Go Back to Where You Come From

While chilling up a bit, here’s from GetUp!

It’s 11 years this month since Tampa, and Australia’s refugee debate seems like a bad tape stuck on loop.  So what do you do when you have an issue that’s become this polarised and politicised?

The cast of Go Back to Where You Come From. (Photo: SBS)

You reach out to the other side.

We’re not going to achieve humane and common-sense refugee policy by preaching to the converted. But each of us can, through our own networks and actions, help open the minds of those we know who might not understand the big deal about offshore processing and indefinite detention.

This week, there are two great opportunities to do just that. Starting tonight is a show that every Australian should see. It’s the new series of the SBS documentary, ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’, which takes Australians with “outspoken views” and invites them to see the world through the eyes of a refugee – retracing real journeys all the way back to places like Somalia and Afghanistan.

Last season it not only achieved hit ratings, but it was a life-changing experience for those who took part. With politicians from both sides of the aisle hoping we’ll just accept soundbite solutions, a show like this that puts human stories and hearts in the spotlight and changes the minds of even the most ardent hardliners is more important than ever.

Tune in tonight, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS. Invite your friends and family over to watch, and join the live chat with fellow GetUp members on our site by signing up here:   http://www.getup.org.au/gobacksbs

In the meantime, we’ve also developed an arresting new infographic that helps explains where ‘boat people’ really come from and why; and we need your help to share it far and wide.   Check it out, and share it all this week on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” History shows us that policy and laws become more just when a tipping point of hearts and minds are opened, and the differences we’ve used to justify denying the humanity of another no longer seem that vast. That’s where sharing stories, culture and sharing are so important.

Don’t forget to tune in, the GetUp team

PS – This morning, the horrid news of 17 Afghans reportedly beheaded by the Taliban is an acrid reminder of the circumstances that drive so many desperate asylum seekers to our shores. We’ve produced a new infographic showing the conflicts and crisis that drive asylum seeker movement.

— We aren’t affiliated with SBS, but like Amnesty, the Refugee Council of Australia and a range of school and community groups we’ve chosen to promote this show because we think it’s courageous and important. We hope you’ll tune in and join the live GetUp chat on our website, starting tonight: click here to register —

UN raises concern on Australia’s new asylum policy

Following Australian Parliament’s passage of a bill to process asylum seekers offshore, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees held a press briefing in Geneva saying the new policy raises complex legal, protection, policy and operational issues.

UNHCR Spokesperson Adrian Edwards welcomes Australia Expert Panel’s Report as it encourages regional cooperation which the UNHRC has long supported. However, the report also emphasises on “strong deterrent elements reflected in the re-establishment of offshore processing in the Pacific raise concerns and many questions.” The briefing said,

The Government’s decision, enabled by legislation passed by Parliament, to allow offshore processing is an exception to this general practice. We do not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres for asylum seekers and refugees before durable solutions are found. We are also concerned about the psychological impact for those individuals who would be affected.

Edwards concluded the briefing saying UNHRC will study the amendment for possible discussion with the Australian Government.

Australia’s Governor-General speaks at an annual breakfast for UNHCR in Sydney as part of the World Refugee Week in 2011. (Photo: Office of the Governor-General)

Increased boat arrivals and “deaths at sea” sent the Australian Parliament in panic and railroaded the amendment to the Migration Act that officially shuts its borders from people arriving by boat in a heated deliberation Thursday.

The re-invented law tells asylum seekers to go back to third parties in the Asia-pacific region without specific time frames for legal processing. The law is now waiting for a royal assent.

The Coalition Government strongly voted the bill, 44-9 defeating the Greens into smithereens. Senator Christine Milne admitted her “shame” as a parliamentarian. She claimed she has not been provided with the details of the bill while the Government rushed its passage, SBS reported.

The public broadcaster also noted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott cheered to the new law and commended the asylum Panel the Government has appointed in June. The Panel highly endorsed the return of the landmark policy of the former Prime Minister John Howard to detain boat people in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard clenches fists alongside her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as they meet the press. (Photo: AAP/Lucas Coch)

The Australian Parliament House has compiled statistics on the number of boat people seeking for asylum in Australia since 1976, year-by-year. It shows that the John Howard’s Pacific Solution has deterred boat arrivals in 2002-2008. But when the policy ended 2008 by Howard’s successor Kevin Rudd, massive influx of boats resumed and has dramatically increased from that time on. Latest figure during 2011-2012 shows that 7983 people have arrived in 110 boats.

The Australian Parliament House shows statistics on boat arrivals.

The massive boat arrivals in recent months alarmed the Government. Members of the Parliament have gone through lengthy and tedious deliberations in both Upper and Lower Houses to enact amendments to the Migration Act.

Following release of the asylum Panel’s 22 Recommendation on Monday, however, new boats carrying an estimated number of 200 boat people, more or less, have arrived.

Asylum seekers rallies inside a detention centre. (Photo: NTNews)

The Government has already dispatched a team to Manus Island in PNG to assess the details and magnitude of reconstruction works at detention centres. It is the same detention site used during the Howard’s Pacific Solution.

The Australian Government has recognised the magnitude of these global trends noting that the numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia are small compared to those seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world.

In the US, for example, it is estimated that more than 500 000 ‘illegal aliens’ arrive each year. Similarly, parts of Europe struggle to monitor and control the large influxes from Africa and the Middle East each year. In comparison, in 2010 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of about 6879 people on board (including crew). Though considerably more than the 7 boat arrivals in 2008 with 179 people on board, in comparison with Europe and the US this is still a small number.

The APH notes that although Australians in the past offered sympathy to displaced people, the rampant arrivals has now become a matter of concern – including border protection, rising unemployment, and selection of people who would become a member of society, among other issues.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also launched a campaign to discourage people arriving by boats. It drumbeats a punch line: “No to People Smuggling.”

Family Deception

Safety Gear

More videos HERE.

Amnesty International

Human rights advocates react with disdain at the reincarnated Pacific Solution.

Dr Graham Thom of the Amnesty International speaks on the boat arrivals. (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen)

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson, said the Gillard-Abbott policy delineates Australia’s lack of moral obligation by sacrificing protection in favour of deterrence and punishment.

“If we outsource our international obligations in such a flagrant manner, where refugees are left to languish indefinitely – we send the dangerous message to the region that refugee protection is expendable and avoidable…”

The AIA also submitted proposals for consideration to the Panel, but said it is appalled with the Report.

In response to the offshore processing, AIA came up with an impassioned campaign against the so-called window dressing. The group said the Abbott-Gillard’s claim of “saving lives” is just a political spin.

Howard’s Pacific Solution was condemned and dismantled for a reason – it destroyed the mental health of some of the world’s most vulnerable people; leading to self-harm and suicide. It was estimated to cost taxpayers over $1 billion. It broke international law. And it even failed to “stop the boats….There is no way to dress it up. Warehousing desperate asylum seekers on tiny, impoverished islands with no adequate protection is unacceptable….Join us in telling Abbott and Gillard: your refugee policy does not represent me.

Migration Act stripped of human rights protections

President Gillian Triggs of the Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledged the efforts of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to respond to the tragic loss of life at sea. She also welcomed the recommendation to encourage regional cooperation to help Australia in resettling refugees.

However, she admits her concern on the Parliament’s act of fast-tracking the amendments giving the High Court no opportunity to review whether the processing will be conducted according to human rights standards. She said it is alarming to note the amendment to the Migration ACT violates human rights protection and non-adherence of Australia to its international obligation.

She noted the principle of “no advantage” which could mean stripping asylum seekers of any protection while they await their fate in third countries. In addition, the new policy does not guarantee the protection of unaccompanied children.

“Australia must also be satisfied that each person transferred will have access to an effective refugee status assessment procedure and won’t be returned to a country where their life or freedom is at risk. These are core obligations under international law and should be respected,” she said.

Relevant links to Australian policies on asylum seekers and refugees:

United Nations Convention and Protocols Related to the Status of Refugees Australian Human Rights Commission

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Asylum experts advise return to ‘Pacific Solution’

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard beamed when she met the Press in Canberra looking as if she is out of the asylum conundrum. The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which her Government appointed prior to Parliamentary break in June 28, released a Report early today outlining 22 Recommendations on how to deal with people arriving by boat non-stop.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen meet the press in Canberra. (Photo: AAP/Alan Porritt)

The Report is a rehash of earlier solutions, among other things. Spectators even call it “mixed nuts.”  Topping the list is the restoration of a policy espoused by former Prime Minister John Howard: offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Notoriously known as the Pacific Solution, it was scrapped in 2008 due to reported human rights’ abuses. The Australian Human Rights Commission has disagreed with offshore processing as it may revisit a terrifying history:

….the Government’s announcement about Manus Island may herald a return to the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, a policy that was extremely expensive to administer, caused significant hardship and mental harm, and greatly damaged Australia’s international reputation as a responsible humanitarian nation.

