Issue 838

News

Tamil and refugee rights groups have demanded the Rudd government reverse its suspension of refugee claims from Sri Lanka. This follows the release of an international report that provided more evidence that the decision to suspend the claims was based on a lie. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released War Crimes in Sri Lanka on May 17, a report into the Sri Lankan Army’s assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the entire Tamil population in the country’s north and east between January and May last year.
The Fair Work ombudsman began legal action on May 19 against a 7-Eleven store operator in Geelong who owed hundreds of hours in unpaid wages to four workers. The decision came after a two-year campaign by the Unite union, which organises workers in part-time and casual work. The ombudsman alleges that four workers were owed a total of $85,408 for work over 2005-09. One worker alone was underpaid $40,583.
“One of the great scandals of Australia's history: Aboriginal labour in the 20th century”, was a the title of a lecture by Dr Ros Kidd in the Queensland Trades and Labour building on May 20. The Alex Macdonald Memorial Lecture attracted about 80 people. It was organised by the Brisbane Labour History Association and sponsored by the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU). Kidd's latest book, Trustees on Trial, documents the abuse and misappropriation of Aboriginal wages during the last century. "The fight for justice is still going on”, Kidd said.
The New South Wales offices of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) construction division, was firebombed on Thursday May 13. “It is a miracle no one was killed or injured”, Howard Byrnes, CFMEU state councillor and delegate at Botany Cranes, told Green Left Weekly.
On March 31, a group of Christian peace activists from the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective entered a secretive military base on Swan Island off the coast of Victoria. Swan Island is a training base for Australia's elite SAS soldiers, who play the most active combat role in Australia’s deployment to Afghanistan. The activists wanted to shed light on the brutal ongoing occupation and war in Afghanistan. They switched off power to a satellite dish and one sector of the base: a symbolic act to call on the government to “hit the emergency stop button” on the war.
"An American-based company accused of bulldozing trees in koala habitats in Victoria has emerged as the buyer of Queensland's major forests in a $603 million deal with the State Government”, said the May 19 Courier-Mail. “The deal is the first major privatisation of state assets by the Bligh Government.” This is the first of several fire-sales of public assets, including forests, rail, ports and motorways, proposed by the state Labor government since last year. Unions and community groups have strongly opposed the privatisation plan.
Kalgoorlie MP John Bowler said public housing is “not a right” but a “privilege”, after the federal government passed legislation that will shift community housing from a federal to a state responsibility in Western Australia. The state Liberal government will get about $500 million to fund new, and upgrade existing houses. The takeover has been defended by Bowler, who says the change will encourage better treatment of the housing by tenants.
Five hundred farmers from the Darling Downs agricultural region attended a protest meeting at Cecil Plains, west of Toowoomba, on May 19. They protested against the expansion of coal seam gas mining on their properties. The May 19 Courier-Mail said the farmers called on the state government to place a moratorium on mining development while its environmental impacts are properly assessed. The protesters surrounded a paddock with a one-kilometre barrier of farm machinery in a demonstration of their abilityto stop the mining companies from entering their properties.
MELBOURNE — Protesters added their voices to the international day of solidarity with the democracy movement in Thailand on May 20, gathering outside the offices of Thai Airways. May 20 is the anniversary of the end of Black May in 1992, when the Thai government used the military against thousands of pro-democracy protesters. The rally demanded the military end its repression, not just for the sake of Thai workers, but because it gave confidence to other governments to use force against workers everywhere.
Hundreds of Tamils turned out in Sydney’s Martin Place on May 18 to mark the first anniversary of the Sri Lankan army’s capture of the last bit of land held by the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north-east of the country. In driving rain, families lined up to place petals in front of a statue of a grieving mother. They heard from community speakers, the Greens, the Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) and the Socialist Alliance.
The new Ecological, Social Justice, Aboriginal Party is seeking federal, state and territory electoral registration, hoping to achieve it by the time the next federal election is called. If ESJAP is not registered, our candidates will contest as independents, coalesced under our banner. ESJAP will strive to ensure the undiluted Aboriginal voice in parliament — a voice sorely missing from Australian politics. There have only been 19 Aboriginal parliamentarians at the state, territory and federal levels. Ten of those 19 have been in the Northern Territory.
Friends of Palestine WA staged Perth’s premiere production of Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children on May 15. The play attracted a full house of 200 people. Many more were turned away on the night. The play attracted controversy after the Jewish Community Council’s attempt to prevent its performance in WA. Two previous proposed performances at multicultural arts venue Kulcha and at the Hale School were cancelled due to a lobbying campaign by the JCC.

