The Australian: US 'war profiteer' wins Byron deal

Publisher Name: 
The Australian

IT'S enough to make the hippies and peaceniks of Byron Bay choke on their organic muesli.

Byron Bay Shire Council has awarded a contract to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the multinational formerly headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney and condemned by anti-war activists as a major profiteer in the Iraq war.

The hip northern NSW beach town, long a haven for anti-war activists, made history in 2004 by becoming the first place in NSW to elect a Green mayor, Jan Barham.

But Ms Barham, one of three Green councillors who voted in favour of awarding a contract for a sewage treatment plant to Halliburton subsidiary KBR about three months ago, was silent on the decision yesterday.

She confirmed KBR had been chosen to build the plant at Bangalow, west of Byron Bay, but refused to comment further.

"Because the session involved a tender, the discussions were kept confidential, so I cannot comment," she said.

Not so coy was fellow Green councillor Tom Tabart. He also voted in favour of KBR over the two other tenders but said yesterday he did so reluctantly.

Mr Tabart did not hold back when asked his opinion of Halliburton, the multinational said by US organisation Corpwatch to have reaped $8 billion in contracts in Iraq in 2003 alone.

"I think it's an absolute disgrace that a company can have such close political connections to the ruling clique in America and use it to such advantage and get away with it," he said.

He went further in a letter to the Byron Bay Echo explaining the council's decision, saying Halliburton was connected to the "odious Cheney neocons".

But Mr Tabart said he had voted in favour of KBR because council staff had recommended its tender as the most cost-effective. He said refusing the tender on political grounds could have exposed the council to court action.

"And if you scratch any multinational you'll dig up just as much dirt as you would on Halliburton, so what's the bloody difference?"

Mr Tabart said councillors who supported the tender knew who they were voting for as Halliburton's association with Mr Cheney and Iraq were vigorously discussed at the council meeting by opponents of KBR.

John Lazarus, a Green councillor who voted against the KBR proposal, said councils should think carefully before choosing multinationals such as Halliburton for such contracts.

"Halliburton has benefited enormously from contracts to the Iraq war," he said. "We should be looking closely at corporations we are supporting financially and at what they are doing on this planet."

The awarding of the contract appears to have gone largely unnoticed in Byron Bay.

Mr Tabart denied the decision was kept secret.

"It was all in the council minutes," he said. "It just wasn't picked up by the media."

AMP Section Name:Corpwatch in the News