When Did You Last See One Of Our Leaders Plant A Tree?

Tehran Times [5/3/12]:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has called for the conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment.

The Leader made the remarks on Monday during a ceremony held in Tehran to commemorate National Natural Resources Week.

He also said that officials and people should pay attention to the creation of green space and should also try to preserve the existing jungles, gardens, pastures, and arable lands.

He added that the people could play the most important and effective role in restoring green spaces.

During the ceremony, the Leader also planted two saplings.

Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Agricultural Jihad Minister Sadeq Khalilian, and Environmental Protection Organization Director Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh attended the ceremony.

Scrap NT Intervention Laws: Vinnies Chief

Nine MSN [6/3/12]:

The head of St Vincent de Paul has launched a scathing attack on the next phase of the Northern Territory intervention, saying it treats Aboriginal people as if they were nothing.

The government's Stronger Futures legislation, which extends the Howard government's NT intervention, passed parliament's lower house last week.

A Senate inquiry is looking at the draft laws, which include alcohol restrictions and a controversial program that cuts the welfare payments of parents whose kids skip school, known as the student enrolment and attendance measure (SEAM).

St Vincent de Paul chief executive John Falzon on Tuesday told the inquiry the government was taking away the dignity of Aboriginal people.

"This is unconscionable," he said, adding the Stronger Futures legislation was misnamed because it was so "inherently disempowering".

"It's a degrading trail of internal colonisation."

Dr Falzon accused the government of "treating people as if they were nothing".

He recommended the draft laws be scrapped and the federal government go back to the drawing board.

Dr Falzon predicted the NT intervention would be the subject of a future government apology.

"The intervention will go down in history as a source of shame for the Australian government," he said.

"This is the deepening and broadening of a wound a future prime minister will have to apologise for."

The government needed to start again and listen to the people rather than manufacture consent. It could not build up communities if it was intent on "putting people down".

"Good policy is organically linked to self-empowerment," Dr Falzon said, adding paternalism started and ended with unequal power.

He attacked the SEAM program as a "bum on the seat" exercise that would not produce educational outcomes.

Increasing bilingual education and better resourcing schools would better improve school attendance, he said.

Man Knocked Over In Ballina

Echo Net Daily [6/3/12]:

An elderly man suffered minor injuries after being knocked over by a car on the Pacific Highway, Ballina, at about 8 am this morning.

The man, thought to be in his seventies, was hit near the corner of Brunswick Street.

A spokesperson for Ballina police said his injuries were superficial, but he was hospitalised as a precaution.

Police 'Defensive' Over Hacking, Says Sir Paul Stephenson

Independent [5/3/12]:

Scotland Yard's former head admitted today that his force developed a "defensive mindset" that stopped it properly assessing whether to reopen its original phone hacking investigation.

Sir Paul Stephenson, who quit as Metropolitan Police commissioner over the hacking scandal, told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that his officers failed to "challenge" assumptions about the 2006 probe.

Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson suggested that police carried out a "back-of-the-envelope" review when the Guardian revealed in a July 2009 article that the illegal practice was far more widespread than previously believed.

Sir Paul also revealed that London Mayor Boris Johnson's deputy, Kit Malthouse, complained about the high level of resources the Met devoted to the new phone hacking investigation it finally launched in January 2011.

Scotland Yard's original hacking inquiry resulted in the jailing of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on royal aides' phones.

But the force was widely criticised for limiting the scope of the investigation despite evidence from Mulcaire's notebooks that there could be many more hacking victims.

Sir Paul told the Leveson Inquiry he did not read the July 9 2009 Guardian story, which claimed his force's original hacking probe was inadequate.

Instead he told then-assistant commissioner John Yates to look into the newspaper's allegations.
The former commissioner said: "It was just yet another headline - I don't mean to say it dismissively - some noise about an event that I expected someone to pick up and deal with."

Mr Yates began his examination of the Guardian's claims on the morning the article appeared, and in the late afternoon made a media statement dismissing calls for the phone-hacking investigation to be re-opened.

Lord Justice Leveson asked Sir Paul: "Do you think in 2009 it was a reasonable approach to respond to what was this very detailed, researched article - which I appreciate you hadn't read - by what perhaps I might be forgiven for describing as a back-of-the-envelope job for the day, and coming out so quickly with a response?"

The former commissioner replied: "My understanding is there was much ongoing work after that date to continue to consider was there anything new coming to light, but that's a matter that only Mr Yates can have the discussion with you (about)."

Sir Paul said he had further discussions with Mr Yates when the New York Times published a lengthy article in September 2010 about phone hacking at the News of the World.

He told the inquiry: "I would have challenged him to say, 'are you absolutely sure we shouldn't open this up any further?'

"I was satisfied with the briefings I was getting and I'm as good as the briefings I get."

The former commissioner said the Met developed a "defensive mindset" regarding phone hacking very early, adding: "That stopped us going back and challenging what was the reason for the original investigation."

He went on: "We got ourselves almost hooked on a defensive strategy that we wouldn't expend significant resources without new or additional evidence."

Sir Paul resigned from the Met last July after facing criticism for hiring ex-News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis as a PR consultant and for accepting free accommodation at a luxury health spa worth thousands of pounds.

He told the inquiry he stood down as Britain's top policeman out of a "sense of duty and honour" but might not have quit had it not been for his ill-health.

The former commissioner was off work for four months until April 2011 after undergoing emergency surgery to remove a pre-cancerous tumour from his femur and a second operation to repair a fracture caused by the growth.

He said he was reluctant to take up the offer of a free stay at a Champneys health resort from the owner Steven Purdue, a close friend of his daughter's father-in-law.

But he accepted it to help his rehabilitation so he could get back to work at New Scotland Yard as quickly as possible.

Home Secretary Theresa May and Mr Johnson both opposed Sir Paul's resignation when he told them he was going to quit, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry heard that Mr Malthouse, the head of Scotland Yard's former governing body the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), raised concerns about the resources allocated to the Met's new hacking investigation, called Operation Weeting.

Sir Paul said in a statement: "On several occasions after Operation Weeting had started and I had returned from sick leave, the chair of the MPA, Kit Malthouse, expressed a view that we should not be devoting this level of resources to the phone hacking inquiry as a consequence of a largely political and media-driven 'level of hysteria'."

Commenting on Mr Malthouse's comments, the former commissioner said: "The reality was that this was wrong but that was a fairly widely held view."

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who was a victim of phone hacking, called for Mr Malthouse to lose his job.
He said: "This amounts to a clear political intervention designed to intimidate the Met into dropping an investigation...

"In any other country this kind of political manipulation would be considered wholly unacceptable and corrupt.

"It is no longer possible for Londoners to have confidence in the Met with Kit Malthouse sitting at the top table. Kit Malthouse should either resign or Boris Johnson should be forced to sack him."

The Leveson Inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, will hear evidence tomorrow from former Met commissioners Lord Condon and Lord Stevens.

Shareholders File $67 Bln Lawsuit Against Tepco Executives

Reuters [5/3/12]:

Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc, operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan, are suing the utility's executives for a record 5.5 trillion yen ($67.4 billion) in compensation, lawyers said.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was wrecked by a quake and tsunami last March, triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century and swamping the firm with huge clean-up, compensation and decommissioning costs.

In the biggest claim of its kind in Japan, 42 shareholders filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court on Monday accusing 27 current and former Tepco directors of ignoring multiple warnings of a possible tsunami and of failing to prepare for a severe accident, lawyers for the shareholders said in a statement.

They want the executives to pay damages to Tepco, which would then use the money to compensate those affected by the disaster.

There is deep public anger over Tepco's handling of the crisis and the perceived arrogance of top management, including underplaying the seriousness of the disaster in its early stages and delays in compensating those forced to leave their homes. Government officials have walked a tightrope between that taxpayer anger and keeping afloat a firm that provides electricity to 45 million people in Japan.

Japan's trade minister last month approved nearly $9 billion in additional support for Tepco to help compensate victims of the crisis, but said the government would not go ahead with a plan to inject more money into the utility unless it had more say in its management.

"By seeking to hold individuals responsible, we want to correct the collective and systemic irresponsibility in the nuclear industry," Hiroyuki Kawai, one of the lawyers, told a news conference.

Kawai said the record compensation was based on calculations by a government-appointed experts' panel of what Tepco might have to pay to victims and businesses. The company has forecast an annual net loss of 695 billion yen.

Shale Gas Fracking In WA Gains Nod, AWE, Norwest Energy, Transerv To Benefit

Proactive Investors [5/3/12]:

Western Australian Environment Minister Bill Marmion has given the green light for fracking of shale gas wells after months of uncertainty for oil and gas companies.

