Issue 1042

Australia

NSW premier Bruce Baird was confronted by 200 TAFE students, teachers and supporters when he visited Newcastle’s Hamilton TAFE campus on February 16.

His visit was to inaugurate the offices of the Hunter Business Chamber, which have been relocated to Hamilton TAFE.

Significantly, the old TAFE signage out the front of the campus has been replaced with a sign that reads “Australian Business Apprenticeship Centre”.

Hundreds of people started a week-long walk through Sydney’s western suburbs on February 21 to highlight the risk coal seam gas poses to drinking water.
Beginning at Cataract Dam the route will continue for 160 kilometres through Camden, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Fairfield, Prospect, Parramatta, Auburn, Ryde and Gladesville before finishing at Parliament House in Sydney.
More than 10 community groups came together to organise the walk, including the Western Sydney Environment Network, Stop CSG Macarthur, Parramatta Climate Action Network and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

Unions NSW has launched a "NSW Not For Sale" campaign in the lead-up to the March 28 state elections. The campaign targets the state government's plans to privatise the power industry, as well as attacking private involvement in hospitals and TAFE.

The campaign involves TV advertisements, as well as a radio and digital blitz. It aims to mobilise union members and other volunteers for doorknocking and mass telephoning.

The Redfern tent embassy in Sydney has received an eviction notice from the Aboriginal Housing Company. It claims the owners of the tent embassy do not have “permission to be on this site” and are “trespassing”.

The tent embassy was set up in May last year to stop land being taken from the Block and redeveloped for commercial space and private housing.

READ MORE: Redfern Tent Embassy remains strong

A major victory has been won by ANZ workers and the Finance Sector Union (FSU) against ANZ bank.

On February 16 ANZ’s proposed changes to the enterprise bargaining agreement were rejected by 64% of union members. This victory for ANZ staff came on the same day that ANZ announced a new CEO for its Australian operations.

“Thousands of staff have said NO to a broken pay model, clawbacks on job security, hours of work and penalty rates,” said National Secretary of the FSU Fiona Jordan.

About 250 people gathered at the Leard State Forest in northern NSW from February 13 and 18 to stop Whitehaven Coal clearing the forest to make way for its proposed Maules Creek coalmine.

The project has been plagued by protest for more than two years and more than 300 people have been arrested, including farmer Rick Laird and former Wallabies captain David Pocock.

For the second time in three days, I was blocked from posting or commenting on Facebook due to a concerted campaign by a right-wing Turkish nationalist Facebook page.

It ran an anti-democratic campaign of vexatious reports against photos I posted on my Facebook page for supposedly “promoting graphic violence”.

Several hundred residents and supporters of the campaign to stop the NSW government's WestConnex tollway project gathered in Whites Creek Park, Annandale, on February 15. Cait Jones, a representative of the campaign which successfully stopped the similar East-West Link tollroad in Melbourne, said: "In Victoria, we beat the East-West Link. We're here today to stand with you in your fight against WestConnex. Mass transit is what we want and need. Tollroads are a disincentive to public transport.”

Coles meat workers picketed a new Coles supermarket in Richmond, Victoria on February 18 after a mass meeting of Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union members. Coles is proposing a new enterprise agreement which wipes out most of the conditions for newly employed butchers and meat wrappers. The new butchers can earn $12,000 less in a year and the new meat wrapper can earn $8,000 less for doing the same jobs.

Pressure is mounting on Australia’s big four banks over their support for the construction of coalmines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Greenpeace launched a public email campaign targeting the executives of ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac, “to publicly rule out financing or advising Adani [Mining] on the Carmichael coal mine and associated infrastructure project in the Great Barrier Reef or Queensland”.

Concrete placement workers employed by Boral/De Martin and Gasparini (DMG) have won their battle for a union Agreement, securing better pay and conditions, including restoration of their site allowance.

The workers greeted the news from the negotiating team on February 18 with fists in the air and chants of, "Who are we? We're CFMEU!"

A substandard, non-union agreement was put to the workers by the company before Christmas.

This was overwhelmingly rejected, and workers took protected strike action to secure a union agreement that would improve their pay and conditions.

"Let Greece Breathe" was the theme of a rally called by the Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign (AGSC) at Sydney Town Hall on February 16.

Several hundred people gathered to express their support for the new SYRIZA-led Greek government and the right of the people of Greece to end austerity and challenge the dictatorship of the European banks and central authority.

"Let Greece Breathe" was the theme of a rally called by the Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign (AGSC) at Sydney Town Hall here on February 16.

Several hundred people gathered to express their support for the new SYRIZA-led Greek government and the right of the people of Greece to end austerity and challenge the dictatorship of the European banks and central authority.

Protesters marched through Redfern on February 14 to commemorate 11 years since Aboriginal teenager TJ Hickey was killed after being chased on his bike by police.

No police have been charged over Hickey's death and his family are still waiting for justice.

Police were heavy handed in their approach to the march, confiscating any banners or placards that mentioned the police and their role in TJ’s death.

Photos are by Peter Boyle.

World

A Green Surge has hit Britain. Thanks to an ongoing growth spurt, the Green Party of England and Wales has now hit 54,000 members, on top of nearly 10,000 members in the Scottish Green Party.

Opinion polls put the party on the rise, frequently beating the Liberal Democrats, who are governing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Greens now have more members than the far-right anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose growing support has generated much media attention.

Palestinian student Lina Khattab, 18, a first-year media student at Birzeit University, was sentenced by an Israeli military court to six months imprisonment, a NIS6000 (US$1500) fine and three years probation on February 17.

She is also a folkloric dancer with the world-renowned El-Funoun Popular Palestinian Dance Troupe and is active in other cultural and political student activities at the university.

US media reported on February 14 that more than 4000 ground combat troops are heading to Kuwait. Reports indicate it could be the US’ largest ground force in the region.

The move comes as President Barack Obama is petitioning Congress for an Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State group.

Obama sent Congress the AUMF petition denying plans for a ground war, however the troops in Kuwait are prepared for any “contingency,” a Pentagon military source said.

Instro Precision, a factory in Kent, England, owned by Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems was shut down on February 17 by four activists occupying the roof while others blockaded the entrance.

Instro Precision is a manufacturer of military targeting systems. Its optical equipment is used in drones such as those Israel used to bombard Gaza during the summer of 2014, say the activists. Such surveillance equipment has also been installed in Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank.

The largest US refinery workers strike since 1980 entered its third week, TeleSUR English said on February 18, with union and oil company representatives set to renew face-to-face talks over pay and safety after a week-long hiatus.

The article said: “The United Steelworkers Union (USW) is seeking a three-year, industry-wide pact that would protect 30,000 workers at 63 U.S. refineries, covering up to two-thirds of the country's domestic oil producing capacity.

More than 700 creative professionals living in the Britain — including writers, visual artists, actors, musicians and many others — have signed up to a pledge to boycott collaboration with Israeli state-funded projects.

The announcement marks a significant step for the British cultural boycott campaign. There have been many open letters and other statements of support for Palestine from British artists, but the pledge brings together a huge number of creatives in one coordinated effort.

After days of fraught negotiations, a temporary agreement was finally reached on February 20 between the Greek government and its Eurozone creditors to extend Greece's loan agreement.

It came a day after the German government scuttled a Greece proposal for a six-month extension to its loans program, which was set to run out at the end of the month.

Craig Stephen Hicks murdered three of his neighbours in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on the evening of February 10: Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Yusor's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

Hicks was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after he turned himself in to police.

Almost immediately, authorities declared the motive for the killings was a dispute over parking at the condominium complex where they all lived. But it was impossible to ignore the cloud of hate and bigotry hanging over these murders.

Fires were still smouldering on the morning of February 17 as emergency crews assessed the damage after a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded near the Mt Carbon area of Fayette County, West Virginia, the day before.

About 2400 people have been evacuated or displaced by the derailment, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the fire burned power lines.

Police descended on the house of Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) secretary general S Arutchelvan (Arul) in Kajang on February 19, arresting him under the Sedition Act.

We believe Arul has been arrested for his press statement on behalf of the PSM on opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy 2 guilty verdict. In the statement, Arul criticised the Federal Court judgement, saying the courts are not independent and are politically driven.

Independent journalist and filmmaker John Pilger was interviewed Michael Albert on the determination of the US and its allies to overthrow Venezuela's elected government and destroy the Bolivarian revolution begun by late president Hugo Chavez.

Thousands of citizens in Athens, Rome, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Lisbon, Vienna, Madrid, London and many other cities in Europe, as well as the United States and Australia, have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Greek people who are living a humanitarian crisis. Three weeks ago, the Greek people voted to put an end to the austerity policies imposed by the Troika (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union).

The statement below was released on February 17 by socialist groups in the Asia-Pacific region in response to a new coup attempt, including planned assassinations and bombings, by the US-backed right-wing opposition against Venezuela's socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

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We, the undersigned organisations, strongly condemn the recent coup attempt that sought to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela in order to reverse the achievements of the socialist Bolivarian process.

When Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003 by US forces, advocates of the Iraq War boastfully celebrated the event as proof that they were right and used it to mock war opponents.

When Muammar Gaddafi was forced by NATO bombing in August 2011 to flee Tripoli, advocates of US intervention played the same game. ThinkProgress, for instance, gleefully exploited the occasion to try to shame those who objected to the illegality of Obama’s waging the war even after Congress voted against its authorisation — as though Gadaffi’s fleeing could render legal Obama’s plainly illegal intervention.

Thousands of people hit the streets of Europe in solidarity with the Greek people and their newly-elected left-wing government, which is looking to undo years of imposed economic austerity programs.

“Let Greece breathe” has become the rallying cry for those who want Greece’s new Syriza’s government to have a chance to tread a new path for Europe.

Demonstrations in cities across Britain, France, Spain and elsewhere stood in solidarity with massive crowds in Greece to express support for the Syriza government led by new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Analysis

When 22-year-old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein murdered two people in Copenhagen on February 15, and was killed in a shoot-out with police, the media and politicians across the world did not hesitate to declare that an act of terrorism had taken place.

US President Barack Obama immediately phoned Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to offer condolences and invited Denmark to take part in a February 18 summit in Washington to counter violent extremism, Reuters reported on February 16.

Other Western leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, responded similarly.

With 44 seats (to the LNPs 42) and the support of Independent Peter Wellington, the ALP leader Annastacia Palaszczuk was sworn in as Premier on February 14. The full Cabinet of 14 (including 8 women) was sworn in on February 16.

The ALP minority government represents a number of firsts for Queensland: first cabinet with a majority of women ministers; first female team of Premier and Deputy Premier (Jacki Trad); and first woman indigenous cabinet minister Leeanne Enoch.

It is assumed that the axing of asset sales will be the first item on the new government’s to-do list.

It’s reasonable to expect, that if you visit a relative or friend in a nursing home in NSW, you will find a registered nurse on duty. But that could change this year.

The NSW Public Health Act currently requires all “nursing homes” in the state to have a registered nurse on duty 24/7. However, changes to the federal Aged Care Act in mid-2014 have now undermined this requirement.

This moving letter for Reza Berati from men incarcerated on Manus Island was released on February 18 by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

* * *

Hello dear Reza. How are you? Are you in a good place?

Everyone is here and they are saying hi to you. I'm sure you remember Mustafa! He is saying to you: "Let's play cards!"

Ali is saying: "Do you remember you would always get 6-6 whenever we played backgammon?"

Hussain is saying: "Do you remember whenever we played soccer, you would always be the goal keeper because you were tall?"

The National Union of Students organises national days of action, in which students around the country take part in rallies to fight back against the latest round of attacks against public education. This year, students are continuing to fight the biggest attack on accessible education since HECS was introduced in 1989.

The Refugee Convention and similar international laws exist to protect the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted people. People who flee war zones or are victimised by their governments and communities rely on countries that are signatories to these conventions to recognise their at-risk status and provide safety.

A busload of students, Aboriginal activists and musicians embarked on a commemorative trip around regional New South Wales on February 19 to mark 50 years since the first Freedom Ride. Also on the bus were 15 of the original Freedom Riders, filmmaker Rachel Perkins, and musicians Troy Cassar-Daley and Paul Kelly.

The pledge below was published on the website of the Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign, which says: “Let Greece Breathe is a campaign for hope and justice. We aim to show that Greece and the Greek people are not alone in their hour of need.

“A victory for Greece will be a victory for people everywhere -- that is why the battle is so fierce. You can help by endorsing the statement and pledge below.”

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The Fair Work Commission decided on February 11 that two male mine workers at the Crinum mine in the Bowen basin in Queensland were not eligible for paid primary carer’s leave to look after their newborn children.

The case was brought by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU) as part of the dispute settlement procedure in the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance Enterprise Bargaining Agreement 2012.

Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council Arthur Rorris has stepped down from his union position to stand as an independent for the seat of Wollongong in the NSW State election on March 28. The seat is held by ALP right-wing factional leader Noreen Hay.

Rorris lives in the electorate and has been a member of a local ALP branch for many years. Yet when he and other long-time local ALP members attended the Wollongong preselection ballot in December, they were not only denied a vote but physically escorted from the premises where the ballot was taking place.

“The ABC is trying to destroy Tony Abbott,” reads the first line of Andrew Bolt's whistle-blowing expose, entitled “Bias against Tony Abbott is truly sickening”, that was published in several Murdoch tabloids on February 19.

And I suppose that's what these overpaid ABC bludgers living off our hard-earned tax dollars have the gall to call a “job”! Destroying Tony Abbott? I've had more taxing naps.

Grandmothers Against Removals National Committee and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy released this statement at a rally in Canberra on the anniversary of the National Apology on February 13.

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Today we march in protest against the unprecedented theft of Aboriginal children from their families by so-called “Child Protection” agencies across Australia.

At the G20 meeting held in Brisbane last December, Treasurer Joe Hockey unveiled his blueprint for the Australian economy. It came in the form of a document grandiosely titled The Comprehensive Growth Strategy.

This was Australia’s contribution to the G20’s strategy to raise their overall economic output by 2% over the next five years.

So it must have come as a surprise to cigar-smoking Joe that when the IMF and OECD looked at the fine print of his document and reached for the abacus they concluded that it would, if implemented, add only 1.2% to economic output.

On February 9, the Grandmothers Against Removals joined a national sit-in protest at Parliament House in Canberra.

This group of Aboriginal women has campaigned tirelessly to raise the issue of what they call the “Stolen Generation of the 21st Century”. Despite the official policy of child removals being over, Aboriginal children are today placed in “out of home” care at record rates.

Australia has a poor record on native animal extinctions. We know that native forest is essential habitat for koalas and other wildlife. Yet, knowing how important the preservation of sufficient, suitable habitat is to sustaining endangered wildlife, we still continue to destroy vital native vegetation and old growth forest.

The dire situation for koalas around Ballina, NSW, is in the spotlight again. A critical colony of more than 200 koalas is at risk of extinction in the region if Stage 10 of the Pacific Highway upgrade goes ahead.

Culture

Here's this month's radical record round-up, from songs for warriors to chants for socialists. What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment below, on Twitter or Facebook.

1. WAR ON WOMEN
- WAR ON WOMEN

50 Shades of Grey
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring Dakota Johnson & Jamie Dornan
Based on the novel by EL James
In cinemas now

Perhaps the most concerning thing about 50 Shades of Grey is not that it is a film adaptation of a novel that was written in an online forum — and a Twilight fan forum at that.

Selma
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo & Common
In cinemas now

The release of Selma could not be better suited to the current US political climate. Following the events in Ferguson last year, and many other tragic instances of police murdering and brutalising African American youth, a large anti-police brutality and anti-racism movement has arisen that is shaking the US.

Fighting Fund

On February 11, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, was tabled in parliament. The report looked at the effect on children of being locked up in detention centres in Australia and Christmas Island but not Nauru.

The report reveals that 34% of the children have mental health disorders so severe they need psychiatric support. This compares to 2% in the general population.