The second MP to speak in the House of Representatives debate on Australian military intervention in Afghanistan – a debate held nine years after the intervention began – was the newly elected independent Member for Denison (Tasmania) Andrew Wilkie.
On October 19, Sydney Stop The War Coalition activist Marlene Obeid was dragged out of the parliamentary public gallery as Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australian troops would be "engaged in Afghanistan at least for the rest of this decade". "They are war criminals", said Obeid as she was dragged off by Parliament House security guards. She was right but, until the new Greens MP Adam Bandt spoke (see full speech below) , her stifled protest was the sole voice for peace and justice in the House of Representatives chamber.
On October 19, at exactly 3.30pm, the Lib-Lab politicians suddenly went from smirk to sombre as the Afghanistan “debate” finally started – nine years too late. I was sitting in the public gallery, along with fellow activists from Sydney Stop the War Coalition, watching “question time” – where backbenchers ask “Dorothy Dixers” of their “senior” front benchers. We were becoming increasingly irritated by the major parties’ self-important MPs filling up the time with ridiculous antics while being ineffectively berated by the long-suffering speaker.
Union and community opposition has firmed against Labor Premier Anna Bligh’s bid to privatise Queensland Rail National (QR), as the government prepares to launch shares in the rail freight corporation on November 22. QR National, a 140-year-old public asset, will be sold off at an estimated $2.50-$3 a share, raising up to $7.3 billion, ABC’s Lateline said on October 11.
On October 3, US authorities warned US citizens travelling in Western Europe that there was an increased threat from Islamist terrorism. The same day, British authorities cautioned their citizens travelling in France or Germany. France, for its part, issued a warning for French nationals visiting Britain. The nature of the supposed terrorist threat was unspecified. The media breathlessly speculated about planned “Mumbai-style” attacks.
On his TV show Alo Presidente on October 3, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez drove tractors and inspected corn crops as he pledged to accelerate land reform and increase the government’s share of food production and distribution. Chavez announced the nationalisation of the agricultural supplies company Agroislena and the Venezuelan properties of the British Vestey Group. The show took place in Guarico state, where Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won most of the state seats in the September 26 National Assembly elections.
The political situation in France is dominated by the struggle against the proposed reform of the pension system to raise the age of retirement, among other things. This reform is at the heart of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s austerity policy. Although presented as a demographic necessity, it is increasingly opposed by the public. The struggle has been growing since the start of the mobilisations in May and the first day of action in June. Since the beginning of September, three days of strikes and demonstrations have brought out about 3 million people on each occasion.
Workers and students mobilised in their millions on October 12 in the fourth and largest day of action in the past month against laws that will reduce workers’ pension entitlements. The protests and strikes came as the Senate passed aspects of the pension bill that will see an increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age and increase the period of time workers must work to receive a full pension. The protests show growing polarisation over who should pay the price for the economic crisis in the lead up to national strikes on October 16 and 19.
No legally-binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be made at this year’s big United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 to December 10. And that’s just the way the rich nations want it. Few world leaders are even expected to turn up to the Cancun talks. For months, key players have tried to dampen down public hopes that the summit will mark a shift away from business as usual. The British Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote on September 20 that it was time for climate action campaigners to accept the UN process was dead.
Western Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has said many of the 200 remote Aboriginal communities in WA will be shut down. ABC Online reported on October 14 that Barnett said: "There's no doubt that under policies really initiated by the Federal Government, small, isolated Aboriginal communities were promoted. "The reality is that there's no employment prospects in those areas, or very limited." Barnett’s comments were in relation to the small community of Oombulgurri, where there are 50 residents and 14 public servants.