Asian Correspondent » Rowena Dela Rosa Yoon Asian Correspondent Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Will Australia be next to legalise same-sex marriage? Sat, 27 Jun 2015 10:21:57 +0000
Australia demands marriage equality (Image:

Australia demands marriage equality (Image:

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) communities in Australia have welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalise same-sex marriage in all its 50 states – bringing the total of countries worldwide that allow marriage equality to 24.

LGBTI communities in Australia are celebrating and now taking the opportunity to maintain the momentum.

Ashley Fowler, on her blog on Human Rights Campaign, said Australia will be “the next country with an opportunity to approve nationwide marriage equality”.

Noting an all-time high of 72 percent supporting same-sex marriage,  she said the Australian Government “will allow its members to vote their conscience on marriage”.

Australia’s marriage equality bills have been defeated many times in both houses of Australian Parliament. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a devout Catholic, repeated his opposition to “radical changes” that could tear down old-time traditions, including gay and lesbian marriages. Abbott defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. He came under fire in 2013 when he warned LGBTI supporters not to embark on “radical change based on the fashion of the moment”.

“Support for legalization of same-sex marriage has hit an all-time high of 72 percent among Australians.  Yet for the past six years, the decision to legalize same sex marriage has been held up in parliament for a variety of political reasons,” Fowler said.

The Human Rights Campaign supports Australian Marriage Equality with hashtags #TeamEqual and #LoveCantWait.

The Human Rights Campaign supports Australian Marriage Equality with hashtags #TeamEqual and #LoveCantWait.

Abbott is unswayed

Despite the US court’s ruling, Abbott is unswayed. He told Australian media in Melbourne on Saturday he will not change his mind as the ruling is a matter for the US, not Australia. He added he is yet to read the court’s ruling and cannot comment any further.

The opposition Labor Party is expected to push back on the agenda when parliament resumes after the winter break. Labor leader Bill Shorten and deputy Tanya Plibersek issued in a joint statement backing calls for action. They said this is a joyous day in America and it is therefore right to make a call to action in Australia.

Shorten called on Abbott to grant a free vote to Liberal MPs on marriage equality and for a Liberal MP to move his marriage equality amendment bill which proposes replacing the words “man and women” with “two people” in defining who can be legally married. Shorten is rallying for the support of MPs to second, move, and have a free vote on his bill.

LGBTI rally in Australia. (Photo: AAP-Dean-Lewins)

LGBTI rally in Australia. (Photo: AAP-Dean-Lewins)

Shorten said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision would have implications similar to those that followed last month’s referendum in Ireland. He said the referendum prompted him to introduce his marriage equality bill.

Cabinet Minister Christopher Pyne described the U.S. court’s ruling as “fascinating” and said same-sex marriage will likely be back on the agenda when parliament resumes for voting.

The Australian Greens are happy with the U.S. ruling and said Australia needs to catch up. Senator Janet Rice said in a statement, “The Greens are committed to working with our cross-party colleagues to make sure this happens by the end of the year.”

Rice has been leading a separate campaign to support marriage equality:

Right around the world, marriage equality is becoming a reality for many LGBTI couples. The time has come for marriage equality in Australia. We have an exciting opportunity here – let’s work together and get marriage equality right.

The campaign aims to collect  3,000 signatures. So far “1849 people have showed support representing 61.63% of the goal,” she said.

All eyes on Australia

The Australian Marriage Equality (EMA) announced that with marriage equality achieved across the U.S., America’s largest marriage equality advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) , has launched a campaign to focus world attention on the lack of marriage equality in Australia.

The campaign will raise the profile of the Australian marriage equality campaign, informing its supporters that “all eyes are now on Australia,” EMA National Director Rodney Croome said.

Croome said the HRC has notified millions of its supporters of the fact that “Australia is lagging behind the US and plans to work closely with Australian advocates over the coming weeks to help raise the global profile of the Australian marriage equality campaign.”

Croome said EMA welcomes the support to highlight how far Australia is falling behind. But “as marriage equality has been achieved in the U.S., all eyes will be on Australia with the hope we are next,” he said.

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East Asian nations revealed as top financiers of coal exports Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:46:08 +0000
Miners shovel coal at a mine in China's Hebei province. Pic: AP.

Miners shovel coal at a mine in China’s Hebei province. Pic: AP.

Japan, China, and South Korea are the top financiers of coal exports via international financial conduits, a new report has revealed.

International environmental groups have called for these countries to stop financing coal exports via Export Credit Agencies and asked all other countries involved in climate talks to honor their commitments to combat global warming by reducing carbon emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International and World Wide Fund for Nature released the report, Under the Rug: How Governments and International Institutions are Hiding Billions in Support to the Coal Industry, exposing the secretive operation between governments and financial institutions to finance big polluters despite international outcry for urgent climate action.

The report said “total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to international public finance for coal between 2007 and 2014 conservatively amounted to almost half a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year. Emissions are close to a total of 18 gigatonnes for the entire lifetime of the supported power plants alone.”

The report revealed US$73 billion or over $9 billion a year within that period in which public finance was approved for coal.  Japan gave the largest amount of coal financing of any country, with over $20 billion during that time, followed by China with finance close to US$15 billion.

OCIKorea, Germany, and Australia are among top sources of funds transmitted via financial agencies. These countries are also reported to be leading the opposition to limits on coal finance in international discussions, along with other countries which continue to resist pressure to end public financing.

The report comes a summit in Paris in December this year to ratify a commitment to cap carbon emissions and to solidify targets of limiting global temperature below two degrees Celsius.

The report recommends improved transparency to avoid catastrophic climate change. It calls for phasing out international public finance for all fossil fuel projects, including exploration for more fossil fuels.

The report also urges the immediate disclosure of exhaustive data on public finance for the entire energy sector. Funding has largely gone unnoticed as it is often hidden from view as many countries are choosing to sweep this under the rug, rather than face the necessary task of cleaning up their own houses, the report added.

OCI-2World governments, particularly G20 and G7 members, have recognized the threat of climate change over the last eight years, and made repeated commitments to both fight climate change and end fossil fuel subsidies.

However, billions of dollars’ worth of government support continues to flow towards fossil fuels and coal. “This government financing for coal – largely in the form of export support, but also as development aid and general finance – is perpetuating coal use and exacerbating climate change. It needs to stop, immediately”, the report added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that at least 75 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avert global warming of more than two degrees. As coal makes up two-thirds of the carbon content of known global fossil fuel reserves, coal poses a serious threat to the climate.

Full Report HERE.

WWF calls EU for  climate leadership in OECD talks before COP Paris 

In Brussels, Belgium, 34 OECD countries convened for their annual Ministerial Meeting, June 3-4, while  G7 Heads of States and governments will meet in Germany on June 7-8 as a key political opportunity to make their climate credibility by ending support for coal.

“Many developed country governments that push for ambitious climate action are simultaneously funding coal abroad. They cannot do both and be credible,” said WWF’s Global Climate and Energy initiative leader Samantha Smith. “It is time for rich nations to put their money behind the solutions, like renewable energy, rather than using taxpayers’ money to fuel climate change.”

WWF said international public finance for coal between 2007 and 2014 is blamed for Italy’s pollution, the country which ranked 20th in the highest amount of carbon emissions globally,  “causing total greenhouse gas emissions amounting to almost half a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.”

Contradicting the claim that export finance for coal is necessary to fight energy poverty in poor countries, the report clearly shows that zero export finance for coal has gone to Low Income Countries, where the need for energy access is greatest, while one-fourth went to High Income Countries with no every poverty concerns.


Sébastien Godinot, economist at WWF European Policy Office said the EU, led by the European Commission, failed to agree an official position on coal export finance ahead of the OECD meeting taking place next week. He said EU Member States are still divided, with some willing to end support for coal plants and others being more reluctant. So far the EU has largely been inaudible in the OECD negotiations, he added.

“COP Paris is around the corner.  It is time for European countries, the Commission and the EU as a whole to end procrastination and show leadership”, said Godinot, as “climate commitments and engagement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies should immediately lead the EU to ask the OECD to end export credits for coal.”

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UNESCO keeps Barrier Reef off ‘danger’ list, but raises long-term concerns Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:08:22 +0000
Pic: Wade Lehmann (Flickr CC)

The clown fish amongst sea anemones has become one of the icons of the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Wade Lehmann (Flickr CC)

UNESCO has stopped short of putting the  Great Barrier Reef on its “danger” list  last week, but warned of the reef’s poor health and the negative outlook for the future. It warned Australia to continue to take all necessary steps to ensure its future protection.

UNESCO noted climate change as a threat as well as poor water quality – a direct impact of coastal development and massive industrialisation.

The draft recommendation will be voted on by the 21 nations on UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at a meeting in Germany in a few weeks. If accepted, Australia is required to give a progress report on its commitments by December 1, 2016

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt welcomed UNESCO’s draft decision, which he said recognises “the government’s long-term plan as well as the real world improvements that are occurring in the World Heritage site.” He added: “This is still the world’s Great Barrier Reef. It is the most majestic reef in the world, it is the largest reef in the world and it is the greatest reef in the world.”

Hunt added the World Heritage Centre acknowledged the significant and unprecedented work undertaken by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments and has recommended against the Great Barrier Reef being listed as “in danger”.

The environment minister claims “all references to ‘in danger’ have been dropped and Australia and Queensland’s efforts have been praised.”

Queensland’s tourism and mining industries were also quick to welcome the  announcement. The Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) said it is confident that the region will sustain inbound tourism growth with over 3,000 coral reefs to showcase to its visitors.

QTIC chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the decision is the right move and acknowledged Australia’s strong credentials as an effective environmental manager. He emphasized that the nation must implement the plan and deliver on the trust placed in it as guardian of the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s clear that the world is watching how we manage the Great Barrier Reef and this should inspire our efforts to ensure it remains a natural wonder that will inspire and delight generations well into the future,” he said.

Tourism is Queensland’s second biggest industry – worth $23 billion – and directly and indirectly employs 230,000 people.

