Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Global warming online action in Australia

The local twist on's campaign for government action on global warming is from Australian online campaigning group GetUp! Australia. They've also been running an online campaign to get global warming action on the Australian government's agenda.

Their latest tack is to get people to write to their federal Australian Labor Party MPs and Senators to pressure the ALP to take adopt policies that seriously tackle global warming. This is timely, as Kevin Rudd is convening a National Climate Change Summit in Canberra this Saturday. GetUp says:
The next government of Australia can and must take immediate, practical steps to reverse global warming. That's why GetUp's Five Point Action Agenda calls on the next Federal Parliament of Australia to:

1) Ratify Kyoto and commit to 30 % reduction of greenhouse gases emissions by 2020
2) Introduce an emissions trading scheme with significant caps on carbon emissions
3) Lead a green energy revolution to slash our vast amounts of energy waste
4) Make renewable energy law, with a 12% legislated electricity target from renewable energy by 2012
5) Invest in a public transport system fit for the 21st century
The ALP is also gearing up for its National Conference – its main internal policy forum – in the lead up to the federal election this year.

Also good timing because Nicholas Sterne, is in Australia, and will meet Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd and PM John Howard. Sterne, author of the report, The Sterne Review, on the impact of global warming on the world economy, warned there would be a massive bill unless urgent action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. According to ABC News Online,
He will be urging the Federal Government and the Opposition to take the lead in setting targets to cut emissions and put a price on carbon.

His report … also recommends countries like Australia convert to solar and wind energy now and push ahead with new technologies to tackle global warming.
You can write your ALP representative via the GetUp campaign website.

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Global (online) action on global warming

It looks like online campaigning can work to channel the groundswell of public concern over global warming into effective action to influence governments. According to Ben Wikler from, at the G8 environment ministers' meeting in Germany a couple of weeks ago,
… Avaaz campaigners hand-delivered our 100,000-signature climate change petition to the environment ministers of the world's most polluting countries. It worked. The chair of the meeting waved the petition in the air, calling on his fellow ministers to act--and they agreed that climate change would be the #1 issue at the G8 summit in June.
Apparently, campaigner Iain Keith presented the petition to German environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who held up the petition in his closing speech, saying:
"Thanks to increased pressure from people around the world," he said, "the tide is turning. When an international NGO can gather this many signatures" (here he holds up the petition), "we cannot ignore this problem anymore... As Environmental ministers, we have a responsibility both to the environment and our voters to make sure our heads of state act!"
German Chancellor and G8 President Angela Merkel has promised to put climate change at the top of the agenda for the G8 Leaders Summit. Remember, this is Germany's new conservative government – taking active steps to push governments to act on global warming.

With momentum on their side, wants to "keep the focus on the climate issue by showing that the call for action is growing," and keep-up the pressure to ensure climate change gets on the agenda for the next G8 summit. They wanted to reach 150,000 signatures by Tuesday (yesterday) – which is today European time – so if you're in Australia or anywhere east of Europe, you may still have time to sign the petition here.

There is more on the campaigning at the G8 environment summit from their blog.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Food for people

The label on the plastic container holding the two kilograms of peaches I bought at the Farmer's Market reads, "Tree ripened yellow peach. Food for people."

I wondered about the 'Food for people' tag line. Who else would it be for? We normally give domestic animals 'feed'. Unless they are our pets, where, as our anthropocentric perception of companion animals insists, we feed our pets food.

Who else would food be for? The implicit message in such a banal statement is that food could be for some other purpose – or rather grown, processed, packaged and sold for someone else's purposes. Not non-humans (such as aliens and what not). Corporations. Which may as well be aliens, in the Matrix 'feeding on humans in a feeding factory' scenario.

eggplant & tomatoes
The preference for 'food for people' is based on the conviction that so much of our food is grown by industrial agriculture in means that value higher crop yields over the impact farming practices have on our communities and environment. It is concerned with how fruit and vegetables are grown to suit the commercial interests of retailers that the 'produce' should survive long journeys to the supermarkets without bruising, last longer on the supermarket shelves without going brown, spotty or squelchy, and thus reduce commercial losses that are attributed to their customers' aversion for food that doesn't look perfect. These practices are less concerned with how that fruit or vegetable may taste, feel in the mouth, or be used in our cooking and meals.

The supermarket chains insist that they are only providing what their customers – us – want. Admittedly, it is odd that we are obsessed with fresh food that 'looks (and feels) perfect', rather than tastes great. Or so the supermarkets' picture of us, their customers, paints us to be. Are we really like this?

Yes, we all want to buy fruit and vegetables that are not bruised, not mouldy, not wilted or browning, maybe only just a bit spotty – our food will last longer when we get it home. We certainly don't want it rotten. Yes, we should all have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Does that mean that we shouldn't care that the tomatoes taste bland, or worse, and feel wooly in the mouth? Should we ignore the fact that the taste-poor apples are oversized and glossy with wax?

It's just not good enough. I think that is why more and more people are going to be concerned about 'Food for People'. And rightly so.

[The image is one of mine (cc) from a family trip to the Farmers' Market at Collingwood Children's Farm, on which I've posted before.]

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cool change

The grey rain clouds aren't racing anywhere. After a night of dumping their loads of desperately wanted water, they've decided to hang around for a bit, as if our gratitude were an insufficient worship. They tease us with promises of more to come. Fluffy white clouds try to herd them away, but unconvincingly as they mingle, tear shreds off each other and merge. White plus grey do not make white.

The thunderstorm yesterday evening was short and crisp. Only a few rolls of thunder registered, but the rain on their tails lingered. The sound of heavy raindrops pelted the concrete and roofs in my neighbourhood rang out. It were truly welcomed, if a bit surprising after the sweltering day we'd had. By the mid afternoon it had reached 35˚C! While the strong wind brought some cool relief, after a while the stinging dust made me wish it were just hot, not hot and windy. I wasn't so sure when I read that it had got to 37.4˚C, the hottest temperature for this late in March for 60 years.

When the first slow heavy drops were replaced by the thrum of continuing rain, we lifted our heads in praise – especially of the cool change. Soon, everything was drenched the way that it hadn't been for so long.

This morning the concrete in our back courtyard was still wet and leaves were hanging heavy with raindrops. The light was crisp and bright. By early afternoon though, the promise of more blue winning through the muted grey was dashed by another shower, driven by howling winds to drench our kitchen window sill. The radio that lives on there is now a hazard.

Only now, the sun's rays are breaking through the wind tattered clouds, making everything shine with promise. If it doesn't rain, it will be perfect for kite flying tomorrow.

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Sekai Holland flown to South Africa

Beaten-up Zimbabwe democracy activist Sekai Holland is receiving medical treatment in South African after being flown flown there with the help of Australian High Commission officials in Zimbabwe.

According to reports last night, the Australian consular officials accompanied Sekai to the airport – and up to the airplane she was to board – to allow her to catch her flight unaccosted. Sekai was accompanyied by her friend and fellow activist Grace Kwinje, who had also been beaten and required medical treatment.

Sekai's husband, Jim Holland, reported that South African police escorted them from the airport to the hospital. When Sekai Holland had first tried to leave Zimbabwe to get medical help inSouth AFrica, Zimbabwe security officers stopped her from boarding her flight – at the steps to the

Finally, it appears that the Australia's foreign affairs officials and government have decided to stand up to Mugabe and help someone in desperate need. The government has also announced that aid funding will be made available to those democracy activists who require medical treatment from being attacked
and brutalised by the Mugabe regime.

Let's hope this will extend to greater pressure on the Mugabe regime, and consideration to the plight of all the other people of Zimbabwe.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Support democracy in Zimbabwe

Sekai Holland was beaten up so badly by Zimbabwe police that she has a broken arm, a badly broken foot and broken ribs as well as severe bruising.

Yesterday, via a phone smuggled into her hospital room by a supporter, she told the ABC's Radio National, "My whole body is still covered with 81 lashes minimum, administered by 15 men, really strong men," she said.

When her Australian husband arranged for her to fly out of Zimbabwe for medical treatment in South African, she was stopped and arrested by police.