“When the Manus Island detention centre was operating between 2001 and 2004 under the former government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ some people detained there suffered serious mental harm because of their prolonged and indefinite detention and the uncertainty about what would happen to them”

Gillard introduced the Malaysian swap deal when she rose to power in 2010 and was approved in July 2011.

Children are among the survivors in the risky voyage of ayslum seekers to Australia. (Photo: Daniel Wilkins)

The Malaysia Solution proposes the dispatch of 800 unregistered boat people from Australia to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 genuine refugees from Malaysia within four years. The asylum seekers will then live in limbo in detention centres while waiting for a change of status–  as certified refugees.

The Panel’s advise to restore Nauru and Manus Island does not disappoint Gillard as it also upheld her Malaysian Solution. The Panel also recommended to take more refugees under the nation’s Humanitarian Program. This includes an increase of the current  refugee intake from 13,000 to 20,000 per annum; and in five years this number could leap to 27,000. See Recommendation 2 & 5.

The Prime Minister backs the recommendations: Nauru, Manus Island in PNG, and Malaysia while seeking for other third parties in the region, including Indonesia where boat smuggling is rampant.

The Panel advised the importance of building a stronger biateral relations with Indonesia and particularly in relation to an increased resettlement places allocation. The Panel believes both countries can enhance joint surveillance, response patrols, law enforcement, and search and rescue coordination. Changes to Australian law in relation to Indonesian minors and others crewing unlawful boat voyages from Indonesia to Australia are also recommended. Read the Panel’s Full Report.

While Gillard is happy with the Panel, the Report ignored recommendations from the AHRC submitted on 12 July 2012.

The AHRC suggested ways how to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea, along with a list of preventions are Australia’s international obligations on refugees and asylum seekers, among other things.

“Boat people” hold on dear life as they are shipwrecked off the coast of Christmas Island. (Photo: News Ltd)

The Commission has argued sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea “may not be a humane, viable alternative to an arrangement with Malaysia. “  It said  that although both countries are signatories to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 (the Refugee Convention), Nauru is a newcomer. “

It has only been a party to the Convention as of June 2011 and has not had an opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which it can comply with the international obligations under the treaty. Papua New Guinea has posed numerous reservations to the Convention which specify that it does not intend to comply with many of the obligations that it contains.

The Commission strongly recommends against a revival of former arrangements involving transfer of asylum seekers to third countries as occurred under the “Pacific Solution‟.

Malaysian High Commissioner Dato Salman Ahmad

Meanwhile, Malaysian High Commissioner Salman Ahmad expressed  his disappointment over Australia’s misrepresentation of Malaysia.

He admitted Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ human rights protocols and conventions on refugees; however, it does not necessarily mean Malaysia is not helpful in dealing with the issues of asylum seekers.

In a letter accessed by the ABC signed by the Commissioner addressed to Senator Mark Furner of Queensland dated 6 August, he said Malaysia has been instrumental in helping to resettle refugees and asylum seekers. It is, therefore, unfair for the Australian Parliament and other organisations vilifying Malaysia as immune to human rights.

The Commissioner admitted the complexity involved in dealing with boat people issues while Malaysia itself struggles in dealing with thousands of illegal aliens.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Tarkine Wilderness begs Govt protection

What’s the fuss about Tarkine?

“Here, some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world are being logged for woodchips — irreplaceable virgin forests converted into toilet paper.” – The Green Left

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

This is one of the uncomfortable truths about the current state of the Tarkine, one of the last remaining pristine wilderness of Tasmania and claimed to be disturbed by logging and open cut mining operators.

Tarkine could be an unfamiliar destination to most intrepid travelers, but to those who know this place by heart, Tarkine can match the beauty and historical significance of iconic spots such as the Ayers Rock (Uluru), Sydney Opera House, or Bondi Beach.

The Tarkine is the largest wilderness in the north-west region of Tasmania sprawling over 477,000 hectares. It is dominated by pristine rainforests with dramatic view of wild rivers, deep gorges, and waterfalls. About 70 percent of the total area is rainforest, 90 percent of which is regarded as old-growth forest.

Arthur River rainforest in the Tarkine (Photo: Tarkine.org)

The Tarkine is considered by conservationists as one of world’s oldest rainforests. It hidden treasures contain relics from the ancient super-continent, Gondwanaland. It is home to more than 60 rare species. Unique animals include the Giant Freshwater Lobster – the world’s largest freshwater crustacean; the Tasmanian Wedge Tailed Eagle – Australia’s largest Eagle; and the famous Tasmanian Devil.

However, environmental groups lament its lack of government protection. Increased commercial activities in area are claimed have posed a serious threat to various species, some of which are now considered endangered.

Green groups believe Tarkine should be given equal importance like other great Australian landmarks. As such, Tarkine has been pushed for listing in the World Heritage Site. But its listing faces no paved road – hampered by the Government’s dilemma between conservation and economic pursuits.

The fact is both the Federal and State governments do not think Tarkine should be listed.

The Tasmanian Devil is one of the species under threat.

The Federal Government said it has enough protection while the Tasmanian State Government said logging and mining will create and sustain jobs and livelihood.

Early on, The Mercury reported the State Government supports mining ahead of the environment in a submission to the Federal Government on whether the Tarkine Wilderness Area should be protected by national heritage laws.

The report said Energy and Resources Minister Bryan Green admitted the State Government “desperately wanted to see lucrative projects such as the multi-million-dollar Mt Lindsay tin mine reach fruition.”

Dollars generated by mining can surpassed dairy, beef, and wine combined. The mining ventures of St Lindsay mine, for one, aims to target the world’s second-largest tin deposit that overlaps part of the Tarkine in the state’s North-West. It could generate up to $250 million annually, the report added.

Tasmania Priemiere Lara Giddings also admitted mining industry is a crucial source of income for the Government. The ABC reported she is adamant the Tarkine’s proposed listing should not compromise future mining operations.

She says low impact operations similar to MMG’s new Southern Hercules open cut mine at Rosebery can occur in the Tarkine without compromising the region’s environmental values.

“Mining is an essential part of the Tasmanian economy, it has a royalty benefit to the State Government which helps to contribute to our state budget as well, so we’re keen to see mining continue.”

Rare species inhabit the Tarkine (Photo: Discovertarkine.com)

The Age has traced back the history of the campaign to protect the Tarkine. It says it started from Tasmanian forests disputes way back the 1980s. Former Green Senator Bob Brown suggested the name “Tarkine” to honour the memory of the local indigenous Tarkiner people. The campaign was initially dubbed “For the Forests”. Since then frequent skirmishes over its protection have become common.

Ever since there has been skirmishing over its protection – no more so than in the case of the ”Road to Nowhere”. This 70-kilometre, north-south link road cutting across the wilderness’ western side took seven years to build – and was stopped and restarted by successive governments.

When the road opened in 1995, then Premier Ray Groom claimed it as proof the tide was turning against environmentalists. It remains little used.

Logging into the northern fringes of the Tarkine has a long history and has met few protests. Its most contentious timber is the rainforest myrtle – a deep-red cabinetmaker’s delight. Under the Howard government, 70,000 hectares of myrtle rainforest was reserved in 2005.

Guided tours are provided in the Tarkine (Photo:tarkinelodge.com)

The Tarkine Wilderness has been waiting for enlistment as a national park for the past three decades, but the Federal Government is delaying it for further consideration.   UK-based The Independent noted the Government is unconvinced of its listing while the the WWF, among with other Green groups have been watching for the development of  the Tarkine’s listing. View timeline here.

While the Tarkine awaits, the Tarkine National Coalition fears ten new mines will put up over the next five years.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle

Wedge-tailed eagle chick, 2-3 weeks old (Photo: Leigh Walters)

The Tasmanian Midlands is recognised as one of 15 areas in Australia as a “biodiversity hotspot”.  These are areas of national significance, with high concentrations of threatened species and vegetation types.

On a recent visit to a private grazing property on the banks of the Macquarie River, north-east of Campbell Town, Matt Taylor, TLC Conservation Scientist and  ecologist Matt Appleby of Bush Heritage Australia were lucky enough to catch a soaring wedge-tailed eagle on video.