Analysis

Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network statement: The Dateline program “Power politics”, aired on SBS TV on May 23, 2010 (and on SBS2 on May 24) was one of the most blatantly biased reports on Venezuelan politics yet to be aired on Australian TV. The anti-Bolivarian line unashamedly pushed by reporter David O'Shea mirrors (in fact was shaped by) the most right-wing of Venezuela’s opposition parties.
Socialist Alliance media release: "The six asylum seekers that are still at large after escaping from Villawood Detention Centre are in the right place---out of the Villawood hell-hole, and in the community where they belong," Duncan Roden, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Parramatta, said today. Fijian-born Roden visited Villawood Detention Centre two days ago, along with 17 refugee rights activists to examine conditions.
Around the world, disturbing new evidence of rapid global warming has come to light in the past few weeks. Past temperature records have tumbled. The warming is consistent with climate change predictions. Victoria and Tasmania had their hottest 12-month period recorded, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said on May 3. Victoria’s weather was warmer than average month-by-month for year to April. Tasmania was warmer for 11 of the 12 months.
Jess Moore, well-known community activist and part-time worker, will contest the seat of Cunningham on New South Wales’ south coast in the coming federal elections. Moore, a member of Socialist Alliance, is a leading climate and renewable energy campaigner in Wollongong. She is active in the struggle for marriage equality and helped found the Illawarra Aboriginal Rights Group, set up in response to the racist Northern Territory intervention.
Gunns Limited and the entire forest industry in Tasmania is in crisis. Gunns chairperson John Gay, and fellow board member and former state premier Robin Gray have resigned from the company’s board. They were pressured to resign by major shareholders after Gunns posted a 98% loss in half yearly profit in February this year, the April 23 Hobart Mercury reported. Their profit was just $400,000 — down from $33.6 million at the same time last year.
On the first anniversary of Australia signing a key international treaty outlawing torture, an independent monitor of detention appears no closer, despite a recent surge in custodial deaths. The final report of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, was released in February. It identified a global phenomenon of overcrowding, prolonged isolation and high numbers of pre-trial — all key issues for Australian custodial detainees.
Sam Watson, Aboriginal community leader and Socialist Alliance senate candidate for Queensland, spoke at a May 19 rally outside state parliament. He called for the sacking of police commissioner Bob Atkinson; the charging and conviction of police who kill Indigenous prisoners; for investigation of police to be carried out by an independent, community panel; and for a new Royal Commission into Black deaths in custody.
A customs officer at Melbourne airport has said the passport of the Australian founder of Wikileaks will be cancelled “soon”. Julian Assange, formerly from Melbourne, now stays in several countries while running the high-profile Wikileaks website. He usually avoids publicity, but became famous in April when his site released a classified video of US forces laughing after killing 12 people in Iraq, including two staff from the news agency Reuters.
Iranian cleric Dr Mansour Leghaei is being removed from Australia after being resident here for 16 years. Immigration minister Chris Evans has refused to allow Leghaei to stay, following an adverse security assessment by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Leghaei has committed no crime, incited no hatred and is the father of one of Australia's “working families” — that demographic otherwise loved by the Australian government. As he is not an Australian citizen, he is unable to challenge ASIO's security assessment.
We supposedly live in a free country. But do we actually have free speech in Australia? Obviously, the situation here is completely different to an outright dictatorship. In some countries, there is no right to produce a paper like Green Left Weekly, no right to protest, and dissidents are jailed and tortured. In Australia, we do have some real and important democratic rights. However, there are severe practical limitations on effectively exercising these rights — that is, exercising them in a way that anyone actually hears what you're saying.
Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has dismissed the findings of a Menzies School of Health Research report that found “income management” has failed to improve the health and wellbeing of the people it targets. Income management was implemented by the then Coalition government in August 2007 on 73 targeted remote Aboriginal communities as part of the Northern Territory intervention. Under the scheme, 50% of welfare recipients’ income is replaced with a Basics Card, which can be used to only buy food, clothing and medical supplies, and only in certain stores.

