Ben Courtice

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.

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.

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 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”.

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.

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 Great Forest National Park. 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 Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 will increase powers available to police under “move on” laws.

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