Category: Business

  • Rupert Murdoch

    “News Corporation is a reflection of my thinking, my character, and my values,” said Rupert Murdoch. Alan MacLeod investigates the media baron’s financial and political ties to the Israel war lobby and finds it’s number one propagandist.

    Without a sympathetic media, Israel’s powerful military would be next to useless in its attempts to ethnically cleanse Gaza. It relies on crucial Western support for its project, and no one is as important in manufacturing consent for Israel as Rupert Murdoch.

    The Australian-born press baron has close and extensive personal ties to the Israeli political elite and myriad business connections to the country. He has used his media empire to defend Israel and sing its praises, even amidst an attack on Gaza commonly condemned as genocidal. As such, his holdings effectively serve as an unofficial arm of the Israeli propaganda machine.

    The Murdoch machine comprises well over 100 newspapers – some of them among the world’s most well-known and influential, as well as dozens of TV channels and a formidable publishing empire. This power allows him to set the political agenda across much of the world. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that Murdoch was an “unofficial member” of his cabinet and that he was one of the four most powerful men in the United Kingdom.

    Political connections

    President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has described him as the world’s “most dangerous” individual. His influence on American public life – through ventures like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News – is well documented. Less understood, however, are his close ties to Israel, and in particular, to its political leadership.

    In 2010, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published a leaked list compiled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of whom he considered his best sources of campaign contributions. Murdoch’s name appears on the list alongside the designation of number two, meaning Netanyahu considered him a close ally and one of the most likely sources of funds. An estimated 98% of Netanyahu’s contributions came from abroad.

    At 93, Murdoch has relinquished much of the day-to-day running of his businesses to his son, Lachlan. Earlier this year, Lachlan traveled to Israel to meet Netanyahu and former prime minister Benny Gantz. While the details of the meetings remain murky, it is clear that support for the Israeli offensive in Gaza and beyond was a principal topic.

    This was not the first time the younger Murdoch had met Netanyahu, In 2016, he flew to Israel for secret meetings with the prime minister, where, according to local newspaper Haaretz, he attempted to convince Murdoch to purchase Yedioth Ahronoth, and to start a Fox News-style TV channel for Israel.

    Netanyahu, however, is far from the only prime minister with a close relationship with Murdoch. Ariel Sharon, for instance, has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the Australian mogul. Murdoch stayed with him on his farm and was treated to a helicopter tour of Israel, where the supposed vulnerability of Israel from its hostile neighbours was stressed.

    Financial ties

    In addition to his political ties, Murdoch has several economic commitments to Israel. In 2010, he and banking billionaire Lord Jacob Rothschild each purchased equity stakes in Genie Energy and joined the company’s board of directors.

    While he was on the board, Genie was awarded a contract to drill for oil and gas over approximately 400 square kilometres of Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel has illegally occupied since 1967. In effect, Genie was attempting to profit from an occupation deemed illegitimate under international law.

    Murdoch also owned Israeli software company NDS, which was at the centre of a hacking scandal that brought down British television company ITV Digital. NDS’s activities helped huge numbers of Britons access paid TV for free, causing the corporation to fold under reduced revenues.

    Another ethically questionable connection is Murdoch’s reliance on lobbying firm LLM Communications. The billionaire hired the group, co-founded by Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn, to help them overturn British government laws that ensured trade unions could ballot for workplace recognition. Lord Mendelsohn was the chairman of the Israel lobbying group Labour Friends of Israel, which was crucial in smearing and defeating the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong peace activist and proponent of Palestinian rights.

    Zionist hardliner

    “My ventures in media are not as important to me as spreading my personal political beliefs,” Murdoch said, and supporting Israel and its expansionist policies is one of the core values the Australian has tirelessly worked towards.

    At a 2009 meeting of the American Jewish Committee, he explained that he saw Israel as the linchpin underwriting Western civilisation:

    In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States. I say to you: maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel… In the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace… who reject freedom… and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb and the human shield”.

    In 2005, he wrote the foreword to the book, “Israel In The World: Changing Lives Through Innovation,” a fawning tome lionising Israel as an unqualified success that has built a robust democracy and a vibrant economy despite setbacks and threats from its neighbours.

    He has also put his money where his mouth is: in 2007, his News Corp business donated to the Jerusalem Foundation, a group that builds illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

    Murdoch has led the fight against the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, claiming that it represents an “ongoing war against the Jews.” “The war has entered a new phase,” he said.

    “This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimising it. The battleground is everywhere – the media, multinational organisations, NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.”

    He made these comments at an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) event, where the organization presented him with its International Leadership Award. That the ADL, which purports to be a group standing against racism, would honor Murdoch with such an award, despite his networks pumping out relentless bigotry, underlines how little emphasis it places on genuine anti-racism and how much it works to simply promote Israeli interests.

    The ADL is hardly the only Jewish organization that has heaped praise on the media mogul, however. The Simon Wiesenthal Center decorated him with their humanitarian laureate award; other groups, such as the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the American Jewish Committee, have also sung his praises. The United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York declared him their “humanitarian of the year” at a lavish ceremony, where Henry Kissinger presented him with the award.

    ADL Data on Rise of Anti-Semitic Incidents Doesn’t Add Up

     

    Rupert’s empire

    Murdoch took over his father’s Adelaide newspaper in 1952 and quickly built a giant global enterprise, particularly across the English-speaking world. He used this power to spread his conservative agenda.

    His British holdings, including The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, constitute one-quarter of newspaper circulation in the country. His News Corp company also operates Sky television, TalkTV, TalkRadio and TalkSPORT.

    Murdoch is widely believed to have swung both the 1992 elections for the Conservatives and the 1997 election towards Labour after Tony Blair struck a deal with him. “It’s difficult to think of a prime minister in the last 40 years who has won against the Murdoch instinct,” said former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.

    In the United States, Murdoch owns influential outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, and much of the Fox network. This is in addition to owning the influential Harper Collins publishing house.

    He is known as an unusually hands-on owner, insisting that the tone and political line of all his outlets conform to his thinking. “For better or for worse, The News Corporation is a reflection of my thinking, my character, and my values,” he admitted.

    This included wholehearted support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “We can’t back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam… I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly, and I think he is going to go on with it,” he said. He also made sure that every one of his 175 global newspaper titles expressed similar vociferous support for the invasion.

    Inside the industry, Fox News is known for its particularly strict, top-down editorial procedure. One former contributor claimed that working under Murdoch was “almost as if we were being monitored by a Stalinist system … it is very much an environment of fear”. A second confided that “if you don’t go along with the mind-set of the hierarchy, if you challenge them on their attitudes about things, you are history”.

    But it is in his local Australia that his power reaches almost banana republic-like proportions. Murdoch owns 7 of the country’s 12 national or capital daily newspapers. In half of the country’s state or territory capitals, there is no local alternative to the Murdoch publication. Former prime minister, Kevin Rudd labeled his empire a “cancer” on Australian democracy.

    Piers Morgan exposed

    Until he recently went independent with his talk show, Piers Morgan was one of Murdoch’s most recognisable anchors. Hosting a popular talk show that reached millions, Morgan has played a crucial role in informing the public about Israel and Palestine.

    Although he has claimed he is entirely neutral on the issue and does not support either side, Morgan has a number of close connections to Israel worth noting. Firstly, he has supported the Norwood Charity on a number of occasions, helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the group.

    Norwood is headed by the aforementioned Israel lobbyist, Lord Mendelsohn, alongside his wife, Lady Nicola Mendelsohn. Lady Mendelsohn is also head of global business for social media giant Meta (the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram). She has consistently lobbied for Israeli causes and even met former president Shimon Peres. During her time at Meta, the company has begun to employ dozens of former agents of the Israeli spying group, Unit 8200 – all in sensitive positions within the company.

    Facebook in particular has grown closer to Israel, even appointing former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice Emi Palmor to its oversight board, the group that decides what direction the company goes and what content to allow and disallow on the platform.

    Norwood’s previous president was Sir Trevor Chinn. Chinn is currently head of United Jewish Israel Appeal, a British-Israeli group whose goal is to increase young British Jews’ sense of connection to Israel. He is also on the executive committee of Britain’s largest Israel lobby group, BICOM, and has funded Labour Friends of Israel.

    On October 22, at the height of Israel’s attack on Gaza, Morgan met Lady Mendelsohn in New York for dinner. Also present at the meal was Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, who has raised money for the Jewish National Fund, the largest settler-building body in Palestine. It is unclear what they discussed, but given their careers and interests, it is hard to see how news from the Middle East did not arise.

    Thus, while Morgan may have invited individuals from all points of the spectrum of debate on Gaza, he does appear to move in circles filled with top Israel lobbyists.

    Revealed: The Former Israeli Spies Working in Top Jobs at Google, Facebook and Microsoft

     

    Blatant propaganda

    Unsurprisingly, given what we have seen, Murdoch’s top publications have displayed an overwhelming bias in their coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza, constantly defending Israeli actions and demonising both Palestinians and those who have opposed the violence.

    On October 19, an Israeli airstrike targeted the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter. In describing the attack, the Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Blast goes off at Orthodox Church Campus in Gaza,” turning what was one of the most notorious incidents in Israel’s months-long assault on Gaza into a regrettable accident.

    At no point during the article did the Journal suggest that the “blast” might have been an attack or even hint at Israeli involvement.

    The Journal has also led the attack on Americans protesting the onslaught. “Who’s Behind the Anti-Israel Protests: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and others are grooming activists in the U.S. and across the West,” ran the headline of one story, clearly intended to vilify people opposing a genocide as agents of a foreign power.

    Another story, entitled “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital,” echoed Bush-era levels of Islamophobia in its attempts to equate the heavily Arab-American city with anti-American hatred. Campus demonstrations, meanwhile, were written off as “terrorist-glorifying protestors” who constitute “the left-wing counterparts to the Charlottesville mob that chanted ‘Jews will not replace us.’”

    The newspaper has also published articles demanding the U.S. go to war with Iran. “The U.S. and Israel Need to Take Iran On Directly. Make the ayatollahs pay for sowing chaos through their Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthi proxies,” wrote former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett.

    And for Palestine? The Wall Street Journal envisages its future as a giant arms factory making the weapons for Israel’s assault on Iran. In an op-ed entitled “A Plan for Palestinian Prosperity,” columnist Andy Kessler wrote that producing the weapons for the next Israeli attack would bring middle-class jobs to Gaza. “They can even work on Saturdays” and “without handouts from the politicised United Nations,” he claimed, although he cautioned that perhaps the explosives should be added elsewhere by more trustworthy employees.

    No ‘babies beheaded’

    Murdoch’s other publications have followed suit, relentlessly supporting Israel and demonizing its critics. Fox News, for example, spread the now-debunked assertion that Palestinian fighters had beheaded 40 Israeli babies on October 7. In reality, no babies were beheaded, although Israeli bombs or bullets have since decapitated countless Palestinian children.

    The New York Post, meanwhile, published a remarkable article titled “Just how many of Gaza’s civilians are entirely ‘innocent’?” in which it repeatedly insinuated that essentially every adult in Gaza was a legitimate target, even using the word “civilian” in scare quotes.

    On Israel/Palestine, journalists in corporate media are under enormous pressure to toe an ownership-imposed line. The New York Times, for example, has told its reporters not to employ words such as  “genocide,” “slaughter,” and “ethnic cleansing” when discussing Israel’s actions. It has even forbidden the use of terms like “refugee camp,” “occupied territory,” or even “Palestine,” making it virtually impossible to report accurately on the situation.

    Murdoch publications are surely no different. Indeed, this sort of stifling censorship has been in place for decades, if former employees are to be believed. In 2001, Sam Kiley, a former correspondent for The Times of London, revealed that he was instructed never to refer to Israel as “assassinating” or “executing” their opponents. And when he was tasked with interviewing an Israeli Army unit responsible for killing a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, he was asked to file the article without somehow mentioning the dead child at all.

    Friends in high places

    The nine-month-long Israeli attack on Gaza has inspired outrage across the world. While its standing has dropped even further in the Global South, Israel still maintains a considerable base of support in the West. This is down in no small part thanks to oligarchs such as Rupert Murdoch, who have marshaled their considerable resources to fight a committed media war in support of the Israeli state, attempting to hide its atrocities and shore up support for its expansionist project.

    For Israel, which could not continue in its current form without outside support (particularly from the United States), the battle for public opinion is every bit as important as the fight on the ground. Fortunately for Netanyahu and his ilk, they can rely on Rupert Murdoch, who has for decades championed Israel’s cause and is now pushing his media empire into overdrive to defend the indefensible. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then Rupert Murdoch is one of Israel’s most powerful weapons.

    This post was originally published on Michael West.

  • More than half the companies in Australia’s battery supply chain are either equipment suppliers or offer integration services and maintenance, according to a new database launched by the Queensland government. The Battery Supply Chain Database, launched on Tuesday, lists companies that have existing capabilities in one of eight supply chain segments, as well as their…

    The post Qld charts Australia’s battery supply chain appeared first on InnovationAus.com.

    This post was originally published on InnovationAus.com.

  • High-end properties in Malaysian cities are attracting buyers from China as they move here for educational opportunities and to expand businesses, particularly in industries tied to efforts to establish a semiconductor hub in Southeast Asia, analysts said.

    Post-pandemic sales have shown an influx in demand, causing property prices to surge by 15% since last year, according to the owner of a property firm in Penang, home to major global semiconductor factories. Other hot spots in Peninsular Malaysia are Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur. 

    There has been an uptick in interest since early 2023, with roadshows and projects targeting international markets, said Tan Kian Aun, president of the Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents, or MIEA.

    “In 2022, Chinese buyers were still reluctant, but since last year, we are seeing renewed interest,” he told BenarNews.

     Earlier this year, local media reported that 24,765 Chinese nationals had participated in the Malaysia My Second Home program. It allows foreigners to get long-term visas to live in the country.

    Penang is particularly attractive to Chinese buyers because of cultural amenities and because 40% of its population comprises ethnic Chinese Malaysians. The island has seen renewed interest in factories related to the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars, with Chinese businesses either renting or building new commercial properties, Tan said.

    A crowd gathers at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 26, 2023. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)
    A crowd gathers at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 26, 2023. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)

    The 15% rise in property prices in upscale areas has been caused by increasing demand from students and businesses, according to Long Soo Keat, principal owner of Shijie Property, a Penang firm.

    “We noticed this trend since last June, especially with students and businesses seeking to stay on the island,” Long told BenarNews, adding that Chinese customers prefer premium areas with modern amenities for food, entertainment, education and shopping.

    “The properties cost over 1 million ringgit [US$212,200] or have rental prices starting at 4,000 ringgit [US$850] a month,” he said.

    In the southern peninsular state of Johor, businesses from mainland China are keen on purchasing land for factory operations in the areas of Kulai and Pulai — mostly for microchips, said Chia Zi Jin, a Johor-based realty consultant.

    He noted that favorable conditions for raw material sourcing and manufacturing were attracting Chinese investors.

    “There has not been much interest yet to buy residential property in Johor but more Chinese nationals are looking to buy land, especially in the northern part of the state which is still cheaper than the southern part of the state, which is closer to Singapore,” he told BenarNews.

    In July 2023, real estate analysts said they expected property values at the Forest City project in Johor to fall because Chinese developer Country Garden was facing financial woes that could disrupt resale and rental values.

    However, in a Facebook post earlier this month, Johor Chief Minister Onn Hafiz Ghazi said Forest City’s Special Financial Zone was expected to be finalized in August. The zone is expected to attract financial institutions willing to invest in the project.

    In May, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced plans by his government to invest 25 billion ringgit, or US$5.3 billion, in expanding the local semiconductor industry and to train 60,000 local engineers as part of this.

    Link to Singapore

    In Johor Baru, the upcoming Rapid Transit System, or RTS, link with its neighbor, Singapore, is driving property demand in the Malaysian coastal city. 

    Chia described it as a “game changer.”

    Set to open in early 2026, the RTS is expected to integrate with the Thomson-East Coast Line on Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system, significantly reducing travel time caused by traffic congestion at the Johor Causeway, which connects the Malaysian state with the Lion City. 

    A bus crosses the Johor-Singapore Causeway from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, Nov. 29, 2021. (Vincent Thian/AP)
    A bus crosses the Johor-Singapore Causeway from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, Nov. 29, 2021. (Vincent Thian/AP)

    Chia said Singaporeans and Chinese nationals who work in Singapore were buying properties in Johor because of the currency exchange rate ranging around one Singapore dollar to about 3.5 ringgits. 

    “With RTS, they could go to Singapore in five minutes rather than getting stuck in a causeway jam for three hours,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia known for the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and Merdeka 118 — the second tallest building in the world — continues to attract Chinese investors to expand e-commerce and to open data centers, MIEA’s Tan said.

    Chinese investors are also buying and renting properties in Sepang, a township 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Kuala Lumpur, largely due to the presence of Xiamen University Malaysia which offers degrees in the sciences, cybersecurity and communications, according to Tan. 

    One of the main reasons to study in Sepang is the cheaper cost of living compared to big cities in Beijing or Shanghai.

    “The students come here because the township has modern facilities and there is a community of students here,” Tan said.

    About 2,200 Chinese are among the 7,500 students from 44 countries studying at Xiamen’s first branch outside of China, according to Malaysian state news agency Bernama.

    Overinvestment

    Economist Yeah Kim Leng of Sunway University attributed the increasing Chinese interest to trade and investment ties between Malaysia and China. But he also warned that overinvestment by the government could lead to resource shortages and increased prices.

    Skyscrapers, including the Petronas Twin Towers (L, rear) fill the Kuala Lumpur skyline in Malaysia, June 7, 2023. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)
    Skyscrapers, including the Petronas Twin Towers (L, rear) fill the Kuala Lumpur skyline in Malaysia, June 7, 2023. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)

    The Malaysian Investment Development Authority reported that Chinese investments in Malaysia had reached 11.6 billion ringgit, or US$2.5 billion, in the first nine months of 2023. This is a significant portion of the 225 billion ringgit, or US$47.8 billion, total approved investments in the country during this period. 

    “This favorable environment has led to an increased interest from Chinese investors in setting up their businesses in Malaysia, with property being a core part of their operations,” Yeah told BenarNews. “Real estate ownership serves as a base for their activities.” 

    Still, he said, adequate resources and skilled labor are essential to sustain the influx of investment without causing harm.

    For instance, he said too many data centers and energy-intensive industries could cause water and energy shortages.

    “We must be cautious of not overheating the market,” Yeah said. “Overinvestment could result in excessive demand and strain on resources and drive up the prices.”

    BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.


    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Minderjeet Kaur for BenarNews.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.


  • This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.


  • This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • qantas, accc, asic, foi

    FOI reveals ASIC and ACCC officials spent as much time talking about sanctioning Qantas executives as it takes a customer to rebook one of their 86,000 ‘ghost flights’. Rex Patrick reports on the untouchables.

    No criticism is made of the judicial system in this article. The judiciary deal with the cases bought before them. But they have no business in deciding who gets charged and placed before them. That’s the role of government.

    And that’s where the problem lies. It very much seems that whether you get charged by the government depends on who you are and whether you are among the ranks of the powerful and privileged, say a company executive.

    The RoboDebt let-down

    The RoboDebt Royal Commission report, handed down in July 2023, was scathing of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former government services minister Stuart Robert and former department of human services secretary Kathryn Campbell. 

    Despite the deaths that resulted from RoboDebt, despite all the terrible harm caused by the unlawful scheme, no-one at the top of the political and bureaucratic tree has been sanctioned.

    Since the report was handed down, Scott Morrison has moved on to become a non-executive vice chairman of US consulting firm American Global Strategies and has also assumed a strategic advisor role with AUKUS investor DYNE Maritime, to assist the firm benefit from the $368B submarine program that he orchestrated when he was Prime Minister.

    The only public news in the last 12 months that intersects with Morrison’s RoboDebt past was a revelation that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus gave approval for the taxpayer to continue covering his RoboDebt legal fees.

    Qantas, FOI

    Taxpayers to cover Scott Morrisons ongoing RoboDebt Legal Fees (Source: FOI)

    Stuart Robert has moved on, as has Kathryn Campbell – both without sanction. Ms Campbell got an extra year on a top public service salary for very little real work, effectively a paid holiday, and still holds entitlement to wear an Order of Australia medal for “distinguished service to public administration”.

    The that’s it.  

    News on June 6 that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has decided not to pursue those individuals referred to it by the Royal Commission will come as a huge relief to anyone that might have been named in the sealed section of the Commissioner’s report.

    Any further inquiries by the Australian Public Service Commissioner aren’t going to amount to anything more than a slap with the proverbial wet lettuce leaf, and indeed even that.  

    Untouchables

    It just seems to be the way.

    If you’re a large player in breach of the tax code, the Tax Office’s fear of a deep pocketed defendant will ensure a prosecution won’t go ahead, and its business as usual for the tax dodger. If you’re a small player in breach of the tax code, look out. Ask Richard Boyle.

    If you’re a general in the Army and war crimes occur under your watch, feel free to pursue your career with immunity. After you leave the Army, you’ll come back regularly on contract work and maybe get a Vice-Regal appointment.

    But if you call out the war crimes, you’ll find yourself doing a 5-year stint in an ACT jail (the Government will spend $2.4M in legal fees ensuring you get a bed there). Ask David McBride.

    If you’re a large company who received millions in taxpayers’ JobKeeper funds during COVID, in circumstances where you were actually making a bigger profit in the pandemic than before it, enjoy the gift. But take just $50 more JobSeeker than you were entitled to and they’ll spend tens of thousands pursuing you.

    The lesson is, don’t be the little guy.

    Qantas misleading conduct

    And that brings us back to Qantas.

    In late August 2023 the ACCC lodged an application in the Federal Court alleging Qantas engaged in conduct that was “misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead” and “made false or misleading representations” to customers and “engaged in conduct that was liable to mislead the public”.

    In support of the application, the ACCC advised the Court that, despite having cancelled flights, Qantas continued to: 

    • offer for sale tickets for over 8,000 cancelled flights for 2 or more days after cancellation. On average, such flights were offered for sale for approximately 16 days after cancellation;
    • display the details of over 10,000 Cancelled Flights for 2 or more days on the “Manage Booking” page of consumers who had purchased tickets on those flights, with no indication that the flight had been cancelled. On average, it took approximately 18 days for consumers who had purchased tickets on those flights to be notified of the cancellation of their flight.

    The proceedings have been discontinued after Qantas admitted it misled tens of thousands of travellers and agreed to pay $120 million made up of remediation payments of $20 million to customers and a $100 million fine. Those penalties will not be paid by the Qantas executive, but by the shareholders (who include a bunch of little guys).

    No penalty for Qantas executives

    So, what of the senior executives purportedly responsible for the conduct of the company?

    FOI reveals … not very much.

    On September 12, 2023, ASIC did ask to speak to the ACCC about the Qantas action being taken in the Federal Court and whether the ACCC had looked into the involvement of Qantas officials and executives.

    Qantas, FOI

    ACCC meeting request (Source: FOI)

    The ACCC and ASIC met on Teams at 930 on Tuesday 19 September. They had another short Teams meeting on 27 September and a final meeting on 15 November. From there on in there’s been deafening silence. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

    Some have left the company with millions in bonuses. Others have been promoted to new positions. Everyone has moved forward, untouched.

    The message that flows from this Qantas saga is that directors of large companies can engage in egregious conduct against their customers, and whilst there is risk for the shareholders who foot the bill for executive blunders and malfeasance, nothing will happen to them.

    No punishment, no deterrence

    There is no action from the corporate regulator and no deterrence either. It’s a free for all (except the paying public).

    Like so many others that sit high in the chains of command in our society, they’re unaccountable and untouchable. Politicians could act, but it’s not really in their interest to do so. After all, what’s good for corporate goose must be good for political gander.

    Over time, this sort of injustice destroys public trust in our regulatory institutions. It destroys faith in the system. At some point the price to be paid by all will be very high indeed. But by that time today’s privileged fat cats, members of a business and political elite who think they are above and beyond accountability, will have moved on.

    Albo’s Diary revealed: who’s influencing the PM?

    This post was originally published on Michael West.

  • Asia Pacific Report

    A group of NZ-based Fiji business people have met in Auckland to plan a boost for indigenous participation in commerce.

    And the iTaukei notion of “solesolevaki” — coming together for the greater good — is at the heart of the initiative.

    The get-together was facilitated this week by the Fiji High Commissioner to New Zealand, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

    “It’s very encouraging to hear that there are many Fijians in business in New Zealand. We are happy to support all initiatives that improve the well-being of our communities,” Ratu Inoke said.

    Siva Naulago, owner of 679 Logistics, said: “iTaukei indigenous people’s point-of-difference is our communal strength.

    “Solesolevaki, is an integral part of our culture, and is the coming together for the greater good. This is a more cost-effective and inclusive way of doing business.”

    Rachael Mario, from the NZ Rotuman Community Centre, thanked the High Commissioner, saying: “We are very appreciative of His Excellency, Ratu Inoke, for taking the initiative to bring us all together”.

    The business leaders agreed to work together with the aim of encouraging and mentoring more indigenous people into entrepreneurship.

    And finding more business opportunities for women and youth, to increase family incomes.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.

  • Mexican street food, spicy Indian takeout, saucy, savory Chinese—there are plenty of different cuisines that are eaten and loved across America. But there’s something extra-comforting about Italian that leaves us obsessed, and it’s not hard to understand why. Italian dishes are equal parts cozy and delicious, thanks to the mix of carbs and the blend of simple, flavorful ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, basil, and cheese.

    But while we will never say no to an Italian restaurant, pasta dishes are arguably at their best when cooked in the comfort of your own home, and preferably, when shared with loved ones. This is a philosophy that Richard Klein believes in wholeheartedly. The California-based entrepreneur loves cooking lasagna for friends and family, and his dinner party guests can’t get enough of his food either.

    Klein wants to share his food with as many people as possible, but we can’t all fit around his dining table. So instead, he has brought his Italian cooking into everyone’s home, with the launch of Sunday Supper, a plant-based frozen Italian food brand.

    person serving lasagnaSunday Supper

    Sunday Supper: easy, delicious Italian food, without animals

    Klein’s cooking is great—his friends and family can attest to it. But he knew that to make something really show-stopping, he had to collaborate with someone at the top of the culinary game. So he teamed up with the award-winning Italian chef Celestino Drago to create mouthwatering frozen lasagna, ravioli, and manicotti products—all of which are made with simple, Italian ingredients and vegan cheese and meat—for Sunday Supper.

    The brand’s meals, now available in several grocery stores across the US, have quickly gained popularity. The secret? Incredible taste and a mission-driven approach. Klein and Drago created food that people love to share, all while maintaining a commitment to quality, community, and sustainability.

    We recently spoke with Klein to learn more about the origins of Sunday Supper, its mission to give back to the community and animals, and the brand’s exciting future. Here’s what he had to say.

    SUnday Supper RavioliSunday Supper

    VegNews: Take us back to the beginning. How did the idea for Sunday Supper originate?

    Richard Klein: It started with the idea of making plant-based lasagna for friends. I was hosting Sunday suppers at my home and guests would rave about my lasagna—even my most carnivorous friends! All of that positive feedback inspired me. I continued making lasagnas and serving them to friends at get-togethers, collecting feedback, and refining the recipe. I decided to test the waters and started selling the lasagnas on a site [my friend and vegan marketing executive] Florian Radke and I quickly built, using a fulfillment center just outside of LA. In four months, we had sold 3,000 lasagnas, just from word-of-mouth.

    VN: And now you’re selling them in frozen aisles nationwide, including the viral and upscale California grocery chain Erewhon. What is the secret to this success do you think?

    RK: What sets us apart from other frozen food brands is taste. We’ve worked with incredible chefs, including a James Beard Award-winning chef, to get our product where it is. We consistently win in blind taste tests against both vegan and non-vegan competitors. So, taste and quality are number one, but our other strong focus is building community within the vegan circle and outside of it. As a brand, we are all about sharing amazing Italian food, hence our name Sunday Supper. 

    Sunday Supper productsSunday Supper

    VN: You’re also focused on transforming the food industry, which was evident when you hosted an industry-led panel discussion on the future of food at Soho House recently. Why did you decide to take this step?

    RK: We couldn’t help but notice that the vegan food community has been under attack. It has come up in discussion with many of our friends and colleagues. So we thought we’d bring that discussion to a public space. Hosting this panel was a way for us to bring together some incredible thought leaders in our community, both on the stage and in the audience.

    VN: It’s true that vegan businesses, and indeed many other food businesses, are struggling to stay afloat right now. We’ve seen many plant-based brands and restaurants have to close their doors. What were some of the key takeaways from the panel?

    RK: We need to stick together and support each other as a community. There are so many great vegan businesses out there, and while success starts with a great-tasting product, it takes much more to stick around—mostly the support of the vegan community and the non-vegan community, who will buy into it as long as it tastes good and the price isn’t outrageously more than non-vegan brands.

    “There is so much ammunition fired against vegans from the meat and dairy lobbyists that we can’t have infighting within our community adding to any of the negativity. Support your plant-based restaurants and vegan brands.”

    VN: The panel demonstrates how frozen food brands can be a big part of the conversation when it comes to bringing the vegan community together, and indeed anyone who cares about the future of food. 

    RK: When the conversation continued over a dinner of Sunday Supper mozzarella sticks and lasagna at Soho House with our panelists and a few friends, it really brought me back to the brand’s beginnings at my dinner parties. It was great and just what I envisioned for this brand: bringing people together around food to share ideas and community. 

    VN: Your dinners also often have another important purpose. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind hosting fundraisers for organizations food security nonprofit Support and Feed? 

    RK: It goes back to building community and helping our community. The dinners are a way for us to pay it forward, but also to invite vegan and non-vegan people to our dinner tables to experience the culture and food of Sunday Supper. What Maggie [Baird] and her team have built with Support & Feed is so inspiring, and we’ve loved aligning with them and supporting the cause over the last few years. 

    “We want to create Sunday Suppers in every major city to share incredible food and enjoy life while helping the planet, the animals, and our health.”

    VN: It was also great to see you working with and fundraising for the animal welfare nonprofit Farm Sanctuary.

    RK: Farm Sanctuary is also such an incredible organization. Our last event was the first time we worked with them, but I am visiting the sanctuary in Watkins Glen this summer to see how we can be more involved.

    VN: To bring it back to the actual products, there’s no doubt that Sunday Supper’s meals are delicious—from your Three Cheeses Lasagna to your Mushroom Ravioli. We can’t wait to see more. How does the brand plan to continue innovating and expanding in the frozen food market?

    RK: We plan to continue developing the most delicious Italian plant-based food, from appetizers and entrees to eventually pizza, creating products that taste just as good if not better than their original recipes with meat and dairy. Our line of Mozza Fritto (mozzarella sticks) will debut this Fall. And our line of singles—including a gluten-free eggplant parm—will also hit around the same time!

    sunday supper three cheese lasagna shotSunday Supper

    VN: Exciting! And where can consumers find all of your delicious products?

    RK: We can be found in the frozen aisles of The Fresh Market, Erewhon, Bristol Farms, Besties, Central Market, Plum Market, and online retailers Fresh Direct, Good Eggs, and our own site. Soon, we will also be available on Thrive Market.

    To find out more about Sunday Supper, head to SundaySupper.com.

    This post was originally published on VegNews.com.

  • Less than half of Australian businesses are now considered innovation-active, according to new biennial data that reveals a tough economic environment is drying up the funds and skills needed for new ventures within firms. This innovation-active measure captures the introduction of new goods, services, or processes in addition to innovation that was under development or…

    The post Most Australian businesses not innovating, data reveals appeared first on InnovationAus.com.

    This post was originally published on InnovationAus.com.

  • Elizabeth Mitchell received a notice from her commercial property insurance company in April that set off alarm bells. 

    Acadia Insurance, the insurer for the market, workspace, and wellness-center nonprofit she runs in West Cornwall, Connecticut, would no longer cover “bodily injury, property damage, or personal and advertising injury” from “contact with, exposure to, existence of, or presence of any ‘PFAS.’”

    PFAS, as Mitchell soon discovered, is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which appear in everything from clothing to cleaning products to cookware and are linked to a wide range of health risks. Since most of these toxic substances don’t break down and are now found in the blood of people all over the world, they’ve earned the nickname “forever chemicals.” 

    An increasing number of Connecticut towns have found forever chemicals in their water supplies, and for decades, the river that runs through Mitchell’s community has been contaminated by hazardous waste, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. Now, if forever chemicals were found in the local water supply and someone sued Mitchell’s nonprofit for exposure, the operation would be at risk of bankruptcy. 

    “Places like us, you can’t get sued,” said Mitchell. “We definitely could not sustain a lawsuit.”

    Mitchell, who is my mother, is one of thousands of business owners who could be getting notices that their insurers will no longer cover PFAS risks. 

    As concerns about the dangers of forever chemicals rise nationwide and lawyers warn of a deluge of “astronomical” lawsuits, commercial insurers are quietly eliminating liability coverage for these chemicals’ health and ecological consequences. Such coverage exclusions can leave small businesses on the line for costly litigation and victims without recourse for their medical costs from life-threatening PFAS exposure.

    This trend “is definitely well underway,” said John Ellison, an attorney who works on behalf of insurance policyholders at the global law firm Reed Smith. “Certainly large portions of the insurance industry have decided that they’re not interested in selling liability insurance coverage for PFAS.”   

    Acadia Insurance declined to comment.

    Companies are so worried about the cost of future PFAS litigation that they have labeled these chemicals the “new asbestos,” in reference to the once-ubiquitous building product whose links to cancer have led insurers to pay out nearly $100 billion in claims and sent dozens of firms into bankruptcy. 

    According to The New York Times, a defense lawyer recently warned at an industry conference that PFAS lawsuits could “dwarf anything related to asbestos” and that plastic-industry executives should “do what you can, while you can” to prepare for the onslaught of lawsuits “before you get sued.”

    The elimination of PFAS insurance coverage is happening amid a nationwide crackdown on the chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency just designated two widely used forever chemicals as “hazardous substances” and set the first-ever limits on these chemicals in drinking water. At least six states including Colorado, Kentucky, and Maine have enacted bills related to PFAS regulation this year. 

    Yet insurers’ fears about not being able to afford PFAS lawsuits may be misplaced, said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of New York Law School’s Center for Justice & Democracy. The industry had stored away more than one trillion dollars in surplus profits by the end of 2021 — an all-time high. 

    “We have insurance in order to protect us and we pay a lot of premiums to these companies with the expectation that when there is a claim they’ll pay it — and they don’t want to pay it,” Doroshow said. 

    Dumping risk

    First discovered in the late 1930s, forever chemicals have been commonly used across a wide range of consumer products since the mid-20th century. Not long after, major PFAS manufacturers like 3M and DuPont began conducting animal studies that uncovered disturbing findings, such as that a low daily dose of these chemicals could kill a monkey within weeks.  

    Yet the multinational conglomerates followed in the footsteps of Big Tobacco and hid the dangers of PFAS from the general public for more than 40 years. This included suppressing their own research and spending large sums to quietly settle lawsuits and fight federal regulations. A 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that PFAS can be found in the blood of 97 percent of Americans

    In 1999, a West Virginian farmer filed a lawsuit against DuPont for contaminating his water with forever chemicals that allegedly killed his cattle. Since then, law firms have filed 9,800 suits alleging that forever-chemical exposure has led to cancer, heart damage, and other harms, resulting in almost $17 billion in settlements across 140 industries, according to a 2023 report by the Seattle-based consulting firm Milliman.

    This March, a court approved a multibillion-dollar settlement from the multinational conglomerate 3M after the manufacturer was accused of contaminating public drinking water systems nationwide with forever chemicals that it had long been producing.

    Now, insurers are working to limit their risk by dropping their PFAS coverage.

    “Insurers, mindful of the high cost of defending and indemnifying their insured businesses’ PFAS risks, have begun modifying or reinterpreting business insurance policy provisions to mitigate their own coverage burden,” wrote attorneys from Minnesota-based Nilan Johnson Lewis, a law firm that represents businesses across a wide range of industries, in an online report

    Last year, the Insurance Services Office, a property and casualty insurance advisory organization that develops and publishes policy language for insurers, endorsed the exclusion of PFAS coverage. The organization’s endorsement provided language for insurers to “broadly exclude bodily injury, property damage and personal and advertising injury related exposures associated with PFAS” from business owners’ general liability insurance policies.

    “Every sophisticated insurance company worth their salt would have [PFAS] on their radar as a potential concern,” said Chip Merlin, founder of Merlin Law Group, a litigation firm that advocates for the rights of policyholders. “They learned these lessons through things like asbestos.”

    Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States have filed compensation claims for asbestos-related injuries, with the average settlement ranging from $1 to $2 million. In 2019, insurers saw $92 billion in losses from asbestos liabilities. 

    Erik Olson, a senior strategic director at the environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, said PFAS lawsuits are more likely to target big businesses like DuPont or 3M, rather than neighborhood nonprofits.

    So far, “the folks getting sued are those that have deep pockets, where [victims] can get substantial payouts,” said Olson. 

    But this does not mean small businesses are immune from future claims, said Ellison, the Reed Smith attorney. Ellison has represented larger businesses experiencing PFAS-related lawsuits, but suspects smaller businesses will experience similar litigation down the line. 

