Category Archives: Australia

Australia to be sued over mining project’s ‘unmerciful’ destruction of Indigenous land

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who is launching legal action against the commonwealth, says Nabalco and its successor, Rio Tinto, failed to ask the local people where they could and couldn’t go on the Gove peninsula. Photograph: Peter Eve/AAP

Galarrwuy Yunupingu taking legal action for loss of native title as well as destruction of dreaming sites

Helen Davidson | The Guardian | 4 August 2019

The federal government is facing a lawsuit over damage done to Indigenous land by the decades-old mining project that sparked the Yirrkala Bark Petitions.

Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu revealed on Saturday that he and his people were taking legal action against the commonwealth, seeking compensation for the loss of native title over the minerals exploited by mine operator Nabalco and its successor, Rio Tinto, as well as the destruction of key dreaming sites.

The suit is expected to use the historic precedent set by the Timber Creek judgment by the high court in March, which ruled on monetary compensation for loss of native title.

“They’ve come to Gove peninsula without asking properly of the landowners of the place,” Yunupingu told the crowd at Garma festival, in north-east Arnhem Land.

“They have all come, getting the OK from the PM and the government of the country, to come all the way and start digging and insulting the country.”

He accused the two companies of having “ripped some land unmercifully”.

“They have damaged our country without seeking advice to us and they have damaged a lot of dreamings – dreamings that were important to Aboriginal people.”

He said the companies failed to ask the local people where they could and couldn’t go on the Gove peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land.

Traditional owners have received royalties from the mine, a fraction of the total revenue drawn from the site. They have recently opened their own mine and training centre, Gulkula Mining, of which Yunupingu is chair.

Prospecting for what would become the bauxite mine and refinery began in the 1950s, and Yolngu traditional owners were strongly opposed.

Leases were granted and excised without consultation of the people of Yirrkala, and the now historic Yirrkala bark petitions were delivered to the federal government in 1963. Yunupingu, whose father was then Gumatj clan leader, helped draft the petitions.

However, the mine went ahead, with the Gove agreement signed five years later between the commonwealth and Nabalco.

Traditional owners took the mine to court in 1971, the first ever native title litigation, but lost, with the judge citing the doctrine of terra nullius in his judgement.

The loss sparked the establishment of the Woodward royal commission, and NT land rights act.

The case flagged by Yunupingu on Saturday will rest on the precedent set by this year’s Timber Creek decision from the high court, which awarded more than $2.5m in compensation to native title holders over dozens of acts by the NT government between 1980 and 1996 which were later found to have “impaired or extinguished” native title rights and interests.

More than half the amount was to compensate for “cultural loss”.

The March judgment reduced the amount ordered by the federal court in 2016 but otherwise held up the new precedent of quantifying the monetary value of native title and associated compensation for the removal of land rights.

Native title experts responded to the ruling with predictions it would pave the way for potentially billions of dollars in liability payments by Australian governments.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, said on Sunday: “There is a well established process for native title claims and those processes would be followed for any such claim lodged regarding bauxite mining.

“I note that at this point what has been said is an intention to lodge a claim and that a claim has not yet been lodged.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Environmental impact, Human rights

Bougainville: Australia positions itself as chief new coloniser ahead of referendum

The controversial Panguna mine which land holders are fighting to stop being re-opened for foreign profiteers.

Susan Price | Green Left Weekly | June 14, 2019

A spokesperson for the Bougainville Hardliners Group has called on the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to explain why the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were at the controversial Panguna mine site in central Bougainville on June 5.

AFP officers were seen taking GPS readings at the abandoned copper mine site. James Onartoo, a former leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, said the community has a right to know why they were there and what they were doing.

“I think the public is owed an explanation as to what is happening,” said Onartoo. “To the best of my knowledge the AFP were ousted in 2007 on suspicion of spying on the ABG and the people of Bougainville by the former President, late Joseph Kabui.”

He suggested that their presence could be linked to the mine’s controversial reopening.

“Their presence at Panguna, which is the site of so much controversy and disagreements plus issues of sensitive nature stemming from proposed reopening by ABG, raises serious questions considering the fact that, in the past, Australia has always supported military intervention by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to regain control of the mine.”

Onartoo said if the AFP can raid the ABC, “they are capable of anything”, including gathering intelligence “for the purpose of regaining control of Panguna and restarting the mine with use of force”.

The June 11 ABC Radio Pacific Beat said the AFP confirmed that members from the Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership did visit the site to “undertake an assessment of capability development for support to the Bougainville Police Service”.

Onartoo said Australia’s interest in the mineral deposits at Panguna has never declined. He has criticised Australia’s advice that the ABG prioritise mining over agriculture, tourism, fishing and other sustainable industries.

Several companies, including of Australian origin, are vying to reopen the Panguna mine, which was shut down in 1990 after a brutal battle against mostly indigenous landholders who received none of the huge profits generated by the mine. More than 20,000 people were killed during the 10 year civil war.

The Bougainville Hardliners Group has been actively resisting attempts by the ABG to weaken the Mining Act to give foreign companies exclusive rights to large-scale mining. It opposes further large-scale mining in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region, saying the focus should be on sustainable alluvial mining.

Bougainville is scheduled to hold its independence referendum in October under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement. The referendum outcome then has to be ratified by the PNG parliament.

The ABG has expressed its desire to reopen the Panguna mine.

Legislation to amend the Mining Act is currently being debated in the PNG parliament. According to landowners, the proposed amendments would effectively remove customary ownership of minerals and remove landowners’ veto rights over mining projects.

Onartoo has said that Bougainville’s 350,000 people do not need large-scale mining, and that the changes being proposed are in breach of sections 23 and 24 of Bougainville’s constitution as well as the Mining Act which provides protection from a repeat of “the ownership of minerals on the island by colonisers”.

A report by Papua New Guinea Mine Watch in January said Australian businessperson Jeffrey McGlinn of Caballus Mining is pushing for the act to be amended. A Radio New Zealand report said McGlinn “wanted to shortcut a number of what it calls complicated requirements in the act to fast track vital infrastructure development in Bougainville and boost employment ahead of the referendum”.

However, other reports suggest that he is more focussed on seizing control of major mineral deposits across Bougainville ahead of the referendum.

The Osikaiyang Landowners group has referred the government’s mining plans to the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Bougainville, Financial returns, Human rights

Oil Search reinforces PR team as pressure mounts on several fronts

A cozy meeting between Peter Botten and Peter O’Neill was at the heart of a disastrous investment for PNG in Oil Search shares according to an Ombudsman Commission report on the illegal UBS loan that financed the deal.

New faces at Oil Search

Matthew Stevens | Australian Financial Review | June 11 2019

Don’t imagine for a second that Oil Search sits wholly calm amid the storm created by the dumping of long-standing Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill  and the company’s place in the events that proved a tipping point in the collapse of political support for him.

In the lead-up to O’Neill’s replacement by leadership neophyte James Marape, Oil Search made wholesale changes to the way it manages its external affairs, delivering new blood to its media management and inviting Crosby Textor to take on the driller’s reputation management.

The most immediate effect of the Oil Search deckchair shuffle is that long-standing general manager of investor relations and communications, Ann Diamant, appears to have lost half of her brief to a former PNG television executive.

A familiar media contact point through her 16 years with Oil Search, Diamant has surrendered the day-to-day of communications and media management to a new face in the Australian media landscape. The new vice-president, communications and media, is Matthew Park.

Park lands at Oil Search with an ANU law degree, six years’ experience in policy advisory with the Australian Communications and Media Authority and a whole lot of experience in PNG television. His most recent job of import was running a TV station in PNG and, even more recently, he ran PR for PNG’s APEC advisory council. But, according to his various CVs, that is about as close as he has got to knowing who’s who in the zoo of Australian media, or media anywhere but PNG for that matter.

Oil Search insiders suggest this shift and the decision to appoint Crosby Textor shows just how unnerved the company is by regime change rolling out in PNG.

As The Australian Financial Review reported on Friday, Marape continues to send mixed signals about his future relationship with Oil Search and its much more powerful partners in PNG liquid natural gas, Exxon and Total.

The house view at Oil Search is that Marape might seek changes to a recent deal with Santos that aligns the ownership of the P’nyang gasfield with a proposed LNG development, but that previous investment agreements will be left untouched.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

Japan to oppose new or expanded coal-fired power plants in blow to Australian exports

Japan’s environment minister has announced he will ‘in principle’ oppose any new plans to build or expand coal-fired power stations. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters

Australia’s top export market for thermal coal gives further signs of dramatic energy pivot to renewables

Ben Smee | The Guardian | 31 March 2019 

Japan’s environment minister has announced he will “in principle” oppose any new plans to build or expand coal-fired power stations, as further signs emerge of a dramatic energy pivot by Australia’s top export market for thermal coal.

Guardian Australia reported in March that Japan had cancelled a large percentage of planned investments in coal-fired power, while Japanese investment vehicles were ditching coal projects and instead seeking to back large-scale renewable projects across Asia.

Market analysts expect the price of thermal coal will remain dictated by China, whose recent restrictions on Australian exports have already tempered near-record prices, and would likely continue to reduce its value.

A faster-than-anticipated transition by the Japanese energy sector, which buys 39% of Australian-mined thermal coal, would affect future volumes and the viability of some new mines.

The resources sector believes forecasts for slowing demand in north and east Asia will be offset by growth in demand in parts of south Asia and south-east Asia.

But the financing of new coal-fired projects in developing Asia will likely come from investment vehicles based in China, Japan and Korea, and be closely linked to domestic policy in those countries.

Late last week, three separate announcements added to a growing belief that a renewed, positive focus on the Paris goals is emerging in Japan, among government and large corporations.

The Japanese environment minister, Yoshiaki Harada, announced a “policy initiative” to oppose new or expanded coal-fired power plants, the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.

The environment minister does not have the final say on new power generation projects, but his opinion is considered a fundamental part of the planning process.

On Friday, Japan’s largest utility, Kansai Electric Power, announced it would expand its renewable energy portfolio to 6GW by 2030, earmarking US$5bn in capital expenditure for clean power projects in the next two years.

The same day Japan’s Marubeni Corporation, a significant developer of power projects in developing Asia, announced it would target a doubling of renewable energy revenues by 2023.

Marubeni announced last year it was exiting coal. Its divestment decision was followed by fellow conglomerates MitsuiMitsubishiItochu and Sojitz. Three coal-fired power plant projects have already been cancelled in Japan this year.

Observers in Japan remain cautious, as the country has coal-fired power projects under construction and some already approved. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has signalled he wants to show global leadership on climate change, ahead of the next G20 summit in June in Osaka.

The speed with which Japanese government and industry have shifted focus is significant, market analysts say. It comes as global financial institutions are increasingly exiting coal. On Saturday, Australia’s largest insurer, QBE, said it would stop insuring new thermal coal projects – including mines and power generation – from July this year, and underwrite no thermal coal projects by 2030.

Australian coalminers might not feel the direct impacts of these pivots for a decade or more, as most recent announcements relate to new projects, or offer staged exit commitments.

Tim Buckley, the director of energy finance studies for the Institute of Economics and Financial Analysis, said the next decade would be critical for those most heavily dependant on thermal coal.

Buckley said the Australian economy, mining communities and workers would be at greater risk if governments failed to understand the changing sentiment of global financial markets, particularly Japan, and ignored the need to implement effective transition strategies.

“We have a decade to prepare, and that’s the decade that is critically important to building the industries of the future,” Buckley said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Environmental impact

Court rules out Hunter Valley coalmine on climate change grounds

A judge has rejected the Rocky Hill coal mine at scenic Gloucester Valley in the Upper Hunter because of its ‘visual and social impacts’. Photograph: David Angel/Alamy Stock Photo

Judge rejects Rocky Hill mine near Gloucester, NSW, because of its impact on the town and ‘dire consequences’ of increasing emissions

Michael McGowan and Lisa Cox | The Guardian | February 7, 2019

The controversial Rocky Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley will not go ahead after a landmark ruling in the land and environment court on Friday that cited the impact it would have had on climate change.

Chief judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by Gloucester Resources, which was seeking to overturn a New South Wales government decision to reject an open-cut mine because of its impact on the town of Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

The EDO joined the case last April, arguing on behalf of its client, Groundswell Gloucester, that the mine’s detrimental impact on climate change and on the social fabric of the town should be considered as part of the merit appeal.

David Morris, the chief executive of EDO NSW, called the decision “momentous” and said it would be “profoundly influential” in the approval of future fossil fuel projects.

“It’s very difficult to see how any future coal project avoids the judge’s finding about this being the wrong time for it,” he said.

In his judgment, Preston explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts,” he wrote.

“Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The project should be refused.”

In a “first of its kind” hearing, the EDO had argued that the mine should be refused in part because of its impact on Australia’s commitments to the Paris climate agreement.

In his judgment, Preston noted that while there was “no proscription” on the approval of new emissions sources such as coalmines under the agreement, approval of the project “cannot assist in achieving the rapid and deep reductions in GHG emissions that are necessary” to meet the goals of the agreement.

“It matters not that the aggregate of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions may represent a small fraction of the global total”, he said.

“The global problem of climate change needs to be addressed by multiple local actions to mitigate emissions by sources and remove greenhouse gases by sinks.”

He rejected GRL’s argument that the project should be allowed because emissions from the mine would be abated by other emissions reductions schemes as “speculative and hypothetical”.

“There is no evidence before the court of any specific and certain action to ‘net out’ the GHG emissions of the project,” he wrote in his judgment.

“A consent authority cannot rationally approve a development that is likely to have some identified environmental impact on the theoretical possibility that the environmental impact will be mitigated or offset by some unspecified and uncertain action at some unspecified and uncertain time in the future.”

The judgment also rejected the mine on the grounds of its visual impact and the social impact of factors such as dust and noise on the surrounding community.

Morris said the ramifications would be felt by state and federal ministers and other decision makers who assess fossil fuel projects.

“This is necessarily a case-specific judgment. It relates to this coalmine proposed in the Gloucester Valley,” Morris said. “It is persuasive, influential but it is not binding on any future decision.

“But it will weigh heavily on the minds of decision makers.”

He said the judge’s comment that the mine was being proposed at the “wrong time” was “applicable to every fossil fuel project that’s proposed in this country and internationally going forward.”

Morris said Australia was increasingly approaching a moment when approval of a fossil fuel project could be considered “unreasonable”.

“And unreasonableness is a ground of legal challenge,” he said.

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie also welcomed the decision.

“The NSW Land and Environment court has effectively ruled that coal – just like tobacco and asbestos – is bad for us,” McKenzie said.

“I’m thrilled to see the law catching up with the science.

“If I was proposing to build a coal mine right now, I’d be feeling pretty nervous.”

NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts was asked for the government’s reaction to the court’s decision.

“That is the legal process and we respect the court’s decision,” he said.

A spokesman for the NSW planning and environment department said the department was pleased the court had agreed with its recommendation on the proposed coal mine. He said the decision supported the current process of assessing developments on a case-by-case basis.

In 2017, the independent planning commission rejected the mine because of its proximity to the town of Gloucester, its visual impact, and contravention of the city’s zoning plans.

“The judgment confirms the Department of Planning and Environment was correct in its decision to recommend refusal of the application to the Independent Planning Commission, and the Commission was correct to refuse the application,” the spokesman said.

“This decision shows NSW has a robust and transparent planning process that is delivering the best outcomes for the whole community.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Environmental impact, Mine construction

‘Scandal’: NSW coal power plants will kill thousands before they close

AGL’s Bayswater coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley, one of five in NSW that have been tied to health impacts including early deaths. CREDIT: GLEN MCCURTAYNE

Peter Hannam | Sydney Morning Herald 21 November 2018

Air pollution from NSW’s five coal-fired power stations carry a “substantial health burden”, including leading to an estimated 279 deaths a year with thousands more to come before they close, a new study has found.

Ben Ewald, a GP and public health lecturer at the University of Newcastle, said the impact – including 233 low-birth weight babies and 369 people developing Type 2 diabetes annually – was much worse than he expected.

“Literally hundreds of people are dying preventable deaths every year because of coal-fired power,” Dr Ewald said, adding, it was “nothing short of a public health scandal” that 3429 more people will die before the plants reach scheduled closure dates.

The study, commissioned by Environmental Justice Australia, examined the effects of fine particle pollution with a diameter of 2.5 microns or smaller emitted by the plants. Coal combustion is one of NSW’s biggest sources of such pollution, with prevailing winds often dragging the particles – the smallest of which can enter lungs and the bloodstream – over major population centres.

While filters catch most of the pollution at the plants – AGL’s Liddell and Bayswater, Delta’s Vales Point, EnergyAustralia’s Mt Piper and Origin’s Eraring – they emit secondary particles that most other nations ban.

“Australian power stations are operating without the modern pollution control technologies and they’ve been allowed to get away with it for years and years,” Dr Eward said. “That wouldn’t be the case anywhere in Europe or North America, or even in most of Asia.”

The Environment Protection Authority is now reviewing the licences of three: Vales Point, Mt Piper and Eraring. By the time the last of the five is due to shut in 2042, the number of expected low-weight births would be 3029, with new onset diabetes put at 4412, the study found.

Unhealthy power

Guy Marks, principal investigator at the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research and a professor at UNSW, said Dr Ewald’s research was “certainly at the cutting edge of this work”.

“He’s made a series of assumptions that are plausible,” Professor Marks said. “It’s a useful way to try to bring to the government’s attention to the price there is to pay from high-emissions intensity [generation].”

The impact tally is likely to be conservative because it only focused on three health outcomes caused by long-term fine particle air pollution. It did not include health damage from short-term pollution spikes such as asthma and exacerbated lung disease, nor the effects of ozone, mercury and other toxin exposures, the report said.

‘Further scrutiny’

A NSW Health spokeswoman said the agency had conducted similar research but identified lower premature deaths. “The discrepancy in the number of power station-related loss of life appears to be largely due to the assessment of the amount of power station-related PM2.5 that people are exposed to.”

Dr Ewald’s approach, particularly estimates of the proportion of sulphur-dioxide and nitrous oxides in Sydney from power stations, “requires further scrutiny before firm conclusions can be drawn about its validity”, she said.

Major energy firms rejected the report, with EnergyAustralia calling it “inaccurate” and yet to be formally peer-reviewed.

“[W]e strongly reject the implication that our operations pose unacceptable risks to human health,” a spokesman said, adding the paper was “needlessly upsetting for the community”, a spokesman said.

An AGL spokesman said the company was committed to improving its plants performance, and said both complied “with environmental laws and environment protection licence conditions set by the [EPA].”

‘Raining down’

But community groups said tougher controls were well overdue.

“It’s weak legislation” that had allowed high pollution levels to continue, Julie Favell who convenes the Lithgow Environment Group, said. “It’s shocking to think that it’s gone on for so long.”

Sue Winn, whose family lives within a few kilometres of Vales Point and includes several asthma sufferers, said they had long had pollution “raining down” on them.

“There’s got to be poor health outcomes by being exposed to this day in, day out and night in, night out,” Ms Winn, secretary of the Mannering Park Progress Association, said.

Greens’ bill

Greens environment spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann has introduced a bill into the NSW parliament to limit the amount of toxic air pollution from coal-fired power stations in the state.

Dr Ewald’s report “should send shockwaves through the government”, she said.

“It is unacceptable that toxic emissions from Australia’s power stations are multiple times higher than what is allowed in the EU, the US and China,” Ms Faehrmann said. “We hope the government and Labor will put people’s health ahead of the profits of AGL and Origin Energy and support the bill when it is debated on Thursday.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Environmental impact, Human rights

Human rights and environmental activists targeted in Victoria Police raids

Protest outside the International Mining And Resources Conference 2018 in October. Photo: Lasnet Solidarity/Facebook

Green Left Weekly | January 20, 2019

Several activists involved in the protests against the International Mining And Resources Conference (IMARC) 2018 last October had their homes raided and searched by Victoria Police on Friday January 18. They were arrested, detained and interrogated and had phones, computers and other belongings seized.

The Latin American Solidarity Network (LASNET), Frontline Action Against Coal Melbourne (FLAC), Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG) and other groups strongly denounce the harassment, surveillance and criminalisation of dissent and protest at the hands of Victoria Police, the Australian government and the multinational companies they serve.

This is not an isolated event. These arrests are happening in the context of other social and environmental activists having been raided and harassed in recent weeks and months by Victoria Police.

This is just another example in Victoria Police’s long history of human rights violations against Indigenous peoples, migrants, women, LGBT people, working people and anyone who challenges the racist, capitalist and patriarchal system that the Australian police uphold and protect.

IMARC is a gathering of the global mining industry to develop and expand its operations and exploitation of people, land and water across the globe. While they talk about how to increase their projects and profits Aboriginal land is plundered and poisoned, communities are displaced from their lands without veto rights, and Indigenous and working class families are dying from respiratory diseases from mines and coal dust.

Meanwhile, globally, climate scientists tell us if we don’t stop fossil fuel use we will go past the point of no return, facing the prospects of mass extinction, deforestation, climate catastrophe…

When the last tonne is extracted, what will be left?

We stand in solidarity with the activists arrested and raided on Friday and in recent weeks, and with all those defending the Earth from the plunder of mining. We fight for a just and liveable future for all, from Andymathana and Gomeroi land to Ecuador, Colombia and Honduras, from Papua New Guinea to South Africa.

Not to mining! Yes to life!
Land rights not mining rights!
Water is life!
Water is more precious than gold!
Mining is not sustainable!
Extractivism is not development!

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, Human rights