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Tuesday was Australia's hottest day on record with an average temperature 40.9C, & more in News in 5.

– With AAP. 

1. Tuesday was Australia’s hottest day on record with an average temperature 40.9C.

Temperatures across the country averaged 40.9 degrees on Tuesday, making it officially Australia’s hottest ever day with a huge hot expansive air mass or “heat dome” on its way to New South Wales.

Before this week, the hottest day was in January 2013 with a record of 40.3.

100 fires are burning across NSW with temperatures expected to hit 45 in some places today. The Rural Fire Service has issued extreme fire warnings for the Sydney, Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges with winds of more than 100km per hour also expected.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says the fires were forecast to be “erratic and significant” due to volatile winds, reports Sydney Morning Herald.

Bushfires have this season officially burnt the most land on modern record across eastern New South Wales, according to the ABC. We’ve also just experienced the country’s highest fire weather danger on record for Spring since 1950.

Fires have burnt through 2.7 million hectares which as the ABC point out, is an area bigger than Wales.

Queensland is battling 70 fires with central areas of the state under very high fire danger warnings.

Adelaide and Canberra are both forecast to hit 40 degrees today, with the heatwave expected to intensify from there. Southern and central Australia will be experiencing temperatures up to 16 degrees above average by Friday.

2. Drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight one step closer.

Norwegian energy company Equinor has been granted environmental approval to drill an oil exploration well in the Great Australian Bight, the decision hailed by the federal government and the energy sector but decried by environmental activists.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) says Equinor now has two of the four approvals required before activity can begin.

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“The rigorous assessment process undertaken by NOPSEMA took almost eight months and involved a range of specialists with considerable environmental, scientific and engineering experience,” the regulator said in a statement on Wednesday.

Equinor was first granted a petroleum title over areas in the Bight in 2011 and now has an accepted environment plan.

It must still have a well operations plan and a facility safety case approved before it can begin drilling its proposed Stromlo-1 well at a site about 400km off the South Australian coast in water more than 2.2 kilometres deep.

If approved, Equinor plans to begin work in late 2020 with the operations expected to last for 60 days.

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the Bight project had the potential to open up a major new petroleum basin.

“In a continent as large as ours I hope we can find another oil and gas province to replace the Bass Strait,” he said.

“The Great Australian Bight is relatively unexplored but considered to be highly prospective for petroleum resources, with potential to provide significant economic benefits and help strengthen our fuel security as a nation.”

Equinor’s country manager for Australia, Jone Stangeland, said environmental approval was an important milestone for the drilling program.

“We have been preparing for safe operations for two and a half years, holding over 400 meetings with more than 200 organisations across Southern Australia,” he said.

“We will continue to engage with the community as we progress through the process.”

The Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association said it was important for oil exploration to resume in the Bight to understand the scale of the resources and whether commercial development was possible.

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“This is an important step towards understanding the energy resource potential of the Great Australian Bight and delivering major economic and energy benefits to the state and the nation,” director Matthew Doman said.

But environmental groups have accused NOPSEMA of ignoring the concerns of the Australian community, coastal councils, experts and tradition owners.

“We are gobsmacked that NOPSEMA could approve Equinor’s plan that experts have slammed,” Wilderness Society Director Peter Owen said.

“The vast majority of Australians don’t want oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and we will now be looking at our legal options.

“The fight for the Bight is one of the biggest environmental protests Australia has seen, and this approval will only further mobilise community opposition.”

NOPSEMA said it had imposed stringent conditions on its approval to ensure a high level of protection to the environment, in recognition of the Bight’s unique values and sensitivities.

Restrictions include limits on the time of year any activity can take place, regular public reporting on the impact to the environment and has called for additional rigs capable of drilling relief wells to be in local waters ahead of the project’s start.

3. ‘We are deeply sorry we haven’t been able to return these bodies.’ Hopes fading in volcano retrieval mission.

New Zealand police will scale down their search for bodies missing from last Monday’s Whakaari eruption, saying they are “deeply sorry” for their failure to complete the task.

“That has been our mission throughout. Firstly to save people and then to recover people,” deputy commissioner Mike Clement said on Wednesday.

“It hurts us. It hurts our people and it hurts everyone in the community when we don’t achieve that.

“We are deeply sorry we haven’t until this time, been able to return these bodies.”

Of the 47 adventure tourists and guides on Whakaari during the blast, all but Sydney teenager Winona Langford and Whakatane tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman have been accounted for.

Police had remained positive and committed to returning the bodies to families since establishing the retrieval operation.

They’ve made two trips to the surface of the active volcano, several dive explorations in nearby waters and many aerial searches, by plane, helicopter and drone.