The minister has effectively backed the oil and gas industry and rejected the appeals against onshore gas exploration for four proof-of concept proposals that will use hydraulic fracturing to test the potential for commercial flows of gas from shale and tight gas resources in the State's Mid West region.

The US Energy Information Administration has assessed Australia as having the world's fifth largest shale gas potential. While the Perth Basin is a target, companies want to frack wells within 300km of the Perth market given existing pipelines close by.

The other advantage to shale gas is it does not attract quite the same opposition as does coal-seam gas fracking in the eastern states where prime farmland is being drilled. Much of the ground involved in the Perth Basin is crown land.

Companies exploring in the Perth Basin expected to benefit from the minister's decision are AWE (ASX:AWE), Transerv Energy (ASX: TSV) and Norwest Energy (ASX: NWE).

Fraccing has been used internationally for more than 60 years in more than 2 million oil and gas wells.

Virgin Accused Of Sacking New Mums

Brisbane Times [5/3/12]:

Two former Virgin Blue employees say the airline forced them to take redundancies because they were pregnant or on maternity leave.

Kirsty Aitken, former promotions and sponsorship specialist, and Leonie Vandeven, former public affairs officer, have brought a claim against the airline under the Fair Work Act for an alleged breach of redundancy and parental leave policies and an alleged breach of trust and confidence.

The five-day hearing began today in the Federal Magistrates Court in Brisbane.

Both women were told their positions in the airline's public affairs department in Brisbane were no longer required in 2010.

In her opening submissions to the court today, barrister Catherine Hartigan, for the women, argued her clients had been denied their right to flexible working hours; their right to parental leave; their right to return to their pre-parental leave position or a commensurate position; and their right not to be discriminated against for pregnancy.

Ms Aitken has claimed she was made redundant shortly before she was due to return to full-time work from maternity leave in June 2010.

Giving evidence in court today, Ms Aitken said she had received a phone call from her manager and a human resources representative on June 28, when she was visiting family in Adelaide, and was advised she was no longer required at the airline.

"They told me I was a square peg they were trying to fit in a round hole," Ms Aitken said.

"I was in tears ... I couldn't understand what was happening."

Ms Aitken had worked for the airline since March 2003.

She also said that in October 2009, when she was on maternity leave, she had attended a charity morning tea with the airline as a guest with her new baby.

Ms Aitken said the airline's general manager of people, Richard Tanner, said to her during the morning:

"All females should be employed on contracts, so that when they get pregnant, it is easier for the company to get rid of them."

She said her response was "absolute silence".

Virgin has strongly denied the allegations from both women, with barrister Chris Murdoch telling the court this morning it was completely reasonable for a company with finite resources to restructure departments.

Ms Vandeven has claimed she was made redundant on July 1, 2010, soon after she announced she was pregnant.

Ms Hartigan said in the month before Ms Vandeven had been made redundant, she was relegated to administrative tasks, was not included in meetings she had previously been a part of and had her name removed from the airline's website as a media contact.

Ms Vandeven is expected to give evidence this afternoon.

As a result of their redundancies, Ms Hartigan said, the women suffered emotional and financial stress and damaged reputations.

The women are expected to bring forward a claim for compensation against the airline, although no monetary figure has been put forward.

They chiefly want to see penalties imposed on Virgin Blue, now rebadged Virgin Australia, for alleged breaches of numerous sections of the Fair Work Act.

The maximum penalty for breaching the act is $33,000.

The hearing continues.

Ita's Ex-Husband Sues ABC For Defamation

Fairfield Champion [5/3/12]:

The former husband of media doyenne Ita Buttrose was portrayed in the mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo as a "selfish, irresponsible and pitiably weak man" who abandoned his family, a court has heard.

Alasdair "Mac" Macdonald is suing the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the NSW Supreme Court for defamation, claiming the show depicted him as a "man so threatened by the success of his wife that he deserted her".

In dramatising the creation of Cleo magazine by Buttrose in the 1970s, Paper Giants also delved into the difficulties faced by women trying to combine full-time work with raising a young family.

Excerpts of the two-part mini-series were played to the court, including a scene in which the character of Mr Macdonald tells his pregnant wife that he is leaving "to be a free spirit".

"I want to go away for a while. I have got to think things through. I need to find myself. I need to be a free spirit," the character of "Mac", played by Nathan Page, says.

When the character of Buttrose, played by Asher Keddie, asks him if he will "be here for the baby", Mac does not reply.

This morning, Justice Henric Nicholas referred the parties to mediation.

Dolphin Versus Coal Ports, CSG

The Morning Bulletin [5/3/12]:

Seeing a snub-nosed dolphin off the Central Queensland coast is a rare experience for anyone.

But it was an experience that more than 80 people shared on Saturday when the Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance (KAFDA) hired a catamaran to take a group out around the Keppel Islands and Fitzroy delta to see where proposed port developments would take place if approved.

The grassroots alliance, led by Ginny Gerlach and other locals passionate about the Capricorn Coast's boating and fishing lifestyle, left Rosslyn Bay on a Freedom Fast Cat at about 8.30am yesterday.

Sailing south through the waves, the catamaran slowed to pass one of Australia's most important flat-back turtle nesting sites at Peak Island, wound its way through the rest of the Keppel Islands, passing Balaclava Island and stopping for a brief interlude at Curtis Island off the coast of Gladstone.

Ginny said the tour was held to show locals who had never been out to the islands parts of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area that she believed were at risk of destruction with numerous port developments planned.

Among the proposed developments in the area were the Fitzroy Terminal, a barge and export project off Raglan Creek; the Balaclava Island Coal Export Terminal and two major liquefied natural gas plants on Curtis Island, which will see Central Queensland's coal seam gas turned into LNG before export overseas.

Ginny said there was a real risk that cumulative effects from the multiple projects would change the local marine environment forever, affecting both the regional hydrology and the local lifestyle so craved by boaties on the coast.

While many of the group on the tour were clearly against the proposed developments, others came along and voiced concerns not just for the environment but also whether the region's much-touted gas boom would actually have any real positive effects for the local economy.

But, despite differences of opinion among those present, there was no questioning the stunning power of the snub-nosed dolphin to attract a crowd, as it frolicked at the surface as onlookers waited for just one more chance to grab a photograph.

Capricorn Conservation Council coordinator Michael McCabe said one of the biggest questions that lay ahead for the reef, and the local area, would be whether it would be possible to find a balance between the economic and environmental interests at stake.

This week, both Mr McCabe and Ms Gerlach will be among those putting their case to a mission from the [UNESCO] World Heritage Committee, coming to Gladstone this Wednesday to investigate concerns about these developments and other threats to the reef.

Don't Rely On The Selective Reporting Of Australia's Media

Read It For Yourself ... In Its Entirety ...

Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference, Information Clearing House [4/3/12]:

... Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles. Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. (Applause.) When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. (Applause.) When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. ...

Ministry Hid Data On Fallout From Public

Japan Times [4/3/12]:

Former science minister Yoshiaki Takaki and other top ministry officials decided to withhold radiation forecast data from the public four days after the March 11 disasters triggered the nuclear crisis, an internal document shows.

Takaki, lawmakers serving as top ministry officials and senior bureaucrats decided March 15 to withhold data about the predicted spread of radioactivity, including an assumption that all radioactive material would be discharged from the crippled reactors' cores at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The prediction of the spread of radioactive substances, compiled through the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), "could by no means be released to the public," the document, dated March 19, shows.

Asked about the matter, a ministry official denied that senior officials had made a decision on releasing the data and said the contents of the document, an internal memorandum prepared by ministry officials, were inaccurate.

The document states that radioactive clouds could spread from the wrecked nuclear power plant to the Kanto and Tohoku regions, indicating that the ministry had made various estimates about the spread of radioactive substances, including the worst-case scenario.

Takaki and the other officials concluded that estimated data from SPEEDI should not be released and that more general data should be prepared for the public, it says.

Kan Suzuki, then vice science minister, said there had been no assumption that all radioactive substances would escape, adding that releasing such an estimate could have panicked the public.

150 Dead In Congo Munitions Depot Blasts: EU Diplomat

France 24 [4/3/12]:

At least 150 people were killed in a series of explosions at a munitions depot in the Congolose capital of Brazzaville early Sunday, a European diplomat said. AFP - At least 150 people were killed in a series of explosions at a munitions depot in the Congolose capital of Brazzaville early Sunday, a European diplomat said.

"We count at least 150 dead in the military hospitals and around 1,500 injured, some of them seriously," the diplomat said when contacted by telephone from Paris, following the fires and explosions that rocked the Mpila military barracks in the east of the capital.

This Is Happening In Queensland

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times [3/3/12]:

Here's what a woman in Texas now faces if she seeks an abortion.

Under a new law that took effect three weeks ago with the strong backing of Gov. Rick Perry, she first must typically endure an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina.

Then she listens to the audio thumping of the fetal heartbeat and watches the fetus on an ultrasound screen.

She must listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor.

She signs a document saying that she understands all this, and it is placed in her medical files. Finally, she goes home and must wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.

“It’s state-sanctioned abuse,” said Dr. Curtis Boyd, a Texas physician who provides abortions.

“It borders on a definition of rape. Many states describe rape as putting any object into an orifice against a person’s will. Well, that’s what this is. A woman is coerced to do this, just as I’m coerced.”

“The state of Texas is waging war on women and their families,” Dr. Boyd added.

“The new law is demeaning and disrespectful to the women of Texas, and insulting to the doctors and nurses who care for them.”

That law is part of a war over women’s health being fought around the country — and in much of the country, women are losing.

State by state, legislatures are creating new obstacles to abortions and are treating women in ways that are patronizing and humiliating. Twenty states now require abortion providers to conduct ultrasounds first in some situations, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization.

The new Texas law is the most extreme to take effect so far, but similar laws have been passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and are on hold pending legal battles. Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi are also considering Texas-style legislation bordering on state-sanctioned rape.

And what else do you call it when states mandate invasive probes in women’s bodies?

“If you look up the term rape, that’s what it is: the penetration of the vagina without the woman’s consent,” said Linda Coleman, an Alabama state senator who is fighting the proposal in her state.

“As a woman, I am livid and outraged.”

States put in place a record number of new restrictions on abortions last year, Guttmacher says. It counts 92 new curbs in 24 states.

“It was a debacle,” Elizabeth Nash, who manages state issues for Guttmacher, told me.

“It’s been awful. Last year was unbelievable. We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Yes, there have been a few victories for women. The notorious Virginia proposal that would have required vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was modified to require only abdominal ultrasounds. Yet over all, the pattern has been retrograde: humiliating obstacles to abortions, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex education in schools.

If Texas legislators wanted to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The small proportion of women and girls who aren’t using contraceptives account for half of all abortions in America, according to Guttmacher.

Yet Texas has some of the weakest sex-education programs in the nation, and last year it cut spending for family planning by 66 percent. The new Texas law was passed last year but was held up because of a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In a scathing opinion, Judge Sam Sparks of Federal District Court described the law as “an attempt by the Texas legislature to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights.”

In the end, the courts upheld the law, and it took effect last month. It requires abortion providers to give women a list of crisis pregnancy centers where, in theory, they can get unbiased counseling and in some cases ultrasounds.

In fact, these centers are often set up to ensnare pregnant women and shame them or hound them if they are considering abortions.

“They are traps for women, set up by the state of Texas,” Dr. Boyd said.

The law then requires the physician to go over a politicized list of so-called dangers of abortion, like “the risks of infection and hemorrhage” and “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.”

Then there is the mandated ultrasound, which in the first trimester normally means a vaginal ultrasound.

Doctors sometimes seek vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion, with the patient’s consent, but it’s different when the state forces women to undergo the procedure.

The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton’s, that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Achieving that isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

But family planning and comprehensive sex education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned abuse and humiliation.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Lilla Watson

ABC, Landline [4/3/12]:

SEAN MURPHY, REPORTER: It's harvest time at Tyrrell's Vineyard in the heart of the Hunter Valley's historic wine region, but this year's vintage is being picked under a cloud of uncertainty. The Hunter's wine country is on top of a massive coal seam gas reserve with plans for up to 300 wells over the next 30 years. ...

Woman Arrested At Live Export Protest

A protestor at the port this morning

The Land [4/3/12]:

An 18 year old woman has been arrested this morning at the Fremantle Port in Western Australia, after chaining herself to railings on the world’s biggest live export vessel, the MV Ocean Shearer.

The protest was aimed at banning the live export trade, by targeting the Wellard-owned vessel which has been loading since Friday to transport 100,000 sheep to the Middle East.

Unconfirmed reports of the incident were posted on social media this morning saying Dawn Lowe from Animals' Angels had advised that Forest Rescue Australia activists have boarded the Ocean Shearer in Fremantle Port and “have the ship in lock down”.

The Facebook message said a SLE (Stop Live Exports) banner would be hung from a nearby bridge.

“She has asked that people get down to the dock at E-Shed markets to show your support,” the statement said.

But the minor protest failed to disrupt loading and was thwarted before a substantial crowd could gather.

“They were going to protest on the bridge but nothing happened – it’s been bit of a fizzer really,” one witness said.

Police cut the woman free from the locks - understood to have been attached to her thumbs - and placed her under arrest shortly after 9.00am.

Sergeant Naomi Smith from the WA Police Media unit told Rural Press at 6.30am a report was made saying the 18 year old local woman had chained herself to the Ocean Shearer’s railings.

She said the protestor was removed shortly after 9.00am WA time and was in good health, but was being taken to hospital to remove the locking devices, which was standard police procedure.

She said there were also reports that the woman was being accompanied by another man near the vessel before boarding it - but only the woman chained herself to the ship’s railing.

Sergeant Smith said the woman could be charged with offences under maritime laws governing transport and safety but it was too early to confirm those details.

She said the police would need to speak with the woman again at a later time and further the investigation.
Sergeant Smith said they were also unable to confirm who the protestor was representing.

She said there were no placards or banners and a small group of about six protesters had dispersed from the scene shortly after the arrest was made.

Ms Lowe said she had heard through “jungle drums” that a protest was happening but denied any involvement.

She said her organisation “doesn’t operate that way” and had a specific focus and role monitoring compliance for live exports.

Ms Lowe said she was at the port on Friday and Saturday checking compliance for the sheep being loaded onto the Ocean Shearer, where she heard the protest may be staged.

A Wellard spokesperson said they respected the rights of protestors “in the same manner that we respect the rights of the animals themselves”.

“We prefer not to comment on action which is illegal,” the spokesperson said.

The Australian Live Exporters Council said it was unaware who was behind the protest and declined to comment further.

A group of 10 Fremantle locals turned out to support the protestor’s actions wearing Stop Live Exports t-shirts.

One of the protestors - who declined to be named - said live exports should be banned and expressed concerns that AQIS was only doing quarantine work and did not work to protect the safety of any animals exported from Australia, to market destinations like the Middle East.

“We’ve got to look after all animals….if we want to eat them we have to treat them with dignity,” the protestor said.

“Killing animals is not a nice thing to do.

“We’ve just got to look after the world and the planet and have really good abattoirs here, package the meat and send it off.”

In January, protesters from Forest Rescue Australia, assisted by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, caused a major controversy after they illegally boarded a Japanese Whaling vessel off the WA coast near Bunbury, to defend whales being slaughtered in Australian territorial waters.

Late last year, the MV Ocean Shearer set a world record carrying about 26,000 head of cattle from Darwin to Indonesia, from producers in the Northern Territory and Darwin.

The Sheepmeat Council of Australia and Forest Rescue Australia have both been contacted for comment.

'Embarrassed' Victim Kept Silent For 13 Years

The Age [4/3/12]:

From the outside, the house Pamela and her partner shared in Burwood looked the picture of contented suburbia. Tidy weatherboard, leafy street. In real-estate speak, theirs was ''a fine family home''.

Each weekday morning, Pamela left the house for the successful recruitment business she had built from scratch. To outsiders she was an independent working mother sharing a long relationship with a man who seemed funny, friendly and self-assured.

But appearances can deceive. In the heart of middle Melbourne, Pamela's home was not a safe place. Nor was her partner the good bloke he presented himself as. He was an abuser who used violence, intimidation and vicious put-downs to dominate the woman he professed to love.

Pamela, then 36, met her future partner when he came into her recruitment agency to be interviewed. ''He was easygoing, had a great sense of humour and fun. He was someone you wanted to be with,'' Pamela says.

Within six months he had moved into the home she was paying off. Their first few months were happy, and while he appeared to have ''slight anger problems, I didn't think anything of it''. Within a year the violence had started.

While Pamela cannot remember the argument that led to his first physical assault, she does recall hateful invective about her appearance and a punch that blackened her eye.

The violence escalated. She recalls times when he knocked her to the floor, kicking and punching her while she was down. This from a man whose gym-built strength meant she posed no physical threat to him. Arm-twisting, locking her in rooms and wardrobes - once he continually punched her in the back until she had swelling the size of an egg.

The slightest things set him off. ''I wasn't allowed to disagree, I wasn't allowed to have an opinion that differed from him because to him it meant that I wasn't supporting him,'' she says.

Family violence researchers have found it is not uncommon for men to be violent to their partner for the first time when she is pregnant or soon after the birth. Associate Professor Angela Taft, of La Trobe University, says one theory to explain this shocking fact is that a pregnant or nursing mother does not have as much time to pay attention to a possessive, resentful male. In Pamela's case, the violence continued during her pregnancy.

''I can remember lying on the ground with my arms over my stomach trying to protect the baby,'' she says.

Yet she neither left him nor told anyone during their 13 years together.

''There was always that cycle of goodness that was there for a period of time, and I'd keep hoping and wishing that the good - the fun and the good person - was going to be there all the time. When it happened again, I'd go through the hate and all the rest of it and then the good part would start again,'' she says.

Danny Blay, head of No To Violence, an agency that co-ordinates programs for men who are violent to their families, says Pamela's experience is familiar.

''I wish we had a buck for every time a woman called our service and said, 'I don't want the relationship to end, I just want the violence to stop,''' he says.

When Pamela insisted that her partner seek help, he did, and for about a year there was no violence. But old behaviours gradually resumed.

''It was the verbal abuse as much as the physical that can sometimes be worse than anything else. He'd call me useless and fat.''

As the situation worsened, Pamela and her partner still presented as a happy couple. Police were never called. Only once did she seek medical help, after her hand was put through a glass door.
''I couldn't tell anyone, I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I was this smart, sophisticated professional woman who was putting up with this bullshit at home,'' she says.

Pamela finally decided to seek help after her partner crashed her head into a wall one Sunday afternoon when their daughter had a friend over. ''The girls were in the next room and they heard it and I thought, 'If he cannot control himself when she has friends around, then he's never going to be able to control himself.'''

Pamela now speaks publicly about family violence. ''I felt like my story wasn't as bad as some of the stories that are out there, but someone said to me, 'Every story is a bad story and you should be heard.'''

BP Reaches $7.8 Billion Deal Over Gulf Of Mexico Spill

Reuters [3/3/12]:

BP Plc has reached an estimated $7.8 billion deal with plaintiffs suing over the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company said on Friday, but the oil giant still faces claims by the U.S. government, Gulf states and drilling partners.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, in an order made three days before the case had been due to go to trial, said the proposed terms of the class settlement would be submitted to court for approval.

He had already delayed the start of the trial to allow the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, representing fisherman and businesses whose livelihoods they said were damaged by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and massive oil spill from the Macondo well, to negotiate.

Lawyers for the committee, Stephen Herman and James Roy, said the settlement would compensate hundreds of thousands of victims.

"It does the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people," they said.

BP said the cost of the proposed settlement would be around $7.8 billion, including a commitment of $2.3 billion to help resolve loss claims related to the Gulf seafood industry.

It said the proposed settlement was not an admission of liability and that BP would assign to the plaintiffs some of its claims against Transocean and Halliburton.


Apart from BP, which owned 65 percent of the Macondo well, the main corporate defendants are Switzerland-based Transocean Ltd, which owned the Deepwater Horizon, and Houston-based Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services for the well. They are also suing each other. Several other companies are involved in the trial.

Eleven people were killed in the explosion on April 20, 2010, and 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed from the mile-deep well in by far the worst offshore U.S. oil spill.

A settlement would remove a significant portion of the complex case, but it would not put an end to BP's exposure.

The oil giant still faces claims by the U.S. government, which is pursuing violations of the Clean Water Act and other laws, which could result in fines totaling billions of dollars.

BP also faces claims from Gulf states as well as its drilling partners.

"Delays or deals made by other players do not change the facts of this case and we are fully prepared to argue the merits of our case based on those facts," said a spokesman for Transocean.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was prepared to go to trial to hold those responsible accountable for outstanding federal claims.

"The United States will continue to work closely with all five Gulf states to ensure that any resolution of the federal law enforcement and damage claims, including natural resources damages, arising out of this unprecedented environmental disaster is just, fair and restores the Gulf for the benefit of the people of the Gulf states," department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.

David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, said the settlement was good news for the victims of the Gulf oil spill "who will see their losses compensated much more quickly than the victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill".

"It also paves the way for BP to negotiate agreements with the federal and state governments and begin the process of moving beyond the Gulf oil spill," he said.

Main Dredger In Gladstone Harbour Undergoes Maintenance

Gladstone Observer [3/3/12]:

Suggestions the main dredger in Gladstone Harbour has been stopped to reduce turbidity ahead of a visit from UNESCO next week have been rejected by Gladstone Ports Corporation.

The cutter suction dredger Al-Mahaar was stopped on February 20, and GPC released a statement on February 27 saying it had been stopped for maintenance.

Some members of the community have suggested to The Observer that the dredger had been stopped to allow turbidity to clear in the harbour ahead of the visit by UNESCO delegates.

A GPC representative yesterday reiterated the original statement, that the Al-Mahaar was stopped to repair a ladder winch. Two backhoe dredges are continuing to operate.

But They Won't Confirm To Gold Coast Locals (The Gold Coast Bulletin Does Not Represent Gold Coast Locals) Their Reported Support Of A Cruise Ship Terminal On The Spit

My Sunshine Coast [2/3/12]:

Katter's Australian Party has slammed Federal government proposals to use the Great Barrier Reef as a dumping ground for dredge spoil, and vowed to immediately stop this if elected.

State Leader Aidan McLindon said the “pay to pollute” scheme proposed by the Federal Government and backed by Anna Bligh, points to the fact the major parties are willing to do anything to please major companies, particularly mining companies who will look to capitalise on this scheme.

“With both the ALP and LNP controlled by the large foreign owned mining giants, there is no barrier to what they will be allowed to do.“It is also an extremely hypocritical move, given the severe restrictions and regulations placed on farmers whose activities would have only a fraction of the effect a “pay to pollute” scheme would have,” Mr McLindon said.

The devastation seen in Gladstone Harbor shows the level of disregard these large companies have for our Barrier Reef and complicit in this destruction, have been the major parties whose hands are tied by donations and obligations.

“We are now in desperate times. The risk of the Brisbane Liberals seizing power in Queensland and increasing the pace of this devastation is very real and needs to be stopped”.

Katter’s Australian Party have committed not to allow any “spoils” to be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

“Apart from the fact that it is simply the right thing to do to protect the Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, Australia is now a net exporter of tourism. All of our coastal communities rely on Barrier Reef generated tourism in one way or another. At a time where our tourism industry has been smashed, the last thing we need is the Liberals or Labor killing the reef,” Mr McLindon said.

Police Refute Abuse Claims

Tweed Daily News [2/3/12]:

The police have refuted claims that they kept a new mother in custody for up to six hours in an effort to coerce her to give evidence.

Yesterday, Hervey Bay Magistrates Court heard that Angela Carson, 23, was kept in the watch house while bleeding for hours, only three weeks after giving birth.

Today, police prosecutor Senior Constable Jeanette Grigoris produced the logbooks detailing exactly how long Ms Carson was at the police station for.

The total amount of time came to three and a half hours in the station, with about two and a half hours of that time spent in custody.

Snr Const Grigoris said Ms Carson arrived at the station at 6.00pm in possession of $2,500 worth of equestrian equipment which was the subject of a prior stolen property claim.

At 6.41pm, Ms Carson was officially placed into custody, Snr Const Grigoris said, which included being asked a number of questions about her medical state and whether she needed any sort of assistance.

At 9.09pm, she was taken for fingerprinting and a photograph before being released at 9.25pm.Ms Carson told police she suspected the goods were stolen, that she had received them at the McDonald's carpark in Pialba earlier that day and then put them on her eBay account.

After placing them for sale online, Ms Carson told police she became aware the goods were possibly stolen and took them to the station.

Snr Const Grigoris said Ms Carson given the chance to offer a full explanation as to how she came into possession of the goods and to exonerate herself, but refused to do so.

Legal Aid barrister Craig Ryan said that as soon as Ms Carson declined to be interviewed, there was no basis for the police to hold her any longer and she should have been released.

Snr Const Grigoris still offered no evidence against Ms Carson for the charges of stealing or receiving stolen goods, leading to Magistrate Graeme Tatnell dismissing the charges.

Mr Tatnell did not award costs against the prosecution, however.

Mexico Lays Giant 'Geotubes' To Prevent Beach Erosion

BBC [VIDEO - 2/3/12]:

Mexico is deploying giant 'geotubes' along some of its beaches to help protect shorelines damaged by sand erosion, strong winds and flooding.

The cylindrical tubes, which are constructed from specially engineered textiles, can stretch for over two kilometres along the coast.

Margarita Rodriguez reports.

The Big Fracking Bubble: The Scam Behind The Gas Boom

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone [1/3/12]:

It’s not only toxic – it’s driven by a right-wing billionaire who profits more from flipping land than drilling for gas.


As recently as a decade ago, many energy experts believed that America was nearly pumped out – that the only oil and gas left here at home was too difficult and too expensive to get out of the ground. Until we can ferment synthetic fuels with genetically engineered yeast or develop solar cells as cheap as Frisbees, the argument went, we would be stuck buying oil from the Arabs.

Geologists had long known there was a lot more energy buried deep underground – they called these subterranean rock layers "the kitchen," because it was where the gas and oil were actually made, before they bubbled up and gathered in reservoirs. But nobody knew how to extract these deep reserves – at least, not in a way that made economic sense. Then, in the 1980s, a Texas wildcatter named George Mitchell began working on a way to drill a mile down into the earth, turn the drill sideways, and keep drilling horizontally into a thin layer of shale. Next, he pumped in a few million gallons of water and sand under enough pressure to shatter the rock. When he pumped the water out, gas and oil flowed out of the rock's fractured pores.

The new technique ignited a boom in drilling for "unconventional" sources of gas and oil: Shale gas now provides 25 percent of America's gas supply, enabling the U.S. to pass Russia as the world's largest producer of natural gas. Initially, even environmentalists were enthusiastic. Fred Krupp, who heads the Environmental Defense Fund, called the gas boom a "potential game changer" – a cleaner energy source that could replace coal and oil for a few decades, until the cost of wind and solar power dropped enough to put fossil fuels out of business. But exactly how much gas and oil we can continue to squeeze out of deep sources like shale rock is unclear. In his State of the Union address, President Obama estimated that there's enough to fuel the country for nearly 100 years. T. Boone Pickens, the energy billionaire who has a major stake in Chesapeake Energy, offers an even more sweeping assessment. "Natural gas," he tells me point-blank, "is the solution to America's energy problems."

At first, when oil and gas producers confined themselves to fracking in the wide-open spaces of Texas and Oklahoma, nobody much gave a damn. The trouble started in 2007, when drilling operators made a run on the Marcellus Shale, a broad region of gas reserves that stretches through Pennsylvania and up into Ohio and New York. Almost overnight, fracking's technological miracle was recast as the next great environmental menace. The Oscar-nominated film Gasland exposed the dark underbelly of fracking, interviewing residents who could literally light their faucets on fire, thanks to the gas that had contaminated their drinking water. Last year, The New York Times documented how gas drillers were dumping millions of gallons of irradiated wastewater loaded with toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania's rivers and streams, largely without regulatory oversight.

At the same time, scientists began to conclude that America's reserves of natural gas have been overhyped. In January, the Energy Department cut its estimate of the amount of gas available in the Marcellus Shale by nearly 70 percent, and a group affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines warns that there may be only 23 years' worth of economically recoverable gas left nationwide. Even worse, new studies suggest that because of fugitive emissions of methane from wellheads and pipelines, natural gas may actually be no better than coal when it comes to global warming. "I was an early optimist about natural gas," says Robert Kennedy Jr., who sits on a panel that's advising Gov. Andrew Cuomo on whether to allow drillers like McClendon to expand into New York. "But after looking into it, I now believe that, without tighter regulations and stricter oversight, the shale-gas boom could turn out to be an economic and environmental disaster."

Study Links Heavy Diesel Exhaust To Lung Cancer

Jakarta Post [3/3/12]:

There is new evidence that exposure to exhaust from diesel engines increases the risk of lung cancer.

Diesel exhaust has long been classified as a probable carcinogen. But the 20-year study from the National Cancer Institute took a closer look by tracking more than 12,000 workers in certain kinds of mines - facilities that mined for potash, lime and other nonmetals.

They breathed varying levels of exhaust from diesel-powered equipment, levels higher than the general population encounters.The most heavily exposed miners had three times the risk of death from lung cancer compared to workers with the lowest exposures, said the study released Friday by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Even workers with lower exposures had a 50 percent increased risk, wrote lead author Debra Silverman, an NCI epidemiologist.

"Our findings are important not only for miners but also for the 1.4 million American workers and the 3 million European workers exposed to diesel exhaust, and for urban populations worldwide," Silverman wrote.

She pointed to some highly polluted cities in China, Mexico and Portugal that in past years have reported diesel exposure levels that over long periods could be comparable to those experienced by miners with lower exposures.

Litigation from some mining companies had delayed release of the study findings.

A separate industry group not involved in that litigation said Friday that the study looked back at mines using decades-old equipment, and there is far less pollution from diesel engines today.

"Diesel engine and equipment makers, fuel refiners and emissions control technology manufacturers have invested billions of dollars in research to develop and deploy technologies and strategies that reduce engine emissions, now ultimately to near zero levels to meet increasingly stringent clean air standards here in the United States and around the world," said Allen Schaeffer of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum.

Nearly There!

Banana residents welcome ‘Walking for a Future’ walkers June Norman and Potts Driscoll as they came into town earlier this week, the pair have also travelled through Taroom, Theodore and left Biloela today.

Central Telegraph [2/3/12]:

After walking 200km you would think June Norman would be tired.

"I'm not too sore," June said.

"My shoes are a little worn out though."

June has trekked with her friend Potts Driscoll for almost 20 days and they still have nine more to go.

In total they will have walked 550km.

The pair are following the corridor of the gas and train pipeline as a protest to what is happening with these industries and their impacts on the future.

"I really fear what it will be like for my grandchildren in 30 years," June said.

June's walk is a means of a peaceful protest in association with international group Footprints for Peace.

"We want the coal seam gas to be regulated because there are still so many unanswered questions," she said.

"We just want the mining to slow down a little bit because it is just going too fast."

June and Potts passed through Taroom and Theodore earlier in the week and left Biloela on Thursday.

"We have received so much support along the way," June said.

"We have people come from their properties to come and talk to us and tell us their stories.

"This also provides communities a chance to meet and connect over this issue."

When June reaches her destination in Gladstone on March 7, she will join seven other environmentally-minded people at a meeting with UNESCO representatives to discuss their issues.

Pick 'n Mix "Throw The Book" - As With That Really Tough "Throw The Book" You Did With Pacific Adventurer?

ABC [2/3/12]:

Premier Anna Bligh has warned the State Government will "throw the book" at chemical company Orica if a release of cyanide in Gladstone harbour in central Queensland has breached guidelines.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) is investigating the release of wastewater from the company's Yarwun plant in Gladstone.

DERM says Orica discharged waste water from the plant in January and February and cyanide levels are double allowable limits.

Ms Bligh says the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a protection order against the company.

"If they have been found in breach of their requirements, we will throw the book at them," she said.

"They are likely - as a result of this protection order - to have to cease operations and that cease of operations may last anywhere from three to seven days while this matter is investigated.

"If there has been any breach of their environmental conditions, then there is a potential for up to $2 million fine and up to five years' jail for directors."

DERM associate director-general Terry Wall says it could have serious impacts on the marine environment.

"High levels can result in large fish kills, however though there has been no reported fish kill in the vicinity of the discharge point to date," he said.

"This tends to indicate that the discharge has been diluted sufficiently to be within environmental limits but investigations are at an early stage."Definitive conclusions will not be able to be drawn until the laboratory results are returned.

"When it is in the environment in quantities that exceed environmental authorities, there is always the risk the the environment.

"Certainly it is very serious when a company doesn't observe the requirements under its environmental authority and report these incidences immediately to the regulator."

Katter's Party Takes Court Action Over Ballot Papers

ABC [2/3/12]:

Katter's Australian Party has applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland for an injunction to stop the printing and distribution of ballot papers for the state election.

The Queensland electoral commissioner has refused to allow the party's registered name, 'Katter's Australian Party - Queensland Division', to be printed on the ballot papers.

The commissioner ruled that only the abbreviated 'Australian Party' could be used.

The party now wants more than 2 million ballot papers destroyed because their leader's name does not appear on them.It has applied to the Supreme Court to force the Electoral Commission to reprint them.

While political observers believe the challenge is likely to fail, they differ on what impact the absence of the Katter name on the ballot papers will have on support for the party.

The name Katter has been a feature of Queensland politics at a state or federal level for more than 40 years.

When federal MP Bob Katter assembled his candidates last October for a shot at the Queensland state election he gave them this piece of advice.

"The first thing you have got to get people to say is who is that bloke or who is that sheila - you've got to do something - now I am one of your weapons," he said.

ABC election analyst Antony Green says section 102 of the Electoral Act is quite clear.

"If candidates are nominated, bulk nominated as part of a party, then it states that the abbreviation of the party name will be used," he said.

"Now the Katter's Australian Party applied in December to have the name the Australian Party become the abbreviation.

"That was accepted on January 30, so therefore there is an abbreviation and it is clearly set out in the Act that therefore that will be used on the ballot paper."


Katter's Australian Party is fielding candidates in 76 of the 89 seats.

Mr Green says the difficulty is without the name on the ballot paper, there is less recognition.

"You are going to get less of those votes - it's a bit of a problem for the party and it is certainly not what they intended to have as is shown by this court action," he said.

It is not known when the application for an injunction will be heard.

On the Gold Coast later this morning, Mr Katter declined to discuss the issue.

"There has been a prohibition placed upon us against us using our registered name now it's before the courts," he said.

"It's improper for us to say anything else, so any more questions on that will be flicked sideways because it's before the courts."

Lex Wotton To Seek Judicial Review Of Queensland Corrective Services Decision To Deny Permission For NITV Interview

Brisbane Times [1/3/12]:

A man convicted of rioting on Palm Island has launched a legal challenge against the Queensland government's decision to ban him participating in a television interview.

Lex Wotton, 44, was jailed in 2008 for his role in riots following the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody in 2004.The island's police station was burned down during the riots.

Wotton served 20 months in prison before being released on parole in July 2010, on condition that he not communicate with the media and not attend public meetings on Palm Island.

Wotton's legal team lost a high court challenge against the ban on Wednesday after it was found it did not unlawfully inhibit his implied constitutional right to free speech.

In the published findings, Justice Susan Kiefel said journalists could apply to the director-general of Queensland's Department of Corrective Services if they wanted to interview Wotton.

Justice Kiefel said the director-general would be bound to consider Wotton's freedom of speech and the purposes of the Corrective Services Act.

On Wednesday afternoon, Wotton's legal team issued a request for Wotton to be interviewed by a journalist from National Indigenous Television (NITV).

A member of Townsville Probation and Parole declined the interview on Wednesday night.

Wotton's solicitor, Stewart Levitt, said he would apply to have a judicial review of the denied application.

"We consider that the response of Townsville Probation and Parole flies in the face of the judgment of the high court," Mr Levitt said on Thursday.

Mr Levitt said the high court had made it clear the limits on the reasons a request to interview a prisoner or parolee could be knocked back.

"Permission could only be refused in furtherance of the objectives of ensuring the good conduct of a prisoner and preventing the prisoner from reoffending," he said.

"It follows, then, that there will be almost no circumstances where such a refusal to permit an interview could be justified."

Comment was being sought from the Department of Corrective Services.

Parents Slam Religious 'Segregation'

The Courier [1/3/12]:

Controversial religious instruction classes are three times more likely to be taught at government primary schools in Melbourne's eastern suburbs than in the ethnically diverse west.

The Victorian Education Department forces primary schools to run the classes if an accredited religious instructor is available, although parents can choose to opt their children out.

However, a survey by lobby group Fairness in Religions in School reveals only 28 per cent of schools in Melbourne's west provide special religious instruction, compared with more than 87 per cent of schools in the eastern suburbs.

The survey comes as three parents today commence legal action in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, alleging that the Education Department segregates children on religious grounds and discriminates against those whom parents opt out of the classes.

One of the parents, Sophie Aitken, says in her complaint her children were put in the corridor or given Lego to play with when she opted them out of special religious instruction at Ivanhoe East Primary.

''I am troubled by this segregation and the limitations it causes my children … Once [my son] was told by another child that he would go to hell because he didn't believe in God,'' she says.

Yarraville West Primary is one of 71 state primary schools in Melbourne's western suburbs that does not offer special religious instruction.

School council president Lisel Thomas says the school is relieved it has never been approached by an accredited instructor and therefore is not compelled to hold the classes under the contentious Victorian legislation.

''We have raised the issue of how we would feel if we were approached and basically told we had to deliver special religious instruction without us having a choice in the matter and that certainly concerned our school council,'' Ms Thomas said.

''We have children from a number of different religious backgrounds. We believe it is important for children to stay together and learn together rather than being segregated on the basis of their religious belief.''

About 96 per cent of special religious instruction in Victoria is provided by Christian organisation Access Ministries, whose volunteers run the classes in 850 of the state's 1300 government primary schools.

Access Ministries CEO Evonne Paddison said the VCAT hearing had been brought on by a ''small, secularist group, predominantly inner-urban, who want to impose their views on the rest of the community''.
''Their claim that special religious instruction forces religion on children is a myth designed to scare the community,'' Dr Paddison said. ''Special religious instruction enjoys broad community support.''

The Fairness in Religions in School survey found 311 primary schools in Melbourne held Christian classes, 53 offered a choice of Christianity or another religion, five offered a non-Christian option only and 216 did not hold the classes.

Monash University sociology professor Gary Bouma was unsurprised by the survey's findings. He said while schools in the eastern suburbs had a long history of providing special religious instruction, the resistance movement, spearheaded by Fairness in Religions in School, was also coming out of the eastern suburbs.

''As British Protestantism recedes in hegemony within Australia, rising in voice are some of the non-religious voices saying this stuff has no place in our schools.''

Access Ministries spokeswoman Denise Nicholls said religious instruction was run by locals. She said she expected programs run by other faith providers to increase in the culturally diverse western suburbs if their communities requested it, which was ''entirely appropriate''.

GALLERY: Thousands March Across European Cities Against Austerity

The Journal [1/3/12]:

Thousands of people across Europe took to the streets in protest at austerity measures being introduced by their governments.

Marches were held in Dublin, where around 700 people turned out, as well as in Paris, Athens, Lisbon, Brussels and across Spain.

The Leap Day marches came a day ahead of two days of summits in Brussels at which EU leaders will discuss the impact of recent economic measures, and ways of stimulating the European economies.

In Dublin, demonstrators crowded Molesworth Street – symbolically capped by Leinster House at one end of the street, and the EU’s Irish offices at the other.

The match, organised by trade unions, was addressed by politicians including Éamon Ó Cuív – who by then had already resigned as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil.

In Spain, videos showed protesters setting plastic garbage containers alight with flares, causing a blaze that destroyed at least one car. They also hurled rocks at the glass front door of a bank branch.

Some students made their way to the University of Barcelona and took refuge from riot police in a plaza inside the campus, denying that they started the violence.

Student Pau Bronsoms, 22, said police used truncheons to hit protesters and fired rubber bullets.

“We did not expect this degree of repression,” he said.

“Nobody broke anything until they charged.”

A regional police official in Barcelona declined comment on tactics used to break up the demonstration, speaking on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

Refugee Beaten To Death In Indonesia

ABC [1/3/12]:

Indonesian police have confirmed an asylum seeker was beaten to death at a detention centre in Kalimantan.

The 28-year-old Afghan man was among a group of five which escaped from the Pontianak detention centre on Sunday.

The chief detective in Pontianak, Puji Prayitno, says the men were recaptured and were healthy when they were returned to the centre.

One of them, however, died the the next day and Mr Puji says the cause of death was trauma caused by a blunt object.

Asylum seekers say a guard beat one of the would-be escapees and killed him.

The victim came from Afghanistan and had escaped from at least one detention centre before. Two guards have been taken in for questioning but they have not been named as suspects.

The International Organisation for Migration funded renovation and staff training at the centre, which is not overcrowded.

The UN refugee agency says it is "deeply saddened" by the reported death and is calling on the Indonesian authorities to investigate the incident.

Refugee Swallows Light Bulb

Nine MSN [1/3/12]:

A Kurdish asylum seeker at a Darwin immigration detention centre has been treated after reportedly swallowing a light bulb.

The man swallowed the light bulb because he was stressed by the length of his detention, the ABC reported on its website.

Another detainee who witnessed the event reportedly fainted with shock.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) refused to confirm specifics of the incident, which occurred at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) on Saturday night.

"There was an incident where a man was taken to hospital by ambulance and has since been returned to the NIDC," a spokesman for the department said.

Kurdish asylum seekers in the centre have previously gone on hunger strike, and in December three sewed their lips together in protest at not knowing what their fate will be after nearly two years in detention.

One Killed In Crane Collapse

Brisbane Times [1/3/12]:

A person has been killed in a crane collapse on the Darling Downs this morning.

Shortly before 9am there was a crane and structure collapse in the town of Macalister, a Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman said.

Police confirmed today one person had been killed but no further details were available.

The collapse happened on the corner of Macalister-Tully Road and Jandowae-Macalister Road in the town, just north-west of Dalby, the spokeswoman said.

Workplace Health and Safety Officers are investigating.

Call For Scrapped UCG Plant To Go

ABC ]1/3/12]:

A Kingaroy residents' group in southern Queensland want a scrapped underground coal gasification (UCG) plant near the town removed so farmers can start using the land.

In January last year, the Queensland Government shut down operations at the Cougar Energy site after tests on neighbouring bores found minute traces of banned chemicals.

Kingaroy Concerned Citizens Group spokesman Dr Rockley Boothroyd says the plant is an eyesore.

"It's a bit of nuisance really for people who like to graze animals or cultivate the ground for crops because the pipes stop this," he said.

"This is the trouble with these underground coal gasification and coal seam gas [projects], that the whole place is covered in pipes and is very hard to do farming on the land at the same time."

The group is also concerned the Liberal National Party (LNP) may consider resurrecting the scrapped UCG plant near the town.

Dr Boothroyd says there are concerns the plant has not been dismantled.

"Nothing has happened and a lot of people are wondering if the Cougar people hope that if the Liberal National Party, who are likely to get in, will start to think about reversing the decision," he said.

"This is a public perception of what people think and people are getting worried."

The ABC has contacted the LNP for comment.

Rather Symbolic Of The Way In Which The ALP Have Trashed Queensland Over The Past Decades

Brisbane Times [1/3/12]:

Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser has sought to deflect anger over the destruction of grotesques from the Regent Cinema, saying the gargoyles were deemed not worth saving.

Regent Cinema developers Brookfield Multiplex warned the State Government that removing the gargoyles on Elizabeth Street would be difficult.

The plaster gargoyles were demolished by the developers late last week, triggering condemnation from groups concerned about the loss.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, a spokesman for Minister for State Development Andrew Fraser insisted the company was completing the redevelopment of the cinema in accordance with the heritage management plan (HMP).

"The Elizabeth Street grotesques were assessed, but not found to have heritage value justifying their preservation," the statement read.

"The wording in the approved Heritage Management Plan reflects this limited heritage significance, as assessed by the Heritage Council.

"Brookfield Multiplex advised that the location of the grotesques on the Elizabeth Street facade made salvage difficult and they could not guarantee successful removal.

"Consistent with the HMP, Brookfield Multiplex has photographed the grotesques and other unlisted items to enable replication at a later date if required."

brisbanetimes.com.au yesterday revealed that in August 2010 the recommendation was that the grotesques be saved and offered to the Queensland Museum.

However by December 2010 the 10 words in the heritage management committee recommendation to offer the gargoyles to the Queensland Museum or the Save the Regent group were removed.

brisbanetimes.com.au yesterday sent a series of questions to Queensland Heritage Council chairman Dr Peter Coaldrake at Queensland University of Technology to seek their view.

However a response was still going through "the approval process" a spokeswoman at the Department of Environment and Resource Management said last night.

A spokesman for Mr Fraser said 26 crates of artefacts from the Regent Theatre had already been stored offsite to be reused by the Regent Theatre Historical Society.

Media Assists Army With Latest Recruitment Drive

ABC [1/3/12]:

The Chief of the Army has promised to take action over a private Facebook group of Defence Force members which contains racist, sexist and abusive material.

The ABC's 7.30 program has exposed the activities of the group, which is used by more than 1,000 former and current members of the Royal Australian Regiment. The site refers to Muslims as "ragheads", suggests immigrants are not welcome, and one post says "all women are filthy, lying whores".

Hundreds of other expletive-riddled comments are unpublishable. Lieutenant-General David Morrison has launched an investigation to find out if any of the obscene comments were posted by serving members. He says any serving members involved will be reprimanded.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James is alarmed that the problem persists.

"Everyone should be horrified," he said.

"I mean we had this problem in March last year with some racial postings on YouTube, and as the Defence Association said at the time, this type of things lets down your soldiers because it just provides propaganda to the enemy."

Dr Mark Drummond, a retired Navy officer and former lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, says there are no excuses for this type of activity.

"The whole reason for being of the Defence Force is to uphold those values of freedom, democracy and justice and so on," he said. "It is the ultimate hypocrisy if the very institution responsible for upholding all of those values, breaches those values so blatantly."

Defence hierarchy was alerted to the Facebook group and its contents eight months ago, when a member of the group wrote to the Chief of Defence and the Department Secretary.

He also took his concerns to the Defence Minister's office more than once. The online group does serve a decent purpose, conducting fundraising for serving soldiers. Its administrators have warned members repeatedly to avoid overtly racist or sexist material, but finding the right balance seems to be difficult.

Reporter Charged Over Interview With Killer

Sydney Morning Herald [29/2/12]:

The Seven Network, television reporter Rahni Sadler and a former lawyer Andrew Fraser have been charged after outback killer Bradley John Murdoch was interviewed from his Northern Territory jail.

Charges were laid against the television network and the two individuals in relation to the interview with Murdoch which was broadcast on the Sunday Night program on July 31 last year, the territory's correctional services said.

In the NT it is illegal to communicate with a prisoner without the permission of the director of the Northern Territory Correctional Services.

Neither Ms Sadler nor Mr Fraser appeared in the Darwin Magistrates Court today, where the case was adjourned until April 4.

The interview made headlines because Murdoch, found guilty of the 2001 killing of English traveller Peter Falconio in the NT, was recorded speaking with Andrew Fraser, who is a friend of the convicted man.

The interview went ahead with the permission of Mr Fraser, and Murdoch was recorded denying involvement in the killing and said Mr Falconio's girlfriend Joanne Lees was a "lying bitch".

Mr Fraser used the program to question the strength of the prosecution case against Murdoch.

If found guilty Ms Sadler and Mr Fraser could face two years' imprisonment or a fine of up to $2,329.

In a brief statement today the Seven Network confirmed the legal proceedings were underway and said the matter would be defended.

less than 200 metres from the peak
a crushing fear

something about Wollumbin
clambered over and stomped through
to test one's endurance
a past annihilated

yet bad business reverberates
in the landscape
through the rocks, trickling creeks, trees and animals
all around

violence manifests itself early one January morning
blood runs cold as the broken ones depart the campground
a father plays the didgeridoo
silence descends and we sleep fitfully

until it is properly acknowledged
and our forefathers are forgiven by those they set out to destroy

we are cursed forever more

perhaps we ought to think
before we climb

Tweed Daily News [29/2/12]:

Safety and maintenance work was carried out on Wednesday on the Wollumbin/Mt Warning Summit Walking Track which was closed for the day.

National Parks and Wildlife Service Tweed Area Manager, Damien Hofmeyer, said that work focussed on enhancing drainage and stabilising loose sections of the track and slopes.

"Due to the volume of material, we required a helicopter to lift material to the upper sections of the track," Mr Hofmeyer said.

Sixteen loads of gravel, each estimated at 400kg a load, tools and other material were lifted into position where five NPWS staff waited to receive the loads.

"Due to the location of the airlift, the operation could only take place if the weather was clear with light winds," Mr Hofmeyer said.

The work was due to be done last week but the rainy weather and cloud cover on the mountain forced NPWS to postpone until yesterday.

"This was the second planned lift for this current program which will incorporate the removal of all construction waste associated with the maintenance works." Mr Hofmeyer said

"To ensure the safety of visitors, it was necessary to close the track while the helicopter operation was in progress.

"Wollumbin National Park attracts approximately 100,000 visitors each year including many who attempt the walk to the summit. Track maintenance is therefore ongoing."

Gillard Shuts Down Solar Rebate Scheme

ABC [29/2/12]:

The Federal Government is under attack from the Greens, the Coalition and the solar industry after pulling the plug on a solar energy rebate scheme yesterday.

The $320 million bonus scheme encourages households to reduce emissions by switching from older electric hot water systems to solar or heat pump systems.

Householders were eligible for up to $1,000 in rebates for making the switch.

The scheme was scheduled to run until the end of June, but at 5:00pm on Tuesday the Government declared that anyone who had not yet paid a deposit would miss out.

Parliamentary Secretary Mark Dreyfus has defended the sudden announcement as good practice, saying it stops a spike in demand pushing it over budget.

"As a Government of course we need to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers' dollars," he said.

"This was a time-limited program. It was always intended and always stated to be going to close in 2012 and that's what's occurring."

Greens Senator Christine Milne says that is appalling and jobs are at now risk, but Mr Dreyfus denies that.

"Local manufacturers, retailers and installers have known since the inception of the program five years ago that this program was closing," he said.

Senator Milne says it is no way to administer a renewable energy program.

"The Government apparently has learned absolutely nothing from Green Loans, from all the problems we had with the changed rules with the solar schemes previously," she said.

She says the scheme should have been extended, not cancelled early "at such ridiculously short notice".

"We've got manufacturers of solar hot water systems in Australia who are already suffering because of the high dollar and because of competition from imported, instantaneous gas from Japanese manufacturers," she said.

