Issue 1165

Australia

Five activists who scaled the Sydney Opera House roof to unfurl banners reading "Australia: World Leaders in Cruelty #BringThemHere" and "Evacuate Manus" on November 9 pleaded guilty to trespass in the Downing Centre Local Court on December 20.

They were fined a total of $20,000.

WACA spokesperson Lily Matchett said: “We face court in Sydney today for protesting the inhumane treatment of refugees while the injustice on Manus Island continues to unfold.

Two protesters from Front Line Action on Coal blocked Aurizon’s coal railway near Bowen for five hours on January 9, calling on the Queensland government to rule out funding for Aurizon.

They prevented any coal trains getting to Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal by locking their arms inside a steel barrel filled with concrete on the train tracks.

The Queensland Labor government is currently considering rail operator Aurizon’s bid for a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility loan to build a rail link between Adani’s Carmichael coalmine and the terminal.

Rail workers will stop work for 24 hours on January 29 to push management to negotiate a fair enterprise agreement. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) said on January 16 that the government and management had left them no choice but to take this kind of action.

As 2017 drew to a close the climate movement had much to celebrate. Hard fought campaigns directed at potential financial backers had resulted in Adani’s Carmichael coalmine being a far less certain prospect as one by one financial options dissolved.

With major financial institutions in Australia and overseas ruling out support for the project, Adani had pinned its hopes on China as a possible funding source as well as a market for Galilee Basin coal. In spite of the Australian government oiling the wheels for a deal, all major Chinese banks backed away in the end.

Despite appeals from the Prime Minister to keep it open, AGL has announced it will close Liddell, NSW’s dirtiest coal-fired power station, and repurpose it with clean energy.

This is a blow to the government’s pro-coal agenda, and an important step forward for the transition to clean energy and a better future.

AGL will close Liddell in 2022 as planned and invest in gas, renewables and battery storage as part of the NSW Generation Plan. It is also exploring the feasibility of a pumped hydro project in the Hunter region.

The South Australian government has approved a solar thermal power plant to be built at Port Augusta this year.

SolarReserve's 150 megawatt plant will use mirrored panels to concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver at the top of a 220 metre tower.

This will heat molten salt to 565°C, which is used to generate steam, drive a turbine and produce 150 megawatts of electricity, even without sun.

On January 13 Socialist Alliance members took the opportunity to visit the striking Esso workers in Longford who have been maintaining their picket line for more than 200 days.

The picket was established on June 20 last year in protest at 200 sacked Esso workers being offered their jobs back with a 30% pay cut and unfair roster changes.

The Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT), south of Wollongong, locked out its 58 permanent employees without pay for five days from January 7. The move is part of the company’s ongoing drive to force workers to accept cuts to their wages and conditions.

PKCT has been in negotiations with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) for a new agreement since 2015, when the previous enterprise agreement expired.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Queensland construction branch has reached an in-principle agreement that will end weekend work and increase pay and overtime rates.

The new agreement with Multiplex, Hutchinson, Watpac, Probuild and Icon complies with the federal government's building code. This prevents builders with agreements containing banned conditions, including restrictions on casual labour, union consultation arrangements and controls over rostered days off, from competing for federally-funded work.

Labor backbencher Michael Danby charged taxpayers $4574 for two advertisements in The Australian Jewish News attacking the ABC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The MP for Melbourne Ports, who has long been an outspoken defender of Israel, used his parliamentary communications allowance to fund the ads.

One advertisement accused ABC journalist Sophie McNeill of covering the eviction of a Palestinian family but ignoring the murder of three Jewish settlers by a Palestinian.

Figures released on December 28 by the Australian National Audit Office revealed the Australian Defence Force has spent $10.3 billion on weapons and military equipment from the United States in the past four years. The report estimated about half the money was spent supporting Australian Defence Force activity in Syria and Iraq in that four-year period.

The Traditional Owners of the Mount Jowlaenga area in Western Australia’s Kimberley have won an appeal in the Federal Court against miner Sheffield Resources and the West Australian government over one of the country’s biggest mineral sands deposits.

The win means the Traditional Owners have succeeded in preventing Sheffield Resources from constructing its multi-million dollar Thunderbird project on their land without having reached agreements with them in key areas, including compensation and the management of Aboriginal heritage sites.

This year marks 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent. One hundred and fifty years later a group of Aboriginal men and women met in the Australia Hall in Sydney to declare January 26 a Day of Mourning.

Every year the Invasion Day protests grow as more and more people realise it is not a day to celebrate but a day to say "enough is enough" and stand with first nations’ people of this country.

