Issue 1138

News

Australian anti-racist athlete Peter Norman, who was born in Coburg and later became a trainer and player for West Brunswick Football Club, is to be recognised by the Moreland Council.

Norman remains Australia’s fastest sprinter — his Australian 200-metre record from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics still stands.

However, Norman was not just an extraordinary athlete. He also took a stand against racism and for human rights. He was the third man in the iconic photo of the medal ceremony for the 200-metre race.

Four hundred people gathered at the summit of Mt Donna Buang in the Yarra Ranges National Park on May 13 to create a human sign spelling out support for a new Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands and Gippsland.

Called The Great Forest Picnic, the human sign was 60 metres long, 50 metres wide and spelled out the words “We ♥ parks”.

On May 17, I received an email from Centrelink advising that I would no longer be eligible for the student start-up scholarship.

This means the $1035 payment that helped to pay for my textbooks, university car parking fees and other course materials will now only be available as a loan I will have to pay back on HECs.

Losing this start-up scholarship will hurt many students, with welfare payments hardly keeping up with the ever-increasing cost of living and rent.

Ninety-five year old Bill Ryan was one of about 15 protesters from the Galilee Blockade group who tried to meet mining contractor Downer’s chief executive Grant Fenn on May 16. Their aim was to encourage Downer to pull out of the Adani coal mine.

A report on the impact of youth programs in remote central Australia found that, with enough effort, they provided significant support to children, their families and communities, as well as the broader health, education and justice systems.

They also actively reduced rates of crime and drug and alcohol abuse among young people.

The report, released on May 16, examined three youth programs in Utopia, Hermannsburg, and Yuendumu.

Students at RMIT marched through Melbourne on May 12 as part of a global push for fossil fuel divestment.

After making noise throughout the university they ended their march with a game of hopscotch outside the university management offices to show university management how they can make the leap to divestment.

Thanks to three years of pressure from students and staff, RMIT has introduced new investment principles which put it in the right position to divest.

While this is an important step for the university it still has to make the leap and actually divest.

Newcastle Uni cuts ties with Broadspectrum

The University of Newcastle will cut its controversial $88 million contract with Broadspectrum, the company responsible for running Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

A university spokesperson confirmed it had “reached agreement” with Broadspectrum to “progressively transition out of the current maintenance and facilities services contract before the end of the year”.

NSW Coalition MPs voted down a bill, 35 to 45, on May 11, that mandated registered nurses in residential aged care facilities. Labor, the Greens, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, as well as Independents Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper supported the bill.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association’s Brett Holmes said the government’s decision was “shameful” because not having skilled nurses in nursing homes would mean that the quality of care provided to some of the state’s most vulnerable would deteriorate.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) dropped its landmark case against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and seven crew members of the Tandara Spirit on May 15.

The case related to alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act when the MUA and the seafarers failed to comply with orders from the Fair Work Commission in late 2014.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the FWO pulled its investigation after wasting the time and resources of the union and putting the workers through unacceptable stress and anxiety.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has called for jail terms for employers who deliberately underpay their staff.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said this was “wage theft” and it was time to treat bosses with the same rules as employees.

The call follows a string of scandals at franchise operators 7-Eleven, Caltex, Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut, where employees have been underpaid by tens of millions of dollars. 7-Eleven has so far paid out $90 million for non-payment of wages while Caltex has set up a $20 million fund to repay their workers.

Sydney bus drivers walked out on May 18 in a 24-hour strike against plans by the NSW Coalition government to privatise public bus services in the city’s inner-west.

The action, which defied the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), affected four bus depots: Leichhardt, Burwood, Kingsgrove and Tempe.

Immigration officials told asylum seekers and refugees in Manus Island detention centre on May 15 that the centre will be closing, beginning on May 28 and completely shut down by October 31. This comes after a PNG supreme court last year ruled the detention centre was unconstitutional and must be closed.

The Australian government has refused to bring any refugees to Australia and is widely reported to be pressuring them to accept deportation with threats and bribes.

Bylong Valley, near Mudgee in NSW, is a tranquil and secluded village. It is listed by the National Trust as a Landscape Conservation Area because of its stunning beauty and abundant prime agricultural land. But its tranquillity is under threat.

The Victorian Labor government is considering a restructure of Victoria's fire services, according to a report in the May 9 Herald Sun.