World

Australian activist Bridget Chappell was arrested by Israeli security forces in February along with Spanish activist Ariadna Marti, in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Chappell and Marti were working for the International Solidarity Movement supporting peaceful Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Below, Chappell details the increased repression by Israel against all forms of resistance in the occupied territories. * * *
The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be far worse than oil rig owner BP has admitted. Independent analysis carried out for the US National Public Radio (NPR) indicated the company has vastly underestimated the size of the spill. Experts told NPR on May 14 the spill could be 10 times bigger than the company says.
Sergio Arriasis is the head of the office of strategic development for Vision Venezuela Television (ViVe), a government-funded channel inaugurated in 2003. Arriasis is in charge of future planning and development of its communications. Coral Wynter, a Green Left Weekly journalist based in Caracas, spoke with Arriasis about the struggle to counter the private corporate media in Venezuela, and create a radical alternative. How is ViVe different from other TV channels?
The 74-day long mobilisation for democracy that shut down the centre of Bangkok ended when the leaders of the Red Shirts movement surrendered on May 20. The surrender came after the Thai army launched an armoured assault on the capital. The military used bulldozers and tanks to destroy the Red Shirts’ four-metre high bamboo and tyre barricades. More than 75 protesters and two soldiers have been killed since the protests began in March. At least one of the soldiers was shot accidentally by another soldier.
By May 18, students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) had entered their fourth week of a strike and occupation at the Rio Pedras campus in San Juan. The students are appealing for solidarity after university administrators and the government escalated repression. The strike and occupation began in mid-April and escalated after UPR President Jose Ramon de la Torre, Rio Piedras’ campus rector Ana Guadalupe Quinones and the UPR Board of Trustees refused to meet with representatives of the students.
In recent weeks, local and international media have attacked the left-wing Venezuelan government over alleged “economic woes”. Pointing to Venezuela’s inflation rate — the highest in Latin America — and an economy that shrank 3.3% last year, the private opposition media is raising fears of a serious economic crisis. These same media outlets, which have been predicting the fall of President Hugo Chavez for years, argue recent government actions will worsen the situation. Venezuelan business federation Fedecamaras warned on May 5 that Venezuela faces an “economic and social crisis”.
Right, who knows a way of making “Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition, out out out!” scan properly? Events haven’t been made easier by the news coverage, which involved reporters telling us: “Oh my God, it’s historic, and the two of them look so lovely together, and they’re in the garden, ooohhh, I haven't cried so much since I last saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s."
Recently declassified documents from US archives have shed further light on the extent of US complicity in Guatemalan human rights crimes, one of Latin America’s most brutal examples of population control. The hard-working farmers of Dos Erres, in Peten department, had never asked for much — just a few acres of recently-cleared land from which to scratch a meagre living in a country racked by violence.
US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh told an audience at a journalism conference in April that American soldiers are now executing prisoners in Afghanistan, a May 12 Rawstory.com article said. Hersh helped break the story that US jailers were torturing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In 1969, Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre by US forces in Afghanistan. At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Hersh said US forces are engaged in “battlefield executions”.
Veteran left-wing academic and author Noam Chomsky was banned from entering Israel on May 17. Chomsky, a strong critic of Israel and US foreign policy, had been planning to give a lecture at Bir Zeit University in the Israeli occupied West Bank. On May 18, English singer Elvis Costello announced he was cancelling two planned gigs in Israel, citing the “grave and complex" sensitivities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, Christian Science Monitor said on May 19.
As Britain’s political class pretends that its arranged marriage of Tweedledee to Tweedledum is democracy, the inspiration for the rest of us is Greece. It is hardly surprising that Greece is presented not as a beacon but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (as the British Observer said). The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.
Ironically, while the left is one of the fiercest critics of biased media coverage, it can also fall in the trap of corporate media distortions, particularly if its coverage dovetails with its own fantasies. A May 14 article by Daniel Lopez published on the website of Australian group Socialist Alternative is proof of this. The article echoes the view of a May 10 article on the BBC website, which has a clear dislike of Bolivian President Evo Morales.
A May 17 International Crisis Group report said there were “reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible” in the last five months of the 30 year long war against Tamil independence fighters. The report cited the intentional shelling of civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations.
On May 15, German left-wing party Die Linke held its national congress in the eastern city of Rostock, electing a new national leadership and debating its new draft program. At the conference, charismatic left-wing firebrand Oskar Lafontaine stepped down as the party’s co-leader for health reasons. Lafontaine, the former head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and finance minister, quit the SPD in 1999 because of the party’s neoliberal policies.
The crude oil belching out of the floor of the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 has formed giant plumes beneath the surface of the water. That’s the latest nightmarish evidence that the gulf oil catastrophe, among the worst ecological disasters in US history, is much worse than either corporate giant BP or government officials have admitted.
The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be far worse than oil rig owner BP has admitted. Independent analysis carried out for the US National Public Radio (NPR) indicated the company has vastly underestimated the size of the spill. Experts told NPR on May 14 the spill could be 10 times bigger than the company says.