Key industry figures will address the decision by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Friday at the Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef: The World’s Best Address forum, one of Queensland’s biggest World Environment Day celebrations (view event flyer or register for tickets).

Brisbane protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Brisbane residents organised a protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef in 2013. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Conservation and indigenous groups are not so happy with the announcement.

Greenpeace Australia Reef campaigner Shani Tager said, “It is not a reprieve – it is a big red flag from UNESCO” adding, “UNESCO has now also sent a clear signal that the Abbott government must fully protect the Great Barrier Reef and that means a reprieve from coal expansion.”

Greenpeace is calling on the federal government “to stop trying to prop up a dying coal industry and remove port expansion loopholes from the Reef 2050 plan”.

Greenpeace has launched another signature campaign asking UNESCO to take another look at the changes that are taking place on the reef.

The campaign reiterates the danger of the coal industry operating in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the building of the Carmichael mega-mine, and the digging up of millions of tonnes of seafloor to expand the Abbot Point coal port.

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman also expressed concern over the draft decision and pointed to the measures demanded of Australia.

“The Australian and Queensland governments must now deliver on their promises to better protect the Reef,” O’Gorman said in a statement.

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Australian activists say Abbott’s biomass plan will destroy native forests Wed, 20 May 2015 10:16:45 +0000
Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

Australia’s Coalition government finally agreed to come up with an achievable Renewable Energy Target (RET), but it is not what conservation groups have expected.

The Coalition government and the Labor opposition agreed on a reduced target of 33,000 gigawatt hours. The thing is Tony Abbott proposed burning biomass as a source of renewable energy, which the Greens find to be contentious. Conservation groups say Abbott’s biomass plan will lead to the destruction of native forests.

The Wilderness Society has called on the government to shelve its plan to use native forest woodchips for electricity as a renewable energy source under the RET.

Wilderness Society National Forest Campaign manager Warrick Jordan said that despite Labor’s strong opposition to the plan, the Government has previously suggested it will seek a deal with Senate crossbenchers to classify the burning

“We have written to the Prime Minister today asking him to shelve his plan to include the burning of native forests as a renewable energy,” Jordan said as he challenged Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane to show genuine intention of the Government’s intentions in supporting the renewable industry.

He said, “muddying the waters with an environmentally destructive plan intended to paper over the cracks of a forestry industry in need of deep structural reform does clearly not help the case.”

Jordan believes that while the government has finally ended the impasse over the immediate future of renewable energy in Australia, he said it continues to stoke the fires of controversy by seeking a backdoor route by classing burning native forests as renewable, despite Labor’s opposition.

“If the Government does not drop its plan, the cross-bench Senators will have to seriously interrogate the facts and consequences of the Government’s proposal,” he warned.

“While the Government appears to suggest that including native forests in the RET means burning leaves that come out of a backyard mulcher, in reality the plan would allow open slather on forests to be cut down, woodchipped and burnt as renewable energy. This lesson has already been learned from North America, despite Government and forestry industry assurances to the contrary.”

Friends of the Earth is happy the government has finally come to agree on RET. However, it also said the burning of forests for energy is tragic.

Campaigner Cam Walker said that while the concerns of the renewables sector have been considered, the Coalition’s resistance to taking biomass out of the deal has created a whole new range of problems.

Including biomass in the RET will undermine the uptake of true renewables like wind and solar, and further entrench destructive forestry operations.

He said everyone is glad to see the end of the uncertainty, but cutting the RET to 33,000GWh is still a massive backwards step for Australia.

The renewables industry has been brought to the brink of collapse because of the extreme opinions of key players in the Coalition government and this reduced target will mean fewer jobs and investment in regional Australia, and less action on climate change than the original target, he said.

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Indigenous group needs funds to fight Adani Sat, 09 May 2015 05:59:06 +0000

Indigenous people have launched their own separate fight against Adani Group, the major investor in the controversial Carmichael Mine located in the Galilee Basin in Queensland.

Adrian Burragubba started a fundraising campaign to finance a court battle against the Indian mining giant. He represents the Wangan and Jagalingou (W & J) Traditional Owners Council for the Wangan and Jagalingou people but they need more funds to be able to push through with the legal battle.

Adrian Burragubba is leading the fundraising campaign. (Photo: Supplied)

Adrian Burragubba is leading the fundraising campaign. (Photo: Supplied)

W&J people lodged a native title claim over most of the Galilee Basin in 2004 covering an area of around 30,000 sq km of central Queensland. Burragubba said the Carmichael mine would destroy their ancestral lands and cultural heritage, but the approval of dredging and dumping into the World Heritage Area have been approved by the state government and the authority overseeing the project.

“When we rejected Indian mining company Adani’s offer to exploit our land, they took aggressive legal action to overrule our rights just six days later. Now we have to fight to protect our land in court,” Burragubba said.

The indigenous leader claimed Adani misrepresented and betrayed indigenous people when they took action to “remove their rights through a legal system designed to favour big mining over the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

His group intends to appeal to the National Native Title Tribunal’s decision to allow the Queensland Government to issue mining leases to Adani, despite their refusal to enter an agreement with the company.

The Tribunal has recognised the indigenous group had not consented to the mine, but still overruled their internationally recognised rights in favour of Adani.

Burragubba said the Tribunal has sanctioned the destruction of ancestral lands and cultural heritage on the grounds that mining is in the ‘public interest’.

If enough funds are raised, they will contest the idea that building one of the world’s largest coal mines is good for the people and the country.

Our right to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent is being trampled.We have to fight back, but we can only do it with the help of our supporters.

The Burragubba group is one among the many activists and environmental groups which oppose the Carmichael Mine. The United Nations have warned the project would cause irreparable damaged to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site.


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The Borneo Project releases new documentary on Sarawak’s controversial mega-dams Fri, 08 May 2015 09:38:36 +0000

The Borneo Project has released a new documentary film, ‘Commerce or Corruption?’,  exposing the controversies surrounding the proposed mega-dams in Sarawak, Malaysia.

The release this week coincides with the 555th day of the community-led Baram Dam blockades. Various local groups have been fighting to stop 12 mega-hydro projects being pushed by the Malaysian government through the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy or SCORE. The groups said the dams will destroy the rivers – the lifelines of the Borneo jungle. It is feared the Baram Dam alone will inundate 26 villages and displace between 6,000 and 20,000 people, if completed.

Locals watch trucks intruding to their community for the construction of dams.  (Photo: Supplied)

Local residents watch trucks intruding into their community for the construction of mega-dams. (Photo: Supplied)

Jettie Word, executive director of The Borneo Project, said the dams will displace people, wipe out their livelihoods, drive unknown species to extinction, and emit more greenhouse gas. The dams will “produce more greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt of energy than a coal-fired power plant,” Word said, adding: “The damage inflicted by these dams would be massive, and the benefits are still unclear. Given that there is no sound reason to build these dams, the question becomes, why are these dams being built, and why now? ”

‘Commerce or Corruption?’ is a second film in a series of short documentaries that tries to unveil the government’s hidden agenda. Word said it is all about personal financial gains, adding that private companies involved in construction and transmission stand to make gigantic profits from building the dams. Many of the companies are allegedly controlled by relatives and friends of the governor of the state, Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has been in power for four decades. Doling out the contracts would add even more gold to the already over-flowing coffers of politicians and their well-connected family members.

Murum dam under construction (Photo:Supplied)

Murum Dam under construction (Photo:Supplied)

The mega-dams are also expected to create “an outrageous” energy demand growth rate. Word said Sarawak currently produces significantly more energy than it can use, and proponents have no concrete plans for how to use or sell the energy.

The ongoing Baram Dam blockades, community-led non-violent direct actions, involve men, women and children and have prevented loggers and the dam developer, Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), from accessing the construction area since October 2013.

The blockade is maintained by indigenous Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan people and demonstrates the tremendous local resistance to dam development and logging. Despite opposition to the dams, the government of Sarawak and SEB continue to overlook widespread grievances and push for unnecessary and harmful development. If completed, the Baram Dam will flood 26 villages and displace between 6,000 and 20,000 people.

‘Broken Promises’, the next film in the series, will be released in July. It will highlight the devastating impacts of forced relocation on indigenous communities.

The office of Taib is yet to respond to the film.

Commerce or Corruption? from The Borneo Project on Vimeo.

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‘Road to Paris’ calls for strong carbon emission cuts Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:42:57 +0000
Paris hosts the COP21 on December 2015.

Paris plays host to the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, December 2015. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Climate Reality Project (CRP) is launching the ‘Road to Paris’, a global campaign that will bring together citizens, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and NGOs to galvanize climate action and encourage participating countries to commit strong carbon emission cuts. The campaign will urged countries to forged commitments at the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change in December this year.

‘Road to Paris’ would include emissions reductions commitments based on national circumstances, a system of periodic review for these commitments, and a long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions.

It will focus on mobilizing public support from the global community and citizens in eight countries that hold strategic significance for the upcoming negotiations, as a building block for a strong international agreement. Target countries include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. The CRP will also have a programmatic presence in Mexico and Europe.

Former United States Vice President Al Gore, chairman of The CRP, said the UN climate negotiations in December mark a crucial opportunity for the international community to come to a bold, universal agreement to make significant emissions reductions commitments, including a long term goal for zero net carbon emissions.

The Philippine flag stands amid devasted region brought about by typhoon Haiyan,  the deadliest Philippine typhoon recorded in modern history,  killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

The Philippine flag stands amid devastation brought about by typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon recorded in modern history, killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

He stressed out that the Road to Paris will not end at COP21. He urged people to take urgent actions saying solutions to the climate crisis is within reach.

We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our planet. Solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, but in order to capture them, we must take urgent action today across every level of society. Now is the time for people all over the world to lend their voices to the cause and urge their leaders to take this historic first step.

The CRP’s Road to Paris campaign will build on work the group has already undertaken in each key country, including training new members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and organizing support on the ground through local branches.

Taxis are stranded in New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast as Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts.

