Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Global food crisis requires emergency response: Ban Ki-Moon

Representatives from the United Nations, the World Food Program, the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organisation are meeting in Berne, Switzerland today to set out an emergency response to the global food crisis.
Since 2006, world rice prices have more than tripled, and world wheat, corn and soybean prices have more than doubled. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the global organisations would develop an emergency response to the solution.
But there is concern about how appropriately the organisations will respond. In particular it is unclear how the World Bank, an enthusiastic supporter of trade deregularisation, will respond to the problem of market speculation, a key factor in the current crisis.
The food crisis is complex and involves a range of factors including climate change, rising meat consumption, the appropriation of agricultural land for biofuel production, trade liberalisation, market subsidies, food dumping and the rising price of oil.
International organisations such as Greenpeace have long been calling for a "Marshall Plan" to address carbon dependency and climate change. In the context of a global food crisis, it appears such a plan would need to broaden to include a fair trade framework, decreasing oil dependency, and massive promotion of permaculture and vegetarianism.
To date the United Nations has provided no indication of what the outcomes of its centralised approach might be.

Monday, April 28, 2008

International Statement from 'Coal River' Newcastle Activists

Statement from Newcastle activists to the Global Greens Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1st-4th May 2008 which will be presented by John Sutton (representing the Australian Greens) and Carrie Jacobi, of Newcastle Greens.

It is endorsed by:
Climate Action Newcastle
Green Corridor Coalition
Hunter Community Environment Centre
Newcastle Greens
Rising Tide (Newcastle)
The Wilderness Society (Newcastle)

To all assembled at this Global Greens gathering, we bring you the greetings, solidarity and best wishes of caring citizens and grassroots activists of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, Australia.

Our community is at the centre of climate change. Our country is the world's largest coal exporter, and our city, at the mouth of the Hunter River, is the largest coal exporting port in the world.

Last year Australia exported 245 million tonnes of coal. A third of this (81 million tonnes) passed through the port of Newcastle, most of it mined in the Hunter Valley hinterland. Next year, authorities say this will increase to 95 million tonnes, and, in the near future, to 170 million. Current plans would eventually give the port the capacity to export more than 200 million tonnes each year.

For many years, local citizens have campaigned against the damaging impact of coal mining and transport on the Hunter Valley's eco-systems and human communities. Climate change has brought a global dimension to this struggle. The coal exported through Newcastle has been calculated to cause more than five times its export value in climate change damage.

Citizens throughout the Hunter region are challenging the social licence to mine, burn and export coal.

We have called on our state and federal governments to commit to a Just Transition to phase out the coal industry, and to help local coal-dependent communities restructure for a sustainable future.

In November 2006, more than 800 locals braved unseasonable cold and wet to write "Beyond Coal" in human bodies on the sands of our local beach.

The same month, in response to a grassroots campaign, Newcastle City Council formally resolved "to recognise the urgent need to protect local and global environments from increasing greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce Newcastle's role in that increase".

In a move that made news around the world, our city council called on the New South Wales state government to cap coal exports, declare a moratorium on new coal mines, adopt mandatory renewable energy targets, and establish a community trust to support a transition to a clean energy economy, funded by a levy on coal exports through the Port of Newcastle.

In September last year, local citizens organised a Smart Energy Expo attended by more than 2000 people to demonstrate sustainable energy alternatives. The city council is now moving to make this an annual signature event.

In November last year, a flotilla of hundreds of activists blockaded the port for more than four hours. Hundreds of local citizens marched in a Walk Against Warming to urge other citizens to "Vote for the Climate" in last year's national election.

In December, as part of a Global Day of Action against climate change, local activists occupied the site of a proposed massive expansion of coal-loading infrastructure at the port.

In this struggle, we are pitted against some of the world's most powerful transnational corporations, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata, and AngloCoal. These companies are supported by the government of our state, which owns the port and regulates the coal industry, and continues to approve massive new coal mines and coal-loading infrastructure, and by the government of our nation, which approves the export licences and subsidises the mining operations.

