Wong Tack and Himpunan Hijau (HH) have become the new “eco super heroes” of veteran Australian environmental activists after they set camp right in the corporate HQ of Lynas in the heart of Sydney's central business district.
“These people are amazing,” veteran Australian Friends Of the Earth campaigner Tully McIntyre told me. “All six of them came straight from the airport and set up the protest camp and have not stopped for three days and nights. they have been sleeping out rough and getting up early in the morning to greet the first of the office workers and businessmen in suits.”
Sydney's business crowd may be a bit startled by the Himpunan Hijau protest camp but more than a few “suits” are stopping to hear the protesters' case.
“Our purpose here is to tell Lynas and the people of Australia that Malaysians are very concerned about the issue of radioactive pollution caused by Lynas,” says HH chairperson Wong Tack.
Through the "back door"
“Lynas came in through the back door. They built this plant without the people knowing. The plant was approved without proper procedures and without a proper environment impact assessment of the area. The location of the plant is not suitable for this sort of industry.
“Through the corrupt regime ruling Malaysia, Lynas obtained a temporary licence to operate. It is a temporary licence because Lynas is not fully compliant.
“At this moment Lynas is operating without a proper waste management plan. The Atomic Energy Agency recommended that a permanent waste disposal facility must be in place before operations are allowed to go on.
“Lynas has misled the people. First it made an undertaking in black and white that all the toxic waste would be shipped out of Malaysia. Now, after it has started operating it says that it has found ways to recycle its waste into building materials.”
Wong Tack's accounts of the two-and-a-half years of popular community campaigning with serial public demonstrations of 20-30,000 people and the epic 14-day-long, 300-km Green Walk from Kuantan, where the Lynas plant is, to the national capital Kuala Lumpur is impressing Australians.
“We walked for 14 days through 15 townships. We started with a few people, sleeping by the side of the streets on the way, and then when we reached Kuala Lumpur more than 20,000 people joined us.”
1.2 million signatures
Then, prior to this occupation outside Lynas' Sydney HQ, was HH's ambitious "Bury Lynas with 1,000,000 signatures" petition campaign.
“The Malaysian prime minister said that if the people reject the Lynas plant then the plant should close," said Wong Tack. "So in August we launched a campaign to collect a million signatures on a petition for the Lynas plant. We went to the streets and camped out at Dataran Merdeka [Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur] for 36 days and nights and we successfully obtained one million signatures.
“At our latest count – just before we left for Australia – we have now collected 1.2 million signatures. The signatures are still coming in. You can see how strong the objections from Malaysians are and how committed we are to closing down Lynas.
“So we are here in Australia with the voices of more than a million people to tell Lynas we will close your toxic plant down,” said Wong Tack.
“We also are giving Lynas a deadline to pull out by June 29, 2014. If they don't, that will be the date when millions of Malaysians will come to the streets to shut down this toxic plant. This is the message we give to Lynas and its shareholders.”
The six HH activists will be joined soon by another 10 Malaysian anti-Lynas activists, some from Save Malaysia Stop Lynas group to take the protest on November 29 to the Lynas shareholders' annual general meeting at The Establishment Hotel, 252 George St, Sydney. - November 28, 2013.
* Peter Boyle is an Australian citizen of Malaysian origin. He writes regularly for Green Left Weekly, an environment and social justice publication in Australia.