Australia

As momentous events in Egypt demonstrate, much of the world is calling to account an “old order”. These are exciting times for the possibilities of real change in the way our societies are run. One of the catalysts of the “people power” we see on our TV screens is the extraordinary disclosure of secret information that tells us how wars begin and governments manipulate and deceive in our name. In the tradition of courageous investigative journalism, WikiLeaks has blown the whistles that alert us to these injustices and lies, serving a basic democratic need.
Seventy-three people who took part in a non-violent direct action protest during December’s Climate Camp appeared in Muswellbrook local court on January 31 to answer to charges under the Rail Safety Offences Act. Hundreds of climate protesters gathered at Climate Camp for five days of talks, debates and discussions on the best ways for the community to stop the proposed expansion of Bayswater coal-fired power station. The station is already one of Australia’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Heavy-handed policing in Sydney over the past few months may indicate a heightened, anti-protester attitude of NSW police. States and territories across Australia have either a “permit” or “notice” procedure for holding protests. NSW law has the “notice” procedure, which is very favourable for those organising protests. The completion of a simple form, given to the police with seven days’ notice, protects activists from arrest for offences like obstructing traffic. This favourable legal situation no doubt frustrates police, who are using more aggressive means to curb protests.
Members of environmental group Katoomba Climate Action Now (CAN) gathered on December 21 outside their local branch of the ANZ Bank to demonstrate, leaflet and chat with customers, staff and passers-by about coal. Recent research by Greenpeace has shown the bank is one of the most substantial and consistent investors in coalmining and coal-fired power stations in Australia. Environmental scientists regard coal as the dirtiest of power generation fuels because of its prolific carbon waste output.
Seven climate activists who temporarily shut down coal loaders at Newcastle harbour in a September protest will wait another month to find out if they owe Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) $525,000 in “compensation”. The activists appeared in Newcastle Local Court for two days of hearings on January 31 and February 3. They were convicted of “remaining on enclosed lands”. Each was fined $300, plus $79 in court costs.
Community group Save The Old Kings School (STOKS) held a protest in Parramatta in Sydney’s west on February 2 to demand the historic old Kings School site stay in public hands. Local residents, STOKS activists and members of the Greens and Socialist Alliance attended the action. The school site dates back to the early days of the colony. When the school relocated to North Parramatta in 1968, the site was sold to the NSW government. It has been unused for many years.
The Edmund Rice Centre released the public statement below on January 26. ***** We, Australian organisations and individuals, unite to offer this statement to our nation. A “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) was recently signed between the Australian government, the government of Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, permitting the involuntary repatriation from Australia of unsuccessful Afghan asylum seekers back to Afghanistan.
Climate change was a big factor in the devastating floods that swept through Queensland and other states in January. For decades, scientists have warned that carbon pollution will lead to more frequent weather disasters. The floods are yet more evidence that we must quickly phase out fossil fuels and embrace 100% renewable energy. As the flood crisis began to emerge, University of Melbourne climate scientist David Karoly told ABC News on December 31 that the extreme weather was not so unexpected.
Forest campaigners have engaged in a series of actions on the New South Wales south coast, protesting against alleged illegal logging of old-growth forests in the area. Lisa Stone, spokesperson for South East Forest Rescue, told AAP on January 21: "Recent audits have exposed illegal logging of rainforest, land registered on the National Estate, endangered ecological communities, a gazetted Aboriginal Place and rocky outcrops. We have proven systemic re-occurring breaches on the south coast that show a pattern of non-compliance to the law."
In a move that took most people by surprise, Tasmanian Labor Premier David Bartlett resigned on January 23. Deputy premier Lara Giddings was sworn in the next day as the first female premier of the state. Giddings will also keep her position as Treasurer. Bartlett announced his decision with a message on his Facebook page that said: “To all my Facebook friends and contributors. I have decided to step down as premier and leader of the Labor Party.” He said his reason was that he wanted more time to be a better father to his children.

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