Malaysia: Petitions to stop mega-dams fall on deaf ears

The construction of 12 multi-billion dollar dams in Sarawak looks to be going ahead despite petitions lodged by indigenous people to the Malaysian government. Now the case is calling the attention of the United Nations to look into violations of indigenous people’s rights.

Two road blockades have been erected in a desperate effort to stop trucks and machineries that are building the 1,200 MW Baram Dam. One blockade was erected near Long Lama, on the shores of the Baram River, with a second blockade near the proposed dam site, according to NGOs monitoring developments.

The blockades aim to show resistance to the dams and to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the destruction of local communities ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva where the Human Rights Council will discuss Malaysia’s human rights records.

Anti-dam protestors at IHA 2013 Congress held earlier this year. (Photo: Supplied)

The Baram Dam is the fourth of 12 dams that will displace up to 20,000 people and submerge a rainforest area of over 400 km sq.

Peter Kallang, spokesperson for Sarawak’s SAVE Rivers Network, said it is unacceptable that any work should commence before an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) has been carried out.

Indigenous communities including Kayan, Kenyah and Penan are also calling on all employees of Sarawak Energy and its contractors to halt work for the planned dam. The communities have installed camps near the blockades with the intention of staying indefinitely to protect their rights and their ancestral lands.

Indigenous families who were forced to leave their longhouses in Murum found out that there is no replacement housing provided as promised.

Protestors against the dams. (Photo: SAVE Rivers)

The Bruno Manser Funds earlier said the construction of the Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers including Hydro Tasmania, a state-owned Australian power supplier which provides technical advice on dam construction.

Apart from the petitions sent to the Malaysian government, the BMF has also organized an online petition to build international pressure against Sarawak‘s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and his plans “to flood the rainforest and to displace indigenous people.”

The online e-petition will be sent to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to the Sarawak state government, and to Sarawak Energy Berhad and RECODA (Regional Corridor Development Authority), the executing agencies.

The BMF has asked the prime minister to intervene in the Murum Dam where impoundment started to displace people last month but, so far, the petition has been ignored. Related article here.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

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Gays, lesbians can’t wait to tie the knot in Canberra

Gays and lesbians cannot wait to tie the knot in Canberra following the passage of a marriage equality bill last Tuesday.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly passed the historic Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Bill 2013 —the first state is Australia to legalize same sex marriage.

ACT makes historic marriage equality law, NSW will follow. (Photo: Australian Marriage Equality)

Euphoria engulfed the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex) community but this was cut short when the Tony Abbott Government lodged a High Court challenge within 24 hours saying the ACT law is not consistent with the Commonwealth marriage law.

Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 establishes the sole and exclusive means under Australian law by which the status of marriage may be attained. Family Law Act 1975, likewise, makes provisions for divorce, child custody, and property arrangement. The ACT law does not meet such provisions.

The Commonwealth government has lodged a writ of summons in the High Court Wednesday. The High Court will hold its first reading on Friday.

The ACT Government is determined to defend the new law. Members of the GLTBI community also stand hand in hand and optimistic to withstand the challenge.

The lobby group, Australian Marriage Equality, has already put up a separate website to gather gays and lesbians who would like to take the opportunity to be amongst the first to tie the knot.

On its Facebook page, it said “Despite this we know that many couples are not going to wait.  We’re compiling a fact sheet for couples interested in being amongst the first to tie the knot. You can sign up here.”

Abbott earlier warned not to rush until the validity of the law is determined as the writ also states  “There would be immediate adverse effects for persons whose marriages would be ineffective if the ACT Marriage Act is found invalid” and “The status of marriage has a weight and a significance beyond its legal consequences.”

Abbott said he views the ACT same-sex marriage laws as a constitutional matter, not a moral issue.  Advising same-sex couples wishing to marry in the ACT to wait until a High Court challenge is resolved, Abbott said the federal government had constitutional responsibility for marriage.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell introduced a raft of eleventh hour amendments to the Marriage Equality (Same-Sex) Bill 2013 in order to bolster its chances of surviving a High Court challenge. The amendments are aimed at fending off the High Court challenge by minimising any inconsistency with commonwealth legislation.

The bill is supported by Greens (Member of Legislative Assembly) MLA Shane Rattenbury and all eight Labor MLAs.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has hoped same-sex couples will be able to marry in Canberra before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the New South Wales Legislative Council is now planning to introduce a similar bill. AME, in its website said the” NSW Cross Party Marriage Equality Working Group consisting of Liberal, National, Greens, Labor and Independent Members have announced plans to introduce legislation into the NSW Legislative Council next week that seeks to allow same-sex couples to marry in NSW.”