Culture

Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football by Ian Hawkey Anova Books, 2009, $24.95
More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, The most important football story ever told by Chuck Korr & Marvin Close Harper Collins, 2008, $25.99 The world is in the final stages of counting down to the biggest show on earth — the football World Cup in South Africa — the first time it has ever been held on the African continent.
Hadestown Anais Mitchell CD, Righteous Babe Records The “folk opera” Hadestown is an interpretation of the ancient Greek myth of the poet Opheus’ doomed quest to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld. It is set in a near-future post-apocalyptic US, beset by ecological and economic disaster. Orpheus, representing all poets, believes in the healing power of nature, but his wife is seduced by the promises of the huckster Hades.
The land around Muckaty Station, 120km north of Tennant Creek, was nominated in 2007 as a possible nuclear waste dump site by the Northern Land Council. A small group of traditional owners, hoping for a combination of cash and improved services like roads, housing and education, agreed. Many other traditional owners remain opposed to the plan and have been highly critical of the process and approach taken by resources minister Martin Ferguson. Labor simply repackaged John Howard’s racist laws for the dump.
Five young queer artists — the Centrepiece Collective — were evicted by Marrickville Council from the abandoned former nurses quarters at the old Marrickville hospital on May 18. The artists set up a work and refuge space in the “nurses quarters” in the inner west in April. Sydney's rental market is prohibitive and, for artists, studio art space is an added burden. The multi-storied building had been vacant for 15 years.

Editorial

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposed tax on mining industry super-profits has, to the surprise of no one, attracted a great deal of whining from the mining sector. Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals accused those who supported the tax of engaging in “class warfare” and threatened to sell his mining interests overseas if the tax goes ahead, reported the May 19 Herald Sun. On May 20, he said that he had shelved $17.5 billion in new mining projects as a result of the tax.

Fighting Fund

When voters celebrated the end of the John Howard years, many hoped the Rudd Labor government would usher in a new day of social inclusion, justice and fairness. The 2010/11 budget, delivered by treasurer Wayne Swan on May 11, dashes these hopes and shows the need to build a pro-people alternative to both Howard's Liberals and Rudd's Labor. Before the budget release, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) urged the government to increase payments to the more than 600,000 Australians currently unemployed.

Letters

Dirty diesel? At Orroroo in South Australia, Linc Energy plans to gasify coal in underground seams to produce “syngas”. Piped to the surface, this will be turned partly into diesel via the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Resistance!

The decade-long campaign against the Bickham coal project, north of Scone in New South Wales, ended in victory on May 14, when NSW Premier Kristina Keneally announced the government would reject the proposed mine. The open-cut mine would have extracted 36 million tonnes of coal over 25 years. Keneally's decision came after the May 3 publication of the state Planning Assessment Commission's (PAC) report, which recommended the mine not proceed. It could be the first time the NSW government has ever blocked the development of a coalmine.
Wollongong's Students Against War (SAW) collective crashed the university’s ‘fashion week’ on May 6 by holding a ‘die-in’ on the catwalk. Two activists entered the fashion parade and revealed bloodied clothes before they collapsed on the end of the catwalk. SAW co-convenor Ella Ryan said: ‘The idea behind this stunt, aptly named “Deathly Designs”, was to bring attention to Wollongong university's role in helping design military hardware for arms manufacturers as part of the $85 million "Defence Materials Technology Centre".