Issue 1136

Australia

Staff at the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times started an “unprecedented” week-long strike on May 3, and staff at the Newcastle Herald and Perth website WA Today stopped work overnight, following Fairfax Media's announcement that it will cut 125 editorial jobs —a quarter of its journalists.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore has announced the Sydney City Council will permanently close council-owned roads to restrict the impact of traffic from the controversial WestConnex tollway on local residents.

Yangkunytjatjara and Matutjara language speakers celebrated the first Native Title determination in the south of the Northern Territory on May 4.

At a special sitting of the Federal Court, Justice Reeves handed down a consent determination over an area of about 12,500 square kilometres near the South Australian border.

The area, comprises the pastoral leases of Victory Downs, Mt Cavenagh, Mulga Park and Umbeara, which will continue to operate as cattle stations.

The staff and volunteers at Green Left Weekly send warm solidarity greetings to Fairfax workers taking strike action against the drastic job cuts being pushed by management.

We applaud you for taking this action — deemed illegal by this country’s draconian anti-union laws.

You are setting an example of what breaking bad laws is all about: protecting people’s livelihoods and standing up for your right to a well-paid job.

There are calls for the remainder of the Warrnambool jumps carnival to be called off after a horse was killed in the first jumps race on May 3.

Two other horses fell in the same race and 40% of horses did not finish their races. 

The fatality comes after the death of Wheeler Fortune at the Oakbank carnival last month which prompted the SA Racing Minister Leon Bignell to label jumps racing “barbaric”.

"To our friends in Latin America and the world, we say: 'The Cuban Revolution will win!'" German Hermin Ferras Alvarez, director of the Asia-Oceania region of the International Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, told a public meeting on May 3. The meeting of about 100 people was hosted by the Maritime Union of Australia and sponsored by the Australia Cuba Friendship Society (ACFS).

"Thank you all for your solidarity with Cuba," he said. "It is a source of inspiration to us to receive solidarity from this far-away part of the world.

A community assembly of more than 100 people marched onto the roadway outside Patrick Terminals terminal at Port Botany on May 4 and occupied the road for three hours, halting port operations for an entire shift.

The protesters were supporting of waterside workers at Patricks who are standing up to the company's attempts to de-unionise a section of the terminal.

Members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and students held a protest outside Sydney University's Student Centre on May 3. 

The demonstration was held in the context of the current round of enterprise bargaining (EB), in which union members are campaigning for improved job security and better conditions for permanent and casual staff. Perhaps nowhere in the university are these issues more serious than in the Student Centre. 

The decades’ long campaign to take abortion out of the NSW Crimes Act is coming to a head. A Greens bill to do this and enact safe zones around abortion clinics will go to the NSW Parliament on May 11.

Thousands of submissions are being written across NSW opposing oil and gas giant Santos’s environmental impact statement (EIS) for its Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga. Before the May 22 deadline, thousands more will be written.

If the community’s views are heard, Santos’ plan to drill 850 coal seam gas (CSG) wells at 425 sites in and around the Pilliga State Forest near Narrabri — covering an area of about 1000 hectares — will be canned. 

The federal government is spending up to $18.9 million to trial the cashless welfare card for 1850 people.

Data published by the Department of Social Services show the government is paying the debit card provider, Indue, at least $7.9 million, while the Social Service Department's administrative costs are $2.6 million. The government is also spending $2.6 million on additional supports, such as drug and alcohol services.

Peter Muller, one of a handful public housing tenants valiantly hanging on to their homes in Millers Point, Sydney, told Green Left Weekly that he has been served with an eviction notice for 9.30am, Tuesday May 9. He's called on supporters of public housing to turn up in numbers at 32 High St, Millers Point.

"After me, all the remaining Milllers Point tenants are ages pensioners," said Muller, an electrician and a proud member of the Electrical Trades Union.

Video by Peter Boyle for Green Left Weekly.

Australia’s largest energy company, AGL Energy, says Australia’s transition away from a coal-powered national grid to renewables will largely bypass gas, and shift straight to wind and solar.

As politicians and the gas lobby talk about the need to guarantee supply of gas, the company founded 180 years ago as the Australian Gas Light Company, says the combination of wind and solar and battery storage is already cheaper than new gas generators.

A new campaign to “Repower NSW with clean energy” was launched on April 19, organised by the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC).

Professor Lesley Hughes, from Macquarie University told the crowd that human-induced climate change over the past 50 years meant the “Earth is warming 170 times faster now than in the past 7000 years”.

“The Rojava Revolution in Northern Syria: An experiment in radical democracy, feminism and ecology” is the title of a conference to be held here over June 30 and July 1.

A joint project of the Australians for Kurdistan solidarity group and the Kurdish Democratic Community Centre (formerly the Kurdish Association of Victoria), the event aims to spread knowledge about the Rojava Revolution and build support for it.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown and Hobart nurse Jessica Hoyt began a landmark High Court challenge to Tasmania's draconian anti-protest laws on May 2. The 2014 legislation allows police to stop protests before they even begin on business premises and access areas.

The two were arrested for peaceably protesting against the logging of the Lapoinya State Forest near Burnie on Tasmania’s north-west coast in January last year. Police dropped the charges against Brown and Hoyt after they began their High Court challenge.

About 300 people rallied outside the Queen Victoria Market on April 28 to protest the City of Melbourne’s $250 million plans to “redevelop” the market as an entertainment space and gourmet food precinct.

The council bought a prime piece of land next to the market in 2014 for $76 million. It then sold it to developer PDG for $33 million which plans to build a 200 metre high-rise tower. The council plans to use the cash to fund the redevelopment.

Racist and fascist groups have graffitied Sydney University. In mid-April, a pro-Le Pen group — supporters of the far right candidate in the French presidential elections for the virulently anti-Muslim, anti-refugee National Front — graffitied the campus.

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The Brisbane Labour Day rally was touted as "historic" and one of the largest rallies in recent years with approximately 30,000 unionists marching in Brisbane. Other rallies took place in regional centres around Queensland.

Opposition to penalty rate cuts was strong throughout the rally with most union contingents featuring signs on the issue. Queensland Council of Unions officials also highlighted the issue on the day.

Staff at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have voted to strike for a week following Fairfax Media's announcement that it will cut 125 editorial jobs —a quarter of its journalists — as part of a $30-million restructure.

Staff were informed of the job cuts by email and in a meeting with editorial director Sean Aylmer on May 3. They have been given until May 9 to nominate for a voluntary redundancy.

World

Leaders of Palestinian political party Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, released a document outlining their guiding principles at a press conference in the Qatari capital Doha on May 1.

Much coverage focused on the document’s acceptance of Israel’s 1967 boundary as the basis for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The document also includes pronouncements on how Hamas views the roots of the conflict, the role of Palestinian resistance and its position towards Jewish people.

The demands of the hunger strikers are for basic civil rights. There are 6500 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including 300 children. About 500 are being held under “administrative detention” — meaning they are held without trial by court orders that can be renewed indefinitely.

Despite the scale of the hunger strike and huge popular support enjoyed by the prisoners and their campaign for “freedom and dignity”, Israel shows no signs of acceding to any of the prisoners’ demands to end their ill-treatment.

Afghan anti-war activist and feminist Malalai Joya sent the solidarity message below to a protest organised by Sydney Stop the War Coalition against the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence to Australia on April 29.

Joya was elected to Afghanistan’s National Assembly of Afghanistan from 2005 until early 2007. She was dismissed from her seat for denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament.

At the same time as President Enrique Pena Nieto deports undocumented migrants trying to enter or pass through Mexico, his own party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is under-paying migrants and refugees in its T-shirt factory.

More than 2000 Honduran campesinos have taken over 10 farms in La Lima belonging to the Tela Railroad Company, a successor to the dissolved United Fruit Company, La Prensa reported on May 3.

The campesinos, demanding better working conditions and health care from the company, vowed to indefinitely occupy the space until they take action.

The full vote in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress on the government’s plan to reform the pension system will be delayed until the end of May, amid ongoing protests against it.

If passed, the controversial bill would cut benefits, raise social security contributions by civil servants and set a minimum retirement age of 65 years in a country where people work on average until 54 years.

The United States was the scene of three large national mass mobilisations from April 22 to May 1 challenging President Donald Trump’s agenda.  

Italian Democratic Party (PD) members re-elected former prime minister Matteo Renzi as party secretary with 70% of the votes in primaries on April 30. Renzi’s re-election carries important significance for both Italy and Europe.

“We have just received urgent news from West Papua that 200 people have been arrested and 26 tortured by Indonesian police, two days before Indonesia hosts the World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta,” the Free West Papua Campaign said on May 1.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro officially called for a national Constituent Assembly to be convened during a May Day march in Caracas on May 1. The call is a bid to bring an end to the political crisis between the national government and the opposition-held parliament.

Speaking to the hundreds of thousands of government supporters who took to the streets for International Workers’ Day, Maduro said he would invoke article 347 of the constitution to trigger the assembly, which will be responsible for re-drafting the 1999 Constitution. 

I’m not one of nature’s optimists at the best of times, and a rash of media headlines predicting a doomsday scenario for Labour on June 8 aren’t exactly good for the spirits. But how far are their gloomy predictions born out by the facts of the May 4 local election results| — in which the governing Tories won 38% (up eight points from last year's vote) and Labour just 27% (down 4 points)?

This is going to be an election based more on competing policies and visions of society than any other election for a long time. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, pointed out at the London May Day rally that this is completely different to the past two elections where the challenge was to spot the difference — elections that Labour lost.

Analysis

In April the Federal Court ordered the oil and gas multinational Chevron to pay $340 million in tax. For the past few years this company has gotten away with paying no company tax at all by claiming that it did not make a profit.

The truth is it made billions, but the company inflated its expenses by having its Australian operation take a loan from a US subsidiary with an interest rate 25 times higher than the market norm.

Toxic sites in Australia are not well known or well managed. One such site is the old Nufarm chemical factory site in Melbourne’s northern suburb, Fawkner.

The factory operated from 1957 to 1974, making a wide range of noxious chemicals including dioxins; DDT; toluline-based emulsifiable concentrate; phenoxyacetic acid herbicide; 2,4-D; 2,4,5-T; esters; dichlorophenol and trichlorophenol and arsenic-based sheep dip.  

The federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham will release a report on May 8 commissioned by the government that will allegedly indicate that universities receive adequate funding for most courses and that their revenues are growing faster than their costs.

This report will be used to justify a proposed $2.8 billion funding cut that will raise the costs of course fees and mean that students will need to repay their HECS debts sooner.

Australia’s refugee policy over the past 25 years has resulted in a detention process best described as “Hell on Earth”.

Mandatory detention was first introduced in May 1992 by the Labor government with the support of the opposition and has been marked with increasing human rights abuses including deliberate medical negligence, sexual assault by guards, self-immolation and murder.

It suffocates people’s hope, as many people have been in detention for more than four years with no certainty of ever being released.

Say what you will about the members of the Coalition government, but they have principles and they stick to them. In particular, the principle of working to destroy this godforsaken Hellhole of a planet as rapidly as humanly possible.

And so when, amid a growing campaign against Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine in Queensland, Westpac ruled out funding the mega-mine project, federal resources minister Matt Canavan did not hold back.

Today’s crisis of the established political parties and the rise of far-right political projects are linked to the long-running capitalist crisis in which neoliberalism is immiserating the working class and small producers.

Resistance!

Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham has outraged students with his announcement of cuts affecting higher education that will come in the federal budget on May 9. Speculation is rife about the impact the cuts could have on students.

The cuts revolve around a 7.5% increase in university fees. But the reality of the fee hike could be much worse.

In conjunction with the budget’s $2.8 billion in cuts to university funding, universities could be forced to raise student fees by a minimum of 25%.