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Aussies Take On Activist Mantle


AUSTRALIA'S burgeoning environmental movement has given new momentum to the activist Greenpeace organization down under. The Australian wing of this worldwide environmental group has been a small, sporadically effective, money loser for years. Yet now a high-powered ``revolutionary'' - the co-director of the Untied States Greenpeace organization - has been sent to manage this corner of the globe.

The reason? Prime Minister Bob Hawke's decision last year to take a tough stance against mining in Antarctica. That catapulted Australia to the fore of the international environmental movement. Mr. Hawke wants Antarctica reserved as a wilderness park - a concept Greenpeace promotes.

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``Australia's stand, flying in the face of the US [support for the Antarctic Mineral Convention], drove home to us its importance as a key player,'' McAllister says.

But Antarctica is just the tip of the South Pacific environmental activism agenda.

In less than a year of campaigning, Australia, New Zealand and a dozen island nations have succeeded in getting Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese fisherman to curb drift-netting practices in the South Pacific. Last year, Australia appointed the world's first globe-trotting ambassador for the environment. Australia chaired an international conference on chemical weapons. And political analysts say the green vote was a decisive factor in Hawke's March reelection.

To capitalize on this growing environmental movement down under, Greenpeace International sent in McAllister.

Most of Australia's larger conservation groups have seen a doubling of their membership in the last 12 to 18 months. Greenpeace membership has soared from 9,000 to 50,000. It's now twice as big as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the nation's major Australian environmental group.

``Greenpeace's reputation here was of a real dedicated bunch of amateurs. But there were money problems, morale problems, and a lack of strategic vision. I think McAllister has very successfully provided a vision and a level of professionalism that was lacking,'' says environmental consultant Michael Bland, a former Antarctic campaigner at Greenpeace.

More significant than the organizational and administrative changes is the shift to targeting local water pollution problems.

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For example, Greenpeace activists in plastic suits and gas masks threatened Monday to plug the discharge pipes of Nufarm, a Melbourne pesticide factory it alleged was dumping ``highly toxic'' chemicals into the sewer system. The same sewage is treated and used as fertilizer for farm grazing land.

Nufarm officials deny the allegations.

But the Victoria government has moved quickly to shut down part of the plant, banned sales of certain cattle, and ordered extensive testing and a complete review of the trade waste control board.

The rapid response of Victoria state officials may have something to do with Greenpeace's record of exposing alleged illegal dumping at a BHP Steel plant, a Caltex oil refinery, and a Pasminco Metals-EZ metal alloy factory in the last five months.

In March, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced plans for a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Currently, pollution laws fall under state jurisdiction and are a patchwork quilt of regulations. Greenpeace and the ACF have submitted briefs to the environment minister on Canadian and US EPA laws.

The two conservation groups expect to present the Hawke government with a complete draft of EPA legislation by the end of the month.

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