Climate champ Leonardo DiCaprio mired in Malaysian 1MDB scandal

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio receives his Best Actor Oscar Award 2016 for his lead role in the Revenant.

Lately, his foundation made headlines announcing US$15.6 million in grants that have been awarded for various causes including wildlife and habitat conservation, indigenous rights, climate change and solving complex environmental issues.

Grant receivers and partners are happy… but not everyone.

The Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) suspects the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has received bribe money from Malaysians who are connected to the high-profile 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal, namely Riza Aziz, Low Taek Jho (“Jho Low”), Tan Kim Loong and Riza Aziz’s film production company, Red Granite Pictures.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

Leonardo DiCaprio leads the role in the Revenant.

The BMF has already written Swiss bank Julius Baer, the main bank linked to DiCaprio’s foundation and asked to provide information on their due diligence when it comes to the acceptance of donations from Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) from Malaysia.

The bank responded it expects the LDF to conduct due diligence and prevent damage to its charitable goals.  The bank subtly distanced itself from donations the foundation had received from individuals connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal. DiCaprio, however, is yet to answer questions.

Citing legal reasons, Julius Baer’s Co-Head of Marketing, Marco Perroni, said he couldn’t disclose if the bank managed accounts on behalf of the LDF. However, he stated that all transactions handled by the bank were carefully examined and that it also expected its partners to accept and handle donations with due care.

The Julius Baer Group supports charitable goals via the Julius Baer Foundation and via partner organizations.

“In case of problems, we discuss appropriate measures with our partners in order not to affect or damage the charitable goals and the beneficiaries. Naturally, we also expect from our partners to conduct due diligence and take measures. […]”

We can assure you that transactions and financial flows handled by our bank are generally subject to scrutiny with respect to their origin and use and that, in case of suspicion, reports would be made to the authorities in charge.

Last month, the BMF wrote to DiCaprio, calling for transparency on his financial ties with Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Jho Low, a key person behind the US$3.5 billion 1MDB scandal.

najib razak waving

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pic: AP.

The BMF said it recognizes the LDF’s important role in supporting rainforest protection and indigenous rights.

However, the organization also said DiCaprio and his foundation should never have accepted funds that proceed from corruption in Malaysia.

“Our long-term experience in Malaysian Borneo, as outlined in the book Money Logging, has shown that corruption has become of of the main drivers of rainforest destruction in South East Asia,”the BMF added.

The call for transparency has been taken up by numerous media around the world, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Fox News, CBS News, El Pais, La Repubblica, Milliyet and others.French TV station TF1 broadcast a special eight-minute piece during its 50 minutes inside Saturday night prime time show.

The BMF has called on DiCaprio and his foundation to disclose their full financial relationship with all Malaysians connected to the 1MDB corruption scandal and to pay back all the money to the Malaysian people.

The suspicion, if true, could mar the integrity of the actor’s foundation and his advocacy.

The Guardian noted DiCaprio has joined high-caliber personalities in the fight to address climate change and various global issues.

[He became] a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014, dropping in at the Davos economic forum to pick up an award last January, and holding a private chat on the sidelines with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations last December.

DiCaprio joined the climate march alongisde 400,000 through the streets of Manhattan and was named as a UN climate change ambassador in 2014 where he delivered an address at the UN climate summit.

He has had private tutorials in climate science from some of the world’s best researchers including Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Penn University Scientist Michael Mann.

DiCaprio’s transformation as a climate champion began with his meeting with then vice-president Al Gore at the White House in 1998. DiCaprio, who has cited that meeting as the beginning of his climate activism, set up his foundation that same year.

This year, the LDF announces through its website the foundation’s largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants, increasing the organization’s total direct financial giving to over $59 million since 1998. Additionally, after a period of increased grantmaking and a goal of expanding its global impact, the foundation warmly welcomes veteran environmental leader Terry Tamminen as CEO.

US$15.6 million in grants have been awarded to the foundation’s partners.

The grants support works which range from major environmental conservation organizations to local partners who are fighting to protect and defend vital ecosystems and species that are gravely impacted by the global environmental crisis caused by climate change.