A rally of members of the Kurdish community and their supporters was held in Sydney on January 8 to demand justice for Sakine Cansız, Leyla Şaylemez and Fidan Doğan, three Kurdish women activists who were assassinated in Paris five years ago by a suspected agent of the Turkish secret police.

There has still been no adequate inquiry into their deaths and the rally, outside the French consulate, called on the French authorities to publicly investigate all the available evidence in this case.

A snap solidarity action organised by a network of Iranians brought more than 100 people together in Parramatta on January 6 to declare their support for those protesting in Iran.

Mansour Razaghi from the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People (Sydney) told the rally that those protesting were workers, teachers, women, students, nurses and many others who are fed up with high unemployment, extremism and religious tyranny.

A resolution between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) was agreed on December 15, following a 19-day community assembly at Webb Dock and more mass support planned. Union leaders have described it as an important win for workers.

Despite court action by the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) against unions and key union leaders, support for the community assembly at Webb Dock is growing.

At the annual Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) President’s Night on December 12, a solidarity motion with the community assembly was carried unanimously. The 100-strong gathering also agreed to mobilise the community on New Year’s Day 2018.

Melbourne unionists closed down Webb Dock in Port Melbourne. Photo: Matt Hrkac

On December 8, national president of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Christy Cain told a peaceful assembly of trade unionists and their supporters that every dock in Melbourne had been closed.

On that day, some 3000 trade unionists attended a rally at Webb Dock in Port Melbourne called by Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) in support of MUA members protesting the bullying, harassment and sacking of their members.

After an appeal process, described by activists as “plagued with allegations of corruption”, the University of Wollongong (UOW) has overturned the election result for the Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association (WUSA).

The elections, in which more than 1500 students voted, the biggest student participation in many years, was hotly contested between the Liberals, standing as Revolution, and a broad left group Save Our Union. It followed a year of uncertainty over whether the student union would be closed down.

Six Christian “peace pilgrims” who were found guilty of illegally entering the top-secret Pine Gap military intelligence base near Alice Springs have avoided jail time.

James Dowling, Franz Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Margaret Pestorius were found guilty of entering the joint US defence facility at Pine Gap on September 29 last year. In a separate trial Paul Christie was found guilty of committing the same offence a few days later.

A new report by Environment Victoria, Licence to Pollute: Why climate pollution is the unfinished business of reforms to the Environment Protection Authority, found the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is failing to tackle climate pollution, despite undergoing a $162 million reform process.

Family and supporters of the Whittaker family gathered outside NSW Parliament on December 6 to demand justice for Eric Whittaker who died in custody in July.

Eric died, shackled to a hospital bed. The horrific nature of his treatment in custody has only come to light because a photo of him lying manacled and unconscious was only recently given to the media.

Diane Whittaker, one of Eric’s aunts, told protesters that there had been a failure in duty of care and that people had to be held responsible for the cruelty shown her nephew.

As the decision deadline looms for the $1 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan to Adani for construction of rail infrastructure for the Galilee Basin mega coalmine, a rash of protests erupted in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and at Adani’s work sites near Belyando in Central Queensland.

More than 1500 people, including some who travelled hundreds of kilometres from the Eyre Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges, gathered outside Parliament House in Adelaide on December 2 for the Don’t Dump on SA rally.

World

From Los Angeles to New York, tens of thousands of demonstrators are donning pink "pussy" hats and marching as one, demanding equal rights, justice and fair pay in the second annual Women's March.

Supporters swarmed the streets of 250 cities across the United States on January 20 in defence of women's rights as the political crises of the past year rose to the surface in a wave of sleazy politicians, violated immigration rights and families torn asunder.

Academics and international human rights activists launched a petition calling upon world powers to act against Turkish aggression against Afrin, ANF News reported.

The main war aim of the People’s Party (PP) government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for the December 21 Catalan elections was to stop the re-election of a pro-independence government.

During the election campaign, the Spanish political, economic and media establishment even dreamed of the election of a pro-unionist administration on the back of unprecedented participation from a «silent majority» supposedly in favour of continuing the tie with Spain.

A huge demonstration of 95,000 people took place in Bilbao in the Basque Country on January 13 in favour of human rights and peace, and to support the rights of Basque political prisoners, Basque Peace Process reported on January 16.

Every Friday for nearly a decade, the villagers of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank have gathered to walk across a road to a water spring.

The water spring has long been a part of Palestinian life, but the villagers of Nabi Saleh are prevented from accessing it by illegal Israeli settlers, who take more and more land every year.

As the water spring is now for settlers only, every Friday the soldiers prevent the villagers from walking across their own land to access what was their own water.

The umbrella organisation of political and social movements in northern Syria, Movement for Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), released a statement on recent attacks and threats by the Turkish state.

