Issue 1036

Australia

The Refugee Action Coalition released this statement on January 13.

***

It is feared that a 33-year-old Iranian asylum seeker on hunger strike may have only days to live.

Refugee activists have launched an appeal to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister Michaelia Cash to urgently act to prevent his death.

Kep Enderby, a former Whitlam government minister, barrister and Supreme Court judge remained true to his socialist principles and was a valued supporter and subscriber to this publication, Green Left Weekly until his passing on January 7.

As attorney general and minister for the ACT under the Whitlam Labor government, he decriminalised abortion and homosexuality in that territory in 1975, setting a dramatic lead at that time in social reform that many Labor governments would be challenged to match these days.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, appointed by the Abbott government and headed by retired judge Dyson Heydon, released its interim report on December 19. The report called for criminal charges to be laid against several Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials, including charges of blackmail against the CFMEU's Victorian state secretary John Setka and assistant secretary Shaun Reardon.

The planned forced deportation of Villawood detainee Wei Lin on December 19 was successfully stopped at Sydney apirport that day.

A professional athlete in China, Wei Lin has already faced persecution and harassment in China after exposing the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Chinese sport in the late 1990s.

Wei Lin, accompanied by four Serco guards, was handcuffed and masked, and driven to the back of the airport and onto the Air China plane on the afternoon of December 19.

Otis lift workers in Melbourne claimed victory on December 17 after an eight-week lockout when they voted to accept an agreement that included all but one of their demands.

The 174 Otis workers had been trying to negotiate with the company since April. With the company insisting on a below-inflation 1% wage increase, the workers began industrial action at the end of September with bans on overtime, shiftwork and the commissioning of lifts and escalators.

The company responded by locking out the workers on October 21.

Protest and counter-protest descended on Penrith on December 8 as Penrith’s council voted to uphold their decision to allow the construction of an Islamic community centre in Kemps Creek.

Various far right groups turned up to show their opposition to the construction of the two-storey centre, including the Australia First Party, with chairman Jim Saleam present, as well as the Australian Defence League, Party for Freedom and Squadron 88.

Counter-protestors in support of the centre’s construction included various left groups, the Greens and Antifa, the anti-fascist group.

Players for A-League club Western Sydney Wanderers are in dispute with club management over their share of prize money for taking part in the Club World Cup in Morocco.

Wanderers players have not ruled out boycotting their December 13 match against Mexican team Cruz Azul if no agreement is reached.

The players earned 50% of the prize money for taking part in the Asian Champions League, which the Wanderers became the first Australian team to win on November 1, booking their place at the CWC.

Sweeping changes to refugee law were passed through the Senate on December 5. These include the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) that will grant refugees in Australia a visa for three years but does not allow them to apply for permanent protection.

When it was elected in 2007, Labor dumped this unpopular policy of the former John Howard government. Immigration minister Scott Morrison has been working to reintroduce TPVs since the Coalition was elected last year, but it has been repeatedly blocked in the Senate.

Students around the country are celebrating the Senate's defeat of the federal government's tertiary education reforms.

The proposed changes would have been the final act in the destruction of free tertiary education in Australia that started with the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme 25 years ago.

The government proposed removing caps on university fees, cutting course funding by about 20% on average, charging higher rates of interest on student debts and extending funding to private colleges, TAFEs and sub-bachelor programs in 2016.

Public sector unions in Tasmania held a two-hour strike across the state on November 27 to protest against the job cuts planned by the state Liberal government.

About 10,000 workers from 11 unions attended stop-work rallies at 18 sites. This included about 5000 people who rallied at Parliament House in Hobart and 2000 who gathered at the Inveresk Tramsheds in Launceston.

The rally in Burnie had to move out of the Arts and Function Centre to accommodate all the striking workers.

About 100 people joined the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and other unions in Geelong at a rally to support the striking Tandara Spirit workers on December 1.

Viva Energy, which owns the Geelong oil refinery, ordered the ship to sail to Singapore where the Australian crew would be made redundant and the ship returned to its owners. The crew defied those orders with a three-week sit-in.

