News briefs


Aboriginal death in WA prison

PERTH — Murray Jones, the new chairperson of the WA Deaths In Custody Watch Committee, expressed his sorrow and anger on November 29 at the death of yet another Aboriginal man in custody.

"How many more of our people have to die in custody before politicians decide that enough blood has been spilt and enough tears have been shed?", he said. "This year alone, six Aboriginal men have died in police or prison cells in Western Australia. That is a shameful statistic which rivals the rate at which our people were dying in custody before the [1987] Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody."

Jones queried whether, "as more and more citizens are squeezed into the jails", the government is capable of meeting its "legal duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every inmate". He called for urgent legislation to "reduce the shocking incarceration figures in this state and for prison to be used as a sanction of last resort for all citizens".

Call for inquiry into reactor plan

Mayors and councillors from across Australia, at the National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra on December 1, called for a royal commission to investigate plans for a new nuclear reactor in the Sydney suburb of Lucas Heights.

Peter Woods, president of the NSW Local Government Association, said, "The Australian people have been misled by the federal government and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. A decision on a new reactor needs an informed national debate. So far all we've had is a sorry saga of secrecy, intimidation and misinformation."

Plans were announced to require consent by local governments for the transportation of nuclear waste material through council areas. This follows the secret shipment of spent reactor fuel rods through Sydney on November 25.

Smashing of CES completed

The federal Coalition government is preparing to complete the destruction of the Commonwealth Employment Service. It announced on December 3 that Employment National (EN), Australia's largest job agency, has lost the bulk of its most valuable Job Network contracts.

An unknown number of the 1700 staff at EN, formed out of the remnants of the CES in May 1998 when the privatised Job Network was created, might lose their jobs, and many EN offices are likely to close.

EN relies almost entirely on Job Network funding. In the new round of contracts, worth about $3 billion, EN has lost all but 1% of intensive assistance, the most lucrative Job Network contract.

Federal employment services minister Tony Abbott said on December 3 that the government would consider selling EN.