Turkey has attacked the Afrin district in northern Syria, which is part of the Northern Syria Democratic Federation that is seeking to create a new revolutionary system of “democratic confederalism”.

Iceland began the new year by becoming the first country in the world to mandate that all its companies must pay men and women equally.

Trump properties around the world are facing blowback after US President Donald Trump’s racist comments about why the US accepts migrants from “shithole countries” to members of Congress on January 11.

Anti-Trump campaigners claimed victory on January 13 after the US president cancelled a planned visit to London in the face of planned mass protests.

Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations during an immigration meeting with lawmakers, saying, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

There can be no doubt that Haiti has many severe challenges, or that the cesspool of US power, and other dominant nations, are at their root.

Latin American leaders have strongly defended the world’s most impoverished migrants after US President Donald Trump reportedly referred to certain developing nations as “shithole countries”.

Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his indignation on Twitter: “To insult African countries, El Salvador and Haiti, Trump insults the world and demonstrates his opinions and politics are contaminated by capitalist racism, fascism, arrogance, and ignorance.

“History has shown that those who offend like this end up eating their words.”

Venezuela has hit back at the United States after it issued fresh threats to impose new sanctions against Venezuelan officials while attempting to derail the dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition.

The demonstrations that erupted in Iran on December 28 and continued for days appeared to have died down. There have been clashes with the repressive forces, and more than 20 people have been killed and many arrested (there are widely divergent figures).

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of cities and towns throughout Iran since December 28 in militant protests against the theocratic regime that has ruled the country since the 1979 revolution. 

That revolution overthrew a pro-Western monarchy. But while the working class was its driving force, and trade unions and socialist organisations played a decisive role, it was hijacked by the Shia religious establishment. The new regime was as brutal and committed to capitalism as the overthrown monarchy — although with a foreign policy generally hostile to the West.

Nepal’s Communists have won a landslide victory in the elections for House of Representatives of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal held in two phases on November 26 and December 7. In the 275-seat parliament, the elections were held for 165 seats under the first past the post system (FPTP), with the remaining 110 seats determined by a proportional system.

Venezuela’s socialists scored an overwhelming victory in mayoral elections on December 10, taking over 90% of the country's municipalities. 

President Nicolas Maduro’s United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV), along with its allies, have secured victory in 308 of Venezuela’s 335 municipalities. According to preliminary results, the governing socialist party managed to take 21 out of the country’s 23 state capitals as well as the Caracas Capital District.

At least 22 people are dead and hundreds have been arrested, as Iranian authorities move to quell the largest anti-government protests since 2009. President Donald Trump responded to the protests on Monday in one of his first tweets of the new year, writing ”TIME FORCHANGE!” “This is the same president who, not more than three months ago, announced a ban on Iranians from coming to the United States,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald told Democracy Now!. “He’s somebody who has aligned with the world’s worst, most savage dictators.”

The statement below was released by the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran on January 1. It is followed by a statement by the Tudeh Party of Iran, an Iranian socialist group, and an article from a supporter of the the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists. they are reposted via The Bullet

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The US State Department has endorsed the outcome of the November 26 elections in Honduras, which was surely the most farcical electoral process in recent history.

The elections were organized by US-backed dictator Juan Hernandez in hopes of polishing his image. He ran against Salvador Nasralla, the candidate of the Alliance to Oppose the Dictatorship.

In Rome on December 17, the first national meeting of Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), a new grassroots left-wing movement aiming at running for the March general elections. But the new group also aims at giving new lifeblood and a new perspective to Italy’s radical left.

As Israeli troops violently suppress Palestinian protests, the road forward for the Palestinian struggle is again being seriously discussed.

An article in the December 8 New York Times with a headline “Two State Option, a Mideast Keystone, Is Sent Askew,” begins: “President Trump, in formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, declared that the United States still supported a two-state solution to settle the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, provided it was ‘agreed to by both sides.’

As it is often the case, dictators use ideologies to control people and impose their own views, depriving the electorate from thinking, expressing, acting or reacting. Hitler did it, Stalin did, Tito did, Saddam Hussein did it. And Robert Mugabe did it.

Analysis

Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing Jon Faine’s dismemberment of the gig economy, as represented by the hapless Brent Thomas, Head of Public Policy at Airbnb ANZ, on ABC Radio last year will never forget it.  

It was excruciating. You could hear the air going out of poor old Brent when Faine pressed him on how much tax Airbnb actually pays in Australia, and pressed him and pressed him. 

There is a popular folk saying: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”.

The Malcolm Turnbull government’s hysterical warnings about “Sudanese gangs” in Melbourne certainly look and sound like a blatant case of trying to stir up a racist moral panic that can be used to his political advantage.