Bushfire season is on

Following the change of Australian Government, policy changes on climate and environment have taken place. The Green Journal takes a break to wait for further developments. Meanwhile, here’s from From GetUp!–

Is climate change making bushfires worse?

Yes. ABC’s headline today: “Scientists say climate change link to bushfires demands action”.

As we think of the hundreds of families losing homes in these fires, and the heroic fire fighters giving their all, we know that our climate will only get more dangerous unless we take strong action now.

We have a plan – I recorded this short video to give you the details:


www.getup.org.au/climateaction

Former Rural Fire Services Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, spells it out: “This is a feature of slowly evolving climate. We have always had fires, but not of this nature, and not at this time of year, and not accompanied by the record-breaking heat we’ve had”.[1]

The science and the impacts are clearer than ever, but many of our political leaders are stepping back. We won’t make progress by waiting for them. I can’t see a path to climate action that doesn’t involve a huge, strong movement of Australians standing up. Let’s start a summer of action with these huge rallies.

Can you help?

Sam,
for the GetUp team

[1] We need to talk about bushfires and climate change – if not now, when?, The Guardian, 21 October 2013

PS. Stay turned over the coming days for information about how you can be involved in our huge climate action mobilisations or host your own.

Original email

Dear Rowena,

We have a bold plan to kick off a huge climate campaign – but we need your help.

The last month was the hottest on record.
The last 12 months were the hottest on record.
The last summer was the hottest on record, breaking 120 extreme weather events.

This month? Summer seems to have come early and bushfires are already burning.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott has just released his legislation to scrap the carbon price – but there’s no sight of a solid plan that would replace it or even meet our current targets to reduce emissions.

Politically, things might be a bit grim. But this is no time to give up on fighting for a safe climate – it’s time to step up. We have bold, exciting and massive things planned. Watch the video to find out how you can get involved:

www.getup.org.au/climateaction

We’re holding huge climate mobilisations across the country on 17 November. It’s an ambitious plan, and we can’t sign up for it without your support. Are you in?

GetUp! Team

Malaysian PM urged to intervene amid Sarawak dam tension

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been asked to intervene in the escalating tension surrounding the Murum dam project in Sarawak.

A police squad was dispatched to the dam site to confront the barricade opposing Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) hydro energy project.

A police officer fires his gun in the air at the Murum dam blockade site. (Photo: Supplied)

About 30 police officers reportedly bullied 300 protestors on Thursday. Ngang Buling, chairman of the Peleiran Murum Penan Affairs Committee was arrested and brought to the Belaga Police Station for questioning in relation to his involvement in the blockade. A police officer fired a shot in the air to disperse the protesters, sources said. Following the arrest of Ngang, the protesters also asked the police to arrest them. Some of the villagers chased the police vehicle carrying Ngang who is to be held at the station for four days.  SAVE Rivers is reported to be dispatching a human rights lawyer to take care of the case.

On Friday, Buling was released on bail but will face court next month on criminal trespass charge, local media reports.

Protesters marched to the dam site following the impoundment of the dam which started on September 22. According to anti-dam NGOs who contacted Asian Correspondent, residents were not given notice while resettlement agreements have not been put in place.

Earlier, representatives from the Penan community affected by the dam went to Miri to lodge a police report against SEB and the Sarawak State Government for impounding the dam without giving them notice.

Penan people’s representatives at a local police station. (Photo: Supplied)

Community spokesperson Lugan Usang from Long Tangau said in a press statement that the safety and livelihood of his people are at risk. Above the Murum dam, there are still many Penan and Kenyah communities that have yet to move and are still living at their respective villages of Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim, Long Wat and Long Umpa.

Houses, livestock, farms, fruit trees, and other livelihood are said to be at risk without notice of compensation from Sarawak Energy or from the Sarawak government. If destroyed, there would not be any evidence to claim compensation, Lugan said. The spokesperson also pointed out that the Penans and Kenyahs are not ready to move because the resettlement site at Metalon has yet to be completed.

“The crops and fruit trees which were promised to us by the government to sustain our livelihood have yet to be planted…. The same goes for the school and the clinic, it is not built yet. How are we going to live at Metalon?” Lugan asked.

SEB confirmed  communities directly affected by the proposed Murum Dam Project consists of 353 households with 1,415 people (as of August 2011) comprised of 335 Penan households with 1,304 Penan and 18 Kenyah Badeng households with 113 Kenyah.

The site of the Murum hydro power dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Penans chase SEB CEO  Sjotveit

The Penans chased Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SEB out from the dam site for failing to meet the demands of the Penans and Kenyah communities.

The Penans accused Sjotveit of being arrogant with no interest at all in negotiation. They said he wanted the blockade to be dismantled and the protesters driven from the area. The Penans chased him out of the site instead, which forced the police to intervene and to take Sjotveit away to a secure location.

