Issue 1133

News

The office of Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad was occupied for 11 hours on April 4 by Galilee Blockade grandparent activists. As Infrastructure Minister, Trad has the power to veto the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility loan funding to Adani (or Aurizon) for the development of rail links, which are essential for the coalmine to go ahead. 

The controversial Adani Carmichael coalmine was granted an unlimited 60-year water licence by the Queensland government on March 29. Environmentalists fear the mine will drain huge amounts of water from the Great Artesian Basin and say it is yet another example of governments giving the mine special treatment.

Thousands of people turned out to packed out and sold out #StopAdani roadshow meetings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne between March 28-31. The enthusiastic response is a tangible demonstration that the Adani Carmichael coalmine project can be defeated.

Peter Cundall turns 90

Peter Cundall’s 90th birthday on April 1 was celebrated in Hobart with “Pete’s Picnic”, a public picnic in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

Born in Manchester to a poverty-stricken family in 1927, Cundall migrated to Tasmania in 1956.

He became a household name as the host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia but his love of nature also led him to become an environmental activist.

He was involved with protests against the Franklin Dam in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory released its interim report on March 31. Commissioners Mick Gooda and Margaret White are now due to deliver their final report on August 1.

A new Amnesty International report Treasure I$land: How companies are profiting from Australia’s abuse of refugees on Nauru, has warned companies considering taking over Australia’s offshore detention centres when Broadspectrum’s contract expires in October that they would be participating in a deliberately abusive regime and would be complicit in “torture”.

Opponents of the $16.8bn WestConnex tollway project held a lively protest outside NSW Parliament on April 6 built around two demands: Not another cent for WestConnex; and No new tolls. 

The rally was called by a broad coalition of local groups opposed to WestConnex and to the new tolls that will soon be imposed on the M4 to help pay for Stage 3 of this disastrous motorway project. It featured speakers from Labor, the Greens, the Clover Moore Team in Sydney City Council and Unions NSW.

An analysis of the latest data published on the MySchool website for the Australian Education Union, shows that between 2009 and 2015, education spending by Commonwealth and state governments increased nearly three times as much to the independent sector and twice as much to Catholic schools as to public schools.

The analysis showed that between 2009 and 2015, combined state and federal funding rose by 38.7% for independent schools, 35.6% for Catholic schools and only 17.6% for public schools.

"As students, penalty rates can be your main sources of income,” Susie Elliott, a member of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), told a "Save our penalty rates: Hands off our pay," rally in Pitt Street Mall on April 2.

“Often, you can't work during the week because of classes, and you'd rather be doing something else on a Sunday, but you need the money to buy food. That's why we need penalty rates. This system should be working for the people, not the big corporations."

A packed audience listened as young Aboriginal women spoke about the rise of the Aboriginal rights movement and the struggle for Treaty at the Redfern Community Centre on March 22. Chaired by Jeff McMullen, the discussion was held as the federal government organises an Indigenous-led Referendum Council meeting to be held in Uluru in May.

Lynda-June Coe from Fighting in Solidarity Toward Treaties (FISTT) opened the forum by saying Treaty was the way forward and land rights were key.

Independent Member for Cairns Rob Pyne has called on the Queensland state government to establish a state-owned insurance office to ease the increasingly unaffordable home insurance premiums in Queensland.

President Ashraf Ghani’s first visit to Australia prompted a sizable protest on April 3 among the Australian Hazara community amid claims of institutional discrimination against Hazaras in Afghanistan.

Numbering thousands, peaceful protesters gathered from across the country and demanded from the Afghan President equality, fair distribution of resources, and an end to governmental discrimination.

Victorian teachers, education support staff, academics, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will take action over the first week of May to support refugees who have been detained by the Australian government.

The “Bring them Here” action will involve four groups of unionists wearing T-shirts to work and elsewhere. The four unions will also hold a rally in the CBD.

The action was initiated by Teachers for Refugees (TFR), a rank-and-file group within the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU).

Since March 22, refugee activists have maintained watch at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney to stop the deportation of Saeed (not his real name), a 60-year-old Iraqi man.

Below is a photo essay by Zebedee Parkes.

Read more about the campaign here and follow the Facebook page here.

Analysis

“Brexit” and the recent US presidential election are symptoms of the crisis capitalism has wrought. People are hurting and it has become obvious that instead of “trickle down” we have, in Arundhati Roy’s words, “gush up”. Even mainstream media carry articles suggesting neoliberalism has had its day.

Foreign Correspondent disappointed with “Venezuela Undercover”, a good-looking but trivial piece of “investigative journalism”.

The 30-minute documentary by reporter Eric Campbell and producer Mike Davis was first screened on ABC on March 21.

It begins by asserting that Venezuela is, today, a “disaster”, though very little in the documentary is offered that might allow the viewer to understand why.

According to federal government ministers, Medicare is unsustainable. The aged pension is also unsustainable. The NDIS is unsustainable. Many other social services are unsustainable. However, billions of dollars of tax cuts to big Australian companies are perfectly sustainable.

In the short term, the government will be stealing $5.2 billion from the public purse and handing it over in the form of tax cuts to companies with an annual turnover of up to $50 million. In the medium term the cuts go further and will cost $24 billion.

Below is an open letter to ABC’s Foreign Correspondent by Eulalia Reyes, a Venezuelan activist and Brisbane co-coordinator of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network. It was written in response to March 21 program titled “Venezuela Undercover”.

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As a Venezuelan that has once again had to endure being insulted by you presenting my country as on the brink of disaster and Venezuelans as bring incapable of liberating ourselves from this situation, I am writing to demand respect for my country and its people. 

"The NSW land titles registry's $190 million-a-year revenue stream could soon start flowing towards the Cayman Islands," the Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 3.

A Fairfax Media investigation found that “behind the newly created companies that may house Land and Property Information are an array of foreign players, a mysterious trustee, and business links to tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man.”

As if the decision to cut the penalty rates of around 700,000 low paid workers in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors wasn’t enough, restaurant bosses are now opposing any increase to the minimum wage.

As immigration minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull boast in front of a wall of Australian flags about how they have stopped the boats and saved lives at sea, the Australian Navy is turning boats back to danger.

US immigration officials have admitted it is possible that no one from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres will be resettled in the US. Meanwhile, Australian border force officers have been ramping up deportations on Manus Island.

The Socialist Alliance released the following statement on April 7.

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Socialist Alliance condemns the unilateral use of force by US President Donald Trump against Syria on April 7. 

The pretext for Trump's missile attack was a deadly chemical attack on civilians, which the US has blamed on the Bashaaar al Assad regime, rather than await the outcome of an investigation into who was responsible.

If we apply for a loan, we are subject to financial interrogation and if it looks like we will not be able to repay it the lender will not take the risk. It is reasonable to assume the same strict conditions apply when mining companies wish to buy or lease our land.

The National Union of Students organised national actions for Free Education and against staff cuts and fee hikes on March 23. I was at the action and it made me reflect on Germany's free education. 

I spent my gap year in Germany. I decided to enrol in a German course to improve my language skills. I expected to have to pay for this course as I was used to paying for my education in Australia. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the course was completely free, as long as you were planning to be an immigrant.

When the federal government needed advice on the terms of a $2 billion loan to the NSW government for its WestConnex tollway, it outsourced the advice to the private sector. With the increasing privatisation of public service, there was nothing unusual about that.

What was surprising is that the companies it chose were already heavily involved in working on WestConnex for the NSW government.

The NSW government wanted the $2 billion concessional loan for Westconnex Stage 2 and a massive interchange next to Sydney Park in St Peters.

World

Presenting himself as a genuine alternative to the far-right candidate National Front and free-market candidates Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron, left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon who has surged into third sport in France's presidential race, whose first round is set for April 23. The Left Party's Melenchon pitched himself as the candidate for peace and solidarity across borders at a mass meeting on April 8 attended by 70,000 supporters in Marseille.