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is perhaps the Midlands’ most recognisable threatened animal species. This huge and majestic bird is often seen circling above woodlands and grasslands in search of prey.

This short video was taken when the Matt’s were completing an ecological assessment.  The eagle was riding an updraft that was formed as a strong north-westerly wind swept over a low hill.

If you would like to view the video click here.

To read more about our work please visit our website.

Interesting Facts:  The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is brownish-black to almost black when mature. The feathers are wedged with a lighter brown. The legs are feathered and the bird has a long, wedge-shaped tail. It is a massive bird, standing over a metre tall, weighing up to 5 kg, and with a wing span of up to 2.2 m.

Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles have been isolated for 10, 000 years from their mainland counterparts and have become a separate subspecies. With only about 130 pairs successfully breeding each year in Tasmania, the wedge-tailed eagle is listed as endangered.(1) (1) Parks and Wildlife, Tasmania

Commissioner urges to protect Aboriginal children

Official poster of the 25th anniversary of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day (NAICD)

We must do more to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

It is not acceptable that between 40 to 50 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still live in poverty across Australia, Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today on the eve of national Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day.

Commissioner Gooda said National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day — like NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week — has become an increasingly important annual statement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural pride, identity and achievement.

“Since the first children’s day and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we’ve seen some encouraging gains for our children, including in the areas of education and health, especially infant mortality rates,” he said.

“However it is not enough when it remains the case that our children are 10 times more likely to be removed from their homes and families, or 26 times as likely to be in juvenile detention.”

Commissioner Gooda said that while it is evident that the will is there, backed up by considerable funding, governments have to do things better.

“Every child in Australia —including every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child — has the right to grow up with their basic needs of shelter, food, health, family, care, culture, education, participation and protection,” he said.

“Governments have to do things better and differently if we are to see marked improvements in the development, wellbeing and protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“Our people need to own the solutions and genuine partnerships need to be created — partnerships which support and enable a place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in every aspect of our children’s lives,” he said.

“National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day provides us with a moment to stop, to celebrate our children and to reflect on how we are doing in giving them the best start.”

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597

Guided tours to conservation properties in the southern hemisphere

Would you like to visit private conservation properties this spring?

Then join us for our ‘Spring into Nature’ events across Victoria, for guided walks through beautiful protected properties that are home to native plants and wildlife.

Starting from 15 September, there will be 17 “open days” across the state, giving you the chance to enjoy nature and talk to landowners and Trust for Nature staff about private land conservation. This will be a great opportunity to see wildflowers and threatened wildlife in their natural habitat. At one event, there will be a presentation on the Trust’s newly developed State-wide Conservation Plan. This is an opportunity to hear about our conservation direction for the future.

Click here to download the full list of properties and open days. If you would like to know more about a specific event, please get in touch with the contact listed under RSVP or call Trust for Nature on  (03) 8631 5888

This information is also on the Spring into Nature page of our website:  http://www.trustfornature.org.au/whats-new/spring-into-nature-2012/

Some properties have restricted numbers, so get in quickly to reserve your place and start planning some spring outings today!

Level 5/379 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia

Ph: (03) 8631 5888 Fax: (03) 9614 6999 Freecall: 1800 99 99 33 trustfornature@tfn.org.au

GetUp shakes up with a new leadership

A bit delayed to post this, but here’s from the inbox. GetUp National Director Simon Sheikh has stepped down while introducing incoming National Director, Sam McLean.

Simon Sheikh (right) with incoming National Director, Sam McLean (left).

Dear friends,

I wanted to let you know that I have decided the time is right to step down as National Director. Of course, GetUp will continue its work, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

When I first took on this role in September 2008, many were still wondering whether this movement of ordinary people could continue to make a difference, or whether it would invariably prove a momentary trend; a flash in the political landscape.

Over the years you have proven that this movement of everyday Australians has the capacity to take on and win tough fights and strengthen democracy in the process.

GetUp is driven by its members. Over and over again we’ve demonstrated unequivocally that all of us working together can change things for the better. It has been an honour to stand alongside you over these last four years.

While we celebrate what we have won we should remember what we’re still campaigning for: a nation that better reflects the generosity of spirit, innate sense of fairness, strong community pride and ever-ready humour of its people. A nation that does not shrink back and buy into fear or division. A nation unafraid to aim higher and to understand its place in the world.