Resettlement solutions

SEB has released a 168-page Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) document containing compensation policy by the government. The properties eligible for compensation include longhouses, crops including fruit trees, grave yards, community halls and churches, as well as land.

Most of the key elements of the compensation package were approved by the government in February 2011 and communicated to the affected people, according to the energy company, although local communities say there was no public consultation.

Residents are left on the sidelines while they watch incoming trucks to the dam site. (Photo: Supplied)

However, the Sarawak Report detailed a dark side of the plan which is tantamount to “ethnic genocide“.

A clandestine copy of the RAP reportedly shows that the proposals do not represent any “fair compensation for the displaced hunter-gatherer communities who have lived in the Murum territories for generations and who have lost their jungles and livelihoods to logging, oil palm and soon floodwaters”.

Furthermore, the proposed level of compensation consists of a monthly allowance which falls far below poverty levels even in Sarawak. “State assistance of just RM500 per family (US$157) will run out after just 4 years,” the report said.

Alternative media also reported the hidden details of the RAP which ”tell the shocking truth about the lives of the Penan and their total neglect by the government that plans to wipe out the land which has been their home and provided their livelihood for generations.”

The Penan protesters are urging the prime minister to intervene and to immediately stop the impoundment and displacement of people.

Blog LInk: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

Traditional owners reject river protection law in Cape York

Time has changed in Cape York, Queensland. Traditional land owners have taken a step to support industrialisation over conservation of river systems.

This week, the Federal Court announced it will rule some of the Wild Rivers laws invalid.

Wenlock River in Cape York is one of the river systems protected under Wild Rivers laws.

Cape York traditional owners have pursued their case against Wild Rivers environmental laws to the Federal Court. The laws to protect river systems were enforced during the Labor government in 2009. There were oppositions in the past, but with the new Liberal government, they are more resolved than ever before.

Martha Koowarta, the widow of land rights campaigner John Koowarta, is leading the case to overturn the declaration of three rivers: the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers – which traditional owners argue were improperly made.

Repealing the Wild Rivers declarations was one of the promises made by the National Liberal Party (LNP) which intended to replace the conservation laws with Cape York Regional Plan (CYRP).

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), a member of the CYRP Committee met in Cairns on September 18 after Prime Minister Tony Abbott was sworn into office to discuss the draft of the CYRP.

AMEC Regional Manager, Bernie Hogan announced in a statement, “This is another step towards achieving coexistence for industry, local communities and Government.”

He said the decision of the Campbell Newman Government to scrap the four Wild Rivers declarations as part of the CYRP recognises the opportunities of the area for appropriate mining and mineral exploration activities, as well as agriculture and tourism.

He added the revocation gives investors confidence in the region to do business and up for economic development that will secure the future of all Queenslanders.

“We look forward to seeing this sensible approach to development rolled out in other parts of the state as well, particularly where Wild Rivers declarations have stifled exploration in the Northwest of the state” Hogan conluded.

A propaganda against conservation in Queenland. (Photo: Supplied)

Deputy Premier and the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney also met the CYDP Committee which brought together the Cape York Mayors, key industry and community stakeholders and other State Ministers the day after Abbott was sworn.

Seeney said the Newman Government is “setting a course to open the region to economic diversity and opportunities, while balancing the protection of the Cape’s unique environment.”

However, he made it a point that Newman wants to identify infrastructure opportunities that will support economic growth in the region and not introduce additional unnecessary regulation.

The Wilderness Society, meanwhile, is re-affirming its support for the conservation of Wild Rivers systems in Cape York.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said the Wild Rivers laws protect the rivers from large-scale development threats, such as in-stream mining, damming, and intensive irrigation It also guarantees indigenous people traditional hunting, fishing, land management and conservation, through protection of native title rights and support for rangers.

While the Society acknowledged and expressed its enormous respect for Koowarta and her family and respect their long struggle for sovereignty over many years, the Society also strongly supports the protection of Cape York’s wild rivers and call for the maintenance of Wild Rivers protection.

Schneiders said the matters being considered by the Federal Court include the consultation process that preceded the making of three Wild River declarations by the Queensland Government in 2009.

“In respect to the consultation process, we note that the Cape York Balkanu Development Corporation was contracted by the Queensland Government….We have always urged compliance with the Native Title Act and supported effective engagement and negotiation processes between government and Traditional Owners, ” he said.

Map of the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart in Cape York. (Image:National Water Commission)

Schneiders reiterates that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

The Wild Rivers laws keep mining and other destructive activities away from the most important parts of river catchments – precisely the kind of destructive developments that are now proposed, Schneiders said.

Schneiders  concludes that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent