Australian university urged to sever ties with Sarawak’s elite

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak.  (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

More than 90 percent ancient rainforests has been destroyed in Sarawak. (Photo: Matthias Klum National Geographic Creative)

A top conservation group based in Tasmania is urging the University of Adelaide to dissociate itself from the ruling elite of Sarawak after a book exposed the corruption behind the destruction of tropical rainforests of Sarawak in the province of Borneo, Malaysia.

Details of the alleged crimes and the ruling elite’s link to government, financial institutions, and business tycoons are exposed in the book, Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, written by human rights activist-environmentalist  Lukas Straumann, who is also executive director of the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF). Launched last year,  a copy has already been sent to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Warren Bebbington.

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‘Money Logging’ investigates the corruption and the environmental destruction of Sarawak, the author explained. It provides details how the Taib family became billionaires during the 33-year rule of their family head as Chief Minister. The book also investigates how Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud and his four children and his siblings amassed massive wealth. Taib is the ex-brother in law of current Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem.

The book claims that nearly 95 percent of Sarawak’s intact forest is already gone, prompting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to describe it as, “probably the biggest environmental crime in our times.”

The Malaysian government tried to block the release of the book, according to BMF, especially during the 50th session of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in Yokohama, Japan. The conservation group said the Malaysian delegation ordered the lock out BMF and thwarted publicity of the book in the conference foyer.  ITTO council chairman Rob Busnik confirmed the Malaysian delegation had orders “from the highest levels of government in Kuala Lumpur” to stop the presentation of the book.

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak's tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

Acres of palm tree plantation destroyed Sarawak’s tropical rainforests. (Photo: National Geographic)

In Australia, the book alarmed Adelaide University which has a relationship with Taib’s group. Professor Bebbington said that the university had refused a request made by Taib to attend its 140th Anniversary Gala Dinner last year.

Jenny Weber, the Bob Brown Foundation’s campaign manager and long-time campaigner in solidarity with Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, called for swift action from Adelaide University’s Estates Committee to abandon association with Taib Mahmud.

Weber said  the university needs to sever its association with Taib Mahmud’s name off the university’s court, adding that Staumanns’ book has provided compelling evidence condemning Taib Mahmud’s ruling elite and their corrupt behaviour. Weber continued that the book is further proof that Taib Mahmud is not an individual that an Australian university should associate with.

The BMF is also calling on to the Australian politicians in the Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments to review relationships with Ta-Ann, a company mentioned in the book. According to Weber, the Australian government has provided public monies of AUS$50m to one of the six most evil logging companies named in Straumann’s book.

The university’s students group Say No To Taib Court at Adelaide University is joining the call to pressure the university to sever the association.

The BMF has long been one of the most vocal environmental groups that has been fighting against the destruction of Sarawak’s rainforest. Straumann said the research for the book started in 2010 but the book itself draws on his experience as BMF director for 10 years.

“Most information is from public records, such as company registries in Malaysia, Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. But I have also conducted a large number of interviews with indigenous representatives, lawyers, NGO campaigners, politicians and business people,” Straumann said in an interview.

Straumann said that most of the information in the book has already been provided to relevant authorities, but the book would give the readers a better understanding of what has been happening and continues to happen in Sarawak.

Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Success in turning away asylum seekers’ boats

Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, the policy of turning back the boats carrying asylum seekers has proven to be effective against people smuggling, at least, from the point of view of  Australia’s right-wing Coalition Government.

This explains why the government is unmoved by hunger strikes, self-harm, and suicide threats by detainees at the Manus Island Detention Centre in Papua New Guinea.

Human rights advocates have criticised the deplorable conditions of detainees. In Manus, two have been killed: Reza Berati, an Iranian, was murdered in February last year inside the facility, allegedly by members of staff who were supposedly keeping the detainees safe; and in September last year, Hamid Kehazaei, another Iranian,  died of a foot infection (septicaemia) due to apparent medical negligence.

Last week about 700 detainees launched another hunger strike drawing media attention worldwide. Desperate and hopeless, reports said they want to die. Some sewed their lips, ate razor blades, and attempted to hang themselves.

A detainee shows his lips in hunger strike. (Photo: Supplied)

A detainee shows his lips in hunger strike. (Photo: Supplied)

Abbott boasted the success of the operation 100 days after he took his oath of office despite criticisms from human rights advocates. His operation has also been causing strains on diplomatic relations with neighbouring Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and India.

The Prime Minister claimed victory with his no-boat policy. He said he had stopped boat arrivals.

“We can say to all of the people who scoffed, we can say to all of the people who said it couldn’t be done … that it was just a simple slogan – that it can be done,” Abbott said.

The Liberal Party also posted on its Facebook page a statistic comparing the number of boat arrivals in 2013 before Abbott took office against 2014 figure after he took office.

coalition-policy

Labor MPs are now seeking to unwind the Abbott Government’s successful border protection strategies that are stopping the boats.

SHARE if you think Labor should learn from their mistakes on border security.

Liberal supporters making comments on the post said asylum seekers are economic refugees who paid people smugglers to bring them to Australia by boat. They accused asylum seekersof being parasites looking for dole outs from the government. One supporter commented:

Most people I see on here who oppose what the libs have done with border control need to get out in the real world! Most of these people are economic refuges looking for had outs from our goverment… Anybody that does not believe there are no sleeper terrorist among these people, I have some fairies in my garden I want to sell you.Well done Morrison these people have no idea the great job you have done!

Dumping Ground

The Coalition government  can only reiterate that Manus detention centre was inherited from the previous Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Various dumping grounds have been considered since Abbott rose to power, including non-signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees, like Cambodia.

In early 2014,  Abbott struck a controversial $40m deal to resettle refugees in Cambodia. The deal was signed in September, but many of the details are still unknown or unclear. Under the deal, Australia pledged to provide refugees with settlement support for 12 months, including basic needs and daily subsistence, language and vocational training, education in local schools, and health services.

(READ MORE: The wrong kind of refugee: Australia exports its problems to Cambodia)

Critics lambast the deal, including human rights groups in Cambodia, who argue the country is poorly suited to accept and support refugees. For one thing, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most corrupt nations (156th on the Transparency International list of 175 countries) and has, according to Human Rights Watch, “a terrible record for protecting refugees and is mired in serious human rights abuses”.

India has also been considered as a dumping ground – causing uproar from “a proud and sometimes unruly democracy of 1 billion people, which is unlikely to appreciate being used as Australia’s people-dumping ground.”

A retired senior Indian intelligence official said, “We have tens of thousands of Tibetan, Myanmarese, Sri Lankan refugees and many millions of Bangladeshis, possibly an Australia in terms of numbers.”  A foreign policy expert and director of the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore also commented that Australia’s legalistic argument about a migration exclusion zone “does not befit a liberal democracy” and that he is “sympathetic to Australia’s need to prevent illegal immigration but this is a moral and legal sleight of hand.”

At least 558,600 individual asylum applications were registered in 172 countries or territories during the first half of 2014, some 18 per cent more than during the same period in 2013 (456,000). (Image:HCR)

At least 558,600 individual asylum applications were registered in 172 countries or territories during the first half of 2014, some 18 per cent more than during the same period in 2013 (456,000). (Image:UNHCR)

Barrister Julian Burnside wrote in the ABC Drum:

There is not much doubt that our treatment of asylum seekers in Manus constitutes a crime against humanity. This is a matter of legal analysis, not political rhetoric. The hard facts about the horrific conditions on Manus Island that I’ve outlined above may not be enough to shock us, but the one thing that really might shock us is to see Abbott, (Tony) Morrison and (Peter) Dutton prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for those crimes. That’s a pro bono case I would gladly prosecute.

