Issue 1039

Australia

Update: An earlier version of this article reported that asylum seeker Puvaneethan reboarded the plane after protesting passengers had been removed. Reports have now confirmed he is now back in Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne.

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Three passengers were removed from a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Darwin this morning after refusing to take their seats in protest against the transfer of an asylum seeker on the same flight.

As predicted by opinion polls, Liberal National Party (LNP) Premier Campbell Newman was an early casualty on election night, January 31. He was defeated in his electorate of Ashgrove by Kate Jones, the Environment Minister in the previous Labor government. He is the first incumbent premier to lose his seat in Australia.

With more than 70% of the votes counted at the close of counting on election night, the outcome for the ALP was even better than opinion polls had predicted.

"Today was the best Invasion Day protest that I have ever been to," Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton told Green Left Weekly on January 26. "There was a real feeling of Aboriginal pride and resistance. The crowd was bigger today too."

In Melbourne, the protest began with a smoking ceremony near Parliament House followed by a rally on the parliament steps.

The rally then marched to the official "Australia Day" parade, moved the barricades and marched along the official parade route.

Chanting "Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land," more than 500 members of Aboriginal communities from across the country and their supporters marched from Civic in the centre of Canberra to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of Old Parliament House on January 26, also known as Invasion Day.

The embassy was also the site of the second meeting of the Indigenous National Freedom Summit, following its founding in Alice Springs in November 2014.

Several hundred Aboriginal community members and their supporters gathered on Hobart parliament house lawns to mark Invasion Day on January 26. There was a one minute silence observed whilst a wreath was slowly walked down two rows of those who gathered and placed on the steps to parliament house.

People were welcomed to country and reminded that the Aboriginal people do not recognise today as Australia Day, that they do not celebrate this day, and that their land was stolen, that they will never give up and will never go away.

A week before the Queensland election more than 500 people rallied against premier Campbell Newman and the Liberal National Party on January 24.

Speakers included Indigenous activist Sam Watson, Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union Peter Simpson, Debbie Kilroy from Sisters Inside, Drew Hutton from Lock The Gate Alliance and Greens candidate Jonathan Sri.

Protest camp – the Bat Attack
Join a 6-day mass convergence on Gomeroi country to say NO to further bulldozing of the Leard State Forest. Skillshares, music, art, workshops an dcommunity-led civil disobedience. Saturday February 14 to Wednesday February 18 at Maules Creek.
RSVP to frontlineaction.org/bat-attack.

Support the sit-in
Join First Nations elders from around the country as they converge on Canberra for a sit-in, vowing not to leave until a resolution is reached. Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra until February 14.

Grandmothers Against Removals released this statement on January 28.

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Activists from the national movement Grandmothers Against Removals joined the Aboriginal protest convergence in Canberra over the Invasion Day long weekend, including the march on Parliament House.

A 13-day hunger strike by asylum seekers imprisoned by Australia on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, was suspended on January 26 after Wilson’s Security flew in reinforcement to storm compounds where detainees were on hunger strike.

The hunger strike was in response to plans to move those whose refugee claims had been accepted to a new camp on the island under the guise of releasing them into the community.

This new camp at Lorengau, the Manus provincial capital, differs from the detention centre only in that its inhabitants are more vulnerable to violent attacks by vigilantes.

The National Freedom Movement is planning a second sit-in protest at Parliament House in Canberra when federal parliament resumes on February 9.

Protesters will raise issues, including the large numbers of Aboriginal children being taken from their families and the destruction of homeland communities.

Aboriginal leader Michael Anderson said: “Unity is how we will achieve anything. We need to come together as nations, support and educate each other on how we take what is ours.”

VIGIL FOR BALI NINE HELD

The Cross Border Collective released this statement on January 28.

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Thousands of men, women and children held in Australia’s detention camps are growing increasingly desperate in their second year of incarceration in camps described as “hellholes”.

In a dramatic turn of events, the NSW government has suspended AGL’s licence to operate its Waukivory Pilot Project to mine coal seam gas (CSG) in Gloucester, pending the result of an investigation launched on January 28.

The suspension came just a day after AGL said it was "voluntarily" suspending work at the site after it had detected banned carcinogenic benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) chemicals in flowback water from two of the four wells and an above-ground storage tank.

A man seeking asylum in Australia, who was due to be deported by immigration officials in December, is being held in Villawood detention centre after a protest on December 19 on the plane blocked the deportation. One plane passenger, Steph O’Donnell, said the asylum seeker, Wei Lin, made himself known to passengers on the plane before take-off.

Workers at International Flavours & Fragrances (IFF) began occupying the Dandenong factory on January 27 after negotiations for a new workplace agreement stalled. Negotiations have been ongoing since June, after contention arose over management’s proposal for a $0.55 an hour wage rise if workers forfeited one of their two paid 10 minute breaks.

The High Court has ruled that Australia's month-long detention of 157 Tamil asylum seekers at sea last year was legal and the asylum seekers were not entitled to claim damages for false imprisonment.

The asylum seekers’ boat was intercepted by customs ship Ocean Protector off Christmas Island on June 29, after their boat was damaged by fire and they called for help. The Tamils on board said they feared persecution in Sri Lanka and asked for asylum.

Vigils were held in Melbourne and Sydney for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on January 29. The two are facing the death penalty after having been convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia.

Chris Peterson gave this speech to the Melbourne vigil.

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I would like to thank everyone who came out on this cold windy night. We are continuing a movement. We no longer have the death penalty in Australia because people came out on cold evenings for justice.

Planetary boundaries are those considered crucial to maintaining an environment in which humanity can safely exist.

Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, US climatologist James Hansen and Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, developed an analysis of nine of these boundaries some years ago.

Alongside climate change, they include ocean acidification, ozone depletion, fresh water use, change in land use, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, atmospheric aerosol loading and the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles.

More than 500 people held political parties contesting the Queensland elections to account over the protection of the Great Barrier Reef at a public forum at Brisbane City Hall on January 22.

The forum was was organised by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), Queensland Conservation Council, the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace, Australian Youth Climate Coalition and GetUp. It was chaired by Professor Ian Lowe.

The 15th solidarity brigade from the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) joined a long tradition of international brigades to visit Venezuela since 1998, and enjoyed a packed itinerary during its visit from December 2 to 13.

World

The fishing community of Baga, by Lake Chad in Borno state, Nigeria, was under siege by armed Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram for a week at the start of January. Amnesty International described the bloodbath as Boko Haram’s “deadliest massacre”.

Amnesty estimated about 2000 people were killed. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who condemned the “dastardly terrorist attack” against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists within hours of the tragic event in Paris, did not say a word about this tragedy.

“I want to see Cuba before everything changes,” is how many reacted to Barack Obama’s surprise December 17 announcement that he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba — severed by the US in 1961 — and urge Congress to lift the US blockade.

Seeing Cuba for oneself can only be encouraged, but those who fear that it will soon be transformed by American tourists, US corporations and commercialism need not rush to book flights.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Costa Rica on January 28 that Latin America is living in a “new historic era” marked by unity and great opportunity.

CELAC was first launched in 2011 in Venezuela, uniting all countries in the Americas except for the United States and Candada. It was set up as a counter-point to the Organisation of American States, which traditionally been dominated by the US.

This year’s celebrations of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, a national holiday on January 19, were quite different from the staid affairs in recent decades.

Tens of thousands of protesters across the country held more than 50 actions, marches and civil disobedience, reclaiming his radical legacy and condemning the police killings of unarmed African Americans.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 90. Abdullah was one of the world’s most powerful men and a key US ally in the region, controlling a fifth of the known global petroleum reserves.

In a statement, President Barack Obama praised Abdullah for his “steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

Venezuela's left-wing government has congratulated Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece's radical left SYRIZA party, who won a huge victory in Greece's parliamentary elections on January 25, TeleSUR English reported.

A Venezuelan government statement said: “Venezuela warmly congratulates the Syriza coalition party and Alexis Tsipras for their historic victory, wishing them success and complete solidarity and support.”

The sound system was playing the famous Italian resistance song “Bella Ciao”. Flags of parties from across the left and the continent wiggled as their bearers danced and sang along to celebrate SYRIZA's win in the January 25 Greek elections.

Ouzo flowed and fireworks flared. We could have been outside a G8 summit in the early noughties.

Only the explosives weren’t directed at police lines, but in the air. The crowd chanting at the politician wasn’t protesting, but cheering. An international movement that has become very good at licking its wounds was learning to celebrate.

At least a dozen anti-government protesters were shot dead by Egyptian security forces on the fourth anniversary of the uprising that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

More than 15 people were killed in Egypt on January 25 in anti-government protests marking the fourth anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The slaughter marks the bloodiest day of protests since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected president in June, with security forces and plain-clothed police officers reportedly firing at demonstrators.

There were scenes of joy on the streets of Athens on the night of January 25 as results of the day's national elections gave a clear victory to SYRIZA -- the Coalition of the Radical Left.

Addressing ecstatic supporters, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, since sworn in as prime minister, said: “Greece is turning the page. Greece leaves behind the austerity that caused it's destruction. It leaves behind fear and intimidation, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and grief.

After a fierce struggle lasting 134 days, mainly Kurdish fighters belonging to the Peoples Defence Units (YPG) and Womens Defence Units (YPJ) finally freed the town of Kobane on January 26 from attackers belonging to the terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). Kobane remains intact — although, only just.

Thousands took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on January 23 to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the toppling of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship. Marchers also voiced their support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in the face of economic war and political destabilisation.

Analysis

On a blistering hot Sunday in January, a group of Aboriginal activists and allies delivered their impassioned accounts to a captivated crowd at The Block, Redfern. The banners behind them displayed powerful messages: “Justice Now! Reopen the TJ Hickey inquest”, “Black Law on Black Land”, and “You may kill our warriors, but you’ll never kill our fight for justice”.

I have decided there’s no longer any point trying to write these columns while we have a government as truly mad as this one. What’s the point of trying to think up witty ways to mock this bunch of heartless, cruel, out-of-touch, poor-hating, Tory scum if their leader just wanders about doing bat shit insane things like “knighting” Prince Philip?

“Greece is turning the page,” SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras told an ecstatic crowd on January 25. The radical left party had just come first in historic elections in Greece with 36.3% of the vote.

“Greece leaves behind the austerity that caused its destruction. It leaves behind fear and intimidation; it leaves behind five years of humiliation and grief. Greece advances with hope, with dignity and steady steps towards a changing Europe.”

The news from Greece has spread hope around the world.

Harold John (Hal) Alexander passed away on December 19 in Sydney. He was born on April 9, 1924 and was for many years an electrician, mostly in heavy industry. He joined the then-illegal Communist Party in 1941, at the age of 17, and was a member until its dissolution in 1991. He was an organiser from 1954 to 1967 in Sydney, then Adelaide.

He suffered many arrests for his political activities and served three jail terms, two involving hunger strikes. He worked and lived with the Arrente people of Central Australia on and off from 1985.

One of the pre-election promises of Tony Abbott’s government was to initiate an inquiry into workplace relations by the Productivity Commission.

But the spectre of former prime minister John Howard’s WorkChoices, which lost the Coalition the 2007 election and the PM his seat, meant there was no great rush.

The plan was to pave the way for an assault on wages and working conditions by first attacking unions through a Royal Commission specially set-up for the purpose.

People with a disability, especially young people, are facing another wave of attacks and victimisations by the federal government in a new crackdown on those receiving the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

In mid-December, the then-minister for social services, Kevin Andrews, announced that his department would begin investigating people on the DSP. This will be carried out by the Coalition’s leading attack-dog, Scott Morrison, who inherited the ministry after a cabinet reshuffle removed him from the position of immigration minister.

This is Part two of an interview with Greens candidate for the seat of South Brisbane, Jonathan Sri. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Evan Verner about the state of politics in Queensland, his position on various policies and what it is like to run a political campaign.

What are the causes of unemployment and how do we secure jobs?

Noted journalist John Pilger directed and is the lead investigator in an extraordinary documentary, Utopia: An Epic Story of Struggle and Resistance.

Pilger incisively and tenaciously reveals the brutal conquest and continued racist treatment of the Aboriginal people in Australia. Against this appalling historical documentation of conquest, discrimination and neglect, Pilger also highlights the continued resistance of the original inhabitants of the land stolen by British settlers.

These are certainly interesting times — where growing inequality, ongoing injustice and the threat of climate disaster make a potent brew of deep uncertainty.

Culture

The Barking Dog
Edited by Caroline Lund
Order via lundshep@att.net
US$20 in US or $25 elsewhere

I asked Barry Sheppard, the longtime partner, friend and comrade of late US socialist, auto-worker and union activist Caroline Lund (pictured) to collect and publish The Barking Dog, because I thought it was one of the best shop floor newsletters from an auto worker I had ever read.

I believed this collection would be an inspiration and a guide for the next generation of rank-and-file auto workers. But I was wrong: The Barking Dog is much more than that.

American Sniper
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Bradley Cooper & Sienna Millar
In cinemas now

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has two clashing narratives. The first is about a soldier in the US army (i.e. the content of the film). The second is much bigger, about war and terrorism (i.e. the content of the discussion the film has generated).

The movie fails not in explaining these two topics properly and, as a result, leaving it up to the viewer to make up their own mind whether the action of the soldier should be applauded.

Noam Chomsky had some choice words about the popularity of the Clint Eastwood Movie American Sniper, its glowing New York Times review, and what the worship of a movie about a cold-blooded killer says about the American people.

It's not good.

A recent decision by the organisers of one of Australia's largest pop culture conventions has sparked controversy in the fan community.

A petition has been created to have the organisers of Supanova pop-culture expo revoke their invitation to Firefly actor Adam Baldwin. The US actor is due to appear at their Sydney and Perth conventions later this year.

We kid you not

KENYAN POLICE FIRE TEAR GAS AT CHILDREN'S PLAYGROUND

The ABC reported that Kenyan police fired tear gas into a crowd of schoolchildren in Nairobi as the children protested against what they call an illegal confiscation of a playground.

Around 40 armed police, accompanied by dogs, confronted the children, most of whom were aged between eight and 13.

Good news (for a change)

NSW SHUTS CSG OPERATIONS IN GLOUCESTER

The New South Wales government has shut down AGL’s coal seam gas operations in Gloucester in northern NSW.

AGL voluntarily suspended operations after it detected benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, also known as BTEX, in flowback water from two of the four wells.

AGL said it did not use the chemicals, banned in CSG operations since 2011, and it was likely to be naturally occurring.

The government has suspended AGL’s licence until an investigation has been completed by the Environmental Protection Agency.