Issue 687

Australia

The NSW Labor government has been forced to partially back down on its plans to enforce the educationally unsound A-E report system.
When invited to address an October 12 rally in defence of women’s right to abortion, both Labor Premier Steve Bracks and state Liberal Party leader Ted Baillieu declined to attend. The rally, held on the steps of the state parliament, was initiated by the Socialist Alliance.
Technicians employed by Radio Rentals who were locked out of work for a month have returned to work after the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the company agreed on an enterprise agreement that was better than Radio Rentals’ original offer.
People charged over their involvement in a February protest outside PM John Howard’s state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House for media mogul Kerry Packer have called a protest demonstration on the first day of their three-day trial, which begins on October 27.
Changes to Australia’s “landmark” environment and heritage law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999, will give the federal environment minister more discretionary power to reject public nominations to protect areas of natural and cultural significance. The proposed amendments were tabled by the federal government in parliament on October 12 in a 414-page document.
Queensland Murris (Indigenous Australians) and their supporters marched on the state parliament on October 10. In a protest called to coincide with the first sitting day of the newly elected Labor government, the 600 demonstrators confronted Premier Peter Beattie with the demand that senior sergeant Chris Hurley be sacked.
“If you’re angry, you’re not mad” declared a banner at a march and rally of 120 supporters of the rights of the mentally ill on October 14. The action was part of the local Mental Health Week activities and was organised by the Association of the Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill.
A hunger strike will be held on October 20-21 in the Parramatta Activist Centre in solidarity with the “death fast resistance” that has been carried out by Turkish political prisoners since October 20, 2000.
One of the first things I usually do on a Saturday morning is read the “Number Crunch” column in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine. I find the assorted collection of interesting statistics irresistible.
On October 2, the Sydney-based Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) released its Deported to Danger II report, examining the fate of people whose claims for asylum in Australia were rejected. The report found that 39 of the 41 were deported to danger. Two have been welcomed in New Zealand.
The trial of four activists who inspected the top secret US-Australia spy base at Pine Gap for terrorist activity began on October 4. Jim Dowling, Adele Goldie, Bryan Law (Cairns) and Donna Mulhearn, members of Christians Against ALL Terrorism (CAAT), face charges under the Commonwealth Crimes Act and the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act (DSU) 1952. If found guilty they face seven years’ prison.
On October 10, 60 people attended a public meeting at which the keynote speaker, historian Henry Reynolds, spoke about the ongoing oppression of Indigenous Australians.
Forums about the occupation of Palestine, film screenings, mock Israeli checkpoints and protest actions were held on university campuses in NSW as part of a week of solidarity with Palestine on October 9-13.
Thirty people protested outside the US consulate on October 13 calling for justice for five Cubans unfairly imprisoned in the United States. The Cuban Five helped expose the activities of US-based terrorists planning attacks on Cuba, for which they were imprisoned, even while known terrorists in Miami walk free. Cuba solidarity activist Tim Anderson told the crowd that the Cuban government is not going to let the case rest until justice is achieved.
The annual Queerspace student conference held at the Australian National University on October 6-8 was attended by 40 students from Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Wollongong, Newcastle and Perth. The conference launched the national Queer Activist Network (QAN) for youth and students.
On October 10, 50 people joined a memorial service at Melbourne University to commemorate the drowning of 353 refugees when their Indonesian boat — the SIEV X — sank in international waters off Christmas Island in October 2001. A year after the sinking, a Senate select committee investigation concluded that it was “extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian [border patrol] operations and remain undetected until three days after the event, without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision making circles”.
For the second consecutive year, Grassroots, a broad left-wing ticket has won a majority on the governing council of the Wollongong Undergraduate Students Association (WUSA). The elections were held on October 3-5.