Expressing our belief in these ideals by collectively organising will be even more crucial as we approach the next election, a time when our movement can demonstrate its creativity and passion and make a huge impact along the way.

I’ll forever remember walking out of the High Court with two GetUp plaintiffs in a victory that gave over 150,000 Australians the opportunity to vote; standing alongside GetUp members in the Senate gallery the moment the clean energy bills passed; or the night I learned, in a budget lock-down inside the bowels of the Commonwealth Treasury, that, along with our partner organisations, we had won a massive increase in mental health funding. These moments are your victories: they would not have happened without your passion, actions, contributions and presence at every step. And they are just a taste of what this movement can achieve into the future.

Thank you.

It is my great honour to formally introduce to you GetUp’s new National Director, Sam McLean. Sam walked through GetUp’s doors as a volunteer over five years ago, and long-time members will remember the very first initiative he led: ‘Oz in 30 seconds,’ the ground-breaking competition that gave ordinary Australians the chance to create and air their own political ads during the 2007 federal election. Sam is a person of rare talent, energy and proven commitment to GetUp members and all that we fight for. You will have seen many emails from him, especially in his time as GetUp’s Deputy National Director over the last two years. His commitment to serving GetUp’s membership makes my decision to leave much easier.

I’ve suspected for a while now that it’s time in my own life for a change of pace. So while I’m fortunate to be back in good health, my next plan is to pack up the car and head out to see more of this remarkable country with my wife Anna, who has offered me so much support during my time at GetUp. After all, there are plenty of extraordinary places our movement has worked hard to protect. Now I’m personally keen to spend some time enjoying them!

GetUp is not, and never will be, the achievement of its small group of staff. It is the alchemy of many people becoming more than the sum of its parts: people united by common values, committed not just to reading the news, but to changing it.

I’m not going anywhere just yet; I’ll stick around for a while to ensure a smooth transition. But I wanted to make sure you heard this news from me first. And I wanted to take this chance to pay tribute to you – to thank you for all that you are, and all that you do 

Here’s to tomorrow, Simon

P.S. Over the last few years I have been supported by a huge number of volunteers, interns and staff. I wanted to particularly thank our current talented team who continue to drive so much of our work: Sam, Darren, Erin, Paul, Rosie, Rohan, Kieran, Kelsey, Justine, Simon DW, Jarra, Sara, Richard, James, Adri and Jess.

After carbon tax, coal to power the economy

Following economists’ recent prediction of the impending end of mining boom cycle, the Federal Government is scrambling to find an alternative solution to power the Australian economy and is now turning to seam gas and brown coal projects.

New South Wales and Victoria received the green lights to go ahead with the projects, respectively – stirring rounds of uproar from local industries, farmers, consumers, and environmental groups.

Hunter Valley in NSW is home to one of the world’s finest wineries and is now under seam gas exploration threat.

In January this year, the Federal Government created the Independent Expert Scientific Committee to provide impartial advice on the environmental effects of coal mining and coal seam gas projects. But ABC’s Lateline revealed that four out of the six members have financial links with the mining industry.

  • Professor Chris Moran – director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland. In 2010 the institute received $17 million, more than half of its funding, from coal seam gas and mining giants Santos, BHP Billiton, BG Group, Rio Tinto and many more.
  • Associate Professor David Laurence – head of the University of NSW Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices. It’s funded with a $1.1 million grant by Mitsubishi Development, a Japanese-controlled coal miner with significant investments in Queensland.
  • Professor John Langford – shareholder in coal seam gas and coal companies for his self-managed superannuation funds.
  • Professor Peter Flood –  a regular consultant for the resource industry.

Affected by the coal, the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association represents stallion farms, broodmare farms, the largest equine hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.

The committee is chaired by Professor Craig Simmons who said the committee is made up of distinguished academics with long and credible public records. He rejected any suggestion that the committee’s work is influenced by industry.

Professor Gary Willgoose, a hydrologist who holds a prestigious position of Australian professorial fellow said it is virtually impossible to find an independent expert as the coal seam gas industry funds and provides the vast majority of research and consultancy work.

Larissa Walters, Federal Green Senator, however said, “These people have been appointed to scrutinise the impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining. You want to make sure that they’re not getting paid by the industry and therefore might turn a blind eye to some of the more dastardly impacts of the industry.” Read ABC TRANSCRIPT.

