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September 6, 2008

NSW Premier Iemma quits, replaced by Rees

NSW Premier Iemma quits, replaced by Rees

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

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NSW Premier Morris Iemma quit politics on Friday

New South Wales Premier, Morris Iemma quit politics on Friday after a disagreement with the governing Australian Labor Party’s dominant “Centre Unity” faction about his proposed cabinet reshuffle. The reshuffle was prompted by the resignation of Deputy Premier John Watkins and the sackings of Treasurer Michael Costa and Health Minister Reba Meagher.

The political fallout follows the botched attempt to privatise the state’s electricity industry.

The right of the Labor party was presented with a list of colleagues who the Premier wanted in and out of his reshuffled cabinet. MPs were frustrated that Joe Tripodi was not on the our list. MPs rejected Iemma’s list and demanded the chance to vote upon it. Mr Iemma then told the faction that unless they accepted his cabinet he would resign. Caucus called Iemma’s bluff and said Iemma had lost support of the party.

The party then looked to the left-wing faction of the party and Nathan Rees was appointed unanimously and unopposed, Carmel Tebbutt was appointed as the state’s deputy premier.

It is the first time in 117 years that a Premier has lost support of his own party and the first time in NSW Labor history that the party has been led by a member from the left.

Speaking to the media, Mr Iemma said he could not lead a cabinet that was not of his own choosing.

“I took what I believed to be a package of renewal, reform and refreshment, for the party, the Cabinet. That was not accepted, so I tendered my resignation.

“I wasn’t going to serve as the head of a Cabinet that was being foisted on me and I wanted change and that was not going to be possible, so I tendered my resignation.”

Following his appointment, Nathan Rees told reporters that he had been elected as Premier of NSW. “Morris Iemma resigned as premier today, I nominated for the vacancy and I was elected unanimously by the full Labor caucus,” Rees said.

“We start work today for the people of New South Wales, we start work this afternoon to deliver services to the people of New South Wales”.

Rees and Tebbutt were sworn in by Governor Marie Bashir on Friday afternoon.

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June 8, 2007

Worst storm in thirty years hits Newcastle, Australia

Worst storm in thirty years hits Newcastle, Australia

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Friday, June 8, 2007

The corner of King and Steel Street in the Newcastle CBD. This picture showing several cars floating in the middle of the normally busy intersection.

Up to eight people may have died after Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia experienced its worst storm in thirty years.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma made the declaration at 9.30pm on the 8th June, as people waded through waist-deep water in the centre of the city. Authorities have had to call off the search for a family of five, who were lost when the Old Pacific Highway sank into a thirty-metre deep chasm underneath them. The bodies of an adult and two children were found in the car this morning.

Police are also looking for an elderly couple missing in the Hunter Valley, and a Newcastle man who was swept down a storm water drain in the northern part of the city.

Authorities also fear a “potentially major environmental disaster”, as bulk carrier Pasha Bulker is grounded on a reef in Nobby’s Beach. The vessel contains over 700 tonnes of fuel and shows some signs of breaking up. Twenty-two crew members were rescued earlier in the day. Two other vessels, the Sea Confidence and the Betis required assistance from tugs with the Sea Confidence coming within 700m of the shore.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has issued further flooding and severe weather warnings; they expect the weather to continue overnight easing during Sunday for the area.

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May 31, 2007

Treatment of Indonesian governor in Sydney causes diplomatic stir

Treatment of Indonesian governor in Sydney causes diplomatic stir

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Map showing geographical location of Australia (orange) and Indonesia (green).
Image: David York.

Relations between Australia and Indonesia have been strained due to an incident in Sydney, New South Wales involving a visiting Indonesian governor.

Governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso claims New South Wales police entered his harbourside hotel room whilst he was taking a nap, using a master hotel key, failing to knock or announce their presence before entering.

The police were requesting that the governor give evidence at an inquest into the 1975 death of an Australian cameraman Brian Peters in the neighbouring country of East Timor. Peters was killed in crossfire, along with four fellow Australian-based newspeople, in Balibo, just prior to the Indonesian military’s invasion of East Timor. The circumstances around their death have been the centre of allegations regarding a cover-up by Indonesia and Australia, particularly from some of the families of those killed.

Sutiyoso is a retired Lieutenant General who served in the Indonesian military for three decades, and was involved in Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.

The now-governor refused to accept the request for summons, saying “I have nothing to do with the case.”

Indonesian reaction

The Indonesian Ambassador to Australia’s office has lodged a formal protest with the New South Wales government in Sydney over the treatment of Sutiyoso, who was a guest of the New South Wales Government. The governor was in Australia’s most populous city to try and revive a possible co-operation agreement between the two neighbouring countries.

Since the incident, Sutiyoso cut short his trip, which involved an official visit to Canberra, Australia’s capital city. He has also been outspoken about his treatment, accusing those involved of acting in an exceedingly inappropriate way.

“I really feel slighted by such treatment”, Sutiyoso said. “If there is no apology, I will deem it as arrogance on their part, and do we need to continue relations with Australia?”

The incident caused a demonstration outside of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the complex, demanding an explanation and apology from the Federal Government. They also threatened to find Australians living in the Indonesian capital city and force them to leave the country if an apology wasn’t given.

The Foreign Ministry of Indonesia has expressed their opinion that any findings from the Brian Peters inquest will be ignored by Indonesia, and will only serve to make the presently-weak relations between Australia and Indonesia more fragile.

Australian reaction

Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.

The Federal Government of Australia, through Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, has expressed that they understand Indonesia’s feelings on the matter. He also stated that Australians need to be more sensitive to Indonesia’s notion of humiliation in the future, saying that Indonesian people would see this as “an enormous humiliation for a major Indonesian figure.”

The Federal Government also expressed their view that the issue was one that needed to be handled via the New South Wales Government, as the incident involved one of the state police, and Sutiyoso was an official guest of the NSW government at the time of the event.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has scheduled a meeting with Indonesian officials for early next week to discuss the issue, with the intent of easing the diplomatic tension involving Sutiyoso. Iemma expressed, however, that the police were not acting under the direction of the NSW Government, and added that “[Australia] have a system that is different to the Indonesians, where the political arm [of government] is independent from the judiciary and the police.”

According to Sutiyoso, Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Bill Farmer, has spoken to the governor about his treatment by police, and has personally apologised.

This story has new developments.

Updated information can be found here.

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June 5, 2006

Australian nuclear power plants rejected by states

Australian nuclear power plants rejected by states

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Monday, June 5, 2006

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: Australian nuclear debate

Australian media reports that Prime Minister John Howard is expected to push a nuclear energy inquiry through federal cabinet this week. Meanwhile, a list of possible sites for nuclear reactors has been leaked by the Opposition to media. The locations, listed in 1997, include Adelaide, Darwin, Perth, Lucas Heights, Goulburn, Holsworthy, and Broken Hill in New South Wales and other sites.

West Australian (WA) premier Alan Carpenter says the list of fourteen potential sites were a “facade to soften up Western Australians into accepting a nuclear waste dump.” The WA Premier said people would not only be surprised but “stunned to learn that the federal cabinet considered possible sites… without disclosing them to any state government.”

Mr Carpenter said in a media release that the document mentions a site near Perth airport. “People should wake up to what’s happening around Australia, particularly in WA,” said Mr. Carpenter. “Only a few weeks ago, we had three prominent WA Liberal MPs supporting a nuclear waste dump in WA,” he said. “This is all a facade in the Howard Government’s push to soften up West Australians for a nuclear waste dump.”

Premier Carpenter, whose Labor government stridently opposes uranium mining in WA, stated his opposition to a nuclear waste dump: “I vehemently oppose the prospect of our State becoming the dumping ground for the world’s nuclear waste and that is what will happen if we allow uranium mining in WA. The evidence is mounting and indisputable.”

The South Australian Government has ruled out any possible nuclear power plant in SA. “A nuclear power plant would bankrupt our state,” SA Premier Mike Rann said. “It would not be commercially viable and would not, in my view, be acceptable to the public. Nuclear power plants need giant populations to sustain them, there is no-one coming to me from the commercial sector or the mining industry or anywhere else, suggesting a nuclear power plant.”

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said South Australia should build a nuclear power station to run a desalination plant. Premier Rann dismissed the idea as ridiculous and said comments by Mr Downer highlight divisions within Federal Cabinet. He said Mr Downer is at odds with the Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin, who says the high costs of nuclear power would rule it out.

Nuclear symbol.jpg

Mr Rann says South Australia will not allow nuclear power. “For once I’m agreeing with Nick Minchin,” he said. “I think Nick Minchin is right that a nuclear power plant isn’t necessary and won’t happen and I think that Alexander Downer is having a bit of a lend of him.”

Victoria’s Energy Minister Theo Theophanous said nuclear energy in Australia did not make sense when the cost and problems of waste disposal were considered. Mr Theophanous has rejected a report that found nuclear power could be competitive with conventional energy generation if it was subsided with help from a taxpayer subsidy.

A recent report found nuclear power could compete with gas or coal-fired electricity if taxpayers helped to pay for it or shouldered the risk of its production. The ANSTO report found nuclear plants could be built in the next 10 to 15 years and an Australian version would cost about $2.5 billion to establish. To make it viable, taxpayers would pay hundreds of million towards start-up costs, said the report.

But Mr Theophanous said Victoria had already had concluded the nuclear proposal did not add up. “I had my department look at this and provide a report to me more than a year ago in relation to the prospect of nuclear power,” he said. “The problem is a commercial one as much as anything else. It costs roughly double the price to produce power out of nuclear energy. If you’re going to pay double the price, why not put in wind farms? Why not use renewable energy, which is even cheaper than nuclear energy?” said Mr Theophanous .

The Victoria Government urges householders to reduce greenhouse emissions by reducing daily energy consumption. A new campaign identifies simple measures residents can adopt to cut power bills and greenhouse emissions, including turning the heating thermostat to no more than 20C, washing clothes in cold water and turning appliances off at the switch when they are not being used.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has also declared his opposition to nuclear power. He said no nuclear power stations would be built in NSW as long as he is premier. Mr Iemma urged state opposition leader Peter Debnam to join him in opposing the construction of nuclear power plants in NSW. “While ever I’m premier of NSW there won’t be any nuclear power plants in NSW,” he told reporters.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says he “would not jeopardize the state’s coal industry by supporting a nuclear power plant.” Mr. Beattie has ruled out uranium mining in Queensland to protect the state’s huge coal industry. He said he would not support a nuclear power plant. “The State Government would not support it,” Mr. Beattie said.

“We have the power to block them and we would block them, we would not support nuclear power. Why would we have a nuclear reactor in competition with the coal industry?” Mr. Beattie told media.

Climate change

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) chairman Don Henry says a nuclear debate must consider climate change. “If the inquiry is just about nuclear power it will be a waste of taxpayers money because nuclear power is too dangerous, too dirty, and too slow to tackle climate change,” he said. “If the inquiry is going to be fairdinkum, it needs to look at that issue: what can we do right now to tackle climate change in Australia?”

Australian Greens climate change and energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said in a media release: “Instead of turning to nuclear power, Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, invest in renewable energy, adopt a national energy efficiency target and improve public transport. “Several studies examining options to achieve deep cuts in Australian greenhouse emissions all show this goal can be achieved, cost effectively, without resorting to nuclear power.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says: “The nuclear industry is engaged in a concerted effort to be given one last chance for redemption… yet every step of the nuclear fuel chain, from mining, milling, enrichment and operating reactors to waste storage, is subject to the same human error, material breakdowns, complexity and incompetence as any other area of human endeavour.” said Senator Siewert. “The current inventory of nuclear waste will already present our descendents with a monstrous intergenerational headache. Allowing so much as a kilogram more of this material to be produced is simply immoral.”

The ACF say “nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change.” ACF President Professor Ian Lowe says “Nuclear is too slow to provide any legitimate answer to climate change or to energy security for the developing world.” The ACF report that, as an energy source globally, uranium provides less power than renewables do. “Uranium is inextricably linked to very serious environmental and health problems via nuclear weapons and radioactive waste. There is nothing ideological about opposing its use…”

Nuclear inquiry

Centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium

The Australian Newspaper reports that Prime Minister Howard is preparing to appoint chief scientist Jim Peacock, a supporter of nuclear power, and other high-level nuclear industry experts to the team. The public inquiry, to be undertaken by three or four selected experts is expected to “examine the economics of nuclear energy, health, safety, environmental and proliferation issues as well as waste and storage.” The taskforce will take submissions and is expected to prepare a report to Government within four or five months, with the Government’s response early in 2007.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Ian Smith, says “at least three” power plants would be required. Mr Howard said the ANSTO report challenged the view that the cost of nuclear power was prohibitive. Dr Smith told a Senate estimates hearing that Australia would require “multiple power stations to make the industry viable”.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the nuclear energy inquiry would also include consideration of nuclear enrichment plants in Australia. Mr Macfarlane said he would consider a nuclear power plant in his own Toowoomba electorate.

Prime Minister John Howard insisted he would not be deterred by the unpopularity of nuclear power.

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NSW Government walks away from Cross City Motorway negotiations

NSW Government walks away from Cross City Motorway negotiations

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Monday, June 5, 2006

Cross City Tunnel exit at Sir John Young Crescent, Woolloomooloo.

New South Wales Premier, Morris Iemma announced on Sunday that his government would be reversing 13 controversial road changes and alterations that were carried out to force traffic into the Cross City Tunnel.

The road changes were initially approved by the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority and formed part of the contract with the Cross City Motorway (who operate the tunnel).

The government wished also for the company to lower the toll from AUD$3.37 to the $2.90 discounted toll that will expire at midnight Mon. Jan 5.

Cross City Motorway wanted AUD$96 Million as compensation but the government’s highest offer was only $30 Million. Cross City Motorway were being “greedy” said NSW Roads minister, Eric Roozendaal.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said that his government had tried to negotiate a suitable compensation package. “We’ve negotiated over the last three months in good faith. We’ve done our best … to reach an arrangement satisfactory to all — to taxpayers to motorists and one which the company could live with” he said.

Despite the government walking away from negotiations the company could still come to the government with an offer, Mr Iemma said.

“Obviously, the ball’s in the company’s court in relation to their response,” he said.

The Premier said it would be wise for the company to continue the reduced toll. “It is in their commercial interest to ensure that motorists have got incentives to use this road.”

The NRMA, the peak motoring organisation in NSW, also believes that the toll should remain at its discounted rate. “It’s now up to the Cross City Tunnel operators to also make sure motorists get a fair deal by only charging a fair toll and not raising the toll back up to that exorbitant level it was before” said NRMA president Alan Evans.

Mr Iemma said he expected there might be a lawsuit made by Cross City Motorway against his government but believes his government is in a good position to defend any claims for damages.

Cross City Motorway is expected to respond on the issue today.

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June 2, 2006

Federal and NSW governments withdraw Snowy Hydro shares

Federal and NSW governments withdraw Snowy Hydro shares

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Friday, June 2, 2006

Talbingo Dam, part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme

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The Australian federal and New South Wales governments will not be selling their shares in Snowy Hydro Limited (the owner and operator of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme). Snowy Hydro Limited’s major shareholder is the NSW government with a 58 percent shareholding. The Victorian government owns 29 percent and the federal government has a 13 percent stake.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma announced in December 2005 that he wished to sell the state’s share in Snowy Hydro that caused the federal and Victorian governments to follow.

The proposed sale has attracted immense criticism by those who believed that the sale would affect the environment and water supplies along the Snowy River, this was reinforced yesterday when 58 eminent Australians presented a petition to the government opposing the sale.

Prime Minister John Howard announced today that the federal government would not be selling its 13 percent share of Snowy Hydro following what he calls “intense community reaction”. In a statement, Mr Howard said, “This decision to sell the Snowy Hydro has created significant unhappiness, concern and unrest throughout the Australian community.”

Mr Howard said that the sale was not an election promise by his government and that the federal government failed to see any long-term benefits from the sale. He also said that the government needed to “safeguard the interests of all those dependent on Australia’s iconic water resources”.

The federal government has however stated that despite refusing to sell its share in Snowy Hydro that it will not be purchasing additional shares if NSW and Victoria push ahead with the sale of their shareholdings.

Despite telling Macquarie Radio earlier this morning that his government would be pushing ahead with the sale as it was in the best “interests of NSW”, Premier Iemma announced shortly after Mr Howard’s release, that the NSW government would be withdrawing its shares from sale.

Mr Iemma conceded that the sale would be extremely difficult with the federal government withdrawing its 13 percent from sale. “The Prime Minister has pulled the rug out from under the sale,” Mr Iemma said. “The circumstances are significantly changed.”

“The Commonwealth decision makes it extremely difficult for NSW to proceed,” he conceded.

Victoria is yet to announce whether or not it will be withdrawing its shares from sale.

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May 29, 2006

NSW school maintenance a \”disgrace\”: Opposition

NSW school maintenance a “disgrace”: Opposition

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Monday, May 29, 2006

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New South Wales opposition leader, Peter Debnam has called the maintenance backlog in NSW schools a disgrace following an announcement by the Iemma government to spend AUD$120 million over four-years.

Mr Debnam challenged the government to fix the problem before the election in March next year and said that the plan was a “fraud”.

In 2005, the NSW Auditor-General released a report disclosing a $116 million maintenance backlog in schools across the state. The report stated that there were 1,000 outstanding maintenance jobs, ranging from leaking roofs and fraying carpets to classrooms in need of paint across the states’ 2,224 government-owned schools.

On Sunday, NSW Premier, Morris Iemma announced that his government would be spending $120 million over a four-year period to clear the backlog. During the announcement, he admitted that the government needed to do more to clear the backlog. “It is part of our plan to ensure our children have the best possible education and the best possible learning environment,” he said.

Teachers have said that the level of funding and time frame were not enough to clear a backlog spanning 10 years. President of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maree O’Halloran said, “Why should children have to wait four years for overdue maintenance work which forms the maintenance backlog?”

“In 2005, the Auditor-General identified a $115 million maintenance backlog and Professor Tony Vinson called for an additional $90 million dollars for maintenance per year, over two years.” said Ms O’Halloran.

Opposition education spokesperson, Brad Hazzard said that the government’s plan is a fraud and that the reason students are leaving school is because of the out-dated infrastructure.

“The announcement of extra money is a fraud because it is over four years,” said Mr Hazzard.

“The State Government has shown no foresight about the major problem that causes … students to walk away from the public school system annually – 1960 infrastructure in the 21st century.” said Mr Hazzard.

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February 13, 2006

Melbourne police raid hydroponic cannabis growers

Filed under: Archived,Australia,Cannabis,Crime and law,Morris Iemma,Oceania — admin @ 5:00 am

Melbourne police raid hydroponic cannabis growers

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Police last week launched a number of raids across Melbourne and surrounding areas, targeting hydroponic cannabis-growing operations. There were seven arrests on Thursday, in Melton and Werribee, across the western and northern suburbs, and a farm near Bacchus Marsh.

Three men appeared in court on Friday. One man, arrested at the farm, was charged with cultivating cannabis after police found 102 plants growing hydroponically.

According to Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Jason Kelly the raids come at the end of a six month operation. He said that more arrests would be following in the next few weeks.

These arrests coincide with the State and Federal governments tough new stance on cannabis, and hydroponically grown cannabis in particular. The Prime Minister John Howard, and NSW Premier Morris Iemma, have linked cannabis use to mental illness, citing a number of statements by researchers.

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February 11, 2006

Australian governments to spend $1.1 billion on mental health

Australian governments to spend $1.1 billion on mental health

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Australian Parliament House, where the COAG meeting was held

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and state and territory leaders have promised to spend an extra AU$1.1 billion on mental health over the next five years. The funding is part of a broad strategy to improve the standard of mental health care, and includes additional places for medical students and a national phone advice network.

The announcement was made at the Council of Australian Governments meeting. NSW Premier Morris Iemma praised the plan. “At long last there is real hope for the mentally ill and their families,” he said.

The focus of the strategy will be prevention and early detection. This includes a tougher stance on cannabis cultivation. In the past few weeks the Prime Minister and a number of state Premiers have linked cannabis use to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

The number of medicine positions at universities will be increased by increasing the cap on full fee paying students. Loan assistance for medical students will also be increased.

Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley was critical of the announcement, saying that the mental health system has been in need of reform for ten years.

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February 7, 2006

New South Wales set to adopt harsher anti-cannabis laws

New South Wales set to adopt harsher anti-cannabis laws

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Tuesday, February 7, 2006

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New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has proposed strengthening the states anti-cannabis laws. The government is undertaking a complete rewrite of such laws in response to concerns voiced by some health professionals about the link between the drug and mental health issues. The proposed legislation will also increase jail sentences for those convicted of growing cannabis hydroponically.

“There is growing evidence of a link between long-term cannabis use and the incidence of severe mental health problems,” said Mr Iemma.

Under the plan the current cannabis cautioning system, introduced in 2000, is to be reviewed. Cannabis users would be required to attend counseling to “understand the link between cannabis use and mental illness” to avoid being charged for their first offence. At present those issued with their second cautioning notice are required to call a counseling service.

Revised Penalty System

Current penalties do not distinguish between hydroponic cultivation and other forms of cultivation. The new set of penalties proposed by Mr Iemma include:

  • $220,000 fine and/or 10 years gaol for growing 5-49 hydroponic plants (same as present)
  • $385,000 fine and/or 15 years gaol for growing 50-199 hydroponic plants (currently this is given to those found growing 250-999 plants)
  • $550,000 fine and/or 20 years gaol for growing 200 hydroponic plants or more (currently given for growing in excess of 1000 plants)
  • Two years gaol for theft of electricity to power hydroponic growing houses
  • 12 months gaol for those found with any form of cannabis on their premises (for a first offence)
  • Five years gaol for those found with any form of cannabis on their premises (for a second offence)
  • Creation of child endangerment offences for parents who allow their children inside hydroponic grow-ops.

Hydroponic cultivation

Those found hydroponically growing cannabis will be hit particularly hard by the new laws. Mr Iemma defended the government’s proposals by referring to expert advice on the effects of this type of cannabis on users. “Regular cannabis use can exacerbate mental illnesses and associated criminal activity. Experts tell us that potent, hydroponically grown cannabis is a particular problem,” he said.

The content of THC in cannabis changed sharply in the 1970s with the rediscovery and spread of the sinsemilla technique, wherein the material used by the unfertilized female plant to create seeds is diverted to the production of trichromes, which contain THC. Potency rates have risen slowly but steadily since then with the refinement of various cultivation techniques. These techniques also have resulted in much greater yields.

The concentration of THC in cannabis as related to genetics, correct nutrient supply and precise lighting may be controlled by hydroponic cultivation, however these conditions are also regularly met using soil-based growing techniques.

Under the new laws hydroponic cannabis houses will be subjected to the same search and warrant powers as those which are used for the manufacture of amphetamines and heroin.

Support and Concerns

Dr John Currie from Drug and Alcohol Services at Sydney’s Westmead hospital supports the government’s position, telling ABC “there is growing evidence that the long term use of cannabis can cause mental illness, whether you’re predisposed to it or not”.

“Equally as worrying for us is that just ordinary people who don’t have a mental health problem can still get trouble when they do have long term use of cannabis” said Dr Currie.

The Prime Minister has also accused cannabis of playing a role in Australia’s mental health problems. “I think we are paying a dreadfully heavy price for the abuse of what was so called recreation and socially acceptable drugs despite the clear evidence, unaccepted until a few years ago, that these things were doing massive damage within our community,” Mr Howard has said in parliament.

Mr Howard signaled that he supported the move in New South Wales to increase penalties for cannabis, especially hydroponic cannabis which the NSW government claims is stronger. “I welcome the change in direction of many of the states,” he said.

The Mental Health Council of Australia has warned the government of over-estimating the role of cannabis in mental health. John Mendozza, the Councils Chief Executive, told ABC “I don’t think we should overstate the role of cannabis in the nation’s mental health crisis. It is a factor, but it is not the reason that we now face a mental health crisis.”

The government’s claims are based in part upon an Australian study conducted in 2002, which found regular use of cannabis among teen-age girls to be predictive of later anxiety and depression, though not that among boys. A different study published in 2005 actually found that those who suffer with depression and use cannabis “for medical reasons” reported less depressed moods.

Research has shown that cannabis use is risky for adolescents with an abnormal COMT gene (which occurs in about 25 percent of the population of Northern European descent). Compared to the rest of the population, those with the abnormal gene and who smoke cannabis regularly during adolescence have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, though none of these factors separately predicts the illness.

Opposition and Concerns

On the other hand, New South Wales’ government proposals has been met with stiff opposition from various factions, including parts of the medical community. Doctor Alex Wodak, of the Australia Drug Law Reform Association in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Company said “I think many people, not just me, see this as more motivated by concern about the March 2007 elections than any public health measure.”

“If governments were really serious about cannabis and in favour of draconian responses for a drug which after all, doesn’t cause any deaths, then what would they do about a drug that causes 19,000 deaths in Australia a year – namely tobacco?” asked Dr Wodak.

The NSW laws contrast with calls from the Australian Democrats in South Australia for a relaxation of anti-cannabis laws. State leader Sandra Kanck said, “politicians and media commentators are getting on the bandwagon, saying we need to recriminalise the personal use of marijuana. That would make around 476,000 South Australians – 40 per cent of the population – retrospective criminals. About 75,000 people in the state would break the law each week if marijuana was criminalised. We need to recognise that drugs are used, and have appropriate policies to deal with that. Prohibition didn’t work in America in the 1920s and it won’t work now”.

Anti-Cannabis laws in other Australian jurisdictions

South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory already distinguish between cannabis which is grown hydroponically or using artificial light and conventional cannabis for possession offences.

South Australia also goes one step further by having separate penalties for cannabis possession in public and in private. In South Australia possession of up to 20 cannabis plants for personal use is punishable by a $500 fine.

When compared to other jurisdictions the Australian Capital Territory has the lightest penalties for cannabis offences. Penalties for cannabis possession range from $100 for possessing 25 grams of leaf or 2 or less “non-artificially cultivated” plants to a $5,000 fine and/or 2 years gaol for possessing an amount of cannabis not covered by the above.

The Northern Territory has some of the toughest anti-drug laws in Australia when contrasted with other states. A person can receive a 25 year gaol sentence for having more than 20 plants in their possession.

Cannabis policy directions in other Western countries

The NSW government’s decision to introduce tougher penalties for cannabis cultivation and possession comes at a time when other Western countries are relaxing their laws in this regard.

In the United States, anti-cannabis laws vary greatly from state to state with respect to personal use, medical cannabis and cultivation. Cannabis is still broadly prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and the federal government selectively enforces the law so as to frustrate various forms of legalization at state and local levels, for example in Gonzales v. Raich.

Personal cannabis use in the Netherlands is subject to a policy of official tolerance, though it remains technically illegal. The Netherlands regulates the sale of cannabis in coffee shops, though the non-tolerance of cultivation above five personal plants creates an irregularity of supply (the so-called “back-door problem”). Legislation is under consideration to address this by regulating commercial cultivation. The current Protestant government has sought to limit the number of coffee shops, and in border towns bar sales to foreigners.

Certain provinces of Canada have adopted a policy of non-enforcement of anti-cannabis laws against personal use, to the point that in the Vancouver and Toronto areas, operation of cannabis cafés is tolerated, though they are not permitted to sell. Cultivation is still aggressively interdicted. The city of Vancouver has drafted a licensing model similar to the Netherlands, which has not yet gone into force. The recent elections have brought a minority Conservative government, which may bring reversals in liberalization of cannabis laws.

In the United Kingdom cannabis has been reclassified as a Class C drug, making it less likely for an individual to be arrested for possession. There is political pressure in the UK to either schedule strong cannabis separately or reverse the rescheduling altogether, citing the alleged dangers. On the dangers of strong cannabis, there is a similarity of public discourse especially between the UK and Australia.

Sources

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