Kimberly gas hub sparks nationwide protests

The dream of Western Australia to transform Broome into a dazzling New Dubai faces no paved road. The multi-billion Woodside Petroleum’s gas hub has ignited intermittent tensions between local residents and the police.

Premiere Barnett dispatches police to support Woodside, Shell, Chevron, BP, BHP-Billiton, Mitsubishi and Matsui on the road to James Price Point. (Photo: Damian Kelly)

The State Government dispatched a strong 140-200 police to James Price Point this week alerting  Green activists nationwide to join forces with Broome residents in opposing the $40 billion gas deal. Local residents say the sight of police presence has become too scary. Others call it a State Government’s “bullying”.

Whether there is a government-business collusion in return for a huge kickback, it is yet to be known. One thing is evident though– West Australian Premier Colin Barnett denied he ordered the police dispatch. He said it was the “operational decision” made by Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan.

Protest camp spokeswoman Vivienne O’Shea describes it as “unnecessary” adding that it the State Government is “spending such a colossal amount of taxpayer money to basically frighten the Broome community.”

Broome residents are against gas on Mothers’ Day (Photo:Glen Klatovsky)

Wilderness Society Kimberley campaign manager Glen Klatovsky said it was a waste of police resources and taxpayer money to send police “to crush the Broome community” which had already been traumatised by last year’s heavy-handed use of police and Woodside’s own private security force.

Today, Tasmania has also joined the action. Led by the Huon Valley Environmental Center and The Last Stand, a vigil at Pier 1 of Macquarie Wharf, Salamanca from 5 pm was held as a gesture of support to Broome residents. Video on Kimberly is likewise featured.

In a press release, Jenny Weber, a spokesperson of the HVEC said Tasmania is joining other citizens from other cities across the nation including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, to support the people of Broome in their fight to protect one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Ula Majewski of The Last Stand also said, “Tonight, the people of southern Tasmania will be standing strong in spirit with this inspiring community in the far north west of the country. We are demonstrating our absolute support for these outstanding citizens who are taking a stand for the Kimberley, one of our most ecologically and spiritually significant landscapes.”

One of the idyllic beaches of Kimberly (Photo:ACF)

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the Kimberley is too precious to lose with its rich mineral deposits along with its historical and cultural value.

ACF believes the proposed location of the Browse Basin gas hub at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula will have a significant environmental impact. The peninsula’s western intertidal zone has been included under National Heritage in recognition of its extensive dinosaur trackways, but it remains in threat by the development of the gas hub.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

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Asylum seekers to experience homestay

Delayed posting of one of the top news stories of the week:

Following the launch of the Community Placement Network (CPN) on May 3, about 5000 asylum seekers will be able to experience a decent life in a homestay program. The 6-week refugee homestay, an initial scheme to ease overcrowded detention centres, is expected to kick off two weeks from now. CPN is designed to accommodate asylum seekers released from detention centres on a Bridging Visa.

Australian Homestay Network (AHN) CEO David Bycroft told ABC more than a hundred applications have been lodged on the first day. Eligible refugees, mostly males of 18-25 years of age, will have the opportunity to stay at accredited Aussie homes. AHN is privately-run homestay accommodation network intended for international students costing $300 per week. Bycrfot said this scheme is the “best model” for processing eligible asylum seekers while waiting for their bridging visas and to eventually transition into community life.

Detainees stage a protest on a rooftop of the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney in March. (Photo: AP)

Australian media, including News Corp, reported that the Australian Government has offered AHN-member home owners $250-$300 a week to accommodate a refugee guest. It will also pay a weekly stipend of between $220 and $300 to families to cover food and board for detainees. Almost 1000 detainees have been released into the community over the past two months, the paper added.

However, the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group website clarified media reports on the costs. Quoting Pamela Carr, campaign coordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, the guest by the Name of G Winston says, asylum seekers will pay$120- $140 per week for board in an Australian home under the CPN for the first six weeks and they will pay extra for food. “They will pay this out of their CAS payment which is around $215 per week. Asylum seekers get a CAS payment for the first 6 weeks when they leave detention. The CAS payment is the equivalent of 89% of Sickness Benefit (the lowest Centrelink Payment).”

The website also said, costs in detention centres range from $160 – $ 850 per person per night depending on the detention centre’s location. Over 90% of asylum seekers coming by boat are found to be refugees, get visas and will settle in Australia, Carr was also quoted as saying while the Amnesty International confirmed, “we have to remember that ultimately 90% of asylum seekers will be found to be genuine refugees.”

Detainees stage a riot at a Christmas Island detention centre last month. (Photo: Seven News)

Praise for homestay

AI welcomes the CPN initiative as a positive shift to more community-based processing of asylum seekers in Australia. Dr Graham Thom, AI’s refugee spokesperson said the scheme will provide refugees with an opportunity to be introduced to the Australian community.

“We are pleased to see these positive steps relating to the processing of asylum seekers in the Australian community…Community processing initiatives like the CPN are much cheaper than detention, and much more humane, giving asylum seekers the chance to start contributing to Australian society while they wait for their refugee status to be assessed,” says Dr Thom.

