Refugee Rights Action Network members who visit refugees in the Yongah Hill Detention Centre every week have been denied the right to visit during the weekend of the national convergence for refugee rights.
“We want our country to be alive. We don't want it to be dead because that’s our country, that’s our spirit country, we come from that country,” said Aboriginal traditional owner Teresa Roe to a crowd outside Woodside's office on April 12.
The gathering was a celebration after the announcement that Woodside Petroleum has shelved plan to build a liquid natural gas hub at James Price Point in Western Australia’s Kimberley.
Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said it was an economic decision and not influenced by environmental or public policy concerns.
This is partially true. Former joint venture partners such as BHP and Chevron have sold their stakes in the project.
Since 2010, the cost of building the gas hub has risen by $20 billion, while increased shale gas production in the US has flooded the market.
When Woodside announced its withdrawal from the project, its share market price jumped 3.4%.
But that is only one side of the story.
Mass community activism played a huge part in the gas project’s failure. A continuous campaign, blockade, legal challenges and environmental studies have perpetually delayed Woodside’s plans.
This was also in the face of a biased approvals process. When the Environmental Protection Authority in WA was assessing the Browse project, four of the five board members were disqualified because of self-declared conflict of interest with Woodside.
So the decision over approval of the project was made by one person, who approved the project despite serious and unresolved environmental concerns.
Numerous environmental groups submitted reports about environmental problems such as the potential damage caused by dredging 50 square kilometres of seabed and carbon emissions of at least 39 million tonnes a year.
Other research discovered endangered species like the bilby, the largest humpback whale nursery on earth and the monsoon vine thicket, as well as unique dinosaur footprints.
The community campaign has mobilised large numbers of people around the world that has consistently made the project controversial. It has engaged many people in environmental campaigning for the first time in their lives.
Five thousand people protested against the gas hub in Broome in 2011. Twenty thousand people attended a Save the Kimberley concert in Fremantle in February. An action at James Price Point a week before Woodside made the announcement showed the international scale of the movement with cutout hands displayed on the dunes from people all over the world, including the US and Europe.
This is a campaign that has won an important battle using a range of tactics and involved many people that have become empowered. As an emotional Philip Roe said outside Woodside's office: “I feel very privileged that this campaign not only belongs to the Goolarabooloo people but belongs to each and every one of you that fought this campaign.”
The mainstream media painted a negative picture of event. The West Australian devoted two pages to lament the loss of jobs and how it will adversely affect Aboriginal people because they won't receive the promised $1.5 billion in royalties.
It's not just the media and conservative politicians who have being critical of the decision. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union secretary Paul Howes told the ABC that Woodside “sacrificed” thousands of jobs when it dropped the project.
There has been no serious study into the net effect of jobs lost and gained as a result of the gas hub. Once construction on the project was complete, the advertised 6000-8000 jobs would have dropped and there would have been a direct loss in long-term sustainable jobs like tourism and conservation. Many small businesses in Broome wouldn't be able to operate with the increased cost of living that the gas hub would have brought.
Pursuing jobs in renewable energy would be a far better solution, both in terms of the environment and developing sustainable industries.
Woodside’s promise to invest $1.5 billion in basic services for Aboriginal people has been dumped along with the gas hub. A “benefits package” to fund education, housing and health in exchange for being able to mine on Aboriginal land is one of the most common ways mining companies quell dissent to destructive land practices.
It is an outrageous form of bribery. These basic services should be funded by the government as basic human rights and not dependant on a mining company being allowed to destroy sacred Aboriginal burial grounds and song lines.
It is another example of how mining corporations have too much power in Australia and need to be brought under public ownership, so the resources can be used for the public good like providing services and funds to Aboriginal people.
Woodside and its joint partners are now considering other options, including a floating LNG plant offshore. This will still have high environmental impacts such as carbon emissions and damage to marine ecosystems.
The defeat of the James Price Point gas hub is a temporary reprieve. But the campaign against industrialisation in the Kimberley is far from over.
At a community meeting in Broome after Woodside's announcement, there was a strong sentiment to fight against attempts to drill for unconventional gas in the Kimberley. Any other companies that try to build a gas hub at James Price Point will be met with a determined, organised and now empowered mass community campaign.
Socialist Alliance members hit the front page of the Fremantle Herald (and it seems their entire stable of local newspapers - including the Perth Voice) as part of the current campaign for free speech at Notre Dame Uni (Fremantle campus).
The university - a private institution - maintains a strict control over all aspects of student life, including the student association. The only way student clubs can get any recognition is by affiliating to the university. But they won't allow clubs who violate "Catholic social teachings" to affiliate.
That means that groups like Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative who campaign for equal marriage rights and the right to choose abortion have been denied the right to affiliate (and hence operate and distribute material openly on campus, book rooms, etc). But it is not just the far left.
The Medical Students’ Association has been deregistered as a club by the university’s Student Life Office because its constitution included support for abortion on medical grounds. Other non-political clubs have also been affected, as have the Greens.
By contrast, Labor and Liberal parties are allowed to be affiliated and operate openly. University support for these clubs goes so far as provision of an office by the administration to organise their club activities. (However even the Labor club had their student newsletter censored by the university when they wrote a simple report about Labor's change in policy on equal marriage in 2011!)
The university responded to the Fremantle Herald story by sending an email full of weasel words to students.
"The University wishes to reiterate that it respects and values the individual freedom of all students to be associated with any causes, organi[s]ations, clubs or activities which they have chosen using their own discernment and judgment," the email said. And further, that "university staff and students work tirelessly to ensure that there are opportunities for these debates and discussions to occur."
These sentiments are contradicted by the actions of the university administration in refusing affiliation of student clubs and actively harrassing student activity, even when it has been formally off campus.
Students are not seeking to represent the university, but simply to exercise their own right to organise and express their views.
Please sign the petition to help Notre Dame students win the basic right to organise at this publicly funded (but privately run) university.
The Broome community and environmentalists around Australia are celebrating a major victory with Woodside announcing it won't go ahead with a gas hub at James Price Point.
Nik Weavers, long time Broome resident and member of the Broome community no gas group when asked how she is feeling said “We've got rid of the one big thing we set out to do, which was to stop the project, so I feel really excited about that.”
She goes on to say “I feel really warmed that so many other people have gathered (in Broome) and are feeling really good.”
For many Broome residents this is the first campaign they have ever being involved in and, after years of struggle, winning this major victory is very inspiring.
It is a victory that has involved an incredible mass campaign across the country. From actions of thousands of people (e.g. this one) in cities and hundreds laying themselves out on the red dirt of the Kimberley to physically stop Woodside destroying it.
It is a time to celebrate the positive result and rejoice in the success of broad community activism but the issue is far from over.
Woodside CEO Peter Coleman stated in a press conference on April 12 that the project is not over and other options for how to process the gas are being considered by Woodside and it's joint venture partners like Shell and PetroChina.
Alternative proposals being considered include having a floating LNG plant. This would still be of concern to environmentalists. For instance, climate change impacts of the gas won't be going away no matter where or how it is processed.
Nik Weavers argues that the plan to build a port in the Kimberley is the major issue people need to start focusing on as “the state 'needs' the port because they want to get uranium out, the coal out of the Fitzroy Valley and then get the gas out of the Canning Basin”.
This is becoming more urgent with the federal environment minister giving approval for the first uranium mine in Western Australia and the unconventional gas fracking industry set to expand rapidly across the Kimberley region.
Socialist Alliance candidate for Fremantle Sam Wainwright welcomed the victory. “This is a good reminder that it is possible for a community campaign to defeat a major mining company,” he said.
Amidst the celebration outside Woodside's offices on the day of the announcement, a strong sentiment to continue the campaign against industrialisation of the Kimberley and to stop fracking is evident.
WA premier Barnett claims that not developing a has hub at James Price Point will result in significant loss of jobs and royalties for Aboriginal communities. However no proper analysis has been done of the net effect on employment of the project. A lot of people fear tourism jobs would be lost with an industrialisation of the Kimberley.
Aboriginal communities should be given basic services like housing, health and training without the need for a mine on their land.
The mainstream media and politicians claim this is a purely economic decision. The fact remains that a mass campaign against gas has being built across the country and is starting to win victories and is inspiring many people.
[This article by Broome-based Socialist Alliance member Zeb Parkes was written for Green Left Weekly #961.]
Beginning Friday evening April 5, outside the Wesley Church in the centre of Perth, protesters began a "24hr fast in Solidarity" with the Tamil Nadu Hunger Strikers in India.
The Tamil Nadu students embarked on a hunger strike in protest against the weak wording of the US led draft resolution on Sri Lanka at the 22nd UN Human Rights Council session.
The students demand:
An independent International inquiry into alleged war crimes, monitored by the UN;
A UN-led referendum (amongst the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil people living in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island of Sri Lanka) for an independent Tamil homeland;
Economic sanctions imposed by UN-members states against Sri Lanka.
The fast was well received by the Perth public and tourists. I was surprised how many people knew of the atrocities committed by the Rajapaksa regime and the actions of Sri Lankan High commissioner to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe.
On seeing the 30 to 40 protesters camped on the busy street corner a child asked her mother "What's going on here?" Her mother replied succinctly "Their people are being killed by other people."
The Australian government should follow the lead of the Canadian government by boycotting the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka later this year. We should be shaking the hands of refugees and welcoming them to our community, not shaking the hands of the tyrants who repress them.
[Report by Garry Holliday (pictured) for Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly.]
The Socialist Alliance WA state conference will take place:
12:30pm Sunday 21 April
at the Perth Activist Centre (15/5 Aberdeen St, Perth - next to McIver station).
The state conference will be discussing the upcoming federal election campaign, including a proposal that the Alliance in WA concentrate its resources by running one effective campaign in a lower house seat. Fremantle Socialist Alliance has already preselected Sam Wainwright as candidate for Fremantle.
The conference will also discuss other aspects of the Alliance's work including current discussions about greater unity on the left.
The conference is open to members and supporters of the Socialist Alliance.
At 12:30pm, Perth and Fremantle branches will meet separately to elect delegates to an upcoming national policy conference of the Alliance and the state conference proper will begin at 1pm.
“A potent and powerful look at how the stressed economy is stressing farm communities across America. Matt Damon stars as a corporate suit offering the promise of big bucks to farmers in exchange for rights to drill for natural gas on their land. John Krasinski, who wrote the heartfelt script with Damon, plays the activist trying to stop him.”