Issue 846

News

On July 22, Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Soubhi Iskander condemned the Australia First Party's leaflets attacking immigrants from Africa. The leaflets were letterboxed in the western Sydney suburb of Seven Hills. Iskander is a refugee from Sudan and lives in Seven Hills. “This is a call to incite racist violence against communities of colour", Iskander said. “Blaming Africans for the social problems in Sydney's west that are the result of a lack of employment, affordable housing and public transportation is wrong.
A draft program for the Climate Change Social Change conference, over November 5-7, has been released and is available on the conference website. Major conference sessions include topics such as: “A safe climate — what will it take?”; “Climate justice: their agenda and ours”; “Food sovereignty for surviva”l; and “The global economic crisis and the ecological revolution”.
“The poisoning of groundwater near Kingaroy is just the tip of the iceberg with coal seam gas [CSG] extraction”, climate change activist and Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Brisbane Ewan Saunders told Green Left Weekly. The contamination of groundwater by toxic chemicals was revealed two weeks ago, sparking calls for urgent action against the CSG industry, which is rapidly expanding in south-eastern Queensland.
Work on every wharf in every port across Australia stopped for 24 hours from noon on July 23 to allow wharfies to attend services to mark the tragic death of Steve Piper. Piper was crushed to death by a steel beam on Melbourne's Appleton Dock on July 14. The 24-hour stopwork also called for special national waterfront safety regulations. Piper is the third wharfie killed on the job this year. Fourteen Australian maritime workers have been killed at work in the past two decades. Alarmingly, half of those have occurred in the past five years.
Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN) WA is organising a “Compassion Caravan” to the detention centre in Leonora, WA, where more than 30 families are being held, including more than 40 children. Some of these families’ applications have been “frozen” by the Gillard-ALP government in a political ploy to placate xenophobic sentiment toward refugees. This not only violates international law, but also punishes the bulk of refugees coming to Australia. To show that not all Australians agree with these policies, we will travel to Leonora to take gifts for the families being detained.
On July 31, 100 anti-uranium mining protesters rallied outside the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, which was hosting the Australian Uranium Conference. WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett lifted the ban on uranium mining in November 2008 soon after winning office. There are no commercial uranium mines operating in the state but the Australian Uranium Association has identified eight major uranium deposits in WA. The Anti-Nuclear Alliance of WA (ANAWA), which organised the protest, said there are 137 mining companies with uranium interests in the state.
On July 24, the NSW Combined Rail Unions announced they had successfully applied to take industrial action for their enterprise bargaining agreement in 2010. Of key concern to the unions are safety and service levels, which have declined because of a RailCorp staff review that has cut staff at many stations. The CCTV system, a costly and inadequate method of security for train stations, is set to have its staff numbers cut — further endangering commuters and staff.
On July 17, 25 members of Justice for Palestine (JFP) Brisbane met in the CBD to launch their boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli goods and services. The target for the first BDS action was the Israeli Seacret cosmetics company that uses “mineral-rich mud and natural mineral salts of the Dead Sea”. It makes no mention of the occupied Palestinian land from which the minerals are extracted or the apartheid conditions under which Palestinians live every day.

Analysis

Ewan Saunders, Socialist Alliance candidate for Brisbane, recently returned from the Justice Ride to Alice Springs. * * * On July 14, after almost 50 hours spent on the road over four days, I, along with about 20 others, rolled back into Brisbane at 11.30pm. The trip back from Alice Springs was the last leg of a two-week Justice Ride that changed the lives of a busload of people, many of whom hadn’t considered themselves “activists” before the bus left on July 1.
On July 17, the Adelaide-based Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN SA) hosted a forum in Port Augusta detailing the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan recently launched by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).
Victorian Electrical Trade Union (ETU) members have voted resoundingly to disaffiliate from the Australian Labor Party. In a ballot of ETU members on whether the union should remain affiliated to the ALP, 85% voted against affiliation. Nearly 44% of ETU members voted in the ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. This is the first time in many years a union has disaffiliated from the Labor Party, and possibly the first time a union has conducted a ballot of members on the issue.
October 12 is the trial date set for a young Cairns couple charged with procuring an abortion. According to Dr Caroline de Costa in a book released this month, Never Ever Again …Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform, no woman has previously been charged with procuring her own abortion since the 1899 criminal code was first decreed in Queensland. De Costa believes this could be the first trial of its kind in Australia’s history.
Myth: Public opinion on abortion is deeply divided Australians support access to abortion — for three decades, opinion polls have consistently shown that most Australians support women’s right to choose and believe that forcing a woman to have an unwanted child is worse than allowing abortion. Myth: The charges against the Cairns couple relate to drug importation or the fact they didn’t see a doctor.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was supposed to launch Labor's new policy to tackle climate change on July 23. But in essence she merely restated the same old Labor climate policy: delay, delay and delay again. Gillard's speech was pages long, but her climate agenda can be summarised in just four words: more talk, less action.
On July 22, the trial of construction worker Ark Tribe was adjourned until September 13. Tribe is facing up to six months’ jail for failing to attend an interrogation by the construction industry police — the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Thousands of workers rallied around Australia to support him. In Adelaide, 2000 people rallied outside the court over July 20-23. On the first day, the rally included a march on the ABCC's Adelaide office. One of the most popular chants on the march was “Johnny Lloyd you're a rat”. John Lloyd is the ABCC head.
In November 2008, Palm Island man Lex Wotton was convicted of "incitement to riot” and sentenced to six years' jail. His charge followed the Aboriginal community uprising and protest after the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee in November 2004.
The Order of Mates celebrated beside Sydney Harbour the other day. This is a venerable masonry in Australian political life that unites the Labor Party with the rich elite known as the big end of town. They shake hands, not hug, though the Silver Bodgie now hugs. In his prime, the Silver Bodgie, aka Bob Hawke or Hawkie, wore suits that shone, wide-bottomed trousers and shirts with the buttons undone. A bodgie was an Australian version of the 1950s English Teddy Boy and Hawke’s thick grey-black coiffure added inches to his abbreviated stature.
Green Left Weekly spoke to Peter Boyle, the national convener of the Socialist Alliance, about the political climate of the 2010 federal elections. * * * Many progressive people are feeling depressed about the federal election. How do you see it? Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition are in a “race to the bottom”, as Socialist Alliance lead Queensland Senate candidate and Murri community leader Sam Watson aptly put it.
On July 18, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) administration was forced to reinstate 80 staff members and start two weeks of intensive bargaining. As a result, UNSW union members voted to lift a ban on releasing student results on July 23. The UNSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) imposed the ban from June 30 in response to management delaying bargaining for 16 months over union demands for improved job security, pay and other conditions.
In one of her first policy changes after replacing Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party, Prime Minister Julia Gillard dumped Rudd’s idea of a “big Australia”. On June 26, Gillard said “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population”. Instead, she called for a “sustainable population”. Almost four weeks on, however, Labor’s policy has no details — just lots of rhetoric designed to pander to fears that immigration (particularly asylum seekers) is causing a raft of social problems.
The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union ended its 20-day strike at Kennon Auto on July 20 after voting for a new agreement with a 10% pay rise and protection for the union’s conditions. Kennon Auto used to be part of the now-liquidated Nylex group. The new owner, Maggie Dong, at first refused to negotiate a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) with the union.
Forget about the climate science and the record high temperatures. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has decided she doesn’t need a serious climate change policy to win the federal election. In its place, she kicked off her election campaign on July 18 with a “sustainable Australia” policy. It promised a future of low population growth, which “preserves our quality of life and respects our environment”. Opposition leader and climate denier Tony Abbott was quick to say he fully agreed with this vision, but was even more committed to it than Gillard.
A spectre is haunting the healthcare system — the spectre of Big Pharma. Fears over the side effects of a widely used diabetes medication in Australia have revealed the power of big money and its influence on the healthcare system. The medication — known as Avandia — is under fire for potentially causing heart attacks and strokes in patients. The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is accused of hiding evidence of the drug’s harmful side-effects.

