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The summer catch up – stories we missed so far in 2019 and what to expect

After a solid three-week break, The Fifth Estate team is back at the desks and gearing up for a big 2019.

To help us get off the starting blocks we’re calling on our readers for any juicy tip-offs or issues and ideas you’d like to see us explore this year. The best spot to reach us with your musings is editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

And to all our contributors – the regular, the sporadic and the new – we hope you had some time off to mull over important issues and write about them. Please send any such copy our way to the above email address to be published in our Spinifex opinion section. Ask for our brief on content policy and length.

Over the break there’s also been a few notable stories in our patch that you may have missed. Sadly, not many of them are good.

The Opal Tower fiasco

The Opal Tower apartment block in Sydney’s Olympic Park was evacuated twice over the Christmas period due to a large crack found on level 10.

An interim report released on Tuesday from professors Mark Hoffman, John Carter and Stephen Foster found that although the building is structurally sound, there will need to be “significant rectification works” to “repair and strengthen damaged hob beams and in some cases the panels that rest on them.”

The report stated that the likely cause is “localised structural design and construction issues” but more information was needed to confirm this as fact.

The incident has raised questions about the effectiveness of NSW’s quality and safety checks.

In response to the Opal Tower issues, the NSW government will launch an audit of private building certifiers. Certifiers are responsible for signing off on the safety and compliance of new properties. Councils used to certify buildings but in the early 2000s the industry was privatised. It is now self-regulating. And clearly things are not working out as well as they could be.

Expect to hear more from our experts on this in the coming weeks.

The dead fish saga

The NSW Berejiklian government this week announced its game plan to keep native fish populations alive in river systems suffering from heatwaves, low river flows and algal blooms: Solar-powered aerators that boost oxygen levels in the water.

Director of Centre for Ecosystem Science at University of NSW Richard Kingsford told the SMH that although the aerators are commonly used in dams that supply water to communities, it’s a “band-aid” solution for keeping vulnerable fish populations alive that “will do a little bit for a little while.”

The aerators will hopefully help fish survive the current heatwave affecting NSW, with the Bureau of Meteorology expecting temperatures above 40 degrees in many parts of the state over the next four days. The highest temperatures are expected to hit Riverina and western NSW.

The decision follows the death of thousands of fish, including Murray cod that can live for up to 70 years, along a stretch of the Darling River near Menindee Lakes in New South Wales.

The NSW and federal government are blaming the drought for the disaster but there is concern that policy decisions by the NSW government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority have contributed to the fish kill, with some experts worried that water management is taking precedence over the ecological health of the river.

Government action on waste needed

On Tuesday, chief executive officer of the Waste Management Association of Australia Gayle Sloan told ABC’s RN radio program that the federal government is “kicking the can down the road” on Australia’s circular economy transition.

She said that the waste industry needs more support from the government to make the transition to a system where waste is collected and processed in alignment with the waste hierarchy. This includes the creation of new Australian products made from recycled materials, helping to create much-needed manufacturing jobs.

Australian environment ministers made an “interim” commitment in April last year to make 100 per cent of all packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, or earlier. They also agreed to bring forward an update to the 2009 National Waste Policy, which was expected for release before the end of 2018.

On Tuesday Ms Sloan called for support and funding from government to help industry transition and floated the idea of an incentive or tax on virgin materials that would help drive demand for Australian recyclables.

Ideally, Ms Sloan would like to see a transitioned waste industry up and running in as little as two or three years, and suggests fast-tracking planning approvals to help make this happen.

She also said that “we need to think about what goes in and what goes out” – meaning that more consideration needs to be given to the materials used in packaging and other sources of waste.

Pringles potato chips, she used as an example, are packaged in three different materials: Metal, plastic and cardboard.

Kids to play on inner west streets

In more cheerful news, children will soon be free to play in some streets in the inner west.

With more families and children living in high-density urban areas such as Sydney’s inner west, the Inner West Council has decided to temporarily block off two selected streets from traffic in a pilot to revive street play.

The streets will be fully or partially closed to through-traffic for two to three hours on a Sunday afternoon.

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