Taxis are stranded in Queens St, New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast when Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts. (Photo: Xinhua/Telegraph)

In partnership with Live Earth: Road to Paris, CRP Leaders will run programs to address the unique challenges and opportunities of each target country.

CRP President and CEO Ken Berlin boasts the group as a leading international climate organization with about 5,700 trained leaders in the eight countries alone. He said, ” it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help spur action around the globe, providing support and guidance to the most critical players on the road to Paris.”

Climate March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York, Sept 2013.

Climate Mobilization March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sept 2014.

Individual country programs will be rolled out over the coming weeks. Specific actions in each country will depend on the local political, economic, and social landscape, and will take into account the country’s climate change risk profile and opportunities for implementing solutions.

In the US, the CRP will continue its People vs. Carbon campaign in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. There are also two Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings being held in the United States in 2015 – in Iowa and Florida.

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BP faces stiff opposition to gas and oil exploration in Australian marine park Thu, 23 Apr 2015 02:42:04 +0000
The Great Australian Bight off South Australia. (Map: Geoscience Australia)

The Great Australian Bight off South Australia. (Map: Geoscience Australia)

The UK-based energy giant BP is set to explore the deep waters of the Great Australian Bight for gas and oil off the coast of South Australia, but it will not be a smooth sailing. Green activists are wary about the danger of oil spills and are demanding details of contingency plans in the event of a disaster.

On Monday, April 20, exactly five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil fire, the Wilderness Society South Australia held a rally against the BP’s marine park venture.

BP has secured four permits from the Australian federal government and South Australian state government to explore Commonwealth marine waters for oil and gas in the bight. The permits seek to determine whether commercial quantities of hydrocarbon resources exist within the permit areas.

Following regulatory approval in 2011, a 3D seismic survey over part of the area was conducted between November 2011 and May 2012. Deep water exploration is expected to push through next year.

The proposed drilling area has water depths of approximately 1000 to 2500 metres. At its closest point, the proposed drilling area is approximately 400 kilometres west of Port Lincoln and 300 kilometres south-west of Ceduna. The wells will be drilled using a new-build mobile offshore drilling unit which has been specially designed for use in deep water.

The Great Australian Bight is one of the whale watching spots in Australia.  (Photo: Supplied)

The Great Australian Bight is one of the whale watching spots in Australia. (Photo: Supplied)

BP is one of the world’s leading international oil and gas companies. It supplies fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, lubricants for engines, and petrochemicals products used to make paints, clothes, and packaging.

However, Wilderness Society South Australia is demanding that BP provide comprehensive details on how it would respond to a possible oil spill.

Director Peter Owen said BP refuses to release oil spill modelling or emergency plans for the bight drilling. “BP can’t be trusted in Great Australian Bight,” he said.

BP is still contesting the fines for what Owen called  the “worst oil spill in history”.

“Five years after BP’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the British oil giant seems to have not learnt anything with its plans to try deep sea drilling in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. BP plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight but refuses to reveal the modelling for any potential oil spill or its emergency response plans,” said Owen.

“The bight is a whale wonderland, boasting the world’s most significant southern right whale nursery as well as humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales. These waters also support orcas, sea lions and some of Australia’s most important fisheries.”

BP drilling in Great Australian Bight: Activists protest in North Adelaide, demanding answers on potential oil spill response. (Photo: Supplied)

BP drilling in Great Australian Bight: Activists protest in North Adelaide, demanding answers on potential oil spill response. (Photo: 7 News)

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and injuring 17 others. The company was drilling off the coast from Houston, but it still took 87 days to plug the well, in which time nearly 800 million litres of oil devastated the waters, coasts, fisheries, marine life, birdlife and livelihoods.

Owen estimates the spill covered more than 180,000 square kilometres, twice the size of Tasmania, and affected 1,770km of shoreline, almost the distance from Melbourne to Brisbane. Only about 25 percent of the oil was recovered, leaving more than half a billion litres of oil in the gulf.

Further, he said millions of litres of toxic dispersants were sprayed into the Gulf’s waters. The dispersants break up the oil but  can make it easier to get into the food chain. The spill killed or harmed hundreds of thousands of fish, birds, turtles, whales and dolphins.

“The spill cost billions of dollars in clean-up operations, remediation and the Gulf economy. Five years later, BP is contesting court fines, claiming the fines threaten the existence of the company. Can we trust a company that claims it can’t afford to pay for its last mess, the world’s worst oil spill?” Owen asked.

Owen insisted the Great Australian Bight waters are rougher, deeper and more remote than the Gulf of Mexico and that BP can’t be trusted to drill in the area. “BP and our waters don’t mix,” he said.

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Australia cancels flight scheduled to transport refugees to Cambodia Mon, 20 Apr 2015 10:17:50 +0000
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (left) meets with the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, His Excellency Sar Kheng (right) (Photo: Australian Government)

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (left) meets with the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, His Excellency Sar Kheng (right). (Photo: Australian Government)

The $40 million Australia-Cambodia refugee deal hit a snag on Monday when the first charter flight to relocate detainees from Nauru to the Asian kingdom was cancelled. For now, the refugees who accepted cash offers have to wait in Nauru until further notice.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the flight was cancelled due to “logistical errors” contradicting activists’ claims that refugees refused to sign the transfer deal.

The Associated Press said only five refugees were ready to go after accepting cash offers between AU$10,000 to AU$15,000, citing Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australia-based advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition. They are refugees are from Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), and Iran and have been segregated in Nauru detention camp, the report added.

March for asylum seekers in Melbourne. (Photo: Refugee Action Coalition)

March for asylum seekers in Melbourne. (Photo: Refugee Action Coalition)

Detainees in Nauru have been advised to agree to the deal as they will never ever be settled to Australia in accordance to the Tony Abbott’s Operations Sovereign Borders. Only genuine refugees will be resettled in Cambodia and the rest will be deported back to their countries of origin.

According to the immigration minister, “out of the 718 asylum seekers in Nauru from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, 485 had proven to be genuine refugees by the end of March. Another 83 had their claims rejected and another 150 had yet to be assessed.”

Protest against detention of asylum seekers in Canberra. (Photo: Refugee Action   Coalition)

Protest against detention of asylum seekers in Canberra. (Photo: Refugee Action Coalition)

The Australian Government circulated a letter in Nauru last week on the benefits for refugees in Cambodia ,citing the country as progressive and democratic.

Cambodia is a diverse country with multiple nationalities, cultures and religions. It is a safe country, where police maintain law and order. It does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs.

It also promotes Cambodia as a city “where opulent mansions sprout up alongside scenes of incredible poverty, one of the challenges facing the new arrivals will be to find their own place between these two poles.”

(MORE: The wrong kind of refugee: Australia exports its problems to Cambodia)

Benefits include children’s education, financial support including cash and a bank account, assistance in finding work, income support, language training, health insurance, and modern accommodation.

Cambodia is confused

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Cambodian government is baffled by the reported arrival of refugees on April 20. The Phnom Penh Post said, “Cambodian officials ‘were confused by the Australian side’, adding that no refugees would be allowed to arrive in Phnom Penh today, as was suggested by the Abbott government’s letter.”

Apparently, the Asian kingdom is not prepared to accommodate refugee arrivals with no resettlement plans. The country is yet to identify where any refugees would settle.

Human rights activists reiterated that the Australia-Cambodia deal initiated on September, 26 2014 was negotiated in secrecy without consultation with parliament or civil society in either of the two countries, and its terms were not made public until after the signing. The agreement has received widespread criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as from politicians, lawyers, refugees, human rights advocates and members of the public in both countries.

Just after the signing, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “This is a worrying departure from international norms.We are seeing record forced displacement globally, with 87 per cent of refugees now being hosted in developing countries. It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere.”

“International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach,” he added.

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Hindu leader urges Australia to put ‘multi-faith centres’ in hospitals Thu, 09 Apr 2015 00:43:20 +0000
Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism (Photo: Supplied)

Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism (Photo: Supplied)

With anti-Islam rallies held  in 16 cities and regional locations throughout Australia over the Easter weekend, religious leaders are responding to the hostility, and one is offering a subtle solution.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism based in Nevada, USA, issued a press release urging the Australian government to set up a “multi-faith centres” in all hospitals throughout the nation as an initiative to support religious equality.

The announcement is contained in a press release following a plan of the Collin Barnett’s government in Western Australia to open a $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital next year.

Zed said that having a multi-faith centre at the children’s hospital would make a neutral place for meditation-prayer-worship-reflection by diverse faith.  This would be a step in a positive direction, he added, noting of many world-class hospitals in many countries around the world  have multi-faith centres.

Zed further said multi-faith centers would be a highly appropriate place to reach out to God in time of need adding:

All hospitals in Australia should be equipped with multi-faith centers providing resources to the faithful of all major religions and those with no religious affiliation, where patients/families/staff could turn to and feel at home in the moments of suffering/grief/loneliness/difficulty for quite-time/prayer/reflection/spiritual-support and seeking hope/peace/comfort/healing/courage.

He did not specify, however, any formal petition or dialogue being undertaken on the matter.

‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies

Meanwhile in Australia, religious leaders are distressed over the ‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies held over the Easter in 16 capital cities, regional and rural centres. Organizers attacked sharia law, halal certification, and Islamic extremism. Counter-rallies were organised by opposing groups to protest against the ideology behind ‘Reclaim Australia’. Demonstrators clashed with police and some were reportedly injured.

Religious leaders find the rallies distressing more so of what critics call a tinge of “racist Australia.” A man named Shermon Burgess, who goes by the name Great Aussie Patriot, posted on Facebook  that more rallies would be held soon which will be “much, much bigger, seeing a lot more people now know that ‘Reclaim Australia’ is here.”

Ghaith Krayem, president of the Islamic Council of Victoria. (Photo: Supplied)

Ghaith Krayem, president of the Islamic Council of Victoria. Pic: Supplied.

The Islamic Council of Victoria called for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to condemn the sentiments expressed at the protests. The council’s President Ghaith Krayem said he is disappointed that elected leaders have failed to set an example of what Australian values are really about.

