Tuesday 7 January 2014

A footprint in the moss lasts ten years.

Colin Russell.
Photo: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace International

I was incensed this week with the latest from our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, pushing the claim that Greenpeace should provide money back to the Federal Government for the assistance the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) provided for activist, Colin Russell.
Russell as you may know, was one of a group of environmental activists that boarded a Russian oil rig in the Arctic to protest exploring for hydrocarbons there.
So just to make it clear, Bishop is only doing this because she disagrees with Greenpeace's activities.
It's a blatantly biased political stance.
If someone got into trouble overseas for doing something that she agreed with, drilling for oil, or cutting down rainforest for instance, then I'm sure she would provide assistance with no thought of payment.
Having worked for Greenpeace in the past I know that the organisation gets a bad rap, I can't begin to list the things I have been called, shit disturbers is probably about the least offensive thing I can print here, but that doesn't alter the fact that DFAT have a moral imperative to help Australians in trouble overseas, whatever they are up to.
I raise the case of Shapelle Corby to illustrate this point.
Shapelle for those overseas readers, was an Australian who was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia.
DFAT assisted her during her trial, and continues to assist in the appeals process, yet I haven't heard anything from Julie Bishop about getting money back from the Corby family.
I have asked Julie Bishop to comment on this seeming double standard, but as usual with the current Australian government have heard nothing back (And don't expect to).
So as ever when I have a political discussion to get get other views on, I went round to my coffee shop and discussed it while waiting for my coffee.
While Rodney, and his assistant Bebe, prepared my coffee we discussed this issue and the general political landscape.
Rodney and Bebe behind the counter at Coffee Roasters.
Here they dispense political wisdom and coffee.
Rodney, that arch cynic, gave his view on the world, to wit:" The problem is no one has any respect, for other people, themselves and the planet. They only go into parliament for the money, once they've served their time, they take their massive pension and that's that".
Bebe though is still young enough to give us old cynics hope and gave me great uplift when she said, "Look, this government has only been in three months, and look at the damage they have done, imagine what damage they will do in three years! Surely the Australian voters will realize that and at the next election everyone will come to their senses and throw this government out?"
Well said, Bebe.
Many, particularly those on the Liberal party side of the political debate, not that many, or indeed any, read this, will dismiss Bebe's views as hopelessly naive and idealistic, but I can assure you it gave me terrific hope for the future to know people like her will be voting next election.
But back to the Colin Russell issue.
The SMH story (http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/reckless-travellers-could-be-charged-for-consular-assistance-bishop-20140104-30af9.html ) tells us that in 2012/13 1365 Australians were arrested or imprisoned overseas and required DFAT assistance, but there is no word on whether any of these people or their families were asked to provide payment to DFAT for their assistance.
I suspect not, but this just highlights the hopelessly illogical stance that Julie Bishop is taking.
I conjecture that the bulk of these arrestees fell foul of the law for drunkeness and as such, they are inifinitely less deserving of tax payer funded aid than Colin Russell.
So come on Julie, pay up, and for god's sake shut up.
And mentioned in the SMH story was a perennial issue that blighted my time as a traveller in Europe, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
This activity seems to attract the worst of the ugly Australian tourist, mostly based in London.
Runners injured in Pamplona are assisted by the medics.
If it's you make sure you are insured.
I came to refer to those I met over there as the "Pamplona crowd".
A member of the Pamplona crowd will fix the crowd assembled in travel bars across the world with a glittering, ancient-mariner-esque eye and talk incessantly about themselves and what they got up to there.
These tales will involve drunkeness and hair-raising near-death experiences, as they talk and talk to hopefully impress those young women present and get them into the sack.
I came to loathe and detest these arseholes, and was in the end supporting the bulls in the hope they would do the Darwinian thing and remove these numbskulls from the gene pool.
And of course this Pamplona issue exactly mirrors the Colin Russell one.
The government's view is that Colin and his colleagues were going to the Arctic to break the law, they knew what they were doing with malice aforethought and therefore they should pay for any assistance they received.
Well then, Pamplona is very similar, those young Australians who go to the running of the bulls are not planning to break the law, but they are, with eyes wide open, going to do a hazardous thing, that may result in injury, or possibly death, and thus if they receive consular assistance, surely, in my opinion, they should be paying for it.
So I decided to ask the other federal MP involved what he thought.
This MP is Brett Whitely of Tasmania, the story is about his comment on Colin Russell is headlined: "A federal Tasmanian Liberal MP wants Greenpeace activist Colin Russell to publicly apologise for the costs associated with freeing him from a Russian jail."
So I emailed Mr Whiteley and asked this: "Dear Brett,
Does/has DFAT ever had to assist any Australians injured at the
running of the bulls at Pamplona?
If so, will DFAT be asking for money back/an apology for this assistance?"

As usual we expect no reply. 
So leaving the who's in the wrong and who should pay for what argument, let's discuss the real issue, oil drilling in the Arctic.
Why did Colin's group undertake such a hazardous enterprise in the first place?
Well oil drilling, and subsequent spills, are disastrous anywhere, but in the polar regions they are particularly devastating.
A footprint in the Antarctic moss, for instance, may still be visible ten years later, so infinitesimally, so slow-motion-reply-of-paint-dryingly slow are the growth rates of plant matter there, thus any damage lasts for a long, long, time.
The hopelessly ineffective cleanup after Exxon Valdez.

The Gulf of Mexico spill, stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster still hasn't been cleaned up, and the fisherfolk of that coast still can't catch untainted fish.
The wildlife is still decimated in number, and that was in a sub-tropical latitude, where the pace of the ecosystem is relatively fast.
Bad as Deepwater was, even that paled compared with the Exxon Valdez disaster.
An Exxon tanker ran aground near the Alaskan settlement of Valdez, and between 260,000 and 760,000 barrels of oil spilled into Prince William Sound.
As Wikipedia states: 
"Despite the extensive cleanup attempts, less than ten percent of the oil was recovered and a study conducted by NOAA determined that as of early 2007 more than 26 thousand U.S. gallons (98 m3) of oil remain in the sandy soil of the contaminated shoreline, declining at a rate of less than 4% per year.[24][25] "
Heartbreaking casualties of our oil exploration.
One would think therefore that the Exxon Valdez disaster would be enough to tell us not to go monkeying around with oil in the Polar regions, but apparently not.
So Russia is planning a multitude of rigs up there, and if there is a single accident, then the ecosystem of the area, already groaning under heavy pressure from us, will grind to a halt and once again we will see the wildlife decimated and the beautiful icy regions covered in a heart-rending layer of black slime.
So Julie Bishop, Brett Whiteley and you other eco-vandals of the federal government, not only should you be assisting Colin Russell and his colleagues for protesting oil drilling in the arctic, you should be damn well paying his salary.



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