"One of the really big problems we've had with solar up to date is boom and bust - a set of rules put in place, then suddenly means-testing is introduced, then dates are changed, and the industry just throws up its hands.

"You've got manufacturers who anticipate a certain level of demand and then the Government cuts the rug from underneath them. It is not good governance. It is ad hoc. It's poor planning. And it's undermining the jobs of the future."

The Coalition's Greg Hunt says it is an echo of other schemes, like the green loan program.

"If this Government thinks standard practice is to give no notice, no warning, no readiness, no preparation and then to shut down an industry sector overnight then it has learned nothing from pink batts, green loans and the solar panel debacle that occurred under Peter Garrett," he said.

Gareth Jennings from manufacturer Rheem, which employs 1200 people at five plants, spent much of yesterday in Parliament House lobbying all parties to extend the scheme.

He found out it was being closed off at 4:55pm.

"I think it's fair to say that we're shocked," he said.

"Our industry is at its lowest level that it's been for around about five years and we just don't think now is the time to be withdrawing one of the few pieces of support that's still there to help establish a renewable energy industry."

John Grimes, the chief executive of the Australia Solar Energy Society, says the decision has left solar businesses gearing up for a last minute rush, in the lurch.

"It has been the pattern where when the public has become aware subsidies are being wound down, that people tend to act," he said.

"What that means is that solar hot water companies have scaled up for an expected spike in demand.

"Instead, all of that's stopped, and all of those jobs are now at risk."

Mr Jennings hopes the Government will reconsider its decision.

"We're now going to see the market perhaps halve overnight," he said.

"We've been successful in redeploying people as the market has been changing on us.

"But it's getting to the stage where we're going to have to take some hard decisions about our business."

Fukushima's Nuclear Contamination Levels 'Chronic And Lasting'

France 24 [28/2/12]:

Radioactive contamination levels from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have fallen sharply since the accident but will be "chronic and lasting" for many years, a French watchdog said Tuesday.

"The initial contamination linked to the accident has greatly declined," Didier Champion, crisis manager at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), told reporters almost a year after the disaster.

"That doesn't mean that there won't be any more, far from it. Today, and for many years to come, we will have a situation of chronic and lasting contamination of the environment."

It was essential for Japan to maintain vigilant monitoring of fruit, milk, mushrooms, game and fish, Champion said.

"There are risks of chronic exposure at low dosage, and without care this can build up over time," he warned.

The March 11 catastrophe saw the plant swamped by a quake-generated tsunami that knocked out coolant pumps, triggered hydrogen explosions and caused three of its six reactors to suffer meltdowns of nuclear fuel.

Radioactive elements were spewed into the air by the blast and into the sea by cooling water that was pumped in in a desperate attempt to keep the overheated reactors under control.

The IRSN said the main radioactivity leaks occurred between March 12-25 in about 15 incidents, "of which the biggest probably took place before March 15".

It gave a provisional estimate that 408 peta-becquerels, or 408 million billion becquerels, of radioactive iodine had been emitted into the air.

This was 10 times lower than in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear accident.

The iodine releases posed a sharp but temporary hazard as the element quickly decays. A bigger problem, the IRSN said, was caesium-137, a long-lasting element which takes around 30 years to decay to half its level of radioactivity.

Caesium of all kinds released at Fukushima was estimated by the agency at 58 peta-becquerels, or three times less than Chernobyl. Caesium 137 accounted for 21 peta-becquerels.

Of around 24,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) of land contaminated by caesium 137, only 600 sq. kms (230 sq. miles) breached a safety threshold of 600,000 becquerels per square metre, the IRSN said.

This, again, was only a fraction of the territory contaminated by caesium after Chernobyl.

However, there remained "hot spots" of contamination, up to 250 kilometres (156 miles) away, where radioactive particles had been deposited by the weather.

So far, no death or cases of sickness have been directly linked to the disaster, IRSN said, stressing however that the impact on the civilian population over the long term, and on emergency workers and plant employees, remained unclear.

Former Halliburton Exec, Sentenced In Bribery Scheme

Coal Seam Gas News [26/2/12]:

A former top Halliburton executive will serve 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty in Houston federal court to orchestrating a $180 million bribery scheme to secure $6 billion in natural gas deals in Nigeria, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Albert “Jack” Stanley is the former CEO of KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary at the time of the bribes; he was tapped to run the company in 1998 by future Vice President Dick Cheney, who ran Halliburton between 1996 and 2000. Cheney was not charged in the case.

KBR, spun off by Halliburton in the wake of the scandal, called the scheme an “unfortunate chapter” in its “rich and storied history” after pleading guilty to corporate criminal charges in 2009.

The investigation of the bribes crossed four continents over 10 years and involved five companies in Europe, the U.S., Japan and Nigeria. Criminal and civil penalties in the case have yielded more than $1.7 billion in fines, forfeitures and other sanctions.

“This case shows the importance the department places on putting an end to foreign bribery,” Mythili Raman, a prosecutor with the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in the Feb. 23 announcement.

Stanley, 69, who also pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud in a separate kickback scheme, agreed to pay $10.8 million in addition to incarceration. He faced a maximum of seven years in prison, but prosecutors said the lighter sentence was merited by his “substantial cooperation” in the investigation. Stanley had pleaded guilty in September 2008, but his sentencing was delayed 16 times, according to Reuters.

Two co-conspirators in the bribery scheme — Jeffrey Tesler, 63, a British lawyer, and Wojciech J. Chodan, a salesman for KBR’s British subsidiary — were also sentenced Thursday.

According to the Justice Department, Tesler served as the principal bagman in the scheme, steering more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials between 1994 and 2004 to secure natural gas contracts worth $6 billion. He was ordered to serve 21 months in prison and a pay a $25,000 fine. He had also agreed to forfeit $149 million under the terms of a 2009 plea agreement.

Chodan previously agreed to forfeit $726,000 and was sentenced to one year of probation.

All three men cooperated with authorities in the investigation, the largest multi-company prosecution ever under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal anti-bribery statute.

In a statement to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison, Stanley requested leniency, saying that he had been raised on “traditional American values of hard work, honesty and integrity.”

“But somewhere along the way my values were compromised, through ambition, ego or alcoholism,” Stanley said, according to Bloomberg.

The U.S. investigation never reached Cheney, despite his leadership role at Halliburton during the time of the scheme. Nigerian officials announced in December 2010 that Cheney would be charged criminally as part of an anti-corruption investigation into the bribes, but those charges were dropped after Halliburton paid a $35 million settlement related to the case.

Under questioning from Judge Ellison, Brad Simon, a lawyer for Tesler, said that bribery remains widespread in Nigeria, one of the world’s top oil producers and a key source of imported oil for the U.S.

“It was a fact of life and continues to be a fact of life in Nigeria,” Simon said.

Albert Stanley, Former Halliburton Exec, Sentenced In Bribery Scheme. [Huffington Post - 24/2/12]

The Future Of Health Care Down Under If The Neoliberal Project Is Allowed To Continue

The Daily Star [21/2/12]:

SIDON, Lebanon: A crowd of Lebanese and Palestinians, furious over the death of a woman allegedly denied adequate treatment, vandalized an United Nations Relief and Works Agency clinic and pharmacy near the southern city of Tyre Tuesday.

The crowd broke into the clinic, which is located in the Shabriha Palestinian refugee camp in the Tyre district, destroying computers and scattering documents. They also smashed the glass of an UNRWA car parked outside the building.

The crowd was protesting the death of a Lebanese nurse whom UNRWA allegedly failed to treat.
When contacted by The Daily Star, UNRWA provided a statement setting forth its version of events. It denies that the woman had been refused care or that she needed a referral from UNRWA to go to hospital.

Initial reports indicated that Nisreen Hussein Krayyem, a Lebanese woman married to a Palestinian man who was eligible to receive health services from UNRWA, was allegedly denied admission to the UNRWA clinic Wednesday because it opens only Tuesdays and Fridays.

Her husband took her to Hiram hospital in Tyre, but she was refused admission because she did not have a referral from UNRWA. When he took her back to UNRWA and finally got her admitted, he was told that she was not in danger.

Far from reassured, Krayyem's husband took her to Rasul al-Azam hospital in Beirut, where doctors informed him that she had had several heart attacks and that he should have acted earlier. Krayyem died Thursday.

According to the UNRWA statement, "The death was caused by the lack of available respirators in Tyre and [Sidon] areas when the patient’s case deteriorated."

The statement goes on to say that by the time UNRWA secured a respirator at Rasul Azam hospital in Beirut and Krayyem was transported there by ambulance from the Italian hospital in Tyre, it was too late.
According to the UNRWA statement, the cause of death is being investigated by Rasul Azam hospital.