World

Israel’s war on Gaza, its continued colonisation of the West Bank, and its construction of the apartheid wall represent the third wave of ethnic cleansing in Palestine since the establishment of Zionist state, Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart told 250-strong meeting in Melbourne on October 12.
In a blow to Canberra’s campaign against the government of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, a no-confidence motion put by pro-Australian opposition leader Fred Fono was defeated on October 11 by 28 votes to 17 in the impoverished Pacific nation’s 50-member parliament.
The second Workers Charter conference, held at the Auckland Trades Hall on October 7, drew a broad cross-section of the New Zealand union movement and its supporters. The Workers Charter, launched 15 months ago, is a draft list of 10 demands aimed at guaranteeing workers’ rights. Its demands cover rights such as a living wage, affordable housing and the right to strike.
On October 9, North Korea announced it had successfully carried out its first nuclear-weapons test, six days after announcing it intended to conduct such a test. The test was the culmination of nearly two years of hostility and provocation by the United States.
Moments after hearing about North Korea’s nuclear test, I thought of Albert Einstein’s statement that “there is no secret and there is no defence; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world”.
The popular movement in the southern state of Oaxaca has called for solidarity, fearing a massive wave of repression because of a recent step-up in numbers of police and military in the state. Since a strike by Local 22 of the National Teachers Union began in May, the conflict has escalated to a national issue. At its centre is governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, whose repressive methods have sparked a movement to remove him.
For two days in early October, the sides of the barren Posokoni Hill above the mining town of Huanuni, 150 kilometres southeast of Bolivia’s capital La Paz, were transformed into a war zone in the two most violent days since leftist Evo Morales was elected the country’s president last December.
To judge by the coverage in the corporate media, the main opposition candidate in the December 3 presidential elections, Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales, is on the march and making ground against socialist President Hugo Chavez. This is despite pro-Chavez forces winning every national election since 1998, and most polls suggesting Chavez is certain to win the presidential vote.
In April 2000, the people of Cochabamba captured the imagination of anti-corporate campaigners the world over. Only months after the US transnational Bechtel took control of the regions water supply — forcing citizens to pay for rainwater they collected — the people of Cochabamba, organised through the Coalition in Defence of Water and Life, rose up and booted out the corporation.
At its first conference to be held since Tommy Sheridan and his supporters split from the Scottish Socialist Party to set up a rival organisation, SSP national convenor Colin Fox said that the party had been through a “real-life horror movie, a nightmare so acute that it would have broken other parties completely”, but “with every passing week, more and more people are overheard saying that it was the SSP that was telling the truth all along”.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is coming under increasing pressure to release a report implicating security forces in the murder two years ago of Munir, Indonesia’s most prominent human rights activist.
In a September 25 appeal to the international community to act to end the humanitarian disaster in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN envoy on Palestinians’ human rights, John Dugard, pointed out: “In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions — the first time an occupied people has been so treated.”
George Bush’s administration claims it is waging a “war against terrorism”. But since April 2005 Luis Posada Carriles, who worked for the CIA and engaged in brutal terrorist acts including the bombing of a Cuban airliner, has resided in the US, and Washington has resisted pressure to deport him to Venezuela, where he escaped from jail, to face justice. Posada Carriles is currently in “immigration detention” for entering the US illegally. Even a court filing by the US Justice Department described him as “the admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks”. The following letter, among the signatories of which are four Nobel laureates, was issued on October 6.
On October 11, a team of Iraqi physicians, whose work was overseen by US epidemiologists at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, published a study in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, estimating that the US-led occupation of Iraq has cost the lives of 655,000 Iraqis.
On October 4, Jim Gilchrist, a leader of the racist anti-immigrant Minutemen group, came to speak at Columbia University. Gilchrist’s hate speech was met with a peaceful demonstration in which students came on the stage unfurling banners reading “No human being is illegal” and “No to racism”. The Minutemen responded with force, punching and kicking protesters. Footage of the assaults can be seen at ><http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N41eXtVK7hA>.

Analysis

“Ain’t that the truth”, said the Socialist Alliance’s lead upper house candidate in next March’s NSW state election, Susan Price. “And it sums up why we’re running against them.”
Architects for Peace, Australia, took an active part in the protests against Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Palestine. Beatriz Maturana, a founder of the group, told Green Left Weekly that the group formed in February 2003, in response to the invasion of Iraq. It continues to campaign against the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Two cases of ruthless exploitation of Chinese guest workers have recently come to light in the printing industry, throwing the spotlight on the plight of the growing number of guest workers.
In the first eight days of October, 30 coalition troops and close to 300 Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed. Iraq has become such a shameful example of Western arrogance that such figures barely warrant a mention on our television screens or in newspapers.
Pope Benedict XVI is reported to be on the verge of authorising the return of the Latin Tridentine mass. This would open the way for some of the most extreme clerical reactionaries and anti-Semites to rejoin the Catholic Church.
Australia has the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world. Nonetheless, the new media bill passed by the Senate on October 12 will further relax ownership regulation and allow the media barons to operate in two out of three media sectors — print, radio and television.
Gary Meyerhoff, long-time activist and founder of the Network Against Prohibition (NAP), died from an AIDS-related illness on October 7. A tireless campaigner for the rights all those who slipped through society’s cracks, Meyerhoff was an optimist and not afraid to push the limits. He organised around issues and with sections of society that other activists usually put in the too-hard basket.
The federal government last week pushed through its new cross-media ownership laws, ensuring greater concentration of media ownership and a loss of diversity in Australia’s media. The following article by Christian Downie, published on Online Opinion (<http://www.onlineopinion.com.au>) provides some background to the debate over the media laws.
The last issue of Green Left Weekly published the story of gay asylum seeker Mohatar Hussein. Hussein fled homophobic persecution in Bangladesh to seek refugee status in Australia, only to be locked up in Villawood detention centre for the last two years. The Refugee Review Tribunal twice knocked back Hussein’s applications, despite having ample evidence that he had suffered persecution as an openly gay man.

Letters

Political censorship With media diversity under attack and the right to dissent under threat by the Howard government, dissenting alternatives such as GLW become even more important — or so you would think. Not so for a majority at the

Culture

It Just StoppedWritten by Stephen SewellDirected by Neil ArmfieldWith Kim Gyngell, Rebecca Massey, Catherine McClements and John WoodCompany B at the Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills, SydneyUntil November 5
Fast Food NationDirected by Richard LinklaterBased on the book by Eric SchlosserWith Kris Kristofferson, Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Catalina MorenoIn cinemas October 26
ERIC SCHLOSSER was in Australia in September for a publicity tour to launch Fast Food Nation. Green Left Weekly’s BELINDA SELKE interviewed him about the film.
Imagine If: A Handbook for ActivistsBy Joy Noble and Fiona VerityWakefield Press, 200656 pages, $9.95