Australia

Reports that the WA state government is planning to give police "stop and search" powers during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this year should concern all Western Australians. Even more worrying — albeit unsurprising — is that the ALP has dropped its lukewarm opposition to the laws, at least for the duration of the summit. Stop and search laws were rejected by the state upper house in November and the CHOGM summit is no excuse to bring them in by the back door.
About 40 people attended a ‘Hands off WikiLeaks’ rally held in Franklin Square, Hobart on January 29. Speakers from the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, the Secular Party, Young Libertarians and unaligned individuals addressed the rally. They called on the Australian government to support Julian Assange, defend WikiLeaks and support the right to free speech and freedom of information.
The councillors of Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west, voted by a 10-2 majority on December 15 to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. A month later, they have belatedly become the subjects of vilification in the Rupert Murdoch-owned media, and of death threats from Australia's lunatic fringe. "What does the desert theocracy of Saudi Arabia have in common with Marrickville Council in Sydney's Inner West?" howled a January 13 article in Murdoch's Daily Telegraph, under a headline comparing the council to North Korea.
Up to 300 asylum seekers held in Western Australia’s remote Curtin detention centre ended a four-day hunger strike on January 21. The protesting asylum seekers demanded the immigration department end the long delays in the processing of asylum claims. They agreed to end the hunger strike after the department agreed to speed up the claims process. Many of the hunger strikers had fled from Afghanistan and fear they will be sent back to danger.
Margaret River, a town on the southwest coast of Australia, is an important agricultural area, supporting olive farms, dairies and livestock. It attracts tourists from all over the country eager to check out its famous beaches, forests, artists and wineries. But residents were shocked when news surfaced in July that a proposed coalmine will be built just 15 kilometres from the town centre.
Climate change was a big factor in the devastating floods that swept through Queensland and other states in January. For decades, scientists have warned that carbon pollution will lead to more frequent weather disasters. The floods are yet more evidence that we must quickly phase out fossil fuels and embrace 100% renewable energy. As the flood crisis began to emerge, University of Melbourne climate scientist David Karoly told ABC News on December 31 that the extreme weather was not so unexpected.
Forest campaigners have engaged in a series of actions on the New South Wales south coast, protesting against alleged illegal logging of old-growth forests in the area. Lisa Stone, spokesperson for South East Forest Rescue, told AAP on January 21: "Recent audits have exposed illegal logging of rainforest, land registered on the National Estate, endangered ecological communities, a gazetted Aboriginal Place and rocky outcrops. We have proven systemic re-occurring breaches on the south coast that show a pattern of non-compliance to the law."
In a move that took most people by surprise, Tasmanian Labor Premier David Bartlett resigned on January 23. Deputy premier Lara Giddings was sworn in the next day as the first female premier of the state. Giddings will also keep her position as Treasurer. Bartlett announced his decision with a message on his Facebook page that said: “To all my Facebook friends and contributors. I have decided to step down as premier and leader of the Labor Party.” He said his reason was that he wanted more time to be a better father to his children.
The recent Queensland and Victorian floods make it clear — Australia needs a comprehensive, national, public insurance scheme, to cover floods, bushfires and other major natural disasters. The federal and state governments should combine to establish a national insurance scheme to protect the interests of working people and small businesses. The January 21 Sydney Morning Herald reported on the abject failure of most private insurance companies to provide proper coverage to ordinary, working householders.

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