Issue 1139

Australia

The Victorian Labor government has announced its plans for restructuring Victoria's fire services.

Currently, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade covers only part of the Melbourne metropolitan area, while the Country Fire Authority (CFA) covers not only rural areas but also regional cities and many of Melbourne's suburbs.

The proposed law would create a new body, Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), which would cover the whole Melbourne metropolitan area and regional cities.

The Fair Go For Pensioners coalition organised a rally on May 24 in response to the federal budget’s significant new restrictions for those on Centrelink payments, including older Australians.

Their main concerns are with the change to the pensioner assets test, attacks on Medicare, the threat to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and a reduction on the right to overseas travel. The rally also addressed issues faced by the unemployed on Newstart, those on disability support and single parents.

Residents across south-west Western Australia reacted angrily to a state government admission that unconventional gas exploration and mining could still go ahead despite an election promise to ban fracking in the state.

On the evening of May 22, more than 300 residents packed out Balmain Town Hall for a public meeting on the NSW Liberal government's proposed Western Harbour Tunnel toll road. This proposed 6km tunnel will connect to the fiercely contested WestConnex tunnel interchange in Rozelle going under the Balmain peninsula, then under Sydney Harbour before connecting to the Warringah Freeway.

The meeting was called by NSW Greens Balmain MP Jamie Parker who condemned the project as "yet another polluting, destructive, private tollway."

Bus drivers across Sydney implemented a "fare-free day" on June 1 as part of their campaign of industrial action against the NSW government's plan to privatise buses in the inner west. Drivers from 12 depots around the city turned off their Opal Card machines and wore plain clothes to draw the attention of passengers to the threat to public bus services.

Local farmers and community members joined representatives of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance and their legal team from the Environment Defenders Office (EDO) outside the Queensland Land Court on May 31.

They were celebrating a resounding victory in their case against the expansion of the New Acland coalmine in the rich farmlands of the Darling Downs.

Big steps campaign to escalate

United Voice, the union covering early childhood educators, announced on May 27 the result of a ballot of more than 3000 educators on whether to escalate their equal pay campaign.

The union said 95% of educators voted to take action on equal pay with sector-wide walk-offs later this year.

The move follows similar action on International Women's Day, when about 1000 workers walked off the job across Australia.

The NSW Country Women’s Association passed a motion at its state conference on May 27 calling for a halt to any further “unconventional gas exploration” in NSW — a ban on coal seam gas. The motion was put by the Maules Creek branch.

It flies in the face of last week’s announcement by NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro that he wanted an expansion of the CSG industry, although not on the Liverpool Plains.

Three protesters charged under a new section of the NSW Crimes Act have pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing in Mudgee on May 17.

The “Wollar Three” are challenging the draconian new law aimed at criminalising those who protest at coal and gas mine sites. If convicted they could face a maximum penalty of seven years’ jail.

Australia's four big banks plus AMP are ripping off the country's workers with huge fees charged on their superannuation investments, a recent study has revealed.

New research carried out by Rainmaker for Industry Super Australia, a mainly union-backed body, shows that the retail super funds, largely operated by the big banks, absorb about half of all fees charged in the superannuation system, despite holding only 29% of retirement savings.

Two hundred people came from as far away as Gympie, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba to join a Thursday morning protest outside Queensland parliament. The protest was against the proposed Adani coal mine in the Galilee basin.

World

Government-sanctioned mass killings in Gambella in Ethiopia by South Sudanese forces, which decimated the Anuak Tribe in January last year, is a clear example of the second wave of atrocities of the maleficient rulers towards the forgotten people of the African Horn.

What seemed at first to be a depressing and predictable British election, with the hard right Tories under Prime Minister Theresa May set for a larger majority, has become a fascinating election contest.

Labour’s support has surged to the point where something unthinkable just weeks ago — a Jeremy Corbyn prime ministership — is now at least an outside chance.

In the face of ongoing attempts to violently depose the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro, the Socialist Alliance reaffirms its support and solidarity with the Venezuelan people, their government and the Bolivarian revolution.

Contrary to claims by the corporate media and right-wing governments in the region, Venezuela is not witnessing a peaceful protest movement for democracy but rather its opposite: a counter-revolutionary wave of violence that seeks to provoke greater bloodshed, and potentially, an international intervention.

The hunger strike launched in April by more than 1500 Palestinian prisoners ended on May 27 when the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) agreed to key concessions to improve the prisoners’ conditions.