World

In an effort to mitigate the global outrage that followed its May 31 attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, Israel has, ever so slightly, eased its blockade on Gaza. However minimal, this step has only been taken because of the pressure applied to Israel by the international grassroots protest movement. The Gaza aid missions have aimed to alert the world to the criminality of the blockade. In this, they have succeeded — though the price has been heavy: Nine killed (mostly with shots directly to the head and neck) and 700 others violently abducted, detained and abused.
El Salvador is a country where supermarket prices are comparable to those in developed countries, yet a sugar cane cutter earns $5 a day. This small, predominantly rural, yet densely populated country has a violent history of colonial oppression and the attempted genocide of the indigenous people. More recently, it went through the 1980-92 civil war. “La Lucha” is a phrase you hear a lot in El Salvador. It means “the struggle”.
Joe Glenton, the British Army Lance Corporal who refused to return to fight in Afghanistan, was released from military prison on July 12. Glenton was jailed in March after going absent without leave from the army in 2007. He had previously spent seven months in Afghanistan as part of the US-led military occupation. He campaigned against the occupation, speaking at an anti-war demonstration in October. Glenton was greeted by about 30 supporters and dozens of reporters outside the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, Counterfire.org said on July 13.
Recent moves by the Venezuelan government, which now claims almost 50% of the shares in a pro-coup TV station and revoked the concession of another, represent new steps towards reclaim the media for the people. The moves came as US-Venezuelan writer Eva Golinger revealed on July 15 in a Chavezcode.com post that recently declassified documents showed the US State Department has funded opposition media to the tune of more than US$4 million.
A unprecedented mass demonstration took place on July 8 in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian-occupied West Papua, Straighttimes.com said that day. Thousands of people joined a long march, walking 17 kilometres from the Papua People’s Assembly (MRP) to the Papuan Provincial Legislature (DPRP) to reject the “special autonomy” granted by Indonesia in 2001. Protesters demanded a referendum on West Papuan independence and an internationally-mediated dialogue with Jakarta.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered a maximum alert on Venezuela’s border with Colombia after the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused the Chavez government of harbouring terrorists and running terrorist training camps on July 22. Uribe’s government gave a shameful presentation before member states of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on July 22. It was similar to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 “weapons of mass destruction” Power Point evidence to the United Nations Security Council to justify the war in Iraq.
Germany’s Federal Administrative Court ruled on July 21 that the Verfassungsschutz — Germany’s domestic spy agency — had a right to spy on the left-wing party Die Linke. Bodo Ramelow, Die Linke’s leader in the eastern state of Thuringia and others were appealing against the agency spying on them. The justification for the spying are claims Die Linke contained “anti-constitutional” elements because of its origins in the former East German state.
On June 28 last year, democratically-elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a US-backed military coup. Zelaya had upset US and Honduran corporate interests with policies such as blocking privatisation, increasing the minimum wage and joining the anti-imperialist Latin American bloc led by Venezuela and Cuba, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). But it was Zelaya’s decision to grant a demand of the social movements and begin a democratic process towards rewriting Honduras’s pro-elite constitution that led directly to the coup.
Anti-war campaigners have challenged British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to act on his belief that the invasion of Iraq was illegal by making sure those responsible were tried for war crimes, including former PM Tony Blair. Clegg, from the Liberal Democrats, shocked his pro-war Conservative Party coalition partners on July 21 when he declared the US-led invasion “illegal”. Clegg was standing in for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron for prime minister’s questions in parliament.
Alarm bells should be ringing as the threat of war looms on the horizon, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned in his July 18 weekly column. The warning came after tensions again flared with neighbouring Colombia, and the Central American nation of Costa Rica agreed to 6000 US troops being deployed on its soil. Chavez placed Venezuela on high alert and broke diplomatic relations with Colombia after a July 22 meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The global carbon market, which trades “pollution rights” to encourage industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions, grew in 2009. Far from signaling a success, this reflects a huge increase in fraud, the dumping of surplus emissions permits by industry, and a rise in financial speculation.
Two recent reports, released by NASA and the US National Climate Data Centre, have confirmed that last month was the warmest June since records began. June was the fourth consecutive month that had broken temperature records, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. Global monthly records were also broken in March, April and May. June was the 304th month in a row that recorded a global average temperature higher than the 20th century average. February 1985 was the last month temperatures fell below the average.
Thousands of republicans from across Ireland gathered on July 20 in Sallins, County Kildare, to honour Theobald Wolfe Tone, known as “the father of Irish republicanism”. Tone led an uprising against British rule and for an Irish republic in 1798. When it was defeated, Tone was sentenced to death.
“What the hell did we do to deserve this?”, BP CEO Tony Hayward asked fellow executives in the company’s London office, days after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the April 29 New York Times said. Eleven workers died in the explosion that has generated the US’s worst ever environmental disaster. BP finally managed to place a cap over the well on July 15, although its status remains tenuous. Associated Press reported seepage detected from the cap on July 21.
The US Senate passed the much-ballyhooed financial reform bill this week to applause from an increasingly thin crowd of Obama administration supporters. Most focused on the “something is better than nothing” features of the bill. But this could barely disguise the fact that the new regulations will do little to curb the activities of the mega-financial institutions at the centre of the economic crisis that ensued in 2008.
When right-wing billionaire Ricardo Martinelli was elected Panama’s president in May 2009, political commentators heralded it as a sign that Latin Americans were becoming disillusioned with the “pink tide” of progressive and leftist governments. But one year later, the Martinelli government is facing a wave of resistance to its anti-labour and anti-union laws. Resistance has grown in the face of deadly repression.

