Issue 1129

Australia

Commonwealth Bank to repay superannuation

The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has agreed to repay employer superannuation to more than 7000 part-time workers that was not applied to overtime over the past eight years.

The CBA will repay the superannuation to all part-time workers since 2009, including those who have switched to full-time positions or have since left the bank. The average payment is $180 a year.

The CBA maintains it was not breaking the law by only paying superannuation on ordinary hours to part-time staff rather than extra hours or overtime.

An Essential poll released on March 7 found 56% of voters disapprove of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates in the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy industries, while 32% approve.

Asked what would be the result of the cuts, 57% said businesses would make bigger profits; only 24% thought more people would be employed.

On whether the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, 51% said yes while 31% said it should accept the decision.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said on March 7 it feared the system’s treatment of welfare recipients was scaring individuals away from exercising their right to claim income support.

Speaking as the Senate inquiry into the Centrelink debt recovery system began, ACT ACOSS Director Susan Helyar described the system as an abuse of government power that was undermining confidence in public administration.

“Some of our members have wondered whether individuals are being encouraged to stay out of the welfare system,” she said.

The V8 Supercars race through Newcastle East will leave behind a trail of destruction even before the checkered flag goes down next November.

Former Liberal leader Mike Baird and Labor Party mayor Nuatali Helms announced that the race would be held in Newcastle late last year following not very transparent negotiations.

The apparent secrecy has continued and residents are still asking how they are supposed to live with high speed racing just outside their front doors.

More than 300 people demanded answers to these questions at a rally on March 5.

The West Papuan Friendship Mural in the Darwin CBD, which has become a poignant symbol of solidarity between the people of West Papua and Australia, was half painted over on March 4 after strong pressure from the Indonesian Consulate.

The mural was painted in June 2015 as part of a week of action in solidarity the West Papuan struggle for independence from Indonesia.

United Firefighters Union (UFU) members working in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) have voted overwhelmingly for a campaign of bans in support of their enterprise agreement campaign.

The Corporate and Technical Division includes non-firefighting employees of the MFB, such as payroll and finance staff and computer technicians.

Sex workers and their allies rallied for law reform and an end to stigma in Brisbane on March 8. It was the first public rally held by Respect Inc, a peer-led rights and support organisation for sex workers. Twenty people wearing red, holding signs and displaying red umbrellas gathered in Queens Garden and marched to Parliament House.

Speaking out against Queensland's 17-year-old sex work laws and chanting, “Nothing about us without us,” workers demanded the Labor state government consult with them to ensure legal changes that would decriminalise their work.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has signed new work arrangements with Japanese energy giant Inpex covering the $34 billion Ichthys LNG project, off the north-west coast of Western Australia.

They include the implementation of a diversity program, the promotion of Australian crews on certain support vessels and an enhanced dispute settlement process with a dedicated conciliator to help resolve potential disputes.

Workers locked out of Parmalat's Echuca dairy processing plant since January 18 resoundingly rejected the factory's latest EBA offer.

The workers voted 67 to 1 against the unfair offer on March 3.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union food secretary Tom Hale said the deal failed to address a large number of concerns relating to wages, leave, redundancy and contractor agreements.

More than 1000 early childhood educators walked off the job at 3.20pm on March 8 as part of a national action to protest gender pay inequality and a lack of government funding for the industry.

Dozens of childcare centres closed mid-afternoon to support the national campaign, which follows similar actions held on the same day last year.

Thousands of unionists attended protests around the country on March 9 in opposition to the federal government's new building code, the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and its planned penalty rate cuts.

The rallies were called by the CFMEU Construction Division and supported by the ACTU and individual unions. Community anger against the cuts to wages and conditions was palpable.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said it was prevented from conducting a safety inspection at a construction site at the giant Barangaroo project at Darling Harbour, where a 32-year-old worker was killed on March 1. Tim Macpherson, father of a young family, was crushed to death when a large metal beam fell on top of him at the Barangaroo Ferry Hub worksite.

MUA Sydney deputy secretary Paul Keating said he attempted to inspect the site when his union was notified in November about concerns that the barge used at the site did not comply with maritime standards.

The campaign against the NSW Coalition government's controversial WestConnex tollway is mounting. In addition to various locality groups maintaining their protests, a combined rally — “Grand Theft WestConnex — has been called outside NSW State Parliament on March 30 from 4.30pm.

The rally has been endorsed by a number of anti-WestConnex groups, and is seeking further endorsements. The rally is demanding that the $1.6 billion federal loan for WestConnex, which is yet to be paid, be stopped.

Despite the wet weather, the commemoration of the 213th Anniversary of the Battle of Vinegar Hill went ahead at the Vinegar Hill Monument in the grounds of Castlebrook Memorial Park on March 5.

