Issue 1124

Australia

The NSW prison population has reached a record high of more than 12,700 inmates, largely due to bail refusals and an increase in assault offences.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research said the state’s adult prison population surged by 16% over the past two years.

However, the growth rate appears to be slowing and the average annual rate of growth has dropped to 3.8% in the past 12 months.

The number of juveniles in custody has been falling rapidly.

There are now 250 juveniles in custody, a drop of 38% from a peak of 405 detainees in June 2011.

Melbourne City Council sent 75 riot police to evict 10 rough sleepers who had been camping outside Flinders Street Station on February 1.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle had previously threatened to remove rough sleepers from the streets of the CBD and council officers had taken away the property of homeless people.

Alone among Australian councils, the City of Fremantle in Western Australia recognised that January 26 is a date that many Australians do not want to celebrate and instead decided to celebrate with culturally-inclusive public activities two days later. 

About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on January 31 against the Turnbull Government's new practice of sending computer-generated debt notices to people who have received or are receiving Centrelink payments.

Up to 90% of these debt notices are false. Many people have received debt notices demanding they repay thousands of dollars that they dispute owing. Centrelink staff have been instructed not to fix any obvious errors unless the person complains.

According to an Essential poll released on January 31, 40% of those surveyed believe the system needs to be “fundamentally changed”. Just 6% say it works well.

Rising unemployment, low wages, climate change, corruption, attacks on single parents, welfare recipients, refugees, asylum seekers and Indigenous people are just some of the concerns motivating people to join various protests and rallies.

Dylan Vollar released

After a family-led campaign for justice, Justice David Dalton of the NT Supreme Court said on February 2 he accepted that Dylan Vollar has post-traumatic syndrome disorder, was suffering from stress and would benefit from being released from prison.

He has been eligible for parole since 2015.

A new school funding analysis Uneven Playing Field — the state of Australia’s schools, says private schools are rapidly becoming public schools, based on the amount of public funding they receive.

The report says the argument that subsidising private schools saves public funds was questionable and for all but the wealthiest schools, fees are now the “icing on the cake”.

Residents in Blacktown, in Sydney’s west, are organising to stop the construction of an incinerator at Eastern Creek. They are concerned it will cause health problems for those living nearby and potentially pollute the Hawkesbury-Nepean river basin.

Next Generation NSW wants to build an incinerator (dubbed an “energy from waste facility”) just 800 metres from homes that will burn waste to generate electricity. 

Logham Savari, a young Iranian refugee fled from PNG to Fiji in late January. He was sent to Manus Island detention centre in 2013, after he tried to get to Australia by boat.

He suffered constant beatings and abuse and eventually accepted resettlement in Port Moresby to try and escape the horrors of detention.

But in Port Moresby he suffered more abuse and lived in constant fear and destitution, often homeless.

In Fiji he was welcomed with kindness and was staying with a family. He was reportedly happy for the first time in ages.

Dave Oliver announced his resignation as secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on January 31 after five years in the post. Vice-president Sally McManus is likely to take the role.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system, protect government whistleblowers and end an ongoing “abuse of government power” that is causing distress and financial hardship to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

ACOSS joined a wide range of charities, welfare groups, legal bodies, unions and advocacy services, which have all expressed serious reservations about the accuracy and fairness of the debt recovery system.

Santos released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on February 1, declaring it intended to develop a controversial gas reserve in Narrabri, in north western New South Wales.

Farmers, townspeople, Traditional Owners and environmentalists are opposed to the proposed gas field: an overwhelming 96% of landholders, representing 3.2 million hectares of land over which Santos holds leases, have declared their lands “gasfield free”.

Santos wants to drill 850 wells at 425 sites on about 1000 hectares in and around the Pilliga State Forest, near Narrabri.

A rally organised by Australians for a Free West Papua in support of West Papuan independence was held outside the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin on January 31.

Maritime Union of Australia NT secretary Thomas Mayor pledged the MUA’s help to grow the campaign for a Free West Papua. The rally burned a copy of the Lombok Treaty.

The West Papuan struggle continues to gain momentum as the facts about the West Papua struggle become known via social media.

“This brings pride to our people. This is a turning of the tide!”, First Nation’s activist Ken Canning told the thousands on the streets for the Invasion Day march from Redfern to Chippendale on January 26. 

Indeed, it was. 

