Newcastle

Not many things would get the Returned and Services League and died-in-the-wool greenies climbing into bed together; have a mother-and-daughter being frisked by police on the same day, nor cause the arrest of an 83-year-old retired high school English teacher. But the 14 Ficusmicrocarpa var. Hillii, commonly known as Hill Figs, planted in memory of World War I soldiers in Newcastle have.
Just about every passerby stopped at a recent Green Left Weekly stall in Hamilton, Newcastle, to sign a Lock the Gate Alliance petition for a moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG) mining. All those who stopped were concerned about plans to mine CSG at nearby Fullerton Cove.
As time passes, the reasons the public might have for trusting chemical company Orica and the NSW environment minister Robyn Parker are evaporating. On the night of August 8, highly toxic hexavalent chromium leaked from Orica’s Kooragang Island plant and blew over the Newcastle suburb of Stockton. Orica notified the NSW environment department at 10.45am the next morning. Orica representatives began doorknocking residents in Stockton on August 10. Parker says she was not told of the accident until that night.
The Orica chemicals plant at Kooragang, near Newcastle NSW, released hexavalent chromium (VI) into the atmosphere on August 8. Up to 20 workers were exposed in the accident. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was not notified of the accident for 16 hours. Residents of nearby Stockton were not told that the toxic pollutant blew over their suburb for 54 hours.
Mark Goudkamp from the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition, Gleny Rae, a participant in the SBS series Go Back Where You Came From, and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young addressed the biggest meeting supporting asylum seekers seen in Newcastle since the Howard era on August 4. Goudkamp said 54 asylum seekers, 19 of them children, had recently arrived by boat on Christmas Island. They had not yet been told they would be sent to Malaysia. “The media reports extra riot police have been sent there,” Goudkamp said. “But the government is saying they have counsellors on hand.”
Rising Tide Newcastle released the statement below on August 5. * * * This morning climate activists scaled a 15 metre high coal conveyor belt in Newcastle’s coal port and suspended a banner saying, “We’re sorry Somalia. Coal = climate change and starvation”. Their action comes as scientists this week have made the link between human-made climate change and the deadly drought affecting over ten million people across the Horn of Africa. Rising Tide spokesperson Naomi Hogan is at the scene.
The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is continuing to build the Bulahdelah bypass, north of Newcastle, despite a community campaign to halt the project. The bypass road was first proposed in 2000. Three main routes were canvassed: one to the west of the town, passing through several flat paddocks; another to the east, cutting through the foot of the Alum mountain; and an option that involved widening the existing road. The safer, more geologically stable and slightly western route was ditched in favour of the mountain route.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) organised a “save solar” rally in Newcastle on June 6. The rally was at the office of Liberal MLA Tim Owen and was the latest in a string of protests calling for planned retrospective cuts to NSW’s solar bonus scheme to be abandoned. The rally attracted about 250 people and included many solar industry workers. SEIA representative Chanti Richardson chaired the rally and introduced Solar Newcastle (SN) director Adam Dalby.
Members of climate action group NoPlanetB.org blocked the haulage of coal from Xstrata’s West Wallsend underground mine for several hours on May 30. A climber was suspended in a tunnel entrance on a haul road, used for transferring coal to the port of Newcastle. Others stood in front of trucks. The group sought to raise its concern about the demands from the coal industry, including Xstrata, that pollution from coalmines be exempt from the federal government’s proposed carbon tax.
NEWCASTLE — Four activists from Newcastle climate action group Rising Tide scaled the roof of climate change minister Greg Combet's office on May 16. They attached solar panels to the roof and unfurled a banner that read: “Make polluters pay, fund renewable energy.” Rising Tide spokesperson Naomi Hogan said: “We have put these solar panels up on Minister Combet’s office to highlight the potential of renewable energy to power the nation.
A group of 30 people held up construction of a second loader arm at Newcastle's third coal loader site on Kooragang Island on May 10, stopping a crane crew for about 90 minutes. The protest coincided with what would have been Newcastle climate activist Pete Gray's 31st birthday. Gray sadly lost a two year long battle with cancer on April 30.
Many millions of tonnes of coal have been exported since activists dubbed the Rising Tide Seven temporarily shut down coal loaders in Newcastle in September last year. They were convicted on January 31 of “remaining on enclosed lands”. Each was fined $300, plus $79 in court costs. However, on March 3, they were vindicated when magistrate Elaine Truscott rejected the Port Waratah Coal Services’ (PWCS) $525,000 “compensation” claim.
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.
Greens MP David Shoebridge joined members of climate action group Rising Tide Newcastle at a press conference on January 28 to condemn Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) “victim’s compensation” claim of $525,0000 against seven protesters. PWCS is pursuing the claim in response to a peaceful protest organised in September 2010, which stopped coal loading in Newcastle port for almost 10 hours.
Newcastle and the Hunter region have a proud history of energy-related manufacturing. However, since the 1990s the sector has experienced a steady decline, born of decades of neoliberal, free trade policies that encouraged companies to move offshore. Presently, only 10% of the Hunter workforce is employed in the manufacturing sector. But climate change and the need for clean energy alternatives are opening new doors.
The third annual camp for climate action will happen in the Hunter Valley from December 1-5, between the Liddell and Bayswater power stations. The camp will bring will be an important forum for diverse groups to build stronger links with one another.

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