Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Traditional Owners are ‘Proud and Independent’

Tony McAvoy says traditional owners are ‘proud and independent’ and are not being used by anti-mining activists to block the $16bn mine

One of Australia’s leading native title lawyers has spoken publicly for the first time as a traditional owner fighting to stop the Adani mine, a campaign he said was driven by “proud and independent people” who were among the best-informed Indigenous litigants in the country.

Tony McAvoy SC, who became Australia’s first Indigenous silk in 2015, said the Wangan and Jagalingou people were keenly aware of how their priorities differed from environmentalist allies in a battle to preserve their Queensland country from one of the world’s largest proposed coalmines.

McAvoy dismissed claims by the prominent Indigenous academic Marcia Langton that Indigenous people had become “collateral damage” as the “environmental industry” hijacked the Adani issue.

He said the rhetoric of Langton and Warren Mundine, who likened anti-Adani campaigners to colonial oppressors running roughshod over Indigenous self-determination, “serves a purpose for them but is just so inaccurate”.

The barrister said to suggest that “the greens are puppet masters pulling the strings and we’re somehow puppets” was wildly off the mark and disrespectful to the many families opposing the mine, including his.

The W&J are the only Indigenous group in Australia to have, in McAvoy, a senior counsel with expertise in native title law within their ranks.

“We are likely to be one of the best informed claimant groups in the country, we have many people who are experienced in native title, including my own input, and representation by an extraordinary team of lawyers,” he said.

McAvoy is part of a contingent within W&J who have mounted legal challenges to an Indigenous land use agreement (Ilua) with Adani, contesting the right of pro-Adani representatives to approve a deal previously spurned by their claim group. The miner resurrected an Ilua last year with majority support in the W&J native title applicant, then sought to register it with the native title tribunal.

But the W&J opponents challenged the deal in the federal court, on grounds including that the pro-Adani applicant members were voted out in a claim group meeting, and that a rival meeting that endorsed the Adani deal was not legitimate.

Then Adani’s hopes suffered a blow with the McGlade native title case, which found that an Ilua was invalid because not all Indigenous representatives had signed it.

The shock precedent prompted the government to put up a bill changing native title legislation to safeguard what it argued were hundreds of Iluas thrown into doubt because they had a majority but not all the signatures of claimants.

The bill also contains amendments that would pave the way for Adani’s unregistered, contested Ilua.

Langton lashed out at Greens and environmentalists on Wednesday for delaying the government’s bill “in order to bolster their campaign against the Adani project”.

In an Australian mining industry lecture, Langton said: “Let me be clear for those who are not aware of the problems we face: cashed-up green groups, some funded by wealthy overseas interests, oppose mining projects with often-flimsy evidence and misrepresent the evidence to the public.”

“They deliberately thwart the aspirations and native title achievements of the majority of Indigenous people by deception, by persuading the media and the public that a small handful of Indigenous campaigners who oppose the legitimate interests of the majority of their own people, are the truth-tellers and heroes.”

Until now, the public faces of the anti-Adani group in the W&J have been Adrian Burragubba and Murrawah Johnson. Their advocacy has been portrayed by Adani supporters as a minority protest, propped up by furtive green support.

But the cracks appear in that portrayal when McAvoy’s role in the group is taken into account. Where Burragubba (“my father’s youngest brother – and we’re very close”) has a background as an activist, McAvoy’s advocacy has been in the context of the most distinguished legal career of any Indigenous Australian.

His role as senior counsel assisting the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory is the latest chapter.

He and a swathe of the W&J argue there should be no rush to pass law changes dealing with critical issues around Indigenous property rights through future land access deals.

McAvoy argues for “splitting the bill” to validate Iluas already registered with the National Native Title Tribunal, but not those unregistered, such as Adani’s. McAvoy said he hoped this proposal would find favour with Labor and crossbench senators, with the bill due for voting as early as next week.

The W&J objectors were open about the fact that “we have an alliance between our objectives [and those of environmentalists] so that we can make use of each other and we do that”, he said.

But the group raises its own funds for its legal challenges.

“And more than that, we are very, very aware that our interests of preserving our country are not entirely aligned with the green interests,” he said.

“The green interests are about the world stage and keeping greenhouse gases in the ground, and there’s concern about preserving that particular bit of country, but it’s of a lower order [for them].

McAvoy said the “real test” of the independence of Adani’s W&J opponents was “what our approach and our understanding is – and we are independent and proud people”.

A land access deal is crucial to Adani gaining finance for the mine, initially needing $3.3bn.

The miner last week cited the end of this year as its deadline for finance. But the federal court this week signalled a trial to decide the fate of Adani’s deal with the W&J would take place in March 2018.

McAvoy said that even if the Senate “amends the Native Title Act in the way proposed [by the government], that proceeding is still to run its course”.

Massive boost for regional rail after Victoria secures extra $600m from Turnbull

Victoria's regional rail system will get a $1.57 billion overhaul after the Turnbull government agreed to contribute an additional $600 million to fund the network's upgrade.

Earlier this year the Andrews government announced a major rail upgrade by banking on a federal funding bonus it claimed it was owed for leasing the Port of Melbourne. But the Commonwealth derided that promise as a "Santa wish list", and Victoria and the Federal Government have been locked in a bitter dispute over the money for the last two months.

The additional $600 million is being claimed by the Andrews government as a victory in a drawn-out dispute over federal funding for Victoria.

But the Turnbull Government is likely to frame the cash injection as an investment in regional infrastructure, a centrepiece of the most recent federal budget.

A letter from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seen by Fairfax Media, confirmed the Commonwealth would provide $1.42 billion for the regional rail package.

Read More in the Age

Most Australians want renewables to be primary energy source, survey finds

The vast majority of Australians want to see the country dramatically increase the use of renewable energy, a new survey has found, despite attempts by the federal government to characterise renewables as unreliable and expensive.

The Climate Institute’s national Climate of the Nation survey, published on Tuesday, pointed to frustration with the government’s inaction and lack of leadership on clean energy.

Of 2,660 respondents from across Australia, 71% agreed that climate change was occurring, continuing a trend established in the survey through 2014 and 2015. Two-thirds said they were highly concerned by its impacts, while 57% accepted that human activity was the main cause.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said they wanted the country’s primary energy source to be renewable, with support from either storage technologies (58%) or fossil fuels (38%). The phaseout of coal and replacement with clean energy received support from 59%, with 72% of those in favour calling on the government to drive the transition.

Olivia Kember, the acting chief executive of the Climate Institute, said support for renewable energy had been steadfast across 11 years of the survey and was widely seen as “economically smart” and future-focused. This remained true, she said, “even as the public discussion of energy mix has got a lot more complicated”, with the federal government labelling renewables unreliable and costly.

“It’s really striking that people have come out the other side of that discussion with really strong support for renewable energy and a strong sense that we need to go towards a cleaner energy system,” Kember said.

The finding that one-third of respondents believed the seriousness of climate change to have been exaggerated – and that 13% did not believe it to be happening at all – aligned very strongly with political affiliation, in particular One Nation and Coalition voters.

But enthusiasm for a greater dependency on renewable energy seemed nonpartisan, said Kember, with support for solar in particular consistent across just about every demographic breakdown.

People linked high electricity prices to the privatisation of electricity generation and supply (55%) and poor policy-making (44%), echoing the findings of Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, in his recent review of the sector.

Kember said the market was not seen to be functioning effectively: “What they see are higher prices, worse service and companies that seem to be profiteering.”

More than 40% of respondents said the federal government was “doing a fairly poor to terrible job” on climate change and energy, up from 33% last year. Only 18% said their efforts were “fairly good to excellent”.

The discussions of eight focus groups, convened in Adelaide, Brisbane, Parramatta and Townsville, highlighted that the Australian public felt “fatigued, discouraged and disempowered” by the politically motivated arguments around climate change.

This was coupled with what researchers characterised as a “wilful disregard” for scientists, notably the government agency CSIRO. One respondent, in a focus group in Parramatta, said climate change had been used as a “political football”.

“For a long time now – because we’ve been having this fight for such a long time – they get that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved, and they see that there’s a lot Australia can do about it,” said Kember.

“Then they look at what the government is delivering and they’re beyond unimpressed. They’re really frustrated and annoyed at the way it keeps being treated as an opportunity for partisanship, political attacks and bickering.

“While the pollies are fighting about it, they’re not getting on with solving it.”

This was despite widespread support (63%) for Australia to be an international leader on action against climate change, particularly in pioneering the development and implementation of renewable energies. Nearly three-quarters of respondents were motivated by the opportunities for the economy through jobs and investment (73%) and by protecting the environment (70%).

Relatedly, the report found that people were generally in favour of the Paris agreement to curb global warming to 1.5-2C, and could not understand why the Australian government was not making stronger attempts to deliver on it.

Nine out of 10 people opposed walking away from the Paris deal as the US did on 1 June, while almost two-thirds (61%) said Australia should “work harder” to ensure it met its overall goals.

The Guardian Read More

In just six years the Liberals and Nationals have gutted TAFE right across NSW.

In just six years the Liberals and Nationals have gutted TAFE right across NSW.

Since their election more than 5,700 staff have been sacked and right now there are 63,000 less students in the TAFE system then in 2012.

$1.7 billion has been cut from education and training, course fees have gone through the roof and TAFE colleges from all corners of NSW are facing closure.

Enough is enough. We need your help to save TAFE in NSW.

TAFE must continue to be there for working families right across the state, not just today, but into the future.

That’s why Labor is promising to rebuild one of the greatest education institutions that we have.

A Labor government will guarantee at least 70% of vocational education and training funding for TAFE, and weed out the dodgy private training providers that are ripping off young students.

We’re launching our petition to save TAFE, and need you on our side.

If you believe that TAFE should be well funded, accessible to working families, and protected into the future, sign our petition now.

Thanks for your support,