Victoria has two fire services — the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA). The boundaries between the zones covered by these two bodies have not been changed for many years. With the expansion of Melbourne, many outer suburbs are covered by the CFA. So too are large towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo.

Analysis

Twenty years after the original Bringing Them Home report was released, Aboriginal children are still being taken from their parents — in greater numbers than before.

Commenting on the impact of Bringing Them Home — which documented evidence about the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children — Murri elder Sam Watson told Green Left that “it is beyond dispute that Aboriginal children were removed in significant numbers”.

“Every single [Aboriginal] family was affected,” Watson said and this “dated back to the first years of European invasion”.

Veteran environmental campaigner and former Greens senator Bob Brown has previously pointed to Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine as the new Franklin River of environmental protest in Australia. Yet the future of this “climate bomb” hangs in the balance.

The recent federal budget announced a terrible new policy — drug testing 5000 new recipients of Youth Allowance or Newstart. The drugs tested for will be cannabis, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the policy as "aimed at stabilising the lives of people with alcohol and drug abuse problems by encouraging them to participate in treatment as part of their Job Plan". At the same time, people with diagnosed substance abuse disorders have been excluded from disability benefits.

As expected, the major banks are preparing to launch a media war against the Turnbull government’s proposed $6.2 billion bank levy, as outlined in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s May 9 federal budget speech.

Australian Bankers’ Association head Anna Bligh was furious. She said a campaign was being considered, claiming the government was playing “fast and loose” with the nation’s financial system.

Artist and activist Benny Zable has been wearing a mask at protests throughout Australia for more than 30 years.

His distinctive skull-like gas mask and painted death-bringer costume, atop large black radioactive drums has become an icon of peace, anti-nuclear and environmental movements throughout the country. He is a performance artist who uses his art form to depict a chilling prophesy of nuclear and environmental catastrophe.

For millennia, women have had to contend with the ideology that because of their biology, women’s second class status is part of some “natural order”. This has been perpetuated by the state, the church, the family, and reflected in laws and through education.

But this is bullshit. Throughout many millennia of human history, women occupied a status at least equal to men’s. The problem is that you won’t hear about this reality in school, you won’t see it reflected in the media or in film.

A recent essay by Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it was both moving and frustrating.

Moving because he’s right when he says: “…a calamity is unfolding, that the life systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival.”

Runaway global warming threatens mass species extinction and the collapse of agriculture. It may bring with it the most traumatic and violent phase of human history. It’s truly scary stuff.

Newcastle Students Against Detention (SAD) culture jammed the University of Newcastle’s rebranding launch on May 15, putting pressure on the administration to cut ties with Broadspectrum which runs Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The students were leaked the designs which they parodied to better reflect the University of Newcastle’s (UON) odious business ties, and stuck them over the official ones.

The rebranding focused on the word “New”, so SAD made posters stating: “New Abuses. New Human Rights Violations. Lose Your Ethics at UON.”

Just two weeks ago, four young Muslim women wearing hijabs were assaulted right in front of the University of Technology Sydney at about 1.30pm. They were punched, one after another, by a woman they had not spoken to or interacted with in any way.

One of the women, a young student at UTS, and a recent migrant, was punched in the face and fell to the ground bleeding. A staff member who witnessed the assaults rushed to her assistance and photographed the alleged assailant.

World

For the better part of six years, Baba Jan, a founding member and activist of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP) in the Pakistani-occupied disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, has been behind bars on a life sentence for ‘terrorism’ charges. His crime? Demanding rights for Hunza’s poor and displaced.

In recent weeks, there have been some worrying developments in the Italian political scene. Extremist, anti-refugee and xenophobic ideas are increasingly gaining ground.

In a growing climate of uncertainty and social instability, all major political forces seem to be riding the wave of discontent to raise their electoral profiles, rather than trying to calm things down.

In his first hours of freedom after 36 years behind bars in US prison, Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera vowed on May 17 to continue to fight for freedom and independence while expressing solidarity with progressive movements across the Americas.

“During the years I was jailed I always thought I would return home,” Lopez said during a press conference, thanking all the progressive organisations and world leaders who supported him and worked for his release over the years.

As violent anti-government protests continue in Venezuela, supporters of the right-wing opposition have begun targeting Venezuelan government officials and their families in Australia. The actions are part of a string of recent attacks abroad on government representatives by Venezuelan opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.