The commonwealth has been quick to call on our community and leaders to speak out against extremism and hate preaching, yet when these are directed at us they have remained silent. We expect the government to speak out strongly against these co-ordinated rallies and call them what they really are and that is nothing more than a racist and bigoted attack on Muslims.

The council welcomed the statement by the Victorian government, which condemned religious-based attacks. Krayem said Muslim Victorians would play an important role in the state’s multicultural society and said they will not allow such hatred and bigotry to stop this.

FECCA issues a statement:

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) stands strongly with its member organisations across Australia against the narrative purported by Reclaim Australia that calls on the Federal Government to ensure the “Australian way of life” is maintained. In response to the Reclaim Australia Rallies which took place on 4 April Australia-wide, FECCA emphasises the value of Australia’s rich cultural diversity.

Joe Caputo, FECCA chair, said that he found the presence of these rallies across the country deeply disconcerting as they pose a risk to social cohesion and harmony. In recent months there has been a rise in racially and religiously motivated attacks against members of Australia’s multicultural communities.

There have been positive examples of Australians working to restore the relationship with migrant and refugee communities such as the “I’ll ride with you” campaign. Despite contributing to the development of Australian society, many culturally and linguistically diverse Australians still feel as though they don’t belong.

At FECCA, we are concerned over the increasingly hostile attitudes towards Muslim Australians and other minority groups. “Whilst we respect the right of every Australian to demonstrate their views peacefully, the rhetoric being expressed towards people from culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse backgrounds should concern the wider Australian community”, said Mr Caputo.

A defining quality of our country is that Australia has a long history of migration. Since the post-war era, Australia has evolved into a culturally and linguistically diverse society. Migrants have contributed to the social, cultural and economic fabric of Australia, with the country greatly benefiting from this unique composition. Diversifying society ensures people gain different cultural experiences and outlooks.

FECCA highlights the many positive attributes of multiculturalism. It is about the recognition, acceptance and celebration of our cultural, linguistic and faith based diversity, as well as our shared commitment to Australian laws and democratic values.

“The message these rallies perpetuate is that Australia is not a welcoming, inclusive place for people of multicultural and multi-faith backgrounds. It is important that the wider Australian society comes together to promote harmony and acceptance,” stated Mr Caputo.

During this time of increased community angst, FECCA would like to reiterate the necessity to reach out to the multicultural community and foster a cohesive, accepting and unified Australia.

Anti-Islamic signs at 'Reclaim Australia' rally (Photo:AFP)

Anti-Islamic signs at ‘Reclaim Australia’ rally. Pic: AFP.

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Epic hunt for toothfish poachers ends in the Atlantic Wed, 08 Apr 2015 04:39:56 +0000
The Thunder's last few moments before it's gone forever. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

The Thunder’s last few moments before it’s gone forever. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish ended early this week with the bizarre sinking of Interpol-wanted vessel, The Thunder, inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sao Tome.

After 110 days of action, chasing the elusive vessel, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said the campaign has accomplished its mission. The longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history, Operation Icefish has been “the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations,” the captain said.

Thunder, the most notorious of the so-called “Bandit 6, was sunk deliberately by its crew as they clapped and cheered, media reports said. It was left with clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. The hatches were not closed to maintain buoyancy, but instead, the doors and hatches were tied open, along with the fishhold. The vessel then went down 4,000 meters below.

Watson is convinced the vessel was scuttled as a deliberate act of desperation. It was allegedly owned by unscrupulous and wealthy fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain.

According to Watson, the illegal toothfish industry linked to Spanish companies has suffered a severe financial blow, and faces the face criminal courts in Malaysia, Thailand, and Sao Tome for its illegal activities, including illegal fishing, illegal registration, and false declarations. Deliberately scuttling a ship in the territorial waters of Sao Tome is also a crime.

Australia is involved in arresting toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean (Photo: AFMA)

Australia is involved in arresting toothfish poachers in the Southern Ocean (Photo: AFMA)

Watson praised his colleagues for carrying out a “marathon campaign”, which succeeded in ending poachers’ supremacy over the waters of the Southern Ocean.

No oil was observed after the sinking and there was very little fuel left onboard at the time. All evidence gathered will be turned over to Interpol.

Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon rescued all 40 people on board the sinking vessel and provided them with vegan meal and warm blankets.

Operation Icefish has focused attention on the illegal poaching of toothfish and has involved the authorities in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mauritius, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Spain, as well as Interpol.

In reaction to the sinking, several countries, including New Zealand, are now considering action. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, for one, says his country is concerned about The Thunder, noted as a “illegal, unreported and unregulated” (IUU) vessel, especially with its sinking into the ocean. He said any sinking at sea poses risks to human life and the environment.

Sea Shepherd takes a dramatic shot on the sinking of the Thunder. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd takes a dramatic shot on the sinking of the Thunder. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

“We have been working to put all IUU vessels operating in the Southern Ocean out of business,” McCully said, adding that shutting down this sort of illegal fishing is not straightforward and requires the full support of international partners.

“We are now part of the international efforts being co-ordinated by Interpol to investigate the activities of the vessel (Thunder) including its sinking,” McCully said.

Prime Minister John Key commented, “There are legal processes we can follow and other countries potentially can follow as well depending on which territorial waters it’s in.”

The Australian government, however, has not made any comment so far.

The Thunder is scuttled and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Tome.

The Thunder is scuttled and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Tome.

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[Book Review] Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:26:18 +0000
Image via Amazon.

Image via Amazon.

‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Lukas Straumann is a controversial book that uncovers the modus operandi of a multi-billion timber industry accused of wiping out the ancient rainforests of Sarawak, home of the last nomadic tribes of Southeast Asia in the heart of Borneo, Malaysia.

It argues two major points: first, the violations of  indigenous people’s rights, including plunder of their source of subsistence; and second, fraud and deceit spawned into the global financial system perpetrated by logging barons.

Straumann calls for the prosecution of criminals who are responsible for the destruction of pristine rainforests, displacement of people, and death of indigenous cultures. It invites a course of action to salvage the remaining forests in Borneo. The book raises questions such as: Is here a hope and redemption for the indigenous people? What lies ahead in this ravaged wilderness? Is palm oil or 12 mega-dams the answer to bail out communities from poverty? What are the implications of this crime for the rest of humanity?

The book also questions the credibility of judicial systems, the police, the FBI, the United Nations’ agencies, Interpol, and other international watchdogs mandated to protect human rights, stop corruption, and to ensure environmental sustainability.

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), like other NGOs, works for social and environmental causes. BMF has exerted all means to seek justice for the rainforests, the Penans, and the victims of reprisal. However, Straumann is far from optimistic.

The book dissects the system of corruption and environmental crime that befell Sarawak. A model that examines the intricate details of its mechanism, it leads to the understanding of the system that spreads throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. It identifies who’s who in the business and the flow of bribe money, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Sarawak is the epicentre of environmental disaster with a trail of destruction intruding and expanding into Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and other territories. To know Sarawak is to know what happened in the other countries, perpetuated by the same logging companies.

Fingers are pointed at the Rolls Royce-driving prominent statesman Abdul Taib Mahmud: “The Most Honourable Chief Minister of Sarawak.” He rose to power in 1986 with the help of his uncle and ruled for three decades. While in office, he allegedly amassed assets totalling US$15 billion. He heads a business empire scattered all over the world and shared among family members. His real estate portfolio is scattered throughout Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Adelaide, Hong Kong and Malaysia. He forged global connections with logging barons, financial kingpins, and corrupt politicians in countries where timber is ready for disposal.

The Timber Industry

The book unravels how the timber trade works with the same principles throughout Asia. Logging companies have to pay hefty bribes in exchange for logging concessions. This is especially true in less developed countries where corruption is rife. Bribe money also allows loggers to cut trees beyond agreed limits.

Straumann identifies the movement of timber from its origin to export destinations. Along with it is the flow of more bribe money to “grease” the export processes. Overseas, money is laundered via financial conduits and using various cronies as fronts.

Straumann names the major logging companies, the “Dirty 6” including Samling Group, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK Group, Ta Ann Group, KTS Group, and Shin Yang Group — all related to Taib’s clan and associates. Major markets include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The forest of Sarawak alone is given to four logging companies, all involved in clearing 18 million hectares of forests around the world and transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Loggers operate in poor and vulnerable countries, while real estate and related businesses are invested in more developed countries.

In the book, Tasmania demonstrated its power to stop bulldozers from clearing the wilderness. An activist became a media sensation when she climbed a 60-meter-high eucalyptus tree which she named the “Observer Tree” and sat there for 449 days to deter the Ta Ann Group.

Taib probably cannot betray his Colombo Plan benefactor. He got his law degree from Adelaide University, a beneficiary of Australia’s post-war scholarship. He later made donations amounting to $7 million to the university’s Centre for Environmental Law and in return he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2008, a courtyard was named after him.

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

Brazilians were also up in arms against logging into the Amazon rainforest and, so far, they have succeeded driving out the timber mafia.

Other regions, however, are not as lucky as Tasmania or Brazil and they can be exploited anytime at Taib’s whim, the book suggests.

Bullying Tactics

Opposition to the logging brings repercussions. Ross Boyert, an insider who tipped off Straumann on the inside operation, faced the consequence of backflipping. Boyert filed a legal suit against Taib including breach of contract, fraud, and infringement of labor laws. Boyert also attempted to expose Taib’s properties overseas with proxy ownership among his kin. As a result, he was stalked, bullied, and psychologically tortured before he committed suicide.

Bruno Manser, the founder of BMF, is one of the most vocal activists that speak for the Penans. He explored Borneo and lived in the rainforests with the indigenous people. He has been on the watch list of Taib and was warned not to go back to Sarawak. He defied warnings, went back, and in 2000, he disappeared in the forest without a trace. In 2005, BMF officially announced he is presumed dead.

Penan activists were not spared. Harrison Ngua, for example, who was working for Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an environmental and human rights organization, was jailed for months while he was blindfolded and interrogated.

Hope for the Rainforest

The rainforest of Sarawak is one of the ancient rainforests explored by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a contemporary of Charles Darwin. It contains some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet.  It has been a home of the nomads for many generations —until the loggers came.

Straumann describes the helplessness of the Penans as they watched from the sidelines heavy machinery cleared the rainforests. The last “noble savages” of Southeast Asia were robbed in a broad daylight –  right before their eyes.

As of writing and publication of the book, Straumann has suggested the removal of Taib  from power. But even so, what is done cannot be undone.

It could be said that the logging industry does not monopolize environmental destruction, but Sarawak is symptomatic of a bigger issue of our time. The coal, seam gas, rare earths, and other resources industries have been drilling and extracting to satisfy insatiable greed for profits. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Arctic in the North Pole, and the Pacific Ocean’s bed are but few other examples where multinational companies are destroying the environment. Grassroots around the world are now standing in the gap to pressure governments and banking institutions to stop the madness once and for all.

James Lovelock came up with Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the planet is a  self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. He likens the planet to a nurturing mother capable of renewal and regeneration. But with the scale, magnitude, and pace of destruction, scientists predict a bleak future. Humans have been destroying the planet’s life-support system beyond its capacity to regenerate.

Australia’s leading scientist, Tim Flannery, in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010), pleads a cause for planetary justice. He argues there is a new awakening of humanity that can give hope to the survival of the planet.  He suggests people need compassion and to care more than ever before.

Straumann, however, grapples for a solution. Perhaps, the motto of the White Rajahs for the original inhabitants of Borneo would somehow help: “Dum spiro spero (As long as I breath, I hope) — for what dies last is the hope for justice and a better future.”

The Malaysian government wanted this book banned. Taib already lodged a full probe into its allegations. Straumann, nonetheless, is unfazed.

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* Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s

The print and Kindle editions of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ can be bought on

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Malaysia detains notorious ‘Viking’ poaching vessel Sun, 29 Mar 2015 23:36:40 +0000

Another major blow has been dealt to illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean with the detention of the Nigerian-flagged poaching vessel, Viking, in Malaysia – bringing a total of three notorious illegal fishing vessels and their crew in for interrogation this fishing season. Nigerian-flagged the Thunder was de-registered last week making it officially stateless. Kunlun, meanwhile, is in Thailand’s detention.

Held for violations of Malaysian maritime law, Malaysian authorities have indicated that the Viking will also be investigated for alleged illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing violations.

Suspected master of Kunlun is caught by camera hauling what could be a toothfish. (Photo: Interpool)

Suspected master of Kunlun is caught by camera hauling what could be a toothfish. (Photo: Interpool)

The vessel was detained with 18 crew on board; one Chilean, two Peruvian and 15 Indonesian citizens. The captain of the vessel, whose nationality is unknown, has been arrested.

The Viking is one of the six remaining illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” – that are known to target vulnerable toothfish in the waters surrounding Antarctica, and is the second vessel of the six that has been detained by authorities this month.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Bob Barker, is currently engaged in a record-breaking pursuit of the most notorious of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the Thunder.

The Viking, like its five counterparts, has a long history of illegal fishing. In 2013 the vessel, then called Snake, was the first vessel to be issued with an Interpol Purple Notice for fishing-related violations following a petition from authorities in Norway. The owners and operators of the vessel are suspected of violating national laws and regulations, as well as international conventions by engaging in fraud and fisheries-related crimes.

Sea Shepherd's aerial shot of gillnet retrieval operation on the aft-deck of the Sam Simon. (Photo: Giacomo Giorigi)

Sea Shepherd’s aerial shot of a gillnet retrieval operation on the aft-deck of the Sam Simon. (Photo: Giacomo Giorigi)

While Sea Shepherd welcomed the detention of the Viking, the organisation is now appealing to relevant authorities to ensure that the owners and officers of the vessel are prosecuted, the vessel scrapped and its catch confiscated.

Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “In May 2014, the Thunder was detained in Malaysia. Despite being found guilty of illegal fishing activity, the vessel was let off with a small fine and allowed to return to its illegal operations. Seven months later, my crew and I intercepted the Thunder on the Banzare Bank in Antarctica, again engaged in illegal fishing activity. These are seasoned, repeat offenders who will not be deterred by a slap on the wrist. The only way to ensure that the Viking does not return to pillage the Southern Ocean is for the vessel to be impounded, and for the operators and officers to be arrested for their crimes.”

In addition to fishing crimes, Sea Shepherd is calling upon Malaysian authorities to investigate possible human rights violations on board the Viking.

Toothfish lying on deck (Photo: Supplied)

Toothfish lying on deck (Photo: Supplied)

Captain Sid Chakravarty of the Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, said, “Last week, Sea Shepherd reported the attempted suicide of an Indonesian crewmember on board the poaching vessel, Thunder. We have sought the advice of human rights experts who have indicated that the suicide attempt was all in likelihood directly related to the poor and exploitative conditions experienced on board that poaching vessel. In light of this, and the extensive body of information which indicates that a rampant slave trade underpins IUU fishing operations, we implore Malaysian authorities to speak to the 15 Indonesia crew on board the Viking, and to thoroughly investigate the likelihood that human rights violations have taken place.”

In further news, Thai authorities have confirmed that the captain of the poaching vessel Kunlun, which was chased from its hunting grounds inside Australian waters by the Sam Simon in February, has been charged for falsely reporting its illegal catch of 182 tonnes of Antarctic toothfish as grouper. Captain of the poaching vessel, Jose Alberto Zavaleta Salas, faces further charges for falsely reporting the ship’s flag and registration.

The handler that received the fish, South Services Co Ltd, has also been charged for its role in illegally importing the fish into Thailand.

Captain Chakravarty has praised international policing organisation Interpol for itsr efforts in spearheading the investigations into the Viking, Thunder and Kunlun.

“All three of the vessels that are currently being investigated have been issued with Interpol Purple Notices. By doing so, the Environmental Crime Unit’s Project Scale has set in motion the wheels to bring together international cooperation to tackle poaching in the Southern Ocean. Under their expertise, national investigators now have the chance to investigate fisheries crimes to bring about successful prosecutions of these vessels. From the waters of West Africa to the shores of Mauritius and now the ports of Thailand and Malaysia, Interpol is leading the proceedings to shut down these poachers,” he said.

The poaching vessels are the target of Sea Shepherd’s 11th Southern Ocean Defence Campaign, Operation Icefish.

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Australia: Caped refugee campaigner disrupts Cricket World Cup final Sun, 29 Mar 2015 21:34:37 +0000

In a jampacked Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), a cape-wearing man came out to steal the show, disrupting play during the final match of the 2015 ICC World Cup between Australia and New Zealand on Sunday. He ran onto the field at the MCG for the second time in two months. The aim was to show opposition against offshore detention of asylum seekers.

The man was wearing a shirt bearing the slogan ‘I [Heart] Refugees’ and a cape with the words ‘End Offshore Detention’.

The crowd during the 2015 ICC World Cup cricket Australia verses New Zealand final at the MCG in Melbourne. (Pic: AAP)

The crowd during the 2015 ICC World Cup cricket Australia verses New Zealand final at the MCG in Melbourne. (Pic: AAP)

The same man also ran onto the field at the Australia versus England match in February to raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers in Australia’s onshore and offshore immigration detention centres.

He urged people around the world to boycott Australia to show their opposition against the Australian Government’s illegal and unjust treatment of asylum seekers.  The man said in a statement released Sunday afternoon the boycott should reflect how many nations, including Australia, boycotted South Africa during its Apartheid era.

“Governments around the world must condemn Australia’s actions because they break international human rights agreements and conventions,” he said, adding that economic sanctions must be imposed on Australia to abide by its obligations. The man also believes Australia should face the International Criminal Court and that companies should refuse to do business with the Australian government or else risk being complicit in its violations.

Protestors walk for justice along Swanston Street, Melbourne, (Photo: Graham Denholm/The Age)

Protestors walk for justice along Swanston Street, Melbourne, (Photo: Graham Denholm/The Age)

The pitch invasion took place at the same time as thousands join the ‘Walk for Justice for Refugees’ demonstrations held in 12 major cities across Australia on Palm Sunday. An estimated 15,000 people marched through the city streets, demanding the Abbott government to close the trouble-plagued immigration centres on Nauru and Manus Island. Similar demonstrations also took place in cities around the world over the weekend under the banner ‘Global Call to End Mandatory Detention’.

The protestors took took the streets from Parliament House to Queen Victoria Gardens on St Kilda Road chanting condemnations of the government’s asylum seekers policy.

For the cape-wearing man at the  MCG, the usual walk for justice might look too commonplace. A cape stunt at a major sporting event might be able to do otherwise.

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Australia urges cooperation on illegal fishing Wed, 18 Mar 2015 10:12:18 +0000

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton urged the international community to forge cooperation to combat Illegal, Undocumented, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing following the arrest of poaching vessel, Kunlun, in Thailand earlier this week.

Dutton said Australia works with international partners through the Regional Plan of Action with Southeast Asian countries to address illegal fishing.

Australia alerted Southeast Asian nations about the expected arrival of Kunlun into their ports at any time. The vessel was found anchored off Tapaonoi island, near Phuket, and is now being detained, according to a local report by Phuketwan. Phuket Marine Police authorities dispatched teams to gather information so that investigation will commenced shortly.

Kunlun, taken on 7 January 2015 in Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Area. (Photo: Interpol)

Kunlun is caught on 7 January 2015 in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources Area. (Photo: Interpol)

Dutton praised the arrest and detention, and said, “This is an excellent example of interagency and international cooperation achieving tangible results.”

US, EU address Illegal Fishing

In the US, the Presidential Task Force on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud released its action plan that sets out the aggressive steps to curb IUU fishing. The plan is based on the recommendations of the Task Forced made in December 2014 that federal agencies will take both domestically and internationally .

The plan identifies actions that will strengthen enforcement, create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations, and create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce.

