Issue 1130

News

About 100 students from universities across Australia and New Zealand shared campaign stories and made plans for the year ahead at the Fossil Free Convergence in the Blue Mountains in NSW over March 10–13.

Organised by 350.org, the convergence brought together fossil fuel divestment groups from universities across Australia and New Zealand, including the Australian National University, University of Auckland, University of Queensland, Melbourne University, RMIT, University of Newcastle and University of New South Wales — which brought 25–30 people to the conference.

It was fitting that Resistance Books’ new publication, Sustainable Agriculture versus Corporate Greed: Small Farmers, Food Security & Big Business, was launched in the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale on March 8.

Co-author Alan Broughton, a well-known figure in the local Organic Agriculture Association, gave a short but hard-hitting presentation at the local library.

He explained that agribusiness might be thriving but many smaller family farmers are doing it tough. Their financial situation is precarious.

"First Melbourne's East-West Tunnel was stopped by people's power, now the Roe 8 has been stopped in WA. Next to go, WestConnex?" Peter Boyle, an activist in the Newtown Residents Against WestConnex, said on March 13.

He was commenting on the decision by the new Labor premier of Western Australia, Mark McGovern, to order the suspension of all work on the Roe 8 section of the Perth Freight Link after the March 11 state election, which saw the Barnett Liberal government decisively thrown out of office.

The CSIRO will spend $29.7 million on a three-year project to conduct an assessment, separation and treatment of radioactive waste at a CSIRO facility located on Department of Defence land near Woomera, South Australia. The Woomera facility is one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

The misogynist Fred Nile has opportunistically seized the moment — provided by Tanya Davies, the new NSW “pro-life” minister for women — to reintroduce a bill to give foetuses legal rights.

Nile, a NSW MLC, introduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017 on March 9. The wording is the same as his last attempt.

Nile first tried to push his anti-choice law in 2010. He managed to get it through the Legislative Assembly in 2013 (63 votes to 26) with Davies’ support. 

Widespread community opposition has reportedly pushed the NSW Coalition government to prepare to back down on its plan to move the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo westward to Parramatta.

The Inner West Courier reported on March 7: "Well-placed sources revealed last week the government believes taking down the current Powerhouse and selling the land to developers is so unpopular that it has decided to can the move."

Opposition is growing to the NSW Coalition government’s move to privatise the state-owned land registry, the Land and Property Information office (LPI). Sources inside the LPI are increasingly alarmed at the government’s rush to sell the office as community concern mounts against the sale itself.

Taxpayers will subsidise the clean-up costs of oil spills in the Great Australian Bight under the terms of the controversial Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.

Treasury officials have confirmed that clean-up costs for oil spills from exploration wells would be classified as “exploration expenditure” under the PRRT regime, meaning they would be tax deductible for oil companies and could be held over and “uplifted” into future years at an annual rate of 17.5%.

A group of Brisbane grandparents occupied the South Brisbane headquarters of Queensland Labor for 10 hours on March 6. The Grandparents for the Galilee came prepared with food and bedding, vowing to stay until Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk signed a legal letter rejecting the proposed $1 billion loan to Adani.

A Federal Court judge has blasted the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for wasting time and taxpayers' money on taking two Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.

Justice Tony North said on March 10 it was “astounding” that the ABCC had conducted days of hearing with dozens of participants over two years for “such a miniscule, insignificant affair”.

For the first time scientists have cured Tasmanian devils suffering from the deadly devil facial tumour disease by injecting live cancer cells into infected devils to make their immune system recognise the disease and fight it off.

Five devils with the disease were treated using the technique over six years, and three survived.

Can the political debate about Australia's “energy crisis” get any more weird?

Friends of Victoria University and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) organised a protest outside the university’s Flinders Street campus during a Victoria University (VU) council meeting on March 14.

The protest was in response to plans by VU’s management to sack 115 academic staff affecting undergraduate courses in the creative industries, marketing, communication, and professional and creative writing. Six post-graduate courses in communication and education will also be affected.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor might be willing to support the deportation of children who commit crimes.

Australia does not currently deport minors. 

But the Joint Standing Committee on Migration is examining the screening process when people are given Australian visas and support services when they arrive in Australia.

They are also looking into whether their visa can be revoked if child migrants join gangs.

Shorten said there may be merit in changing the law.

