Issue 1170

Australia

Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton reported that on February 14 Moreland City Council in Victoria passed her motion calling for an increase in the Newstart allowance. This follows similar decisions by 10 South Australian local councils prompted by campaigners from the Anti-Poverty Network.

The motion called for Newstart to be increased to the Henderson poverty line. Newstart is currently $177 below the poverty line.

Pacha Guzman, a leading activist with the Venezuelan-based Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ), is touring Australia in March. Guzman will be visiting various cities where she will address public forums and meet with trade unions, politicians and solidarity organisations.

The FNCEZ is Venezuela’s largest peasant-based organisation and a member of La Via Campesina and the Latin American Coordinator of Campesino Organisations.

Less than three weeks out from the Batman byelection, Labor has yet to announce a definitive policy on Adani’s Carmichael coalmine.

Climate activists have focused their campaign on calling for Labor to announce that in government it would reverse existing approvals for new coalmines in the Galilee Basin. Labor leader Bill Shorten has responded with statements that have been interpreted as being “tougher on Adani”, but that have fallen far short of the demands of the movement which regards Labor as still straddling the fence.

About 20 people attended the launch on February 15 of a campaign aimed at countering the "law and order race to the bottom" in the lead-up to Victoria's state election in November.

The "Stop failing our kids" campaign, initiated by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), aims to get thousands of people to send postcards to Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews.

Seventy people rallied outside the Broadmeadows detention centre on February 18 to protest against the threatened deportation of Santharuban, a Tamil refugee.

Alex Bhathal, the Greens candidate for the upcoming Batman byelection, told the rally that Santharuban's life is in great danger if he is sent back to Sri Lanka, as crimes against humanity continue there and people previously deported have died.

Several thousand people from about 30 community groups and trade unions joined forces in the first mass Fix NSW Transport march and rally through Sydney on February 17.

United in anger at the state Coalition government's private tollway frenzy, privatisation of public transport and developer scams parading as infrastructure plans, they called on the government to fix NSW roads and public transport.

Seven protesters who staged a sit-in on November 3 at the Lonsdale Street headquarters of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection have avoided a conviction for trespassing on Commonwealth property. They were part of group protesting the closure of the Manus Island detention centre three days earlier.

An Iranian refugee held on Nauru, who has been diagnosed as being at “imminent risk of … heart attack or sudden death”, is refusing to leave Nauru to go to a hospital that can treat her because the Australian Border Force (ABF) has refused her young son permission to go with her.

Doctors have requested five times since September 2016 that Fatemeh be moved to a hospital off Nauru for heart checks that cannot be performed on the island. But she is refusing to leave her 16-year-old son unaccompanied on the island.

The High Court ruled on February 14 that a CFMEU official can be ordered to pay a penalty personally, overturning a Federal Court decision that allowed the union to pay the fine on their behalf.

In 2013, CFMEU organiser Joe Myles and about 20 other people blockaded the main entrance to the Regional Rail Link project site.

In 2016, the Federal Court fined Myles $18,000 and the union was fined $60,000. The Federal Court ruled that the CFMEU could reimburse Myles, but the ABCC challenged that decision in the High Court, where it was overruled.

About 60 workers at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT) were locked out again on February 15 as the company tries to force workers to accept cuts to their wages and conditions. PKCT is locking out workers every time a ship arrives and replacing them with a temporary workforce to operate the terminal. This is their new corporate strategy — revealed in leaked documents that outlined a plan to sack and casualise the workforce. The lockout is an attempt to starve workers into submission.

World

Five months after Hurricane Maria hit the United States’ Caribbean colony of Puerto Rico, swaths of the island still have no electricity, while food and water supplies have been slow to arrive, Democracy Now! reported on February 19.

When a democratic uprising broke out against the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the regime responded with brutal repression. Aided by defections from the Syrian Army, this helped turn the mass protest movement into the armed conflict that wracks Syria today.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a broad-based left-wing group largely initiated by Kurdish forces in Turkey, has faced the full brunt of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian crackdown.

More than 10,000 HDP members have been arrested, along with its leaders and dozens of elected officials — often on trumped-up charges of “supporting terrorism” in retaliation for the HDP’s support for the struggle of the Kurdish community for democratic rights.

The defeat of ISIS in Syria last year raised hopes that the long-running war that has displaced more than two-thirds of the population might be coming to an end. However, the attempted Turkish invasion of the Afrin region of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), which began on January 20, has underlined that the war is in fact intensifying.

The Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions (ATTAC) is an international movement for social, environmental and democratic alternatives that organises against free trade policies that grant huge powers to corporations at the expense of people and the planet.

