CSG coming to a backyard near you!

We’re standing on the edge of a quarry. At the far wall my eyes travel up through a dissection of the earth’s first 50m, layers of shale, sandstone and earth in shades of grey, yellow and brown. Atop the hill, grey-green against the fields and the sky is a gas plant, the central point of a new generation of resource extraction South West of Sydney, sucking gas from drills up to 4km underground in a radius of 100km around the plant.

The Camden gas fields are 66 well sites spread across a 160 square kilometer area in northern Campbelltown and Camden, traversing the Nepean river and both residential and rural properties. The gas field is believed to be Australia’s first coal seam gas drilling project in residential areas. The suburbs of Kearns, Currans Hill, Raby, Eschol Park, Varroville and Gregory Hills could have wells in their backyards.

House and land packages are currently on sale in the freshly developed suburb of Gregory Hills. Never-been-slept-in homes on Freedom, Explorer and Voyager streets are fetchingly displayed with warm, homely lights against a backdrop of sunset and twilight skies at realestate.com.au for an average of $500 000. Formerly St Gregory’s College Farm, a Marist Brothers boys farming school, the new housing development at Gregory Hills advertises a suburb “overflowing with opportunities to enjoy the outdoors (with) a modern village at its heart”[i]. But they are apparently not advertising the proposed gas drill next door, with many residents unaware of the proposal when they bought their properties. Steven Maharaj, commenting on an opinion piece in the Macarthur Chronicle, writes “Iam about to sign on land release at gergory hills,paid 15k depoist.due to gas mining can i get my money back?(sic)”

The gas drills, many of them sample sites, appear relatively innocuous on first inspection. The ones in operation are about the size of a school hall, with fencing that can be peered through to see the drills, storage containers and office ‘donger’. They are manned 24/7, and at night time a security guard in shorts and a t-shirt who describes his main task as looking out for graffiti kids, watches over the site.

However on Sunday AGL broke its pledge to not use fracking, a technique used to create fractures deep underground, in the Sydney suburbs. Fracking is a risky and damaging gas-mining technique that allows gas to travel more easily from the rock pores to the production well. In order to create fractures, a mixture of water, proppants and chemicals are pumped into the rock or coal formation at high pressure. This practice is highly controversial as gases can make their way to the surface endangering human health; aquifers can be irreparably damaged; and water sources contaminated. AGL’s promise not to frack was backed by Premier, Barry O’Farrell, who said the plan was to “horizontally drill under people’s homes”[ii]

Not only are the gas fields next door to residential areas, they are nearby educational institutions, railway lines and water catchments. The day before our visit to the drill sites, on Sydney’s record-breaking 46* day, a freight train had ignited a bushfire that reached within 50m of an operational drill site wedged between UWS Cambelltown campus and the railway line. Two exploration drills were just 200m from the Nepean River, buffered only by porous sandstone.

The campaign against the Camden gas fields is just one front of a battle that is taking place across the country. Around the Campbelltown area, BHP has learnt from Lock the Gate tactics and bought up large tracts of land. Yet the gas field’s proximity to the city and to residential areas may prove to be this campaign’s greatest strength. While the threat of mining pollution is easy to ignore when it’s a long way from home, a NIMBY mentality may prove a great asset to the fight again CSG in South West Sydney, since the industry is reliant on backyards across the region for its gas.


[i] Gregoryhills.com.au

[ii] Andrew Moore interviews NSW Premier about a range of topics including coal seam gas. 2GB, Wednesday January 2, 2013.

The coal mines of Leard State Forest, NSW

After an hour of searching

through wattle and gum,

here’s the break in the fence-

here we’ve found the thin edge

where the forest 

drops out into 

blue sky and dust,

where we dig ever deeper

in mineral lust

 

From this height

it’s a theatre

of industrial might,

a stage for our reasons

to stand in the light-

we examine them each

in the magnified glare

of once fertile soil

that’s now been stripped bare

 

It’s a show staring greed

masqueraded as need,

feat. invasion, coercion,

compliance- the seed

that was planted when ‘value’

was stripped from the land,

to live in the palm

of an invisible hand-

not guided by Country,

it bows to Demand

(of it’s own fabrication!)

grips the throat of our nation,

cuts airways and limbs

til a whole generation

is left paralysed,

our mouths hanging open

we watch the tide rise,

and the hand keeps force feeding

those few ‘lucky’ mouths,

but it brews its own poison

in the pit of our bowels,

and its spat and its thrown

and its spilt down our cheeks,

it’s a rage that keeps growing

as we watch them reap

from the hope we had pinned

on our lucky star,

cause we’re told from the start

just how lucky we are,

so convinced that it’s luck

when its clearly design

that while we keep on growing

all others decline.

 

What a strange euphemism

to side-step the fact

what comes out of that hole

is set to come back,

cause the trade winds will blow

consequence to our shores

and that’s where our design

is so fatally flawed.

Globalising Resistance to Radiation – From Mutiny Zine #66

The below article appears in the July/August issue (#66) of Mutiny Zine, a paper of anarchistic ideas and actions from Sydney. You can find the entire zine online HERE as well as individual articles from the zine on the Mutiny Zine blog.

Another article from this issue of the zine which might be of interest to ASEN folks is by Kylie and discusses climate summit counter-protests and some ways forward for the climate justice movement.

Love and solidarity- Mutiny Zine editors.

Globalising Resistance to Radiation: From Australia to Japan

By Alexander Brown, Tokyo

Throughout June and July thousands and now tens of thousands of people have been gathering every Friday outside the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo, to protest prime minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plans to re-start Japan’s nuclear reactors. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March last year, nuclear reactors that went offline for routine maintenance and testing were not restarted due to stringent new testing requirements imposed by the government as a consequence of the disaster. In May this year, I joined thousands of protesters in a colourful parade in the centre of Tokyo to celebrate the switching off of the last nuclear reactor still operating. This was the first time since 1970 that all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were switched off. In celebration we danced and drummed late into the night in the square outside Kōenji station in Tokyo.

In June, the nuclear cabal struck back. Their representative, prime minister Noda, coerced and cajoled local government leaders in the region of Oi Town in the western prefecture of Fukui into agreeing to the restart the Oi nuclear reactor. Noda threatened economic collapse and life-threatening electricity shortages that would threaten the electricity supply to hospitals. These ridiculous assertions were countered by anti-nuclear activists and experts who pointed out that they were based on inaccurate calculations of the true electricity shortfall.

On Saturday 30 June hundreds of protesters gathered outside the gates of the Oi nuclear reactor in protest at the travesty of democracy that was taking place inside. In Tokyo, I joined hundreds of angry demonstrators outside the prime minister’s residence who staged an impromptu march around the residence to give vent to their fury. The following Friday, the numbers outside the prime minister’s residence swelled to 100,000. The crowd spilled out from the footpath and onto the road. This was the first time in decades that protesters had managed to escape police control and fill an entire street in Japan for a protest. The following week, a similar number of people gathered and, in defiance of police, once more occupied the street.

In Australia this month, 500 activists gathered outside ‘the gates of hell’ at another link in the nuclear chain: the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia as part of the ‘Lizard’s Revenge’ festival and protest camp. Activists occupied the road outside the mine, sat down in front of the gates of Olympic Dam and played cricket in protest at plans to expand the world’s largest uranium mine. The carnivalesque atmosphere that combines militant resistance with creativity and celebration is common to the anti-nuclear movements in the two countries. Australia and Japan share a longstanding nuclear relationship based on the exploration and exportation of uranium resources to fuel Japanese nuclear reactors. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, a new relationship is coming into view based on the struggles in both countries to shut down the nuclear industry.


Australia and Japan: The Uranium Connection

Following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Yvonne Margarula, Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirrar people whose traditional lands take in the site of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon expressing her concern that uranium from Australia might have played a role in the disaster. Yvonne expressed her feelings of sorrow and regret that the poisonous uranium she has fought so hard to keep in the ground was now contaminating Japan and, as the radioactive cloud drifted across the northern hemisphere, the entire world.

On 31 October 2011, Dr Robert Floyd, Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, confirmed that Yvonne Margarula’s concerns were well founded. He stated before a Joint Standing Committee of the Australian parliament in September 2011 that

Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors—maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them; almost all of them.

When the global nuclear industry began to develop in the late 1960s a major exploration programme was launched in Australia that led to the discovery of significant uranium deposits. These deposits were high grade, around 0.3%U3O8 and contained a significant amount of uranium. The discovery of these deposits made it possible for Australia to participate in the commercial nuclear industry. Japan relies on exporter countries such as Australia to provide the uranium used in its nuclear power plants. Japanese capital, with government assistance, became involved in the development of uranium mines such as the Ranger mine in Kakadu. As of 2006, Australia provided some one third of Japan’s total uranium imports. Multinational mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton export uranium to Japan from their Olympic Dam and Ranger uranium mines.

The Fukushima disaster exposed the global circuits of the nuclear industry. It made visible the shattered lives, poisoned environments, hazardous working conditions and political corruption that lie behind the innocuous act of plugging in an electrical device in Tokyo or any other city throughout Japan. This is a chain in which we are all implicated and which only we have the power to disrupt; whether by protesting uranium in South Australia or standing in front of the gates of a nuclear reactor in Oi Town. While the disaster revealed the global interconnection of the nuclear industry, it also revealed a multitude of resistances, refusals and rebellions that make that industry vulnerable and which will eventually bring it to its knees.

Globalising Resistance to Radiation: Australia-Japan Solidarity After Fukushima

In response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, anti-nuclear groups across Australia held joint rallies on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2011. In my hometown of Wollongong about 30 local peace activists and a guest from Japan attended the annual Hiroshima Day commemoration. The event has been held on an annual basis since 1979 and Hiroshima commemorations were held in Wollongong from

as early as 1960. This year, in addition to remembering the terrible tragedy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we remembered the tragedy at Fukushima and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that have caused such tremendous loss of life. Later that day about one hundred people attended a second action, organised by The Wollongong Anti-Nuclear Group, in the same place against nuclear power and nuclear weapons in response to the terrible tragedy in Japan.

Anti-nuclear protests in Australia continue one year after Fukushima. Responding to prime minister Noda Yoshihiko’s decision to restart the Oi nuclear reactor in Fukui prefecture a group in Brisbane protested outside the Japanese Consulate in June this year. In their own words their action was part of a ‘global response to Prime Minister Noda’s announcement that he would re-introduce nuclear power by putting the Ohi reactors back on line.’

The Uncertain Future of the Nuclear Industry

While anti-nuclear protests in Australia have increased following the Fukushima disaster, Australian state and federal governments have been keen to put the accident behind them and expand this poisonous industry. In February, for example, the New South Wales state government overturned a 26-year-ban on uranium exploration in the state. Energy Minister Chris Hartcher told uranium industry figures in June that his government hoped to develop a ‘vibrant uranium exploration industry’. In West Australia, too, the government has approved a uranium mine at Wiluna, which, if it comes to fruition, will be the first uranium mine in that state.

While Australian governments and nuclear advocates have been trying to push ahead with plans to expand uranium mining, the market realities after Fukushima are somewhat more complicated. On 10 May 2012 The Australian newspaper announced Japanese trading house Mitsui’s decision to pull out of the 340-tonne per year Honeymoon uranium mine in South Australia. The company possessed a 49 per cent stake in the mine. Mitsui first bought a stake in the mine in 2008, adding uranium for the first time to its investment portfolio. The mine commenced production in 2010 after capital expenditure of 138 million dollars.

While Mitsui deny any connection between the Fukushima disaster and its decision to pull out of the mine it is hard to believe considering the context of a total shutdown of all nuclear reactors in Japan. Mitsui spoke in economic terms of its lack of confidence in the project producing adequate future returns. However, the company also claimed it would continue to seek investment opportunities in the uranium mining industry. While companies try to maintain market confidence in their investments, the reality facing the future of nuclear energy is much more unstable with continuing protests in Japan and widespread uncertainty in China and India, two of the main projected future consumers of Australian uranium, over the fate of nuclear power.

Australia is thought to possess the largest uranium deposits in the world, with about 23 percent of total reserves. For those who would like to profit from selling these reserves the disaster, the attendant economic slump in Japan and in particular the effects of the nuclear accident are of concern. Debates among investors in Australia over the possible impact of Fukushima continue. Positions range from faith in the ability of Japan’s nuclear industry to bounce-back to the belief that a drop in uranium exports will be replaced by increased exports of coal, natural gas and foodstuffs to the idea that a fall in exports to Japan will be made up by growing exports of uranium to China or Russia. The anti-nuclear movement’s intervention helps increase this uncertainty and divides the ruling class over the question of investment in uranium.

Getting Away from Nuclear: Making Global Democracy

All over the world the nuclear industry is subject to contestation. The industry’s circuits of commodity production are characterised by struggles over uranium mining, power plant construction and waste disposal. While at each link in the nuclear fuel chain activists, workers, indigenous landholders, fight for their own unique set of reasons and interests, the combined effect undermines the nuclear industry. The Fukushima disaster has revealed the global interconnectedness of this industry, but it has also revealed the common desire of people all over the world to put a stop to it.

From Olympic Dam to Oi Village, from the fight against the proposed nuclear waste dump in Muckaty, NT, to the Rokkasho village nuclear reprocessing plant in Japan our resistance must be as diffuse, as all-pervasive and as persistent as radiation itself. By taking action in solidarity with people all over the world who are affected by the nuclear fuel cycle we can forge a global democratic alternative to the capitalist nuclear industry. Wherever we are, let’s fight to stop the nuclear industry and the poisonous anti-democratic politics on which it depends. The time is ripe for us to put an end to the nuclear industry once and for all.

Diversity in student organisations – here's looking at you, and you and you.

As someone who has been involved for a number of years in various avenues of progressive organising, from SRC to unions and political groups, I have observed the interaction with these organisations and identity politics. I have learnt that  certain aspects of a person’s background matter when it comes to how they are treated within the organisation, just as it matters to how they are treated in broader society. In particular, political groups are dominated by people of privilege – mostly, white, middle-class, able-bodied men. This leads to  those who are more socially privileged feeling more comfortable to stand for elections for positions with names like ‘President’ or ‘Environment Officer’. When many people in positions of ‘power’ look like you, sound like you and has a similar background/experience to you, then it’s a lot easier to put your hand up for similar things – it’s culturally supported. When we turn on the television or look at the names and faces of those heading boards in all sorts of organisations, this is overwhelmingly clear, and makes it easier for particularly white men to feel comfortable putting their hands up for positions, they might even feel entitled to it.
  
Yet when you look around at grassroots organising, the people engaging in activism are usually women and often, women of colour and/or working class women.  The personal is political and the politics of identity and personal relations are everywhere. Whether we like it or not, we need to acknowledge that privilege exists and that subsequent power relations also exist.
It is up to us within progressive movements to be actively aware of our own privilege in our interactions and organisations. Questioning your own privilege is difficult, it is challenging and can be confronting especially when you feel like you’re just trying to help. However, progressive movements need to be empowering those they represent and not just speaking
for or over people from oppressed backgrounds.

 Inevitably, our friendship circles and people we get along with are, most of the time, made up of people who look, think and act like ourselves. Does this mean when we are working within organisations we also recruit people similar to ourselves? People from the same economic class? Same district? Often, we end up doing this. If everyone in your organisation looks the same, goes to the same events and comes from a similar background to you, then you’ve got a problem. Look around, how many people in your organisation are white? How many people live near each other? How many people identify as queer? How many women are in your organisation and how does anyone in have a (dis)ability?  Do you think that members will feel comfortable ‘coming out’ and identifying themselves as any of these things? Why or why not?
 
If this is the case, perhaps it’s worth thinking about a few things to become more inclusive and ask yourself and your organisation a few questions such as:

  • Do you always meet in the evenings?
  • Do you meet at a bar?
  • How many people of colour and women come to your meetings?
  • Are your meeting spaces and activities accessible to people with various abilities?


  Evening meetings and especially meetings in bars can be alienating to people of colour, women, people with (dis)abilities and even queer people. It’s important to ensure we’re maintaining safe spaces and evenings and bars aren’t always the safest for those who are uncomfortable with the connotations of violence or the effects that alcohol can have. Some people might have a difficult history with alcohol or may have cultural factors that mean that venues that serve alcohol are not considered appropriate.  Evening meetings can create issues of safety, especially for women who have to travel long distances to get home or people who are limited by public transport.  Issues as simple as this might limit activity in your organisation and you might find yourself deprived of some amazing and diverse activists.

Make the effort to open up your organisation, mix up your activities and do things differently each meeting or every second meeting. If you normally meet at the bar, have every other meeting out on the lawn and have a picnic in the sun. Maybe think about ensuring your meetings are at different times each week or that you have two meetings a week – one in the day and one in the evening so that a broader range of people can come.

Have a look through your mailing list, maybe there are some culturally diverse names on your list but they never come to meetings, or women who also never come to meetings, it might be worth giving them a call or meeting up and chatting to them about how your organisation works, and if they want to get involved.


Remember though, be careful about being condescending or compartmentalising others, particularly the token woman or token culturally diverse student and so on, we’re people not just bodies, gender, sexuality or colour!

Diversity is strength and not a hindrance, while it might be frustrating to think of ways to open up your organisation and expand your organising when you have a model that has worked so well for so long. It can be difficult to think about adapting but trust me it’s worth it.


Neha Madhok is a communications student at the University of Technology, the National Environment Officer for the National Union of Students and lives in Campbelltown. She would love to see more women of colour from western Sydney engaging in student activism and unions.

Anti-Uranium Protesters Arrested at Breakfast

This morning three student activists were arrested at the Lizards Revenge anti-nuclear festival. Thirty protesters were breakfasting on the road to the Olympic Dam uranium mine in order to blockade trucks entering the mine site.

Six people were arrested in total while eating toast with intent. They have been taken to Roxby Downs  police station and are likely to be held without bail overnight. Many others have driven to town in solidarity to wait for the arrestees’ release.

The blockade was part of a week of peaceful non-violent protest to promote creative alternatives to the nuclear industry. Lizards Revenge is in solidarity with the Arabunna and Kokatha indigenous nations in opposing the expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mine on their sacred desert lands. Think Priscilla with a cause.

Asked why he opposed the mine’s expansion, one protester explained:

‘uranium leaves radioactive waste for thousands of years, it’s used in nuclear weapons, and any accidents – like at Fukushima – are really dangerous. We can’t handle that, and we have alternatives like wind and solar’.

The six arrestees hope that their action will inspire all Australians to consider whether the nuclear industry should be allowed to continue.