An interim report from the Koala Expert Panel, established by the state government after a catastrophic koala population crash in south-east Queensland last year, has offered little hope for the state’s faunal emblem.

Dylan Voller joined a small crowd protesting against the conditions in NT detention centres as the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice resumed hearings in Alice Springs on March 13.

Footage broadcast on the ABC showing Voller being tear-gassed, spit-hooded and shackled to a restraint chair prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call the inquiry.

Speaking outside the commission, Voller said he wanted to support the other young people giving evidence.

Pubs have taken Coopers beer off their taps and drinkers have vowed to boycott the beer after a political marketing stunt backfired on the South Australian brewer.

The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) called a meeting to inform residents about its housing development, the Pemulwuy Project, at the Block in Redfern on March 9.

About 200 people packed the Redfern Community Centre to ask questions of AHC about its plans to increase the size of the development. After just 25 minutes, AHC closed the meeting down as the audience loudly voiced its opposition to the radically enlarged plans.

Analysis

Greens leader Richard Di Natale raised the prospect of a “four-day work week or a six-hour day” as part of an address to the National Press Club on March 15.

This is a good discussion to be having in a country where people work among the longest hours in the world and where productivity growth has massively outstripped wage growth in recent decades.

Di Natale also flagged the possibility of a Universal Basic Income — which he described as a “guaranteed adequate income”.

Laws prohibiting the homeless from sleeping, eating, soliciting, or, let’s face it, being seen in public, are older than most modern institutions.

Today, as vaccinations are being used as a political weapon, we need to look again at the science and when, where and how they matter. We also need to question whether the punitive way the major parties are driving policy on immunisations will increase the vaccination rate.

Over hundreds of years, immunisation has been scientifically proven to prevent many diseases. It is worth examining some of the history that promoted the realisation that diseases can be prevented.

The 2017 state election marked a modest but important advance for Socialist Alliance in Western Australia.

We achieved state party registration, giving us a huge boost. For the first time in a WA election “Socialist Alliance” featured on the ballot paper — previously our candidates were officially listed as independents. Having our name on the ballot paper allows us to reach out beyond recognition of the individual candidate, and makes it clear that we are a collective project that people can support and join.

The Barnett Liberal government, which had been in power for the past eight years, was definitively trounced in the March 11 WA state election. A defining theme was the government's accumulation of $40 billion of debt despite governing through an unprecedented mining boom.

The big winner was the Labor Party, which on the back of a 9.1% swing has won 42 seats, 12 more than the 30 needed to secure a majority. There was a 15.8% swing against the Liberal Party which lost votes to both Labor and One Nation.

Will the election of former Australian Services Union NSW head Sally McManus as ACTU secretary result in a strategic shift in the trade union movement in this country? Many unionists and activists are hoping so.

The government is tightening the screws on workers and the poor, intent on further attacks on the social wage, privatising health, education and welfare services and attacking refugees. We need to fight back. Strong, fighting unions are essential to building an effective resistance to corporate power and to defending our rights.

In public policy, there are many dog’s breakfasts presented as considered initiatives. Rarely, though, are we served up such a self-contradictory, irrational and generally talentless a dish as the new “energy intervention” announced by South Australia’s Labor government on March 14.

Aimed at side-stepping conservative attacks over recent power cuts, the government’s plan makes some provision for storage back-up to underpin wind and solar. But mainly, the $550 million scheme consists of large-scale concessions to fossil fuel interests — in this case, the gas industry.

“I’d rather kill myself than return to Iran — to the hell where I was violently raped by my own stepfather. But unless immigration minister Peter Dutton urgently intervenes by exercising his discretion and allowing me to apply for a partner visa while in Australia, I’ll spend my life in limbo with the never-ending threat of indefinite detention in Australia or forced return to Iran.”

By now you must have heard. The ACTU has been taken over by a terrorist spouting, in Christopher Pyne’s words, “anarchist Marxist clap trap” about destroying the rule of law, and presumably replacing it with a reign of terror in which CFMEU thugs will drag innocent bosses and Liberal politicians to the guillotine.

World

Meals on Wheels. Teacher training, after-school, and summer educational programs. The National Endowment for the Arts. The Appalachian Regional Commission. The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations Delcy Rodriguez issued an official statement on March 14 rejecting Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro’s latest report calling for the suspension of the South American nation if general elections are not held “as quickly as possible”.

Brazilians took to the streets in a nationwide protest on March 15 against President Michel Temer's pension reform plan. "This is the first unified mobilisation this year and opens the calendar of an intense agenda that we will have in 2017 to denounce the setbacks that penalise workers, such as reforms to the retirement system and labour legislation," said the organisers in a statement.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon says she plans to trigger another independence referendum. The Scottish National Party leader said the new poll should be in 2018 or 2019, Irish Republican News reported on March 13.

“Right now, Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads,” Sturgeon said, referring to the “Brexit” vote that will take all of Britain out of the European Union, despite a majority in Scotland voting to remain.

Hiroji Yamashiro was arrested for cutting a wire fence at a protest against a US military base in Okinawa in October. He has been detained ever since.

Yamashiro, the chairman of the Okinawa Peace Movement Centre, has been a fixture of the non-violent opposition to US military base expansion on the island.

The containment of Islamophobe Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom (PVV) in the March 15 Dutch general election was greeted with relief by the mainstream European media.

Nonetheless, the election result primarily reflected a conservative and safety-seeking consolidation of the right and centre parties. It will result in a more right-wing cabinet than the previous “red-blue” coalition of the VVD and Labour Party (PdvA), and throw up big challenges for progressive politics in the Netherlands.

A hundred years ago, on March 12, socialists in Petrograd distributed the following appeal for an insurrectional general strike to bring down tsarism. That day – the culmination of the Russian February revolution – witnessed the crumbling of tsarist power.

The disarray among politicians of both major parties on display in last year’s election campaign has intensified in the first two months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Charges and counter-charges are hurled between the Democrats and the Trump administration, prompting Congressional investigations that may bring in the FBI, CIA and other spy agencies.

At 11.22am on March 10, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Lee Jeingmi announced the court had unanimously decided to dismiss President Park Geun-hye. With that, after a 92-day trial, Park’s presidency was over.

Mining companies have benefitted over the past few years from rising global demand and prices, but workers have seen little to no benefit from the boom.

Now mine workers are flexing their muscle to demand their share of the spoils.

Much has been made of US President Donald Trump’s potential impact on Mexico, but one critical story has been largely ignored in the Western media.

Coverage of Mexico in the Trump era has been dominated by speculation over the fate of the stumbling Mexican peso, the possibility of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) collapsing and, of course, the wall.

Meanwhile, a seismic shift is quietly taking place in Mexican politics: the right wing is the weakest it has been in generations, while the left is seeing a historic resurgence.

Culture

The situation for Palestinian and Arab football (soccer) players in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has, for some time, been dire.

On one side of Israel’s Apartheid Wall, within the formal borders of Israel, segregated youth teams, racist abuse, and heckling — including charming chants such as “Death to the Arabs” — are frequent. On the other, in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, checkpoint detention, jailings, and the bombing of stadiums have become regular features of what is supposed to be the people’s game.

Given the powerful role that football plays as a point of community cohesion in the West Bank and Gaza, this everyday violence feels like a full-frontal attack on civil society, normalcy and hope.

Lenin on the Train
Catherine Merridale
Allen Lane, 2016, 354 pages

The German “sealed train” that gave Vladimir I Lenin safe passage from exile in Switzerland through wartime Germany to Russia in April 1917, in the aftermath of the overthrow of Russia’s monarchy that had exiled the Russian revolutionary leader, was historically pivotal.

A look at three important new books on the growing global environmental crisis and two that mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux has penned a forceful call to re-empower the concept of feminism. In it, she calls for “another feminism” that is at the same time anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist.

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Among other things, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has recently published a wide-ranging interview with Kurdish activist Dilar Dirik on the role of women in the Kurdish struggle, the Rojava revolution unfolding in northern Syria and the rise of the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party in Turkey; and a number of new translations in the “1917: The View from the Streets – Leaflets of the Russian Revolution” series being co-ordinated by US historian Barbara Allen and Canadian socialist and Links collaborator John Riddell.

Resistance!

The so called Fair Work Commission made the decision on February 23 to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates, affecting nearly 500,000 workers in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors.

The cuts to public holiday penalty rates will take effect from July 1, however it has not yet been decided when the cuts to Sunday rates will take effect.