Bushfires fanned by winds combined into a single giant blaze north of Sydney late on Friday, blanketing Australia’s biggest city in hazardous smoke, causing weekend sports games to be canceled and prompting calls for outdoor workers to stay home. Wildfire has killed at least four people and destroyed more than 680 homes across eastern Australia since the start of November, months earlier than the usual summer bushfire season.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne said on Monday said the treatment of an Australian writer detained in China was “unacceptable”, and called for more details on his case in a move likely to increase tensions with the government in Beijing. In an unusually frank statement, Payne said she was “very concerned” by reports she had received from Australian embassy officials who recently visited Yang in detention.
More than 50 people were treated for asthma and breathing-related problems in Sydney on Tuesday as smoke blown from New South Wales bushfires engulfed the Australian city in thick smoke. Air quality dropped to “hazardous” levels in the Sydney area overnight, according to the New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology. In some areas of Sydney, the air quality was so bad that officials warned everyone to “avoid outdoor exertion and stay inside as much as possible.”
Disgraced rugby star Israel Folau has linked bushfires in New South Wales and drought to Australia’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion. The 30-year-old, who was delivering a sermon at the Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Sydney on Sunday, said “God is speaking” to Australians and called for the laws to be reversed.
Official weather forecasts for Australia out on Thursday showed no substantial rains for at least three months, providing grim news as firefighters battle to get more than 100 bushfires raging across the east coast under control. Wildfires in New South Wales and Queensland states have killed four people, destroyed hundreds of homes and wiped out 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and bush over the past week.
Fire chiefs in Australia have warned of “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”, saying New South Wales – the country’s most populous state – faces an unprecedented “catastrophic” fire day on Tuesday. Sixty fires are currently burning in across the state, 40 of which are running out of control. There are also nearly 50 fires burning in Queensland, and fires in Western Australia and South Australia.
Hundreds of koalas are feared to have burned to death in an out-of-control bushfire on Australia’s east coast, wildlife authorities said on Wednesday. A bushfire believed to have been sparked by a lightning strike on Saturday near the town of Port Macquarie some 400km (249 miles) north of Sydney has ravaged an area of more than 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) with authorities battling to bring it under control.
About 1,000 people a day are climbing Uluru, the world-famous red rock at the heart of Australia, as tourists rush for a last chance to ascend the landmark before a ban comes into force. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is sacred to the Anangu nation, the traditional owners of the Unesco-listed rock, who have spent years encouraging people to not climb it out of respect.
Australia’s biggest newspapers have run front pages designed to appear heavily redacted as part of a campaign against government secrecy and legislation that puts reporting and press freedom at risk. The protest is designed to put public pressure on the government to exempt journalists from laws restricting access to sensitive information, enact a properly functioning freedom of information system, and raise the benchmark for defamation lawsuits.
Donald Trump called Scott Morrison to ask for help in an investigation aimed at discrediting the Mueller inquiry, and Morrison agreed to assist. The call, first reported by the New York Times but confirmed by the Australian government, happened shortly before the Australian prime minister flew to the US to visit Trump last week. White House sources also confirmed the report, the Australian ABC reported.