    “Any small business that is in the stream of commerce that PFAS is a part of, they are all subject to being sued,” he said. “Those companies have a big fight on their hands about whether they have insurance to defend those claims. It’s naive to say they’re not at risk.” 

    Labeling PFAS a pollutant

    Along with stripping PFAS coverage from their plans moving forward, insurance companies are using long-standing pollution exclusions to avoid PFAS lawsuit payouts in other instances where business insurance policies did not explicitly bar PFAS liability coverage. 

    Pollution exclusions emerged in the early 1970s as a way for insurers to avoid big payouts following the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and demands for companies to curtail and clean up pollution activities. Such exclusions have since become common in business insurance policies.

    Now these exclusions are paying legal dividends for insurers aiming to avoid PFAS liabilities. 

    In 2022, a U.S. district court judge ruled that an insurer’s “total pollution exclusion” meant it did not have to cover a Dalton, Georgia, recycling facility after town residents alleged they were injured by PFAS chemicals the plant discharged into local waterways. 

    In a New York case that same year, an appellate court judge likewise ruled that insurers’ pollution exclusions meant they didn’t have to cover the maker of nonstick, heat-resistant materials in lawsuits claiming the manufacturer polluted groundwater with PFAS chemicals. The firm that represented the insurers called the ruling a “significant win for the insurance industry” and their client, who “was facing potentially enormous” expenses.  

    Some of these pollution exclusions also bar coverage for the testing and removal of pollutants from the environment, which could potentially be used to avoid payouts for PFAS cleanup efforts. Removing PFAS from the environment is incredibly costly: One study in Minnesota found that removing forever chemicals from wastewater streams in the state would cost between $14 and $28 billion over 20 years. The American Water Works Association estimates PFAS cleanup in drinking water nationally would amount to between $3.2 and $5.7 billion annually

    With this in mind, avoiding PFAS lawsuit payouts is par for the course for insurers, said Doroshow. “It’s about dumping risk,” she said. “That seems to be the business model of insurance companies.” 

    Yet Doroshow questions if PFAS pose a dire risk to insurers’ profits.

    In the decade leading up to 2020, industry data showed that total commercial insurance payouts “had not spiked and generally tracked the rate of inflation and growth of population,” according to research by Doroshow and her colleagues. Meanwhile, insurers like Travelers — a major player in property and casualty insurance — hit their largest-ever profits this January, while premiums for policyholders soared

    Regardless, noted Doroshow and her collaborators, industry leaders “publicly spin the notion that the industry is financially beleaguered and cannot pay claims without significantly raising rates.” 

    While collusion to raise prices is illegal in many businesses, certain activities by insurers are exempt from federal antitrust laws, allowing them to share information about past losses and make future coverage and premium decisions accordingly. 

    “It’s really a function of a completely unregulated industry,” said Dorowshow. “They don’t have any federal regulation.” 

    The state of affairs is concerning for small business managers like Mitchell, who are now getting PFAS exclusion notices from their insurers. 

    “I’m the steward of this nonprofit and then the insurer sends me this letter, so what am I really covered for?” said Mitchell. “I like to believe that nobody would ever come in and sue, but I never know.”

    This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Forever chemicals are poisoning your insurance on Jun 19, 2024.

    This post was originally published on Grist.

  • A new report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, has found that more fish were farmed worldwide in 2022 than harvested from the wild, an apparent first.

    Last week, the FAO released its annual report on the state of aquaculture — which refers to the farming of both seafood and aquatic plants — and fisheries around the world. The organization found that global production from both aquaculture and fisheries reached a new high — 223.3 million metric tons of animals and plants — in 2022. Of that, 185.4 million metric tons were aquatic animals, and 37.8 million metric tons were algae. Aquaculture was responsible for 51 percent of aquatic animal production in 2022, or 94.4 metric tons. 

    The milestone was in many ways an expected one, given the world’s insatiable appetite for seafood. Since 1961, consumption of seafood has grown at twice the annual rate of the global population, according to the FAO. Because production levels from fisheries are not expected to change significantly in the future, meeting the growing global demand for seafood almost certainly necessitates an increase in aquaculture. 

    Though fishery production levels fluctuate from year to year, “it’s not like there’s new fisheries out there waiting to be discovered,” said Dave Martin, program director for Sustainable Fisheries Partnerships, an international organization that works to reduce the environmental impact of seafood supply chains. “So any growth in consumption of seafood is going to come from aquaculture.”

    But the rise of aquaculture underscores the need to transform seafood systems to minimize their impact on the planet. Both aquaculture and fisheries — sometimes referred to as capture fisheries, as they involve the capture of wild seafood — come with significant environmental and climate considerations. What’s more, the two systems often depend on each other, making it difficult to isolate their climate impacts. 

    A fisherman, wearing reflective gear and visible from the waist down, lifts several crates containing oysters
    A worker removes a stack of oyster baskets during harvest. Bloomberg Creative / Getty Images

    “There’s a lot of overlap between fisheries and aquaculture that the average consumer may not see,” said Dave Love, a research professor at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University. 

    Studies have shown that the best diet for the planet is one free of animal protein. Still, seafood generally has much lower greenhouse gas emissions than other forms of protein from land-based animals. And given many people’s unwillingness or inability to go vegan, the FAO recommends transforming, adapting, and expanding sustainable seafood production to feed the world’s growing population and improve food security.

    But “there’s a lot of ways to do aquaculture well, and there’s a lot of ways to do it poorly,” said Martin. Aquaculture can result in nitrogen and phosphorus being released into the natural environment, damaging aquatic ecosystems. Farmed fish can also spread disease to wild populations, or escape from their confines and breed with other species, resulting in genetic pollution that can disrupt the fitness of a wild population. Martin points to the diesel fuel used to power equipment on certain fish farms as a major source of aquaculture’s environmental impact. According to an analysis from the climate solutions nonprofit Project Drawdown, swapping out fossil fuel-based generators on fish farms for renewable-powered hybrids would prevent 500 million to 780 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2050. 

    Other areas for improvement will vary depending on the specific species being farmed. In 2012, a U.N. study found that mangrove forests — a major carbon sink — have suffered greatly due to the development of shrimp and fish farming. Today, industry stakeholders have been exploring how new approaches and techniques from shrimp farmers can help restore mangroves

    Meanwhile, wild fishing operations present their own environmental problems. For example, poorly managed fisheries can harvest fish more quickly than wild populations can breed, a phenomenon known as overfishing. Certain destructive wild fishing techniques also kill a lot of non-targeted species, known as bycatch, threatening marine biodiversity.

    But the line between aquaculture and fish harvested from the wild isn’t as clear as it may seem. For example, pink salmon that are raised in hatcheries and then released into the wild to feed, mature, and ultimately be caught again are often marketed as “wild caught.” Lobsters, caught wild in Maine, are often fed bait by fisherman to help them put on weight. “It’s a wild fishery,” said Love — but the lobster fishermen’s practice of fattening up their catch shows how human intervention is present even in wild-caught operations. 

    On the flipside, in a majority of aquaculture systems, farmers provide their fish with feed. That feed sometimes includes fish meal, says Love, a powder that comes from two sources: seafood processing waste (think: fish guts and tails) and wild-caught fish. 

    All of this can result in a confusing landscape for climate- or environmentally-conscientious consumers who eat fish. But Love recommends a few ways in which consumers can navigate choice when shopping for seafood. Buying fresh fish locally helps shorten supply chains, which can lower the carbon impact of eating aquatic animals. “In our work, we’ve found that the big impact from transport is shipping fresh seafood internationally by air,” he said. Most farmed salmon, for example, sold in the US is flown in

    From both a climate and a nutritional standpoint, smaller fish and sea vegetables are also both good options. “Mussels, clams, oysters, seaweed — they’re all loaded with macronutrients and minerals in different ways” compared to fin fish, said Love. 

    This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The world is farming more seafood than it catches. Is that a good thing? on Jun 14, 2024.

    This post was originally published on Grist.

  • Landmark verdict against Chiquita marks first time major US company held liable for funding human rights abuses abroad

    A Florida court has ordered Chiquita Brands International to pay $38m to the families of eight Colombian men murdered by a paramilitary death squad, after the American banana giant was shown to have financed the terrorist organisation from 1997-2004.

    The landmark ruling late on Monday came after 17 years of legal efforts and is the first time that the fruit multinational has paid out compensation to Colombian victims, opening the way for thousands of others to seek restitution.

    Continue reading…

    This post was originally published on Human rights | The Guardian.

  • How was the experience of growing up on the border with Mexico? When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

    I was born in Cancun, Mexico, and raised there for about six years. My mom’s side of the family is from Reynosa Tamaulipas, and then the bordering city of Reynosa is McAllen, Texas. And then I moved to Austin, but I don’t recall a time necessarily where I was like, “I want to be an artist.” I started playing guitar when I was nine in Austin, and I think I just knew the guitar was my tool to express myself, that it was the only way that I could make myself understood, the only way that I could say what I wanted to say, that was my voice, and I didn’t think that that was being an artist until I was maybe 15. What shaped my need to express and my need to create as a tool, as my voice was being raised by a single mom, and as an only child throughout Mexico and Texas.

    How was the process of discovering the guitar, and learning to play it? Are you self-taught, or did you take any classes?

    I went to a camp that was called Natural Ear Music Camp, so I learned by ear. Then I would just learn different classic rock songs by ear, so I was self-taught in the way that I taught myself how to write music, and I was self-motivated. The process of discovering the guitar wasn’t that fun, because I came to the guitar during a time when it wasn’t culturally acceptable for girls to play, especially lead guitar, which is what I prefer. There were a lot of obstacles and a lot of times when I wanted to stop playing because it wasn’t fun. It took a lot of miracle moments for me to stay with it, and eventually find a community to want to be a part of.

    You funded She Shreds Magazine. What was the main motivation to fund that project?

    The first time that multiple of my worlds came together, which was like my anger, my desire to express through music, and also my desire for community support, was at the Girls Rock camp in Portland, Oregon. My mom drove me out there when I was a teenager, and that’s when I learned about women’s impact in music history, it was the first time I saw women play, and I got to ask other women questions, and beyond women, women of color, too. It was a point where I realized like, “This actually exists, and we exist. It’s just very, very hidden.” I wanted to create She Shreds, because up until that point, I felt alone in music-making, and in looking for, again, support and community. I wanted to make She Shreds as a space to help other women and women of color find community and resources that are taught by other women.

    Running a magazine also comes with the business side of it. How was the process of managing both the editorial and the operational side of it?

    The idea for the magazine came when I was 18, and it took until I was 20 or so years old to finally put an issue out. That took organizing a festival, raising money, and bringing volunteers together to write and photograph, edit, and illustrate the magazine. The process of putting the magazine together was new for me. I didn’t go to college, this was my college.

    There was so much learning that I was just fascinated, excited, and determined. Going and finding financial support, I’d never done that before. I was so passionate about She Shreds and this needed to exist. I think the first five years were just like, “Wow. I’m learning so much about myself, and I’m learning so much about marketing, and business, and fundraising,” but really it’s just because this magazine had never really been done before, I was able to just do it my way and in collaboration with other artists and other musicians. That was really fun. As things started to get more business-oriented, the magazine had already been around for 10 issues or so, and we had gotten established with brand partnerships.

    It started to get a little bit more boring. It wasn’t learning anymore. It was just repetition, and doing the same things. That’s what burned me out. For me, the most fun parts were when I didn’t know anything, and then once I started to know, and I started to just do the same things, I lost interest. It didn’t feel like it was doing anything new. That’s when I decided to stop, because if I’m not doing something that’s actually changing a need or filling a gap or something, then I’d rather stop and rethink why this needs to exist, and then come back to it when it’s needed again.

    It’s not easy to say, “Okay, this is enough,” particularly, when it’s something that you put so much effort into it.

    Luckily, for me there are so many things that I do, there are so many outlets, and Reyna Tropical is an extension of She Shreds. They’re sisters. So, it’s not like I’m not doing She Shreds. It’s just that I’m doing it another way. Reyna Tropical will, and is, inspiring me, and giving me a different perspective to come back to She Shreds in a way that is refreshing and new, and needed by people today.

    I’ve also just learned why rush it? Why force it? Just give it the time it needs, and it’ll come back, and it’ll feel really good, rather than come at it when you’re burnt out, and you don’t have anything to give, and you’re just dehydrating yourself.

    How did you start to feel comfortable with singing and being a frontwoman onstage?

    It was all difficult for me. I didn’t want to do any of it, singing or being a frontwoman, and it was really awkward at first. I didn’t know how to move, and I was really shy, and I was really in the back, hiding behind Sumo. But as the guitar for me was less about being artistic and more about expressing, and my voice started to become that intuitively, so I didn’t have a choice, because I started to get to know myself through that process.

    I think that the theme between the guitar, She Shreds, and singing is all three of these things have taught me so much about myself, have brought me so much education, internally, and externally, about the world, and have brought me to different communities and have allowed me to learn what the people need, what the people want, and that feels important for me, as my way of connecting in my lifetime.

    That’s what singing was starting to do, it was starting to guide me, and I just had no choice. I think it was maybe summer 2021, after the pandemic that we played a show in LA, and everyone knew the words, and it was just this new energy, and it brought me into my huge frontperson personality.

    From then on out, I needed that energy, I needed that complete release, so that’s what I tried to channel onstage, and that’s what I still do now. But it took at least five years to get there with Reyna Tropical. I’m still working, vocally, on being confident. It’s still a process, but I think I have a clear vision of where I want to go.

    From what you are saying, it also seems like your intuition guided you to also be with the flow.

    Right, which is a scary thing to trust. In my experience, it guides you and lands you in places, where you can’t quite consciously make those decisions. You just have to say yes, follow it, and trust.

    How do you think that trust also comes into creating music?

    I think any relationship that we have with each other. For me, connecting with people is important, because it sets the foundation for how my relationship with everything else is going to be, with animals, with the Earth, with water, with everything, and I feel like music is a relationship.

    It’s one of my deepest, most intimate relationships, and it’s the language that I feel like I can connect to my ancestors with. I feel like that music is sort of the direct translation of my intuition, and all of the different communications that happen through that ancestrally, and subconsciously.

    I just feel like everything about music is about trust, and it’s about not knowing what’s going to come through, it’s about not knowing how it even is formed, or where it’s even coming from, and you just have to trust that when it comes through, you have to say yes, and even collaborating with people. I can meet you for 10 minutes, and just feel a trust there, and we can write, but if I don’t, it’s not going to come through, it’s not going to flow, and it’s not going to be offered to the people in the most transformative way. I need to trust the collaborator, but, also, to spend time on the land, and spend time with the people of that land, so that it’s reciprocal. It’s not just me needing to trust them, or it. It’s it and them needing to trust me too.

    How do you know when you are done with writing a song or an album?

    I need pressure, I need deadlines. I need a little bit of chaos to make it all come together and be released. Otherwise, I’m just going to keep trying to perfect it. That’s always been the practice with Reyna Tropical write something for four hours, and then just release it right then and there. What you wrote is what you wrote. I guess the trust is just I’m going to trust that whoever needs to pick this up, whoever needs to receive this is going to, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. What do I have to lose?

    When you toured with your first EP you sold out shows with no manager or marketing efforts. How was that experience?

    If it wasn’t for people asking for it, or for things like that happening, I would have never followed up with Reyna Tropical. It wasn’t my dream to be a singer or frontwoman. Because I was singing in this project, I didn’t care to do it. I never really wanted to play live in it. It was just an experiment for intuitive expression, and it wasn’t meant to be played live or anything.

    Doors started to open. Bomba Estereo asked us to go on tour with them, and then they took us to Colombia, and then all kinds of things started to open up for Reyna Tropical, so it was clear that people wanted it, and so I diverted my attention to it. To us, selling out shows was just a testament of how important this music was, partly because of the drive that was coming through, but also [how important it was] to the people listening. It’s another one of those things where it’s like I feel like I didn’t have a choice. That’s what people were asking for, and that’s the whole thing. I just listen to what the people want, and if they don’t want it, then I’m not going to do it.

    You just mentioned that back then doing music with Reyna Tropical was not your dream. You recently released a new album with this project titled Malegria. Are you in a place where this is your dream?

    I’m in a place where I’m completely open to the possibilities and what the opportunities are to come from it. I could go either way. I’m prepared for it to not be received, and for it to not be distributed, or for it not to be loved, and I can change my life, and go to the beach, and do whatever if that doesn’t happen, but I’m also prepared for it to be extremely well-received, and for the doors to open for this to be my life, for the rest of my life.

    This is my dream because my dream is to connect with people through music, to investigate diasporic experiences, to research history as it’s impacted by Black and brown people, and to tell that truth. My dream is also to continue to create spaces where Black and brown people and Indigenous folks and women can feel their most potent potential. My dream is to create those spaces, and I think I believe that Reyna Tropical and Malegria are here to do that. If they do that, then that will be my dream fulfilled, to just create bigger and bigger spaces with those visions, and that ethos in mind. But if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll just try something else.

    You are describing a mindset where you are open to possibilities. I wonder if under this vision there is room for expectations or to think about failure.

    The biggest failure would have been to not have done it, because that was a possibility. If this album wasn’t coming out right now, I would have felt like I missed an opportunity. This album, for me, is the most accurate expression of what I went through the last four years, and, for me, it couldn’t have been a better album–for what I wanted to say to myself, for the documentation that I wanted to have for this moment–it couldn’t have been better.

    I am so extremely happy about being able to have done that, to be able to have expressed it so accurately, for myself, period. That’s the biggest success I could have ever possibly had. Whether people want to write about it, or want to listen to it, or whatever, is all extra. I’m excited when people want to listen to it, and I’m super excited when people receive it in the way it was meant to be received, and that’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe that people can pick up on that.” And, “Wow, how powerful of a communication tool music is when people who don’t even know me know exactly what I’m saying.” But, there’s no failure in it because I created the perfect thing for myself.

    Your bandmate Sumo died in 2022. In one of your recent Instagram posts, you mentioned that this album is a story about your loss and grief, and along the way, you felt a kind of imposter syndrome as well. How was the process of going through this grief, the collaboration that existed between you and Sumo, and creating this album without him?

    When someone so close to you passes away, someone that, especially, you were dedicating your whole life to, and it was all very weaved together, the question, inevitably, comes. Maybe you don’t even have to be that close. I just think when something so great like grief comes through, one of the first questions is, “Who am I without this person? What am I capable of without this person? Am I capable of it? Of anything?” I just got completely filled with insecurities, because I didn’t really know what life could be like without him. I had to start over in a lot of ways. It’s interesting because I had that confidence before he passed away of, “This is who I am. This is what I do,” but for whatever reason, when he passed away and the grief came, I, all of a sudden, just felt like I needed him so badly.

