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A lively picket was held outside Arrow Energy’s main Brisbane office on Albert Street on March 23. Called by Socialist Alliance candidate for South Brisbane, Liam Flenady, the picket protested the recent revelations that BNG, a subsidiary of Arrow Energy, has a permit for coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in the western suburbs of Brisbane, including the suburbs Pullenvale, Karara Downs and Moggill.
The federal immigration department said on March 20 that it would bring all asylum seekers under a “new single protection visa process”. From March 24, refugees that arrive by boat would be able to put their cases for refugee status to the same body — the Refugee Review Tribunal — as those who arrived by plane. Since former Liberal prime minister John Howard excised large parts of Australia’s migration zone in 2001, asylum seekers that arrived by boat were taken to the Independent Merits Review (IMR) system.
About 120 unionists and supporters rallied outside the New Zealand Consulate in Sydney on March 19 in solidarity with 292 Auckland wharfies who were sacked for being members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand. The rally was organised by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). It called on the NZ government to pressure the Auckland Council, which owns Auckland port, to immediately reinstate the workers.
"This is a bittersweet victory for nurses and midwives after an unprecedented industrial marathon with the Baillieu Government to protect patient care and secure a fair pay rise.” — Lisa Fitzpatrick, State Secretary, Australian Nursing Federation (Victoria). The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) of Victoria has had a good win. At a time when the employers are on the march, the Victorian ANF ran a campaign that involved two periods of industrial action, including bed closures, elective surgery cancellations and four hour rolling stoppages twice a day.
The planned expansion of coalmining in Victoria has led the member for Bass, Liberal MP Ken Smith, to oppose his own party on the issue. Bass Coast Shire Council said it “is totally opposed to new mining of coal, and to gas extraction associated with coal (unconventional gas), within the shire,” in a resolution on March 21. The motion asked the government to exempt land within the shire from coal and unconventional gas exploration or mining licences.
The New South Wales Liberal government said on March 11 that it planned to force schools to bear the responsibility for its latest funding cuts. The government did not consult the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) before releasing the “Local Schools, Local Decisions” and “Empowering Local Schools” initiatives, which it claimed would deliver “autonomy” to local public schools. In reality, the move is a smokescreen that forces public school principals to implement the government cuts of $250 million a year.
Of all the people infuriated by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer’s March 20 claim that the Greens are funded by the CIA, it is not hard to imagine the angriest were heads of the Murdoch media. Having declared in an Australian editorial in 2010 its intention to “destroy the Greens”, the Murdoch press has worked hard to relentlessly spin a tale of the political party as far left lunatics — old-style commies in green T-shirts.
Healesville-based group, MyEnvironment, has lost a court case it mounted against government body VicForests over the logging of Victoria’s central highlands areas that include habitat for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Justice Robert Osborn handed down his decision in the Supreme Court on March 14. He refused to order a stop to logging in three forest coupes at Toolangi, including the Gun Barrel coupe that was the scene of blockades and protests in late 2011.
Mental health workers voted to escalate industrial action in two weeks unless Ted Baillieu's Coalition government begins to seriously negotiate with their union. The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) covers psychiatric nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and support staff. The Australian Nursing Federation covers some mental health nurses as well.
In response to timber industry lobbying, independent MP Rob Oakeshott moved a motion in federal parliament to allow foresters to claim Renewable Energy Certificates for burning native forests for power. The vote was lost on March 19 on a casting vote from the Speaker of the House Peter Slipper. The Labor Party, Greens, and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor voted against the motion. The Coalition voted for it.
After three weeks of action, warehouse workers at the Sigma pharmaceutical Melbourne plant returned to work on March 21. Workers fended off attempts by the company to abolish afternoon and night shift loadings. They also won a 4% pay rise. The workers, members of the National Union of Workers at the Rowville plant in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, had rarely been on strike.
On March 9, Gunns Ltd notified the Australian Stock Exchange that potential investor Richard Chandler Corporation pulled out of its bid to buy a 40% stake in the company. The Singapore-based investment firm of New Zealand millionaire Richard Chandler had planned to invest $150 million in the company. But it dropped the plan after consulting with stakeholders and communities. The news was welcomed by environmentalists as another big setback for Gunns’ plans to get its $2.3 billion Tamar Valley pulp mill started in northern Tasmania.