Abbott dumps climate watchdog, skeptics rejoice

Climate deniers are rejoicing over the abolition of Australia’s Climate Commission, along with the sacking of its commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery.

New Prime Minister Tony Abbott wasted no time in disbanding the nation’s climate watchdog on Thursday in order to deliver his election promise right after he was sworn into office. Plans to scrap other climate-related bodies are now underway.

Professor Tim Flannery, 2010 Australian of the Year, was the head of the Climate Commission until Sept 19, 2013. (Photo: Gemma Jones/ News Ltd)

Jo Nova, in her website, screamed, “Taxpayers rejoice! The science-propaganda agency is gone for good. One down — scores to go.”

Nova praised Abbott’s Coalition government in its decision “to cut waste and to stop funding an inept unscientific agency which was unbalanced to the point of being government advertising in disguise.” She said the commission wasted billions of dollars on useless and scientific projects, including desal plants, solar panels and wind farms.

Andrew Bolt also welcomed Abbott’s decision although he said the new Environment Minister Greg Hunt made one mistake when he sacked Flannery: thanking him for his work. ”Thank Flannery? Hunt should instead have asked Flannery how much of his $180,000 a year salary he’d refund after getting so many predictions wrong,” he quipped.

The Coalition Government will also dump the Climate Change Authority– set up in 2012 to provide independent advice to the government on the carbon price and emissions reductions targets, along with the legislation to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). Also set up in 2012, CEFC has been provided with $10 billion in funding over five years to support private investment in renewable energy.

All climate-related bodies will be streamlined under the Department of Environment.


Anti-wind turbines cartoon by Steve Hunter posted at Andy’s Rant’s website.

Abbott gained notoriety when he said saying climate change was “crap” and therefore not a priority in his government. The Greens have tagged him as a “climate criminal”.

Observers said climate change was a highly politicised issue between the right and left wing.

The Abbott camp alleged that climate change “is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to deindustrialise the world.”

In an interview with the The Telegraph, Abbott admitted “the carbon tax has been a handbrake on the NSW economy” and scrapping the carbon tax will assure Premier O’Farrell that his top legislative priority will give an “adrenalin shot for local business…”

Alex White of The Guardian posted two reasons why Abbott wanted to scrap the pollution tax. One speculated Abbott was a skeptic, but the other was more politically compelling because climate change denial stemmed from “powerful vested interests in Australia, including the fossil fuel lobby, mining industry and carbon intensive corporations” which “are heavy donors to Mr Abbott’s Liberal Party.”

Major donors to the Liberal Party prior to the 2013 election, according to the Australian Electoral Commission include mining company Santos ($227,880), Clive Palmer’s Minerology ($459,900), nickel miners Minara Resources ($358,000) and Mincor Resources ($120,000), Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group ($50,000), and oil giant Chevron ($28,500).

The Labor leadership contender Anthony Albanese and Greens Senator Christine Milne are both distraught with Abbott’s decision to discard the climate commission.

Albanese said in a speech on Thursday the move to scrap the commission was “shameful”, while Milne said “issuing instructions to close the authority was irresponsible in the face of dangerous climate change.” She added that in the context of global warming, Abbott’s action was a crime against humanity.

Blog LInk: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

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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

UN raises concern on Australia’s new asylum policy

Following Australian Parliament’s passage of a bill to process asylum seekers offshore, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees held a press briefing in Geneva saying the new policy raises complex legal, protection, policy and operational issues.

UNHCR Spokesperson Adrian Edwards welcomes Australia Expert Panel’s Report as it encourages regional cooperation which the UNHRC has long supported. However, the report also emphasises on “strong deterrent elements reflected in the re-establishment of offshore processing in the Pacific raise concerns and many questions.” The briefing said,

The Government’s decision, enabled by legislation passed by Parliament, to allow offshore processing is an exception to this general practice. We do not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres for asylum seekers and refugees before durable solutions are found. We are also concerned about the psychological impact for those individuals who would be affected.

Edwards concluded the briefing saying UNHRC will study the amendment for possible discussion with the Australian Government.

Australia’s Governor-General speaks at an annual breakfast for UNHCR in Sydney as part of the World Refugee Week in 2011. (Photo: Office of the Governor-General)

Increased boat arrivals and “deaths at sea” sent the Australian Parliament in panic and railroaded the amendment to the Migration Act that officially shuts its borders from people arriving by boat in a heated deliberation Thursday.

The re-invented law tells asylum seekers to go back to third parties in the Asia-pacific region without specific time frames for legal processing. The law is now waiting for a royal assent.

The Coalition Government strongly voted the bill, 44-9 defeating the Greens into smithereens. Senator Christine Milne admitted her “shame” as a parliamentarian. She claimed she has not been provided with the details of the bill while the Government rushed its passage, SBS reported.

The public broadcaster also noted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott cheered to the new law and commended the asylum Panel the Government has appointed in June. The Panel highly endorsed the return of the landmark policy of the former Prime Minister John Howard to detain boat people in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard clenches fists alongside her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as they meet the press. (Photo: AAP/Lucas Coch)

The Australian Parliament House has compiled statistics on the number of boat people seeking for asylum in Australia since 1976, year-by-year. It shows that the John Howard’s Pacific Solution has deterred boat arrivals in 2002-2008. But when the policy ended 2008 by Howard’s successor Kevin Rudd, massive influx of boats resumed and has dramatically increased from that time on. Latest figure during 2011-2012 shows that 7983 people have arrived in 110 boats.

The Australian Parliament House shows statistics on boat arrivals.

The massive boat arrivals in recent months alarmed the Government. Members of the Parliament have gone through lengthy and tedious deliberations in both Upper and Lower Houses to enact amendments to the Migration Act.

Following release of the asylum Panel’s 22 Recommendation on Monday, however, new boats carrying an estimated number of 200 boat people, more or less, have arrived.

Asylum seekers rallies inside a detention centre. (Photo: NTNews)

The Government has already dispatched a team to Manus Island in PNG to assess the details and magnitude of reconstruction works at detention centres. It is the same detention site used during the Howard’s Pacific Solution.

The Australian Government has recognised the magnitude of these global trends noting that the numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia are small compared to those seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world.

In the US, for example, it is estimated that more than 500 000 ‘illegal aliens’ arrive each year. Similarly, parts of Europe struggle to monitor and control the large influxes from Africa and the Middle East each year. In comparison, in 2010 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of about 6879 people on board (including crew). Though considerably more than the 7 boat arrivals in 2008 with 179 people on board, in comparison with Europe and the US this is still a small number.

The APH notes that although Australians in the past offered sympathy to displaced people, the rampant arrivals has now become a matter of concern – including border protection, rising unemployment, and selection of people who would become a member of society, among other issues.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has also launched a campaign to discourage people arriving by boats. It drumbeats a punch line: “No to People Smuggling.”

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Amnesty International

Human rights advocates react with disdain at the reincarnated Pacific Solution.

Dr Graham Thom of the Amnesty International speaks on the boat arrivals. (Photo: Alex Ellinghausen)

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson, said the Gillard-Abbott policy delineates Australia’s lack of moral obligation by sacrificing protection in favour of deterrence and punishment.

“If we outsource our international obligations in such a flagrant manner, where refugees are left to languish indefinitely – we send the dangerous message to the region that refugee protection is expendable and avoidable…”

The AIA also submitted proposals for consideration to the Panel, but said it is appalled with the Report.

In response to the offshore processing, AIA came up with an impassioned campaign against the so-called window dressing. The group said the Abbott-Gillard’s claim of “saving lives” is just a political spin.

Howard’s Pacific Solution was condemned and dismantled for a reason – it destroyed the mental health of some of the world’s most vulnerable people; leading to self-harm and suicide. It was estimated to cost taxpayers over $1 billion. It broke international law. And it even failed to “stop the boats….There is no way to dress it up. Warehousing desperate asylum seekers on tiny, impoverished islands with no adequate protection is unacceptable….Join us in telling Abbott and Gillard: your refugee policy does not represent me.

Migration Act stripped of human rights protections

President Gillian Triggs of the Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledged the efforts of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to respond to the tragic loss of life at sea. She also welcomed the recommendation to encourage regional cooperation to help Australia in resettling refugees.

However, she admits her concern on the Parliament’s act of fast-tracking the amendments giving the High Court no opportunity to review whether the processing will be conducted according to human rights standards. She said it is alarming to note the amendment to the Migration ACT violates human rights protection and non-adherence of Australia to its international obligation.

She noted the principle of “no advantage” which could mean stripping asylum seekers of any protection while they await their fate in third countries. In addition, the new policy does not guarantee the protection of unaccompanied children.

“Australia must also be satisfied that each person transferred will have access to an effective refugee status assessment procedure and won’t be returned to a country where their life or freedom is at risk. These are core obligations under international law and should be respected,” she said.

Relevant links to Australian policies on asylum seekers and refugees:

United Nations Convention and Protocols Related to the Status of Refugees Australian Human Rights Commission

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent