Issue 841

Australia

A press conference was held on June 23 behind NSW Parliament House calling for an inquiry into 34-year-old Veronica Baxter’s death in custody.

Activists presented 500 signatures to NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale who undertook to present them to the New South Wales Parliament.

On March 10, 2009, three days after Mardi Gras,Veronica Baxter was arrested by Redfern police and held on remand at the all-male NSW Silverwater Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre. Six days later, after a 14-hour break between checking her cell, she was found dead, hanging in her single cell.

On June 15, around a 1500 people, representing nearly every union, gathered outside Adelaide Magistrate's court for the first day of a week of rallies supporting construction worker, Ark Tribe, in his battle to defend himself against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Stop wasting lives - get our troops out now!

Socialist Alliance statement June 22, 2010

The Socialist Alliance today renewed its call on the Rudd government to withdraw all Australian troops from Afghanistan in wake of more Australian troop casualties and a poll showing that a majority of Australians support such a withdrawal.

A wave of rallies and marches commemorating World Refugee Week has begun to sweep across Australia.

On Sunday June 20, people came from all over Melbourne as well as Ballarat, Geelong and other regional areas for the rally, indicating that refugee rights networks are being re-established. Given the rain, organisers were happy with the size of the rally, between 1000-2000. This has been the biggest protest in support of refugees for several years.

Rallies also took place in Canberra, Perth (200) and Brisbane (300) over the weekend.

Green Left Weekly has won a victory in its free speech struggle at Brunswick’s Barkly Square shopping centre. Management stopped our stalls in late November and offered us a completely unacceptable deal.

We began our defence campaign in late February and over the next three months it developed considerable momentum. The response from shoppers was warm and extremely heartening. About 1000 people signed our petition. People were clearly outraged at the ban and concerned at the ongoing privatisation of public space.

It’s an unlikely scenario, but former refugee and now human rights advocate Riz Wakil says he’s even willing to take a surfing lesson from Tony Abbott if that means he has the chance to knock some sense into the Coalition leader’s head about his racist refugee policies.

On June 15, GetUp! won a charity auction prize — a surfing lesson with Abbott –— and donated it to Wakil, who arrived on Ashmore Reef in 1999 and was held in Curtin detention centre for nine months. Now a permanent resident, he runs a printery.

A single mother from Melbourne’s northern suburbs has begun a campaign against the sale of racist dolls.

Helen Said was shocked to see golliwog dolls on display when she walked past a gift shop in Epping Plaza in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

Said told Green Left Weekly golliwog dolls had disappeared from sale for many years because they were widely regarded as racist. “It’s a shock to see them brought back”, she said. “I think they're racist'.”

Golliwog dolls first appeared in the 1800s. They were made to send up black people, particularly African American slaves.

A new Sydney group, Fairness and Justice for Overseas Students, held protests on May 1 and June 12 against changes to the skilled migration program. The changes will affect thousands of Asian vocational students studying in Australia.

Immigration minister Chris Evans announced the changes on February 8. Among the changes was a new list of skills and occupations that would qualify overseas workers for the program.

On June 16, the Queensland Nurses' Union (QNU) condemned the new computerised payroll system that has caused ongoing problems with wage and allowance payments to staff in the public health system.

In a statement the QNU said: "This week will mark the seventh pay run under Queensland Health's new payroll system. It is a debacle of monumental proportions.”

100 people picketed the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on June 18 to protest the third anniversary of the Northern Territory intervention.

Kevin Bracken from the Maritime Union of Austrlalia said “The intervention has turned the clock back 50 years to when people were working for rations.”

The rally also heard from Alistair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Greens, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and local indigenous activists Richard Kennedy, Sharon Firebrace and Robbie Thorpe.

55 people attended a June 11 forum with Peter Inverway, a Gurindji worker from Kalkaringi, who said Gurindji people are being forced to work up to 30 hours a week for Centrelink entitlements.

Inverway said: "I was working on [a] construction site. Working hard for up to 30 hours per week and maybe just getting $4 an hour on Basics Card. But just like working for ration like our people done in the past. If we don't work then they'll cut our Centrelink."

May Day in Caracas, Venezuela, was “deeply inspiring”, Adrian Evans, deputy state secretary of the WA Maritime Union of Australia, told a meeting of 40 people in Fremantle on June 16. Evans travelled to Venezuela as part of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network’s 2010 May Day brigade.

“I love May Day in Fremantle”, he said. “But, I can tell you, being with one-and-a-half million workers was incredible.”

The Socialist Ideas Conference, organised by the Socialist Alliance in Perth, is shaping up to be the biggest and most interesting socialist event in Perth for some time.

Alongside international guests such as Malaysian socialist parliamentarian Jeyakumar Devaraj and Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau journalist Kiraz Janicke, a number of respected speakers have confirmed their attendance in recent weeks.

On June 15, climate sceptics held a forum at the Brisbane Irish Club. This forum was the subject of a protest by climate change activists. Ewan Saunders is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Brisbane who helped organise the protest. His speech is reprinted below.

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Ian Plimer, Bob Carter, Peter Ridd: these are the real climate fraudsters, never mind the so-called scandals around a few emails last year.

Protests will take place across the country on July 17 to demand the federal and Victorian state governments close down Australia’s dirtiest power station and replace it with clean energy by 2012.

The call for a national day of action was issued by groups active in the “Replace Hazelwood” campaign, including Melbourne’s Climate Action Centre and Environment Victoria.

The call has been endorsed by the Community Climate Network, which brings together more than 100 climate action groups nationwide.

Thousands rallied around Australia in support of Ark Tribe, a construction worker facing jail for simply failing to attend an interrogation by the construction industry police — the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Workers held an overnight vigil outside the ABCC offices in Melbourne, 500 rallied and marched in Sydney and up to 1500 rallied outside the Adelaide Magistrate's court where Tribe is on trial. Trade unionists from around the country travelled to Adelaide to show their solidarity.

Tens of thousands rallied around Australia on June 10 in support of the Australian Services Union’s (ASU) pay equity test case for community sector workers.

The ASU has opened a test case with Fair Work Australia under the equal remuneration power of the Fair Work Act. The ASU claim is for pay rises of about 25% for community sector workers. It follows a successful application in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission last year.

World

Labour history was made when New Zealand had its first shopping mall workers strike on May 25. Workers in JB Hi-Fi in Albany, organised by the militant Unite union, went on strike for better pay and against a culture of bullying and intimidation against union members.

Workers at JB Hi-Fi haven't had a pay rise in 3 years, and now earn only 75c more than the new minimum wage. JB Hi-Fi is making record profits - up 29% this year to an estimated NZ$140 million.

On June 15, something amazing happened: British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the British army shooting Irish people.

“It was wrong”, said Cameron, after a government inquiry found the British army was responsible for the killing of 14 unarmed civil rights demonstrators, seven of them teenagers, in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.

On January 30, 1972, up to 30,000 people marched in Derry, in the six Irish counties occupied by Britain, to demand an end to internment, a policy that allowed for the jailing of people without trial.

Two million Spanish workers participated in a public sector strike on June 8. A general strike in the Basque country has been called for June 29. Spanish unions have called a nationwide general strike for September 29 and the European Trade Union Confederation is currently attempting to organise a Europe-wide general strike to coincide with it.

British Petroleum (BP) has admitted it may not stop the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico until August — at the earliest. But despite the catastrophe, the US government’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has given BP new leases for deepwater drilling.

The MMS has rubber-stamped 198 new deepwater drilling leases in the gulf since the BP spill began on April 20. It awarded BP 13 of these.

On June 11 at the close of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer tried to put a positive spin on the outcome. “This all in all is a big step forward making much more possible in Cancun”, he said, referring to the next big climate conference that takes place in Mexico in November.

However, big step or not, the conference outcomes kept the world sprinting headlong towards a climate catastrophe.

Two days after the flotilla massacres on May 31, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt announced in response to mass demonstrations in Cairo and across the world, that Egypt was opening the Rafah border crossing, breaching the siege of the Gaza Strip that holds its 1.5 million people in a stranglehold.

Hundreds of Gazans flocked to the southern-most border of the coastal enclave. Many were left waiting on the border for days, denied entry to Egypt.

Multinational oil companies in Nigeria spill more oil every year than has been spilled by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the gulf disaster, most people are unaware of this ecological crime.

There have been major spills in Nigeria since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, but they have received hardly any attention from the international media.

A May 12 explosion at a Shell installation turned 39 hectares of the Niger Delta into an oil slick, BBC News said on June 15.

Two weeks earlier, an Exxon Mobil oil pipeline ruptured. It spewed a million litres a day for a week.

The Venezuelan National Assembly (NA) is considering a bill to decriminalise abortion, but only in restricted cases, the June 10 Ultimas Noticias reported.

It was one of the proposals of the committee for the rights of women in the NA. It is part of a raft of proposals to be considered in changes to a new penal code, to eliminate gender bias.

Israel stands increasingly isolated following its attack on the peace flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara were murdered and many more wounded.

The attack on the flotilla, like the siege of Gaza, is aimed at demoralising Palestinians and their supporters. But the global pressure was enough to force Israel to announce a token relaxation of the blockade of the 1.5 million people crammed into the tiny coastal strip.

One week after Israel massacred peace activists on the high seas, the United Nations Security Council decided to implement sanctions — not against Israel, but rather Iran. Iran’s nuclear program, which was the reason for the sanctions, doesn’t include nuclear weapons nor the capacity to produce them.

The resolution adopted by the Security Council, with 12 votes for, two votes against and one abstention, imposes new restrictions on trade with Iran, as well as an expanded arms embargo.

The next time someone tells you that Marx or Marxism is outdated because capitalism is not as exploitative as it was in the 19th century, just crack open your copy of Capital, turn to the chapter on the working day, and compare its vivid depiction of the brutalisation of the British working class to the state of the working class in China today.

Ethnic violence against the Uzbek minority in the southern Kyrgyz cities of Jalalabad and Osh has created more than 400,000 refugees and internally displaced people. The official death toll is more than 200, but Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva told the June 16 Washington Post that the real figure may be 10 times higher.

Otunbayeva came to power in a mass uprising in April against former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who himself came to power through extra-parliamentary means in 2005. Before Bakiyev fled, his security forces killed 75 protesters.

The tar sands mining project in Alberta, Canada, is possibly the largest industrial project in human history and critics claim it could also be the most destructive.

The mining procedure for extracting oil from a region referred to as the "tar sands," located north of Edmonton, releases at least three times the CO2 emissions of regular oil production procedures and will likely become North America's single largest industrial contributor to climate change.

Reza Shahabi and Saeed Torabian, two executive committee members of the Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company, have been arrested and are held at unknown locations.

Shahabi, treasurer of the union, was arrested on June 12 as he clocked in at work. Four security agents then took him to his home. After a search, they confiscated his computer. Torabian, the union’s public relations officer, was arrested at his home in Tehran on June 9.

Security agents also tried to arrest union member Habib Rezapoor but he was not at home.

The publication of the Saville Report, the inquiry into the British army massacre of 14 civil rights protestors in Derry in the north of Ireland in 1972, confirmed what the victims’ families had always known — that those shot had been unarmed and posed no threat to the British Parachute Regiment.

The murder of international peace activists on the Gaza flotilla by Israeli commandos marks a turning point in the international standing of the state of Israel. Even though we witnessed the horrific violence in Lebanon in 2006 and then in “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza in 2008, Israel has largely been able to count on the support of the Western alliance and its clients in the Arab world.

Many Australian football fans left Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium early on June 13 following Australia’s particularly dismal four-nil loss against Germany. Had they remained they would have witnessed scenes more dramatic than any that had unfolded on the field, when police violently attacked 500 stewards striking over a pay dispute.

Analysis

Breaking story (last updated June 25): Socialists and progressive trade union and social movement activists have reacted sceptically to the leadership change in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) federal government of Australia. Julia Gillard displaced Kevin Rudd as PM on June 24 after a surprise leadership challenge that came into the open the night before. She became the country's first woman PM. Wayne Swan replaced Gillard as deputy PM.

Andrew John Brent is an activist with Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH). He recently visited Villawood dentention centre to speak with Leela, a queer Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka. This is his story. More information on the campaign to free queer refugees can be found at the CAAH website.

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A recent survey, the results of which are published in Speaking Out: Stopping homophobic and transphobic abuse in Queensland, was yet another reminder that that Australia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex (LGBTI) community continue to suffer abuse and victimisation in silence.

Dr Alan Berman of Griffith University and Dr Shirleene Robinson of Bond University collected almost 1100 survey responses from the LGBTI community and focus groups throughout Queensland. Their findings exposed a shocking frequency of verbal and physical abuse suffered by queers.

Kiama Municipal Council will sign an open letter to the NSW government calling for no new coal-fired power stations.

Greenpeace, who initiated the letter campaign, says the NSW government plans to approve two new coal power stations in Lithgow and the Hunter Valley. If built, they would spew over 20 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution into the atmosphere each year.

Kiama Deputy Mayor, and Greens candidate for Gilmore, Ben van der Wijngaart moved the resolution, which was carried only after Mayor Sandra McCarthy, an independent, used her casting vote in favour.

Traditional owners of Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory have launched a federal court challenge over a proposed nuclear waste dump on their land.

A small group of traditional owners signed a deal for $12 million in exchange for roads, housing and infrastructure, but senior elders from all five of the clan groups for Muckaty maintain that they did not consent to the waste dump proposal.

Lesbians, gays, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people across the world have rejected Israel’s brutal occupation of Gaza and are coming out in support of the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

In the wake of Israel’s bloody attack on the Freedom Flotilla and murder of peace activists on May 31, the myth that Israel is a liberal democratic state has been dispelled. But Israel continues to try to market itself as the only “gay haven” in the Middle East.

Muckaty Voices is a 10-minute video documentary that tells the story of the Muckaty traditional owners opposed to a radioactive waste dump on their country.

Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes said: “We made the video throughout the Warlmanpa land. It is all of the Milwayi story. Along with that, we have some songs and dances to represent the country.

“Martin Ferguson has avoided us and ignored our letters, but he knows very well how we feel. He has been arrogant and secretive and he thinks he has gotten away with his plan, but in fact he has a big fight on his hands.”

Attempts by Tahmoor mineworkers to negotiate with mining giant Xstrata have collapsed yet again after the company refused to budge during mediated talks in May. For 20 months, the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union (CFMEU), has been trying to negotiate an agreement.

Jeff Carrol, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) seafarer, was on the Front Puffin when the burnt bodies of Afghan refugees from Ashmore Reef were hauled onboard a year ago.

On June 7, he was with the Tamil refugees from the Oceanic Viking in the union rooms as they received the donations mining and maritime unions pledged to them last year at the height of the controversy.

The federal Labor government plans to extend welfare quarantining across the Northern Territory.

The law reforms are designed to circumvent the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, suspended in 2007 when quarantining was first imposed on Aboriginal people as part of the NT intervention. After 12 months, the policy may be rolled out across the country

Ruth Ratcliffe works in the community sector in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. She is an activist in the Adelaide climate action movement and has supported many other campaigns for social justice including the campaign against the racist Northern Territory intervention. Below she outlines why she is standing for the Socialist Alliance for the South Australian senate.

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Myself and eight other people were arrested at the gates to Swan Island defence intelligence training base near Queenscliff in Victoria on June 16. We did this to protest the Australian government's continued participation in the occupation of Afghanistan.

Our day began with 40 people outside the Geelong Magistrates Court showing solidarity with the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective who were on trial for entering Swan Island in March. Despite pleading guilty to the charges of trespass on Commonwealth land, the magistrate dismissed their charges on the grounds that their cause was justifiable.

An internationally renowned academic in the field of Islamic and Gender Studies, Dr Samar Habib (pictured), says pressure from management at the University of Western Sydney caused her to resign from her staff teaching position. Habib said she felt under intense pressure from the university while setting the course material for her compulsory first-year subject, Texts and Traditions. “There were constraints placed on me in terms of what texts I was able to include and who to teach with, and it became very difficult to exercise academic or creative control over my unit”, she said.

It was the good news of the month on the Australian economic front. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced on June 10 that the official unemployment rate had dropped to 5.2%. But economic commentators have warned that this is close to the lowest level of unemployment the economy can bear without risking inflation.

This was not good news for the 600,900 people who the ABS estimates are still officially unemployed (on a seasonally adjusted basis).

Large mining companies enjoyed a huge profit margin of 46.1% in 2008/9, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on May 28. The mining sector as a whole has a profit margin of 37.1%, making it the most profitable sector in the economy, with professional and scientific services second (24.6%) and private health care third (21.5%).

The National Rugby League (NRL) establishment is in damage control once again after one of the game's stars took a courageous stand against racism in the sport.

Star centre Timana Tahu quit the New South Wales State of Origin team on June 11 in protest against racism directed towards an opponent.

NSW assistant coach Andrew Johns described Queensland centre Greg Inglis, an Aboriginal man, as a “black cunt” in his training instructions to the team, and has been accused of making racist remarks about other Queensland players.

After seven years, the police officers responsible for the killing of Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Domadgee — and the cover-up that followed — may face new charges as a result of a Crimes and Misconduct Commission (CMC) report.

In November 2004, Mulrunji was found dead in a Palm Island police cell within an hour of his arrest by senior sergeant Chris Hurley. Mulrunji’s liver had been nearly cleaved in two by an extreme force and there were signs of bruising to his face.

Green Left Weekly’s Niko Leka spoke to refugee advocate Saradha Nathan. Last year, Nathan travelled to Indonesia with other refugee advocates, to inspect conditions in Australian-funded detention centres there and take aid and visa application forms to the Tamils stranded on the boat at Merak.

She spoke about the fate of those refugees, some of who are now in detention, and some who recently tried again to come to Australia — with fatal consequences.

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Culture

“[We are] saddened by the mixture of politics and sports.”

So said a spokesperson for the Israeli Football Association in response to news on April 31 that the Turkish under-19 soccer team cancelled its match in Israel. Turkey's team made the move following the Israeli Navy's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that left at least nine dead and scores injured.

Then on June 1, the Swedish Football Association (SFA) announced that it would formally request European soccer's governing body to cancel Sweden's under-21 game in Israel on June 4.

Late last year Western Australian artist Nathalie Haymann exhibited thirty-six artworks based on the book "A Certain Maritime Incident — the Sinking of the SIEVX" in Fremantle. The showing commemorated the 2001 sinking of a refugee boat off the coast of Australia — a crime against humanity about which many controversial questions still swirl.

The entire exhibition is now available for viewing at www.sinkingofsievxpaintings.com.

The Runaways tells the story of what is considered to be the first all-female instrumental rock band.
With artistic licence, the film provides a good depiction of the crippling stereotypes that women in the music industry and throughout society have to contend with and undermine before they are taken seriously at large.

Each US Memorial Day long weekend begins the annual summer harvest for Hollywood studios as their blockbusters open. This year Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia and Shrek 4 led the way.

It was a disaster, with the worst Memorial Day weekend takings in nine years and the lowest attendances for at least 15 years.

Hollywood executives hoped that last year’s killer flick Avatar would lead to a new era in which 3D would give them the technological edge against their DVD-pirate rivals and raise ticket prices.

Fighting Fund

According to a recent study by the United States Geological Survey, Afghanistan has nearly one trillion dollars in mineral deposits. The study claimed to have found previously unknown reserves of lithium, gold, cobalt and other minerals.

According to the New York Times: “An internal Pentagon memo … states that Afghanistan could become the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’, a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.”