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Hyundai AU to launch zero emission hydro-powered car

A zero-emission electric vehicle that runs on hydrogen has arrived in Australia. Emitting only water,  Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) will be Australia’s first and only hydrogen car refueller to be installed at Hyundai headquarters in Macquarie Park, Sydney. Testing and demonstration drives are expected to begin any time from now.

Built in Ulsan, South Korea, it is the first hydrogen-powered car to be permanently imported into the country. The vehicle is the first component of Hyundai’s plan to operate a test fleet of ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles in Australia. As such, it represents a pioneering step toward the commercial availability of emissions-free hydrogen powered vehicles in Australia.

Mr Charlie Kim, chief executive officer, Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) said the company became the first automobile manufacturer in the world to begin mass-production of a hydrogen-powered vehicle,” adding “This gave HMCA the ability to order a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle in the same way as we order any other new Hyundai car. Now we have one, and we believe this fantastic car will help demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as a green transport solution for Australia.”

Hyundai has now begun the installation of Australia’s only Hydrogen Refuelling Station (HRS) at its headquarters in Macquarie Park using hydrogen provided by gas partner Coregas Australia. The HRS, supplied by American company Air Products, has passed all planning permissions from Ryde Council and is expected to be fully operational early in 2015 after testing is completed during December

“Ultimately, we see no reason why Australians should not enjoy the same environmental solutions as consumers in other markets,” continued Mr Kim. “Hyundai strongly supports the idea of a ‘Hydrogen Highway’ in Australia like those already in operation overseas, and we are committed to working with local partners to try to facilitate this.”

Read more about the specifications of the car on Hyundai Australia here.

Rare killer whales seen in Indian Ocean

On the sidelines of Operation Icefish, the Sea Shepherd group saw one of the most spectacular sea creatures in the South Indian Ocean while chasing a Nigerian-poaching vessel from the Antarctic. The crew spotted of a rare type of killer whale which was not been seen for decades.

The crew of the MY Bob Barker ship encountered “Ecotype D Orcas” while passing between the Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos in pursuit of the toothfish poaching vessel, Thunder, in late December.

Bob Barker rare encounter with Ecotype D orcas in the South Indian Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd Global)

Bob Barker rare encounter with Ecotype D orcas in the South Indian Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd Global)

Robert Pitman, Marine Ecologist and Antarctic Orca expert from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, confirmed the whales are type D orcas based on the photographs sent by the crew. While examining the photographs, Pitman also said he believed they have never before been filmed alive.

Scientists admitted that little is known about this type of Orca, which is infrequently seen in inaccessible subantarctic waters. The last sighting of the rare whales was in 1955 on Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand.

The Type D orca is characterised by its large bulbous forehead, similar to that of the Pilot whale, and tiny post-ocular eye markings. From National Geographic:

While typical killer whales—types A, B, and C—have streamlined bodies and large, white eye-patches, type D whales have tiny eye markings and large, bulbous heads.

Researchers are said to have sequenced type D’s genome using material collected from a museum skeleton from 1955.

Research in Antarctic waters has revealed that there are at least four distinctly different-looking forms of killer whales, referred to as types A, B, C and D. (Photo: NOAA)

Research in Antarctic waters has revealed that there are at least four distinctly different-looking forms of killer whales, referred to as types A, B, C and D. (Photo: NOAA)

Bob Barker chief engineer Erwin Vermeulen  recounts, ”The crew watched in awe as the 13 killer whales, including a small juvenile and a large male, used the six-metre swell to surf across the bow. For almost an hour the surf-show continued and was accompanied by bow riding, tail-slaps and breaches.”

Sea Shepherd said DNA retrieved from the 1955 stranding revealed that Ecotype D’s genetic differences point at a divergence from other Orcas about 390,000 years ago. This makes Ecotype D the second oldest Orca type, and second most genetically divergent.

Determining how many species of Orcas there are is critically important to establishing conservation measures and to better understand the ecological role of this apex predator in the world’s oceans, it concluded.

Link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent