James Price Point gas dream is dead

The Western Australian Supreme Court declared today the James Price Point  (JPP) gas plant is illegal after it found that the WA Environment Minister and the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have acted illegally in the assessment and approval of the massive project.

The court’s announcement puts the final nail in the coffin ending the elusive Dubai dream. In April, Woodside Petroleum’s announced it is dumping its $45 billion LNG investment in JPP after it found the project to be economically unviable.

Wilderness Society WA Campaign Manager Peter Robertson said JPP is now dead and buried and that WA Premier Colin Barnett must face the facts, drop this unhealthy obsession, and quit the compulsory acquisition process.

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

The Wilderness took the action with Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter. The people of Broome and the Traditional Custodians supported the action and rallied in opposition to the WA Government and some of the world’s biggest resource companies.

Hunter said the EPA lied to the community, but truth and justice prevail. “Today’s court ruling shows that we will do what it takes to protect the Song Cycle, this country, for future generations. Our people are strong – we are still fighting for our culture and country, we won’t be bullied into a corner by the government,” he said.

Robertson said JPP or Walmadan should remain with its Traditional Custodians to be managed for its extraordinary landscape, wildlife, and culture.

The failure of the gas project shows two things: It highlights the environmental and cultural significance of Walmadan while it underscores the importance of independent environmental assessment.

Traditional Owners Neil McKenzie, Albert Wiggan and Joseph Roe stand up against Woodside’s proposed gas hub at James Price Point. (Photo:Julia Rau)

The case also demonstrates that the States cannot be trusted to protect their own natural heritage and that the Federal Government needs to maintain an environmental oversight, the Wilderness said adding that this ruling sets a bold precedent and is a stark reminder of why final environmental approval powers should not be left in the hands of the States.

Further, the Society is wary that business and investor confidence will be severely eroded around the country as environmental approvals are overturned by the courts or spend years tangled up in legal action as evidenced by the JPP ruling.

National Director Lyndon Schneiders notes that Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott  made his party’s position clear on approval powers being handed to the conflicted and under-resourced States.  He said the States cannot be trusted to look after environmental matters of national significance.

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Without Federal powers to override the irresponsible decisions of the States, the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island would all have been destroyed.

Recently, the Environment Defenders Office (EDO) also released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without an overriding Federal laws.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland granny walks 1200 km to Save the Reef

A 72 year-old grandmother ended her 1,200 km-walk from Cairns to Gladstone in Queensland on Thursday last week to remind Australian voters to think about the Great Barrier Reef.

June Norman completes her 1,200 km walk to Save the Reef.

June Norman is the hero of the day for having just completed her 80-day journey. She took the Reef Walk 2013 from her hometown Cairns to raise awareness of the impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration projects and the LNG export industries to the Great Barrier Reef.

She arrived in Gladstone with a parade of colourful banners. She hopes that people will think about the election and choose candidates who care about the reef. She said voters should not pick the same old political party, but find out if their policies include the reef. The federal election has been set on Sept. 7.

This is what she has to say about her 80-day journey:

“I started this journey more than a year ago, with planning and contacting other concerned people, tourist operators and fishermen all along the coast. The last few months have been some of the best days of my life. Every day I met wonderful people with passion to protect the Reef.”

“One thing life has taught me is there is nothing more important than family, and this journey has been one small thing I can do for my grandchildren. It’s what every mother wants, a good future for their children, and I want my grand kids to enjoy the world and the Great Barrier Reef like I have.”

“I just don’t understand, why are we allowing international companies to come here and destroy this beautiful world heritage reef. The dredging in Gladstone should be a warning to us all, we will see dead dugong and turtles all along the Queensland coast if we don’t stop the new coal and gas ports.”

“All I ask is that Mr Campbell Newman and Mr Kevin Rudd stop for just one day and take a trip to the reef. Stop and feel its beauty. Perhaps then they might consider stopping this madness”

Climate change and rapid industrialisation are putting the Great Barrier Reef under enormous pressure. With the growing commitment to coal export markets and CSG industry, new major coal ports are underway. From Gladstone and the Fitzroy Delta to Abbot Point near Mackay require millions of tonnes of sea bed dredging that is impacting turtles, dugong, and dolphins.

The Friends of the Earth, in a joint statement with Norman said the cumulative impacts of LNG and coal projects to the reef have not been considered or quantified. The pace of industrialisation is so rapid that marine turtles could disappear before their life cycle is understood. Investigations are rapidly under way to protect Gladstone’s Fitzroy Delta Subfin Dolphin before port development begins.

Reef Walk is a message that conveys the hopes of many Australians wanting big steps to be taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is home to countless marine species and the work place of thousands of Queenslanders supporting the tourism sector.

Meanwhile, Greens leader Christine Milne will be announcing the party’s plan to save the Great Barrier Reef in Airlie Beach on Friday. She will be flying over Abbot Point to see the area to be impacted by the big mining companies if the Queensland Government continues to allow them to operate. (On Friday, the Greens announced it has launched a $176 million rescue package to protect the Great Barrier Reef from mining.)

The Greens said neither of the old parties have ever refused a coal or gas mining proposal yet but the Greens will continue to do everything in its power to stop the approval of the Abbot Point coal port expansion and save the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a dredging dump ground and shipping super highway for the big mining companies.

June Norman with her Reef Walk 2013 crew.

“Only the Greens can be trusted to stand up to the big mining companies to protect the Great Barrier Reef, with our  policy of no new Reef dredging or dumping,” Senator Larissa Waters said in a party statement.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Federal election: Gay marriage becomes a key issue

Marriage equality is one among the priority issues in this year’s federal election scheduled on Sept. 7.

Prime Minister and Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader Kevin Rudd promised that a re-elected government under Labor will put forward a bill that will legalise marriage equality within 100 days. The declaration was made during a debate with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at the National Press Club in Canberra last Sunday.

PM Kevin Rudd (top right) and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (left) up for Sept federal poll.

The ALP has already launched a signature campaign, It’s time: Marriage Equality, to gather support. The party says Rudd needs a strong public endorsement to make what he has promised possible. The signature campaign is up and running with more than 7,000 supporters (as of press time) and counting.

Australian Marriage Equality, an advocacy group at the forefront of the issue, said marriage equality is of urgent concern among young voters. Showing a recent poll conducted by the Australian Institute, the group said the poll indicates that young voters see marriage equality as a “signature issue” that will strongly influence who they vote for. The group also warned that failure of Abbott or the Coalition MPs to make a conscience vote will not get the votes of young people.

The message to candidates is that support for marriage equality is the way to attract young voters….In particular, the message to Tony Abbott and the Coalition is that failure to allow Coalition MPs a conscience vote on marriage equality is driving away young voters.

Abbott, known for his conservative views on gays and lesbians, softened his stance during Sunday’s debate. The opposition leader announced he is supporting gay and lesbian rights.

Abbott, a former Catholic seminarian, has been vilified by his detractors as sexist and homophobic.

However, today he is under fire from various groups after a radio interview in which he said he would not be swayed on “fashion of the moment” issues.

This reinforces his old homophobic view. A few months ago Abbott gave an interview to News Limited Network in which admitted he would not allow a conscience vote on gay marriage while LP’s consistent position was against it.  “Coalition party policy is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he was quoted as saying.

In a separate interview in 2010, Abbott was asked about his views on homosexuality in which he said, “I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.” He told ABC TV, “There is no doubt that (homosexuality) challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.”

The recent debate then questions Abbott’s sincerity on his election promises.

Rudd said church can keep its tradition, while gays and lesbians will find their way into the system.

Upcoming rallies to support marriage equality (Photo: Gay Marriage Rights in Australia)

The Greens have been supporting GLBTI rights issues (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex individuals). Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Adam Bandt have bills before Parliament that seek to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act and give same-sex couples the right to marry. The bills, however, have faced tremendous challenge before the conservative majority.

The Greens’ LGBTI spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said if Kevin Rudd is genuine about marriage equality, he will need to work across the Parliament and convince all parties from across the political spectrum to work together to achieve marriage equality.

In a party statement, the Greens claims they have led the way on marriage equality and have long been ready and willing to work with all parties to achieve it. ”The Greens plan for a bill to be cosponsored by members of all three parties is the only way to overcome the political impasse and actually achieve equality,” the party said.

Australia maps out smart energy plans


Climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and the University of Melbourne are launching a joint project that hopes to help developers build smarter buildings: eco-friendly and energy-efficient.

The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan, to be unveiled Thursday, will showcase a blueprint aimed at helping existing buildings cut their energy usage by half. Residential and commercial buildings can achieve maximum energy efficiency in 10 years.

BZE Research Director and Lead Author Trent Hawkins notes Australian buildings are not up to the challenges of the time. They are generally “too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and use a phenomenal amount of energy to run basic services,” he explained. The plan also scraps gas-operated appliances to be replaced by more efficient and healthy technology. “This plan shows how Australia can transform our existing buildings to reduce energy bills, increase comfort and health, and generate renewable energy,” he said.

The plan projects residential building sector to cut 53 per cent of energy use, with some typical home categories seeing over 70 per cent reduction, and commercial buildings can reduce energy use by 44 per cent.

Going gas-free is a key element of moving towards zero emissions. The plan, if implemented, has multiple benefits: households get a new level of control over their energy bills, it could remove the need for the polluting and unpopular coal-seam gas industry, and it would stimulate employment in trades and services for the buildings sector by tens of thousands of jobs, BZE said.

Australian households spend $15 billion per year on electricity and gas bills. The modelling shows that this plan could save up to $40 billion over the next 30 years, compared to business as usual,” Mr Hawkins explained.

BZE introduced the idea of a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid to Australia’s political and public discussion with the 2010 Stationary Energy Plan.

Mr Hawkins concludes his group wants to start the conversation on how Australia can fix its buildings. “By taking action now, we can start to curb the environmental impact of our energy-hungry buildings – and improve life for us as occupants,” he said.

BZE is one of the grassroots’ movements that support Australia’s drive towards a cleaner and more sustainable energy source.

Solar Power

By 2020, Australia aims to generate 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewables. The Climate Commission earlier released a modelling of Australia’s future energy usage that consistently indicates increased reliance on solar energy. By 2050, solar photovoltaics are projected to provide 29 per cent of Australia’s power needs.

Last year, the Climate Commission released a report– The Critical Decade: Generating a renewable Australia– which projects the unlimited potential of renewables, particularly solar.

The report underscores a major shift in global energy policy moving towards renewables and Australia has an advantage given the enormous potential for solar generation as the world’s sunniest continent.

The report also highlights major developments in Australia such as the cost of solar photovoltaic systems which have significantly dropped over the years enabling more consumers to shift to such technology.

In 2012, over one million rooftop solar photovoltaic systems were installed, up from about 8,000 in 2007. About 2.6 million people, 11 per cent of our population, now use the sun for their electricity needs, the report said.

The Commission also admitted that while Australia generated $60 billion from the export of coal and gas, 80 per cent of global fossil fuel resources need to stay in the ground to limit global temperature increase to a relatively safe 2C.

Largest solar panels in the Southern Hemisphere

Last week, Australia reached another milestone with the announcement of large-scale solar power stations to be built in New South Wales costing a combined total of $450 million.

The Australia Renewable Energy Agency approved the fund of $166.7 million while the NSW Government committed $64.9 million to support the project.

The power stations will be built in two separate locations: Broken Hill (NSW) and Nyngan (NSW) which will generate a capacity of up to 155 megawatts (MW) (AC) of electricity. Construction in Nyngan is due on January 2014 and Broken Hill, July 2014 to be completed in 2015.

AGL Energy Pty Ltd was named to build the project and has contracted First Solar to do the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) of the project. First Solar will build the power stations using its thin film PV technology and will maintain the facilities for an initial five year period following construction.

The Federal Government says these will be the largest solar power stations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mark Butler MP, Minister for Climate Change, said the project will cover a combined area four times the size of the Sydney CBD.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

FoE probes Apple link to Bangka mining controversy

Do you trust your smartphone? Do you carry a brand using tin from the Bangka mining site?

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said FoE Australia and FoE Indonesia have joined forces to support the drive to investigate the source of tin used by smartphone manufacturers in the wake of the controversial Bangka mining site in Indonesia causing catastrophic damage to the environment.

Miners working at a tin ore mine in Tanjung Pesona, District Sungai Liat, Bangka, Indonesia. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

Top mobile phone brands have been pressured to reveal the source of tin in their products. The mining site in Bangka has been accused of local labour exploitation while the mining has caused horrific deaths. One death per week is the average in recent years, reports said.  Bloomberg Businessweek earlier published a report on the harrowing conditions of workers.

Mining has also caused environmental havoc to water systems, forests, corals reefs and livelihoods of people living in and around the island, FoE said.

Top smartphone brands – Blackberry, Sony, Nokia and Motorola and LG – released statements admitting they use tin products sourced out from Bangka island. Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung. The companies were also asked to cooperate in finding an industry-wide solution, FoE said.

Apple, however, stubbornly snubbed the campaign. Over 25,000 supporters have already emailed the company to reveal the tin sources of their products.

FoE UK started the smartphone campaign under Make it Better  to press phone manufacturers to observe transparency. The Bangka case highlights the need of strong laws ensuring companies reveal the human and environmental impacts of their businesses.

Bangka (or Banka) is an island province together with Belitung Island with Pankalpinang as the capital. It lies east of Sumatra, separated by the Bangka Strait. To the north lies the South China Sea, to the east, across the Gaspar Strait, is the island of Belitung, and to the south is the Java Sea. The size is about 12,000 km².

The name Bangka is derived from the word ”Wangka” which means ”tin”.  Since 1710, Bangka has been one of the world’s principal tin-producing centers. Tin production is an Indonesian government monopoly.

According to tour operators in the island, Bangka boasts of its “BANKATIN” – considered to have a worldwide reputation.

In April, Samsung Electronics led the mobile industry by publicly admitting that it uses tin from Bangka’s mines following pressure from more than 15,000 FoE individual supporters.  Dutch electronics giant, Philips, also publicly acknowledged its use of Bangka tin after a similar campaign in Netherlands (Milieudefensie) earlier.

The despicable condition of workers at a tin mine in Tanjung Pesona. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

FOE’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook on 25 June pointing out that the company’s public stance on the issue is now “indefensible,” especially given Cook’s claimed desire to be more transparent about Apple supply chains. Read more about the  FoE iPhone findings here.

Greens, Wikileaks condemn Manning verdict

The Australian Greens and the Wikileaks Party issued today separate statements condemning the conviction of Bradley Manning, US Private First Class, on 20 charges getting him a sentence of 136 years in jail.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam at the Parliament House in Canberra. (Photo: Australian Greens)

The US court finds Manning guilty of seven out of eight espionage charges, five theft charges, two computer fraud charges, five military counts of violating a lawful general regulation, and one of wanton publication of intelligence on the internet.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam slammed the verdict saying the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for whistleblowers and a free press not only the US but globally. He said the trial has not been fair with many closed sessions and with key documents withheld from Manning.

Bradley Manning, US Private First Class (Photo:Supplied)

The Obama Administration produced 80 witnesses against 10 on Manning’s defence team although he wanted to call on 48 witnesses.

The Greens Senator said Manning has embarrassed US officials for the insecurity of their information systems, for routine and cavalier violations of the Geneva Conventions revealed in the Afghanistan War Logs and Iraq files, and the hubris and poor taste of diplomats revealed through Cablegate. He said this is not damage but “a public service.”

“We are all in Bradley Manning’s debt. He saw wrongs and did not turn away. With his decision to become a whistleblower, he presented some brutal and haunting truths about wars involving Australia which cannot and will not be locked away.

“His trial and treatment now exposes the lack of transparency and accountability we strive for in democracies and the vulnerability of journalists and publishers who are clearly not free to scrutinise powerful institutions as they should.” Senator Ludlam concluded.

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

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also criticised the unfair treatment of the case. Speaking from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Assange said Manning’s conviction represents “a dangerous national security extremism”.

“Bradley Manning isn’t guilty of anything in that he’s actually very heroic for demanding government transparency and accountability and exposing the American people and the rest of the world to the crimes committed by the American government,” Assange said.

Meanwhile, the Wikileaks Party released a public statement: The Conviction of Bradley Manning and the Implications for Wikileaks Party Senate Candidate Julian Assange

This is a Statement by WikiLeaks Party Senate Candidates Kellie Tranter (NSW), Gerry Georgatos (WA ) and Leslie Cannold (VIC)

The conviction of Private Bradley Manning at his Pentagon driven trial is the clearest warning of the fate awaiting WikiLeaks founder and WikiLeaks Party Victorian Senate candidate Julian Assange, if he is extradited to the United States.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr should also admit that his statements about Mr Assange not being of interest to the US are palpably false. Julian Assange would face a Grand Jury indictment alleging espionage, treason, and terrorism and face a life sentence locked up in a US jail.

Twenty-five-year-old Manning’s trial made a mockery of the lawful justice system although even it did not agree with the overzealous prosecutorial claim that Manning had ‘aided the enemy’. The media was kept at a distance and under constant surveillance. In the closing days an armed police team patrolled the media centre and searched reporters using hand-held metal detectors.  One striking feature of the prosecutors’ case was that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were the main game in the prosecution of Private Manning.

In evidence and post-trial submissions, prosecutors alleged that Julian Assange was the chief culprit, instigator and distributor of the classified war logs, cables and film footage from US war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Bradley Manning case proves that Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is lying when he claims repeatedly that Assange is not in any legal danger from US authorities. When Mr Carr says that Washington does not want to extradite Assange from Europe, this is clearly not the case.

Carr, a former journalist with The Bulletin, is a member of the Media and Entertainment Alliance, which is committed to defending Julian Assange’s legal and human rights.

As a union member and a lifelong ALP member, he should be demanding that Washington ends its protracted war against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and give an assurance that he is able to travel abroad without fear of arrest and extradition.

Senator Carr, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Australian Government cannot allow Assange to be treated in the same cruel fashion as Bradley Manning – solitary confinement, torture and a cowboy court process.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Party candidates will contest Senate seats in Victoria, NSW, and WA at the forthcoming federal election.

Regional forest laws a dismal failure, report says

Australia’s Federal government has failed to protect State and regional forests aggravating the risks faced by endangered species and iconic trees, a report released today said.

The Environment Defenders Office (EDO) released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without Federal laws supporting them.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) said the report reveals environmental protection standards under state governments are far lower than under federal laws “and is a sombre warning for the fate of Australia’s wild places if plans to hand over federal environment powers are enacted.”

FOE Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said  the ‘One Stop Chop’ shows that “contracting forest management out to state governments is systematically failing our threatened species and iconic forests” adding that “Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the living example of what transferring federal environment powers to the states  would look like for our environment.”

As a result of the federal government’s oversight, forests have suffered, along with threatened species like Victoria’s critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, Walker said.

The report has sought to address the fundamental question whether the State and regional forestry laws have delivered equivalent environment protection standards to those likely to be achieved if the Federal laws have been applied directly to forestry operations in States and regional areas.

The Federal law is embodied in The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC Act). It  is the federal government’s key piece of environmental legislation which took effect 16 July 2000– while the State and regional forestry laws are embodied in the RTAs.

Photo: MyEnvironmentInc

‘One Stop Chop’ focuses on biodiversity, particularly those threatened species which are matters of national environmental significance.

The overall finding, however, shows that RTAs never delivered the benefits claimed for them “for a mix of political, economic, cultural and legal reasons.”

From a legal perspective, the main reason the RFAs have failed is that the States do not take the regulatory and legal actions required to adequately protect matters of national significance. The failure is fundamental to the concept of the RFAs and of devolving control of matters of national environmental significance from the Commonwealth to the States.

The EPBC Act provides guidelines to the conservation and protection of nine matters of national environmental significance (MNES). These include world heritage properties, national heritage places, wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nuclear actions (including uranium mining), water resource in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

The RFAs have different focus. They are 20-year plans for the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s native forests. The Federal and State governments signed the 10 RFAs between 1997 and 2001. These 10 are already put in place in four States including Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The Agreements provide certainty for forest-based industries, forest-dependent communities and conservation.

The RFAs sets the guidelines, tasks and responsibilities for sustainable forest management; and they are ongoing. The forest debate ranges over a variety of topics, including regeneration and regrowth forest,  old-growth forests,  woodchips, management on and off reserves, private land, plantations, fire, forest operations and regulations, other land uses, and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species and ecological communities.

Last year, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to reform environmental laws that seek to give States an autonomy over local environmental laws. The One Stop Chop report, however, opposes the prospect.

Relevant Links:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water,  Population, and Communities

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries