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Hydro Tasmania will quit Sarawak

An aggressive campaign mounted jointly by Sarawak coalition
of NGOs Save Rivers, Bruno Manser Fund and the Australian
Greens Party in Australia sees a victorious end.
KUCHING: Controversial Australian government-owned company Hydro Tasmania, which Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) had once described as an “essential partner” in the state’s plan to build multiple dams, will withdraw from Sarawak by the end of 2013, leaving Chief Minister Taib Mahmud with a “big headache”.
Hydro Tasmania’s involvement in the RM3 billion Murum Dam project has been at the receiving end of incessant campaigning by local native NGOs and Australians, and it has succumbed to public pressure on Monday and announced it is phasing out.
Hydro Tasmania CEO Roy Adair told Sarawak campaigners Peter Kallang and James Nyurang from Save Rivers, a coalition of Sarawak NGOs, and Peter John Jaban from Radio Free Sarawak that “Hydro Tasmania will leave Sarawak by the end of 2013″.
“Our role is diminishing and there is no plan to replace our current secondees… our secondees are reducing to four at the end of this year and the others will be phased out over the next 12 months,” he said.
He said all four remaining Hydro Tasmania staff seconded to SEB, the main contractors, will be phased out over the next 12 months and not replaced.
The remaining personnel, he said, will fulfil their “contractual obligations” and return.
Announcing the good news, Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), which has been at the forefront of a global campaign to bring down Taib and save Sarawak’s rainforests and the indigenous natives from his land development policies, said Adair’s statement was “a significant U-turn” in Hydro Tasmania’s position over the Sarawak dams.
Adair had until recently been staunchly supportive of Taib’s plans to build 12 dams, claiming that SEB was “a first-class professional outfit” and that Hydro Tasmania was “delighted to be working with what is one of the major opportunities in the world”.
Adair said all this during an interview with an Australian TV show ‘Dateline Programme”.
During the show he enthused about Tasmania’s involvement in the proposal to build multiple dams which would eventually force out tens and thousands of native from their lands and destroy the rainforests.
Propaganda backfired
But the propaganda programme, however, backfired on Adair and Hydro Tasmania and raised numerous questions over the hydro projects and the “business, safety and sustainability” standards adopted by SEB helmed by Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi.
The programme also noted the disastrous treatment of natives living in Batang Ai and Bakun and that these problems were in existent in Murum and Baram. It also pointed to worrying levels of corruption in Sarawak.
In September this year frustrated Penans from eight villagers mounted a blockade on the access road to the Murum dam site. The relentless blockade drew the attention of local and international media.
No amount of ‘cajoling’ by the state government and its agents has convinced the Penans to abort their ongoing blockade.
According to Save Rivers, the Penan had been protesting against the dam since 2009 but frustration at the state’s refusal to look into their needs and fulfil promises made had led to the blockade.
Failing to move SEB and the Taib government, Save Rivers took their campaign to Australia aiming to mobilise Australians to pressure state-owned Hydro Tasmania to withdraw from participating in the project in Sarawak.
The campaign received the wholehearted support of the Australian Greens party. The Greens are in a formal alliance with the Australian Labor Party in the Tasmanian Parliament.
Greens Senators Christine Milne and Lee Rhiannon, together with Sarawak indigenous leaders, launched a national-level campaign on the issue last week, which resulted in Adair’s announcement of a withdrawal in 12 months.
Said BMF in a statement yesterday: “During our campaign, which was jointly led by Save Rivers, the Huon Valley Environment Centre and the Bruno Manser Fund, more than 5,700 people have sent e-mails to Hydro Tasmania’s Roy Adair, asking the Hydro Tasmania CEO to get out of Sarawak.
“Thank you for your strong support to this cause and to a campaign that is far from over. You can still sign on to the petition to Hydro Tasmania, asking them to withdraw their staff with immediate effect,” the BMF said.
‘Economic sabotage’
The campaign, BMF said, had given Taib a “big headache” leading to his outburst during the recent State Legislative Assembly sitting.
Taib had slammed local NGOs and their global partners, accusing the of “economic sabotage”.
Taib said it would be short-sighted to oppose the construction of dams in Sarawak and to listen to outsiders whose real intention towards the state’s continued development was suspect at best.
He urged Sarawakians not to believe the “web of lies and half-truths wrapped around ignorance and twisted logic.”
“Increasingly, we notice that negative actions are being organised in Sarawak to gain global attention and a handful of local organisers seem to lead this opposition to get funding from foreigners,” he said, alluding to Save Rivers aggressive campaign in Australia.
Hydro Tasmania’s announcement on Monday brings to a victorius end, a 12-days Australian tour by an indigenous delegation from Save Rivers.

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