas present but don’t think I can hand over! It contains wonderful photographs of some of the most glamorous movie stars and people with their cats.  Cat ladies include Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy, Eartha Kitt and Vivien Leigh, although some others just use the cats as props!

Grumpy Cat is now worth $100 million in endorsements!

Apart from all the cats and besotted owners, I loved the information in The Secret Life Of the Cat recently shown on SBS. Cats apparently live on average to 15, but I think some actually die very young and for many around 12 is a vulnerable age.  Survivors can go on to 18-20.  50 cats tagged with GPS trackers and collar cams were monitored in an English village which was surrounded by woods.  The males ranged for 100 metres and the females 50 metres, although most spent only 20% of their time outside.  On average the owners found one kill per cat per week.  The “experts” thought cats are evolving away from hunting as there is no need, and they are becoming more domesticated.  In the denser urban situations the cats checked their own territory daily, but seemed to “time share” wider contested territory with enemies, in order to avoid each other.  Guess where most cats went most regularly?  Through the cat flaps of other cats to finish off their meals!

Northern White Rhino

Northern White Rhino

AFRICA ANIMAL STATS: with the death of 44 year old Angalifu there is now only 5 northern white rhinos in the world, down from 2000 in 1960; only 80,000 giraffes, 20,000 lions  and 450,000 elephants remain.  100,000 elephants are estimated to have died between 2010-2012, primarily because of the Chinese thirst for ivory.  A crocodile, supposedly 140 years old, recently died in South Africa. The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive record of the status of many threatened species.

MISC STATS: there is a conservative estimate of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic (270,000 tonnes) floating in our oceans; Apple is worth $60 billion and Uber $40 billion; Instagram has 300 million monthly active users and Twitter 284 million; 300 million Indians have no power and 1/3rd have no toilets.

We have had our own tragic hostage drama in Sydney and lost two bright young people.  The gunman had an appalling and violent track record and should have been in custody or at the very least monitored.  He was disowned by the Muslim community.  Unfortunately this incident pales in comparison with the 141 slaughtered in Pakistan.  One bright aspect of all this is that it has actually brought people of all beliefs together to say “ENOUGH”.  I was very heartened by the success of the hashtag #I’llridewithyou campaign to support any Muslim women wearing headscarves who may feel vulnerable in public at the moment.

The overdue rapprochement between the USA and Cuba with the restoring of diplomatic relations is exciting, and let’s hope for more news like this in 2015.

Thanks to all of you that read my blogs, leave comments and communicate with me.  Thanks for keeping me informed and sending me photographs, articles etc.  My thoughts are with those of you that have lost loved ones this year. The love for animals and the work so many of you do on their behalf is very much appreciated, and in concert, we can make a difference.

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and a Happy New Year!