Extreme weather across the globe should prompt some serious rethinking on policies to mitigate dangerous global warming.

The major parties’ line that they support the Paris Accord is not good enough. The Paris Agreement, although well supported, is voluntary. More importantly, the goal of limiting global warming to between 1.5° and 2°C is still far from safe.

Denis Walker, an Aboriginal rights activist and freedom fighter who died on December 4 at the age of 71, has been described as a trailblazer, revolutionary and a giant in the Aboriginal movement.

A Noonuccal man from Minjerribah, Stradbroke Island, in southern Queensland, Walker was the son of poet Oodgeroo Noonucal (Kath Walker) and Bruce Walker.

He was a major figure in the civil rights and land rights movements of the 1970s, and continued to fight for a treaty between the Australian government and Aboriginal nations until his death.

In 2011, in the days leading up to January 26, with Australian flags fluttering off cars and used as capes, accompanied by cartons of beer, sporting excellence as the pinnacle of Australian achievement and politicians lecturing the country on what it means to be a “proud Australian”, I left Perth.

Sam Watson, a leading Murri activist from Brisbane, has been involved in Aboriginal rights struggles since the 1960s.

He is a prominent author, playwright and filmmaker, and is the Aboriginal affairs spokesperson for Socialist Alliance. A Birri Gubba man, he was previously an academic at the University of Queensland, and received honours for his 1990 novel The Kadaitchi Sung and acclaim for his 1995 film Black Man Down.

Watson spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Jim McIlroy about the issues confronting Aboriginal people.

Following the Herald Sun’s “African gang crisis” coverage about alleged Sudanese youth violence, it is hard not to assume Murdoch tabloid editors just stick on a blindfold, spin round a few times, then chuck a dart at a giant map of the world to determine who to target for their next bullshit beat up.

The inglorious implosion of Sam Dastyari’s political career has ignited concern about the influence of foreign money on Australian politics.

The Senator’s decision to resign was the only appropriate response to revelations about the nature of his relationship with Chinese business owner and political donor Huang Xiangmo.

If you’ve had the misfortune to watch former Labor leader Mark Latham’s video on changing the date of Australia Day you’ll know how desperate the debate has become.

Latham presents a world of full surveillance, where citizens live in fear of their secret lamington and lamb celebrations of our wide, brown land being discovered by the unseen politically correct police — followed by a call by Alice Springs town councillor and Warlpiri woman Jacinta Price to not be ashamed to celebrate Australia’s national day.

Imagine what countless numbers of ordinary folk went through on January 13 when they received an official SMS alert reading: "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

The false alarm was a result of a mistake made by a worker at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who pressed a wrong button.

 When flying foxes drop dead from the heat, parts of the Hume Highway melt and Penrith in Sydney’s west is the hottest place on Earth with a temperature of 47.3°C, it is clear that extremes of heat are having a devastating impact.  

The extreme heat during early January in south-east Australia was global news and follows the “angry summer” of 2016–17.

Asylum seeker Abdul Aziz Muhammad asked the ABC’s Q&A panel on December 4 in a video question why the 650 men on Manus Island are being used as political pawns in a life or death game.

Aziz, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for 4.5 years, said he had seen 6 friends die because of violence and medical negligence.

Culture

Chris Owen has produced an exhaustive history of colonial Western Australia pastoralists and the police who served their interests in the Kimberley region. It shows that, at best, they considered Aboriginal people as convenient slave labour and at worst pests who were to be exterminated.

What’s the fate of Cuba in the age of Trump? It is not an easy question to unravel, but Canadian author and journalist Arnold August provides some answers in his latest book, Cuba-US Relations: Obama and Beyond.

As a kid, the way I was taught about Indigenous people was terrible. For one thing, the understanding of the Indigenous economy and technology was non-existent.

I had this picture of people living in homes basically made of a bit of bark and maybe grass and sticks leaned up against a tree trunk. The impression was they spent their time wandering around and occasionally spearing a kangaroo or goanna for dinner.

Over the years I picked up bits and pieces of a more realistic and less insulting picture of Indigenous life, but it wasn’t really until I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe that it all fell into place such that I can maybe imagine in some detail how people lived.

One of the most hyped "events" of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, "They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way".

I first understood the power of the documentary during the editing of my first film,The Quiet Mutiny.

In the commentary, I make reference to a chicken, which my crew and I encountered while on patrol with American soldiers in Vietnam.

“It must be a Vietcong chicken – a communist chicken,” said the sergeant. He wrote in his report: “enemy sighted”.

The chicken moment seemed to underline the farce of the war – so I included it in the film.

That may have been unwise.