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Australian Senate investigates Malaysian money-laundering

Here’s a development of what has been going on in Adelaide in connection to the bribe allegations involving the former chef minister of Sarawak at Adelaide University. The Taib Mahmud Court has been defaced and renamed as Columbo Plan Alumni Court. Read story: Adelaide University renames campus plaza honoring controversial Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud

Taib-Mahmud2

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Amid graft and corruption scandal in Malaysia involving Prime Minister Najib Razak,
green groups seized the moment to submit a Senate inquiry that will look into foreign bribery and money-laundering allegations against Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family.

Former Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe alegations involding his ties with a uni in Adelaide, South Australia. scandal

Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud is mired in bribe allegations involving his ties with a uni in Adelaide.

An Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery will look into money-laundering allegations against the family of Abdul Taib Mahmud Sarawak, the current Governor and former Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Earlier this month, the Australian Senate Economics References Committee acknowledged receipt of a joint submission by the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund and the Australian Bob Brown Foundation that highlights the Taib family’s multi-million dollar real estate transactions in Australia and calls for tighter rules against money-laundering in the Australian real estate sector.

The submission calls for all Taib family assets held in Australia to be frozen and restituted to Sarawak. While the submission names 33 Australian companies with links to the Taib family, particular attention is given to the $55 million Adelaide Hilton hotel held by the Taibs on the South Australian capital’s Victoria Square.

The submission and its attachments, two NGO reports on Taib corruption, are protected by parliamentary privilege following their release on the Senate Committee’s website. “This means that you cannot be prosecuted or disadvantaged because of anything you have provided in evidence, or because you gave such evidence”, the Committee Secretary stated.

The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes the Australian Senate’s move and calls on Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem and the Malaysian authorities to support the tracing and recovery of assets stolen by the Taib family. It is currently unclear how today’s dissolution of the Australian Parliament ahead of the 2 July election will reflect on the Senate inquiry.

Links:

Australian Senate inquiry into foreign bribery:

Terms of Reference:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Terms_of_Reference

Submissions:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Foreign_Bribery/Submissions

Gore praises Obama ahead of climate leaders training in Australia

Former US Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to visit Australia this month to lead a climate leadership training drive, shortly after US President Barack Obama’s historic announcement early this week directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate massive cuts on dirty carbon emissions.

Climate Reality Project Chairman and former US Vice President Al Gore (Photo: CRP)

The 25th Climate Reality Leadership Corps training program will kick off on June 25-27 in Melbourne in partnership with Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to teach participants about the science of climate change and how to communicate its effects.

US President Barack Obama announces historic cuts in carbon emissions (Photo: AP)

Gore’s leadership training  will mark another important event following initiatives of various NGOs towards decarbonising Australia. Last month, US economist Jeffrey Sachs led the launch of a low carbon economy initiative.

Gore, the Climate Reality Project chairman, praised  Obama’s announcement to cut the nation’s dirty carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by 2030. This is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year. The former VP said the clean energy initiative is the most crucial step towards combating the climate crisis.

We simply cannot continue to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for dirty and dangerous global warming pollution that endangers our health and makes storms, floods, mudslides and droughts much more dangerous and threatening – not only in the future, but here and now.

Gore reiterated that actions are taking place worldwide to address climate change but remained wary about special interest groups that continue to deny and spread misleading information to muddle and obfuscate the issue. He said denial of the linkage between carbon emissions and climate change is like denial of the link between tobacco and lung cancer. He warned that further inaction would be extremely dangerous and destructive for America and the rest of the world. He added that there are now technologies that can offer alternative sources of clean, efficient, and competitive renewable energy.

He backs Obama for facing challenges through a series of critical actions and empowering the EPA to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for new power plants and accelerating the shift to  renewable energy.  He said America has taken another historic step in leading the world towards a green and sustainable economy.

Not all businesses are happy

Smoke billow from coal-fired power plants (Photo: AP)

Not all businesses are happy and merchants of doubt are expected to block climate initiatives. Christopher Helman of Forbes notes the “casualties” of the plan: “Coal miners and owners of coal-fired power plants. Don’t expect their shares to sell off on today’s rule revelation though — EPA has been telegraphing its plans for months, so the bad news is baked in.”

…..it is clear to analysts that coal will bear the brunt of this anti-carbon crusade, while natural gas will be the big winner. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in America. Per megawatt-hour, coal plants emit about 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. Compare that to natural gas turbines, which emit just .4 metric tons per mWh.

The EPA reportedly estimates that investments needed to meet the emission limits will cost about $8 billion a year, but would save 6,600 lives and more than $50 billion a year in health care costs tied to air pollution.

While the announcement is widely praised, not everybody is positive. Bloomberg reported how the US zero emission would only be defeated by the rising emissions of China, India, and Indonesia, for example.

Burning fossil fuels in the U.S. released 5.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2012. China emitted 9.0 billion tons and by 2020 is forecast by the U.S. Energy Department to reach 11.5 billion metric tons, while the U.S. stays flat. India, Indonesia and other developing nations are expected to grow, as well.

Were U.S. emissions cut to zero, “global emissions would continue to increase,” Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program, said in an e-mail. “So, the direct impacts of the new power plant rules on atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations will be small.”

Optimism in the Pacific

Solar panels station on Port Augusta, Victoria (Photo: Supplied)

Scientists in the Pacific welcome Obama’s clean energy plan. Radio Australia interviewed Dr. Padma Lal,  an independent researcher on Climate Risk in the Pacific, who applauds the announcement and said it is urgent to take action to make the plan a reality.

She noted other countries – the major polluters – have already started taking action to reduce their carbon emissions, such as China, India, Brazil.

…..we would like to see other countries such as Australia and European nations to follow suit. Perhaps it’s a bit too early to say that this is actually going to happen, it’ll be interesting to see in tangible terms what actions are taken by the American state. From the Pacific point of view it really is urgent that they do take such measures…

Gore leads climate training in Australia

The former US VP will lead the leadership training in Australia, alongside world-class climate scientists, political strategists, communication experts, community organisers and activists. He said:

We have taken these trainings around the world, and in every community committed leaders are standing up to take action on the climate crisis. Our goal is to provide them with the best possible tools to become even more effective leaders in their schools, businesses, houses of worship, and local and national governments.

The intensive program is expected to formally train a new group of Climate Reality Leaders, who can become change agents in their own communities. They will emerge from the program as “energised and skilled communicators” with the knowledge, tools and drive to educate diverse communities on the costs of carbon pollution and what can be done to solve the climate crisis.

Australia leads the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions (Image: Supplied/ Carbonworks)

ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said that is the absence of government support to educate and train leaders on the urgency of climate change, her organization welcomes Gore’s project to Australia.

Australia is on the front line when it comes to climate change impacts, yet our national government is unravelling hard-won progress to price pollution and boost renewable energy. In the absence of government leadership on climate change, the people need to lead the way.

 

 

Blog Link: The Green Journal/ Asian Correspondent

Abbott’s budget cuts hit the nation

Whatz-a-buzz this week?

abc

The environment is not only under attack from the Tony Abbott Government. The Federal Government also released the commission’s report, outlining 86 recommendations aimed at saving the budget tens of billions of dollars a year and achieving a surplus of 1 per cent by 2023-24.

Areas in the firing line include family payments, child care, health care, education, unemployment and pension payments, aged care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Life is getting tougher for the most disadvantaged, the ABC reported

The attack on public broadcaster – the ABC itself – is also on the spotlight. So there you go, a threat to liberty on free speech, balanced reporting, and fearless views. Without ABC, most Australian news would only come from the profit-oriented Murdoch and Fairfax media.  So, here’s from GetUp! delivered to my mailbox:

Dear Rowena,

This budget, ABC funding is under attack. But we can be there to protect it.

On 7 May – in the critical week before Budget – GetUp members like Donald will be ramping up the campaign to protect our ABC by taking the fight straight to their Federal representatives. In more than sixty electorates, GetUp members have stepped up to organise exciting events to deliver the 240,000 person strong petition to Protect our ABC.

But to make these petition deliveries real show-stoppers, these GetUp members are counting on you to join them.

Can you join a team of local GetUp members and deliver the ABC petition to your MP?

What: Join local GetUp members to deliver the 240,000 signature strong ABC petition to your MP’s office
Date: Wednesday 7 May
Time: 9:00-9:30am
Location: Your local MP’s office (details provided on the RSVP page)
RSVP: Click here to join a team

Already, 240,000 passionate GetUp members have signed the online petition to Protect our ABC – and it’s shaping up to be the biggest and fastest growing petition in our movement’s history! That’s why, just a week out from budget, we need to take our campaign to the doorsteps of our decision makers and into the hands of Federal MPs – in cities and regional towns across Australia.

By presenting our petition on the same day, at the same time, right across Australia, we’ll create a media frenzy and prove, once and for all, that protecting the ABC is supported Australia-wide. These petition deliveries will send MPs across the political spectrum a message they can’t ignore and a mandate to defend our national treasure.

Attending your local ABC petition delivery is as easy as 1, 2, 3! All you have to do is sign up to your electorate’s delivery, note the address of your MP’s office, and be there bright and early to meet your fellow GetUp members on Wednesday 7 May.

RSVP to attend your local petition delivery team on 7 May.

With the future of our ABC at stake, it’s time to prove Australians are ready to fight for it.

See you there,
Jess, Sophie, Emma and Michael for the GetUp team

PS – Can’t make it next Wednesday 7 May but still want to get involved in the campaign? Tell us why you want to Protect our ABC by submitting a photo or message here: www.getup.org.au/abc-submit

Abbott to acquire $12.4 billion jets

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced last week his Government will purchase new jet fighters to boost Australia’s air defence capability. Australia will spend $12. 4 billion for 58 Texan-built F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter jets.

Boasting the fighter planes’ capability, the prime minister gave some specs: a top speed of 1960km/h, fire air-to-air missiles, guided bombs and a cannon using the most sophisticated avionics and sensors.

F-35 is built on the premise that “it will see first, shoot first and kill first,” according to a phrase from a US Pentagon official in charge of their development.

Abbott said Australia is sure to dominate the skies when another war breaks out. “You just don’t know what’s around the corner,” he was quoted as saying.

He defended the decision by citing Australia’s past war-readiness and military capability such as the 1990 coup d’état in East Timor, the 1999 invasion of Iraq, and the decade-long military commitment in Afghanistan from 2002.

in a joint press release, the prime minister and the Minister for Defence said Australia will purchase the fifth generation F-35 which they said is the most advanced fighter ever made anywhere in the world. Both are confident F-35 will make a vital contribution to Australia’s national security.

Along with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 aircraft will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge. The F-35 will also provide a major boost to the ADF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The first F-35 aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service with the Royal Australian Air Force in 2020.

Australia has been working with the United States as a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter programme since the Coalition joined in 2002. Acquiring F-35 aircraft will reinforce the ADF’s ability to operate seamlessly with US forces and Australia’s capacity to continue supporting our shared strategic interests under the US alliance.

The F-35 aircraft will bring significant economic benefits to Australia, including in regional areas and for the local defence industry with more jobs and production for many locally-based skilled and technical manufacturers.

The total capital cost of $12.4 billion for this acquisition includes the cost of associated facilities, weapons and training.

Around $1.6 billion in new facilities and infrastructure will be constructed, including at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales and RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.

As a result of the Howard Government’s decision to join during the development phase, Australian defence industry has been awarded over $355 million in work and stands to win well in excess of $1.5 billion in JSF-related production and support work over the life of the programme – creating long-term advanced manufacturing and engineering jobs.

The F-35 will replace the F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet aircraft. For over three decades, the Classic Hornet has been the backbone of Australia’s air combat capability. These aircraft have delivered exceptional service to Australia’s security but will be withdrawn from service by 2022.

The new 58 F-35 aircraft, in addition to the 14 already approved in 2009, will provide the RAAF with a total of 72 aircraft to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron.

The Government will also consider the option of acquiring an additional squadron of F-35 aircraft to replace the Super Hornets in the future.

The Government remains committed to building a strong, capable and sustainable Australian Defence Force.

Anti-war activists gather in Canberra

Not everybody is happy with the announcement. A peace group gathered in the Tent Embassy in Canberra — outraged with the purchase calling it provocative and extravagant.

Anti-war group rally at the Tent Embassy in Canberra to oppose the purchase. (Photo: Supplied)

The Independent Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), an anti-war group claims more than a hundred joined their peace rally this week focussed on Australia’s defence spending. According to the group, they will collect signatures to petition against the acquisition. Around 700 signatures have been collected this week, the group said.

Justin Tutty, executive member of the IPAN said “We are supposed to be in deep financial hole – so how on earth can we afford such an extravagant military purchase?”

IPAN is convinced that in a time of peace, Australia should be investing in education and health and cutting back defence spending.

Adding the controversy is a statement coming from Pentagon. Tutty said that even the project manager at Pentagon finds the planes to be “risky, risky, business because they are unreliable and need too much maintenance”.

“No Australian Defence strategic study has said we these strike fighters. The USA buys these for foreign wars but we do not need them. They are provocative in this time of global instability, and build fear rather than security. If we want peace, we need to invest in aid to our region, not aggressive military posturing” he concluded.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

WA election: a hope for the environment

Western Australians are going to the poll on Saturday, April 5,  to elect six senators to represent the State to Federal Parliament. Environmental groups nationwide are hoping it will be a historic day to defeat  Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his power over the Upper House.

Kimberley landscape

After six months or so in office, the Abbott’s Coalition Government has been under fire from various sectors due to what their call anti-human policies. These include  uncompassionate treatment of asylum seekers detained in Manus Island, unnecessary job cuts, gay rights and bigotry, ignoring child care workers, and reckless participation in TPP, among many other issues,

Conservation groups are especially disappointed at how the Government disregards pressing issues such as environment and climate change. They accused Abbott of callousness with “unprecedented attack on the natural environment.”

Among environmental attacks include:

  • the intention to log World Heritage forests in Tasmania;
  • the anomalous approval of the world’s biggest coal port next to the Great Barrier Reef which include dredging and dumping waste into the world heritage area; and
  • the slaughter of endangered marine life such as the great white shark

Former Greens Senator Bob Brown joins the crowd to oppose the gas hub project. (Photo: Supplied)

Perth protest against shark cull. (Photo: Stu Rapley /Flickr CC)

Wilderness Society (WA) campaigner Jenita Enevoldsen reminds voters that Abbott also wants to hand environmental approval powers to the States, which are incapable of handling nationally significant environmental matters.

A reminder of the Coalition Government’s free market thinking with no regard to legality and decency, Enevoldsen brings up WA’s Barnett Government which approved to bulldoze ancestral lands in James Price Point to build a gas hub.  The courts, however, ruled the multi-billion dollar project illegal.  She warns, “WA’s beautiful south west forests are also under threat given the Prime Minister’s recent extraordinary comments about logging and national parks.”

Last month, various groups across  political parties held a huge rally nationwide in protest to the Government’s policies. March in March , for one, is a demonstration against policies that degrade the most vulnerable. ”This signifies the people’s vote of no confidence in policies of the government that go against common principles of humanity, decency, fairness social justice and equity, democratic governance, responsible global citizenship and conserving our natural heritage,”  its website reads. March in March is just a beginning. Bigger assemblies are coming up.

But before West Australians are going to the poll this weekened, the Wilderness Society and GetUp are out to thwart Abbott’s grip of power over the Senate.

A gas exploration clearing in James Price Cook (Photo: Julia Rau)

They launched a new campaign made up of a TV ad and a website to gather supporters. The TV ad targets younger voters: “Do Australia a Favour – Don’t give Tony Abbott control of the Senate.” The Wilderness Society spearheaded Thunderclap .

Sam Mclean, National Director of GetUp, said West Australians had a second chance to create balance in the Senate this weekend.

There are 77 candidates contesting for the Senate with six candidate from the Greens, four from the Australian Labor Party, and four from the Liberal.  The rest come from a diverse political parties. View list HERE

Blog LInk: The Green Journal / Asian Correspondent

 

Australia snubs global climate summit in Warsaw

It is official: Australia’s new government denies global warming.  The Coalition Government will not send its environment minister to the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which will kick off  in Warsaw, Poland from 11-22 November 2013.

The National Stadium in Warsaw

Environment Minister Greg Hunt will stay at home to expedite the processes involved in repealing the carbon tax, a top election promise made by his big boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

However, a representative on his behalf has been dispatched to take part in the annual event. Hunt will be busy repealing the carbon tax while the conference is underway. The carbon tax was passed by the Australian legislature in 2011 under former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Since Abbott won the federal election in September this year, scrapping the carbon tax has topped his priority agenda.

Australia will be represented by Australia’s Climate Change Ambassador Justin Lee from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will also not attend.

The Coalition Government of Tony Abbott (center) is up to repeal the carbon tax. (Photo: Courier Mail)

Climate observers said this will send a wrong signal of Australia walking away from its commitment on climate action and it may set a precedent for other countries to backslide.

Climate skeptics and right-wingers are already cheering on Australia’s unprecedented example. Recently, former PM John Howard also scoffed at ”alarmists” in a climate skeptics’ gathering held in London and admitted he is “unconvinced” of an impending ”global warming catastrophe.”

The COP19 expects to bring together around 40,000 attendees from government, academia, business and advocacy groups to advance international agreements that aim to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.

In the past, a government minister represented Australia to the UNFCCC.  Ian Campbell headed the delegation under John Howard’s first government in 1997.  Labor Climate Change Ministers Penny Wong and Greg Combet, respectively, attended the conference from 2007, although in  2012, the Gillard government’s parliamentary secretary on climate change Mark Dreyfus attended the conference on behalf of Combet.

Oppositions and environmental groups are wary of the bad signal Australia will be sending to the summit. Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler said “Other countries are going to read into it at best with confusion and at worst that the Abbott government is walking away from global action on climate change, ” Australia’s leading media The Australian quoted him as saying.

Greens MP Adam Bandt also said it was “understandable” that Minister Hunt was “embarrassed” by his government’s decision to scrap the carbon tax, but it was no excuse to skip the global summit. While no major decisions will be made at Warsaw, the meeting will build momentum in the lead-up to major negotiations for a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gases in Paris in 2015.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt during a media interview (Photo: SBS)

Businesses support repeal of carbon tax

PHP Billiton, among other businesses under the Australian Business Council,  supports the dumping of carbon tax. While backing the Federal Government’s plan, the mining giant, however, urged scrapping the price of carbon should be done as soon as possible. It warned of a possible  complications if it is not done by mid-2014. The mining firm said it still believes in having a price on carbon, but any policy should be trade friendly and revenue neutral.

BHP Billiton noted that repealing the carbon tax will get rid of the current problem of Australian firms paying a higher cost on pollution than their international competitors.  The company shares concerns already expressed by others businesses about the uncertainty that will be created should the legislation not pass by mid-next year.

Climate action nationwide rally

Amid plans to scrap the carbon tax, a climate action is brewing nationwide. Various environmental groups are set to mobilise rallies in every major city nationwide on November 17. It is a collaboration of GetUp, the Australian Conservation Foundation,  the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Environment Victoria, Fire Brigade Employees Union, Greenpeace, 350.org, Oxfam Australia and many other groups. ACF said they intend to make this event as big as they can.

The ACF wants to keep Australia’s carbon tax. It said that while the tide of history is flowing towards pricing pollution, Australia is turning back the clock. Along with the climate action rally, the Foundation also supports an online petition to the prime minister, environment minister, and environment decision makers from all parties.

GetUp who is spearheading the climate action  rally said 2011 was a turning point for Australia.  Climate scientists warned it was the beginning of the critical decade for climate change and thus required stronger action to avoid the catastrophic effects of rising emissions. Australians responded to this warming by enacting the carbon tax.

However, Australia faces another turning point this year– which is poised to “go backwards on climate action at a time when the government’s own independent climate policy advisory body has warned the nation’s current emissions reductions targets are “inadequate” and what it needs is stronger and more ambitious targets.”

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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.”

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.

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.