The 64-year-old is the policy secretary for Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. She says she will die if she is forced to stay in Zimbabwe., a Europe based grassroots campaign group, says:
Robert Mugabe's desperate attempts to cling on to power are plunging Zimbabwe into ever greater chaos. His attacks on democratic opposition leaders must end now.
They say that Zimbabwe has "plunged further into crisis", thus requiring stronger action from the international community:
On Sunday, while boarding a plane to an international meeting, Zimbabwe's democratic opposition spokesman was beaten so severely that he lost an eye. Last week, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and beaten for attending a protest prayer vigil. Other democratic activists in Zimbabwe are under a terrible threat, with many still held in prison. uses online campaigning in very much the same way that GetUp! Australia does (you can't miss the similarities in their websites and online campaign tools!). They are urging people to sign their petition demanding that "Zimbabwe's two main trading partners, South Africa and the European Union, adopt and enforce tougher sanctions targeting Mugabe and his top aides".

You can sign Avaaz's online petition here.

This approach contrasts significantly with that of Australia's Foreign Affairs apologist, Alexander Downer, who rejects Australian calls for tighter sanctions on the grounds that they will hurt the general public more than Robert Mugabe's regime. I think they are hurting already.

Australian readers may have heard that Sekai Holland had been an Australian resident for many years (and has an Australian husband), before returning to Zimbabwe to participate in the democracy movement. When in Australia, she had been a strong anti-apartheid activist and campaigned in solidarity with Aboriginal Australians for their rights. In fact, Aboriginal activist Gary Foley credits Sekai Holland with creating links between the anti-apartheid movement in Australia with Aboriginal rights activists in the early 70s.

I was appalled to find nitpicking arguments amongst some commentators about whether or not Australia should come to her aid – because she wasn't an Australian citizen, was no longer a resident, and shouldn't receive consular treatment – or didn't deserve it (perhaps because she is black African?).

I think the approach has a better chance of working. Instead of pushing shit uphill to get get the Howard government to take stronger action, we can appreciate the need for global responsibility for this crisis, and take a global approach to directly lobby the European Union to take stronger action. There are already recent signs that some European governments, and perhaps the US, are prepared to listen. And hopefully act. I don't know if this will be enough to save Sekai Holland, though.

Update: I've noticed that Gary Foley and other Aboriginal leaders and activists have certainly not forgotten Sekai, and have expressed their outrage at her mistreatment, as recorded in Foley's statement on a Zimbabwe democracy blog. It's very heartening.
[Updated 11.40 am, Thursday 22 March]

[Image of Sekai Holland in hospital with her injuries is from Movement for Democratic Change, posted on, an NGO Network Alliance website.]

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Water theft

Someone I know, who lives in near a regional centre in Victoria's Goldfields district, had her water stolen recently.

How do you steal someone's water? Well, you use a large water tanker to steal the water from their water tank. Of course, it helps if you've targeted a regional or rural property that is a little secluded or distant from prying eyes, and you visit that property when the owners are away for a couple of days.

Alternatively, you may be masquerading as someone selling water – a booming business in these days of water shortages – and show up on the pretense that you're filling
, rather than emptying, the water tank and fool the neighbours.

This person lost all the water in her 2,000 liter bladder water tank – which was under her back deck, suggesting they had 'thoroughly cased the joint' to know it was there. She was quite upset about it, and the police, who've indicated it is not an uncommon occurrence, haven't been able to do much. Apparently, the owners of a holiday house in the area also lost their water recently, but they don't know when the theft occured because of the time lag between their visits to their property.

I don't think this is a new problem, though it hasn't received much coverage outside the regional press and radio, but with the severity of the water shortages in rural areas and the drought making every drop of rain caught in rain-water tanks liquid gold, theft like this is excruciating, and unfortunately will grow increasingly common. Especially after recent good rainfall has filled the tanks.

Amongst the group of us who heard this story last week, there was speculation that the thieves were using it themselves for thirsty livestock and crops, or
possibly selling the water to others. Which raises the spectre that there is a blackmarket for water amongst water carters. It seems there is always someone who wants to profit from misfortune – in this case, drought.

It's no wonder the NSW police have many suggestions for farmers and those living in rural areas to keep their properties secure, such as putting a padlock on your water tank and keeping track of its contents. And I thought country people took pride in being able to leave their doors unlocked.

Doesn't say very much of our reputation for observing the principles of the 'fair go', persevering in adversity and 'helping out' in the country. Sorry, 'rural and regional Australia'.

[Image of Australian water tanks by Georgie Sharp (cc) ]

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday crunch

It's that time of the week when I'm too rushed and busy to think through so many of the issues churning around my head and articulate any one clearly enough for a post. So, I'm rounding up a bunch of things that I've noticed today and the past week:

Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou and former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser have slammed the government's proposed citizenship test. Fraser reportedly described it as unwise, foolish and would create division.

While we've long suspected it, it's now confirmed that federal politics is child's play. In responding to criticism from Labor Opposition leaders and other commentators of the government's sustained mud-slinging attack on Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's character (the latest being Tony Abbot questioning Rudd's story of how his family was evicted from a farm when he was a child), the best the Liberal head-kickers like Peter Costello seem to manage is, "He started it"! How bloody puerile can they get? I suspect it will get worse before the election is over, as do the commenters to one of my previous posts on this matter.

Maybe we need warning signs like this outside Australia's Parliament:

beware snakes
And tell me, when you read this, do you first think this refers to terrorists and their backers?
[these men] subverted the Constitution, funded terror, retained the services of drug traffickers, and helped prolong brutal conflicts that siphoned off tens of thousands of lives on two continents.
Well actually, history blog Axis of Evel Knievel, where this quote is from, is referring to the members of the US defense, intelligence agencies and administration who were behind the Iran-Contra affair. Worth remembering this: just over 20 years ago, the US clandestinely sold weapons to Iran to bankroll its support for terrorist organisations undermining left-wing governments in Nicaragua and elsewhere. These days, the US is desperately trying to paint Iran as the next Iraq – the big Middle East bogey with its finger on the nuclear button. Go figure.

Meanwhile, after failing to get the Indonesian government's assurances that they would not deport them back to danger in Sri Lanka, the Howard government is now shipping the Sri Lankan asylum seekers being held on Christmas Island
off to Nauru, so cutting them off from their legal recourse in Australia, and indeed breeching their rights under the UN refugee convention.


[Image is one of mine, from my family's visit to the Collingwood Children's Farm]

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At last!

After a part of the Australian blogosphere has waited with baited breath for the news, baby 'L' was born to Canberra bloggers Paul and Cristy, of two peas, no pod.

Of course, the waiting was clearly more significant for the mum and dad! Details are sketchy, other than all three of them are doing well, after a rather lengthy labour.

Congratulations to them both!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The true price of food

On Saturday, my family and I went the the Farmers' Market at Collingwood Children's Farm for the first time in many, many moths. In fact it was my youngest's first time there, and he's now 10 months, so this trip was special. For while it used to be one of my favourite things to do, but it got harder to do as we changed gear for the baby.

duckI remembered how much I enjoy the Farmers' market as I scoured the stalls for the best deals on freshly picked organic fruit and vegetables, revelling in the variety of vegetables not available at supermarkets or most standard market stalls. And visiting the farm animals.

The farm is more than a chance for the kids to happily negotiate their way through chickens, ducks and geese, watch a cow being milked (a first time for some), or pat friendly sheep. It is a way of getting to know where our food comes from.

eggplant & tomatoes The best thing about the farmers' markets is not just the variety, or the chance of a deal on produce, but the opportunity to talk with the growers directly, and know that the money changing hands is going directly to the grower and not half-a-dozen middlemen. It is also a chance to learn something about where the food we eat comes from, and how much hard work farmers put into it.

market crowd
I'm certainly not alone in this, as the crowds at last Saturday's market attest. Many, many people are keenly interested in where their food comes from, how it's grown, and who's behind it. Many see this as a tonic for a toxic culture of fast food, genetically modified food, or bland, featureless supermarket produce bred for shelf-life rather than for taste.

squashThe Age food writer John Lethlean describes this as about "having a relationship with the production and preparation of what we eat". For Lethlean, this interest is best encapsulated in the Slow Food movement.

Slow Food or not, my concern is predominantly with good food and food security – ensuring that our food, from the the growing and production of our food to how we turn it into a meal on our tables – is secure, free from the unfair domination by commercial interests, safe and environmentally sustainable. It is also a way of supporting farmers who want to do something different and break out of the supermarket supply-chain straightjacket.

This is especially the case for me with heritage varieties of vegetables and fruit. So it was particularly unhappy for me to learn that one of my favourite growers, whose heritage variety eggplants, apples, chillies, and other vegetables are so fabulous and fresh, will not be able to return to the farmers' markets after April, because she will lose her right to irrigation water later next that month.

organicsShe is a Mildura based grower, and this must surely be a result of the increasing pressure that the drought, the deplorable state of the Murray River and the worsening situation for irrigators is placing on farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin. Hearing this news first hand from the grower should sharpen in the mind of any city dweller the terrible conditions of the drought and the Murray River crisis poses for our farmers and the food we eat. It did for me.

You still here the odd complaint from shoppers at the farmers' market about the high price for tomatoes (organic) or other vegetables, but I'm learning to be more relaxed about such things. If I can't afford it, I don't buy it. I have learned to buy what is in season, and limit what I purchase to what my family and I can eat. But I think that more and more people are learning the true cost of food, and how the price we are paying for it at supermarkets does not reflect the cost – to the farmers, the environment and to our future food security.

The photos are by me, and you can see the rest of them on my flickr site.

Update: A good background on the Murry-Darling basin crises by
Peter Cullen is on the ABC website here. Some thinking and background on food security issues is available on the WorldChanging website here. If you're interested in food security, urban farms, food production and similar issues, the 4th Annual Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network Conference is happening in Melbourne next week.

Oh, and I found and added the link to the Age article by John Lethlean, if you want to read the rest of his piece. I enjoyed it.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, so I would like to wish all the women in my life and the women who read this blog Happy International Women's Day!

This is post is a bit later in the day than I'd hoped, so I hope you've had a lovely day and had the chance to do something to mark it.

I was planning to write a post about how things aren't getting better for working women, or unemployed women, or women who stay at home. I was going to point to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's (HREOC's) recent concerns at how women's pay has actually dropped compared to men's:
average full time working woman currently earns 83.6 cents in the male dollar compared with 85 cents in February 2005.
And heartily agree with them that:
This pay inequality also limits choices for men to undertake a greater role in the home because families cannot afford to lose the larger part of a double income.

To create real choices for men and women we need to put more effort into progressing pay equity. We need to make it easier for families to manage their paid work and family responsibilities.
And I would have argued cogently that we all need to do something about this deplorable situation. But, the Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard beat me to it!

So, I'm offering up this modest suggestion: if you're a bloke, I would urge you to do something nice for the women in your life today, and the rest of the week. No. Actually, make that something helpful. Like do the dishes today. And cook dinner, make the tea and put the kids to bed (if you have them), or failing that, read to them.

I'm sure that many of you already do all these things and more, and may think that such suggestions are a bit naff in dealing with the underlying disadvantage that exists. But considering the significance of what the HREOC is calling a "shared work - valued care" approach to striking the balance between work and family, then perhaps it's a great start.

And it may just help make some woman's day.

[The image is by jeangenie (cc), who is a Brisbane based flickr member]

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

If you live by the sword…

Hypocrisy seems to be the modus operandi of the Howard government.
The Federal Government's attack on Kevin Rudd over the WA corruption scandal backfired yesterday when John Howard promoted to the frontbench a senator with shares in companies linked to disgraced lobbyist Brian Burke.
From The Age's Michelle Grattan. Ooh, I can't help post these bits too:
Within hours of the appointment of WA Senator David Johnston as Justice Minister, it emerged that he had shares in two mining companies — Murchison Metals and Croesus Mining — which have employed Mr Burke as a lobbyist.

…Senator Johnston has had other links with people named in the WA corruption hearings.
Hmm. Justice Minister. The rest of her report has one revelation after another. I wonder if Howard's regretting going after Rudd over the WA-Burke connection.

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