About 8000 people marched on the Western Australian parliament on March 15 to demand more local jobs from the resource export boom. The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Maritime Union of Australia all mobilised big contingents for the protest. Manufacturing employers also supported the rally. Local workshops are sitting idle while billions of dollars of infrastructure is being imported for the mining and offshore oil and gas industries.
In a significant break through, a rank-and-file ticket — Members Voice (MV) — won the presidency in the NSW Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) elections in February. Members Voice stood on a clear platform of opposition to privatisation. This was the first challenge to the ALP-controlled leadership since the 1980s. Green Left Weekly’s John Coleman spoke to incoming president Tony Clear about his vision for the union. Why did you decide to run in the elections?
About 300 refugees at the maximum security Red Compound in Christmas Island’s detention centre were fired on with tear gas and modified shotgun rounds during protests over the weekend of March 12-13. One man was hospitalised with a broken leg. The incident prompted outrage from refugee advocates over the government’s use of force against people seeking Australia’s protection. See also: Refugee uprising caused by inhumane treatment
After waiting many months for a decision regarding their visas, several asylum seekers held on Christmas Island received rejection letters on March 16 from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. In the early hours of the next day, between 50 and 150 asylum seekers broke through iron gates and escaped the detention centre. Though the private Serco guards immediately tried to catch the escaped detainees, they were largely unsuccessful.
Thousands of people packed into Sydney’s Town Hall on March 16 to hear journalist John Pilger, independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Julian Burnside QC speak out in support of WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Assange fears he may be extradited to the US and face Guantanamo Bay-style incarceration for publishing leaked US embassy cables. Sydney Peace Foundation chairperson Mary Kostakidis presented the forum. She asked the audience to send a message to politicians in Canberra saying, “Hillary Clinton says WikiLeaks is a danger to the world … what do all of you think?”
On March 13, more than 100 people attended the first organising meeting of Stop CSG Illawarra, a residents’ group campaigning for a moratorium on coal seam gas mining (CSG). Concerned locals decided to establish the group a week earlier at a screening of Gasland, an Oscar-nominated film about coal seam gas mining in the United States. Fifteen CSG wells were recently approved for development in the northern Illawarra region under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
The NSW Greens announced their Solar Thermal Power Plant initiative on March 13: a policy to build three baseload solar thermal power plants in NSW and create new green jobs. At the official launch of the Greens' state election campaign at Balmain Town Hall, Greens MP and lead upper house candidate David Shoebridge announced: “The Greens will work in the next parliament to deliver three solar baseload thermal power stations with heat storage to be built in the state's central West, funded by green infrastructure bonds.
This year’s Sydney Mardi Gras gave many people the opportunity to say something about the issues that concern lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgendered (LGTBI) people. Most floats in the parade voiced their support for same-sex marriage. Muslims Against Homophobia, a recently-formed support group for queer Muslims in Sydney, made a groundbreaking appearance in the parade. It said something equally important and urgent: “Queer Muslims need acceptance!”
Australia’s most famous racist and one-time MP Pauline Hanson won the attention of big business media at the March 10 ballot draw for the NSW Legislative Council elections. However, more significant than Hanson, is the attempt by conservative forces to replicate the right-wing populist US Tea Party movement in Australia. This push is headed by right-wing politicians and media shock jocks, and aims to mobilise people on a populist and racist agenda. Last August, a website called the TEA Party in Australia was launched. TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already, the website says.
Andrew Ferguson, former NSW Secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), recently retired from that position and announced he would stand on the Australian Labor Party’s NSW Legislative Council ticket. Ferguson, who identifies as a socialist, is likely to get the sixth position on the ticket. The top two spots will go to NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal and Planning Minister Tony Kelly, both of whom are from the ALP Right faction. Peter Boyle interviewed Ferguson for Green Left Weekly. * * *