Issue 1004

Australia

ADELAIDE: Sun 13 April 2pm, at the steps of Parliament House. Gather there then walk to Light Square via the Immigration office in Currie Street

ARMIDALE: Sun 13 April 11am, Central Park

BRISBANE: Sat 12 April 1pm, King George Square

CANBERRA: Sun 13 April 1pm, Gareema Place, Civic

MELBOURNE: Sun 13 April 2pm, State Library

PERTH: Sun 13 April 1pm, St George's Cathedral

SYDNEY: Sun 13 April 1pm Hyde Park

The Super A-Mart workers in Somerton have now been locked out of their workplace for three weeks. Management has refused the workers’ demands to raise wage rates to the industry average of $24 an hour, improve health and safety standards, start monthly rostered days off, and allow casual workers to become permanent.

In response to the lockout, the workers, members of the National Union of Workers (NUW), have initiated an indefinite strike and 24-hour picket at the Super A-Mart warehouse complex in Somerton.

The campaign to win equal wages for young workers made a big gain last month, when the Fair Work Commission ruled that 20-year-old retail workers must be paid full wages.

The ruling applies to workers with more than six months experience who are employed under the General Retail Industry Award and will be gradually implemented over the next financial year. It comes after a public campaign by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which represents more than 200,000 retail workers.

A decision by the Fremantle City Council at its March 26 meeting to reject a Main Roads WA request to voluntarily hand over land began a dramatic new phase in the campaign against the state government's freeway building agenda.

The state government wants to replace a section of High Street on the eastern approach to Fremantle with a freeway at a cost of more than $100 million. This is intended to be the first link in their plan to build a six lane "freeway standard" route connecting the Kwinana Freeway to the Fremantle container port.

A defiant protest of public housing advocates gathered in Sydney on March 27. The rally of 150 people, organised by Hands off Glebe, marched from Hyde Park to New South Wales Parliament to demand $330 million in repairs that the state government is behind in paying.

It also rallied to stop the proposed sell-off of Millers Point near Sydney's waterfront and other inner-city public housing properties.

The issues about maintenance and lack of supply have been simmering. The announcement to sell off Millers Point poured salt into a festering wound.

Federal minister for the environment Greg Hunt faces two big threats to waste reduction in Australia, but appears not to be aware of the problems.

Hunt boasted on March 6 about the effectiveness of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.

Australia had recycled “the equivalent of four Eiffel Towers in weight” of used televisions, computers and other electronic waste, he said.

However, growing piles of e-waste on the ground in Queensland show that Hunt is out of touch with reality. Australia is amassing e-waste with no plan for recycling it.

About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on March 27 to express their opposition to the death sentences imposed on 529 Egyptians at a mass trial of alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Minya.

Protestors held placards with slogans including “Say yes to democracy and no to brutal dictatorship”, and “Say yes to justice and no to a corrupt and complicit judiciary”.

Mahmoud Hegazy told the rally that the charges included membership of an illegal organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood), incitement to violence, and the murder of one policeman.

Qantas workers are "very worried" about their jobs, full-time Qantas baggage handler Jim Mitropoulos told a rally of more than 100 airport workers in Tempe on March 30.

Mitropoulos has worked at Sydney Airport for 28 years. He said: "Management has destroyed this company. But if they want to bring it on, we will take them on."

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced recently that 5000 jobs would go at the airline's various facilities around the country. The rally was organised by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to demand job security and union rights.

An historic High Court case on April 2 granted Norrie, a Redfern resident and activist, non-sex specific status. Norrie had been granted “sex: non-specific” status by the NSW Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in 2010, but, under the reign of ALP Premier Kristina Keneally, reversed its decision.

It's been a four year long legal and political battle, with two legal challenges by Norrie proving unsuccessful, but a third in May last year proved successful in the NSW Court of Appeal.

About 1000 unionists rallied outside Queensland's Parliament House on April 1 to support doctors in their ongoing dispute with the state government.

The government has demanded that doctors sign individual contracts, which are due to come into effect on July 1, by the end of April or risk forgoing up to 30% of their pay.

The rally was called by the public sector workers' union, Together Union.

Chanting "Julie Bishop you can't hide — you support genocide", supporters of human rights in Sri Lanka gathered outside the foreign affairs minister's electorate office in Subiaco on March 29.

The protest was in response to the Australian government's public opposition to the independent inquiry into Sri Lanka's human rights record adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva on March 27.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) said it is taking part in a “global crackdown” on tax cheats. The project is aimed at recovering billions in tax revenue held in bank accounts in offshore tax havens.

It is part of what is said to be a "global war" against tax evasion following recent work by the OECD and G20 finance ministers on automatic exchanges of tax information.

In an address to the Tax Institute on March 29, tax commissioner Chris Jordan set out the terms of Australia’s involvement with a tax office disclosure initiative called Project DO IT.

A group of refugee rights activists staged an eight-hour blockade outside Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on April 3 to try to stop buses forcibly relocating refugees to Curtin Detention Centre in remote WA. Eight protesters, including Green Left Weekly's live blogger Rachel Evans (scroll down to see her photos from the action) were arrested.

UPDATE: April 5

World

More than 1000 people from 50 countries have signed the statement launched by Egypt Solidarity in response to mass death sentences imposed by Egypt’s military regime on alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On March 24, a court in Minya province condemned 529 people to death for the murder of a police officer in August last year after a trial which lasted just 45 minutes, where defence lawyers were not allowed to speak.

Je yang camp, located a 30 minutes drive on often unpaved or rocky road from Laiza, the capital of rebels in Kachin State in northern Burma, accommodates about 8000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The wild landscape around the camp suggests the scenery would have been far more stunning without the presence of humans.

“In a few short months,” principle speaker for Left Unity Salman Shaheen said in a March 31 New Statesman article, the new party “has attracted more than 1,800 members. With a new member joining every 10 minutes over the weekend, the party is going from strength to strength.”

April marks the 50th anniversary of the US-backed military coup d’etat in Brazil. The coup kicked off a brutal 20 military dictatorship.

Military coups followed in Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. With the support of the US government and Paraguay, under dictator General Alfredo Stroessner, the region's regimes organised Operation Condor, a political repression and terror campaign to suppress opposition.

In New South Wales, politicians have been debating a bill known as “Zoe's Law”, originally introduced by Christian Democratic Party’s Fred Nile.

Zoe’s Law aim to give legal rights to foetuses older than 20 weeks or weighing more than 400 grams. The law opens up the possibility of a pregnant woman being charged for damaging her own foetus.

Why does Bosnia-Herzegovina inspire so little interest and curiosity in the media and political class when, on the contrary, Ukraine is front-page news?

Is it because its name evokes the war that, 20 years ago, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women more than 200,000 dead and 600,000 exiles in the face of virtual indifference in the West as to what was happening one and a half hours by plane from Paris? Or because it often wakes up to the call of the muezzin?

More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012, The Guardian said on February 19, “revealing for the first time the shocking scale of death toll among those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup”.

The revelation came after The Guardian reported in January that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar last year, taking the total of Nepalese workers to die to at least 382 over two years.

Despite its secrecy and lack of appropriate media coverage, many people have heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the huge free trade agreement being negotiated by some of the biggest economies on the Pacific rim.

Some of it details have been leaked by WikiLeaks, exposing the behind-closed-doors machinations of governments and large corporations.

But very few people have heard about PACER-Plus, a free trade agreement that will include the small island states at the heart of the Pacific.

In yet another parliamentary coup, new austerity measures were passed through parliament, albeit by a narrow majority, on March 30.

The bill contained three articles, which seem to give the final blow to the remaining worker and pension rights, the country’s economy and public ownership of land and services.

As the bill was passed, protesters outside parliament were beaten, tear-gassed and detained by special police squads.

As they are prone to do, the private media have invented a new thing. In both English and Spanish, they are calling it the colectivos.

They are meant to be irrational, cruel, grotesque armed motorbike riders who “enforce” the revolution in Venezuela and are responsible for most of the violence afflicting the South American nation, which has left more than 30 people dead since February.

The opposition barricaders are presented as the innocent victims of these collectivos, who apparently work with the National Guard and have the support of President Nicolas Maduro's government.

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a US-sponsored resolution on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” on March 27.

But the resolution makes no mention of the plight of the Tamil people. The word “Tamil” does not appear once.

The resolution expresses “serious concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.

Via Campesina is a global organisation of peasants and one of the largest and most significant international social movements. The statement below in solidarity with Venezuela’s revolution and peasants was released by its International Coordinating Commission of Via Campesina International, which met in Managua, Nicaragua on March 29.

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Analysis

The campaign against Melbourne's East West Tunnel received a boost when about 1500 residents and members of community groups rallied in Brunswick on March 30. The rally sent a strong message to the Denis Napthine government that the project should be scrapped and the money be spent on expanding Melbourne’s public transport system.

The rally was organised by Moreland Community Against the East West Tunnel (MCAT), a grassroots community organisation supported by the council.

The first cab off the rank in the federal Coalition government's great privatisation push has now been confirmed: Medibank Private. Finance minister Mathias Cormann announced on March 26 that the government-owned health insurance company would be sold off through an initial public offering in the next financial year.

The announcement came just before a meeting of federal and state treasurers on March 28, which resulted in Commonwealth Treasurer Joe Hockey boasting of a "historic agreement" for the state governments to sell off billions of dollars of public assets.

The Great Barrier Reef is almost certainly going to suffer permanent damage due to coral bleaching if countries do not act to reduce carbon emissions, the Fifth Assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on March 31.

A lead author of the report, Chris Field, told the ABC’s 7.30: “Warm water coral reefs are one of the world's ecosystems that's most threatened and especially threatened by the combination of a warming climate and acidification of the ocean waters.”

Queensland Racing Minister Steve Dickson has just given the green light to a new greyhound racing track at Cronulla Park in Logan, one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban corridors.

Dickson has confirmed that construction on the $12 million publicly funded track at Cronulla Park will begin in May. The government will spend another $1.2 million a year on appearance fees for greyhound trainers.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell implemented a six-month freeze on processing new applications for coal seam gas (CSG) exploration licences on March 26. At the same time, the minister for resources and energy, Anthony Roberts, announced that the licence application fee would increase from $1000, set by the ALP state government in 2002, to $50,000. Roberts had earlier refused five CSG exploration licence applications sought by Grainger Energy which, covered 43,000 square kilometres of land in the Riverina.

A new documentary film Radical Wollongong, produced by Green Left TV, will premiere in Wollongong in early May, followed by screenings in other cities and regional centres.

The film features activist participants from Wollongong's radical history of strikes and community rallies, from miners’ struggles to Aboriginal justice and environmental protection.

Co-producer John Rainford gives some background to how the Communist Party of Australia grew quickly during the depression.

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Michael Williamson, former national president of the Labor Party and the Health Services Union (HSU), was sentenced in the NSW District Court on March 28 to seven- and-a-half years in jail with a non-parole period of five years for defrauding union members.

The sentencing judge described Williamson’s dishonesty as “a parasitic plundering of union funds for pure greed”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has announced that the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon had gone over 1 million. Half of these are children and most live in dire poverty.

"The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres in an April 3 statement.

Nobody told me Game of Thrones was starting early this year.

Wonderful to hear King Abbott pronounce the return of titles, especially after Sir Joseph of the Coffers recently declared the end of entitlement. I guess he was only referring to us common folk.

But we don’t have to worry too much because peasants and workers don’t receive knighthoods. Can you imagine Sir Timothy Francis Gerald Gooden the sixth? No, I thought not.

Titles are designed to put one person higher than another, reinforcing the notion that somehow some people are better than others.

When refugee activists found out about the imminent transfer of at least 83 asylum seekers from Villawood detention centre to a remote detention centre in Curtin in Western Australia, a picket was hastily organised to try to stop the buses leaving.

Even though there was very little time — about 10 hours — activists wanted to show the asylum seekers that there is broad support for them.

Asylum seekers claiming automatic protection after the immigration department accidently leaked their identities online in February are being transferred to the other side of the country before their case returns to court.

Buses were at the gates of Villawood detention centre early on the mornings of April 3 and 5, as refugee rights advocates including Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon held a protest against their removal outside. Asylum seekers held a sit in protest inside the centre and were trying to refuse to board.

Culture

Spoiled Indentity EP
Iron Reagan
Relapse Records
April 1, 2014
Free download

Radical punk-metal supergroup Iron Reagan have just released a free 13-track EP and are now playing it live across the US. Vocalist Tony Foresta and drummer Ryan Parrish answered some questions for Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward while they were driving to Dallas.

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Recent developments in the A-League football (soccer) competition in Australia help to show how the realm of sport entertainment is increasingly colonised by capitalist markets and how popular participation is undermined.

Green Left Weekly has reported on attacks on the rights of fans. They show how the owners of elite football clubs, the media and the state (particularly in terms of policing) undermine fans' rights, especially those engaged in “active support” in the stadium (singing, chanting, dancing, and banner waving).

Noah
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connolly
In cinemas now

The self-avowed atheist Darren Aronofsky, who directed the recently released Hollywood epic Noah, called it the “least biblical biblical film ever”.

Christian critics, such as National Religious Broadcaster president Jerry Johnson, were quick to agree. Johnson accused the film of having an “extreme environmentalist agenda” and supporting the theory of evolution.

RAPtivism
Aisha Fukushima
March 2012
www.raptivism.bandcamp.com

Travelling the world is a big enough challenge for most people, but Aisha Fukushima also managed to make a politically-charged hip-hop album while she did it. Green Left Weekly's Mat Ward spoke to the California-based "rap activist".

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You collaborated with rappers in the various countries you visited on your travels and emerged with a powerful album. Has your wanderlust been satisfied or do you have another similar album in the works?