A maternity hospital in Venezuela's Miranda state was attacked on May 17 as the death count in ongoing violent anti-government protests rose to 53. 

The attack comes as violent opposition protests demanding early presidential elections enter their seventh week, with new deaths being reported as opposition supporters clash with authorities, attack public institutions and state security personnel, and blockade roads nationwide. 

The Bolivian government has proposed a bill that would allow workers to take over the private companies they work at if they go bankrupt, and convert them into “social companies” to stimulate production and address unemployment, Pagina Siete reported on May 16.

The government justified the measure as part of the state's duty to protect labour rights and generate job opportunities while improving the productive apparatus of the country.

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas on May 9 to rally in support of the country’s commune movement.

Socialist revolutionaries from across the country joined the march, calling on the government of President Nicolas Maduro to endorse a proposal to provide constitutional recognition of communes.

A day before whistleblower Chelsea Manning's release from military prison on May 17 after seven years behind bars, WikiLeaks announced it had set up a "Welcome Home Manning" fund and asked people to donate Bitcoin’s in support of the soldier imprisoned for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military documents.

Manning walked free from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after former US President Barack Obama granted her clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other whistleblowers.

A year on from the parliamentary coup that ousted former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has become a neoliberal disaster and approval ratings for the incumbent right-wing government have slumped to record low levels.

The democratically-elected president was ousted in May last year without any proof of wrongdoing. Michel Temer, who then served as vice president, was installed as interim president. On August 31, Rousseff was formally removed from office.

US President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey for one reason: he was not 100% loyal to Trump. The boldness of the move was to underscore Trump’s drive to establish an increasingly authoritarian presidency.

In these almost two years of socialist government, it has been possible with the support of the left-wing parties, to reverse privatisations in public transport, restore four previously eliminated national holidays, reverse salary cuts for public sector workers, reduce the working week in the public sector to 35 hours, eliminate the surcharge on individual income tax and increase the supplementary solidarity payment for the elderly as well as family allowances and other social subsidies.

However, despite this progress, the current and future situations is not without cause for concern.

We live in strange times. A white, nationalist, billionaire businessperson has been elected president. His 24-member cabinet is made up primarily of wealthy white men, many former Goldman Sachs executives, who US President Donald Trump’s most extreme nationalist ideologues call “New York liberals.” Trump has appointed the fewest number of women and minorities to his cabinet since Ronald Reagan.

The mood in Turkey is low, and not just among those who oppose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Even some of his supporters are disoriented by developments in the country.

In the aftermath of the failed coup of July 15 last year, Erdogan orchestrated the dismissal of tens of thousands of government employees. The figures from the ongoing Turkish purges are startling.

Culture

Carol Lloyd, a gay icon and trailblazer for female rockers, died on February 13 after a lengthy battle with pulmonary fibrosis. Lloyd is best remembered for her lead vocals with the funk band Railroad Gin, whose hits include the seminal 1974 classic “A Matter of Time”, which hit number 1 on the charts.

It is rare to see such a powerful film as Brendan Shoebridge’s The Bentley Effect, which focuses on the successful struggle by Northern Rivers communities to save their land and water from the coal seam gas juggernaut at Bentley, near Lismore, in New South Wales.

The power of community is often talked about, but this film shows how it actually happened, in a powerful tale of political awakening among several generations.

Ms Saffaa is a Saudi artist currently studying in Australia. As part of her practice, she creates murals championing the freedom of women in Saudi Arabia — in particular drawing attention to the prohibitive “guardian­ship” laws.

Under these laws, women must be accompanied by a male “guardian” to do many every day activities — laws the Saudi regime slightly relaxed last month in a sign of pressure from campaigners.

Via Twitter, Saffaa’s work was taken up by a grassroots movement in Saudi Arabia and is now synonymous with the struggle to end these laws.

It is rare to see such a powerful film as Brendan Shoebridge’s The Bentley Effect, which focuses on the successful struggle by Northern Rivers communities to save their land and water from the coal seam gas juggernaut at Bentley, near Lismore, NSW.

The power of community is often talked about, but this film shows how it actually happened, in a powerful tale of political awakening among several generations.

Resistance!

In February last year, 39 universities signed up to “Respect. Now. Always”, a campaign to eliminate sexual assault and harassment on campus. But more than a year later, there are no new initiatives in place and students are asking why.