Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

May 23rd 2006
Send Chalco your message

Jennifer Stirling With the public disquiet growing daily over Townsville's quest to be the site for the Chalco aluminium refinery, welcomes a new columnist, Townsville Greens' Convenor, Ms Jenny Stirling. Her first column follows.

I have just finished rereading a news story about Townsville Enterprise CEO, Glenys Schuntner where she talks about meeting a visiting delegation from the Aluminium Corporation of China (Chalco). Ms Schuntner says, "We will be making them feel welcome and showing them that Townsville welcomes investment" (TB April 18th -click here). The reason for this welcome is that Chalo, the world's second largest alumina producers, is going to decide within a few weeks where it wants to build a new alumina refinery- Townsville, Bowen or Gladstone.

On June 3rd the people of the surrounding suburbs of the State Industrial Development Zone near Stuart, Wulguru, Annandale, Oonoonba, Alligator Creek, South Townsville and Railway Estate will have a chance to give Chalco a vastly different message. A community forum will be held at the Wulguru Community Centre, 1.30 pm where people will be able to ask the kinds of questions I feel sure Glenys neglected to ask Chalco. For example, what are the health and environmental impacts of an alumina refinery around the world? For your

Interestingly for Townsville, a city that wants to be known as a major tourism spot, Ms Schuntner has effectively announced to the world that we are a third world destination because as with many dirty industries, production is increasingly concentrated in the global South. Indeed, with energy and labor prices escalating in the industrialized West, new capacity almost always is proposed in the developing world. Dr. Kua Kia Soong, head of a non-governmental coalition in Sarawak asks, "Why do we want toxic and energy-hungry industries such as aluminum smelters? Aluminum smelting is one industry that the developed countries want to dump on suckers like us because it is environmentally toxic and it consumes voracious amounts of energy." Why indeed?

Over in Western Australia, it seems employees are not happy with their working conditions at Alcoa, the world's largest manufacturer of aluminum products. The executive Director of Population Health at WA Health Department, Michael Jackson says a panel identified a range of symptoms that both residents and workers are experiencing varying from headaches, irritations of the eyes, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and lethargy. Jackson believes that the most severe symptoms are being experienced by the workers and he believes that it will be extremely hard for these people to recover. Public Relations Manager for Alcoa WA, Brian Doy says that the company agrees with all the panels recommendations ( As for the official reports from the relevant WA government departments, it appears the Department of Environmental Protection relies on Alcoa to monitor themselves for possible health impacts from its refinery emissions.

If any Magnetic Islanders would like to be part of that Community forum, please ring (07) 47290226 or 0431737870 for details.

Jenny Stirling

Just so you know who she is, Jenny provided this short backgrounder:

I am a mother of four and a postgrad social work student at JCU. In 2005, I was elected as President of the Postgrad Student Association, which means I attend lots of meetings and write letters to the editor in my spare time. As the Townsville Greens co-convenor, I advocate on social justice and environmental issues while forgetting to turn the tap off while I clean my teeth. I am not much good at recycling either but I don't eat junk food (much). I am a practicing Christian who would rather walk for workers rights than cook and clean house. Unfortunately, I am also a product of my working class upbringing. So I bend my house wife's knee and genuflect at the stove, washing machine, clothes line and ironing board. As a feminist, I yell at my son for wasting my face wash creme, while editing his law assignment. In my former capacity as lay minister in the Anglican Church, I have married, buried, baptised and preached sermons. I like to sing and am currently with 'Aquapella' the acapella choir which is made up of wonderful people from Maggie and the mainland. Growing up in Innisfail, I am rather nuts about the rain, the beach and the rainforest, which is why I hate swimming.

In short, I am not a role model for the political correct..

The Ed.

Send Chalco your message
V Jeffery
May 24th 2006

Thanks for taking the very insidious bull by the horns. I find the whole concept frightening and never cease to be disappointed by the blatant push by the TCC and those barking on the ends of the leash, for more development- regardless of long term environmental impacts. And I wonder how much the shamelessly rate-payer funded weekend glossy cost?
Mary Regts
May 24th 2006
This would be a tragedy. Yes, we have problems in W.A. It is enough to fill one with despair.
Glenys Schuntner
May 24th 2006
Dear Editor

I have recently read an article published in the Magnetic Times of 23 May by your new columnist, Jenny Stirling.

Ms Stirling
May 25th 2006
Thank you for the handy correcting of the record Ms Schuntner. Because Townsville already has three metal refineries we are in a good position to determine the effects of these industries on Townsville's quality of life and cleanness.
Copper and lead and some extremely toxic by-products from the MIM refinery have been spread all over Stuart and the Port of Townsville over the last century. Dredge spoil from the port and Ross Creek cannot be disposed of at the Cleveland Bay sea dump because it is too toxic.
Nickel refining at Yabulu began in the 1970s using oil which was so polluting that special legislation was passed by the Bjelke Peterson government to allow its use. No doubt the residents down wind of Yabulu can tell Ms Schuntner a few things about Queensland Nickel's smokestack pollution. They won't be able to reveal anything about the contents from QNA's ocean outfall at Saunders Beach because the Queensland Government keeps the information secret.
Out at the new world-class zinc refinery the "harmless" steam rising from those nifty looking cooling towers seems to have a blistering effect on the paintwork of (dozens and dozens of) employee's cars in the carpark - or it did until a while ago when the carpark was moved to a more upwind location and covered with shadecloth. That's worlds-best-practice for you. They haven't taken up the Goss Government approved (world class of course) lead smelter option yet but we can expect an infant brain implosion like Port Pirie's when they do.
Of course an alumina refinery doesn't actually make aluminium metal - it uses an incredibly complex chemical process to make a white powder which is refined into metal elsewhere. The by-product is a wobbling mound (becoming a sea) of very fine red mud - hectares of the stuff, virtually impossible to stabilise.
If Townsville Enterprise is so comfortable about the sustainability and acceptability of each development project why is it supporting a cruise ship terminal and gated luxury canal estate proposal which is so controversial and divisive that the Queensland Government is removing it from all provisions on the Integrated Planning Act and Judicial Review Act (ref. Breakwater Island Casino Agreement Amendment Bill Feb,2006)? No planning consent will be required, no one will be able to challenge the proposal under any circumstances in any Queensland court and no action of the developer will be illegal even if it is illegal. Is this the high quality, clean development environment that Ms Schuntner so ardently supports?
Terry Bridges
May 26th 2006
Refinerys of this type should not be allowed anywhere near populated areas, but should be built somewhere inland, with a decent buffer zone, the argument of course will be the extra cost of services for the industry. Environmental concerns should overide any additional cost.
Alan Renton
May 29th 2006
I think as one trained originally as a chemical engineer (applied scientist) that it should be possible to build an alumina refinary, under Australian regulations, that is safe and would provide employment.
May 29th 2006
Of course a safe refinery can be built. And of course a safe and desireable location can be found. And of course the benefits of a safe and sound industry are attractive to any community.
The question is: Does Queensland have a robust and honest assessment process that can be trusted? Recent decisions by the Queensland Government, including the approval for the Sunmetals zinc refinery (which turned out to have some unattractive acid fallout pollution which is constantly denied and has never been officially acknowledged) and the associated approval for a lead refinery should the company desire to build one - leave this resident sceptical and on edge. If an industry is safe and sustainable what possible reason could a government have for keeping its performance criteria secret?
jenny stirling
May 30th 2006
Hi Alan,
Yes, if we can fly to the moon, one would think that it is possible to build a safe refinery. However, that assumption is based on a previous dearth of research concerning the health implcations of the alumina refining process. If you would like to google up Geoff Pain (PhD BSc hons) you will find someone who is very informed about the health implications of the industry. Geoff is conducting a wide ranging project on this industry. I have a report he sent to the federal government which clearly rings alarm bells for workers who have been in the industry for some time. If you like, I can send you the report by mail,(sorry I can't fiind the web address). This man was regarded as an expert for the ABC Four Corners programme on the Wagerup community and the Alcoa refinery there.

Thanks for your contribution and if you want this report, let the editor know your contact details.

Regards, Jenny Stirling
Kathleen Dawson
August 8th 2007
IR Laws must go

It is interesting to note that IR laws affect many facets of the labour force in different ways. Under the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act the Australian Building and Construction Commission has the ability to detain and interrogate workers in secret, impose large fines for strike action,(even if the strike took place before the IR laws were enacted), among other things.

Under the Skilling Australia

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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