Culture

Chasing the Lollyman Presented by deBASE Productions State Library of Queensland, Brisbane “Move them along!”, referring to police strategies to deal with loitering Aboriginal people on Australia’s urban streets, was a phrase parodied to hilarity by Mark Sheppard during his acclaimed one-man show, Chasing the Lollyman, which ran at the State Library of Queensland during NAIDOC Week.
Boomalli, one of Australia’s longest running Aboriginal artists’ co-operatives, is threatened with closure. Based in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Leichhardt, Boomalli was set up in 1987 by Aboriginal artists to get their art recognised. Boomalli means “to strike, to make a mark, to fight back, to light up,” in the languages of the Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri and Bundjalung peoples of New South Wales.
Brain science — neuroscience — is big business, big science and big research. Neuroscientists are offering to explain, mend and manipulate the mind. Many see no problems with this. For example, Eric Kandel, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, said: “You are your brain.” This is an extraordinary, arid reductionism. This is the idea that you can collapse the complex phenomenon that goes on in the human mind into being simply the working of cells or molecules.

Fighting Fund

This election campaign is crazy. It’s crazy that so much fear is being whipped up about the few thousand of the world's 43 million refugees and displaced people who manage to get on a leaky boat to Australia. But neither mainstream party is willing to stop sending troops to the decade-long military occupation of Afghanistan. This war is largely responsible for 2.8 million Afghan refugees worldwide — the same war is opposed by most in Afghanistan and most citizens of the countries whose armies occupy it.

General

Over-fishing threatens caviar “Lovers of fine food face a shortage of Beluga caviar that may last more than a decade. Eurasian states are discussing a ban on catching sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. “Over-fishing has reduced the population of the fish that produces the delicacy by 90 per cent. “It has pushed the price up nearly sevenfold to $14,340 per kilogram, or $1434 for enough to make a sandwich. “The Caspian Sea is home to four-fifths of the sturgeon bearing the most sought after varieties of caviar ...

Resistance!

On July 15, 25 Justice Ride participants returned from their trip across Queensland to Alice Springs for the Defending Indigenous Rights convergence over July 6-9. The trip to Alice Springs took four days each way, so there was plenty of time for us to get to know each other, discuss local Aboriginal rights campaigns, such as those against black deaths in custody, and take in Australia’s beautiful and ancient landscape.