Ben Courtice

With news that the unlikely climate conscience of the Palmer United Party is holding firm, it appears that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and associated programs will not be scrapped just yet. But the uncertainty of what will happen in the long term may be enough to bring large-scale wind and solar projects to a standstill.
A new report from Friends of the Earth suggests combined pressure from habitat loss, inbreeding and disease may pose significant threats to the survival of the koala in Victoria and South Australia. The group is calling for federal protection for key populations of the species.
About 1000 Latrobe Valley residents gathered at Kernot Hall in Morwell on March 2 to protest against government and corporate mishandling of the fire in the Hazelwood coalmine. Residents directed their anger at government inaction and misinformation, and corporate negligence by GDF Suez, the multinational operator of the mine and power station. Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley explained to the meeting the efforts and risks being taken by the firefighters.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine is living up to his new nickname, “Naptime”, as the Hazelwood coalmine fire continues its terrible impact on the town of Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. The edge of the town is only a few hundred metres from where the fire has been burning since February 9. The plume of toxic smoke and ash from the fire has been blanketing the town.
A fire burning in a coal seam at the Hazelwood coalmine in Victoria's Latrobe Valley caused the local Air Quality Index to reach nearly five times the amount considered “very poor” on February 19. Schools and kindergartens have been closed down in the town of Morwell, which is less than 500 metres from the edge of the mine. Residents have been complaining of headaches and other problems, and many have left the area.
The federal Coalition government is conducting a review of Australia's Renewable Energy Target (RET), which aims to have 20% of Australia’s energy produced from renewables by 2020. The recent appointments of prominent climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry heavies make the review panel look more like a lynch mob for renewable energy. Dick Warburton, who will head the review, is on the public record denying climate science.
Seaspray locals have pledged to resist resources company Lakes Oil, which has applied to undertake horizontal drilling for tight gas near the Victorian town in East Gippsland. The state government has a moratorium on fracking — hydraulic fracturing underground to release gas held in rocks or coal seams. But it does not apply to horizontal drilling, which in some cases can be enough to release gas from the rock.
The Tony Abbott government has announced another Royal Commission into corruption in building industry unions. But Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said the terms of reference for this Royal Commission “are narrowly directed at unions and will not adequately deal with corruption or unlawful behaviour by businesses or employers”.
Victorian state government enterprise VicForests tabled its annual report in parliament in October last year, revealing that, for the sixth year running, the corporation had failed to pay a dividend to the state for being allowed to log publicly owned forests.
Two protesters chained themselves to a gate, preventing VicForests contractors from accessing a logging coupe for the day in the Toolangi State Forest north of Melbourne, on February 7. The Toolangi State Forest is one of the few areas of forest unburned by the 2009 Black Saturday fire. Environmental campaigners have called for its incorporation into a proposed . It has been estimated that only 1% of the old growth tall forests of the central highlands area is left.
The union representing ambulance employees in Victoria has abandoned talks with the government, saying that Ambulance Victoria and the government arrived at negotiations on February 3 with an offer of a pay rise half that of previous negotiations.  Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGhie told Green Left Weekly: “This offer is an insult, it's disappointing that they have moved backwards rather than moved forward. “They reduced their wage offer by half, only offering 6%. Our members rejected a 12% pay rise offer, you can imagine what they would say to this.
Unions and community groups have strongly criticised a bill that aims to give Victorian police unprecedented power to disband protests and ban individuals from taking part in protest activity. The will increase powers available to police under “move on” laws.
Australian activists have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling on him to recognise East Timor's rights under international law to oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. The Melbourne-based Timor Sea Justice Campaign is calling on Australia to “enter discussions about the establishment of permanent maritime boundaries in accordance with current international law. In situations such as this, current international law overwhelmingly favors a ‘median line’ solution – a line halfway between the two coastlines.”
The Socialist Alliance is running two candidates in the Tasmanian state election on March 15. Whether Labor or the Liberals form government after March 15, Tasmanians can expect to see “prioritising of big business over the interests of the general public and the continuing privatising of essential public services,” Jenny Forward, the Socialist Alliance's candidate for the electorate of Franklin, told Green Left Weekly.
Every day at 5.30am, residents and supporters gather in the Collingwood area around Alexandra Parade to protest against test drilling for the government's proposed East-West Link tollway tunnel. Keith Fitzgerald stands to lose the house he has lived in for 69 years if the tunnel is built. He told Green Left Weekly the protests are about more than just his home. “They've got no right to take our heritage, our history, our parks and our clean air away from us. These are the vital things that we're fighting for and will continue to fight for.
About 400 members of the National Union of Workers took a day's strike action on January 17, with a picket line at the Coles/Linfox warehouse facility in Truganina, on the western fringe of Melbourne. The strike action was in support of the union's demand for a site agreement, something other Coles warehouses have. The workers are asking for a range of improvements in conditions, including an extra paid rest break per shift and a fair pay rise. NUW delegate Mathew Davies told Green Left that the workers are demanding “fair pay for everyone.”

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