The Tandara Spirit is one of just five Australian-operated tankers left. Workers are concerned that Viva Energy could replace them with workers earning as little as $20 a day.

The opening night panel of the Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance conference discussed the recent invasion of Iraq, the rise of Islamic State and the Kurdish struggle in Kobane.

Filling out the hall at Geelong Trades Hall on December 5, about 50 people heard from speakers Farooq Tariq from the Awami Workers Party in Pakistan, Dilek Geyik from the Australian Kurdish Association and Jemma Nott from Resistance.

When Labor claimed victory in the Victorian elections, many of the smaller parties also celebrated their electoral success.

The Greens won their first seat in Victoria’s Lower House, with the victory of Ellen Sandell over the incumbent Jennifer Kanis, the only Labor MP in the Legislative Assembly to lose a seat.

Sixteen concerned residents of Kuantan travelled all the way from Malaysia to Sydney to protest at the November 28 shareholders' annual general meeting of an Australian rare earth mining and refining company.

Lynas Corporation's toxic refinery in the outskirts of Kuantan (population 700,000) on Malaysia's east coast is deeply unpopular with local residents and other concerned Malaysians who, together with Australian supporters, have mounted protests in Sydney at the past four AGMs.

World

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is being challenged by Maithripala Sirisena, who was until recently one of his ministers, in the January 8 presidential elections. However, many Tamils and leftists see little difference between the two.

Sirisena is being supported by the opposition United National Party, and has promised to appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe as prime minister. There are 16 other candidates.

Cuban President Raul Castro gave a speech on December 17 in which he said relations between Cuba and the United States would be reset.

“We have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations, but this does not mean that the main issue has been resolved, the blockade that generates economic losses and humanitarian problems in our country must stop,” Castro said.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has angrily rejected new sanctions against his nation signed into law by US President Barack Obama on December 18. The bill was passed by US Congress last week, authorising sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

Via Twitter, Maduro said: “President Obama has taken a false step against our country by signing the sanctions, despite the national and continental rejection of them.

MANY TENS of thousands of people took to the streets December 13 in New York City, Washington D.C., and others cities in a powerful demonstration that the movement against police violence and lawlessness is only growing larger and stronger.

As protesters in New York City got ready to march, Ann, an African American woman from the Bronx, summed up the message of the day. "It's a definite war," Ann said. "A lot of people aren't calling it that, but it's a war. I'm seeking justice for my family and other people who need it."

In a statement condemning the “senseless and merciless slaughter of innocent school children” by by religious fanatics in Peshawar, Pakistan, the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP) accused the Pakistani state and military of complicity in “Islamist terrorism”.

A hundred and thirty-two students were killed in the December 16 suicide attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the the military-run Army Public School, AWP general secretary Farooq Tariq told Green Left Weekly.

On the night of September 26-27, the local police of Iguala, Guerrero, shot at several buses carrying the Ayotzinapa students, killing three of them and another three civilians. Then, according to authorities, the police “arrested” 43 students and handed them to the local gang known as United Warriors.

Up to 100,000 protesters shut down Dublin city on December 10 in the latest mass demonstration against the introduction of water charges.

Protesters from across the country braved media hysteria, riot police and police barricades, and the threat of a fierce storm, to descend on the centre of Dublin, placing Leinster House – home of the Dáil (Irish parliament) – and other government buildings in “lock down”.

About 500 Chinese farmers in the state of Perak, in northern Malaysia, with the support of the Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) are resisting attempted evictions from land they have occupied for more than 40 years.

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do the New York Times and the Washington Post deceive their readers?

Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what’s called the mainstream media is not information, but power?

The head of the Austrian Forensic Medicine laboratory considers extremely difficult for more identifications to come out of the remains found in the Cocula dump, thus the investigation remains uncertain.

Even after the identification of one of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa Teacher’s Training School, the possibilities of identifying any other are extremely small due to the terrible conditions of the remains found in a dump in Cocula, on the southern state of Guerrero, according to the opinion of head specialist from the Innsbruck Legal medicine Institute, Richard Scheithauer.

Israeli MPs passed a motion on December 3 paving the way for early elections, Morning Star Online said that day. Further votes were expected in coming days to officially dissolve Israel's parliament, ushering in new polls on March 17 next year.

Chile’s interior minister Rodrigo Penailillo announced on December 4 that university education would be free by 2016.

The announcement comes after huge protests by Chilean students for greater equality in education that broke out under former president Sebastian Pinera's right-wing adminstration. The Socialist Party's Michelle Bachelet won presidential elections last year, in part by promising to implement many of the student movement's demands.

Latin America 2014 conference, in solidarity with the continent's progressive struggles, was held in London on November 29 and attracted hundreds of participants.

Held in the Trade Union Congress building, it was jointly organised by several trade unions, Latin America solitary groups and other supporters of the progressive and revolutionary struggles in the region.

The participants took part in more than 30 workshops across a broad range of topics surrounding the achievements and challenges of the various governments, social and political movements across the continent.

Despite pledging in 2009 to phase out public subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, G20 countries have disregarded those promises and are now spending US$88 billion a year to fund the discovery of new gas, coal, and oil deposits around the world, according to a new report published last month by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International.

Trans Canada Pipelines announced on December 2 it would stop work on building an oilshipping terminal on the St Lawrence River at Cacouna, Quebec.

The immediate reason is that the project will threaten the beluga whale population in the river. Another, unreported, reason is that a broad citizens’ movement in Quebec fiercely opposes the project.

The world's top climate scientists issued their latest warning in November that the climate crisis is rapidly worsening on several fronts — and that we must stop our climate-polluting way of producing energy if we are to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Nearly four months in and the new US-led war in the Middle East is enjoying patchy progress at best.

At an official briefing at defence headquarters in Canberra on November 25, Australian Defence Force Chief of Joint Operations Vice-Admiral David Johnston said Australian-led air strikes Iraq the previous week had killed about 100 fighters from the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

The 18th South Asian Associations for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit took place at Kathmandu, Nepal on November 25 and 26. The heads of the eight states of South Asia took part in the summit.

Kathmandu was a showcase of what has happened repeatedly in the three decades since the birth of the SAARC. Leaders make rhetorical speeches and spend time on expensive retreats and sightseeing — then head home forgetting what was said in the summit hall.

Two thousand activists for free and public education gathered in the Indian city of Bhopal on December 4.

This meeting was the culmination of a month-long series of marches and public meetings organised by the All India Forum for the Right to Education (AIFRTE). This action, under the banner of the All India Struggle for Public Education (AISSY), has been carried out across all of India’s five geographic regions with the aim to raise public consciousness about the assault on public education by pro-market and religious fundamentalist right-wing forces.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, Australia’s second largest export market, and third largest import market. It is also a country whose economy has been stagnant since the land market crash of 1990.

This stagnation, accompanied by a rise from 30% to 40% in the number of workers without permanent full-time jobs since 2002, validates the “stagnation thesis” that Keynes advanced in his 1836 book General Theory.

“Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The [research and development] incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

The news came through on December 3, as I write this, that another grand jury has refused to indict a white cop for murdering an unarmed Black man.

In this case, the murder was caught on video in New York City on July 17.

The widely watched video, taken by a bystander, showed 43-year-old Black man Eric Garner being set upon by a group of cops for selling individual cigarettes on the street.

One cop is seen putting Garner in a chokehold. The other cops pile on, and Gardener is choked to death. The cops then arrested the man who shot the video and his girlfriend.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the United States on November 28 to investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed Black youth.

The panel's first review of the US record on preventing torture since 2006 followed protests across the country after a November 24 grand jury decision not to charge officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Analysis

The statement below was released by the Tamil Refugee Council in Australia on January 9. The day before, opposition-backed presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena beat incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who oversaw war crimes and abuse of the human rights of Tamils and others in Sri Lanka.

***

The Tamil Refugee Council urges the Australian government to use the change of leadership in Sri Lanka to push for a resolution to the country’s most pressing issue – the long-standing oppression and persecution of Tamils.

The statement below was released by Socialist Alliance national co-conveners on January 9.

***

The Socialist Alliance condemns the massacre of journalists, cartoonists and others at and around the offices of the Paris-based publication Charlie Hebdo. However offensive anyone may have found some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, this act of brutal violence is not justified.

The federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has foreshadowed further major cuts to public sector jobs and services in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) released on December 15. The MYEFO is an update on the draconian federal budget brought down by the treasurer in May this year.

The National Union of Students (NUS) Conference 2014 kicked off at the Mannix College in Monash University, Melbourne last week to decide policy and administrative reform for the next year. They also voted to for the reintroduction of a new series of Office Bearing positions for 2015.

The conference was dominated by Young Labor Right, Student Unity, The Labor Left, National Labor Students, Socialist Alternative and Grassroots Collective. A scattering of independents also attended.

Last month, Rolling Stone ran an article on rape culture in US colleges, focusing primarily on the experiences of a young woman who told the magazine she was gang raped at a frat party.

Rolling Stone has been accused of letting rape survivors everywhere down by not properly fact checking the claims of the woman in question, Jackie, and for running a story with inconsistencies.

The magazine did let rape survivors down, but not by believing Jackie. They let us down by abandoning her for not being a good enough victim.

The statement below was released by Socialist Alliance on December 16.

***

The Socialist Alliance has warned of a dangerous escalation of incitement of racial violence against Australia's Muslim communities in the wake of the tragic hostage incident in Sydney.

“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the families and loved ones of the two victims who died and to all those caught up in the terrifying and tragic siege in Sydney's Martin Place over the past 24 hours,” said Socialist Alliance national co-convener Susan Price today.

"The Abbott government's proposed back-door GP tax is a massive scam, and should be totally rejected by the whole community," Susan Price, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Summer Hill in the March 2015 NSW state election, said on December 10.

"Today, International Human Rights Day, is a good time to stand up for universal public health as a basic human right. Abbott's proposed cut to the Medicare rebate for doctors still means the beginning of the end of our treasured universal, national public health system, Medicare," she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed an agreement in September to allow sales of Australian uranium to India for the first time. Uranium sales were initially approved by then-Coalition PM John Howard in August 2007 but Howard’s successor, Kevin Rudd, reinstated the ban.

Rudd’s action was in accordance with long-standing Labor Party policy that uranium should only be sold to countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). A 2008 Lowy Institute poll found that 88% of Australians supported this policy.

This is the last issue of Green Left Weekly for the year. So it is a good time to take stock.

From our perspective, it has been a big year of people's struggles. Week after week, people have taken to the streets to protest about numerous issues all around Australia.

GLW is a record of this struggle that can be accessed online through our website, greenleft.org.au. Very few countries around the world have a record of people's struggle as comprehensive as this.

The Denis Napthine government, elected by a slim majority in 2010, has fallen in Victoria. This is the first time a Victorian government has lasted only one term since 1955, when the Cain Labor government fell in the midst of the great Labor split.

The Napthine government had lost support due to brutal public sector cuts, vindictive attacks on nurses, paramedics and teachers, the unpopular East West Link project, and corruption scandals that led to the removal of Ted Baillieu as premier last year and the sacking of several Liberal candidates before the poll.

On its establishment in 1788, the colony of New South Wales was subject to English law by the application of legal reasoning that was settled in the late 18th century. It confirmed that “if an uninhabited country be discovered and planted by English subjects, all English laws then in being, which are the birthright of every subject, are immediately there in force.”

Three years after Barry O'Farrell promised to ban coal seam gas (CSG) mining in Sydney's drinking water catchment, the NSW government’s gas plan says nothing about protecting this sensitive area.

The plan, aimed at defusing community anger about CSG approvals and mining in the lead up to the March state election, has done the opposite.

Just because we don't pay for something, it doesn't mean that it has no value. Clean air, safe food and public education are just some of the things that we expect to be provided “free” by governments. Yet ask anyone, and they will tell you how valuable these things are. We expect government to provide these services as a matter of course.

Almost 70% of NSW voters oppose the partial sale of state-owned electricity "poles and wires" assets, according to a Fairfax/Ipsos opinion poll reported in the November 24 Sydney Morning Herald. Only 29% say they support the NSW Coalition government's plan to lease 49% of the power facilities to private corporations.

The same 69% of people also believe that electricity prices would rise if the sale goes through; while only 7% think prices would fall. About 20% consider prices would remain the same.

Nicole Judge worked at refugee centres on Nauru and Manus Island and despite warnings from various bodies, stood before a packed crowd at a Refugee Action Coalition forum in Sydney on November 17 to give an account of her time there.

When Judge first set foot on Manus Island she knew she was not getting what she had been promised. When she first signed up to work on Manus Island, she thought it would be a “working holiday”. She was looking for a break; what she found was despair, desperation and the deterioration of minds and bodies.

You know a government is in some serious trouble when a morning TV host tears the prime minister to shreds. And when the most likable member of the government appears to be Julie “Death Stare” Bishop, it has less good options than a drunk at closing time in Canberra.

A little over a year in office, and Tony Abbott's one big achievement is he has made Bill Shorten look electable.

As parliament wound up for the year, the Coalition government was desperate to salvage a symbolic “win” in the Senate to save some face. It was reeling from the defeat of the one-term Liberal government in Victoria, which was seen as a vote against Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the second most populous state in Australia.

Days before the Victorian elections on November 29, the Labor opposition promised to scrap the East West Link, a massive road project in Melbourne with an estimated cost of $18 billion.

On the back of a large community campaign to stop the project, this position helped Labor win the election.

The history of the campaign to stop the tunnel provides lessons on how the community can successfully beat the power of corporations and governments.

Editorial

Green Left Weekly will soon be sending Vivien Messimeris and Dick Nichols (our European correspondent) to Athens to report on the historic January 25 Greek elections, which could result in the election of the Coalition of the Radical Left, SYRIZA, to government on a strong program opposing the ruthless austerity imposed by the big global bankers on Greece.

Culture

This year seemed to have more than the usual quota of politically potent albums. Here, in no particular order, are 52 from 2014 - one for every week of the year. What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment below, on Twitter or Facebook.

* * *

1. BRISBANE BLACKS - INVASION DAY MIXTAPE

Maralinga: The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame & Betrayal of Our Troops & Country
By Frank Walker
Hachette, 2014

Frank Walker, who worked as a journalist for Australian and international publications for 38 years, was talking to his daughter's university friends one day and discovered they had no idea atomic bombs had been exploded in Australia.

In fact, 12 had ― excluding the 300-600 minor trials at Maralinga, Emu Field, both in the South Australian desert, and Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast.

Revolution
By Russel Brand
Random House
$26, 340 pages

Russell Brand is on a mission to save the world.

Since his impassioned advocacy for revolution in an interview with journalist Jeremy Paxman in October last year, Brand has waged, in his own inimitable style, a battle against the ruling class in the name of a peaceful, loving and ― above all ― a “fun” revolution.

His YouTube program “The Trews” has excited and engaged people across the globe. His work is as unique as the man himself. He can be sensitive, funny, open, honest, warm and courageous.

Australians have begun the grim journey through the centenary of World War I. Our newspapers have special articles and multi-page wrap arounds commemorating every significant date.

This is driven by a multi-million dollar government fund designed to whip up militarisation in contemporary Australia by obscuring the truth about WWI.

Part of the truth is that in Christmas 1914, just months after the war began, millions of soldiers ceased fighting and fraternised across the trenches. In some areas, this lasted for a week.

Essays From Near & Far
James Dryburgh
Walleah Press, 2014
130 pages, $20
http://walleahpress.com.au

The Tasmanian establishment like to promote the idea that their state is separate to the rest of Australia; that its isolation means things are done differently and that’s just the way it is.

It’s an attitude that keeps newly arrived residents as outsiders and maintains acquiescence to the status quo in politics and business.