A plaque in memory of Tomas O'Gliasain, also known as Thomas Gleeson, was unveiled by his widow Christine. Gleeson has contributed to the commemoration for the past 20 years and worked tirelessly over that time to keep the event going.

There have been destructive attacks on the homeless in the past year in Melbourne, but the vitriolic hate campaign and physical attacks on the street, and on squatters, has reached a deadly level: murder. 

Just before midnight on March 1, a cowardly arson attack set off a blazing fire at Kinnear’s rope factory in Footscray, which took 40 minutes for the fire brigade to control. Three squatters were tragically killed: Tanya Burmeister and her 15- year-old daughter Zoe were among the dead.

On March 7, Victoria became the first state in Australia to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the dangerous process used to mine unconventional gas. This important victory sets the stage for other states to follow.

The Victorian government has also decided to extend the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling until June 30, 2020.

Sex workers and their allies held their first public rally for law reform and an end to stigma in Brisbane on March 8.

[Photos by Kamala Emanuel. Full report here.]

A hastily called International Women's Day rally attracted around 150 people in Brisbane on March 11. Speakers condemned the state parliament's failure to pass laws decriminalising abortion, expressed solidarity with transwomen and Muslim women and pointed to the many ongoing attacks and campaigns for women's liberation. One person carrying a transphobic sign was answered by an expression of trans solidarity from the rally platform, widely and enthusiastically supported in the crowd.

World

“We were taken from Mosul to Syria. There were thousands of young girls and ISIS members in the ISIS centre we were taken to. Young girls were being raped here. Young girls were forcibly brought and savagely raped, then were made to marry [ISIS members]. Those who didn’t agree were tortured and beaten up.

“We were forced to pray and read the Quran. They wanted us to wear black clothing and cover up our hands with gloves. They would sell the women who didn’t agree to this.”

WikiLeaks has published what it says is the largest leak of secret CIA documents in history. The thousands of documents published on March 6, dubbed “Vault 7”, describe CIA programs and tools that are capable of hacking into Apple and Android mobile phones.

By hacking into entire phones, the CIA is then reportedly able to bypass encrypted messenger programs such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp. However, contrary to many news reports, the documents do not show the CIA has developed tools to hack these encrypted services themselves.

Morocco’s return to the African Union is an affront not only to the people of Western Sahara but to African people

“Water is life!” was the cry heard throughout Washington, DC on March 10 as thousands of people marched for Indigenous rights and the sovereignty of native nations, Common Dreams said that day.

President Donald Trump has signed a new executive order temporarily banning all refugees, as well as people from six majority-Muslim countries, from entering the United States, Democracy Now! said on March 7.

In contrast to the fanfare that accompanied Trump’s rollout of January’s ill-fated travel ban, the March 6 signing was a decidedly low-key event. Trump signed the executive order out of public view.

On March 8, women around the world gave themselves a day off — from the system.

Ecuador will return to the polls on April 2 after a first round presidential vote failed to deliver a decisive victory for Lenin Moreno, the candidate seeking to continue outgoing President Rafael Correa’s pro-poor “Citizens’ Revolution”.  

Moreno now faces the challenge of ensuring Ecuador does not join the list of countries in the region where the left has recently lost at the ballot box.  

Monsanto, one of the world’s biggest pesticide and seed corporations and leading developer of genetically modified crop varieties, had a stock market value of US$66 billion in 2014. It has gained this position by a combination of deceit, threat, litigation, destruction of evidence, falsified data, bribery, takeovers and cultivation of regulatory bodies.

Letter sent by Julian Assange to the XV Encounter of the Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defence of Humanity, held in Caracas, Venezuela over March 6-7, 2017.

Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, explains why his union continues to support socialist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, as the veteran left-winger faces fresh calls to resign over his alleged “unelectability”.

For the first time since Ireland was partitioned in 1921 as part of a treaty to end Ireland’s War of Independence, supporters of Northern Ireland’s “union” with the British state no longer hold a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Quito-based research institute, the International Centre for Advanced Studies in Communications for Latin America (CIESPAL), has decided against renewing its contract with the British security company G4S after meeting with BDS activists who informed it about G4S’s complicity with Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. 

El Salvador’s ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) warned the US Embassy in San Salvador on February 27 to stop supporting the country’s right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. FMLN leaders accused the US of meddling in the country’s affairs by supporting ARENA youth working to destabilise the government.

Workers in El Salvador won a big rise in the minimum wage on January 1 — in some cases doubling their pay.

But before they had time to celebrate, the multinational companies who thrive on the country’s still-low wages counterattacked with mass layoffs, judicial manoeuvres and a bid to undermine the eight-hour day.

Protest in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Women were striking, protesting, and rallying for their rights across the United States and around the world on March 8 in honor of International Women's Day.

Analysis

"Former NSW Premier Mike Baird has enthusiastically accepted a job at the National Australia Bank as chief customer officer, in order to spend less time with his family," The Chaser revealed on February 28.

"Baird has reported an exhausting five weeks spending quality time with his children. According to Lucy Baird, his eldest daughter, Baird's return has polled badly among the family, following his controversial policy of putting his children to bed two hours earlier than they were previously used to.

Trevor Grant passed away on March 6, after a long battle with asbestos-caused mesothelioma.

Trevor was well known as a sports reporter, particularly for his reporting on AFL, for many Melbourne newspapers. While the mainstream media has focused on that aspect of his life, what was not mentioned was the contribution he made to the community via 3CR, a community radio station in Melbourne, and as convenor of the Tamil Refugee Council.

Generating electricity using renewable energy is now cheaper than using fossil fuels, but mining companies, banks and governments in Australia continue to invest significantly more in coal, oil and gas than wind and solar. 

A large commercial beekeeper in Darlington Point in the Riverina, southern NSW, has been forced to pack up and move after hundreds of beehives were devastated by pesticide-drift from nearby cotton farms. It is thought the bees died due to the spraying of neonicotinoid insecticides.

There’s a new bogey man on the block.

It is credited with the rise of brazenly crude figures such as Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson. It is behind outrageous-sounding propositions like Safe Schools, anti-discrimination laws and gender equality. It is running around Melbourne, putting a tiny skirt on the little figure on traffic lights.

In this increasingly polarised political climate, political correctness has emerged as the new villain.

With the passage of the Climate Change Act (CCA) that mandates a target of zero net emissions by 2050, Victoria is formally in the leadership among state and federal governments. 

Jesse Lee* is organising the Sydney leg of the March in March protest on March 25. She lives in Sydney’s west and is the primary carer for one of her children. She has first-hand experience of the welfare cuts and the vagaries of the disability support scheme. 

Lee put her hand up to organise the Sydney march because she strongly believes that protests are important and they work. She also believes that now is not the time to be quiet.

In January, the Socialist Alliance decided to embrace animal rights when it adopted a new animal welfare policy.

The Socialist Alliance has the twin aims of fighting the capitalist system and pursuing freedom from all forms of oppression. The animal welfare policy continues that goal in aiming to better the lives of animals.

The public debate over the problems of electricity supply displays a curious disconnect. On the one hand, there is virtually universal agreement that the system is in crisis. After 25 years, the promised outcomes of reform in the electricity industry — cheaper and more reliable electricity, competitive markets and rational investment decisions — are further away than ever. 

Resistance!

A study by student advocacy group End Rape on Campus has revealed the systemic failure of some of Australia’s highest ranking universities to deal with rape and sexual harassment allegations.

Over the past five years, more than 500 complaints of sexual assault — including 145 complaints of rape on campus — were made to the university administrations of several high-profile universities across NSW, ACT, Victoria and WA:.

Of these allegations, End Rape on Campus reported that only six cases — just 1.2% — resulted in the expulsion of the alleged perpetrators.

Culture

The scene is one as old as the long history of the Middle East. A child mixes straw and dung to light a fire, some of the straw on his knee. His face is obscured by a beanie so that this child ­– not an infant but still young – could be any child.

Behind the child is a wall. Such structures are common throughout the Middle East, but it seems symbolic. The dribbles of concrete from its construction make the wall, in rural Homs, seem to weep, for this child and for Syria.

“I just don’t see how I could be living an honest, truthful life and have that in the background,” said My-King Johnson, the first openly gay recruit in major conference American college football (grid iron) on his sexuality.

The Brazilian football team El Cruzeiro wore T-shirts highlighting the many issues that women in the South American country still face on a daily basis. Meanwhile, a similar initiative was announced by the Costa Rican football league. On March 8, players did not celebrate goals scored as part of a campaign meant to express solidarity with women victims of violence.

“I’d like to call bullshit.” So declared Melissa Barbieri, a former captain of Australian women’s football (soccer) team the Matildas, on the symbolic support for women’s rights offered by sporting clubs and bodies on International Women’s Day.

Fans from Western Sydney Wanderers A-League football team distributed hundreds of rainbow flags to those attending the club’s March 5 match against Adelaide United. The move came after two weeks of controversy sparked by a banner raised by some Wanderers fans during their team’s 1-0 victory over cross-town rivals Sydney FC, which was widely condemned in the media and among many fans for being homophobic.

Professional football players are the latest sector to hold strikes in Argentina amid a struggling economy and harsh austerity measures imposed by right-wing President Mauricio Macri.