In Victoria, the brown coal investment is in full swing under the Ted Baillieu Government. The federal and Victorian governments today announced the creation of a $90 million fund for new brown coal projects in the Latrobe Valley.

North brown coal power station in Gippsland, Victoria. (Photo: Aaron Francis/The Australian)

The Sydney Morning Herald said each government will contribute $45 million to pay for the development and rollout of brown coal technologies, including drying for export, conversion into fuels and fertilisers, and reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity generation. The announcement comes ahead of the Victorian Government opening its controversial tender for new allocations of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the program will create jobs in the LaTrobe Valley region, spur economic growth, and create a sustainable source of energy for Victorian industries and households.

The Minister also said,

There is a potential for brown coal to develop into a valuable export, which would not be possible without the technological innovation that may also assist in meeting the Government’s emissions reductions targets of five per cent fewer emissions than 2000 levels by 2020.”

Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said,

Our brown coal resource has for a long time benefited all Victorians, delivering a reliable and affordable power source that has underpinned our economic growth and been a competitive advantage for the state.

There is a long term viable future for the Latrobe Valley based on the sustainable use of brown coal.’

Expressions of interests for grants will close on November 19. The governments said construction of the  first funded project will be scheduled for 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth campaign coordinator Cam Walker released a media statement to express his group’s disappointment over the government’s sneaky plan of scrapping clean energy projects.

The Yallourn brown coal power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. (Photo: News Limited)

Last week, the Federal Energy Minister announced it will cancel the $100 grant to the proposed HRL coal-fired power plant in the Latrobe Valley. He said the announcement is devastating for the Victorian communities. The $45 million Victorian government contribution could be use to invest in clean energy technology. Walker said the announcement is a massive lost opportunity.

Instead of continuing to peddle the notion of ‘clean’ coal technologies, the government should be putting public funds into job rich renewable technology. The state government has shut off much of the state to wind energy, and refuses to listen to community concerns about coal and CSG. Having done a U Turn on climate action, it seems the government of Ted Baillieu is determined to take Victoria back into the 1950s by continuing to support the expansion of the obsolete brown coal industry.

Mining boom over, Rio Tinto announces job cuts

Barely two weeks after Deliotte Access Economics predicted the end of the mining boom by 2014 or so, Rio Tinto announced its massive job cuts in its Sydney and Melbourne offices Tuesday.

Sky News reported the Sydney office with 30 employees will shut down, while about 240 administrative staff in Melbourne will go.  Of the estimated 200 workers at the technology and innovation research centre in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora, not a significant number will be affected. Some roles will also be relocated to operating division hubs in Perth and Brisbane.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese notified employees on cuts in jobs and services around the globe (Photo: Reuters)

Job cuts is the way to deal with falling commodity prices and soaring costs, a spokesperson said.

The warning came in June when Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese and Australian boss David Peever emailed their staff about plans to cut support and service costs by 10 per cent around the globe. They said they are building resilience and controlling costs during a difficult time, which includes commodity price falls and Europe’s debt crisis.

“This includes a program of reductions in service and support costs across the organisation, which have been rising sharply in recent times….Miners are complaining about rising input costs, leading in to this month’s earnings season, including wages, equipment, energy and new taxes.”

Rio’s first half net profit is tipped to fall to about $US4.9 billion ($A4.69 billion) from $US7.78 billion ($A7.44 billion) last year.

Another mining giant, BHP Billiton, is also experiencing the pinch. Its earnings have been also forecast to drop, similar with the world’s biggest iron ore miner, Vale, which posted lower than expected second quarter earnings at two year lows in the recent weeks.

Deloitte Access Economics issued the sternest warning of troubled times ahead for the mining sector. It said the boom will end in two years or so.

Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia (AFP: Emmanuel Dunand)

Access’s Chris Richardson admitted the boom significantly boosted Australia’s economic growth, “but the peak of the project pipeline is already in sight.”

Investment in resources projects – the key driver of the boom – is looking “less certain the further out you look”, Richardson said.

Access, Australia’s leading private-sector economics advisory said, “Mining companies are making it clear the current spike in investment is due to decisions taken a while back, whereas we are getting few new mining mega-projects across the line.”