Mining giants snub Cape York’s world heritage value

As the Federal Government released the report qualifying Cape York for UN World Heritage listing, the Queensland state government launched its political rhetoric to encourage local indigenous communities to support mining and to oppose the planned world heritage nomination. Cape York is a peninsula located at the northern tip of Queensland.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney promised indigenous people a stake in the estimated $25 billion worth of bauxite deposits near Watson River in Aurukun, north of Cairns. He also announced that five mining companies have been shortlisted to undertake the project. Queensland is optimistic mining would transform “welfare-dependent communities” into a “booming town.” Indigenous owners will have equity and the venture will create jobs, Seeney said.

The five mining giants are Rio Tinto, Cape Alumina, Glencore International (GLEN), and Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd (CHALCO). Seeney also announced the Australian Indigenous Resources (AIR), a new venture company to take part of the project.

The Australian media speculate that AIR, represented by indigenous leader Gerhardt Pearson and aluminium smelter entrepreneur John Benson, started negotiating on the stake to develop the mine. AIR demands that traditional owners would hold equity, not just royalties. It is also reported that AIR offered the Wik people 40 percent equity and another 10 percent proposed for Cape York organsations.

The processes of bauxite illustrated. (Photo: Queensland Bauxite)

Seeney said Queensland welcomes the prospect of providing an opportunity for local indigenous people to own stake “in the operation of whatever mine is able to be developed there.” Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo also supports the project hoping Aurukun would be the first community on Cape York to be “liberated from welfare.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke supports Cape York’s enlistment, but Seeney dismissed the federal government’s plan.

In time of the Queensland announcement, however, the Wilderness Society urge the Julia Gillard Government to nominate Cape York for world heritage listing by July with traditional owners’ consent.

The commonwealth government commissioned top scientists to assess the natural values of Cape York against World Heritage criteria. They released the report recently and found that the peninsula contains universal values of international significance and that these values are widespread all over the place.

The values are divided into seven key attributes, including tropical savanna, rainforest, bauxite ecosystems, freshwater biodiversity and dune systems– some of these are the best examples of ecosystems on the planet.

The bad news: mining and land clearing are identified as threats to its enduring values.

Wilderness Society Northern Australia Campaigner Gavan McFadzean said, “This report sends a clear message to the Queensland government not to approve and fast track destructive mining developments over areas now known to be of international conservation significance.”

Earlier, Jacaranda Resources owned by Gina Rinehart applied for a licence to mine the rock art area near the Laura Basin. Rinehart, however, backed down following pressure from conservation groups.

The Quinkan rock art galleries include works of more than 30,000 years old and are some of the most significant on earth. Embedded in the spectacular Laura escarpments, the Wilderness Society said they should be one of the highlights of a future Cape York World Heritage Area.

The Quinkan rock art is listed by UNESCO as one of the top-10 rock art sites in the world. It predates the well-known sites of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain by up to 15,000 years. The sites are listed on the Queensland Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Database and were listed on the National Estate Register (the forerunner to the National Heritage list), which described the Quinkan rock art as constituting “some of the largest bodies of prehistoric art in the world. The paintings are generally large and well preserved, and engravings of great antiquity occur. The Quinkan art is outstanding both in variety, quantity and quality.” They have never been transferred to the National Heritage list, even though they have long been recognised as having World Heritage values.

The Laura Basin is one of Queensland’s big coal deposits and there is interest in mining for other minerals in the region.

If the enlistment pushes through, Cape York will join the ranks of Australia’s UN World Heritage Sites which include: Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, Willandra Lakes Region, Lord Howe Island Group, Tasmanian Wilderness, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia1, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park2, Wet Tropics of Queensland, Shark Bay, Western Australia, Fraser Island, Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte), Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, Greater Blue Mountains Area, Purnululu National Park, Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Sydney Opera House, Australian Convict Sites, Ningaloo Coast

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Earth Day Australia?

The United States joins countries around the world today in commemorating Earth Day. Ever since I was involved in the first Earth Day in Massachusetts, way back in 1970, this has always been a day to reflect on our environmental challenges and our responsibility to safeguard our God-given natural resources on a fragile planet we share with the rest of humanity and which we must protect for future generations.

– John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 22, 2013

Hands on a globe

Earth Day (Photo: Supplied)

The day passed without notice. Even the mailboxes have not got anything in regard to an event observing Earth Day. Has Australia dropped this event from its calendar? Or  has it been easier to organise an Earth Hour (23 March) which it joined several weeks ago?

The writer of Time said,

It’s Earth Day , though you could be forgiven if you missed it. The annual event doesn’t quite have the same energy as it once did—especially not compared to the first Earth Day 23 years ago.

Yes, Green groups are caught up in dealing with more pressing issues – forestry agreement in Tasmania, saving the Great Barrier Reef from fracking and drilling, dirty coal, alternative energy source, overfishing, etc. Meanwhile, the shelving of Woodside’s LNG in Broome gives a major relief to many residents and communities in WA although businesses are quite disappointed.

WordPress and National Geographic sent the reminders just today– April 22 is Earth Day!

Kimberley’s gas hub collapsed

Western Australia’s fantasy of making Kimberley the next Dubai and the world’s largest gas hub suddenly came crumbling down following Woodside Petroleum’s announcement today it is dumping its $45 billion LNG investment in James Point Price.

Broom Community No Gas Campaign flashes a banner to celebrate win outside Woodside’s Office. (Photo: BCNG)

Woodside CEO Peter Coleman admitted the gas project is economically unviable saying the company has been under cost pressure. He said James Point Price does not meet the company’s commercial requirements for a positive investment decision.  A major review of the proposed LNG processing plant near Broome was found it would not deliver the returns the company needed.

While this development is a cause for elation among traditional land owners and local communities who have fought day in and day out to block the project, the WA state government is now pointing fingers amid  the “dismal failure” of the project.

Theresa Roe embraces her granddaughter after Woodside’s announcement. (Photo: BCNG)

WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan blamed Premier Colin Barnett, saying his constant interfering and meddling caused the project to be lost. Barnett has opposed offshore processing and has intervened in the decision of the onshore site which is unviable, McGowan claimed.

Woodside also announced it will immediately engage with the Browse joint venture to recommend evaluation of other development concepts to commercialise the Browse resources. Woodside would consider floating technologies, a pipeline to existing LNG facilities in the Pilbara or a smaller onshore option at the proposed Browse LNG precinct near James Price Point, a statement said.

Coleman said the company supports floating technology, but this will need to be determined by the joint venture. Woodside’s partner like Shell Australia, for example, supports the onshore floating technology.

A photo showing an alternative technology for the project. (Photo: Golarabooloo- Lurujarri Heritage Trail)

“Floating LNG can bring significant long-term, sustainable jobs to Western Australia, Australia, and the Kimberley, as well as providing employment and business opportunities for Kimberley indigenous people,” Shell spokesperson Ann Pickard said in a statement. She added Shell would work closely with the Browse joint venture and government to keep the Browse project on track.

Premier Barnett laments the failure to develop a gas hub project at James Price Point is a “tragedy and a missed opportunity.”

Greens celebrate death of Barnett’s gas hub

The Wilderness Society said the gas fiasco should serve as a warning to governments and businesses not to go ahead with any project without a social licence forcing communities to accept unwanted and unsustainable developments. He notes Barnett’s failure also proves that WA can not be trusted with environmental assessments.

Traditional owners and local communities march in Freemantle. (Photo: Save the Kimberley)

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said, “Woodside and its joint-venture partners have avoided possibly the biggest environmental battle in Australia’s history by walking away from Barnett’s folly at James Price Point.”

In January this year, Woodside started bulldozing ancestral burial sites in Walmadan, an act that enraged indigenous communities. “Hundreds if not thousands of people were prepared to stop Woodside from working in the sand dune area at Walmadan, which has great cultural significance to the Traditional Owners,” Schneiders said.

Schneiders, in a statement, also calls for Barnett to end this “appalling project” for good and asks him for a time to heal the pain of the indigenous people in WA. He said,

This development was opposed by people all around Australia and the world, but nowhere stronger than by the brave Broome community who stood up to hundreds of police alongside the Traditional Custodians who wanted to treasure their cultural heritage.

The Wilderness Society still wants answers on why a compromised Western Australian Environment Protection Authority was allowed to approve the project when there were so many flaws in the environmental and social impact assessment.

An aerial view of the LNG site/ (Photo:AAP/Mike Gray/Environs Kimberley)

Victory, but the fight is not yet over

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said the battle to save the Kimberley has come to define a new generation of Australian environmental activists, many of whom have taken the opportunity to visit the Kimberley, get the red dirt on their feet, and will now feel personally connected to it for life.

The ACF also notes how rallies and festivals brought the Kimberley to the nation’s capital cities where hundreds of thousands of exceptional Australians have collectively said: ‘No, the Kimberley is too precious to lose.’ It adds the project lost its social license long ago and with Woodside’s announcement, it has now lost its economic licence.

Former Greens Senator Bob Brown joins in a Freemantle rally to oppose the planned gas hub. (Photo: Save the Kimberley)

While Woodside is exploring other alternative options to salvage what remains in the project, the AFC warns the battle is not yet over. ”Put simply, this means that the industrialisation of James Price Point and west Kimberley remain a possibility,” it said, concluding:

We will continue to update you on what this means, but for today at least take a moment to feel proud that because of Australia’s standing strong for the Kimberley ancient songlines, dinosaur footprints, monsoon thickets, bilby colonies and the world’s largest humpback whale nursery remain protected from a gas hub.

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Assange’s bid for Senate gains momentum

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is still holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, but he has announced his absentee bid for Senate to represent the State of Victoria in the coming September 14 federal poll.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (Photo: News Ltd)

The WikiLeaks Party announced Assange’s decision over the weekend following the party ‘s first national council meeting held in Fitzroy, Melbourne. The campaign is headed by a former Australian Republican Movement head and barrister Greg Barns, who the UK-based Telegraph describes as a “high-profile opponent of the monarchy.”

The party will field high-profile Senate candidates in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. In NSW and WA, the party is already confident that “support for WikiLeaks is strong.” WikiLeaks will announce the candidates after they have been endorsed, Barns said. National Council Member Cassey Findlay added other spokespeople on policy issues will be appointed in the coming weeks. The party will focus on winning Senate seats in all three states.

Supporters of Julian Assange gather at BMW Edge, Federation Square in Melbourne to rally for his safe return home in 2010. (Photo: R Yoon/the Green Journo)

From London, Assange said he is happy with the momentum the party has already achieved. The party also hinted that Assange is encouraged by the progress of the campaign and the support it is getting in Australia.

Topping the Party’s agenda is to promote transparency, truthfulness and the free flow of information on government and politics founded on WikiLeaks principles.

National Council Member Findlay said:

“The WikiLeaks Party is committed to practising in politics what WikiLeaks has done in the field of information, by promoting transparency, truthfulness and the free flow of information”. These, she said, are “fundamental to rational decision making and just outcomes, and they are increasingly missing from the Australian political landscape.”

The party is in the process of completing registration with the Australian Electoral Commission, needing at least 500 members. Assange has urged Australian voters to join the party. “Let us take the fight to Canberra,” he said.

Poster outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (Photo: Will Oliver/AFP/Getty Images)

Party spokeswoman Sam Castro said:

We are getting a strong stream of applications to join the Party in recent weeks and to assist in our Federal Election campaign.  What is pleasing is that support is coming from people who have either previously not been involved in politics, or who have previously supported one of the major political parties in Australia.

The Ecuadorian government granted Assange asylum in June last year while on the run facing sexual charges involving two women in Sweden. He has been on the watch list of the US since WikiLeaks leaked cables on the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. Speculation has it that the Sweden charges could be a ploy to extradite Assange to the US.

Prior to the granting of asylum, prominent Americans urged Ecuador to accept Assange’s asylum request. Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and Noam Chomsky were among the signatories to a letter sent to Ecuador’s embassy in London, Reuters reported.

Greens Senator Christine Milne welcomes the  WikiLeaks challenge in Victoria, although she said Assange’s prospects of winning are a long shot. The Greens have been staunch supporters of Assange’s repatriation to Australia.

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