The AI has done a research trip to some of the most remote detention facilities across the country and found that the detention centres “incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to understand and engage with the system.” Dr. Thom said once the asylum seekers are released from detention, they often feel isolated and disconnected within the community.

“This is a step forward and it honours Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, but the Government must now continue to work towards increasing the number of bridging visa releases.”

A typical homestay student accommodation facility advertised by a private home owner. (Photo: elsa.sa.edu.au)

Opposition slams homestay

While the CPN is fully supported by human rights organisations, the Federal Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison slammed the plan, claiming it shows the Government’s desperation, recklessness of policy and out of control. He said Australians have been complaining about the rising costs of living and Julia Gillard offered to supplement household incomes by offering rent to asylum seekers.

“Labor’s decision to house adult male asylum seekers released on bridging visas in the spare rooms of Australian families is a desperate, reckless policy from a government that has lost control….The fact Australian families are now being asked to house asylum seekers who have arrived illegally by boat, including those whose claims have been rejected, shows just how desperate Labor have become over their failed border protection policies which have seen almost 17,000 people now arrive on 301 boats.”

However, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, said: “This is yet another cheap shot from the Coalition, who like to demonise asylum seeker issues.”

The Refugee Advocacy Network is convinced the CPN will not offer accommodation but also a helping hand to get the refugees start learning the Australian way of life. It said this is a great initiative to complement the Australian Red Cross in its search for short-term accommodation support to eligible asylum seekers coming out of detention

The CPN is an initiative of the AHN to offer short-term homestay accommodation to eligible asylum seekers leaving detention centres on a Bridging visa. The AHN has been commended by both the Senate Inquiry into the Welfare of International Students (2009) and the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into International Student Accommodation (2011). It is the only operating homestay organisation with benchmarked national standards, and is the leading homestay provider within Australia. The CPN operates under these national standards.

Blog Link : ASIAN CORRESPONDENT

Australian Koalas on danger list

Oprah Winfrey cuddles a koala during her trip to Australia in 2010. (Photo: AP)

Australia’s iconic bear– the koala –will become extinct in 10 years unless a national protection is given, Green activists have warned.

The Friends of the Earth and the Gippsland Bush have slammed the Federal Government for its failure to enlist the koala in the Gippsland region of Victoria under the nationwide endangered species list.

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke said on Monday koalas in Victoria and South Australia should not be listed due to their abundant numbers in the said regions.

He admitted though that the marsupial is facing possible extinction in three states such as Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Real estate developments in recent years are said to have primarily displaced them from their natural habitat.

More than 40 percent of the specie is reported to have disappeared in Queensland while it dropped by third in NSW over the past 20 years. In the ACT region, koalas have completely disappeared, the SMH also reported.

Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Reuters)

Koala advocates led by the Australia Koala Foundation have been pushing for the enlistment of the specie under endangered category since 1996, but the federal government has been ignoring the issue.

Last year, Greens Senator Larissa Waters had pushed for the marsupials to be listed as a nationally-threatened species believing that they are threatened. She said that with fewer than 5000 koalas left in south-east Queensland, for example, the senator believes that koalas along the koala coast may become extinct during the next 10 years.

However, until now, the Environment Minister is not convinced that the specie should be listed under the national endangered list. He said out that that while koalas have disappeared in the three states, the animals abound in Victoria and South Australia.

He, therefore, announced that koala has been listed under endangered species category covering the three states, but not a national listing following a three year scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee He said a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

Following the announcement, the FOE and the Gippsland Bush blasted Burke for not listing the Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges koala as endangered or vulnerable.

In a media statement, the Green activists said the future of the Strzelecki Koala is “bleak” adding that the specie has lost 50 percent of its habitat in the past decade due to logging and fire.

FOE spokesperson Anthony Amis said almost the entire habitat of the Strzelecki koala is in private hands. He said the Hancock Victorian Plantations has converted close to 10,000 hectares of koala habitat over the past 14 years. Add to this was the 2009 Churchill and Boolarra bushfires which burnt out approximately 20,000ha of koala habitat.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Strzelecki koalas were killed during those fires. After 14 years of logging key koala habitat, Hancock Victorian Plantations still do not have a koala management plan, and 75% of logs from the Strzelecki Ranges end up at Maryvale Pulp Mill owned by Nippon Paper.

The activists groups claim that most of Victoria’s koalas are translocated from the South Gippsland to the French Island in the 1880′s. These koalas are said to have a low genetic diversity compared to the only native koala population which is based in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Amis is convinced that the “genetically superior Strzelecki koala” holds the key to the preservation of the species in Victoria, because translocated koalas suffer from a range of problems, many of which are the result of inbreeding.

The Strzelecki koala does not suffer from the problems of inbreeding which makes it more robust than its translocated cousins. “Its population is clearly unique in the context of Victorian and South Australian koalas. This simple fact appears to have eluded the Minister.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke during a media ambush interview. (Photo: News Corp)

In a related development, the Envronment Minister lashed out at the new Queensland Priemere Campbell Newman who released a statement claiming the koala protection law as a “needless duplication” and a “mindless red tape.” Newman claims that the environmental law will only serve as a red tape to potentially slow down the construction industry.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent