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Sydney Harbour dioxin threat


Sydney’s dioxin time bomb reflects an
Olympic sized missed opportunity 
By Tom McLoughlin, principal ecology action sydney 26th January 2006 (Australia Day usually celebrated here on Sydney Harbour) 

My clippings project as summarised below for the Sydney Olympics 2000, a task stretching from 1993 for the next 7 years to the Games itself and soon after, is instructive of the quite high profile understanding of the lethal toxicity of the muddy substrate both on land and under the harbour waters in and around Homebush Bay.

Notice for instance in particular the Greenpeace campaign warrier in 1995 who ended up working (captured by?)  SOCOG (the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) as their 'head of environmental communication', in other words chief spin doctor. 

That's a turn of events reflective of human nature the world over and for every serious environmental reform agenda you can think of. How far to work with vandals, how far is being seduced or captured?

The history of the green movement relations with government over the bid and preparation time of the Olympics were complex as you might expect.

In typical Sydney style (to quote ex Premier Bob Carr) there is always a deluge of interested parties wanting to elbow their way into every big decision. The Olympics Bid led by Rod McGeogh back in 1993 was no exception.

This writer remembers tackling McGeogh at a public Sustainability Conference forum at Newcastle (NSW) around 1997 as he argued the Eastern Distributor tollway, despite well known air pollution issues and diversion of revenue from public rail, was necessary as an Olympic project, then agreed it wasn't even on their Olympic budget.

But before right back at the start, some readers may recall a conservationist Karla Bell for Greenpeace pioneering a Green Games concept in the early 90's. Sydney entrepreneurs leapt on that approach and rode it to a successful bid in 1994 to the delight of Premier John Fahey. (He thought it would get him re-elected in March 1995 but he was wrong.) But apart from Greenpeace the other green ngo’s were either skeptical or askance. They felt Sydney’s lack of sustainability was a laughable platform at that early stage.

So there was a big credibility gap even within local green groups regarding Greenpeace achieving their 'Green Games' goal as evidenced by the executive minutes of 1993 (copy of which is held by this writer) of the Nature Conservation Council NSW, which is the peak umbrella of small non government green groups in NSW Australia, with notables like Milo Dunphy (RIP) recorded etc.

Now it is a matter of history that Greenpeace had a reform agenda and dragged the state and federal govt’s along kicking and screaming, but back then Greenpeace were under pressure from their own green colleagues in smaller related organisations. The chronology of articles following evidence this many times over.

In 1993 the smaller green ngo’s were quite negative. We are talking the leading figures in the domestic green movement separate from internationally focused Greenpeace. People like Milo Dunphy, John Denlay, Anne Reeves, Sid Walker Peter Prineas, etc.

 Here are few choice quotes from the NCC executive meeting minutes back to 1993:

 “embark on a [public] campaign… the potentially negative environmental impacts” 2.4.93

 “arrange … meeting between … Greenpeace …Olympic Bid Environment Committee” 14.5.93

 “expressed concern about gross inaccuracies on environmental matters in the Sydney Olympic Bid’s Candidature File … Resolved …if …concerns are not addressed, NCC will consider pressing these concerns in public and communicating them to the IOC…(4) Both Governments should undertake to carry out an EIS under NSW law addressing the immediate and wider impacts of the Sydney Olympic project including * Development at the Homebush…. Sites.”11.6.93

 “The Waste Crisis Network is appalled by the NSW Government’s claims of a ‘Green Olympics’ which have misled the International Olympic Committee into believing that Sydney has an enviable environmental record….unanimously agreed this statement reflects the Executive’s view…”9.7.93

 “maximum publicity for the implications of the Olympics” 13.8.93

“write to the Premier and the NSW Planning Minister… potential to be fast tracking … to avoid proper environmental assessment and safeguards …” 10.9.93

 “NCC establishes a subcommittee, entitled the ‘Gameswatch’ Committee, to carry out a watchdog role … Caron Morrison and Ted Floyd to co-convene.” 8.10.93

Perhaps the nadir for relations between the NSW/Federal government sponsored bid and local green groups excluding Greenpeace, was the verbal report internal to the green movement around 1993 that the covert bid documents FRAUDULENTLY asserted two groups, Total Environment Centre and NSW Nature Conservation Council endorsed the bid. This was an outright lie which aggrieved the respective groups, and was never denied by any of the parties, despite publication such as this article ‘The Olympic greenwash’ by noted expert environmental writer Jim Green in Green Left Weekly p12 10/2/199 quoting this writer. It was hushed up assisted by the fact the bid documents were kept secret as much as possible.

 Rather than risk a public backlash from the pro Olympic bid media boosting, these two aggrieved green groups who felt pimped to the IOC decided with their allies to take another tack: To extract their financial pound of flesh. They didn’t go public attacking the almost certainly breach of s.52 of the Trade Practices Act for misleading and deceptive conduct, rather through Jeff Angel in particular, they brokered govt grants for a employment honey pot for these green groups called Green Games Watch 2000. This had the added attraction to government of a tamer version of the really financially independent and rather scary Greenpeace.

 GGW membership is defined here at:

 “Green Games Watch 2000 (GGW) was established in 1995 with State and Federal government funding. It is a coalition of NPA, the Australian Conservation Foundation, National Toxics Network, Nature Conservation Council and Total Environment Centre.”

 But there can be little doubt the Games were only a 6/10 “bronze medal” effort, quite a tarnished bronze medal at that, despite the best efforts of Greenpeace and little sir echo GGW 2000.

 The lethal dioxin laden site at Homebush Bay both in water and on land is a case in point and a prominent thread in the media reporting. Here is my survey of my clippings from a 6 inch pile in 2 lever arch files. Some are mentioned only as to credibility or lack thereof of the whole Olympic circus, but several are directly related and pretty serious benchmarks of political obligations around dioxin in the Harbour today:

 - ‘See how the land lies/Homebush Bay used to be a garbage dump, but Olympic size renovations are turning it into a sanitised site, says Bernard Cohen’ p18 The Australian 27/6/95 by UTS researcher. “Lies” indeed: This fluffy piece prefaced an extraordinary backlash by green groups over a fraud and cover up starting with a Four Corners show the next Monday:

“Program: Four Corners Year of Production: 1995 Duration: 45mins  Sydney's Olympic bid was billed as the "Green Olympics". The Homebush Bay site is one of the most polluted areas of Australia. Evidence is shown that the Olympic bid organisers were aware of the problems before they pitched for the Games.”

 - ‘Olympic fears’ p26 Sun Herald 9/7/1995 “Federal Environment Minister John Faulkner will meet key International Olympic Committee members next week to counter fears that the 2000 Games have become an ecological disaster” and Faulkner’s creation of Green Games Watch 2000 “to monitor Homebush Bay projects”. Faulkner quoted saying green groups are “whingeing”.

 - ‘Olympic site ‘will be green’ Telegraph Mirror 7, 14/7/95: “SOCOG director Phil Coles gave the commitment at the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland, after recent attacks about dioxin contamination at Homebush Bay”

 - ‘Green fury over Games’ p2 4/7/95 letter of protest by ACF, NCC, TEC to IOC re new planning laws to bypass environmental checks.

 - ‘Carr comes clean as the dirt flies at Olympic site’ p5 SMH 5/7/95 by Andrew Byrne refers to ABC Four Corners programme that “claimed that toxic contamination of large areas of the Olympic site at Homebush Bay was being “swept under the carpet”. Greenpeace campaigner Michael Bland was “accusing” the Carr administration of a “cover up”. Bland continues: “They are releasing very few reports and there has been an enormous amount of secrecy. We need to see more openness. The next 18 months are absolutely critical as they make the important decisions about design and materials. There are around 12 different contaminated sites in the Homebush area. Previous generations have left Sydney a terrible legacy of polluted sites, and the taxpayers are now facing the bills. The government has to focus on the clean-up.”

 [remember that name as Bland ends up working for SOCOG as the “head of environmental communication” at ‘Black spots hinder a green Games’ p5 The Australian 16/8/2000 below]

 - ‘Split over ‘green’ Olympics’ Telegraph Mirror p15 5/7/95

 - ‘Greens locked out’ p23 16/7/95 Sun Herald re GGW 2000 “A spokesman said there was nobody in the Government to whom the group could report”

 - ‘$119m Games clean-up/ But bill does not include waters at Homebush Bay’ Telegraph Mirror p19, 2/11/95

 - ‘Olympic opponents denied sporting chance’ SMH 16/12/1995 reports EDO James Johnson observation of an obscure amendment on p163 of the threatened species legislation to prevent legal challenges to projects including suspension of EIS and appeal rights. President of the Environmental Planning and Law Association Peter McEwen quoted as calling the changes “diabolical”. Opposition’s Ian Armstrong calls it “sneaky”

- ‘Kiernan backs off 2000 threat’ Australian p11 13/1/96, reporting attempts to write out green obligations in the Olympic “project management tender document for infrastructure development at Homebush Bay”. Kiernan quoted as “chairman Olympic Skills and Technology Taskforce. OCA and Richmond, Knight in the story.

 - ‘Greens see red over Games work’ Telegraph Mirror  11/1/96 “furious” Kiernan cuts short holiday on Lord Howe Island, “The tender document, released by the Olympic Co-ordination Authority just before Christmas..” GGW  and Greenpeace both in the story with strong line too with latter quoted: “Every other document of this magnitude has had attached to it the green guidelines” and this:

 “The green outcry ends six months of peace between Games organisers and environmentalists since controversy over toxic waste sites near the Homebush site emerged last July.”

- ‘Kiernan threatens to quit Games body’ Australian 12/1/1996. “Business groups, including water treatment specialist ANI-Kruger Pty Ltd and Australian Council for Infrastructure Development Ltd, supported the push for an amendment to the document specifying exactly what was expected environmentally.”

 -  ‘Green row on Games tendering’ - p27 12/1/96 Telegraph reports on “$380 million of infrastructure did not require tenderers to observe  world standards for environmental management” 

- ‘Kiernan wants new, green Olympic body’ p1 Nathan Vass SMH 13/1/96 reports Lillehammer Winter Games Project Environmental Friendly Olympics looked at tenders before they were released.

 - ‘THE MEN BEHIND THE OLYMPICS, Secret lives of the The Games chiefs’ front page City Hub 30 Oct 1996 [(not reassuring]

 - ‘The Olympic greenwash’ Jim Green Green Left Weekly p12 10/2/199 quoting this writer of verbal reports in 1993 or 4 from green colleagues that the Olympic bid document fraudulently asserted the Total Environment Centre and NSW Nature Conservation Council endorsed the bid. This outright fraud claim was never denied despite publication assisted by the fact the Bid documents were kept secret as much as possible.

 - the Kevin Gosper sinecure for daughter controversy, lots of stories [not reassuring]

 - ‘Games cost to be a post- Olympic event’ by Lisa Allen, solid Financial Review writer p11 12/7/2000  [not reassuring]

- obligatory paid for "THE GREEN GAMES" A special advertising report July 20 2000 The Australian. [overt spin]

 - ‘FRAUD OF THE RINGS 15 July 2000 Sydney Morning Herald big feature re “mafia shadows, drug running, money laundering” Andrew Jennings on the dark side of the Olympic family. [not reassuring]

 - Vertigo #8 Sydney University student newspaper, anti Olympic issue targeting corporatism, but also an unrelated Sunandra Creagh article too now with smh

 - Olympic Media Watch with Andy Nichols front cover Sydney City Hub 27 July 2000

 - great original colour photos of mine of the construction site for the "beast" stadium on Bondi Beach.

 -         ‘Green Games looks brown’ p9 16 Aug 2000, smh, James Woodford (when he still knew how to write a straight green story) noting Greenpeace report of Green Games is 6/10 down from 7/10 and “expressed disappointment that the State Government has not remediated Homebush Bay or the Rhodes Peninsula…..The head of environmental communication for Sydney 2000, Mr Michael Bland, siad the scorecard was a “bit of a disappointment”. He said some of the criticisms at Olympics organisers, such as the Homebush Bay cleanup, were outside their jurisdiction.”

 [But that’s not what Bland said when he worked for Greenpeace back at: ‘Carr comes clean as the dirt flies at Olympic site’p5 SMH 5/7/95 above]

 - Black spots hinder a green Games p5 The Australian 16/8/2000, quoting Greenpeace’s Blair Palese who helped sell the concept of a green Olympic village in 1992 to the International Olympic Committee: “Homebush Bay, home of the former Union Carbide factory, was a black spot and remained “one of the most toxic waterways in the world”. “The NSW Government promised to see that cleaned up as part of the Olympic Games process” she said. “There would have been no better environmental legacy than that.”

 - ‘Our green Games a bit grey around the edges’ prominent letter The Australian p14 18/8/2000 from Rupert Posner, Greenpeace Olympics Campaigner Sydney for instance: “In a speech to the NSW Parliament in 1997, Carl Scully made a commitment to clean up Homebush Bay in time for the Olympics but remains one of the most polluted waterways in the world….We congratulate them on the successes. But we remind Scully that Homebush Bay must be cleaned.”

 - ‘THE OLYMPICS 23 DAYS TO GO’ ‘Activists sign on with a toxic site warning’ Aug 23 2000 p4 with big image ‘DANGER DIOXIN WASTE/ GREENPEACE’. ‘Toxic’ sign reported  ‘50m by 20m’ with arrow pointing to Homebush Bay. “Greenpeace coordinator Blair Palese said the pollution made a mockery of the Olympic’s green credentials. “We are 24 days out from the Games and although the state Government promised this site, with some of the worst  dioxin in the world, would be cleaned up before the Olympics, obviously it won’t be,” Mr Palese said.  …..A spokesman for NSW Waterways Minister Carl Scully said the state government has set aside $21M to clean up the bay and surrounding land. A preferred tenderer for the clean-up would be announced in coming weeks, with work starting in January next year.” Etc etc. Grim stuff.

 - ‘Pollution is main event: Greenpeace’ Illawarra Mercury p7 Aug 23 2000

 [And here is a front pager to worry folks in the Sunday Telegraph 27/8/2000 page 1 ‘TERRORIST PLOT’ quoting a terrorist cell in Aukland and thought to be followers of Osama Bin Laden “the most wanted terrorist in the Western world.]

 - ‘Green voice an error of judgment’ in a non sequitor of Olympic proportions, Daily Telegraph Aug 30 2000 editorial attacking Green MP Rhiannon for seeking Upper House inquiry to audit “social, economic and environmental benefits and costs”. The Telegraph editor Steve Howard is laughable by referring to SOCOG self praising report on itself as sufficient.

 - ‘To calculate the Games’ real value, divide by 10’ by David Humphries smh 26/9/2000

 - lots of stories on drugs, Aboriginal issues

 - Ethics leader blasts IOC’s failure on reform pledge 21/9/2000 Sydney Morning Herald

 - ‘Knight spite sees the post-Games glow fade to black’ re Sandy Hollway bureaucrat hits the wall  4 Oct 2000 smh 8 by Matthew Moore 

Very finally it might be worth reflecting on this Australia Day (January 26th 2006) at just what we have changed since colonisation from the original inhabitants of Homebush Bay reported on here:

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