The announcement of the end of the 41-day hunger strike, coinciding with the start of Ramadan, was greeted with relief and joy by prisoners’ families and supporters across Palestine and the world. By the time the deal to improve conditions to end the hunger strike was struck, about 800 prisoners were still participating.

A new influenza pandemic is quite possible, according to a study by researchers at the University of NSW’s School of Public Health. The study notes that 19 different influenza strains have affected humans in the last 100 years, but the speed with which new strains have emerged has increased over the past 15 years. There have been seven new strains in the past five years alone.

As security forces repressed anti-government protests in the capital, a military police operation to break up a protest camp left 10 civilians dead, with witnesses claiming they were killed execution-style.

None of this made it into the international media however, because it happened in Brazil, not Venezuela.

Less than a year after being installed in power via a constitutional coup, the government of Brazilian President Michel Temer is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Plagued by corruption scandals – the same pretext used by the right-wing controlled judiciary and parliament to topple centre-left president Dilma Rousseff – and popularity figures in the single digits, the Temer regime is now facing a growing revolt from below demanding “direct elections now!”

The Organisation of American States (OAS) and its current secretary general Luis Almagro has pursued policies that aggravate the current crisis in Venezuela.

Rather than providing a way to help mediate the bitter conflict in Venezuela, Almagro has joined one side.

The position of the OAS sadly reflects the longer history of the organisation.

Two murders and an attempted murder in Portland, Oregon, on the first day of Ramadan (May 26), by a white racist are the latest in a string of hate crimes inspired by President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric and actions since he took office.

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of hate crimes, told Democracy Now! on May 30: “President Trump, whose words in the campaign unleashed against immigrants, against Muslims and others, unleashed a wave of hate crimes and bias incidents, especially right after the election.

According to data from a new report, Venezuela and Uruguay have the most equal wealth distributions in Latin America, while Colombia and Guatemala are the most unequal nations.

The report was published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), which is a United Nations regional commission based in Santiago, Chile.

As of 2015 Venezuela and Uruguay each have Gini coefficients (used to measure inequality in which 0 represents the absence of inequality and 1 a maximum) of 0.40 or less, compared to the continent's average of 0.469.

Colombia’s national teachers’ strike marked three weeks on June 1 as tens of thousands of education workers continue to pressure the government to respond to their demands for better working conditions, higher salaries and more investment in public education.

In the latest mass protest, about 300,000 teachers took to the streets on May 31 to call attention to education issues in major cities across the country, including Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Bucaramanga and Barranquilla.

A rebellion has been raging in Buenaventura - Colombia’s largest port city - since May 16, when residents decided to embark on massive anti-government marches to demand an end to chronic state neglect and abandonment, corruption, crime and armed conflict.

The government’s inability to attend to protesters’ demands has only spurred an escalation of protests that has not shown signs of calming, even though the mayor’s office issued a decree declaring a curfew and a ban on public demonstrations.

Filipino police and military forces in the small city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf criminal gang, on May 23. By the end of the day, President Rodrigo Duterte’s government had declared martial law throughout the island for 60 days and launched a military assault.

By June 2, that ongoing assault, including air strikes, had killed at least 160 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

This dramatic escalation represents the further slide of Duterte’s administration towards authoritarian rule and a betrayal of his election campaign promise to pursue a negotiated end to Mindanao’s multiple insurgencies.

After 40 days without food, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have suspended their hunger strike in Israeli jails.

The end of the strike came after 20 hours of intense negotiations between the strike’s leaders, including imprisoned Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti, and the Israel Prison Service, according to a statement issued on the morning of May 27 by the prisoners solidarity committee.

An eco-socialist and international coordinator for the Greens Party of England and Wales, Derek Wall is challenging Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May as the Greens candidate for May’s seat of Maidenhead under the slogan “Make June the End of May”.

Campaigning against racist migration controls, austerity and May’s support for fox hunting is giving Wall’s campaign traction, and it enjoys strong support from the Kurdish community.

The following statement was released by Filipino socialist party Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) on May 25 in response to the government's May 23 declaration of martial law in Mindanao for a 60-day period.

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By Peter Boyle

Since 2011, a Remembrance Day commemoration of the 2009 massacre of Tamil liberation fighters and their famiies in Sr Lanka has been held in Chennai's Marina Beach in the form of a mass candle-light vigil. But this year, the police violently dispersed the crowd and arrested several leading Tamil human rights activists, including Thirumurugan Gandhi , Daison Jose , Ilamaran and Arun. 

