Student says ANU let her down after sexual harassment episode

Published in The Canberra Times on August 7 2014.

A Canberra student who alleges she was sexually harassed at an on-campus dormitory says the university’s botched response will leave her $6000 out of pocket.

The woman says the May incident left her feeling so unsafe and anxious that she had been forced to seek counselling and move out of Toad Hall, based at the Australian National University’s Acton campus.

She has now asked the ANU to help cover rent and treatment costs, which she says will cost her more than $6000 this year.

The ANU says the request is under consideration. The university admitted staff had botched the protocols set out to deal with allegations of sexual harassment.

The woman reported the incident to Toad Hall authorities but they failed to follow set procedures. An ANU review in response to the complaint found Toad Hall head Dr Ian Walker’s response to the allegation had been slow and flawed. An ANU investigation into the incident is now under way.

The woman said Toad Hall’s bungled probed made her feel her only options were to drop the case and move out. She left Toad Hall during the semester break after the student against whom she made the complaint had been allowed to stay.

The university agreed to make special arrangements to help find the woman accommodation. But rent on the woman’s new home costs an extra $41 each week, a figure she has asked the university to help her cover. She also requested ANU refund six weeks’ rent she paid to stay at Toad Hall during the inquiry.

An ANU spokeswoman said the university had already accepted there had been a delay in the initiation of its investigative processes.

“Whether this delay resulted in financial hardship for the student concerned is being considered – whether any financial support can be provided to the student concerned will be determined in the course of the next week,” she said.

“The allegations made by the student remain under investigation and the university must stress that statements concerning the financial matters are separate to the investigation into the incident itself.”

The student said that money would also help pay for treatment for anxiety problems caused by the incident.

“The university doesn’t realise what the cost is to me,” she said. “The process was so arduous… They were very happy to get me out of the college, but weren’t interested in investigating it or actually solving the problem.”

Gunning down renewables and starving ‘direct action’

Published in the District Bulletin on June 15 2014.

Millions of dollars have been cut from environmental programs, including the $2.55 billion funding towards the Emissions Reduction Fund, the key feature of the Coalition’s direct action policy, which will now be spread over ten years instead of four.

Research into carbon capture and storage will be cut by $460 million over three years, almost $100 million will be reduced in solar energy funding, and the rebate scheme aimed at installing a million solar rooftop systems across Australia, costing $500 million, has been dumped.

Of most significance, however, is the proposal for the $2.5 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to be abolished and absorbed by a separate industry department, saving the budget bottom line $1.3 billion. The plan hinges on the repealing of legislation that will have to pass the senate.

Renewable research at universities cut

ARENA invests in small green technology development projects around the country unable to attract private finances, including research undertaken by the University of NSW, the ANU, and CSIRO. Budget changes, however, will not affect 181 projects, worth around $1 billion, committed to by ARENA and already underway.

ARENA chairman Greg Bourne condemned the cuts, which will severely hinder Australia’s shift to renewable energy, required to be 80 per cent of all energy output by 2050 to keep global warming in check following the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“If we actually throw away options, a fear for me is that the energy mix that we currently have just gets ossified,” Bourne told the ABC.

Infrastructure is hospitals, infrastructure is schools, but infrastructure is also the energy system that you have within a country and without the energy system, your overall system begins to grind to a halt.

Professor Andrew Blakers, director of sustainable energy systems at the ANU, warns that cuts to renewable energy industries will also have a negative impact on jobs in regional areas, such as the solar industry which alone employs 15,000.

Wind and solar jobs for the regions

Large wind and solar installations are not in the cities. “They go in the rural areas and farmers benefit from hosting these wind and photovoltaic installations because they get paid a rent for their land and they continue farming. It’s like a second cash crop,” Blakers told the ABC.

Other jobs include earth movers, road builders and people who install and maintain the wind or solar systems all in rural and regional areas – “increasing the supply of renewable energy is ARENA’s main mission.”

Luke Osborne, a local wind farmer near Bungendore, is likewise worried about the effects of the spending cuts to Australia’s renewable energy sector.

“We are a strong and wealthy nation because we have embraced science and technology and we should keep doing that. We shouldn’t walk away from either of those things,” he told  the ABC.

“We need to invest in renewables.  I think we’ve got plenty of resource here and we should be making use of that, ahead of importing oil and ahead of things we know are damaging our environment.”

Maules Creek: Country and city folk join forces against big coal

Published in the District Bulletin on May 4 2014.

For most Australians Good Friday is a day of peace and rest. But for a team of determined protestors, the day signalled the beginning of an eleven-day mass convergence at Maules Creek to oppose a proposed open-cut coalmine in Leard State Forest, near Boggabri in northwest NSW.

 The proposal by Whitehaven Coal was given the green light by the federal government in February last year.  Construction, planned to begin in January, has since been delayed by multiple protests and blockades led by the Leard Forest alliance.

This campaign has developed a spirit seldom seen in recent years. Concerned individuals are coming together to form an inspiring coalition between traditional land owners, farmers of the local community, environmentalists, religious leaders, and just plain citizens from across the country.

Canberra university students and professors alike have gotten involved. Environmental organisations seen on the frontline include Greenpeace, the National Conservation Council, Lock the Gate, and 350.org.

350.org is an international movement aimed, domestically, at mobilising individuals from across Australia to fight against fossil fuel expansion.  350.org Campaign Director Charlotte Wood explained why the proposed Maules Creek coalmine is a major environmental concern.

“Concerns include destruction of endangered habitat in the Leard State Forest, a questionable offsets program, impacts on the already constrained local water supply and desecration of indigenous sacred sites,” Wood explained.

For Wood and the team at 350.org, the final goal of the protests is not solely to prevent the mine from being constructed, but also to communicate the public’s growing concern about fossil fuels to the government and any other vested companies.

“This mine should never have been approved in the first place and the ultimate goal is to stop it from being built. But the goal is also to send a message to the general community that it is no longer socially acceptable to profit from destruction of our climate. Companies thinking of investing in new fossil fuel projects should be aware of the financial and reputation risks involved in digging up new fossil fuels,” said Wood.

Mass arrests not deterring protesters

During the mass blockade at Maules Creek in late March, 82 protestors were arrested while others received severe fines. Among those arrested was recent ANU graduate Benjamin Huttner-Koros, who was inspired to take action by other successful acts of civil disobedience both domestically and around the world.

“I’ve been active in different environmental groups, mostly on climate change issues, for the past three and a half years, but had been thinking recently about the use of civil disobedience in activism.

“New methods to achieve social and political change have to be attempted to make a real difference to reducing the severity of climate change this century. This campaign has city and country people all involved and working together to prevent the construction of this mine. It’s incredibly exciting and inspiring.”

Huttner-Koros’ arrest in March means his role in further civil disobedience is in doubt, but his commitment to fighting the cause is only more determined.

“My motivation to protect natural places and prevent new fossil fuel projects is just as strong. There’s a lot of ways to be involved without being arrested! Taking part in civil disobedience was worthwhile and I’m happy I did. I will definitely be going back to the protest camp for further protests at some point,” Huttner-Koros said.

 Keeping the planet habitable is for true conservatives

In early March four religious leaders were detained by police after holding a prayer vigil and joining local protestors at the site’s entrance. One of them was Thea Ormerod, head of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, who, in an op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald, wrote about the relevance of faith to the cause.

“You may ask how such a group could endorse anything so radical, but this is a well-worn path for people of faith….The movement to wind down coal-mining in Australia may be counter-cultural but it is the truly conservative one.

Its aim is to keep the Earth’s ecosystems more or less intact for those who suffer the impact of climate change in developing countries, for our own young people here and for future generations. Not a radical position at all.”