Issue 697

Australia

With the NSW elections looming, Labor Premier Morris Iemma seems determined to try to outdo the federal government — from the right. On January 28, Iemma demanded that Canberra ban the Sunni Muslim organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was holding a conference in Lakemba in Iemma’s western Sydney electorate.
On February 2, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib launched his NSW state election campaign in the western Sydney seat of Auburn. The seat is currently held by the ALP’s Barbara Perry.
One-hundred people gathered at Brisbane’s Riverside Centre on January 27 to discuss Indigenous self-determination and the United Nation’s draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is expected to be ratified this year.
When questioned by the media about opposition in the US Congress to the George Bush administration’s “surge” of troops to Iraq, Vice-President Dick Cheney kept his message simple: “It won’t stop us.” In the January 24 interview with CNN, Cheney added, “We have to have the stomach to finish the task”.
The Socialist Alliance will launch its campaign for the NSW election with a rally and concert on February 24.
Private train operator Connex is under fire after tests revealed its fleet of new Siemens trains were unable to brake if soapy water was on the tracks.
Petersham TAFE in inner-western Sydney, like most TAFE campuses in NSW, is experiencing the beginnings of a mass exodus of teachers into retirement, precipitating a drastic skills shortage that will start to bite in the next few years.
Oliver Ressler, an Austrian artist and co-director (with Dario Azzellini) of Five Factories — Worker Control in Venezuela, hosted special screenings of his film in Melbourne and Sydney. Ressler’s presentations were part of the “If You See Something, Say Something” exhibition and were sponsored by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), LASNET and the Melbourne Bolivarian Circle.
“It must never again be the case that a death in custody, of Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal persons, will not lead to rigorous and accountable investigations and a comprehensive coronial inquiry.”
Isn’t it great to begin the new year of struggle with a victory! The January 26 announcement that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley will be charged with the manslaughter on Palm Island in 2004 of Mulrunji, a young Indigenous man, was a historic victory. This will be the first time in Queensland history (and only the second time in Australian history) that a police officer is to be charged in relation to an Aboriginal death in custody.
Thirty workers at Tristar Steering and Suspension in Marrickville are still fighting for redundancy entitlements provided for under a longstanding enterprise agreement (EA), which expired in September. The workers have been idle since production shifted overseas in July, while the company has used PM John Howard’s Work Choices legislation to save money by not paying the workers their due.
“The Socialist Alliance welcomes the decision of Bryce Gaudry to stand as an independent for the seat of Newcastle in the NSW state election on March 24”, alliance spokesperson Steve O’Brien said on January 31.

World

Walter Chavez, an adviser to Bolivian president Evo Morales, has found himself in the centre of a well-orchestrated corporate media campaign aimed at delegitimising the Morales government internationally by linking it to “terrorist” groups. This accusation comes only a week after attempts by the Spanish media to link Morales’s party — the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) — with the Basque separatist group ETA.
Nobody can quite believe their eyes and ears. More than 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has made it abundantly clear that his country is embarked on a socialist revolution.
On January 31, Bangladesh’s acting electoral commission chief Mahfuzur Rahman and his four deputies resigned, paving the way for the country’s caretaker government to appoint new commission members as demanded by the main alliance of opposition parties.
One of the best-known and most successful aspects of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution has been the “social missions” — social programs funded by Venezuela’s oil wealth aiming to solve the most pressing problems of the nation’s poor majority. One of the best known and most successful social missions was one of the first to be established, the health program Mision Bario Adentro (“Into the Neighbourghood”). Established in April 2003, the mission has brought free quality health care via the establishment of popular health clinics in poor neighbourhoods across Venezuela. Before Barrio Adentro, health care was out of reach for many of the poor, as private health care was too expensive and the public health system was in a state of disrepair.
Global warming has “very likely” been caused by humanity’s actions. This is one of the main conclusions of the fourth assessment report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on February 2.
At least six people were wounded on January 24, following an operation by the UN peacekeeping force (MINUSTAH). One victim, attended to immediately by Doctors Without Borders, says she was hit by stray bullets, according to the daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
Last month, total US military casualties in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion exceeded 50,000 dead and wounded. By January 28, 3071 US soldiers had died in Iraq and at least 47,657 had been wounded, according to Pentagon figures.
Chanting “bring our troops home”, anti-war protesters rallied in front of the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 27 to pressure President George Bush’s administration to end the war on Iraq, now only two months short of entering its fourth year.
A mixed message — combining celebration and auto-critique — came from the Nairobi World Social Forum, held from January 20-25 in a massive sports complex 10km from the city. The 60,000 registered participants heard triumphalist radical rhetoric and yet, too, witnessed persistent defeats for social justice causes, especially within the WSF’s own processes.
More than 200,000 public service workers in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) held a nationwide strike on January 31, which is being followed by a two-week overtime ban. The February 1 Morning Star reported that “the action hit 200 government departments, halted important court cases and paralysed passport offices, benefit centres, and tax offices”. In addition, the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff was forced to abandon proceedings, and in London the British Library, Tate Modern and Tate Britain were closed.
Reuters reported on February 3 that at least 23 people had died in armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza during the previous 24 hours. The deaths helped bury a short-lived ceasefire that had been declared by the groups the two largest Palestinian political parties on January 30. In the two months prior to the ceasefire, more than 60 Palestinians had been killed, half of them between January 25 and January 29.
At an extraordinary Ard Fheis (congress) of Sinn Fein held in Dublin on January 28, delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), long known for its discriminatory and violent practices towards the Irish republican movement and Northern Ireland Catholics. About 90% of the 982 delegates at the congress accepted the motion put forward by Sinn Fein’s Ard Chomhairle (national executive), paving the way for a devolution of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly as outlined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Prosecutors are calling Amber Abreu a murderer. But the 18-year-old is a victim of restrictions on access to abortion. Prosecutors recently charged Abreu, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, with “procuring a miscarriage” — a felony that can carry a penalty of seven years in prison. They say they are planning to file additional charges, including a possible homicide charge, against her.
A foretaste of US President George Bush’s plan to use 41,500 US troops to “stabilise” war-torn Baghdad came on January 24 when the US occupation forces conducted their second assault in a month on the city’s Haifa Street neighbourhood.
“As long as I’m breathing, I will fight with the foreign troops who are coming to our country”, said Abdiqadir Hassan Diriye, Associated Press reported on February 1. Hassan Diriye was one of hundreds of protesters in Mogadishu demonstrating in response to the African Union’s announcement the day before that three battalions of AU “peacekeepers” would be deployed in Somalia.
Washington’s plan for military action against Iran goes far beyond limited air strikes on its nuclear facilities and would effectively unleash a war against the country, a former US intelligence analyst told Reuters on January 21.

Analysis

Tim Zammit, a young worker at Woolworths in Hackham, South Australia, wrote the following letter to his union — the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) — in response to the recent employment agreement negotiated by the SDA.
Queensland Aboriginal activist Phil Perrier died on January 26 after struggling with cancer for several months. A ceremony for Phil was held on February 2 at Sorry Place on Jagara nation tribal land in Brisbane’s West End.
This May-June, 12,000 Australian soldiers and nearly l4,000 US troops and sailors will bombard our shores and fragile landscape, storm our beaches gunning down “terrorists” in the newly-built urban guerrilla warfare training centre, and test their latest laser-guided missiles and “smart” bombs in some of the most pristine wilderness on this planet.
In her 2001 book, Blue Army: Paramilitary Policing in Victoria, senior lecturer in criminology at Monash University Associate Professor Jude McCulloch reports 44 victims of police shootings in Victoria since the 1980s, mostly poor people from non-Anglo backgrounds, but also police themselves. That number is now more than 50.
“Brilliant, fantastic, inspiring … Never shaken so many hands in one day”, commented Pat Rogers, a Brisbane staff member of the Electrical Trades Union, after experiencing the May Day march of more than 1 million workers in Caracas during the Australian trade union solidarity brigade to Venezuela in April-May last year. People in Australia will have the opportunity to join a May Day brigade to Venezuela again this year, from April 30 to May 9, organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN).
The announcement on January 30 that Australia’s first nuclear reactor was to be decommissioned sounded good. But residents and activists hoping for an end to the nuclear industry will be disappointed to hear that this is not the end of Australia’s nuclear experimentation. The old HIFAR reactor, Australia’s only multi-purpose research reactor, has been superseded by another reactor in the same suburb of Lucas Heights.
The Labor and Liberal parties have been falling over each other in their rush to rub out the final vestiges of multiculturalism. In December, newly elected Labor leader Kevin Rudd renamed immigration spokesperson Tony Burke’s portfolio “immigration, integration and citizenship”. In his January 23 cabinet reshuffle, PM John Howard caught up, changing the name of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
After five years of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay without trial, it is increasingly clear that David Hicks has committed no serious crime and that he is no threat. Yet, he is being held in a prison camp, often in solitary confinement, subjected to endless interrogations and physical and mental abuse to try and break his resistance to a guilty plea. Hicks is now in such a state that he cannot even bear to talk to his father on the phone.
Terry Hicks’s son has been detained for five years, without trial, in a prison camp likened by some to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
David Hicks’s demonisation, and continued incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, helps the US and Australian governments’ promotion of its endless “war on terror”. The Australian government is keen for the US to prosecute Hicks rather than have him return home because he has done no wrong under Australian law.

Letters

Mulrunji Doomadgee I am pleased to see that justice will finally be delivered in regards to the death in custody on Palm Island. This is one victory among many for all those who have been fighting for justice ever since the tragic death of

Culture

Petrodollar Warfare
By William Clark
New Society Publishers, 2005
$29.95 267pages
Comrade Roberts: Recollections of a Trotskyite
By Kenneth Gee
Desert Pea Press, 2006
207 pages, $29.95 (pb)
The Battle For Islam — Looks at how in some Muslim countries, it is women who are leading the charge for change. SBS, Friday, February 9, 1.30pm.