WWF considers the action plan as a “crucial win” for the European Union and the global community to confront illegal fishing. The conservation group also said the plan will further boost the EU’s strong action to fight against illegal fishing, which is estimated to cost between EUR 8 billion and EUR 19 billion annually.

Eszter Hidas, EU Policy Officer for WWF’s Illegal Fishing programme, said the world’s two biggest fish importers seem now determined to close their doors to any illegal fish product.

IUU fishing represents 11 million to 26 million tonnes of catch, which accounts for 13-31 per cent of global catch, according to WFF.

Michele Kuruc, vice president of ocean policy at WWF-US, also said that the action plan marks “a decisive shift” in US policy. The plan is a way to put black market enterprises on notice that the country is closing its doors to their illegally caught seafood, she added.


Australia calls for high level cooperation

Australian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Senator Richard Colbeck has been calling for a high level of regional and international cooperation and reiterated the need of mapping out an action plan.  He said IUU fishing is a global issue and it is “great to see this level of international cooperation to protect our marine resources and eliminate illegal fishing.”

The Kunlun was intercepted by the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Southern Ocean in January, but eluded arrest. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) was patrolling the seas in February and caught the vessel in the Indian Ocean while on its way north. Australian Customs boarded Kunlun to verify the flag State of the vessel.

Kunlun has a long history of IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean and is the subject of an INTERPOL Purple Notice seeking information on the individuals and networks that own, operate, and profit from the actions of the vessel.

The Kunlun attempted to avoid detection by entering the Thai port under the name Taishan and claiming to be flagged to Indonesia.

“The Australian Government will continue to provide support as necessary. It will continue to take effective action, together with our international counterparts, in order to send a strong message that IUU fishing will not be tolerated,” Senator Colbeck said.

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The show must go on… without elephants Mon, 09 Mar 2015 11:09:11 +0000
Gigantic elephants are one of the highlights of the show. (PHoto: Supplied)

Gigantic elephants are one of the highlights of the show. (Photo: Supplied).

When the elephants are gone, The Greatest Show on Earth will never be the same again.

Animal lovers worldwide welcomed the recent announcement of Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to end elephant circuses by 2018.  The company said 13 elephants will be finally off the road by then.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pleased, but says it is not enough. PETA said the news is “wonderful”  but the elephants in captivity cannot wait for another three years as they are already suffering from arthritis and tuberculosis.

PETA US has campaigned for 35 years against Ringling’s abuses of elephants.

“If Ringling are really telling the truth about ending this horror, today will be a day to pop the champagne corks and rejoice,” PETA US said.

Behind the scenes, elephants undergo extreme pain and suffering to learn the tricks of the show. (Photo: Supplied)

Behind the scenes, elephants undergo extreme pain and suffering to learn the tricks of the show. (Photo: Supplied)

PETA US held several protests and has published video exposés, powerful ad campaigns and letters from supporters over the years. It documented Ringling’s treatment of animals on video, and released photos of violent training of baby elephants.  Investigators and whistleblowers have repeatedly documented the extreme abuse of animals that occured everyday.

PETA insists the animals have to be freed now:

Three years is too long for a mother elephant separated from her calf. It’s too long for a baby elephant beaten with a bullhook. It’s too long for an animal who would roam up to 48 kilometres a day in the wild but who is instead kept in shackles. We need to get these elephants off the road and out of boxcars today!

CNN’s Todd Leopold wrote a piece looking at the future of circuses without elephants. He notes that elephants are usually the stars of the parade when circuses come to town, citing a university professor. The fact is animal circuses have become a sunset industry and the elephants are saying goodbye. Thirty countries around the world have already banned the use of exotic or all animals in circuses. People’s attitude towards the plight of animals in circuses has also been increasingly heard.

The Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in the United States in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling Brothers. Photo of trains and elephants.  Pic: Wikipedia

The Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in the United States in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling Brothers. Photo of trains and elephants. Pic: Wikipedia

Many other countries have also been working on legislation to follow suit. The UK government had suggested the total ban of its wild animals in circuses by 2015. The government committee said wild animal circuses have become a sunset industry.

PETA Australia said this “is a sure indicator that we’re moving closer to an end to the abuse of animals by cruel circuses around the globe.”

Related Story HERE.

Animals Defenders International (ADI), meanwhile, wants Ringlings to extend phasing out all wild animals in traveling circuses and for other circuses in the US to follow suit.

Jan Creamer, ADI President, said ADI is pleased to hear of the announcement after decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes.

The evidence is clear that in the circumstances of a traveling show, it is not possible to provide these animals with the environment and facilities they need to maintain health and well-being. The public is increasingly educated about the needs of other species and does not like to see them suffer for a few minutes of entertainment.

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Why Australia’s secret cull of 700 koalas doesn’t come as a surprise Wed, 04 Mar 2015 08:11:08 +0000
Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

It was shocking to hear of the secret cull of about 700 starving koalas in the Cape Otway region near the Great Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, but this does not come as a surprise.

Australian media, including The Age said “wildlife officials did three euthanasia sweeps to kill 686 koalas in 2013 and 2014 in a covert campaign that was designed to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community.” The newspaper claims the cull was conducted under the previous Liberal government to address overpopulation.

Many koalas in  Victoria have become refugees, displaced from their habitats due to mismanagement of gum tree plantations.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Anthony Amis, in a press release, said their habitats have been shrinking more rapidly against a “large number” of koalas.

He said once plantations are logged koalas that survive clearfelling become homeless, feeding on whatever suitable vegetation is remaining. At several locations, there are koalas living in a couple of trees. This often results in over-consumption of vegetation. He said, “Unless the koalas move on, vegetation will probably be overbrowsed, with the animals eventually starving to death”.

A koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

A koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

He noted some regions in western Victoria where displacement resulted in starvation and deaths.  The Crawford River Region is one example where some of the displaced koalas moved to roadside vegetation, including old growth trees. The region has between 7,000 and 8,000 hectares of bluegum plantations.

In some native forests where koalas already exist, the influx of displaced koalas poses a great challenge. Most of them may remain homeless with no food to eat.

Amis said, “It does not take a genius to realise that logging of thousands of hectares of such habitat will cause a profound ecological impact.”

He added FoE also has concerns about the absence of animal care facilities in some of the more isolated areas to cope with increases of koala injuries during logging operations. Many animals could suffer horrible deaths. He said:

 “t is not good enough for the State Government and plantation companies to sit on their hands and do nothing about this problem. It is clear to us that we are only now witnessing the start of what will be a protracted and controversial problem.

Amis also noted that since the mid 1990s the State Government embarked on controversial fertility control options to control koala populations and reduce overbrowsing. He said, “Mt Eccles National Park and Framlingham forest have suffered overbrowsing in the past. We hope this situation does not increase into other areas in the South West”.

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

The population boom is presumed to be a result of displaced koalas coming from French Island. He explained the animals are more likely to be free from Chlamydia which means “the natural process of population control in koalas does not apply to South West Victorian Koalas”.

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Australian gov’t seizes toothfish poacher Kunlun Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:53:50 +0000

The Australian government has finally decided to do something about illegal fishing vessels. And when Australian Customs officials recently took out their patrol ship they met Kunlun, a notorious and elusive poaching vessel cruising on its way with a massive haul of Patagonian toothfish.

Kunlun was intercepted west of Cocos Island (Keeling) on Thursday. The Sea Shepherd suspects the vessel was en route from the Antarctic to Southeast Asia to offload its illegal catch.

Suspected master of Kunlun is caught by camera hauling what could be a toothfish. (Photo: Interpool)

Suspected master of Kunlun is caught by camera hauling what could be a toothfish. Pic: Interpol.

The Federal government has long argued that sending patrol boats to a suspected area does not solve illegal fishing, and it is better to instead work with countries in Asia to deny the illegal fishers access to ports.

The Sea Shepherd crew commends the sudden change of attitude and calls on the immediate arrest of people on board once the vessel arrives at the nearest port.

Sea Shepherd has taken the sole responsibility of patrolling and chasing illegal fishing vessels while the government has not been amenable to the idea. The group has also been vilified by a few governmental and academic bodies about its dangerous activities of chasing and intercepting whaling ships and other poaching vessels in international waters but its crew members and supporters have fought back and continue to do what no one dares to do for the sake of the oceans.

The Sea Shepherd has been hunting Kunlun since it was first intercepted on February 2.  Sam Simon found the vessel inside Australian waters, then pursued the vessel out of its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean. The vessel was first seized by the New Zealand Navy in Australian waters in January.

Kunlun, taken on 7 January 2015 in CCAMLR Area. (Photo: Interpool)

Kunlun, taken on 7 January 2015 in CCAMLR Area. Pic: Interpol.

Captain Sid Chakravarty of the Sam Simon said, “For the past three months, the Australian government has claimed that taking port action against toothfish poachers is more effective that patrolling. It is encouraging to see that they have changed their tune.”

Chakravarty added his crew believes in Australia’s leadership: “We’ve seen the Australian government take its leadership in the Southern Ocean seriously when they took Japan to the International Court of Justice on the issue of whaling. We now need strong action from Australia to show that illegal fishing will not be tolerated in the Southern Ocean, and that the only action that will see an end to the Kunlun’s poaching career is arrest and seizure at sea.”

Australia Customs officials boarded Interpool-wanted Kunlun.  (Photo: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service)

Australia Customs officials boarded on Interpool-wanted Kunlun.
Pic: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

The Kunlun has a long history of illegal fishing activity. It is included on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) blacklist of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing vessels. Last month, the vessel was issued with an Interpol Purple Notice after it was caught fishing illegally in Australian waters in the Southern Ocean by the New Zealand Navy.

The Kunlun is one of six vessels that are known to still engage in IUU fishing for Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean.

The Bob Barker is currently engaged in a record-breaking pursuit of the most notorious of the six vessels, the Nigerian-flagged Thunder, after it was intercepted on the Banzare Bank in Antarctica on December 17.

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Australia: A special Saturday night for Tarkine Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:53:06 +0000

“I first ventured into the Tarkine region in 1972 to search for the Tasmanian tiger, thought to be extinct since 1936. There had been alleged sightings in the Tarkine, I was very sceptical but that trip took me right into the Tarkine, and down the coastline, and I saw the rainforest and the pristine rivers and the wildlife…and that has stayed with me these last 40 years.” – Bob Brown

The Tarkine has inspired passion and protest in people campaigning to protect the place for four decades. Brown will speak about Tarkine at the Salamanca Arts Centre on Saturday night. With the theme, Passion and Protest for the Tarkine, he will be with other guest speakers including Michelle Foale, campaigner for Tarkine protection in 1995 at the Road to Nowhere protests and Sharnie Everett from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

The last Tasmanian tiger in captivity (1936) at the Hobart Zoo. Pic: TMAG/National Geographic

Brown will talk about 40 years of passion for the wild landscape, while Foale will touch on the heart of the protest movement in the 90s, and Everett will talk on the Tarkine’s Aboriginal heritage.

Bob Brown Foundation’s Jenny Weber said Saturday night provides the people of southern Tasmania to hear some of the richest archaeological sites in Aboriginal history.

The Tarkine coast has the greatest number, diversity, and density of Aboriginal hut depressions in Australia. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre is seeking a permanent injunction under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), as the Tasmanian government has announced their intention to re-open 4WD tracks in the Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape.

Discover the hidden treasures of the Tarkine (Photo: Carol Haberie/Tarkine Wilderness of Tasmania)

Discover the hidden treasures of the Tarkine. Pic: Carol Haberie/Tarkine Wilderness of Tasmania.

The tracks were closed in 2012 in recognition of unacceptable impacts on heritage values.  On 23 December 2014, the Federal Court granted an interim injunction preventing the government from authorising any vehicle use of the tracks until the Federal Court hears and determines the application.

In 1995 in the remote Tarkine wilderness, protesters were arrested for standing up in non-violent direct action on the Road to Nowhere campaign. Foale was one of the many direct action campaigners at the time, protesting against the building of the road through the Tarkine Wilderness Area.  Brown was arrested and jailed twice in 1995 for demonstrating peacefully to protect Tasmania’s Tarkine Wilderness from road clearing and logging.

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Tasmania dreams of becoming world’s eco-tourism capital Tue, 24 Feb 2015 01:32:07 +0000

Tasmania is dreaming big time. The Liberal government is plotting to transform the state into an environmental tourism capital to attract globe trotters. It comes as no surprise that conservation groups are blocking the proposed project and say the World Heritage Site will be exploited for development; a trade off to draw 1.5 million visitors a year by 2020.

Aerial view of Tasmanian island. (Photo: Supplied)

An aerial view of a Tasmanian island submitted for EOI. (Photo: Supplied)

The Office of Will Hogman, premier of Tasmania, has been advertising the mega-tourism plan approved by Matthew Groom, minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage. Last year, it called for EOI (Expression of Interests) from private developers to submit proposals. Out of 37 who submitted interests, 23 have been shortlisted as of December.

Stage 1 involved assessment of proposals against various criteria including appropriateness of the proposed project to the site. Building and operational qualifications of the proponent were also reviewed, as well as the financial capability of the proponent to carry out the proposal.

Shortlisted developers are now being asked to proceed to Stage 2. Final selection is set to be done by March 13.

Groom, in a press statement, said his government is determined to open Tasmania for tourism investments that will create jobs for many Tasmanians. He promised the natural and cultural values of national parks and World Heritage Area will be fully protected.

The Maria Island Walk EOI. The project involves developing a hut based six day guided walk on the 84km long South Coast Track in the Southwest National Park.  (Photo: Office of the Coordinator-General)

The Maria Island Walk EOI. The project involves developing a hut based six day guided walk on the 84km long South Coast Track in the Southwest National Park. (Photo: Office of the Coordinator-General)

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area covers 1.4 million hectares, almost a fifth of the total area of Tasmania. It encompasses 19 national parks and more than 800 reserves.

The heritage area is well-known for its teeming and diverse native flora and fauna, along with unique landscape, pristine coastlines, and tangible and intangible Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural values reflecting thousands of years of living culture.

Conservation groups have been up in arms to oppose the development project. Tasmania’s leading environment organisations are calling for local, national and global support to stop what they call “an intrusion” into the Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The Bob Brown Foundation in Tasmania and Friends of the Earth in Melbourne, respectively, are spearheading to organise meetings and rallies to lambast the Liberal government. Environmental top guns will be holding the microphones in Melbourne like Bob Brown, The Wilderness Society’s Vica Bayley, Tasmanian Greens Leader and Bass MHA Kim Booth, and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Adam Thompson.  In Hobart, on 3 March, speakers will include World Heritage expert Jamie Kirkpatrick, environmentalist Bob Brown, champion orienteerer and runner Hanny Allston, and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Ruth Langford.

The platypus is also native to Tasmania. Pic: Vera Rayson (Flickr CC)

The platypus is also native to Tasmania. Pic: Vera Rayson (Flickr CC)

Bob Brown Foundation’s spokesperson Jenny Weber said the Tasmanian government is opening the Tasmanian wilderness’ World Heritage Area to logging, mining and invasive tourism projects.

Weber admits there are positive aspects of the proposals like the Gordon River experience by World Heritage Cruises. However, 2-4 days package tours, for example, require construction of accommodation facilities like private huts. Weber foresees “the largest expansion of hut intrusions into the wilderness.”

Bob Brown also said, “A circuit around Cradle Mountain with a proposed ‘lodge’. What’s next a circuit around Federation Peak with a lodge? No absurdity is off the agenda in this process of opening the World Heritage Area to such intrusions.”

Robert Campbell from the Tasmanian National Parks Association lamented, “Our National Parks are a legacy handed down to us by Tasmanians who had the foresight to preserve what they held to be precious. They are not the Government’s to give away or auction off to the highest bidder…”

Indeed, known as one of the last frontiers of untouched wilderness, Tasmania’s pristine wonders is open for business.

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Australia and the Forgotten Children in detention camps Sat, 14 Feb 2015 05:53:49 +0000

The Forgotten Children reside on Christmas Island, Manus, Nauru, or any of Australia’s 11 detention centres, languishing in prison alongside adults for crimes they never committed. They can be newborns or toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary aged children, or teenagers. All are seeking legal asylum.

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has admitted there are numerous incidents of self-harm, assault, sexual violence, hunger strikes and riots among the adult detainees in these centres. It’s hardly the place for children.

Children in detention camps under Australia's immigration and border protection policy.

Children in detention camps under Australia’s immigration and border protection policy.

The Forgotten Children, the Report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014 was commissioned early last year to provide a glimpse into the life of detained children.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said the report identifies the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children. First-hand evidence was given by the children and their families and is fully supported by psychiatrists, paediatricians and academic research. The report says detention is a dangerous place for children.

According to medical data cited in the report, 34 percent of children have been diagnosed with serious mental disorders. Earlier medical reports have already confirmed that children in detention can psychologically scar children for life.

The AHRC notes the scale of first-hand evidence collected for the inquiry is unprecedented. The inquiry team visited 11 detention centres, with repeat visits to Christmas Island after reports of attempted suicide and self-harm. Around 1,233 interviews were conducted with children and their parents including those in detention and those who had been released into the community.

The inquiry also received 239 submissions from the public and stakeholders, took evidence from 41 witnesses at five public hearings, and relied significantly on data provided by the immigration department.

AHRC Commissioner and Professor Gillian Triggs said, “The progressive release of children by the government over recent months is a humane response to the misery of these children and makes the vital point that efforts to ‘stop the boats’ are not dependent on children and their families being detained for prolonged periods.”

She noted successive governments that have failed children by locking them up in immigration detention. “I urge the government to continue to release these children and their families as a matter of the highest priority,” she said.

The commission remains concerned about children still in detention. Recent data from the immigration department shows that 211 children remain locked up throughout Australia and a further 119 children are held indefinitely on Nauru.

The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, assisted the inquiry on several visits to detention centres. She said, “Children who come to Australia seeking asylum should have the same rights as those born in this country and should be protected from any activities that could harm their development. The prolonged detention of children is clearly not in their best interests and, as the report shows, can result in significant mental and developmental harm,” said Ms Mitchell.


The commission also welcomes the release of children in immigration detention over recent months. Since the inquiry began in February 2014, about half of the 1138 children detained at that time are now in the community or in community detention.

The inquiry also reviewed changes in law, policy and practice in the treatment of children in immigration detention over the 10 years since the commission’s 2004 report.The Australian Human Rights Commission is calling for the Australian Government to release all children and their families from immigration detention camps in Australia and in Nauru following a report that investigated the impact of prolonged detention on their mental health and well-being.

“Besides lengthy detention of children,  Australia breaches its international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Professor Triggs.

Tony Abbott blasted the report saying it is biased and partisan; “This is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.”

The Abbott government asked Professor Triggs to resign ahead of the publication of the commission’s critical report, Guardian Australia confirmed.

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Agri-activist Vandana Shiva plans Sydney visit Thu, 12 Feb 2015 09:23:40 +0000
Dr. Vandan Shiva: "Planet on Plate - Eating and Farming for our Future" - Intriduction by Joel Salatin (Photo: Supplied)

Dr. Vandan Shiva: “Planet on Plate – Eating and Farming for our Future” – Introduction by Joel Salatin (Photo: Supplied)

The 2010 Sydney Peace Prize and Right Livelihood Award recipient Dr. Vandana Shiva is coming to Sydney on February 20 to share her continuing fight to save seeds, farmers, and food from corporate monopolies. The internationally renowned environmental and agricultural activist will be speaking at the Teachers Federation Conference Centre hosted by the GM-free Australia Alliance and Sydney Food Fairness Alliance.

Dr. Shiva will discuss the need for a transition to ecological farming systems and regenerative agriculture to secure food supplies for the future – in stark contrast to the current unsustainable globalised food industries which are based on agrichemicals, seed patents, and genetically modified (GMO) crops.

