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April, 2019

Tighten GM labelling laws, Greenpeace says

Labelling laws need to be drastically tightened to ensure people are aware of food that is genetically modified, Greenpeace says.

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Despite requirements that genetically modified food be labelled, exemptions mean too many Australians are kept in the dark about what is really on their plate.

Greenpeace says the federal government, which is currently reviewing food labelling laws, needs to get strict.

“The reality is that we are eating GM all the time without our knowledge,” Greenpeace campaigner Laura Kelly told AAP.

“Exemptions to labelling laws mean that, say, if a food is highly processed, it doesn’t need to be labelled, and that applies to a key GM food – canola oil.”

Any food that uses canola therefore doesn’t require the GM tag.

Ms Kelly said Greenpeace surveys had shown 90 per cent of consumers want clear GM labelling, with “a majority” saying they didn’t want to eat those products.

The labelling review is calling for a second round of submissions ahead of a series of public consultations, which are to be held around Australia over the next two months.

Greenpeace has welcomed the breadth of the inquiry, but said the review panel was dudding itself if it thought GM requirement were already up to scratch. In government’s policy review released on Friday, it states that “food which has been genetically modified or irradiated must be labelled”.

The review is also set to scrutinise the use of Australian-made tags and other labels, including those which claim foods to be `lite’, natural or organic.

It will question whether mandatory labels for alcohol should be introduced, or if a national body should be established to oversee the laws.

Food labelling is critical to protecting the health and safety of consumers, the review paper reads.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council said there was nothing wrong with GM labelling, accusing Greenpeace of running a scare campaign.

“To suggest that pigs die of liver cancer if they eat genetically modified canola or food-stock is just scientifically wrong,” the council’s Kate Carnell said.

Consumers should rest assured all foods with GM traceability are labelled as such, she said.

The industry body has otherwise welcomed the labelling review as an opportunity to provide consumers with more up-to-date, targeted information.

It is calling on the government to back a new process that could see extensive labelling accessible through mobile phones and the scanning of barcodes.

The technology was currently available and could potentially be in place within a year – offering specialised information to those with special concerns, like gluten-intolerance or other allergies.

The review panel is due to deliver its final report in November.

Opposition asylum review plan ‘illegal’: experts

A federal opposition plan to deny asylum seekers access to courts to review their claims is “plainly illegal”, law experts say.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is proposing to remove the Refugee Review Tribunal and instead task a single case officer to review failed refugee claims.

“This is our country and we determine who comes here,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Friday, echoing former coalition prime minister John Howard on asylum seekers in 2001. Immigration Minister Tony Burke says Mr Abbott is being “mean just for the hell of it”.

“If the only appeals mechanism available because you’ve abolished everything else is the High Court we end up with a legal situation – which I think no one would wish for – which is where each and every appeal has one place.”

But coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison wants to get rid of Labor’s “tick and flick” approach to asylum assessments. The current review system was flawed because 80 per cent of “no decisions” were being overturned on review, he said.

Under the coalition plan, people deemed not to be refugees will be removed far quicker than Labor has been able to do. Asylum seekers will still have access to the High Court but won’t be able to take their cases to tribunals or the Federal Court, Mr Morrison said.

But refugee law expert and Australian National University professor Penelope Mathew said denying access to judicial review would not work. “I do not see the High Court accepting that,” she told AAP.

“This is just recycling punitive policies that actually haven’t achieved the deterrence and it is just plainly illegal.” Migration law expert Marianne Dickie agreed Australia would not be able to stop cases being reviewed in federal courts.

The Human Rights Law Centre said the “cruel” opposition plan violates international human rights law.

Mr Abbott’s plan would impact the 32,000 asylum seekers who have already reached Australia by boat but are yet to be processed.

Under the proposal, they will be processed faster and if found to be genuine refugees, they would be offered temporary protection visas for three years. Mr Burke said people who get on boats under Labor’s policy don’t get Australian visas at all.

“So the only possible reason to make an announcement like they’ve made today is through political desire to look tough and mean just for the hell of it.”

Mr Abbott was confident his government would limit asylum seeker boats to about three arrivals a year within its first term. “I will regard myself as having succeeded very well if we can get back to a situation of having three boats a year,” Mr Abbott said.

Rudd delays ETS introduction

Introduction of the federal government’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been delayed until mid-2011, 12 months later than originally planned.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made the announcement in Canberra today, saying the government had also decided to increase the upper limit of its carbon reduction target range to 25 per cent of 2000 emission levels by 2020.

The government had planned to introduce the scheme in July 2010 despite opposition from business, green groups and the coalition.

Legislation setting up the scheme was due to be introduced to parliament next month.

The announcement follows a decision by the Australian Greens to compromise and lower their demand for a 40 per cut in carbon emissions to 25 per cent.

Mr Rudd said the “significant” changes to the scheme were made because of three factors.

First, the impact of the global financial crisis on the Australian economy.

Second, the need “to continue to provide maximum impetus for a strong outcome at the Copenhagen (climate) meeting due at the end of the year”.

And third, because it was in Australia’s fundamental national interest to provide “business certainty and investment certainty for the future”.

The emissions trading scheme will be phased in from July 1, 2011.

A one-year fixed price period will be introduced – permits will cost $10 per tonne of carbon in 2011-12 – with the transition to full market trading to begin on July 1, 2012.

“This, we believe, represents an appropriate response to the current uncertainty,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Rudd said the government had committed to reducing carbon pollution by 25 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020, but only if a global deal was struck to stabilise levels of CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million or less by 2050.

“This, of course, a 450 parts per million outcome, is an outcome consistent with Australia having the prospect of saving the (Great) Barrier Reef,” Mr Rudd said.

The government had engaged in “active” discussions with industry, the community at large and the international community, he said.

“In terms of the household sector, we believe that this is best enhanced … by the establishment of the Australian Carbon Trust to allow households to do their bit by investing directly in reducing Australia’s emissions and to drive energy efficiency in buildings.”

Mr Rudd said the government would negotiate the passage of the carbon pollution reduction scheme legislation through parliament with the coalition, the minor parties and independents.

He challenged Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull “to get off the fence” on emissions trading. “It’s time to act in the national interest and to secure this legislation and certainty for the future.”

Mr Rudd, when asked whether he was breaking an election promise with his changes to the scheme, said the government was making a “slower start” to the ETS with better “green outcomes”.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said it was in the national interest to have the legislation passed this year.

The changes would support the global agreement Australia needed, she said.

“They have been the subject of detailed negotiation (with business and green groups),” she told reporters, adding the scheme had been strengthened and improved.

The government had listened carefully to business, which was dealing with the global recession, Mr Rudd said.

The policy shift was about ensuring businesses could continue to carve out a future in a very difficult environment, he said.

The government had also listened to international and environmental stakeholders committed to realising the best possible outcome at the Copenhagen talks.

“Our objective, of course, is to provide business with certainty for the future by providing a stable framework – legislative and regulatory framework – for the future given that this is a set of changes which effects the entire economy long term,” he said.

In December, Mr Rudd said delaying the scheme would be “reckless and irresponsible” for the economy and the environment.

When asked why Monday’s announcement shouldn’t be seen in those terms, he said: “What we’ve had is a deepening of the global financial crisis, which has now become a global economic crisis, and the worst recession in three-quarters of a century.

“That’s what’s happened.” Economic data had “consolidated and been confirmed considerably” since December, and the writedown of revenues around the world had been reflective of that.

“The global economic reality has worsened fundamentally over the last three to four months.”

The government was setting up a scheme for the next 40 years, Mr Rudd said, adding it was faced with establishing a scheme that balanced increased pressures on business and “an environmental reality which doesn’t disappear for tomorrow”.

The new scheme was the “responsible way through”.

Living sustainably in the city

Environmental Lawyer Michael Mobbs has transformed a house only 2km from Sydney’s CBD into an almost 100 per cent sustainable home.

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How did he do it?

“In 1996 we decided to be self-sufficient right here in the heart of the city, which meant having all our energy and water from the roof,” he told SBS.

Mr Mobbs renovated his home so that it would also process all of its wastewater, including sewage, on site, on a block only 35 metres long and 5 metres wide.

Michael says there isn’t enough rainfall on their tiny roof for four people, while it would be enough for two.

“We run out of water about once a year, and on average over the last 14 years I had to top it up with about 5,000 litres of water. My neighbours have a tank. They don’t drink it, they use it for the garden, so I top it up with their water,” Mr Mobbs told SBS.

But his solar panel produces definitely enough electricity for his family, and he’s able to feed energy back into the grid, making about $5 per day in summer. In winter he spends up to $1 per day.

“My energy and water bills for four people have gone down from about $3,000 to $200-300 per year,” he said.

“The nice thing about it is actually the reconnection you get with the weather, so that when it rains you think ‘It’s great, it’s going into the tank’, and when it shines you can put power back into the grid”.

Mr Mobbs says each year the house saves 100,000 litres of water and stops 100,000 litres of sewage leaving the site.

It also saves four tonnes of coal from being burnt and it stops eight tonnes of greenhouse gases from going up in the sky.

“But it’s just an ordinary house, we are just ordinary people,” he told SBS.

“To do the water and energy systems in 1996 cost me $48,000, but it was my first go, and now it changed my life.

“I design houses that do this and I am much more efficient. Now I can do it for about $20,000″.

Mr Mobbs has also planted fruit trees in his street in Chippendale, putting signs encouraging people to take their fruits. He hasn’t got council approval yet, but how could anyone complain?

Reef expedition to unlock climate change’s past

But beneath the Great Barrier Reef’s beauty, a team of scientists believe, lies the key to uncovering the long-term history of climate change.

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Academics from across the globe will set off from the north Queensland city of Townsville next week on a 45-day journey they hope will provide insight into the past behaviour of climate change stretching back to the last ice age.

International expedition

The expedition is being funded by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, made up of scientific funding from the United States, Europe, Japan and several smaller partners, including Australia.

Expedition co-chief scientist Dr Jody Webster, from Sydney University, said the team would drill for samples of fossilised reefs, which will then be used to answer questions about historic ice shelf melting and its effect on sea levels as well as on reefs.

“We will learn an incredible amount, this will be truly exciting, groundbreaking stuff I believe,” Dr Webster told AAP.

“The data from this expedition will have implications for scientists working in a range of different fields.”

He said the information gathered would be particularly useful for future modelling on the effects of global warming.

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now about how stable the ice sheets are and one of the ways we can hopefully prove our estimates of that is to go back into the past and see how those ice sheets have behaved,” he said.

“From that, we hope we have an improved understanding of how the earth system works, how ice sheets have behaved, how climate has behaved.”

Predict ‘impact of global warming’

Dr Webster said previous drilling expeditions in other locations had shown sea level rises of 15-20 metres over 300-500 years during the last period of deglaciation (glacial melting).

He said the samples could also be used to determine the past behaviour of El Nino and help predict the impact of global warming on the weather pattern.

“There are some models which indicate we will see an increase in the intensity and frequency of El Nino in Australia, but there is a lot of confusion as to what the situation will be in the future,” he said.

The samples gathered during the expedition will be taken to Germany where the drill cores will be split and sent to

laboratories in several countries.