We know that our struggle is shared by local communities around the world. We know that we are a small part of a rising tide of humanity demanding that our governments take the action necessary to stop runaway climate change and set our planet and our communities on a course to a sustainable future. We base our hope for our planet in the capacity of ordinary citizens taking local grassroots action to demand that our politicians and governments place people and the planet before profits.

We take heart that gatherings such as the Global Greens conference in Sao Paulo bring together activists from around the world committed to this cause, to make decisions that will guide our politicians and governments to take the actions necessary to meet the great global challenge of climate change.

Jason Marks killed in Afghanistan

Jason Marks has become the fifth Australian casuality in Afghanistan, having been killed in a grenade attack between Australian and Taliban forces in Oruzgan province.
He joins the rising death toll of 730 coalition forces and thousands of Afghani civilians in a protacted war which is now in its sixth year. The war began in October 2001 after US President George W. Bush refused Taliban offers to try al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in an Islamic court, and has led to a booming illicit opium trade in Afghanistan.
Marks was born in Broken Hill, NSW and raised near Rockhampton, in Queensland. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.
Four other Australians were wounded in the attack.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told journalists that Australia would remain in Afghanistan "for the long haul" and that 2008 would be a "difficult, bloody and dangerous" year.
Six people, including a 10-year-old child, a parliamentarian and three Taliban insurgents were killed yesterday after a failed assassination attempt on Afghani president Hamid Karzai.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Abbott ignores causes of inflation

Opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott this morning offered no reason for rising inflation, preferring to blame the inflation increases on the new Rudd government.
Peak oil, rising consumption, lack of public infrastructure and market monopolies were all ignored as contributors to inflation by the former Howard government minister, a staunch defender of deregulation and privatisation.
Federal treasurer Wayne Swan is expected to follow the same path as his predecessor Peter Costello in the May budget, which is expected to feature $31 billion in tax cuts and an $18 billion budget surplus.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Never again

Today is Anzac Day. At the Newcastle Gerald we remember the tragedy of war, which has left so many widows and widowers, orphans and grieving parents, friends and relatives. Over 100,000 Australians have died in conflicts around the globe around over 100 million people have died around the world in the past century. Today we remember the victims of both World Wars, the Boer War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Sudan War and other conflicts. We stand with our sisters and brothers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and think particularly of the friends and family of Andrew Russell, David Pearce, Mathew Locke and Luke Worsley who have died in Afghanistan in recent years. We also think of the victims of ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the Philippines and West Papua.
We stand with all those across the globe who use non-violence to pursue justice and call on our leaders to reject the use of armed conflict for economic or political gain.

Never again should thousands die in national struggle.

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
" - John Donne, 1624

Lest We Forget

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Merewether Surf House - It's History - if you want it?

This is arguably the most disgraceful example of heritage mismanagement and Machiavellian, behind the scenes anti-heritage manipulation by Newcastle City Council in recent history.

Since 1994 this building has been left to rot by Newcastle City Council, despite being listed in the Heritage schedule of its LEP (Local Environmental Plan).

The building has been described by Professor Steffen Lehmann, Chair of Architecture at Newcastle University as “an icon of surfing culture”. He also strongly supports its adaptive recycling with a state of the art addition.

Many local residents want the building removed because of its neglected appearance and because they don’t believe the building is basically structurally sound (which it is).

After years of neglect by Council, the NSW Heritage Office (HO) in 2003 took the (possibly unique) step of placing an interim heritage order (IHO) on a Council-owned building to assess its significance and protect it from its owner (Council). It was found to have less than State level but more than local level significance and the HO strongly recommended its conservation and that it be recycled for a new sympathetic use. They also offered assistance to consolidate the 3 parcels on which the building stood (Council, Crown and private-Merewether Estate) to assist Council to obtain a very long term lease (with a Heritage Council heritage agreement with any future lessee) to encourage developers to lease and refurbish the building.

The General Manager and Lord Mayor kept the offer to themselves until it was leaked to one of the Councillors about 9 months later. Subsequently Council & The Minister for Lands agreed to the proposal.

After the March 2007 State election the Minister and Council had a change of heart and agreed to offer a lease on the basis of either retain and recycle or demolish and rebuild. What developer would take up the heritage alternative if also offered a green field site?

While the matter isn’t finalised, EOIs to build a new privatised facility on prime public beachfront public land are being assessed after a biased Council process, (which almost ignored minimized heritage considerations) was put in place.

In all probability the “icon of surf culture” will be destroyed and a Taj Mahal, totally inappropriate private facility will be built on Merewether Beach Crown land, with the connivance of the majority of councillors, the new “Labor” member for Newcastle and management of Council and the NSW Lands Department.

It's never too late to love our history. We should ask ourselves why is there such an eagerness to demolish the Merewether Surf House built circa 1937, formerly a bathing pavilion in the art deco style.

Europe is full of ruins, people spend millions of dollars traveling half way around the world to see them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Coal River Precinct Plan on Public Exhibition

Newcastle has a unique and interesting history of which we should all be aware. Newcastle's birthplace is the Coal River Precinct at the top of town.

The Coal River Precinct encompasses the landmarks of Nobbys, Macquarie Pier, Fort Scratchley (Signal Hill) and the Convict Lumber Yard that are fundamental to the understanding of the history of Newcastle.

Newcastle City Council is at present inviting comments on the draft Coal River Precinct Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan (2.95Mb pdf).

The draft Plan provides a valuable overview and insight into the importance of the precinct and points to ways to enhance the contribution of the precinct to the development of Newcastle through its indigenous pre-history and European settlement.

The draft Plan is on exhibition for eight weeks from Monday, 7 April to Monday, 2 June 2008.

Written comments should be sent to:

The General Manager
Newcastle City Council
Attention: Barbara Heaton
PO Box 489, Newcastle NSW 2300 or email: mail@ncc.nsw.gov.au

Submissions should be received by 5.00pm on Monday, 2 June 2008.

For further enquiries please call the project Coordinator on 02 4974 2886.

The Newcastle Gerald is a proud supporter of Newcastle and the Region's heritage, and we urge you to write a submission and support this management plan.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Crowd occupies coal loader

The "clean coal" agenda of the 2020 summit was jeapordised yesterday when about 50 people put themselves at risk of arrest by walking into the construction site of the No. 3 coal loader on Kooragang Island, in Newcastle.

Sixteen people of all ages were arrested and charged with trespass, and have been bailed to appear in Newcastle Local Court on 13 May.

The construction of the loader is planned to result in the doubling of Newcastle's coal export capacity, already the largest in the world.

Georgina Woods, spokesperson for Rising Tide Newcastle said that she was very proud of what the community had done. "We are willing to put ourselves at risk of arrest, if it will help convince the Governments of Australia that expanding the export coal industry is putting everyone’s future in jeopardy. We may not get another chance."

The group entered the site at 8am, halting all work on the site and remaining there until 9:15am. According to NSW Police, the walk-in cost the construction company $50-60 000.

"The people arrested today are courageous," said NSW Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon. "Future generations will thank them for taking a stand and alerting Australians and indeed the world to the irresponsible actions of coal companies and sympathetic governments."

Solar researcher David Mills' application for the 2020 summit was knocked back. Mills emigrated to the United States early last year, frustrated at the lack of funding for solar thermal power. The work which Mills has since done in the United States would be able to supply over 90% of Australia's baseload power.

Meanwhile, former Xstrata CEO Peter Coates, who was invited, told the summit that Australia's 2020 renewable energy target should be scrapped and replaced with a "clean coal" target.

Yesterday's protesters were reasonably well treated by police, although several protesters were allegedly denied food because they were vegetarian.

The non-violent campaign against the port expansion will continue with Climate Camp, to take place in Newcastle on July 10-15.

Welcome to The Newcastle Gerald

To the Citizens of Newcastle and the Hunter Region.

Today Sunday 20 April at noon we launched The Newcastle Gerald - an online blog newspaper.

We at the Gerald believe that our media and political process have become compromised by developer donations and investment which means

(1) that our community's voice is not being heard by our political leaders,
(2) nor are we getting all the information we need to make sound decisions concerning our local region and wider global community.
(3) our current path is based upon money and greed and not common sense

We advocate the creative transition from fossil fuel to a clean green renewable energy future for the Hunter Region by 2020 and call for an end to human stupidity.

Thank you

The Editor.