    It just took time to come back to myself, to who I am, and to not be completely enveloped by the grief, and it was a huge opportunity for a rebirth. It was like you were zapped completely clean slate, and it was like being lost in that empty room, and being like, “Wait, this doesn’t look familiar,” but then being able to bring in elements, redecorate the room, and not bring in the things that you didn’t want. My insecurities just came from grief. I don’t even know if they were mine. I think it was what grief does to somebody.

    What excites you about the future?

    I’m grateful to be in a position where people are interested in listening to me, so I’m excited to get my words, and my expression more and more concise, so that I can say things in a way that people can receive them, and it’s more accessible. I’m in this place where I have no idea what the future brings, and I love that feeling. I love not knowing. But in the meantime, I’m just going to keep studying, practicing, and learning, so that when those opportunities come, my words come, and I can be ready to connect with people.

    Reyna Tropical recommends:

    Herban Cura Herbal CSA

    Being mindful about our plastic consumption and finding alternative ways to consume, sustainable for our everyday life (reusable glass, stainless steel, bamboo utensils)

    We Are Owed by Ariana Brown

    Oaxaca The Talk for Education on Mezcal

    Giving compostable offerings (plants, honey, presence) to a body of water you frequent

    This post was originally published on The Creative Independent.

  • BroadAgenda is featuring a short series of profiles on amazing women and LGBTIQ + folks. You’re about to meet Dr Bomikazi Zeka. She’s an Assistant Professor in Finance and Financial Planning with the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra.

    If you were sitting next to someone at a dinner party, how would you explain your work and research in a nutshell? 

    I’ve always wondered why women receive the short end of the stick when it comes to our financial outcomes. I often found myself asking questions like why do women have lower savings rates then men? Why are older women more likely to be impoverished? Why does parenthood financially penalise women more than men?

    I want to know the answers to these questions which is why so much of my work focuses on understanding how women’s social identities influence their financial outcomes. More broadly my work takes an intersectional approach to understand how parts of our identity such as race, age, gender, culture, marital status, family dynamics and employment influences women’s savings trajectories, financial security, and financial independence.

    What are you currently working on that’s making you excited or that has legs?

    I recently published an article for The Conversation on ‘Financial abuse from an intimate partner? Three ways you can protect yourself’. I was both terrified and excited about putting this out there because it’s such a difficult topic to broach. As much as we’ve been making huge strides in highlighting the challenges women face when it comes to financial planning, we also need to talk about this silent assassin called ‘financial abuse’ which jeopardises our safety.

    Most people still think of financial abuse as something that only occurs within marriages or romantic partnerships, but it can happen in families too (between siblings or children and parents). When money becomes entangled within our personal relationships, it can become an incredibly difficult situation to navigate.

    This is why I want to educate people about the signs of financial abuse which is the first step to empowering yourself and getting away from that situation.   

    Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Why did you go into this field?  What was compelling about it? 

    I remember getting pocket money as a child which I suppose was my parents’ way of teaching me how to manage money. But I also remember my parents borrowing my pocket money to pay for something and promising to pay it back with interest. I loved the idea of making more money from lending money and it made much more sense than being paid to do chores! Somewhere along the way I started to realise that the scales are unbalanced and despite working for money, many people are still left disadvantaged.

    What impact do you hope your work has?  

    My dream is to demystify and destigmatize conversations about money because I believe in the old adage that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. When we get to a place when we can talk openly about finances, ask questions and share knowledge freely with one another we can hopefully start changing attitudes about money talk. There are too many people that are scared, embarrassed and perhaps even ashamed to admit they aren’t sure how to approach things when it comes to personal finances. While I understand why people may feel this way, burying your head in the sand won’t make those emotions and problems go away.

    So, if you know a thing or two about money, I’d encourage you to pass that knowledge on. Tell a friend, talk to your kids, siblings or cousins – you could even offer to mentor someone if you have the knowledge and skills to do so. We all have a part to play, and you never know whose life you might change by simply sharing what you know.

    As they say, knowledge is power, and when you know better, you do better, and in turn those around you become better too! And isn’t that what empowerment is all about?

    Do you view yourself as feminist researcher? Why? Why not? What does the word mean to you in the context of your own values, and also your work? 

    Oh definitely! Among other things, feminism is also about women having equal access to economic opportunities and being able to use those opportunities to achieve financial security. And when we get to that point, we should be unapologetic about it because everyone deserves equal access and financial security.

    What have you discovered in your work that has most surprised or enchanted you?  

    Before I started doing research on women’s financial planning, I’d never truly understood the extent to which our gender can affect our financial outcomes.

    Learning that so many factors negatively impact women compared to men and the cumulative effect this has on our personal finances deeply resonated with me.

    It’s obviously not a pleasant surprise, but it was a huge eye-opener for me because I never considered how inequality in one area of our lives can result in inequality in other areas. For example, someone who is experiencing job insecurity is also likely to have inadequate access to health care, experience food insecurity, have difficulty with transportation access as well as deal with housing insecurity. This is not even to mention the toll this all takes on our mental health which creates another obstacle for a person to contend with.

    Is there anything else you want to say?  

    There’s so much that we take at face value when it comes to women’s finances, but when we consider how social and economic identities play a role, we start scratching the surface. After we understand this, then we can find a more nuanced approach to help women achieve their financial goals and figure out how to help the next generation of women.

    The post Profile series – inspiring women: Bomikazi Zeka appeared first on BroadAgenda.

    This post was originally published on BroadAgenda.

  • SPECIAL REPORT: Islands Business in Suva

    Today is the 24th anniversary of renegade and failed businessman George Speight’s coup in 2000 Fiji. The elected coalition government headed by Mahendra Chaudhry, the first and only Indo-Fijian prime minister of Fiji, was held hostage at gunpoint for 56 days in the country’s new Parliament by Speight’s rebel gunmen in a putsch that shook the Pacific and the world.

    Emerging recently from almost 24 years in prison, former investigative journalist and publisher Josefa Nata — Speight’s “media minder” — is now convinced that the takeover of Fiji’s Parliament on 19 May 2000 was not justified.

    He believes that all it did was let the “genie of racism” out of the bottle.

    He spoke to Islands Business Fiji correspondent, Joe Yaya on his journey back from the dark.

    The Fiji government kept you in jail for 24 years [for your media role in the coup]. That’s a very long time. Are you bitter?

    I heard someone saying in Parliament that “life is life”, but they have been releasing other lifers. Ten years was conventionally considered the term of a life sentence. That was the State’s position in our sentencing. The military government extended it to 12 years. I believe it was out of malice, spitefulness and cruelty — no other reason. But to dwell in the past is counterproductive.

    If there’s anyone who should be bitter, it should be me. I was released [from prison] in 2013 but was taken back in after two months, ostensibly to normalise my release papers. That government did not release me. I stayed in prison for another 10 years.

    To be bitter is to allow those who hurt you to live rent free in your mind. They have moved on, probably still rejoicing in that we have suffered that long. I have forgiven them, so move on I must.

    Time is not on my side. I have set myself a timeline and a to-do list for the next five years.

    Jo Nata's journey from the dark
    Jo Nata’s journey from the dark, Islands Business, April 2024. Image: IB/Joe Yaya/USP Journalism

    What are some of those things?

    Since I came out, I have been busy laying the groundwork for a community rehabilitation project for ex-offenders, released prisoners, street kids and at-risk people in the law-and-order space. We are in the process of securing a piece of land, around 40 ha to set up a rehabilitation farm. A half-way house of a sort.

    You can’t have it in the city. It would be like having the cat to watch over the fish. There is too much temptation. These are vulnerable people who will just relapse. They’re put in an environment where they are shielded from the lures of the world and be guided to be productive and contributing members of society.

    It will be for a period of up to six months; in exceptional cases, 12 months where they will learn living off the land. With largely little education, the best opportunity for these people, and only real hope, is in the land.

    Most of these at-risk people are [indigenous] Fijians. Although all native land are held by the mataqali, each family has a patch which is the “kanakana”. We will equip them and settle them in their villages. We will liaise with the family and the village.

    Apart from farming, these young men and women will be taught basic life skills, social skills, savings, budgeting. When we settle them in the villages and communities, we will also use the opportunity to create the awareness that crime does not pay, that there is a better life than crime and prison, and that prison is a waste of a potentially productive life.

    Are you comfortable with talking about how exactly you got involved with Speight?

    The bulk of it will come out in the book that I’m working on, but it was not planned. It was something that happened on the day.

    You said that when they saw you, they roped you in?

    Yes. But there were communications with me the night prior. I basically said, “piss off”.

    So then, what made you go to Parliament eventually? Curiosity?

    No. I got a call from Parliament. You see, we were part of the government coalition at that time. We were part of the Fijian Association Party (led by the late Adi Kuini Speed). The Fiji Labour Party was our main coalition partner, and then there was the Christian Alliance. And you may recall or maybe not, there was a split in the Fijian Association [Party] and there were two factions. I was in the faction that thought that we should not go into coalition.

    There was an ideological reason for the split [because the party had campaigned on behalf of iTaukei voters] but then again, there were some members who came with us only because they were not given seats in Cabinet.

    Because your voters had given you a certain mandate?

    A masked gunman waves to journalists to duck during crossfire
    A masked gunman waves to journalists to duck during crossfire. Image: IPI Global Journalist/Joe Yaya/USP Journalism

    Well, we were campaigning on the [indigenous] Fijian manifesto and to go into the [coalition] complicated things. Mine was more a principled position because we were a [indigenous] Fijian party and all those people went in on [indigenous] Fijian votes. And then, here we are, going into [a coalition with the Fiji Labour Party] and people probably
    accused us of being opportunists.

    But the Christian Alliance was a coalition partner with Labour before they went into the election in the same way that the People’s Alliance and National Federation Party were coalition partners before they got into [government], whereas with us, it was more like SODELPA (Social Democratic Liberal Party).

    So, did you feel that the rights of indigenous Fijians were under threat from the Coalition government of then Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry?

    Perhaps if Chaudhry was allowed to carry on, it could have been good for [indigenous] Fijians. I remember the late President and Tui Nayau [Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara] . . .  in a few conversations I had with him, he said it [Labour Party] should be allowed to . . . [carry on].

    Did you think at that time that the news media gave Chaudhry enough space for him to address the fears of the iTaukei people about what he was trying to do, especially for example, through the Land Use Commission?

    I think the Fijians saw what he was doing and that probably exacerbated or heightened the concerns of [indigenous] Fijians and if you remember, he gave Indian cane farmers certain financial privileges.

    The F$10,000 grants to move from Labasa, when the ALTA (Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act) leases expired. Are you talking about that?

    I can’t remember the exact details of the financial assistance but when they [Labour Party] were questioned, they said, “No, there were some Fijian farmers too”. There were also iTaukei farmers but if you read in between the lines, there were like 50 Indian farmers and one Fijian farmer.

    Was there enough media coverage for the rural population to understand that it was not a one-sided ethnic policy?

    Because there were also iTaukei farmers involved. Yes, and I think when you try and pull the wool over other people, that’s when they feel that they have been hoodwinked. But going back to your question of whether Chaudhry was given fair media coverage, I was no longer in the mainstream media at that time. I had moved on.

    But the politicians have their views and they’ll feel that they have been done badly by the media. But that’s democracy. That’s the way things worked out.

    "The Press and the Putsch"
    “The Press and the Putsch”, Asia Pacific Media Educator, No 10, January 2021. Image: APME/Joe Yaya/USP Journalism

    Pacific journalism educator, David Robie, in a paper in 2001, made some observations about the way the local media reported the Speight takeover. He said, “In the early weeks of the insurrection, the media enjoyed an unusually close relationship with Speight and the hostage takers.”

    He went on to say that at times, there was “strong sympathy among some journalists for the cause, even among senior editorial executives”.

    David Robie is an incisive and perceptive old-school journalist who has a proper understanding of issues and I do not take issue with his opinion. And I think there is some validity. But you see, I was on the other [Speight’s] side. And it was part of my job at that time to swing that perception from the media.

    Did you identify with “the cause” and did you think it was legitimate?

    Let me tell you in hindsight, that the coup was not justified
    and that is after a lot of reflection. It was not justified and
    could never be justified.

    When did you come to that conclusion?

    It was after the period in Parliament and after things were resolved and then Parliament was vacated, I took a drive around town and I saw the devastation in Suva. This was a couple of months later. I didn’t realise the extent of the damage and I remember telling myself, “Oh my god, what have we done? What have we done?”

    And I realised that we probably have let the genie out of the bottle and it scared me [that] it only takes a small thing like this to unleash this pentup emotion that is in the people. Of course, a lot of looting was [by] opportunists because at that time, the people who
    were supporting the cause were all in Parliament. They had all marched to Parliament.

    So, who did the looting in town? I’m not excusing that. I’m just trying to put some perspective. And of course, we saw pictures, which was really, very sad . . .  of mothers, women, carrying trolleys [of loot] up the hill, past the [Colonial War Memorial] hospital.

    So, what was Speight’s primary motivation?

    Well, George will, I’m sure, have the opportunity at some point to tell the world what his position was. But he was never the main player. He was ditched with the baby on his laps.

    So, there were people So, there were people behind him. He was the man of the moment. He was the one facing the cameras.

    Given your education, training, experience in journalism, what kind of lens were you viewing this whole thing from?

    Well, let’s put it this way. I got a call from Parliament. I said, “No, I’m not coming down.” And then they called again.

    Basically, they did not know where they were going. I think what was supposed to have happened didn’t happen. So, I got another call, I got about three or four calls, maybe five. And then eventually, after two o’clock I went down to Parliament, because the person who called was a friend of mine and somebody who had shared our fortunes and misfortunes.

    So, did you get swept away? What was going on inside your head?

    George Speight's forces hold Fiji government members hostage
    George Speight’s forces hold Fiji government members hostage at the parliamentary complex in Suva. Image: IPI Global Journalist/Brian Cassey/Associated Press

    I joined because at that point, I realised that these people needed help. I was not so much as for the cause, although there was this thing about what Chaudhry was doing. I also took that into account. But primarily because the call came [and] so I went.

    And when I was finally called into the meeting, I walked in and I saw faces that I’d never seen before. And I started asking the questions, “Have you done this? Have you done that?”

    And as I asked the questions, I was also suggesting solutions and then I just got dragged into it. The more I asked questions, the more I found out how much things were in disarray.

    I just thought I’d do my bit [because] they were people who had taken over Parliament and they did not know where to go from there.

    But you were driven by some nationalistic sentiments?

    I am a [indigenous] Fijian. And everything that goes with that. I’m not infallible. But then again, I do not want to blow that trumpet.

    Did the group see themselves as freedom fighters of some sort when you went into prison?

    I’m not a freedom fighter. If they want to be called freedom fighters, that’s for them and I think some of them even portrayed themselves [that way]. But not me. I’m just an idiot who got sidetracked.

    This personal journey that you’ve embarked on, what brought that about?

    When I was in prison, I thought about this a lot. Because for me to come out of the bad place I was in — not physically, that I was in prison, but where my mind was — was to first accept the situation I was in and take responsibility. That’s when the healing started to take place.

    And then I thought that I should write to people that I’ve hurt. I wrote about 200 letters from prison to anybody I thought I had hurt or harmed or betrayed. Groups, individuals, institutions, and families. I was surprised at the magnanimity of the people who received my letters.

    I do not know where they all are now. I just sent it out. I was touched by a lot of the responses and I got a letter from the late [historian] Dr Brij Lal. l was so encouraged and I was so emotional when I read the letter. [It was] a very short letter and the kindness in the man to say that, “We will continue to talk when you come out of prison.”

    There were also the mockers, the detractors, certain persons who said unkind things that, you know, “He’s been in prison and all of a sudden, he’s . . . “. That’s fine, I accepted all that as part of the package. You take the bad with the good.

    I wrote to Mr Chaudhry and I had the opportunity to apologise to him personally when he came to visit in prison. And I want to continue this dialogue with Mr Chaudhry if he would like to.

    Because if anything, I am among the reasons Fiji is in this current state of distrust and toxic political environment. If I can assist in bringing the nation together, it would be part of my atonement for my errors. For I have been an unprofitable, misguided individual who would like to do what I believe is my duty to put things right.

    And I would work with anyone in the political spectrum, the communal leaders, the vanua and the faith organisations to bring that about.

    I also did my traditional apology to my chiefly household of Vatuwaqa and the people of the vanua of Lau. I had invited the Lau Provincial Council to have its meeting at the Corrections Academy in Naboro. By that time, the arrangements had been confirmed for the Police Academy.

    But the Roko gave us the farewell church service. I got my dear late sister, Pijila to organise the family. I presented the matanigasau to the then-Council Chairman, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba (Roko Ului). It was a special moment, in front of all the delegates to the council meeting, the chiefly clan of the Vuanirewa, and Lauans who filled the two buses and
    countless vehicles that made it to Naboro.

    Our matanivanua (herald) was to make the tabua presentation. But I took it off him because I wanted Roko Ului and the people of Lau to hear my remorse from my mouth. It was very, very emotional. Very liberating. Cathartic.

    Late last year, the Coalition government passed a motion in Parliament for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Do you support that?

    Oh yes, I think everything I’ve been saying so far points that way.

    The USP Journalism 2000 award-winning coup coverage archive
    The USP Journalism 2000 award-winning coup coverage archive. Graphic: Café Pacific

    Do you think it’ll help those that are still incarcerated to come out and speak about what happened in 2000?

    Well, not only that but the important thing is [addressing] the general [racial] divide. If that’s where we should start, then we should start there. That’s how I’m looking at it — the bigger picture.

    It’s not trying to manage the problems or issues of the last 24 years. People are still hurting from [the coups of] 1987. And what happened in 2006 — nothing has divided this country so much. Anybody who’s thought about this would want this to go beyond just solving the problem of 2000, excusing, and accusing and after that, there’s forgiveness and pardon.

    That’s a small part. That too if it needs to happen. But after all that, I don’t want anybody to go to prison because of their participation or involvement in anything from 1987 to 2000. If they cooked the books later, while they were in government, then that’s a different
    matter.

    But I saw on TV, the weeping and the very public expression of pain of [the late, former Prime Minister, Laisenia] Qarase’s grandchildren when he was convicted and taken away [to prison]. It brought tears to my eyes. There is always a lump in my throat at the memory of my Heilala’s (elder of two daughters) last visit to [me in] Nukulau.

    Hardly a word was spoken as we held each other, sobbing uncontrollably the whole time, except to say that Tiara (his sister) was not allowed by the officers at the naval base to come to say her goodbye.

    That was very painful. I remember thinking that people can be cruel, especially when the girls explained that it was to be their last visit. Then the picture in my mind of Heilala sitting alone under the turret of the navy ship as she tried not to look back. I had asked her not to look back.

    I deserved what I got. But not them. I would not wish the same things I went through on anyone else, not even those who were malicious towards me.

    It is the family that suffers. The family are always the silent victims. It is the family that stands by you. They may not agree with what you did. Perhaps it is among the great gifts of God, that children forgive parents and love them still despite the betrayal, abandonment, and pain.

    For I betrayed the two women I love most in the world. I betrayed ‘Ulukalala [son] who was born the same year I went to prison. I betrayed and brought shame to my family and my village of Waciwaci. I betrayed friends of all ethnicities and those who helped me in my chosen profession and later, in business.

    I betrayed the people of Fiji. That betrayal was officially confirmed when the court judgment called me a traitor. I accepted that portrayal and have to live with it. The judges — at least one of them — even opined that I masterminded the whole thing. I have to decline that dubious honour. That belongs elsewhere.

    This article by Joe Yaya is republished from last month’s Islands Business magazine cover story with the permission of editor Richard Naidu and Yaya. The photographs are from a 2000 edition of the Commonwealth Press Union’s Global Journalist magazine dedicated to the reporting of The University of the South Pacific’s student journalists. Joe Yaya was a member of the USP team at the time. The archive of the award-winning USP student coverage of the coup is here.   


    This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by Pacific Media Watch.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Education department secretary Tony Cook will chair a new committee set up to support the implementation of reforms recommended from the Universities Accord. Announced alongside the federal Budget on Tuesday, the 10-member advisory committee features representation from higher education, VET and policy experts to support continued engagement between the government and the tertiary education sector…

    The post Gig Guide: New committee to drive Uni Accord response appeared first on InnovationAus.com.

    This post was originally published on InnovationAus.com.

  • Campaigners say move to use the arts to reinforce economic ties with Riyadh may help to launder Gulf state’s human rights record

    It was an unusual gig for YolanDa Brown, the saxophonist and composer who this week performed high above the clouds for a UK delegation on a private British Airways plane bound for Saudi Arabia.

    The flight was part of a trade offensive for British businesses and institutions in Riyadh, with Brown’s performance part of a new focus for Saudi-UK relations – international arts.

    Continue reading…

    This post was originally published on Human rights | The Guardian.

  • Thames Water HQ

    Macquarie Group, dubbed the ‘Vampire Kangaroo’ in Britain, played a the key role the privatisation disaster which is Thames Water – now facing a multi-billion pound bailout by the UK Government. Matt Prescott reports from London.

    Macquarie Bank was the mastermind behind the financial engineering that has a simple water authority mired in debt, then paid itself and its co-investors billions in dividends and walked away just before the shit (literally) hit the river because of operational failures and neglect.

    Now, a major insolvency crisis is brewing in the English water industry, which could soon lead to the UK Government renationalising England’s largest water company, Thames Water, and taking on £15.6B to £18B ($29.6 to 34.1M)* of its corporate debt as part of an emergency rescue deal.

    Thames Water, which serves 15.5 million people, is teetering on the brink of collapse. Its parent company, Kemble Water, recently defaulted on a £190 million debt repayment and suffered from investors reneging on a £500 million commitment. Now, Thames Water is claiming that The Water Services Regulation Authority’s (Ofwat) refusal to allow it to raise bills by 40% will make it “uninvestable”.

    Macquarie’s junk yard dogs on the prowl

    Macquarie Bank and Thames Water

    In 2006, Macquarie Bank bought into Thames Water, leading a consortium of 14 international investors called Kemble Water, including Dutch, Australian and Canadian pension funds.

    The consortium paid German energy company RWE £2.3 billion for Thames Water in an overly complex deal that few, if any, independent observers fully understood (see Figures 1 and 2).

    According to Macquarie, “The two main funds used to acquire Thames Water were the €1.5B Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF) and Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund II (a €4.2B fund) (MEIF II). Together, these funds, along with other Macquarie-managed funds, accounted for £1.1B of the purchase price and constituted around 48% of the ownership of Thames Water in 2006. International funds investing directly in Thames Water provided the remaining equity capital, and some remain owners of Thames Water today.”

    Thames Water ownership structure

    Figure 1. Structure of ownership (2007) produced by Martin Blaiklock for the House of Commons Select Committee on Treasury

    Macquarie has since stated that “Thames Water was acquired for an enterprise value of £8.5 billion comprising c. £2.3 billion in equity and c. £6.2 billion in third-party debt. The proceeds were paid to RWE by the acquiring consortium upon completion of the sale. At the time of acquisition, the Regulated Asset Base of Thames Water was c. £6.5 billion.”

    BBC Investigation

    In 2017, a BBC investigation discovered that much of the Macquarie refinancing funding their acquisition of Thames Water ended up on Thames Water’s balance sheet, via a network of linked subsidiaries. The BBC found “transactions which culminated in Thames Water having the additional £2B of debt on its books took place inside a network of companies set up by Macquarie at the time it bought Thames Water.

    A consultation paper published by the industry regulator Ofwat in February 2007, showed that Macquarie and their investors paid £5.1B for Thames Water, of which £2.8B was money Macquarie borrowed to help fund the purchase.

    What happened subsequently to that £2.8B so-called “acquisition debt” is revealed in a letter, dated October last year, from Thames Water’s then-chairman, Sir Peter Mason, to Martin Blaiklock (a consultant with international experience of privatised utility funding who undertook an analysis for the BBC). It was written in reply to questions arising from Mr Blaiklock’s attempts to understand Thames Water’s offshore financial structure.

    In this letter, Sir Peter reveals that, of the £2.8B acquisition debt, £2B had been repaid. Not by Macquarie and its investors who borrowed the money, but from new borrowings raised by Thames Water through a Cayman Islands-based subsidiary. Martin Blaiklock said:

    “That letter was a red flag to me because it showed clearly

    that the debt which Macquarie funds had used to buy Thames Water had been transferred over to Thames Water.

    “So now, it was a responsibility of Thames Water and not of Macquarie.”

    Thames Water corporate structure

    Figure 2. Illustration of Thames Water corporate structure, ownership and debt by @JPMorgan published by @FTAlphavilla in 2023

    Following the purchase by Macquarie, water bills were securitised with a bond profile extending to 2062.

    Meaning water users will still be paying for Macquarie’s financial engineering for the next 38 years, even if the company is re-nationalised.

    Macquarie initially sold its MEIF-controlled shares in Thames Water in two stages in 2011 and 2012, and the remaining 26.3% it managed and controlled via MEIF II in 2017.

    Debt, dividends and disaster

    During Macquarie’s co-ownership, debt jumped from £3.4B at the time of purchase to £10.8B by the time of sale, while Thames Water paid out dividends exceeding £2.5B between 2007 and 2017.

    Since privatisation in 1989, over £7.2 billion has been extracted in dividends.

    It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Thames Water is now struggling with £18 billion of debt.

    Thames Water Dividends

    Figure 3. Thames Water Utilities Limited, dividend payouts by year, company reports 1990-2023. Graphics by The Guardian.Thames Water has since stumbled from criminal conviction and pollution calamities to imminent insolvency, partly because it cannot service its outstanding debts (which averaged 28% of annual revenues between 2018 and 2023) and maintain the basic functions expected of a major regulated water utility. Nearly all of Thames’s revenues come from servicing water users.

    Water discharge conviction

    Days after Macquarie Bank sold its final stake, Thames Water was convicted of discharging 4.2 billion litres of partially and untreated sewage across 6 sites in the River Thames and its tributaries between mid-2012 and early 2014, and sentenced to pay £20M in fines and costs. At Aylesbury Crown Court, Judge Francis Sheridan said there had been

    inadequate investment, diabolical maintenance and poor management,

    assessing incidents as “reckless” or “borderline deliberate.” Judge Sheridan concluded: “Knowledge of what was going on went very high indeed.”

    Thames Water was found guilty of engaging in an illegal practice known as “flow clipping,” which involves discharging sewage via storm tanks during non-storm conditions. Storm tanks are designed to store and eventually discharge overflow effluent only during heavy storms, but instead, they were being used to sidestep the full treatment process.

    Ultimately discharging sewage into the rivers and streams anglers fish in, people swim in, children play in and wildlife call home. Furthermore, up to 50% of the sewage the treatment works are designed to treat was bypassing the entire treatment process.

    By diverting over 4.2 billion litres of untreated or partially treated sewage to storm tanks and unlicenced discharge points, Thames Water was undermining the data that Ofwat and the Environment Agency use to monitor water companies’ performances and regulate the industry.

    It was subsequently revealed the River Thames has been polluted by at least 72 billion litres of sewage discharges since 2020, roughly the equivalent of 29,000 Olympic swimming pools.

    Re-nationalisation

    Given the mess Thames Water’s sewage-filled rivers and debt-filled finances are in, it will not be a straightforward process to re-nationalise water supplies.

    England’s inadequate water infrastructure will require £10s of billions of investment, and existing bondholders are likely to have claims on essential water assets via the covenants and other conditions attached to their bonds.

    Depending on the technical details attached to the bonds, we could find that bondholders have the first claim on water assets following an insolvency crisis and the UK Government could be left with few options. Primarily because it needs to continue borrowing from the bond market, and the nation already carries trillions in debt.

    The solutions to funding and regulating essential utilities are not just about ownership; of equal importance is how vital public utilities are to be responsibly regulated and adequately financed.

    After decades of naïve privatisation, “light touch” oversight, self-regulation and deregulation, it is clear that essential public utilities have not been operated in the public interest and need to be strictly regulated. Ensuring bill-payers are receiving value for money, sufficient financing is available for critical infrastructure, that apolitical and independent regulators specify and enforce service standards, and that the environment is protected must remain consistent priorities.

    Since privatisation, corporate structures and accounting tricks are becoming increasingly incomprehensible and hyper-complex debt arrangements are putting outsiders, including regulators, at a significant disadvantage when it comes to protecting the community from the worst excesses of technically legal, yet morally dubious and environmentally damaging, financial dark arts.

    The sting in the privatisation tail

    Macquarie correctly claims to have helped invest £11B during its ownership of Thames Water. But water users and taxpayers will still need to make up for decades of underinvestment. If the entire industry has to be re-nationalised, this could cost £96B across all of England, according to The Guardian.

    The unnecessary complexity and hidden costs associated with privatisation are not in the public, customer or national interest.

    The role of debt, and specifically bonds, in the collapse of Thames Water, a large regional monopoly, deserves to be highlighted. The majority of this debt was effectively used to fund unaffordable dividends, and other payments, which would not otherwise have been possible.

    Some might view this debt as having enabled a large-scale, multi-decade fraud on the public purse.

    The irony is that privatisation has relied upon complex, expensive, opaque and risky forms of debt and investment, displacing far simpler and less risky funding models based on a mix of adequate bill revenues and cheap national debt, yet bill-payers and the nation could soon be forced to pick up the tab for decades of artificially inflated private profits, asset stripping and financial engineering.

    All the years of excessive private profits, debt-subsidised shareholder dividends, complex inter-company loan payments and multi-billion under-investment have not achieved any more than good business managers would have achieved, at minimal risk, with adequate water bills and reasonable backing from responsible Governments. Instead, they have jeopardised and “gamed” the entire system.

    Somehow, by slowly and steadily piling on debt and risk unchallenged, a succession of investors, including Macquarie, have pushed a relatively simple, vertically integrated regional monopoly, which primarily has to move water and sewage from point A to point B, to the brink of bankruptcy and environmental disaster.

    The role of Macquarie in the downfall of Thames Water should act as a cautionary tale for anyone in Australia who still thinks that sophisticated, commission-based financiers will magically and responsibly solve our problems.

    In today’s era of weaponised financial engineering and globalised wealth extraction, essential public utilities require proactive and strict regulation in the public and national interests.

    The rhetoric associated with “privatisation” and “the market” simply do not match the reality for the community at large, customers or the environment, with water infrastructure falling over, bills skyrocketing and more than just rivers outrageously full of shit.

    * Today’s exchange rate of $1.90 to 1 GBP

    Korean buyers poised to sue over fake coal quality scam – Glencore, Peabody, Anglo, TerraCom, Macquarie in cross-hairs

    This post was originally published on Michael West.

  • By Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific journalist

    A National Union of Workers (NUW) official is hopeful Fiji Water employees who have been on strike for almost a week will return to work shortly.

    Last Tuesday, a group of workers for Fiji Water went on strike over pay disputes at the multi-million dollar US-owned company’s water bottling plant in Yaqara and the Naikabula depot in Lautoka.

    NUW’s industrial relations officer Mererai Vatege said the parties were currently working on a resolution.

    “There have been some developments, the parties are currently talking,” Vatege said.

    “We’re very hopeful and positive that this will be resolved soon.”

    Vatege said the NUW met with Ministry of Labour officials on Thursday and are now awaiting a response from Fiji Water.

    However, she was unable to give a date when she expected the matters to be resolved by.

    Talks broke down last month
    The employees have continued their strike, holding signs with messages calling for pay increases and working conditions.

    Talks broke down between Fiji Water and workers on April 8.

    The workers claim the company has failed pay owed overtime and have not made income adjustments to inflation, along with other pay related issues.


    Fiji Water employees strike.           Viudeo: RNZ Pacific Waves

    RNZ Pacific have requested comment from Fiji Water but have not had a response.

    However, in a statement last Wednesday, a company spokesperson told Fijian media it was regrettable workers had engaged in a strike.

    “The decision to strike is also unlawful because these issues have been submitted to the Ministry of Employment, which has not yet decided on the dispute,” the spokesperson said.

    “Fiji Water takes great pride in being one of the best employers in Fiji and operating one of the most advanced and safest plants in the world.”

    Some of ‘highest benefits’
    The spokesperson said the company provided some of the highest and best benefits in Fiji, including a 13.5 percent wage increase in 2022.

    They said recent offers to the union equal an additional 17 percent pay increase for hourly-paid workers and a new roster pattern that would give workers 17 more days off each year.

    “Instead, the union has elected to engage in a strike that harms workers who will not receive wages while on strike,” the spokesperson said.

    The spokesperson said the company would remain committed to resolving the contested issues with the union.

    Vatege said employees wanted to return to work but were united in strike action.

    She said they would only return once an agreement was signed between the union and the employer.

    Fiji Water's signpost to its Yaqara valley production base in Fiji
    Fiji Water’s signpost to its Yaqara valley production base in Fiji. Image: RNZ/Sally Round

    This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.

  • For nearly a decade, Holly Alpine (née Beale) loved working at Microsoft. Shortly after finishing college, in July 2014, she landed a job there as a technical account manager. Less than four years later, Alpine was leading a team that invests in environmental projects in the communities where Microsoft’s data centers are located. She was also helping organize a worker-led sustainability group called the Sustainability Connected Community, which would grow to nearly 10,000 Microsoft employees worldwide by late 2023.

    But at the end of last year, Alpine reached a painful decision: She could no longer ethically work at Microsoft. On January 24, 2024, Alpine sent an email to Microsoft president Brad Smith, CEO Satya Nadella, and several other senior company officials, letting them know why. 

    Writing on behalf of herself and a colleague who resigned at the same time, Alpine told the tech giant’s top brass that the two were quitting in “no small part” due to Microsoft’s work for the fossil fuel industry aimed at automating and accelerating oil extraction.

    “This work to maximize oil production with our technology is negating all of our good work, extending the age of fossil fuels, and enabling untold emissions,” Alpine wrote in the email. “We are both deeply saddened to be so let down by a company we loved so much.” (Alpine’s colleague asked Grist not to identify them, citing concerns over how it might affect their future employment prospects in the tech industry.)

    Alpine’s blunt resignation letter didn’t come out of nowhere. For years, she was one of the faces of an internal, employee-led effort to raise ethical concerns about Microsoft’s work helping oil and gas producers boost their profits by providing them with cloud computing resources and AI software tools. Former Microsoft employees and sources familiar with tech industry advocacy say that, broadly speaking, employee pressure has had an enormous impact on sustainability at Microsoft, encouraging it to announce industry-leading climate goals in 2020 and support key federal climate policies. But convincing the world’s most valuable company to forgo lucrative oil industry contracts proved far more difficult. Eventually, Alpine decided speaking up internally wasn’t enough.

    This spring, Alpine spoke with Grist for her first on-the-record interview describing her experience advocating for change inside Microsoft. By speaking out publicly despite her concerns about legal risks, Alpine hopes to place additional pressure on her former employer to address the emissions it is enabling through technology partnerships with fossil fuel companies. Alpine’s account, along with those of other former Microsoft employees, as well as internal documents current and former employees shared with Grist, offer a rare glimpse into how tech industry workers are applying behind-the-scenes pressure to hold their bosses accountable on climate change.

    “My resignation was driven in part by the realization that the tech industry, including Microsoft, is increasing the profitability and competitiveness of these fossil fuel giants and perpetuating their existence when they should be phased out,” Alpine told Grist. “It became apparent after years of internal efforts … that Microsoft was unwilling to enact meaningful change.”

    A Microsoft spokesperson told Grist that the company’s employees are “core to our sustainability mission” and that executives engage with employee groups, like the Sustainability Connected Community that Alpine helped establish, “on a regular basis as part of an ongoing dialog.”

    Microsoft logo over an expo with tech and people
    The Microsoft company logo is seen during the 2021 SmartCity Expo World Congress, an international event focused on innovative and sustainable cities. Paco Freire / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

    “The energy transition is complex and requires moving forward in a principled manner. We believe that technology has an important role to play in helping the industry decarbonize, and that requires balancing the energy needs and industry practices of today while inventing and deploying those of tomorrow,” the spokesperson added. “And we continually monitor our emissions, accelerate progress while increasing our use of clean energy to power data centers, purchasing renewable energy and other efforts to meet our sustainability goals of being carbon negative, water positive, and zero-waste by 2030.”

    It’s true that Microsoft is taking numerous steps to address the sustainability of its own operations. But for years, the company has also furnished fossil fuel giants with cloud computing services and specialized software tools powered by machine learning and AI in order to streamline and automate their operations. These digital technologies help companies discover oil faster, squeeze more from existing wells, and boost productivity across their operations in order to stay cost competitive in an age of cheap renewable energy. The digital services market for oil and gas is “immense,” as a 2020 report by oil industry analysts at Barclays put it, with the potential to unlock $150 billion in yearly savings for producers. 

    Over the past seven years, Microsoft has announced dozens of new deals with oil and gas producers and oil field services companies, many explicitly aimed at unlocking new reserves, increasing production, and driving up oil industry profits.

    In 2017, Alpine and former Microsoft employee Drew Wilkinson came together to organize a small group of workers who shared a passion for sustainability and wanted to make positive changes at Microsoft. In early 2018, that group was folded into the company’s formal Connected Communities program, which provides employees with support and resources to organize volunteer communities based on shared interests. The mission of the Sustainability Connected Community — to make sustainability part of everybody’s job at Microsoft — resonated with workers around the world, and the group quickly grew to several thousand members. 

    In the group’s first few years, tech companies’ oil and gas contracts became a focal point for climate-concerned workers across the tech industry. As they organized and began pressuring their bosses to take action on climate, news outlets started calling out Big Tech for creating AI technology aimed at accelerating oil production. 

    a group of people holding cardboard protest signs
    Sustainability Connected Community employees on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, on the day of the 2019 global climate strike. Courtesy of Drew Wilkinson

    At an employee town hall in September 2019, a Microsoft worker asked Nadella, the company’s CEO, if he believed that helping oil companies extract more fossil fuels was an ethical use of the company’s technology. Nadella responded by stressing that fossil fuel companies are actively investing in the energy transition, according to a meeting transcript that was manually recorded by employees present at the time. Nadella’s response implied that by helping oil companies be more productive and achieve cost savings, Microsoft was enabling them to put more resources into emissions-reducing innovations. 

    “To me his answer was borderline gaslighting,” Wilkinson told Grist. “Those of us in the sustainability community were like, ‘The work you’re doing is not to help them transition. The work you’re doing is to help them find and extract and burn more oil.’”

    As concerns over the company’s fossil fuel work mounted, Microsoft was gearing up to make a big sustainability announcement. In January 2020, the company pledged to become “carbon negative” by 2030, meaning that in 10 years, the tech giant would pull more carbon out of the air than it emitted on an annual basis. The news generated a wave of positive media attention and was met with cheers from the Sustainability Connected Community, Wilkinson said.

    “The initial reaction was like, ‘Holy sh–t, this is awesome,’” Wilkinson told Grist. “All this pressure we put on the company” — not just around the oil contracts, but sustainability more broadly — “worked.” 

    The group’s concerns over Microsoft’s fossil fuel business “died down” for a while, according to Wilkinson: “Those of us who had been organizing on it back in 2019 were like, ‘Let’s wait and see what they do. Let’s give them a chance.’”

    A man in a suit with glasses talks in front of an Earth icon
    Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers a speech during an event named Microsoft Build AI Day in Jakarta in April 2024. Adek BERRY / AFP voa Getty Images

    For nearly two years, employees watched and waited. Following its carbon negative announcement, Microsoft quickly expanded its internal carbon tax, which charges the company’s business groups a fee for the carbon they emit via electricity use, employee travel, and more. It also invested in new technologies like direct air capture and purchased carbon removal contracts from dozens of projects worldwide. But Microsoft’s work with the oil industry continued unabated, with the company announcing a slew of new partnerships in 2020 and 2021 aimed at cutting fossil fuel producers’ costs and boosting production. 

    For Alpine, Wilkinson, and other employees, the incongruity between Microsoft’s climate goals and its efforts to enable oil extraction was too big to ignore. In late 2021, a small group of employees involved in the Sustainability Connected Community came together to craft a memo for Microsoft’s leadership calling attention to the climate impact of the company’s fossil fuel business. By customizing its cloud computing technology for oil and gas companies, Microsoft was “enabling far more emissions than we offset or remove,” employees asserted — yet those indirect emissions were not included in the company’s internal carbon accounting. The employees calculated that a single deal with Exxon Mobil to expand production in Texas and New Mexico by up to 50,000 barrels per day could enable carbon emissions adding up to 640 percent of the company’s carbon removal target for 2021.

    “We believe we must hold ourselves accountable for the enabled emissions of our technology,” reads the memo, a copy of which was shared with Grist. “Our principled approach and leadership can — and should — set an industry standard.”

    The memo goes on to outline more than a dozen recommendations for the company, including advocating for policies that align with 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, measuring the emissions increases (or reductions) enabled by Microsoft’s technology, and ceasing to develop custom software tools aimed at increasing oil extraction.

    In December 2021, Alpine, along with two other employees who asked Grist not to identify them, held a meeting with Smith and Lucas Joppa, who was then Microsoft’s chief environmental officer, to discuss the memo and present their recommendations. The meeting felt “really positive,” Alpine told Grist, adding that Smith expressed agreement with most of the employees’ recommendations and even appeared surprised that one of them — adding environmental impacts to Microsoft’s internal principles governing the responsible use of AI — hadn’t already been implemented. Smith, Alpine said, even offered to assemble a small team to further explore the concept of environmentally responsible AI principles. A former Microsoft employee familiar with the company’s responsible AI standards told Grist the idea was investigated but never went anywhere; the company’s responsible AI principles still do not include sustainability.

    Microsoft and Joppa declined to comment on the meeting.

    A man in a suit stands on stage in front of a screen that says Microsoft AI Access Principles with lots of small industry photos in the background
    Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft, speaks at the ”New Strategies for a New Era” keynote at the Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, in February 2024. Joan Cros / NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Alpine told Grist she left the meeting “hopeful that things would change.” And several months later, in March 2022, Microsoft issued a blog post outlining a series of principles that would guide its future work with the energy industry. The so-called energy principles included expanding work on initiatives focused on low and zero-carbon energy and helping energy customers develop “effective net-zero commitments.” Perhaps most significantly, the principles stated that Microsoft would only develop specialized tools for oil and gas extraction for companies that had agreed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.

    “We were really excited when [the principles] were first published,” Alpine told Grist. “They were published, we were told, in part because of our advocacy, which felt really good.” 

    But the more Alpine and others asked questions about the principles, the more they felt let down. Microsoft’s pledge to only develop custom fossil fuel extraction technologies for companies with a net-zero target only covered the emissions associated with producing the fuels, known as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Oil and gas companies weren’t being asked to zero out the emissions associated with burning fossil fuels, known as Scope 3 emissions, which can represent upwards of 85 percent of their total emissions. 

    What’s more, oil companies simply had to put forth a net-zero target. Microsoft wasn’t requiring them to do anything to show they were on track to meet it.

    Requiring a net-zero target only for Scope 1 and 2 emissions brushes aside the vast majority of the problem, which is the emissions that result from burning the fossil fuel companies’ products,” said Bill Weihl, founder of the nonprofit advocacy group ClimateVoice and a former sustainability director at Facebook and Google. “And a 2050 target, with no intermediate targets that would demonstrate a real commitment to shifting toward clean energy, is essentially meaningless.” Microsoft declined to comment on these concerns.

    In November 2022, the Sustainability Connected Community held a call with Darryl Willis, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of energy, to discuss the principles. According to a meeting transcript generated by Microsoft Teams, employees peppered Willis with questions about what the principles meant and how Microsoft was implementing them, including which standards Microsoft would use to judge energy companies’ net-zero pledges, whether Microsoft was bringing up Scope 3 emissions in conversations with energy industry clients, and whether Microsoft had a plan to transition its energy division revenue away from fossil fuels. 

    Willis acknowledged that there was “a lack of standards” around Microsoft’s net-zero requirement, and that including emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in companies’ net-zero targets was “going to be a journey.”

    “It’s hard, it’s big, it’s complicated,” Willis told employees on the call, according to the transcript. “But I think it’s not unrecognized as a necessity.”

    A man in a suit talks to another person in a suit
    Darryl Willis, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of energy, left, greets Crown Prince Haakon of Norway at Microsoft Conference Center in April 2024 in Redmond, Washington. Mat Hayward / Getty Images

    On the call, Willis committed to providing employees with updates on net-zero requirements as Microsoft continued to implement the principles. He also committed to providing a breakdown of the energy division’s revenue across six different sectors, from oil and gas extraction to low- or zero-carbon energy, as well as an analysis of personnel resources assigned to extractive industries versus renewable energy. Finally, Willis agreed to share a plan for how Microsoft’s energy division would transition its revenue toward low-carbon energy.

    Alpine says she held several additional meetings with senior energy division and sustainability officials at Microsoft over the following year, and that Willis joined the Sustainability Connected Community for another call in November 2023. But the promised updates and analyses never materialized. At a December 2023 meeting with energy executives, Alpine says she was told that Microsoft was not responsible for defining net-zero for their customers, as there’s no global standard. (Microsoft declined to share any additional information with Grist concerning its net-zero standards for energy sector clients or any of the other commitments Willis made to employees in 2022.)

    A few weeks later, Alpine came across a LinkedIn blog post Microsoft technical architect Azam Zaidi had written in April 2023 about the company’s work on oil and gas industry automation. Microsoft’s cloud services division, Azure, Zaidi asserted, was “at the heart” of the fossil fuel industry’s digital transformation,“enabling faster and more accurate decision-making and unlocking previously inaccessible reserves.”

    “With Azure,” Zaidi concluded, “the future of oil and gas exploration and production is brighter than ever.”

    “That was really a nail in the coffin for me,” Alpine said. 

    In her January resignation email to Smith, Alpine quoted Zaidi’s post directly. “Facilitating a ‘future of oil and gas’ that ‘is brighter than ever’ goes against everything that we stand for, and everything we thought this company stands for as well,” Alpine wrote. 

    Melanie Nakagawa, Microsoft’s chief sustainability officer, responded to Alpine the next day, thanking her for her “continued advocacy for sustainability.” Microsoft, Nakagawa wrote, is continuing to “uphold and adhere” to the energy principles, which the Sustainability Connected Community “had a role in shaping.”

    A woma in a blazer talks in front of a large screen with web summit logos
    Melanie Nakagawa, chief sustainability officer at Microsoft, speaks at Web Summit 2023. Hugo Amaral / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

    Weihl of ClimateVoice says it’s important to recognize that Microsoft employees “have been very effective internally on several fronts,” including encouraging the company to publicly voice its support for the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which earmarked hundreds of billions of federal dollars toward clean energy. Last fall, Weihl said, employees at Microsoft launched an internal campaign targeting the company’s membership in trade associations that oppose climate policy, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year Microsoft released an audit of its trade associations showing their alignment (or lack thereof) on climate policy, which Weihl called “a big step toward accountability.” 

    Wilkinson, who started his own climate consulting business after he was laid off from Microsoft in early 2023, has maintained contact with many former colleagues in the Sustainability Connected Community. When it comes to addressing the emissions Microsoft enables within the fossil fuel industry, “the work is continuing,” he said. 

    Alpine isn’t sure what’s next for her career-wise, but she’s considering focusing on coalition-building around the emissions that tech corporations enable, or sustainable food production. In the meantime, she’s keeping the heat on Microsoft by speaking out publicly about her time there.

    Weihl is optimistic about what Microsoft employees — and former employees — can do if they continue to raise a ruckus. 

    “The energy principles open a door,” he said. “So do the commitments Willis made. Employee pressure made that happen. It’s now up to employees … to keep the pressure on and make sure those principles and those commitments aren’t just window dressing.”

    This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Microsoft employees spent years fighting the tech giant’s oil ties. Now, they’re speaking out. on May 8, 2024.

    This post was originally published on Grist.

  • PNG Post-Courier

    Papua New Guinea’s deputy opposition leader James Nomane has accused the government of “reckless economic management” that has forced devaluation to manage loan repayments in foreign currency and placate the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    Prime Minister James Marape “must stop lying to the people of Papua New Guinea”, he said in a statement responding Marape’s message that devaluation was inevitable and good for exports.

    “The devaluation of the kina was planned — not inevitable. Although the kina devaluation makes PNG exports cheaper, we have not invested in agriculture to increase production and export volumes that will improve our trade deficit,” said Nomane, a former minister in Marape’s government.

    He was responding to a report by an ANZ economist forecasting that the unpegged the kina was expected to continue its depreciation until 2026. The lack of significant new foreign currency inflow was pushing down the kina’s value, with the currency already losing 2.1 percent against the US dollar since the end of 2023.

    Nomane said the devaluation would increase the cost of imports and directly increase domestic prices.

    Continued price increases in basic goods and services such as rice, tinned fish, fuel, water, electricity would raise inflation and make the cost-of-living crisis worse.

    “Marape has been fixated on borrowing to fund Connect PNG and other dubious investments that enrich a small group of his cronies at the expense of the nation,” Nomane said.

    ‘Dubious state guarantee’
    “Sovereign guarantees that will not create jobs or spur economic growth have become the Marape modus operandi.

    “For example, the dubious K2.4 billion (NZ1.4 billion) state guarantee for a solar-power project in Gusap, Madang province, without any due diligence to a K2 Singapore company.

    “Marape seems to imply that the government can tell the Central Bank what to do.”

    This inferred control was dangerous and an affront to Sir Mekere Morauta’s exemplary reforms for total independence of the Central Bank.

    By melding the Treasury and Central Bank, the Prime Minister was preempting the decisions of the Central Bank in terms of interest rates and monetary policy.

    “Devaluation will raise inflation and the cost-of-living, lower creditworthiness, and reduce investor confidence.”

    Republished from the PNG Post-Courier with permission.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.

  • Living on a farm in regional Australia and about to welcome another child to our family unit, I was contemplating what my future commute to Sydney for my state government job would look like. It was 2019, the year before Covid, and before working from home became the norm. All of a sudden, I would be juggling multiple children’s schedules. The challenges of distance, commuting and day-care availability were starting to stack up.

    As a historian and resident of rural Australia, I began to reflect on the broader social experience of rural and regional women who, challenged by distance, drought, lack of job opportunities, farm responsibilities and the desert of day-care availability, were innovatively creating ways to earn through micro-businesses and small-scale economic ventures.

    Buy from the Bush (BFTB) was launched in October that year, bringing national (and international) visibility to many of these rural micro-businesses that traversed the rural-urban divide. And importantly, 97% of the businesses featured by BFTB in the first eight months were run by women and started as ‘side ventures’. What was apparent was that women were earning incomes outside of their main employment or role as primary carers, to supplement farm incomes affected by the disastrous economic and social impacts of the drought.

    I began researching the history of rural and regional women’s side entrepreneurial ventures. This wasn’t easy. What international research into women’s business history shows is that women’s businesses have been historically hard to trace, not registered in women’s names (or for informal side ventures, not at all), and their economic and social significance downplayed – they operated in the shadows.

    I conducted oral history interviews, pored over newspaper and magazine articles, reviewed economic and social research reports, and scoured private memoirs, diaries, family histories, personal advertisements and court transcripts.

    What I found was a long-standing tradition of rural and regional women in Australia engaging in economic activities that bear a great resemblance to what would we now call side hustles.

    These side businesses were often identified by other names, such as, the cottage industry, pin money or egg money – names that often downplayed or diminished the market value of their economic contribution and reinforced traditional notions of rural womanhood and societal expectations of women’s roles.

    Women in the nineteenth century established small-scale businesses by selling surplus dairy, garden and poultry produce, making garments and hats, mattresses and writing articles. Into the twentieth century, articles and interviews revealed that women were taking in boarders, breeding animals, sewing and knitting garments, making soaps, jewellery, running farm tourism activities on their properties and making and selling produce.

    breakfast eggs and herbs, macro shot, vintage farm table, fresh morning, local farm

    Dr Louise Prowse’s research shows women in the nineteenth century established small-scale businesses, often making products at the kitchen table. Picture: Adobe Stock. 

    They were performing this labour in their own home – very often at the kitchen table – and in the hours that they could spare between caring for family, running the household and working on the farm. They were selling their wares or produce predominantly within their social networks (but at times to larger companies, organisations and stores) and they were motivated to earn to for a few key reasons – to supplement the farm or their partner’s income particularly during tough economic times of environmental crises, to help support their family and to develop something of their own in the midst of geographic and social isolation and a lack of socially permissible and opportunities to earn an income.

    Why is it then that side hustles are considered to be new? In my research I suggest that the universally accepted definition of the side hustle – a secondary income that is in addition to one’s main job or income earned – discriminates against historical categorisations of labour performed by women. If one’s main form of employment or role is unpaid, then a “side hustle” is technically impossible.

    You must have a main income in order to have a “side” one. But if we accept that unpaid work of women throughout this period (child care responsibilities, running the household and performing farm labour) constituted a full-time responsibility, or “main job”, then any venture where women earned a side income becomes visible and can be understood through the prism of the ‘side hustle’ economic model.

    What the history of Australian rural and regional women’s side businesses show is that side hustles are not new; rather, women have been engaging in this economic model, long before the term “side hustle” entered the mainstream economy and consciousness.

    • Please note: picture at top is a stock image

     

     

    The post The history of the female side-hustle appeared first on BroadAgenda.

    This post was originally published on BroadAgenda.

  • The recording of the Gaslit Nation Make Art Workshop: The Business Side of Things is here along with the transcript in the show notes for our subscribers at the Truth-teller and higher. Not a subscriber? Sign up and join a community of listeners, get all shows ad free, bonus shows, exclusive invites, questions answered in our Q&As, and more by subscribing at the Truth-teller level and higher on Patreon.com/Gaslit! 

     

    In this special workshop, a follow-up to last fall’s Make Art Workshop, where Andrea shared her secret hot sauce for writing a first draft that reads like a third draft, she follows it up with her business checklist on how to navigate shark-infested waters with an open heart, knowing how to protect yourself, what to look out for in every contract and advice for working with lawyers, the often overlooked goals of fundraising that will make all the difference for your project, saving it from the brink. 

     

    The Q&A discussion became a freewheeling chat with our live audience from our community of Gaslit Nation listeners sharing their projects, questions, and responding to Andrea’s additional stories and insights for bringing your art out into the world. The Q&A portion is transcript only, to protect the privacy of the folks who participated, creating a lively and inspiring meeting of minds. To connect with other artists, and those who love artists, in our Gaslit Nation community, be sure to join the chat group on Patreon, exclusive to our subscribers at the Truth-teller level or higher, called Art is Survival.  

     

    Here are some of the references to help you on your journey:

     

    Thank you to everyone who supports Gaslit Nation – we could not make this show without you!

     

    Join the conversation with a community of listeners at Patreon.com/Gaslit and get bonus shows, all episodes ad free, submit questions to our regular Q&As, get exclusive invites to live events, and more! 

     

    Show Notes:

    Make Art Workshop on writing a first draft that reads like a third draft, from November 2023

    Audio only: https://www.patreon.com/posts/make-art-audio-93455868?utm_medium=clipboard_copy&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=postshare_creator&utm_content=join_link

    Video: https://www.patreon.com/posts/make-art-video-93450936?utm_medium=clipboard_copy&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=postshare_creator&utm_content=join_link

     

    A deep dive into Cuba’s rich musical history, reported from Havana

    https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1197955869


    This content originally appeared on Gaslit Nation and was authored by Andrea Chalupa.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • A bottle shop on every phone

    Australia’s major alcohol retailers are increasingly moving into the digital space, aiming to emulate the methods and the successes of popular streaming services. But what are the risks? Zacharias Szumer investigates.

    As advocacy groups have long warned, we have well and truly entered the age in which ‘every phone is a bottle shop’. Many of the largest Australian liquor retailers – including Dan Murphy’s, BWS, Liquorland and Cellarbrations – all have apps through which purchases can be made.

    Some stores require you to visit a website to order booze for delivery or in-store pick-up, but it’s still a relatively frictionless transaction. What’s more, Australian companies are leading the alcohol e-commerce race.

    World’s largest e-alcohol retailer

    Dan Murphy’s has become the largest alcohol e-commerce company in the world, according to Statista – a market research company.

    In addition to its app and website, Dan Murphy’s also offers a variety of online-only deals for members of its My Dan’s loyalty program, which boasts an astounding 5.4 million “active members” – around 20% of the Australian population.

    That may actually be a decrease from two years ago, when the AFR reported that 6.2 million people – around 30 per cent of Australia’s adult population – were members.

    At that time, over half of these had used their membership in the past six months, the AFR reported.

    Top five online alcohol retailers

    Data source: Statista.

    And the numbers continue to go up.

    Online sales at Dan Murphy’s and BWS, both owned by the Endeavour Group, are growing at over double the rate of their overall sales, according to recently released financial documents.  Online sales now make up almost 10 per cent of Endeavour’s total retail sales.

    Endeavour’s closest competitor, Coles Liquor – who owns Liquorland, Vintage Cellars and First Choice – saw a far more dramatic disparity. Its total retail sales were up 2.8% in the first half of the 2024 financial year, but its e-commerce sales were up almost 15%.

    Who spiked the ‘data soup’?

    Through apps, websites and loyalty programs, alcohol retailers can construct increasingly accurate profiles of users’ tastes, and use this information to target them with advertising and promotions. The profiles are, naturally, based on past consumption.

    For example, if Zacharias Szumer previously bought the GlenDronach 15-Year-Old Revival Single Malt Scotch Whisky, he will possibly enjoy the Bunnahabhain 18-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. So why not recommend he give it a try?

    In fact, the Endeavour Group has previously engaged with Spotify and Netflix, seeking advice on how to recommend and promote new alcoholic products to consumers.

    Caterina Giorgi

    FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi

    Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) CEO Caterina Giorgi told MWM that liquor retailers like this were “trying really hard to profile people to within an inch of their life so that they can target them based on their vulnerabilities.” She continued:

    Aggressive, targeted online alcohol advertising creates a vicious cycle, in which someone who already consumes a lot of alcohol will see even more ads for alcohol.

    A 2019 study found that 36% of alcohol in Australia is consumed by the heaviest-drinking 5% per cent, while 54.1% of alcohol is consumed by the heaviest-drinking 10%. Giorgi contends that:

    These companies really rely on people who are most at risk to buy more alcohol.

    A 2023 study co-authored by FARE and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation found that 83% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that marketing makes it more difficult for them to reduce their use of alcohol and other harmful substances.

    Previous research also clearly demonstrates that online marketing for alcohol is associated with increased use and consumption, FARE says.

    “All of the data goes into a data soup, and it’s used to build a profile of you. So that means things like the amount of alcohol you’ve purchased in the past, maybe even if you’re looking up information on alcohol or seeking support…”

    In a recent open letter to National Cabinet, FARE also said “addressing predatory and high-risk marketing that pushes bulk alcohol sales, including data-driven marketing,” were an essential part of preventing violence against women and children.

    Social media advertising

    Of course, apps and loyalty programs aren’t the only places where a person’s penchant for a tipple may be part of their algorithmic profile and thus generate the advertising with which they are targeted.

    By clicking through to Dan Murphy’s ‘ad library’ on Facebook, we can see that the company is currently running over 70 individual advertisements. Liquorland was running over 30. However, users can’t see how much the company is paying Meta for the ads – as they can with political advertising.

    Ads on Meta platforms – Facebook, Instagram and Threads – are all targeted, as they are on all social media platforms.

    An average of 765 alcohol ads are being placed each week on Meta platforms in Australia, according to a recent study from a joint research project between Curtin University, Monash University and two Qld universities.

    Naturally, these ads link to websites where customers can make purchases.

    Testing a theory

    While Giorgi wasn’t sure if a person’s searches for help with alcohol consumption would feed into an algorithmic profile that served them more alcohol ads, she said there were currently “no rules” that would prevent it.

    To test this theory, your correspondent tried Googling phrases such as “help for drinking too much alcohol” and then clicking on some of the first results that came up – usually links to self-help resources or rehab clinics.

    Google alcohol searches

    Some of the searches conducted by your correspondent

    This also included searching and clicking through to some Facebook pages for rehab clinics and other alcohol-related support services.

    In the week after the search, there certainly did seem to be a noticeable uptick in ads for alcohol appearing on my social media feeds.

    Internet alcohol ads compilation

    A small compilation of some of the alcohol advertisements that popped up in the week after those searches by your correspondent.

    Still, this is an entirely subjective impression, and your correspondent has written about and thus searched for alcohol-related topics in the past.

    It’s also important to clarify that social media giants like Meta allow users to go into their “ad preferences” and see fewer alcohol-related ads – if they’ve been tagged as interested in these ‘topics’, as your correspondent has.

    However, when your correspondent tried to request that Meta show him fewer ads related to “spirits, beer and wine”, the system returned an error reading: “This page isn’t available at the moment”. 

    On the laptop, this happened over three consecutive days and on various internet connections. However, the functionality didn’t seem impaired on the mobile app.

    Coincidence? I don’t know; I might need a drink to figure it out …

    Independent beer-makers captive to liquor majors, supermarket duopoly

    This post was originally published on Michael West.

  • For several months last year, patrons of a Seattle coffee shop called Tailwind Cafe had the option of ordering their Americanos and lattes in returnable metal to-go cups. Customers could simply borrow a cup from Tailwind, go on their way, and then at some point — perhaps a few hours later, perhaps on another day that week — return the cup to the shop, which would clean it and refill it for the next person. If it wasn’t returned within 14 days, the customer would be charged a $15 deposit, though even that was ultimately refundable if the cup was returned by the end of 45 days.

    Tailwind’s head chef, Kayla Tekautz, said her cafe started the program out of a desire to address the environmental scourge of disposable plastic foodware and other packaging, the vast majority of which cannot be recycled. It was a partnership with a reusable packaging and logistics company called Reusables.com, which provided Tailwind and another Seattle area store, Cloud City Coffee, with branded cups and a QR code-operated drop-off receptacle. 

    But the cafe quickly ran into trouble. It was “overwhelming” to explain the return system to every interested customer, Tekautz said. Many were hesitant to participate after learning that they could only return the cups to Tailwind or the other drop-off location, 6 miles away. Plus, Tailwind’s QR code reader kept malfunctioning, requiring repeated visits from a mechanic. At the end of last summer, Tailwind quietly ended the return program. “It just didn’t work,” Tekautz said. (Reusables.com didn’t respond to Grist’s request for comment.)

    In an effort to reduce consumption of single-use plastic, Seattle has spent the past several years encouraging local businesses to offer reusable cups, dishes, utensils, and packaging. It has made some laudable progress. Concertgoers at the Paramount Theater and attendees of the Northwest Folklife Festival, for example, can now order their libations in reusable polypropylene cups. And since 2022, students at the University of Washington have been able to check out bright green reusable food containers from a company called Ozzi.

    Reusable cups offered at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. Courtesy of Reuse Seattle

    These programs are helping Seattle avoid single-use plastic and create a “waste-free future,” according to the city’s reuse website. It’s a target that’s being pursued by many American cities, and at the global level too. Disposable plastic foodware and packaging — which accounts for nearly 40 percent of all plastic production — can only be phased out if there are robust, efficient reuse systems to replace them. 

    But some businesses, like Tailwind, have struggled to get reusable containers off the ground, often because of the small scale and disconnected nature of existing reuse programs. Instead of pooling resources and employing just one or two large cleaning and logistics services, businesses have so far chosen among several competing initiatives — or in some cases, have created and run their own programs. The result is a slew of incompatible containers, specific to just a few stores or locations, and inefficient systems for gathering, washing, and transporting between customers’ homes, sanitation facilities, and storefronts.

    Having so many companies creating their own designs and logistics can be expensive, causing them to miss out on economies of scale that could make reuse more affordable and easily adoptable. According to Ashima Sukhdev, a policy adviser for the city of Seattle, she should be able to “pick up a coffee from my local cafe, and then drop it off in the lobby of my office building. Or drop it off at the library, or at a bus stop.”

    What Sukhdev is describing would represent a highly unusual level of coordination across company lines. At coffee shops, this would mean reusable mugs shared not only between Tailwind and Cloud City, but also Starbucks and Peets. For grocery stores, it could mean picking up a jar of olives at Safeway, dropping off the empty container at Walgreens, and then having the same jar refilled with jam and sold at Whole Foods. Achieving this would require companies to rethink the way they compete with each other and differentiate their products. It would also require big changes from consumers, who have been trained for 70 years to expect disposability in just about every aspect of daily life.

    Pat Kaufman, right, with Reuse Seattle team members. Courtesy of Reuse Seattle

    Experts say these changes are necessary. “For this solution to become a reality, you’re gonna need standards,” said Pat Kaufman, manager of Seattle Public Utilities’ composting, recycling, and reuse program. 

    Kaufman is currently on a yearlong sabbatical working for a nonprofit called PR3, which is trying to create those standards. The questions they’re facing are: What will standardized reusable packaging systems look like — and what will it take to get companies, and consumers, to adopt them?

    Every year, the world produces about 400 million metric tons of plastic — almost entirely out of fossil fuels like oil and gas. Some of this is used in essential products like contact lenses and medical equipment, but a much greater fraction goes toward sporks, cups, bags, takeout containers, and other items that get thrown away after just a few minutes of use. Most of this plastic will never be recycled due to technical and economic restraints; more than 90 percent of all plastics get sent to a landfill or incinerator, or turn up as litter in the environment, where they degrade into microplastics and leach hazardous chemicals. Plastics manufacturing causes additional harms, including air pollution that disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color living nearby. 

    For all of these reasons, public pressure to cut back on single-use plastics has escalated dramatically in recent years. Many companies have responded by launching trials and pilot programs allowing customers to borrow and return reusable cups, bottles, trays, jars, and other containers. These include small players like Ozzi, as well as behemoth brands like Walmart and Coca-Cola. There have been “more trials than Donald Trump,” said Stuart Chidley, co-founder of a reusable packaging company called Reposit.

    Returnable containers from Reposit are offered at Mark & Spencer grocery stores in the U.K. Courtesy of Reposit

    As in Seattle, however, their efforts have been siloed, making it hard for the reuse sector to grow. According to a recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, or EMF — a nonprofit that advocates for a “circular economy” that conserves resources — even companies that have pledged to dramatically scale down their use of plastics have only replaced 2 percent or less of their single-use containers with reusables.

    “To realize the full benefits of return systems, a fundamentally new approach is required,” the authors concluded.

    The four types of reuse systems

    The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has identified four broad categories of reuse systems, based on who owns the containers and where they’re refilled or returned: refill on the go, refill at home, return on the go, return from home.

    Refill on the go: Consumers bring their own reusable containers to grocery stores and other locations, and refill them there — think the bulk section of a supermarket, where shoppers refill their own jars or bags with nuts, grains, and other foods.

    Refill at home: Consumers own their own reusable containers but instead of refilling them at a store, they order refills in the mail. For example, you order concentrated dish soap tablets and then dissolve them in a dispenser you already own.

    Return on the go: Businesses own containers and let consumers borrow them — often by charging a deposit that is refunded when the container is returned. This system involves container drop-off points at grocery stores, coffee shops, and other designated locations outside the home.

    Return from home: Businesses own the reusable containers, which logistics providers pick up from people’s homes and then transport to a washing facility so they can be used again — much like milkmen of old.

    The EMF report focuses on reusable containers that you can return to the coffee shop, grocery store, or another drop-off point — known as “return on the go” — as opposed to those that consumers own and bring with them to stores. It says that three things need to happen to make reuse mainstream. First, companies have to achieve high return rates, so they don’t lose inventory when people steal or forget to return their containers. Second, they have to share infrastructure for washing, collecting, sorting, and delivery in order to achieve economies of scale. Third, reusable containers must be standardized. The third pillar makes the other two much easier to achieve, since it’s simpler to share logistics, scale up, and familiarize customers with reuse systems if they share common characteristics — for instance, if containers are designed with similar shapes, sizes, and materials. 

    To that end, PR3 has spent the past four years drafting standards for reuse systems, with a particular focus on container design. Through a “consensus body” composed of members from big business, the advocacy world, and government, PR3 is hoping to eventually certify the world’s first reuse standards under the International Organization for Standardization (known as ISO, to prevent confusion around different acronyms in different languages). This would lend legitimacy to the PR3 proposals, as the ISO maintains one of the world’s most widely accepted catalogs of standards. Others within its portfolio cover everything from food safety to the manufacturing of medical devices, and have been voluntarily adopted by many large companies and government bodies

    PR3 released a draft of its standards last year, and it’s been updating them behind closed doors since then. Specific standards on washing protocols are set to be published for public review this week, and the nonprofit hopes that its consensus body will vote to finalize standards for container design later this year.

    Hand with yellow rubber gloves wash many white plastic cups in a large basin of water
    A worker from Taiwan’s Blue Ocean, an environmental protection company, cleans reusable mugs in Taoyuan. Sam Yeh / AFP via Getty Images

    PR3 released a draft of its standards last year, and it’s been updating them behind closed doors since then. Specific standards on washing protocols are set to be published for public review this week, and the nonprofit hopes that its consensus body will vote to finalize standards for container design later this year.

    So, what makes a good reusable container system? It’s complicated. Containers have to hold up under the stresses of logistics and transportation. They have to be relatively inexpensive. Perhaps most intangibly, they have to seem reusable, so customers don’t accidentally throw them in the trash. This can be accomplished through design elements — like containers’ color, texture, shape, and weight — or through other means, like easily recognizable drop-off boxes for used containers. Some reuse advocates support deposit fees, in which customers pay a small amount, usually just a dollar or two, in order to borrow a reusable container. They get the deposit back once they’ve returned the container.

    None of these features is guaranteed to work. In designing draft standards, PR3 has often had to make educated predictions about which ones consumers will respond to. And those predictions can have far-reaching implications. If you assume customers will frequently lose or forget to return their containers, for example, then it probably won’t make sense to design thick containers that are capable of withstanding hundreds of uses.

    “In the real world, return rates vary wildly,” Claudette Juska, PR3’s technical director and one of its co-founders, told Grist. “You don’t want to design a container for 400 uses if it’s only going to be used four times.” The most recent version of PR3’s standards say containers must be designed to withstand at least 20 uses and reused in practice at least 10 times.

    On the other hand, it may be counterproductive to design containers with the expectation that they won’t be returned. According to Chidley, with Reposit, cheap-looking and -feeling containers could actually cause low return rates, since people might be more careless with them. His philosophy is to use features like color, weight, and shape to communicate containers’ reusability, making it less plausible that people will confuse them for disposables.

    PR3 doesn’t have much specific advice on these characteristics, but some entrepreneurs Grist spoke with said they’ve hit higher return rates through particular design choices. For Chidley, this means making containers “beautiful” through high-quality, heavier materials with stylish branding. His containers are available at Marks & Spencer grocery stores across England and Scotland. Lindsey Hoell, founder of a reusable container logistics company called Dispatch Goods and a member of PR3’s standards panel, has forgone sharp-edged takeout food containers in favor of ones with smoother edges that “feel fancier.” And because so many single-use plastics are either black or white, her containers are bright red. “There’s a lot of soft science of what makes a consumer feel like something is durable,” she told Grist. Her containers are available across most of the U.S., mostly through grocery and meal delivery programs like Blue Apron and Imperfect Foods.

    To some extent, the discussion about expected use cycles and perceived quality is really just another way of asking what kinds of materials reusable containers should be made of: durable plastic or something else? Answering that question can bring into conflict businesses’ economic interests with concerns about health and the environment. 

    In the published draft of its standards from last year, PR3 recommended that reusable containers be “plastic-free,” citing plastic additives’ wide-ranging impacts on human health and ecosystems. Plastic can be cheap, light, and durable, but plastic-related chemicals have been shown to build up in people’s bodies and the environment, where they may contribute to hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive harm.

    PR3 panel members like Jane Muncke, chief scientific officer for the nonprofit Food Packaging Forum, supported the recommendation. “I don’t think plastics are suitable materials for reusable packaging,” she told Grist. She’s concerned about chemicals migrating into foods and beverages — especially hot, acidic, or fatty foods, which are better at soaking up some plastic additives. Durable plastics are also largely nonrecyclable; after being turned into new products a few times, they have to be thrown away or “downcycled” into lower-quality products like carpeting.

    Still, many entrepreneurs and even the PR3 founders themselves have moved away from a hard-line stance against plastics. Hoell, for example, originally got into reuse because she was frustrated by plastic-strewn beaches in California — “I’m a surfer and I hate plastics,” she told Grist. She started out making stainless steel containers but soon discovered that rigid plastics had much lower up-front costs, giving her more wiggle room to deal with lower return rates. She didn’t have to worry as much about frequently lost, stolen, or damaged containers. 

    Plastic was also easier to transport because of its light weight, Hoell added, and she cited some analyses suggesting that it has a lower carbon footprint than alternatives like steel. (These findings are controversial, however; critics say it’s misleading to focus only on plastic-related carbon emissions and not the materials’ other dangers, like toxic chemicals leaching from landfills.)Dispatch Goods now only makes its containers out of polypropylene, a kind of plastic that’s generally considered more inert than others (although it can still leach hazardous chemicals). Other reuse logistics companies like R.world, which operates in Seattle and is also represented on the PR3 panel, have similarly opted for polypropylene containers instead of metal or glass.

    At Seattle Pacific University, a reusable container program for students eating at the Gwinn Commons dining hall also uses rigid plastic. The containers’ low cost allows Sodexo, the school’s foodservice provider, to charge students just $5 to participate in its reuse system all year, without tracking return rates or worrying too much about lost inventory. “We don’t have a list of subscribers,” said Andrew Chaplin, the dining team’s general manager. The program “runs itself.”

    Representatives from PR3 told Grist that plastic has been a hot topic of debate among consensus body members, and that the final version of the standards is likely to move away from the “plastic-free” recommendation. “The standards are going to address this with the understanding that if the world can move away from plastic, great, but in the meantime, before that’s feasible, we’d better move where we can,” said Amy Larkin, PR3’s co-founder and director, who pointed out that moving to reusable plastics will still make a huge dent in overall plastic demand. “Let’s get rid of 90 to 95 percent of the production of single-use packaging.”

    Rather than calling for specific container shapes and sizes, PR3 has drafted a few broad requirements — like that containers be designed to “optimize durability,” and that they follow “best practices for recyclability.” They must comply with existing food-safety regulations. Optionally, companies may label products with a universal symbol — kind of like the ubiquitous “chasing arrows” used to indicate recyclability. Such a symbol doesn’t yet exist for reuse, but PR3 has proposed one: a black, white, or orange rose-like pictogram along with the word “reuse.”

    More specific design elements are included only as recommendations. To make washing easier, for instance, PR3’s draft says reusable containers should have interior angles no smaller than 90 degrees, as well as “feet” to maximize airflow during drying. They also say containers should “nest” to save storage space and make transportation easier.

    A stack of greenish reusale containers on a shelf
    A stack of reusable plastic to-go containers at a restaurant in Denver. Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post via Getty Images

    This flexible approach fits into a category that EMF calls “bespoke with shared standards,” where containers can vary from brand to brand while still sharing common characteristics — like where labels are placed, or the width of a bottle’s mouth. This leaves big brands free to design their own unique packaging if they want to. 

    PR3’s approach aims to appease big businesses by allowing them to keep using containers that look and feel very different, so long as they conform to a set of broad requirements. “Product companies want that kind of autonomy,” Juska told Grist.

    Coca-Cola, for example, sets itself apart with its iconic — and patented — hourglass-shaped Coke bottle. And beauty companies are notorious for differentiated packaging: Walking down the perfume aisle, you might see bottles shaped like everything from a high-heeled shoe to a kitten.

    Many reuse advocates want to do away with those unique container designs, going even further than what PR3 has suggested in order to enable sharing among different companies — a situation where packaging is considered “pooled” within a market. So instead of an extravagant diversity of perfume bottles, all fragrances might come in interchangeable cylindrical jars.

    A small number of companies — especially in Europe — already do this. For example, through a German program called Mach Mehrweg Pool (roughly translated to “Make Reuse Pool”), brands share a collection of identical glass jars that can be filled with different foods. When consumers return the empty containers to a supermarket, a logistics provider picks them up and brings them back to food producers for cleaning. Another organization called the German Wells Cooperative runs a similar program for reusable soda and water bottles, counting more than 150 beverage makers as members.

    Other companies that have experimented with pooling, however, have only done so within the brands they control. Coca-Cola, for instance, has a “universal bottle” initiative in South America in which a single, standardized reusable bottle can be used for all of its beverage brands — Fanta, Sprite, Coke, and others. But the initiative is not universal across company lines; you couldn’t refill a Coke bottle with Pepsi. 

    Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop, a “global reuse platform” that is represented on the PR3 panel, said standard-setters shouldn’t try to resist companies’ impulses to differentiate. Brands should be allowed to experiment with both unique and standardized reusable packaging and then “let the market decide” which is preferable, he told Grist. Others, like Kaufman, have raised concerns that pooling might not make sense for some particular products — like baby food, since shared containers can increase the risk of contamination, and babies are more vulnerable to illness.

    There is already evidence, however, that companies are leaving money on the table by choosing not to pool their containers. According to EMF’s direct comparison of pooled and nonpooled standardized packaging, pooling containers reduces the cost of reusable packaging systems by up to 28 percent.
    Plus, at least some intervention — perhaps regulation or financial incentives — is likely required to create conditions that are more favorable to reusables; a hands-off, market-led approach is what has led to today’s proliferation of throwaway plastics. EMF’s modeling suggests that only reuse systems “built collaboratively from the outset” can reach cost parity with single-use. Exactly what that collaboration will look like, however, is unclear, since the kinds of government regulations that could help foster it might be incompatible with the United States’ free market ethos and antitrust laws. Internationally, some cities and countries have done more than the U.S. to promote reuse, but none has gone as far as what EMF is suggesting.

    Plus, at least some intervention — perhaps regulation or financial incentives — is likely required to create conditions that are more favorable to reusables; a hands-off, market-led approach is what has led to today’s proliferation of throwaway plastics. EMF’s modeling suggests that only reuse systems “built collaboratively from the outset” can reach cost parity with single-use. Exactly what that collaboration will look like, however, is unclear, since the kinds of government regulations that could help foster it might be incompatible with the United States’ free market ethos and antitrust laws. Internationally, some cities and countries have done more than the U.S. to promote reuse, but none has gone as far as what EMF is suggesting.

    Even in the absence of robust regulations, PR3’s standards are likely to nudge the country — and the world — in the right direction. Once they’re finalized, PR3 plans to submit them to the American National Standards Institute, the U.S. member organization of the ISO. From there, the standards would be opened up to public comment, potential revisions, and then final approval. PR3 would have to go through a separate submission and review process to get the standards approved by member countries of the ISO. 

    What would happen next is unclear. Other ISO standards — like for information security and energy efficiency — have been voluntarily adopted by individual companies or industry groups, either because they contain genuinely useful guidance on a complicated issue or because they increase businesses’ perceived trustworthiness

    ISO standards can also inform government regulations and international agreements. According to Juska, PR3 is already in talks with Canada’s environment ministry to shape new rules on reusable packaging, and the same thing could happen in any number of other jurisdictions. Juska is also hopeful that PR3’s standards will be acknowledged by or incorporated into the United Nations’ global treaty to end plastic pollution. The latest draft of the treaty mentions the need for standards — including for reusable packaging systems — some three dozen times, which Juska said is indicative of how “desperately needed” they are.

    “If we want everyone to move in the same direction, we need to set some design parameters for how we want the system to function,” she said.

    This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What will it take to get companies to embrace reusable packaging? on May 1, 2024.

    This post was originally published on Grist.

  • By Dale Luma in Port Moresby

    “We want grants and not concessional loans,” is the crisp message from Papua New Guinea businesses directly affected by the Black Wednesday looting four months ago.

    The businesses, which lost millions after the January 10 rioting and looting, say they need grants as part of the government’s Restock and Rebuild assistance — and not more loans.

    This is the message delivered by the PNG Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Monday after news that the national government has so far given K7 million (NZ$3.2 million) in funding to several affected companies to pay staff salaries.

    President Ian Tarutia said the business coalition representing impacted businesses would be meeting with the Chief Secretary and his inter-agency team this week to find out when the assistance will be given.

    Their message at this crucial meeting will be the same — no loans!

    “The real impact assistance that is truly beneficial is rebuilding and restocking,” Tarutia said.

    “We will meet with the chief secretary hopefully this week to get an update on this component of the government’s relief assistance to affected businesses.

    Concessional rate loans
    Tarutia explained that an initial National Executive Council decision was to provide loans at concessional rates and managed through the National Development Bank.

    “Business Coalition’s response was grants and not loans are the preferred assistance. Meeting with the Chief Secretary this week hopefully can resolve this.”

    He also indicated that in the initial impact by businesses compiled in late January, the estimated cost for rebuild and restock covering loss of property, cost of clean up, loss of goods was K774 million.

    “This was for 64 businesses mainly in Port Moresby but a few in Goroka, Rabaul, Kundiawa and Kavieng,” he said.

    “Out of this K774 million, an amount of K273 million was submitted as needed immediately.

    “Business Coalition met last Saturday morning. Business houses are looking forward to meeting Chief Secretary Pomaleu and his inter-agency team this week to find out when the assistance for rebuilding destroyed properties and restocking looted inventory will be given.”

    Tarutia acknowledged that so far, the government had paid out approximately K7 million in wage support for businesses which includes eight businesses including CPL.

    Businesses acknowledge the wage support to date and are appreciative on behalf of their affected staff.

    Dale Luma is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.

  • Murrawah Johnson recognised for role in landmark legal case to block coalmine backed by Clive Palmer

    For Murrawah Johnson, the impacts of the climate crisis and the destruction of land to mine the fossil fuels that drive it are more than simple questions of atmospheric physics or environmental harm.

    “What colonisation hasn’t already done, climate change will do in terms of finalising the assimilation process for First Nations people,” the 29-year-old Wirdi woman from Queensland says.

    Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

    Continue reading…

    This post was originally published on Human rights | The Guardian.

  • Panel of nearly 100 countries to draw up guidelines for industries that mine raw materials used in low-carbon technology

    A UN-led panel of nearly 100 countries is to draw up new guidelines to prevent some of the environmental damage and human rights abuses associated with mining for “critical minerals”.

    Mining for some of the key raw materials used in low-carbon technology, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, has been associated with human rights abuses, child labour and violence, as well as grave environmental damage.

    Continue reading…

    This post was originally published on Human rights | The Guardian.

  • By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ Pacific correspondent French Pacific desk

    Fresh clashes in New Caledonia have erupted in the suburbs of Nouméa between security forces and pro-independence protesters who oppose a nickel pact offering French assistance to salvage the industry.

    The clashes, involving firearms, teargas and stone-throwing, went on for most of yesterday, blocking access roads to the capital Nouméa, as well as the nearby townships of Saint-Louis and Mont-Dore.

    Traffic on the Route Provinciale 1 (RP1) was opened and closed several times, including when a squadron of French gendarmes intervened to secure the area by firing long-range teargas.

    The day began with tyres being burnt on the road and then degenerated into violence from some balaclava-clad members of the protest group, who started throwing stones and sometimes using firearms and Molotov cocktails, authorities alleged.

    Security forces said one of their motorbike officers, a woman, was assaulted and her vehicle was stolen.

    Two of the protesters were reported to have been arrested for throwing stones.

    Banners were deployed, some reading “Kanaky not for sale”, others demanding that New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou (pro-independence) resign.

    Northern mining sites also targeted
    Other incidents took place in the northern town of La Foa, in the small mining village of Fonwhary, near a nickel extraction site, where Société Le Nickel trucks were not allowed to use the road.

    Pro-independence protesters banners demanding President Louis Mapou’s resignation – Photo NC la 1ère
    Pro-independence protesters banners demand territorial President Louis Mapou resign. Image: 1ère TV

    Mont-Dore Mayor Eddy Lecourieux told local Radio Rythme Bleu they had the right to demonstrate, “but they could have done that peacefully”.

    “Instead, there’s always someone who starts throwing stones.”

    At dusk, the Saint-Louis and Mont-Dore areas were described as under control, but security forces, including armoured vehicles, were kept in place.

    “On top of that, there are more marches scheduled for this weekend,” Lecourieux said.

    Pro-independence protesters oppose current plans to have a French Constitutional amendment endorsed by France’s two houses of Parliament.

    As a first step of this Parliamentary process, last week, the Senate endorsed the text, but with some amendments.

    Opposing marches
    Pro-France movements also want to march on the same day in support of the amendment.

    If endorsed, it would allow French citizens to vote at New Caledonia’s local elections, provided they have been residing there for an uninterrupted 10 years.

    Pro-independent parties, however, strongly oppose the project, saying this would be tantamount to making indigenous Kanaks a minority at local polls, and would open the door to a “recolonisation” of New Caledonia through demographics.

    A similar high-risk configuration of two marches took place on March 28 in downtown Nouméa, with more than 500 French security forces deployed to keep both groups away from each other.

    French authorities are understood to be holding meeting after meeting to fine-tune the security setup ahead of the weekend.

    Florent Perrin, the president of Mont-Dore’s “Citizens’ Association”, told media local residents were being “taken hostage” and the unrest “must cease”.

    He urged political authorities to “make decisions on all political and economic issues” New Caledonia currently faces.

    Perrin called on the local population to remain calm, but invited them to “individually lodge complaints” based on “breach of freedom of circulation”.

    “On our side too, tensions are beginning to run high, so we have to remain calm and not respond to those acts of provocation,” he said.

    Pro-independence protesters blockade the village of La Foa on 9 April 2024 - Photo NC la 1ère
    Pro-independence indigenous Kanak protesters in New Caledonia blockade the village of La Foa yesterday. Image: 1ère TV

    The ‘nickel pact’ issue
    The clashes and blockades took place on the same day the local Congress was discussing whether it should give the green light to New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou to sign the “nickel pact”, worth around 200 million euros (NZ$358 million) in French emergency aid.

    In return, France is asking that New Caledonia’s whole nickel industry should undergo a far-reaching slate of reforms in order to make nickel less expensive and therefore more attractive on the world market.

    The pact aims to salvage New Caledonia’s embattled nickel industry and its three factories — one in the north of the main island, Koniambo (KNS), and two in the south, Société le Nickel (SLN), a subsidiary of French giant Eramet, and Prony Resources.

    KNS’ nickel-processing operations were put in “sleep”, non-productive mode in February after its major financier, Anglo-Swiss Glencore, said it could no longer sustain losses totalling 14 billion euros (NZ$25 billion) over the past 10 years, and that it was now seeking an entity to buy its 49 percent shares.

    The other two companies, SLN and Prony, are also facing huge debts and a severe risk of bankruptcy due to the new nickel conditions on the world market, now dominated by new players such as Indonesia, which produces a much cheaper and abundant metal.

    New ultimatum from Northern Province
    On Tuesday, Northern province President Paul Néaoutyine added further pressure by threatening to suspend all permits for mining activities in his province’s nine sites, where southern nickel companies are also extracting.

    In a release, Néaoutyine made references to payment guarantees deadlines on April 10 that had not been honoured by SLN.

    It is understood SLN’s owner, Eramet, was scheduled to meet in a general meeting in Paris later on Tuesday.

    The French pact — France is also a stakeholder in Eramet — would also help SLN provide longer-term guarantees.

    Southern province President and Les Loyalists (pro-France) party leader Sonia Backès alleged on Tuesday that Néaoutyine wants to do everything he can to shut down SLN and block the nickel pact

    “Now things are very clear — before it was all undercover; now it’s out in the open,” she said.

    “Now we will do everything to maintain SLN, because this means 3000 jobs at stake.”

    Congress dragging its feet
    Yesterday, New Caledonia’s Congress was holding a meeting behind closed doors to again discuss the French pact.

    The Congress decided to postpone its decision and, instead, suggested setting up a “special committee” to further examine the pact and the condition it is tied to, and more generally, “the nickel industry’s current challenges”.

    Opponents to the agreement mainly argue that it would pose a risk of “loss of sovereignty” for New Caledonia on its precious metal resource.

    They also consider the nickel industry stake-holding companies are not committing enough and that, instead, New Caledonia’s government is asked to raise up to US$80 million (NZ$132 million), mainly by way of new taxes imposed on taxpayers.

    Last week, a group of Congressmen, mostly from pro-independence Union Calédonienne, one of the four components of the pro-independence FLNKS, with the backing of one pro-France party, Avenir Ensemble, had a motion adopted to postpone one more time the signing of the pact.

    President Mapou defies pro-independence MPs
    President Louis Mapou, himself from the pro-independence side, urged the supporters of the motion to “let [him] sign” last week during a Congress public sitting.

    “Let’s do it . . .  Authorise us to go at it . . .  What are you afraid of?” he said.

    “Are we afraid of our militants?”

    Mapou said if there was no swift Congress response and support to sign the pact, for which he himself had asked the Congress for endorsement, he would “take [his] responsibility” and go ahead anyway.

    “I will honour the commitment I made to the French State.”

    He said if they wanted to to sanction him with a motion of no confidence to go ahead. He was not afraid of this.

    Mapou also told the pro-independence side in Congress that he believed they khad ept postponing any Congress decision “because you want to engage in negotiations as part of [New Caledonia’s] political agreements”.

    Last week, Backès, who expressed open support for Mapou’s “courage”, told Radio Rythme Bleu she and Mapou had both received death threats.

    This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.

  • By Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific journalist

    Broadband satellite service provider Starlink is now being used in the Pacific but not always legally, for now.

    In Vanuatu, border workers are confiscating equipment.

    Telecom regulator Brian Winji said people using the service had signed up overseas — likely in Australia and New Zealand — and have brought the equipment into the country.

    “They smuggle it into Vanuatu without customs knowing,” Winiji said.

    “[Starlink] is not allowed to operate inside Vanuatu without getting a proper licence.”

    Starlink was given a temporary restricted licence to operate after severe back-to-back cyclones battered the country. But this was only 20 units given to the National Disaster Management Office and it lapses by the end of April.

    Anyone else using Starlink is breaking the rules.

    Winji said Starlink had not fully applied to operate in Vanuatu and he does not know when they will be operational.

    ‘Future competitive environment’
    Cook Islands telecommunications regulator chair Bernard Hill said regulators who were banning the use of Starlink might have an “overinflated view” of their importance.

    “They feel slightly offended by the fact that this happens without their, ‘oh, you’re allowed to do that’. In deregulated markets, like Cook Islands, like New Zealand, the rule is we let you do it until there’s a good reason to say no,” he said.

    “They approached me about a licence 18 months ago, they still haven’t resolved on their local structure but unlike the other regulators, I have authorised the roaming of devices purchased in New Zealand and Australia.”

    Hill said he did not know the exact number of people using the service, but it has been enough to have a competitive influence on Vodafone Cook Islands — the nation’s biggest broadband provider.

    “I can’t say Vodafone is happy about it but they are at least realistic about this being part of the future competitive environment and I believe they’re doing the best to cope with the challenge that presents them.”

    In Fiji, Starlink has already been given a licence to operate but it has not yet set up the service locally.

    The Telecommunications Authority chairperson David Eyre said it could be operational by the middle of this month.

    He said people who had already brought Starlink equipment into the country would need to switch over to the local service when it was running.

    “Starlink is in the process of finalising the operational procedures, processes and what not in preparation for launch, we are encouraged that they’re probably going to launch soon and when I say soon, probably early quarter two,” Eyre said.

    Starlink satellite dish
    A Starlink satellite dish, an internet constellation operated by SpaceX, is installed on the wall of an apartment building. Image: RNZ/123rf

    Delivering high-speed internet
    The company, owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, promises to deliver high-speed internet to the remotest regions by using thousands of satellites orbiting close to the planet.

    Hill said Starlink and other low earth orbit satellite companies should be a good fit for the Cook Islands Pa Enua (outer islands) that struggle with poor communications infrastructure.

    Eyre said remote connectivity in Fiji was a consideration for giving the licence.

    “Coverage in those areas is probably one of the main reasons why we have licensed Starlink here in Fiji, to serve the remotest of the remote.”

    In other Pacific nations, Starlink has become or is becoming available.

    Papua New Guinea gave the service an operation licence at the beginning of this year and last month Samoa’s cabinet did the same.

    Hill said he did not think Starlink and similar companies would make other forms of receiving internet irrelevant.

    He said countries needed back up options in case something goes wrong — like the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Haa’pai volcano eruption that destroyed Tonga’s internet cable.

    Hill said as more Pacific economies rely on internet services, being cut off could be disastrous.

    “From the point of view of redundancy and resilience having access to services from overhead as well as undersea is pretty important.”

    This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

    This post was originally published on Asia Pacific Report.