Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nuclear Protest, Nuclear Dump in Northern Australia

APEC energy officials meeting in Northern Australia have stepped from the air-conditioned conference room inside Darwin's Parliament House to the elevated balcony to spy this unusual sight. It's a giant inflatable nuclear power stack erected by protesters who don't want a nuclear power industry in Northern Australia. Currently there is one uranium mine - the Ranger Uranium mine - which operates on a lease inside the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park and there is pressure on traditional aboriginal owners - the Mirrar people - to agree to a second mine closeby at Jabiluka. The Mirrar's senior custodian, Yvonne Margarula, has for years strongly opposed Jabiluka's development, often explaining that uranium mining at Ranger had upturned aboriginal people's lives, brought access to alcohol and created arguments - mostly about money.

There's another nuclear issue brewing in Northern Australia. Aboriginal elders living on a remote Northern Territory community have agreed to accept $12 million for allowing Australia's first nuclear waste dump to be built on their land.
Under the deal, Canberra would take the land for up to 200 years to store nuclear waste. Up to 150 truckloads of radioactive material would be driven thousands of kilometres from Lucas Heights in Sydney and Woomera in South Australia to the site. Suspend your judgement about what this could all mean and click here for taste of what this same issue has produced elsewhere.

... And back to the APEC meeting in Darwin for one moment. Greenpeace is questioning why no renewable energy representatives were on a key panel at the meeting. Other protesters used the opportunity of visiting nations to voice their anger at human rights abuses in Indonesia's West Papua. The flag on display (right) is "The Morning Star" - the independence flag of the Free Papua Movement.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Portrait of an average Indigenous Australian

This week, Australians are celebrating the 40th anniversary of a national referendum that allowed Aborigines to be counted as members of the Australian population. It seems incredible now, but before that vote, Australia's indigenous people weren't counted as people, they came under the Flora and Fauna Act.
So what's it like 40 years on?
Crikey has compiled a revealing snapshot of Aboriginal life today. It's a grim view of untimely death, marginalisation and stunted opportunity.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Aborigines will help "fat" teens survive on TV

Hunters like this boy will help teenagers survive in Northern Australia's Arnhemland.

Opponents say its "voyeuristic television designed to humiliate fat people" - a BBC reality television show which will showcase the hunting prowess of 10 overweight young Britons let loose in the Northern Territory. What do you think?
The British teenagers will have to spear wallabies, trap lizards and skin snakes when they go hunting with Aborigines in Arnhemland as part of the series "Fat Kids Can't Hunt".
Drawing on 40,000 years of knowledge, Aborigines will teach 10 overweight young Britons how to survive on bush tucker in the series Fat Teens Can't Hunt.
The participants will have to swap burgers, chips and pizzas for lizards, mangrove worms and charred kangaroo. If they fail to find food in the wild, they will go hungry.
The programme, due to start filming in the Northern Territory in August, will feature five boys and five girls, aged 16 to 19. The six one-hour episodes are expected to be screened later this year or early next year.
The series is based on an earlier programme, Fat Men Can't Hunt, in which eight obese adults were sent to live with Bushmen in Namibia.
Between them they lost 106 lbs after being forced to live on nuts and berries and having to kill a pair of porcupines with spears.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Fourth Estate

As you would know the term Fourth Estate refers to the press, both in its explicit capacity of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century.

Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made this observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estate General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred nobles. The Second Estate, three hundred clergy. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'" How true.

On this theme, add typewriters, guitar, bass and drums and you have Darwin's 4thEstate which provides a very interesting twist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

East Timor Violence Flares

Today, the day that Jose Ramos-Horta was officially declared East Timor's president, fresh outbreaks of violence were reported in the capital, Dili.
Four homes were burned to the ground as rival gangs clashed in renewed unrest that officials say is unrelated to last week's presidential election.
The UN's spokeswoman Allison Cooper says it's a sign of a resurgence in clashes between gangs.
"We don't believe it was related to the election, although UN police are investigating," Cooper told AFP.
One resident says some of the gang members were carrying guns as they battled in Bairro Pite area, although no injuries were reported.
"They attacked this morning at 10:00 am. They took over the area and burned houses until police came. Some of them were carrying automatic weapons," the resident told AFP, declining to give his name.
The violence today flared just hours before the court of appeal officially declared the results of last week's landmark election.
Ramos-Horta won 69 percent of the vote in the election in a landslide victory many East Timorese hope will bring peace and heal deep divisions after last year's unrest. He'll be sworn in on Sunday.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

All peaceful after Horta wins East Timor Presidency.. well almost.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta has easily won the vote in East Timor's election after the counting of all ballots.
The election for president was the first since East Timor gained independence in 2002 after a bloody separation from neighbouring Indonesia three years earlier. Ramos-Horta will formally take office on May 20, succeeding former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao.
A National Election Commission spokeswoman has confirmed Ramos-Horta won 69 pct of the vote and his rival Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres 31 pct.
The election was conducted peacefully.. well almost. Three men were today arrested for destroying the homes of Jose Ramos Horta's supporters.
Police say two houses were burned down and six others badly damaged in the villages in the Viqueque district, according to the local newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae.
"Two houses owned by fishermen Elio and Hendrikus was burned on May 10," Inspector Jose de Carvalho is quoted as saying.. adding both were supporters of Ramos-Horta and that the arsonists were upset at the election result.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

East Timor: Horta claims big lead after peaceful vote


Above: AFP snaps East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao waiting in a queue to vote along with others at a polling station in Dili. East Timor's election for president was peaceful - bolstering hopes that months of deadly political turmoil could be near an end. Gusmao will stand aside for a new president, but he will make a tilt for the prime ministership.

East Timor presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta says he's secured a large lead over his rival as vote counting continues following this week's run-off election.
"I am still awaiting official results because they are still being counted, but I could get 70-80 percent," Ramos-Horta told reporters in the capital Dili. "In most of the districts, in all the western districts, I think I am winning."
East Timor held a peaceful presidential election on Wednesday, but Ramos-Horta a Nobel laureate - is alleging vote tampering in some districts that are strongholds of his rival, ruling Fretilin party president Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres.
"In Los Palos, Suai, observers and polling staff found many boxes with pre-perforated ballot papers for Lu-Olo, so there were strong attempts at manipulation," he says. Ramos-Horta repeated his call for the United Nations to stage the parliamentary poll in June, as the local body, the Timorese Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE), was not up to the task.

More from Australia's ABC News

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

East Timor Vote for Hope

(.. but there's confusion.. : read ABC News Online)

BAUCAU, East Timor, May 9, 2007 (AFP) - From just after dawn they began to queue, waiting patiently in the early light for polling stations to open. At first they numbered about 60, but they kept coming, and within an hour had swelled to several hundred at this primary school in East Timor's second city.
"If you want your country to be run by a person you trust, you have to vote," said Fransisca Belo as she joined the line for what is the tiny nation's first election since independence five years ago. Cancio Fernandes Quintao, a financial administrator at the local hospital, agreed. "Everyone should vote as the country needs a leader who loves and understands his people."
The queues at the school pointed to a good turnout, and observers said they were hopeful it would mirror the numbers at last month's round of voting.
"This is our right," said George Lopes Belo, 29, who was first in line. "We hope that the next president, whoever that is, can take East Timor out of the crisis, the conflict." Belo, who lives nearby, arrived about 30 minutes before the polls opened at the school in Bahu area of the city, east of the capital Dili. Unable to find steady work for several years, he said he hoped the new president would create jobs for the thousands of unemployed in this nation of just one million people.
"For the moment, everything is going well. I think the people need democracy, people need and want peace and they want reconciliation, and this is the way to solve the crisis," EU observer chief Javier Pomes Ruiz said. The quiet chatting among the voters in the rising heat was disrupted by the arrival of presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta and his large entourage. There were no cheers of welcome for the Nobel laureate, who spent about 20 minutes in the queue before delegating the duty to one of his minders. Voters looked on as Ramos-Horta, the current prime minister, disappeared to the terrace of a nearby house for a cold soft drink. "I'm totally relaxed, whatever the outcome, I will win," he told reporters. He returned in time, and held up his finger dipped in red ink after voting to warm applause from the crowd. Quintao said the Bahu area was a stronghold for the ruling Fretilin party whose candidate Francisco Guterres is challenging Ramos-Horta in the election to succeed the popular and charismatic Xanana Gusmao. "But it is quite alright for him to vote here. We do not have any animosity towards him or any other East Timorese politicians," Quintao said.
In Dili, voters were peacefully making their way to polling stations as police and Australian-led peacekeepers patrolled the streets. The election is being held amid tight security after violence erupted last year between factions of the military that degenerated into deadly gang clashes. More than 30,000 people remain displaced in Dili fearful to return home.
An election observer, Julio Tomas from the University of Peace of Timor Leste, said it appeared voter turnout in the capital was lower than the first round. "But I am convinced that the election is proceeding in a just way and with no manipulation ... because of the presence of international and national observers," he said.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

East Timor's Balibo Five Mystery Remains

The author, outside the "Balibo House" in Balibo, East Timor. In 1975, this is where the so-called Balibo Five spent their last night before Balibo was attacked by Indonesian soldiers. The House is now a museum dedicated to the memory of the five Australian-based newsmen.

This just in from the AFP:
May 8th - Sydney Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam on Tuesday appeared at a coroner's inquest into the death of an Australian journalist killed with four colleagues in East Timor 32 years ago.

The 90-year-old former leader of the centre-left Labor Party, who held office from 1972-75, testified for three hours at the inquest into the death of cameraman Brian Peters at the East Timor border town of Balibo in October 1975.

Officials maintain the so-called "Balibo Five" were killed in crossfire during a skirmish ahead of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor but their families insist they were murdered and there was a cover-up by Canberra and Jakarta.

Whitlam denied he had prior intelligence warning the journalists would be targeted by the Indonesian military in Balibo, Australian Associated Press reported. He said he learned about the men's deaths on October 21 -- five days after they were killed -- and had not seen diplomatic cables sent before that date suggesting they had been executed by the Indonesian military.

Asked whether anyone told him the five journalists had been killed in the orders of the Indonesian military, Whitlam replied: "No." Whitlam said he had twice warned a member of the group, cameraman Greg Shackleton, not to travel to East Timor because there was nothing his government could do to protect them there. "I warned him the Australian government had no way of protecting him or his colleagues," Whitlam told the court. "I assumed Greg Shackleton would have taken notice of my warnings. I assumed he would have warned his colleagues." "It would have been very irresponsible if he didn't, then he would be culpable."

Deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch warned lawyers at the inquest on Monday that they could not question Whitlam about any potential cover-up of the men's deaths because the issue went beyond the parameters of her inquiry. Outside the court, Shackleton's widow, Shirley, described Whitlam's evidence as "bizarre" and said it had little value because the former prime minister claimed he could not remember vital details. Shirley Shackleton, who has led a decades-long campaign to find the truth behind her husband's death, also dismissed Whitlam's statement that he warned her partner about travel to East Timor. "He is totally despicable," she told reporters. "Dead men can't tell stories, so it's left to their poor old wives to do it for them."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Urge for Calm Before East Timor Vote

ISF troops around 50 metres away from a Presidential rally in Ainaro.
Glenn Campbell, The Age

As leaders urge their supporters to remain peaceful, there are fears that if East Timor's ruling party Fretilin loses this week's presidential election, street violence could follow.
The UN mission in the tiny state urged voters to accept the result of Wednesday's runoff which many East Timorese hope will help stabilise the impoverished nation beset by violence and regional rivalry. It's the first presidential poll since East Timor gained independence in 2002, amid concerns of unrest.
Election observers have expressed concern that supporters of the ruling Fretilin party could trigger violence if their candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, loses.
Guterres faces Nobel laureate and current prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta in the runoff being held because neither candidate won a majority in the first-round polls last month.
Asked if the UN mission was concerned violence would erupt once the result was declared, spokeswoman Allison Cooper said: "We would urge all people in East Timor to remain calm and peaceful -- so far this has been a free and fair process."
Ramos-Horta, who shared the Nobel peace prize in 1996 for championing East Timor's cause under Indonesian occupation, is favoured to win after five of the six losing candidates in the April 9 poll urged their supporters to back him.
Campaigning for the election has been peaceful, amid tight security provided by thousands of UN and local police, backed by international peacekeeping troops, deployed in the wake of unrest last year.
Meanwhile, Australian-led peacekeeping troops have rejected Fretilin accusations that they were deliberately intimidating party supporters and disrupting its campaign rallies.
Fretilin officials have written to the troops' commander, Brigadier Mal Rerden, complaining about the intimidation, which they suggested was done in support of Ramos-Horta.
A spokesman for the peacekeepers, known as the International Stabilisation Force, said all of their East Timor operations were done to "ensure a safe and secure election."
More on East Timor's presidential vote in "The Age"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Travel with a Twist

Ken Haley - travel writer extraordinaire - has set off on another great adventure. It made me green with envy when he emailed me from St Petersburg to tell me he had just bought a ticket to Petrozavodsk - one of the early legs of his epic journey that will take him to the Arctic Circle, across, up, down and right through Europe.

I can't tell you exactly what's the aim of Ken's latest travels - you'l have to read his book to find out!! In the meantime, Ken is this month's featured writer in "Writers Interview" on my website.

Author Profile: Ken Haley
Ken Haley is one of Australia’s most widely travelled authors. To date he has visited 109 countries, 57 of these on his own two feet, and 52 in a wheelchair. He became a paraplegic in 1991, but as far as Ken is concerned the only difference this has made is that he now observes the world from a sitting position. A journalist by profession, Ken has a unique story to tell in his first book "Emails from the Edge" - in which with great humour, and not a hint of sentimentality, he lays bare his darkest times, when he plunged over the precipice into madness, and reveals the wanderlust that led him to the heart of the world�s hot spots.

Read a complete interview with Ken Haley in "Writers Interview" on my website.

Here's a taste:

How did you get started writing?

As a child, all I seemed to need was the alphabet. One was supplied in bubs' class, and it's served me perfectly well ever since. But I feel the urge to scrawl -
literally to make my mark - has been so strong that if they hadn't supplied the alphabet I might have just scribbled the same nonsense in a code of my own device.
As an adult, I'm lucky that
newspapers nurtured my early efforts long enough for me to work out what it was I was trying to do.

What do you consider your first "break" as a writer?

When a small country newspaper in western Victoria hired an insistent 20-year-old, sight unseen. As a book writer, when a small independent publisher in western Melbourne offered to take up the manuscript of Emails from the Edge and turn it into a book, despite the fact that - when it came to non-journalistic writing - I was an unknown quantity.