Analysis

Rosie Scott, the well-known writer and human rights supporter, died on May 4, after a long battle with cancer. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1948, she was the author of seven books of fiction, beginning with the collection of poetry, Flesh and Blood, in 1984.

In 1988, she published her first novel, Glory Days, which depicted the lives of Auckland social fringe-dwellers. The last of her seven works was Faith Singer, published in 2003, which explored the tumultuous world of the people who dwelt in Sydney's Kings Cross.

Unionists held a protest in favour of penalty rates on May 27 outside the Liberal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson’s Geelong office. Adele Welsh, a social worker and member of the Australian Services Union and Geelong Trades Hall Executive, gave this speech at the protest.

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For the briefest of moments — and to everyone's great surprise — it seemed like the Queensland government was finally going to do one thing right in relation to the Adani coalmine.

This statement was posted on the National Tertiary Education Union website on May 30. The author, Adam Frogley is NTEU National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator and a Taungurung man from the Kulin Nations.

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In a recent public discussion, campaigners against WestConnex — the huge motorway and tunnel project in Sydney — were challenged to sum up their case against WestConnex in three sentences. “Start with what the proponents of WestConnex say will be the benefit of the project then say what is wrong with it.”

There were half a dozen seasoned anti-WestConnex activists in the room and each came back with much more than three sentences.

A conference on the Rojava Revolution will be held as the struggle in northern Syria enters perhaps its most critical phase.

“The Rojava Revolution in Northern Syria: An experiment in radical democracy, feminism & ecology” will be held in Melbourne on June 30 and July 1. The event aims to inform participants about the revolutionary process, to discuss the problems it faces and to build support for it.

On May 30, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the first of the “coalition of the willing” to declare he would support US President Donald Trump’s request for more occupying troops in Afghanistan. Sydney Stop the War Coalition issued this statement which is abridged below.

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Sydney Stop the War Coalition opposes the Turnbull Coalition government’s decision to take up US President Donald Trump’s request and send more Australian troops to the quagmire in Afghanistan.

The Australian Refugee Action Network (ARAN) held its inaugural conference on May 20-21 at the Australian National University in Canberra. It brought together more than 150 activists and representatives of 48 refugee advocacy and activist groups from around the country. 

Participants included a large number of activists from Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) groups. RAR held its own national meeting over the conference, and elected a new leadership. The proposal to form ARAN came out of discussion at last year’s RAR conference.

French economist Thomas Piketty argued in his bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that capitalism arose from feudalism and is in many ways reverting to it.

Resistance!

In March last year, I ended an 18-month relationship that had become a physical and emotional torment. Although more than a year has passed since then, the harsh reality is that I — like so many other women — have been harassed my whole life simply because I was born female.

In Year 5, I was a topic of conversation among my male classmates because I was the first girl in class to start wearing a training bra. They would snap my bra straps every chance they got.

Culture

The Case Against Fragrance
Kate Grenville
Text Publishing, 2017
198 pages

The fragrance industry really gets up Kate Grenville’s nose. 

The Australian novelist has gradually worked out that artificially-scented consumer products, from high-end perfume to toilet cleaner, were the cause of her debilitating headaches and wooziness.

Larte-se
Directed by Lygia BarbosaEliane Brum
Netflix

A documentary that premiered on Netflix on May 19 explores the life of a Brazilian transgender cartoonist who says she wants to break taboos surrounding her gender identity.

Refugee Art Project is a not-for-profit community art organisation that holds art workshops for asylum seekers and refugees — both within the Villawood detention centre and in its studio in north Parramatta. Eila Vinwynn spoke to Safdar Ahmed, who founded the group about its work and aims.

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With less than two weeks until the June 8 general elections, a song about Tory leader Theresa May reached the Top 10 in the download chart. Yet the official chart shows on radio stations Capital FM and Heart have refused to play it. 

Performed by Captain Ska, “Liar, Liar GE2017 can be downloaded for £1 or less, with proceeds split between food banks and campaign group the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

Fighting Fund

What is it with ex-state premiers and the finance industry?

First, Anna Bligh took on the leadership of the Australian Bankers Association (ABA), then Mike Baird moved to NAB in a senior executive role, and now Nathan Rees has become the national assistant secretary of the Finance Sector Union.

Good news (for a change)

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews apologised on May 25 to the state’s Chinese community for the racism and unjust policies their ancestors endured during the gold rush era.