Issue 1023

Australia

Around 50 protesters held a picket outside the opening of the World Congress of Families on August 30, which finally found a venue in the bunker-like premises of the Catch the Fire Ministries in outer suburban Hallam.

This sect gained notoriety for declaring the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires were a punishment from God due to the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria.

READ MORE: Why we disrupted the World Congress of Families

University of Sydney staff, student groups and alumni voiced their opposition to the government’s proposed education reforms at a Sydney Town Hall meeting on August 25.

Twenty-six speakers addressed the proposed fee deregulation. University of Sydney Union board director Edward McMahon put forward an informal motion calling on all university bodies to campaign against deregulation.

“These cuts and reforms are being inflicted, ironically, upon my generation by the people who benefited from the more enlightened education policies of yesteryear,” McMahon said.

Australian-based organisation Stop Lynas released a paper on August 28 criticising Australian rare earths company Lynas for operating without a social licence in Malaysia. The paper has been submitted to Lynas for response.

Residents of the Millers Point public housing community and supporters protested outside the private auctions of the first two houses sold in the NSW Coalition government's planned sale of nearly 300 government-owned homes in the suburb.

The auctions were held at real estate agents’ offices in Edgecliff on August 21 and Woollahra on August 26.

The first house was sold for $1.9 million, and the second for $2.6 million.

Protesters draped banners condemning the sales on walls and fences nearby the offices, as security guards and police guarded potential buyers going inside.

The Tasmanian Liberal government released its first budget on August 28. About 1500 people protested outside Parliament House on the same day to voice their opposition to the government’s plans.

The budget will cut 700 full-time jobs from the public sector and freeze public sector wages for at least one year.

School attendant and United Voice member Ken Martindale addressed the rally about the impact the pay freeze will have on low-income families in Tasmania, saying that bills will go up each year even if pay does not.

The charmed run before the courts enjoyed by John Gay, former chairperson of Tasmanian timber company Gunns, may soon be over.

Gunns became insolvent in 2012, owing investors more than $1 billion. The company had been in serious financial trouble since February 2010, when a director’s report detailing its falling revenue was made public.

Two months before the report was released, Gay used his inside knowledge of the company’s financial position to sell Gunns shares worth more than $3 million. He avoided what was thought at the time to be a loss of $800,000.

Stop the War Coalition released this statement on August 29.

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Sydney Stop the War Coalition opposes the Australian government’s moves to involve Australian military forces in another US-led war on Iraq.

Spokesperson Pip Hinman said: “The [Tony] Abbott government’s motives are more about trying to shore up support for itself rather than any professed concern about Sunni and Christian communities.

"The last thing Australia needs is a holy war," Nick Deane, spokesperson for the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN), said.

"Our federal government should reject completely any consideration of sending our air force personnel to drop bombs on Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, or sending our troops or SAS into combat in those countries. We know now only too well the inevitable civilian casualties from such actions.

Jews Against the Occupation released this statement on August 27.

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"The anti-Semitic leaflet distributed widely in Sydney's eastern suburbs is disgusting" said Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation.

"It replicates the ancient shibboleths of traditional European hatred of Jews which has no place in a modern democracy.

The National Tertiary Education Union released the statement below today.

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The Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, has today introduced legislation that if passed would see the most radical changes to the way Australian higher education is regulated and funded in over a generation.

Mr Pyne claims that his Bill will give Australian universities the chance to be the best in the world. However his so called reforms are all about cutting government’s funding commitment to public universities and subsidizing private providers and leaving students with massive debts.

World

The Scottish Socialist Party is pushing a “yes” vote in Scotland’s September 18 referendum on independence.

SSP national spokesperson Colin Fox is part of the Advisory Board of Yes Scotland, the cross-party campaign for Scottish independence. He wrote a pamphlet with a vision for what an independent Scotland could look like, called “For a Modern, Democratic Republic”.

According to John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist who chronicled the Great Crash of 1929, the Great Depression did not actually end. Rather, it was swept away by World War II.

Something eerily similar seems to be happening with the global economy since the onset of the global financial crisis (GFC) six years ago.

The vice-chairperson of the US Federal Reserve, Stanley Fischer, said: “The global recovery has been disappointing … year after year we have had to explain from mid-year why the global growth rate has been lower than predicted as little as two quarters back.”

The appointment of dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister by his hand-picked military parliament was such an unsurprising non-event that Prayuth did not even bother to attend. The so-called “vote” was unanimous.

Prayuth has set himself up as Thailand’s “Supremo”, placing himself in charge of all important posts. This harks back to the dark old days of the military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s.

As acclaimed writer Wat Wanyangkoon said: “The junta is detritus left over from the Cold War.”

It’s all over the news: images of police in military gear pointing war zone weapons at unarmed Black people with their hands in the air. These scenes made my heart race in an all-too-familiar way.

I was devastated for Mike Brown ― the unarmed Black teenager shot dead by police on August 9 ― his family and the people of Ferguson. Almost immediately, I closed my eyes and remembered the same fear for my own family that pangs many times over a given year.

Claims and counter claims by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI), Mullah Tahir Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and the governing party of Pakistan, the Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), of who contacted the army chief first for “mediation” or “facilitation” have puzzled the vast majority of people in Pakistan.

Ecuador's pro-US neoliberal president Lucio Gutierrez was ousted in 2005. Since then, relations between Ecuador and the United States have deteriorated, with the Andean nation’s increasing rejection of US hegemony.

The government of Rafael Correa, first elected in 2006, has broken from the neoliberal doctrines Washington has imposed on Latin America. It has embraced regional integration, moving closer to its neighbours and further away from the US.

Diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show how hard the US fought to control Ecuador's future post-Gutierrez.

The barriers are going up across south Wales. Huge steel fences block off buildings, including Cardiff castle. Roads are closed. Children are promised a shorter school day or maybe no school at all. Rail services are disrupted.

All so that a group of politicians and military men can meet in a country hotel outside Newport for a September 4 and 5 NATO summit to plan more of the military interventions that have contributed to a world now more seriously threatened by major wars than at any time since 1945.

Ecuador turns military buildings into hospitals, parks

Ecuador will cut its military by 51% over the next 10 years, teleSUR English said on August 28. Ecuadorian defence minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa announced the army´s 516 units would be cut to 252.

The measure aims to optimise Ecuador's military presence nationally. “We know now what we have, how to maintain it, and what we need,” she told the press.

Activities were held across South Africa on August 16 to mark the second anniversary of the Marikana massacre, in which 34 striking mineworkers were slain by state security forces.

The killings occurred one week into a strike over pay by several thousand rock drill operators at the Lonmin-operated platinum mine in Marikana.

Despite the massacre, workers remained on strike. One month later, they won a settlement that met a large part of their pay claim.

Thousands marched in Staten Island, New York City, on August 23 to protest against the police murder of an unarmed Black man, Eric Garner, in July.

The action was led by Reverend Al Sharpton, who has been outspoken against police brutality since the killing.

The marchers were inspired by the mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri, against the murder of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by police. They took up the chant of the Ferguson protesters ― “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets on August 26 in celebration. After 51 days of merciless bombardment by the Israeli military, an open-ended ceasefire between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel was announced that appears likely to last for at least the immediate future.

During the assault, homes, hospitals, shops, agricultural infrastructure and schools were pulverised. About 2100 Gazans were killed. An estimated 80% of these were civilians, including more than 500 children.

As the deadly disease Ebola spreads throughout West Africa, some in the West have been engaging in fear-mongering and racism. Others are seeing this deadly outbreak as a golden chance to profit off desperation.

But the high death toll is caused by the intersection of Ebola and poverty.

Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever with symptoms that include headache, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as the signature symptoms of internal and external bleeding. It is caused by a virus that is spread through contact with fluids such as saliva, urine, blood and semen.

Palestinian officials have recognised that Latin American countries were the first to condemn the Israeli onslaught against Gaza.

The Palestinian National Council (PNC), the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, thanked Latin America on August 27 for its solidarity with the people of Gaza and its condemnation of the seven-week Israeli massacre in the enclave.

During a PNC meeting, the Palestinian leaders said the solidarity of Latin America with Palestinians “is an inheritance of patriots like Jose Marti and Simon Bolivar”.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets as celebration broke over a long-term truce agreement was reached on August 26.

As news spread that the seven-week Israeli assault on Gaza may have ended with a long term cease-fire agreement, the population of the battered strip flooded to the streets to celebrate.

The deal calls for an indefinite halt to hostilities, immediately opening Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and extending the fishing zone for Gaza's fisherfolk.

The Radical Independence Campaign released the largest public canvass sample in the referendum to-date on August 19 (see graphic).

The findings are in stark contrast to the official polling companies, and show that communities all over Scotland are simply not swallowing Project Fear.

Having been failed by decades of Westminster rule, and now facing the Tory cuts, privatisation and austerity, people are increasingly looking towards a Yes vote as a platform for social change.

Analysis

The Coalition dominated Senate will vote on a raft of amendments to the Fair Work Act in July next year that includes the Building and Construction (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code.

The code will be voted in as a piece of retrospective legislation. This means it will be backdated to April 24 this year. This is so the code will apply to all new enterprise bargaining agreements (EBA) due to be negotiated by all construction unions with the respective employers.

The first asylum seeker to be forcibly returned to Afghanistan begged an Australian court for help the day he was due to be deported.

The judge used a two-year out-of-date security assessment of Afghanistan to rule that the 29-year-old ethnic Hazara’s home district, Jaghori, was “reasonably stable”.

“Jaghori is confined, it’s like a prison,” the man said through an interpreter, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. “The surrounding areas are all controlled by the Taliban. Many people die on the way to Jaghori.”

Finance minister Mathias Cormann has threatened the opposition parties that if they continue to block key budget measures — such as the demolition of universal health care and welfare, the deregulation of university fees, and the hike in the interest rate on student HECS debts — then the government would be forced to look at raising taxes.

The Renewable Energy Target could become a victim of its own success. A review into the scheme, released on August 29, has recommended the federal government close new investment into renewable energy because it has produced more energy than originally planned.

But Labor, Greens and Palmer United Party senators have vowed to block any changes to the scheme.

At the same time, a debate has emerged among climate activists about whether we should “change tack” when it comes to campaigning on the issue of climate change.

Forty per cent of Australians do not believe that democracy is the best form of government, the Lowy Institute found in a poll it conducted earlier this year.

The main reasons given were that what now passes for democracy is serving vested interests rather than the interests of people, and that there is no real difference between the two big political parties.

This is a perfectly logical reaction to the convergence of the major parties around the economic doctrine of neoliberalism.

A new environmental battleground is shaping up in Western Australia over the controversial issue of fracking. A small victory was won on August 20 when councillors from the Shire of Coorow, a group of small towns 250 kilometres north of Perth, voted unanimously to suspend all fracking activity in the area pending a full environmental assessment and public inquiry.

After four venues cancelled bookings under pressure from protesters, the World Congress of Families announced a fifth venue for its conference in Victoria — the headquarters of notorious anti-Muslim hate group Catch the Fire Ministries.

A coalition of groups opposing the WCF called a media conference on August 28 to explain why they were determined to stop the right-wing fundamentalist Christian conference from going ahead in Melbourne on August 30.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison has angrily slammed allegations by Labor Senator Sue Lines that the federal government was using the “war on terror” to distract voters from its cruel and deeply unpopular budget.

And fair enough, it was a ridiculous comment when you consider the huge number of terrorist attacks Australia has been subjected to in recent times.

The imperial war drums are beating loudly again and the big parties in Australia, Liberal and Labor, are once more shoulder-to-shoulder for a new military intervention in Iraq.

Defence minister David Johnston says the Australian armed forces are in a “high state of readiness” to join the US in bombing missions with Super Hornet warplanes.

“They're incredibly capable,” he said. “They're exactly what flies off US aircraft carriers. Now, that's an obvious first port of call were we to consider it necessary to participate with our friends and our ally.”

Nick Riemer, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, addressed a Town Hall meeting on August 25 on the proposed deregulation of fees at Australian universities. Riemer is a member of the NTEU Sydney University branch committee.

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Fee deregulation means the entrenchment of educational disadvantage and the enclosure of knowledge in our society.

That’s not irresponsible exaggeration: it’s an accurate characterisation that follows from the careful modelling done by a number of authorities.

One of the most frightful ironies of climate change is that it will wreak the most havoc on the people who have done the least to cause it. Pacific Island nations are in the climate frontlines — affected by rising oceans, coastal erosion and extreme weather.

There has been a dramatic rise in the female prison population in Australia in the last 10 years. This increase is largely due to the rising number of Aboriginal women going to prison.

In 1996, about 21% of women in prison were Aboriginal, last year it was 33%. The rate of increase is much greater than that of men.

Australia has the dishonour of jailing the highest proportion of its Indigenous female population in the world. Aboriginal women are 17 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aboriginal women.

Culture

Power Failure: The Inside Story of Climate Politics Under Rudd a& Gillard
Philip Chubb
Black Inc., 2014
302 pages, $29.99 (pb)

In 2007 in Australia, “climate policy was a reform full of promise and excitement,” writes Monash University journalism academic Philip Chubb in Power Failure.

The summer sun beat down on August 21 as thousands of Palestinians set out on a silent march in al-Rama, a Palestinian town in the northern Galilee region of present-day Israel, honouring the recently deceased poet and activist Samih al-Qasim.

The 76-year-old al-Qasim, who battled cancer for three years, died late on August 19.

Placards bearing verses of al-Qasim’s poetry and Palestinian flags bobbed above the marching crowd, which eventually arrived at the town’s main amphitheater. Al-Qasim’s relatives, prominent religious figures and politicians all spoke.

In Place of Fear II: A Socialist Programme for an Independent Scotland
By Jim Sillars
Vagabond Voices Publishing, 2014
www.inplaceoffear.com

Jim Sillars is a well-known and well-respected figure on the Scottish political scene.

Elected a Labour Party MP for South Ayrshire in 1970, he shifted away from mainstream Labour Party politics due to his commitment to setting up a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

The Dealer Is The Devil
Adrian Newstead
Brandl & Schlesinger
Published February 2014
480 pages, $49.95
www.book.cooeeart.com.au

Adrian Newstead was one of the first people to study climate change in Australia.

"I went to a place called the Barren Grounds, which were down the New South Wales south coast down near Kangaroo Valley," the 66-year-old tells Green Left Weekly.

China’s Second Continent: How a million migrants are building a new Empire in Africa
Howard W French
Knopf
Published May 20, 2014
304 pages
www.howardwfrench.com

In his 2009 film Rethink Afghanistan, director Robert Greenwald suggested that the US should not try to control the world through military means, but by building schools and hospitals in the countries it wishes to invade.

Journalist Howard French's book China's Second Continent shows how such a model can work in practice.