Police are now firm in their belief that a major storm on the night of the eruption has washed the bodies to sea.

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But nine days after the eruption, with a vast expanse of the Bay of Plenty to search, police admit they are struggling.

“The reality is we’ve dived in the area where the body was last seen and we can’t find it,” Clement told Radio NZ.

Local police will now take over command but retain an Eagle helicopter and the Deodar vessel to enable the water search – which has expanded to North Island bays.

“What we do is model and put ourselves in a position where we think things could eventuate and if all of those things are playing out then we will find it,” Clement continued.

“And if they don’t, we won’t.”

The heartbreaking scenario comes after the jubilation of last Friday, when a crack defence force squad retrieved six bodies from nearby the crater.

Family of Marshall-Inman were in Whakatane for the successful mission only to learn that he wasn’t among the six bodies recovered.

Hayden’s brother Mark Inman said the family was coping with its grief as best it could.

“We’re staying positive. You’ve got to keep positive thoughts so that you can forever hope that he’ll return home one day,” he told 1News.

“The only positive that would come out of him not returning is his absolute love of the island and his passion for White Island.

“He’ll forever be a guardian out there.”

Marshall-Inman had a long fascination with the volcano, with Inman saying the fateful visit was his 1111th to the island.

“You could speak to him every day about it and he’d give you a new fact or something new that had happened on the island,” he said.

“He loved sharing such a beautiful place with so many people, both Kiwis and internationals.”

A reception will be held on Friday in Whakatane in Marshall-Inman’s memory.

4. British museums begin process to return stolen Aboriginal artefacts.

Indigenous Queenslanders are preparing to reclaim sacred artefacts stolen by the British more than a century ago.

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Manchester Museum has returned 43 sacred ceremonial items to mark the 250th anniversary next year of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia.

The Gangalidda and Garawa communities of far north Queensland will welcome the artefacts home in a special cultural ceremony on Wednesday at Burketown, near the Northern Territory border.

The artefacts range from traditional body ornaments and slippers to a churinga, a wood or stone item believed to embody the spiritual double of a relative or ancestor.

Many of the items cannot be photographed, seen or touched by non-Indigenous people.

One of the few items that can be shown is a ceremonial headpiece made of Emu or bird feathers which is used for initiation ceremonies.

Around 32,000 items belonging to Aboriginal people have so far been identified as being held in UK museums, along with 220 institutions across the world that have collections.

Manchester Museum has held some of the material since the 1920s.

It is the first museum in Europe to begin the repatriation process in a project in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

5. “Jetstar needs to come to the table.” Airline continues to face pressure from unions who threaten to strike.

Budget airline Jetstar should return to the negotiating table in a bid to avoid further strike action by workers demanding a “minuscule” extra 90 cents an hour, a union boss says.

Baggage handlers and ramp workers are set to walk off the job again on Thursday as a bitter dispute over pay and safety concerns drags on.

Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine accused the company of shutting down negotiations in late November and ignoring workers’ communications since.

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“We are appealing again today. Jetstar needs to come to the table,” Mr Kaine told reporters at Sydney Airport on Wednesday.

“It’s Jetstar that is putting the Australian public out here, not the workers.”

The union wants more rest breaks, a guaranteed 12-hour break between shifts, guaranteed 30 hours a week and annual wage increases of four per cent.

Mr Kaine said the pay rise amounted to less than an extra dollar an hour and was “minuscule” when compared to Jetstar’s profits.

The airline says it’s offering staff a three per cent pay rise.

The company said it will meet only if the union “provides clear evidence they are prepared to discuss a deal that fits within our wages policy”.

“We won’t be swayed by TWU’s stand-over tactics and have strong contingencies in place to protect customers’ travel,” a spokeswoman said in a statement on Wednesday.

Jetstar said it had already contacted affected customers to offer alternative flights, a refund or a change to their travel date.

Earlier this week the company said cutting its January flight schedules by about 10 per cent will reduce disruption to passengers who will be able to reschedule flights or get refunds.

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Mr Kaine said the union has a “litany” of information about workers who have back pain, crushed knees and shoulder injuries due to the “sheer intensity of the work”.

“These workers are asking for nothing more than a safe work environment and a modest claim to meet the needs of their families,” he said.

In addition to the TWU strike the Australian Federation of Air Pilots began industrial action on Friday and continued over the weekend.

Jetstar says the industrial action into January combined with the December action is costing the company about $20 million to $25 million.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack appeared to back the union’s call for negotiations to resume.

“It would be good if they could come around the table and reach a good resolution so that people can get on with their travel plans across the Christmas-New Year period,” he told Sky News.

Feature image: Jeremy Piper/AAP.

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