Shiva explained that globalized industrialized food is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for people’s health. She said the Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species, and destabilization of the climate adding:

Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.

Organisers noted a few GMO fiascos, including a $15 million GM ‘super banana’ developed by Dr. James Dale at QUT in Australia. Financially backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ‘super banana’ recently had human feeding trials at Iowa State University experimenting on female students but they were delayed due to diligence problems.

gmo-freeGM ‘golden’ rice feeding trials were carried out at Tufts University in Boston, but were exposed as a scandal last year.

In Uganda, the GMO pro-vitamin A-enriched banana, supposedly being developed to deal with Vitamin A deficiency, has been rejected as unwelcome by African civil society in a recent open letter by AFSA (African Food Sovereignty Alliance).

Fran Murrell, president of GM-Free Australia said, “The Earth and human communities cannot bear the hidden ecological, economic and social costs of high input industrial farming any longer. The monocultures depend on constant inputs of diminishing oil, phosphate, land and water resources, so we must change.”

“We don’t need more false claims of GMOs based on piracy of indigenous biodiversity and knowledge.
The GMO banana project based on biopiracy must stop,” said Shiva.

Spinifex Press will publish essays on “Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard” edited by Dr Shiva this month.

Booking details HERE.

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Australia’s renewable energy future uncertain as investment falters Thu, 12 Feb 2015 09:18:31 +0000
solar stations

Just as Australia was too optimistic in its Renewable Energy Targets, plans are falling apart with a significant dropped in renewable investments last year.

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) is facing an uncertain future with a recent report showing that investment in large-scale renewable energy has nose-dived over the past year.

Investment in renewable energy worldwide is up by 16%, in a stark contrast with Australia’s figure which dropped by 88%.

The Climate Council said the future of Australia’s renewable energy industry remains highly uncertain due to the lack of a clear federal government renewable energy policy.

The RET aims to achieve 20% of the country’s power supply from renewables. About 89% of Australians support the initiative.

Activist group GetUp blames Prime Minister Tony Abbott, along with his pro-capitalist, pro-coal agenda which favours power companies such as Origin, AGL and Energy Australia.

GetUp said since 2001 the RET has been responsible for a massive $20 billion in investment into the Australian economy creating over 24,000 new jobs and lower power bills for consumers.

Nearly 24,000 GetUp members made their voices heard by making a submission to the government’s review of the RET. In addition, over 5,000 GetUp members have switched from Origin, AGL and Energy Australia to renewable energy companies such as Powershop as part of a campaign to make consumers’ voices heard.

With the RET’s future hanging in the balance new investment in renewables has fallen to a 13-year low, the group said.

GetUp noted this is ironic considering the fact that the Government’s former Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Liberal Party Senator Simon Birmingham admitted in 2013 that the real driver of investment in renewable energy has been and continues to be the RET. The senator was quoted as saying, “We have always supported the RET and continue to offer bi-partisan support for this scheme. It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won’t do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.”

Workers check on solar panels in Yulin, northwest China's Shaanxi Province. In 2014, President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao met to agree on mutual cooperation to reduce carbon emission before the G20 meeting in Brisbane. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liu Xiao)

Pic: AP.

Beyond Zero Emission (BZE) is also driving a campaign to discourage Australians from supporting the three main power companies. Although the three companies provide energy to the majority of Australians, the group said they have been actively campaigning to dismantle the RET.

Many Australians can opt for greener alternatives to the big three power suppliers. Victoria residents can switch to Powershop or Diamond Energy while consumers from South Australia, New South Wales or South East Queensland can switch to Diamond Energy.

World leaders will gather in Paris in December this year to determine the rules for a new global agreement to limit global greenhouse emissions and temperature below two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Australia’s major trading partners have been building significant momentum to make ambitious contributions toward their post-2020 national targets. The Climate Change Authority (CCA) suggests that nationally determined contribution to reduce emissions, agreed by Australia, will be central in determining the climate policy framework that will cover and impact companies covered under any emissions reduction initiative. The Authority adds:

This is an important time to convene business, government and NGOs for a mature, constructive dialogue about what should be the nature of Australia’s commitment, why it is in our best interests to actively participate in the negotiations and to share views to understand the economic, environmental and social implications for business.

The CCA finds Australia’s emission reduction target (5 % reduction by 2020) to be too low and out of step with its allies and trading partners.

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Web: The Green Journal AU

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New study says Great Barrier Reef could be dead by end of century Sun, 01 Feb 2015 22:18:54 +0000

The Great Barrier Reef is facing serious threats from climate change, and ongoing coal projects make it even worse. The Carmichael Mine Project, located in the Galilee Basin, will go ahead despite warnings that coal transported from the mining site to the Abbot Point Port will cause irreparable damage to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

A new scientific study says the reef could be destroyed by environmental change before the end of the century. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation  (CSIRO) and Bureau of Meteorology (MOB) forecast that Australia will be hit hard by climate change as temperatures will rise of up to 5.1C by 2090. Scientists under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) have agreed a limit of 2C if the earth is to avert catastrophe.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts rising temperature that hit Australia hard.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts rising temperatures over the decades.

CSIRO’s principal scientist,  Kevin Hennessy, said the inland will be most affected but  one of the most dramatic  transformations are set to take place in the seas that surround Australia, which will warm between 2C to 4C  unless carbon emissions are cut.

On average, four metric tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere per person per year, representing an increase of 30% over the last 250 years. The IPCC monitors these changes.

The effect of climate change is already changing the Reef. The Department of Environment also confirms sea and air temperatures will continue to rise, along with sea levels, and the ocean is sure to become more acidic. These changes affect reef species and habitats, as well as ecosystem processes, and the industries and communities that depend on the Reef.

Brisbane protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Brisbane protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Tourism, commercial fishing and recreational fishing on the reef together contribute $6.9 billion to the national economy per year. Unusually warm sea temperatures have already caused serious and lasting damage to 16% of the world’s coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef has experienced eight mass bleaching events since 1979, triggered by unusually high sea surface temperatures. The most widespread events occurred in 1998 and 2002 with more than 50% of reefs bleached. Coral bleaching is a natural process but the rate is increasing faster than ever before.

The Federal Government gave a green light to the coal project despite warnings from the United Nations that it will put the Reef at risk. Predictions also suggest that the Carmichael mine could produce an extra 130 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the mine’s lifetime, representing a quarter of Australia’s annual emissions.  The pollution from the entire Galilee Basin, if all projects go ahead, will be more than Australia’s entire annual greenhouse gas pollution.

The GBR from space. Pic: NASA (Wikimedia Commons)

The GBR from space. Pic: NASA (Wikimedia Commons)

“That intermediate emissions scenario would have significant effects for Australia,” Hennessy said. “Coral reefs are sensitive to even small changes in ocean temperature and a 1C rise would have severe implications for the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo reef.

The forecast is grim for the Great Barrier Reef and if Australia cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions the future could be very challenging, the CSIRO scientist said.

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Australian university urged to sever ties with Sarawak’s elite Tue, 27 Jan 2015 02:52:36 +0000
More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak.  (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

Destruction of ancient rainforests which has become an iconic image of Sarawak. More than 90 percent of said forests are gone. (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

A top conservation group based in Tasmania is urging the University of Adelaide to dissociate itself from the ruling elite of Sarawak after a book exposed the corruption behind the destruction of tropical rainforests of Sarawak in the province of Borneo, Malaysia.

Details of the alleged crimes and the ruling elite’s link to government, financial institutions, and business tycoons are exposed in the book, Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, written by human rights activist-environmentalist  Lukas Straumann, who is also executive director of the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF). Launched last year,  a copy has already been sent to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Warren Bebbington.


‘Money Logging’ investigates the corruption and the environmental destruction of Sarawak, the author explained. It provides details how the Taib family became billionaires during the 33-year rule of their family head as Chief Minister. The book also investigates how Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud and his four children and his siblings amassed massive wealth. Taib is the ex-brother in law of current Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem.

The book claims that nearly 95 percent of Sarawak’s intact forest is already gone, prompting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to describe it as, “probably the biggest environmental crime in our times.”

The Malaysian government tried to block the release of the book, according to BMF, especially during the 50th session of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in Yokohama, Japan. The conservation group said the Malaysian delegation ordered the lock out BMF and thwarted publicity of the book in the conference foyer.  ITTO council chairman Rob Busnik confirmed the Malaysian delegation had orders “from the highest levels of government in Kuala Lumpur” to stop the presentation of the book.

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak's tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak’s tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

In Australia, the book alarmed Adelaide University which has a relationship with Taib’s group. Professor Bebbington said that the university had refused a request made by Taib to attend its 140th Anniversary Gala Dinner last year.

Jenny Weber, the Bob Brown Foundation’s campaign manager and long-time campaigner in solidarity with Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, called for swift action from Adelaide University’s Estates Committee to abandon association with Taib Mahmud.

Weber said  the university needs to sever its association with Taib Mahmud’s name off the university’s court, adding that Staumanns’ book has provided compelling evidence condemning Taib Mahmud’s ruling elite and their corrupt behaviour. Weber continued that the book is further proof that Taib Mahmud is not an individual that an Australian university should associate with.

The BMF is also calling on to the Australian politicians in the Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments to review relationships with Ta-Ann, a company mentioned in the book. According to Weber, the Australian government has provided public monies of AUS$50m to one of the six most evil logging companies named in Straumann’s book.

The university’s students group Say No To Taib Court at Adelaide University is joining the call to pressure the university to sever the association.

The BMF has long been one of the most vocal environmental groups that has been fighting against the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforest. Straumann said the research for the book started in 2010 but the book itself draws on his experience as BMF director for 10 years.

“Most information is from public records, such as company registries in Malaysia, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. But I have also conducted a large number of interviews with indigenous representatives, lawyers, NGO campaigners, politicians and business people,” Straumann said in an interview.

Straumann said that most of the information in the book has already been provided to relevant authorities, but the book would give the readers a better understanding of what has been happening and continues to happen in Sarawak.

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