US president Donald Trump has said an April 4 chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province that killed more than 70 people with air strikes against Syrian military targets.

Written days before the Idlib atrocity and the US air strikes, The Intercept co-editor Glenn Greenwald looks at Trump’s escalation of the “war on terror” in the region.

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The African National Congress (ANC), which led the struggle against Apartheid, has become the key political vehicle, both in party and state form, of corporate capital.

This applies to all capital — domestic and international, black and white, local and national, and includes a range of different “fractions” of capital.

Over the past two decades, it has been the fight on and over this terrain — with some for, some against, some in the middle — that has defined the ANC’s journey since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

A March 10 trial court judgement acquitted 117 workers from Maruti Suzuki’s automobile factory in Manesar, Gurgaon, India of charges of murder. Eighteen workers were convicted of minor offences.

However, 13 workers – all leaders of the Maruti union – were found guilty of murder. The Maruti workers plan to appeal the verdict in the High Court.

Why are workers being jailed for murder? The story at Maruti is a familiar one in India’s industrial scene.

Where unionisation is a crime

The US military’s top official for Latin America presented an ominous report to the US Senate on April 6 warning that Venezuela could be a “destabilising” factor in Latin America.

Ecuador’s Citizens’ Revolution is set to continue for another four years after the candidate for the socialist-leaning ruling party, Alianza Pais, Lenin Moreno, won the April 2 presidential elections run off.

With 51.16% of the vote, Moreno defeated Guillermo Lasso, managing director of Ecuador’s third-largest bank and unsuccessful candidate in the 2013 elections.

The Bolivarian government of Venezuela, together with its allies in Latin America, have repelled a serious attack on its sovereignty within the Organisation of American Unity (OAS). The attack was led by right-wing OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro, and backed to the hilt by the US government.

After a lengthy debate triggered by Almagro’s call to suspend Venezuela from the body, an extraordinary session of the OAS in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, ended on March 28 without a formal vote on the issue.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered on April 1 to send rescuers and other disaster relief experts to Colombia to help victims of a mudslide that has killed at least 154 people.

The mudslide, which overtook the small city of Mocoa in southern Colombia, left about 400 people injured and 220 missing. Mocoa was left in almost total ruin, as buildings, trees and infrastructure were toppled by muddy water and debris.

“We’re brotherly people who are there to be together and show respect for one another in trying times,” Maduro said. 

United States warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched a large cruise missile strike against government-held airfields in Syria on April 7. They fired about 60 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat air base near Homs in central Syria as the US government called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be removed from power.

Culture

Caught In The Revolution: Petrograd 1917
Helen Rappaport
Windmill Books, 2017
430 pages

In 1916-17, millions of starving Russian workers queued for hours for scarce bread, perished on the eastern front or were left unemployed in a country where the living conditions were as atrocious as the record winter cold.

British comedian Eddie Izzard was told he was not welcome at a marathon in the occupied West Bank after refusing to respect the cultural boycott of Israel.

The cultural boycott is part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign initiated by more than 170 Palestinian groups in 2005 in protest against Israel’s apartheid policies towards Palestinians

It is a remarkable — and remarkably unexpected — thing to write, but female athletes are now leading both the United States’ labour movement and the women’s movement for pay equity.

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA), which governs football (soccer) in Australia, has contributed just $10,000 to Indigenous football this year — slashing its annual funding in half from last year, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed on March 31.

Resistance!

About 100 union activists and their supporters rallied and chanted outside Macquarie Tower on April 6 to support the ASU in its campaign to ensure Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) is not privatised and is given the necessary funding for its growing work load.

Natalie Lang, ASU NSW and ACT branch secretary, spoke passionately about how the union will continue to fight for funding for the specialist sexual assault and domestic violence counselling service 1800RESPECT.