Thousands of people, especially young people came out for the Pride march in Melbourne on 29 January.

A first nations contingent led the march followed by a diversity of community groups from high schools to unions.

Hundreds rallied and marched through the streets of Brisbane on February 3 to join the global protests against the agenda of incoming US president Donald Trump.

Speakers included: Aboriginal elder Uncle Sam Watson, Queensland Council of Unions secretary Ros McLennan, human rights activist Rema Flihan, Kamala Emanuel from the Socialist Alliance and Tim Arnot from Socialist Alternative.

The march was vibrant and included a sit-in at a busy intersection.

Other rallies are taking place around the country.

World

The Conservative party government’s plan to slash unemployment benefits for disabled people making new claims could leave some unable to afford the essentials of life, opponents warned on February 2.

Under government plans, from April new claimants assessed as fit for work will have their benefits cut by £29.05 to £73.10 a week, the same rate as the jobseeker’s allowance. The government claims the changes will help halve the “disability employment gap” and save the Treasury an estimated £1 billion by 2020-21.

An anti-Trump protest placard.

Momentum for general strike call against Trump grows

“Activists are calling for people to stop working and buying things for a day to bring down Donald Trump,” The Independent reported on February 2. A nation-wide general strike has been called for February 17 to protest the Trump administration.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on January 30 that Latin America needed to respond with a strong, united front against the anti-immigration measures of US President Donald Trump, TeleSUR English said.

Marta Harnecker is a Chilean-born socialist activist and intellectual. A former advisor to Venezuela’s late revolutionary president Hugo Chavez, she has written dozens of books on popular struggles and socialist theory.

Farmers, fisherfolk and students across the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been protesting since January 16 to protect the region’s tradition of Jallikattu (bull taming).

Usually conducted in January during Pongal (harvest) festival, it creates economic gains for farmers across the state of 70.5 million people.

Jallikattu is a 2000-year-old cultural practice in Tamil Nadu, where youth seek to hold on to the hump of a bull as a display of courage. There is evidence of this sport in the ancient literature and in sculptures across the temples in Tamil Nadu.

Uprooted Tamil families from Keappaa-pulavu in the predominantly Tamil north-east province of Mullaiththeevu have accused the Sri Lankan military of genocide for depriving them of their land.

Following a series of protests by Tamils, who face systematic discrimination and oppression, Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena was supposed to release 234 acres of lands to Tamil families last month as a temporary measure.

A trade union leader who has been in the forefront of industrial action for more than a month against Sri Lanka’s main telecommunications provider has gone missing after court orders banning protests led by his union.

The wife of M Sujeewa Mangala, the vice-president of the All Ceylon Telecommunication Employees’ Union, has lodged a complaint at a police station in the Colombo suburbs that her husband did not come home on December 29 as expected.

Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Since the January 21 inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Israel has approved the construction of 8000 new homes for Jewish Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This represents a significant rise in the rate of illegal settlement building.

There has also been a rise in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes and land confiscations, both in the territories occupied in 1967 and in those that have been within the Israeli state since 1948.

A young, white, French-speaking, Quebec-born man opened fire inside a Quebec City mosque on January 29, killing six Muslim worshipers — Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim (Karim) Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry — and injuring 25.

The six victims were first-generation immigrants who had lived in Quebec for years, some for decades. The shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, had expressed anti-immigrant positions online and was a fan of US President Donald Trump and France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Police in North Dakota arrested 76 people at the Standing Rock protest camp on February 1 as the Army Corp of Engineers cleared the way to continue construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through Native American land.

The US$3.78 billion DAPL project involves building a 1886-kilometre long pipeline to shift almost half-a-million barrels of oil a day. Its route passes through Native American land on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, threatening water supplies and sacred sites.

Vincent Emanuele is a writer, activist and radio host who lives in the United States. He's a member of Veterans for Peace and the National Writers Union. A former US marine and Iraq War veteran, he spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman about the first days of the Trump administration and the mass protests that have broken out.

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How would you describe the political atmosphere in the US after the Trump inauguration?

It did not take Donald Trump long to begin the war on immigrants, refugees and Muslims that he promised during his presidential campaign.

On January 27, he signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for at least 90 days and suspending the admission ofallrefugees from any country for at least four months, among other measures.

It also did not take long for many thousands of people to send a loud message in response: No ban, no wall, let them in!

London protest against Trump's visit.

Pressure has mounted on Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to pull the plug on a planned state visit to Britain by far right US President Donald Trump On January 30,  a petition to bar her new pal from Britain sailed past the one million mark.

The petition, which within hours smashed the 100,000 figure required to trigger a debate in Parliament , came as May faces a backlash, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leading calls for the invitation to be withdrawn.

Analysis

So the Greens’ electoral support has stalled at about 10% and the leadership of Richard di Natale is being questioned. This “dire” situation, according to Bob Brown and others, is the result of the “wrecking” presence in the Greens’ ranks of leftish Senator Lee Rhiannon and the founding of Left Renewal by radical Young Greens in NSW.

At least three of Australia's largest infrastructure investors are queuing up to form consortia to bid for the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway. CP2, IFM and the favourite, Transurban, are involved, with QIC and AMP Capital said to be likely participants.

Conservationists say the Strzelecki Ranges hold “one of the most important koala populations in Australia”, after completing surveys that may suggest a population of several thousand koalas across the region.

Surveys conducted in Victoria's Strzelecki Ranges and South Gippsland over 2013–2016 indicate a population of almost 1000 koalas in the 10,500 hectare area surveyed, koala expert Dr Steve Phillips told Green Left Weekly.

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled its report, Principles and Practice — Australian Defence Industry and Exports, in Parliament in December 2015. The report made 19 recommendations about how the Australian government should increase its support of Australian arms exports, which largely reflected the wishes of arms companies.

Condemning Donald Trump’s cruel bigotry is easy — well, OK, maybe not for the Australian government, but for actual human beings with functioning consciences.

Then again, our country is so screwed up, our government’s response to the rise of the most extreme racist authoritarian president in US history is to ask him if he’s still ok to take desperate asylum seekers we won’t help, coz we are sick of the expense of torturing them in isolated hellholes.

Sydney may be in the grip of an apartment boom, but the construction of thousands of units across the city has done little to put a lid on rents, according to an analysis of the latest rental data.

Apartment living became more expensive in Sydney in the year to September 2016, after rent increases in all but three of the city's local government areas, according to the NSW Tenants' Union Rent Tracker report.

Tenants' Union advocacy and research officer Leo Patterson Ross said: "Apartment rents are growing faster than house rents at the moment."

A sharing of culture, food and art that supports refugees and asylum seekers, including those in detention, is at the heart of the Food for Thought project.

Ravi, author of From Hell to Hell, a collection of poems and drawings from his time in Nauru detention centre, or “human dumping ground” as he calls it, first started thinking about Food for Thought the day he got out of detention.

The dairy industry is in crisis and dairy sustainability is under attack.

In Victoria — where most dairy farms are — Australia’s largest processor, farmer-owned co-operative Murray Goulburn, allowed outside investors to become members, to get the funds to build more infrastructure to take advantage of export opportunities. Murray Goulburn prioritised paying returns to those investors out of their 2016 $44 million annual profit, rather than to the farmers who supply the product.

The government has not made a mistake with the Centrelink robo-debt notices. It knows it is sending out incorrect notices.

Centrelink staff warned management the notices would be wrong and the new debt recovery system would incorrectly claim overpayments.

The Refugee Council of Australia called for a bipartisan commitment on offshore detention on February 1.

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The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has called on political leaders to urgently bring the people imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru to safety in Australia.

New Premier Gladys Berejiklian is already on the run, after only a couple of weeks in the job.

Since taking over from disgraced former premier Mike Baird on January 23, Berejiklian has managed to cobble together a new cabinet of misfits, but is already reported to be preparing to dump one of Baird's signature policies — the forced amalgamation of the state's local councils.

People across the world are rising up, angry at the failure of governments to listen to their concerns or prioritize their lives over the profits of big business.

On January 12, Perth joined this movement when more than 1000 “protectors”, as they have dubbed themselves, descended on the Roe 8 construction site to protest the state government’s efforts to build a freeway through the Beeliar Wetlands. Roe 8, which is part of greater freeway known as Perth Freight Link has ignited some of the most sustained community opposition Perth has ever seen.

Resistance!

The world has reacted in anger, solidarity and protest to US President Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration ban.

Taxi drivers have gone on strike, major corporations such as Google are condemning it and protests continue at airports across the US.

Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May, not known as advocates for human rights, are speaking up in opposition.