Issue 1128

News

The Australia Institute (TAI) said the federal government’s $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) lacks resources and lags behind other comparable government organisations in terms of process and disclosure and in operational funding.

The government has said it would “look seriously” at using the fund to provide $1 billion to build a railway to carry coal from the controversial Adani Carmichael coalmine in Queensland to port for export and for a “clean coal” baseload power plant.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) has launched a video campaign demanding the federal government change workplace laws to restrict union entry into workplaces. The animated video depicts union representatives disrupting work on resource projects.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott has also written to key senators and members of parliament, highlighting the “absurd costs, delays, productivity impacts and safety issues associated with the thousands of site entry requests resource employers now receive each year”.

The “clean coal” power generator being promoted by the federal government comes from a 2009 proposal by Clive Palmer to provide electricity to Galilee Basin coalmines planned by Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Adani.

Palmer’s Waratah Coal applied to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on February 24 to finance a 900MW coal generator that proposes to use an unproven technology: carbon capture and storage.

The plan is to bury the emissions from the coal plant in the Galilee Basin, “sequestered” in an “un-mineable” area of coal seams one kilometre underground.

About 100 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and other transport unions rallied outside the Madagascar Consulate on February 28, as part of a global campaign by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in solidarity with 43 unfairly sacked dockworkers at the Port of Toamasina, Madagascar.

The unionists were calling on the Madagascan government to take action to have the dockworkers reinstated.

Days after 21 people were hospitalised for drug overdoses at Melbourne’s Electric Parades Music Festival, and just over a month after three people were killed in Melbourne by a toxic batch of MDMA (ecstasy), a February 21 poll found most Australians support pill testing to allow consumers to know what is in the drugs they buy.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has approved moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale, despite one in five regulatory scientists quitting rather than move.

The $25 million move has sparked allegations of pork-barrelling, given Armidale is in Joyce's electorate of New England.

A Senate Estimates hearing heard APVMA staff have been working out of the local McDonald’s because no office space was available. The hearing also confirmed a new facility would need to be built to accommodate the agency.

About 30 people attended a meeting on February 23 on the theme: "How can we stop deaths in custody and hold the police to account?". The meeting was organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA).

ISJA member Cheryl Kaulfuss spoke about the death of Aboriginal teenager TJ Hickey as a result of police action in Redfern in 2004. Nationwide protests on the anniversary of his death led to the formation of ISJA Melbourne.

A new study from the Australian National University suggests that a 100% renewable energy electricity grid for Australia is not only possible, it would be a significantly cheaper option than the current coal and gas-powered network.

The study, by energy experts Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu and Matthew Stocks, proposed a mix of solar PV and wind energy, backed up by pumped hydro as the cheapest option for Australia.

A new scandal has erupted over the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway project.

The Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) announced it is considering two sites in inner-west Leichhardt for a “dive site” to be used for tunnelling between Haberfield and Rozelle, as part of the 33 kilometre motorway’s third stage. Residents opposed to the environmentally and socially destructive tollway are campaigning to reject both sites.

Lex Wotton said he can finally relax after the Queensland government dropped its appeal against a Federal Court ruling that found police had been racist in their response to riots on Palm Island in 2004.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced the government was withdrawing the appeal on February 28, “having received legal advice about the State’s prospects of success”.

A Southern Brown Bandicoot that was found injured in the Roe 8 construction site in early February has been rehabilitated and released in Bibra Lake by local wildlife organisation Native ARC.

The young male bandicoot was hospitalised for four weeks after he was found by a Roe 8 contractor with wounds to his back and rump, eye injuries and suffering dehydration.

Thousands of unionists march against cuts to penalty rates and reintroduction of the ABCC

Features:
* Ros McLennan (General Secretary of QCU)
* Peter Ong (ETU state secretary)

170 people rallied outside Queensland parliament on March 1 - the day two abortion law reform bills were due to be debated. Instead, the bills were withdrawn by the mover, Rob Pyne, who secured a promise by the government that the issue of abortion rights would be referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission.

Introducing the rally, Anna McCormack of the Womens Abortion Rights Campaign said "we're very, very disappointed about what has happened and we're more than a little angry by recent events".

Analysis

The campaign against Roe 8 and the whole Perth Freight Link freeway project has produced an unprecedented outpouring of creativity, community spirit and determination. The past month and a half has produced another phase — the Wetlands Defenders, characterised by their remarkable resilience and courage.

One of our young Socialist Alliance members, just out of high school, is currently locked on up a tree. We know she is well supported by good caring people, the people who have organised this phase of the campaign.

Decriminalisation of abortion will be referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) by the Palaszczuk Labor government after independent MP Rob Pyne withdrew his private member's bills on the issue.

The bills were due to be debated on March 1 but Pyne withdrew them the day before — to the disappointment of many pro-choice activists — when it became clear they faced defeat in the parliament.

The NDIS bilateral agreement signed on February 1 by the Western Australian and federal governments resulted in a separate NDIS being rolled out in WA. In this version, WA will pay all the administration and operating costs but governance responsibilities will be shared with the Commonwealth.

Company profits have skyrocketed, while real wages have fallen. This is the harsh reality of the class war being pursued by Australia’s big-business rulers, as underlined by the latest Bureau of Statistics figures released on February 27.

In the last three months of last year, profits surged by a massive 20%, while wages fell by 0.5%. Over 2016, profits were up 26%, while wages grew by a mere 1%, less than the inflation rate of 1.5% — effectively a wage cut.

International Women’s Day (IWD) in Australia has lost its radical edge. In recent years, it has become more about holding cosy breakfasts and receptions where female bureaucrats and businesswomen can rub shoulders with political leaders and congratulate themselves on their “success”.

These events can make us forget that IWD has a radical socialist history of women determinedly marching for their rights. And once it even helped spark a revolution.

The recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision to cut penalty rates for weekends and public holidays will deliver a windfall to big retail and hospitality bosses, while slashing the wages of about 700,000 low-paid workers.

Figures released by the ACTU put the average worker in accommodation and food services on only $524 a week and those in retail on just $687. Contrast this with the average pay of $1163 for all Australian workers and you can see just how draconian FWC’s decision is.

The misnamed Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision on February 23 to cut penalty rates will hit hundreds of thousands of casual and part-time workers. But women will fare worse because the gender pay gap continues.

The employer’s argument, that penalty rates prevent them from hiring and remaining open on Sundays, is disproved by the facts. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that despite the mining boom slow down, the retail and hospitality sectors are booming.

At ANZ’s Annual General Meeting in December last year, chairperson David Gonski asked why any corporation would stay in Australia where they are taxed "so highly" in comparison to other countries?

The response to this is that companies should be made to pay even more tax, and those which pay none should be made to pay. More than one third of large public and private companies paid no tax in 2014-15.

World

Under President Donald Trump’s new guidelines, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are stepping up raids, roundups and deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Fulfilling his promise to “take the shackles off” ICE and Border Patrol Agents, the thugs in uniform have been given the green light.

A February 26 New York Times front page article was headlined: “Agents Discover a New Freedom on Deportations, Emboldened by Trump.”

A subhead read: “Quick Shift as Officers Expand Targets and Start Roundups.”

The Kurdish-led left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which won 13.2% of the vote in 2015 national elections to become the third largest parliamentary group, has faced growing repression as the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned increasingly dictatorial. Last year, all of the HDP’s 59 MPs were hit with arrest warrants, amid mass arrests of voices critical of the government.

The killing of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres on March 3 last year closely resembles a planned extrajudicial killing by Honduran military forces with links to US-trained special forces, according to newly leaked court documents.

Caceres was a co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH).

With Ecuador’s presidential elections heading into a second round on April 2, the Coordination of Social Movements, Communities and Nationalities, made up of about 1200 groups nationwide, will support leftist candidate Lenin Moreno, Ecuador's state media outlet El Telegrafo reported.

Moreno fell just short of the 40% and 10 point lead needed for an outright win in the first round on February 19, winning 39.36% of the vote of more than 13 million voters. Right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso came in second place with 28.09%.

Ecuador’s National Institute of Statistics and Censuses reported in January that the country's multidimensional poverty rate dropped 16.5% between 2009 and 2015, translating into 1.9 million Ecuadorians who no longer live in poverty.

“Socioeconomic poverty will be fundamentally solved through changes in the relations of power … through political processes,” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said.

Preventable blindness has declined significantly in Latin America and the Caribbean through the Miracle Mission program initiated by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004.

The project was created by former Cuban president Fidel Castro and backed by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Under the program, Venezuela flies those needing eye surgery to Cuba, where they are operated on for free.

Calls to stop a government crackdown on trade unionists and garment workers in Bangladesh have paid off as the 35 activists who were arrested in a series of December raids have been released.

However, major problems remain in the country’s garment industry as the government neglects to fully comply with its labour and human rights commitments.

Late Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez, who died in office on March 5, 2013, is the most popular head of state in the country’s history, according to a new poll conducted by the independent think tank Hinterlaces.

As women around the world prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 and continue the struggle against entrenched sexism, misogyny and gender-based violence, Palestinian women are doing all that with the added burden of living under Israeli occupation.

After Turkish forces took the previously ISIS-held town of al-Bab on February 23, clashes have intensified in northern Syria between Turkish forces and local proxies occupying an enclave in northern Syria, on one hand, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the other.

The SDF is an alliance of progressive armed groups — the largest of which are Kurdish-based Peoples Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) — that is subordinate to the grassroots democratic structures of the Democratic Federation of North Syria.

Irish Republican party Sinn Fein attained its highest ever share of the vote in the six counties that make up the Northern Ireland statelet still claimed by Britain, in emergency assembly elections on March 2.

Elections were called after power-sharing between Sinn Fein and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed over a corruption scandal involving the public energy program. When DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster had refused to resign over her role in the scandal, Sinn Fein withdrew from the administration.

As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cracks down on opponents — including the left-wing, Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose 59 MPs have all been issued with arrest warrants and whose leaders are in jail — HDP parliamentary group co-chair and Instanbul MP Filiz Kerestecioğlu declared that the HDP’s women MPs would join the International Women’s Strike on March 8.

Did you know that the Trump administration almost went to war with Iran at the start of February?

Perhaps you were distracted by General Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser or by President Donald Trump’s latest online jihad.

Dr Marcelo Jose Alfonzo Rosas, who passed away on February 22 aged 66, was a committed revolutionary and supporter of Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez. He had been an active socialist since his student days at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), where he studied medicine and biology.

About 2500 workers have been on strike since February 9 at the Escondida mine in Chile’s north.

Owned by two Anglo-Australian mining giants, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, Escondida is the largest producer of “red gold” in the world. The mine extracts about 900,000 tonnes a year. This represents 20% of copper production in Chile, the country with the largest copper reserves in the world.

A funeral procession snaked its way through downtown Toronto on February 21, Now Toronto said the next day. The mourners were paying their respects to the hundreds who have died from drug overdoses in Canada this year as part of a National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis.

Culture

Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr
Lyndsey Jenkins
Biteback Publishing, 2015
282 pages

When Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton was arrested in 1909 for protesting outside British parliament, and went on prison hunger-strike, for demanding women’s right to vote, she was, to prevent an embarrassing political fuss, released early.

This avoided the spectacle of one of Britain’s best-connected aristocrats being subjected to the government’s policy of force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes.

Eleanor Marx
By Rachel Holmes
Bloomsbury, 2015
508 pages

“Is it not wonderful when you come to look at things squarely in the face, how rarely we seem to practise all the fine things we preach to others?” lamented Eleanor Marx in 1892. 

Karl Marx’s youngest daughter was to be the tragic victim of this truism, as Rachel Holmes explores in her biography that extricates this pioneering revolutionary socialist feminist from the giant shadow of her father.

“Now we’re judging people by their religion — trying to keep Muslims out,” said Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the US National Basketball Association (NBA) team Detroit Piston in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“We’re getting back to the days of putting the Japanese in relocation camps, of Hitler registering the Jews. That’s where we’re heading.”

Of course, die-hard misogynist and self-confessed Donald Trump fan Sam Newman was hostile to the AFL Women’s (AFLW) league infamously calling it “unbelievably stupid and ridiculous” on Channel Nine’s The Footy Show.

It turns out plenty think otherwise.

Resistance!

This year marks 25 years of resistance to the escalating human rights abuses of Australia’s mandatory detention laws. A whole generation has now lived under this policy and are constantly exploring new and inspiring ways of rejecting it.

One area that has not been explored, at least in recent years, and that offers a lot of potential is campaigning for university campuses to become organising spaces, welcome zones and sanctuaries.