A final version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, which will reduce tariffs and other trade barriers between 11 countries in Asia and Latin America that amount to 13% of global GDP, was released on February 21.

“The steps of the Florida State Capitol building were crowded with thousands of students, teachers, parents, and advocates on Wednesday as survivors of last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School led a rally to demand gun control reforms including a ban on military-style firearms,” Common Dreams

The rise of Cyril Ramaphosa, from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), to South African president following a February 15 vote by the National Assembly was largely greeted with sighs of relief and expressions of joy.

However, jubilation over Ramaphosa’s election obscures a murky past and stormy future.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre, which  formed a new coalition government after winning elections late last year, now plan to unify the two parties.

The situation was bleak for Venezuela’s pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution in the first half of last year.

With a dire economic situation and a growing wave of violent opposition protests, President Nicolas Maduro turned the tables by convening a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in July.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador could become Mexico’s first progressive president in generations, but what would such a presidency actually look like? It is not an easy question to answer, though his time as leader of Mexico’s largest city could offer some insights.

Analysis

On February 17, several thousand people from more than 30 community groups and unions marched through Sydney to demand the NSW state government fix the public transport system.

Andew Chuter, one of the organisers, told Green Left Weekly it was a “big achievement” to unite so many groups across NSW around this important issue.

“These sorts of campaigns tend to be quite localised, so getting people to see them as connected is quite significant. Some of those who took an active role in this rally had never been to a protest before.”

The Anti Poverty Network (APN) Perth’s Graham Hansen spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Chris Jenkins about poverty in Western Australia and the key campaign areas APN will focus on this year.

* * *

Can you briefly describe what was happening in WA when APN Perth was formed?

Anyone who is a public figure can expect a bit of hate mail. Recently I received about half a dozen colourful phone messages after WA One Nation parliamentarian Charles Smith published a Facebook meme attacking the City of Fremantle for having "the most Un-Australian [sic] council in the Nation". Included were my contact details and those of the Mayor, with outraged right-wingers encouraged to communicate their rage at us for "destroying Australia Day".

As I marched through Sydney streets on February 17, along with activists from 30 community groups and trade unions opposed to the blatant privatisation scams that pass for NSW transport infrastructure, I am sure I was not the only one in the crowd reflecting on the ridiculous contradiction between what is possible for our society and what is forced on us from above.

This was yet another clear case of government working in the narrow and selfish interests of a small corporate elite. Similar examples of community resistance to corporate greed can be found all around the country.

Late last year, amid the ongoing citizenship crisis engulfing several federal MPs and Senators, Labor MP David Feeney revealed that he was unable to produce documentation confirming he had renounced his citizenship of either Britain or Ireland. On February 1, Feeney announced his resignation and did not recontest the seat.

Alex Bhathal, who has run for the seat before and went close to winning from Feeney at the last federal election, is the Greens candidate.

Scientists and conservationists have called on the federal government to strengthen Australia’s national environment laws, chiefly the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBCA).

I have been a “participant” in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) since July 2017.

In November 2016 I contracted pneumonia. After 24 hours of sickness and high temperatures my partner took me to hospital, where I was diagnosed as being in septic shock. Unfortunately, the medicines used to raise my catastrophically low blood pressure led to my lower legs and fingers becoming gangrenous.

Yet again, the federal Coalition government has launched a broadside in favour of its plan to cut company tax for big corporations from 30% to 25%, while slashing spending on social welfare and the public sector.

The catalyst for the latest controversy on the issue was a February 14 article on the ABC website by chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, entitled, “There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia's top companies don't pay it.”

If the federal government is convinced its proposed corporate tax cuts will bring happiness all around, why is it so worried about those challenging the idea?

Culture

Sir Alex Ferguson was deeply affronted by the Manchester United Football Club supporters who got stroppy about the proposed takeover of the huge English Premier League club he then managed by the US corporate raider, Malcolm Glazer, in 2004.

“They carried on to the degree where they actually thought they should have a say in the running of the football club,” exclaimed the outraged manager.

Ferguson got to the core of things by starkly asking just whose club it is.

Before touching down on the planet of Canto Bight, Rose looks down forebodingly to tell us that it’s full of the “worst people in the galaxy”. Cut to champagne glasses clinking and a casino full of galactic 1-percenters.

“Only one business in the galaxy can get you this rich,” Rose — a new character in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a mechanic on the Rebel flagship — explains to returning hero Finn as they look around the beachfront resort planet, “selling weapons to the First Order.” She goes on to tell her family’s history: forced to work on a First Order mining colony before it was bled out and blitzed for weapons testing.