Issue 850

News

Two of the central figures in a major media and government scandal that erupted in the lead-up to the launch of the Northern Territory intervention will speak in Sydney on September 3, in their first public engagement together. Tjanara Goreng Goreng, a former Howard Coalition government official-turned-whistleblower, and Chris Graham, the founding editor of the National Indigenous Times, will speak address a public forum, at the University of Technology, Sydney, hosted by the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS).
The fight is on at Bluescope Steel, in Western Port Hastings, where 86 maintenance workers from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) are holding their picket lines in the face of scab labour. The workers are under attack from their employer Silcar and Bluescope Steel, which contracts its plant maintenance to Silcar. The steel manufacturing plant employs around 1400 people full-time and produces more than a million tonnes of steel products a year.
Coalminers in Tahmoor have been locked out of their workplace again. They've been fighting with their employer, the coal giant Xstrata, for more than 22 months for a fair, new Enterprise Agreement. Attempts to negotiate have collapsed repeatedly because the company has refused to budge, even during mediated talks. During a workplace dispute over job security and safety conditions, the workers held a six-hour strike on February 7, followed by a 24-hour stoppage on February 8.
On August 23, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) reported that a 30-year-old man found unconscious in the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia had died. After his collapse on August 21, the man was taken to Derby hospital, 40 kilometres away. That night, he was transferred to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, more than 2000km south of Derby. He died the next day. DIAC would not tell Green Left Weekly the man’s name, but said it didn’t believe there were suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. A Coronial inquiry
Thirty students, parents, teachers and FairWear activists met at Brunswick South West Primary School on August 16 to celebrate and highlight that school’s commitment to ethical uniforms. Students at Brunswick South West Primary School joined with FairWear supporters to praise their school community for ensuring that the uniforms they wear are made fairly and ethically.
Liberal member for Dunkley, Bruce Billson, has been left fighting for his political life after the recent federal election. The Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC) Action Group targeted his electorate during the election campaign.
On August 11, the NSW Combined Unions Campaign Committee (CUCC) — which consists of 80 rank-and-file delegates of the combined rail unions, called off a planned strike on election eve, August 20. Delegates were divided over the decision. The CUCC was discussing how to respond to Railcorp’s latest offer, which, the August 25 rail union bulletin reported, had three elements: “• A four year agreement ,to protect our jobs and entitlements should we be faced with a new State Government following next year’s State election, with guarantees for no forced redundancies;
At dawn on August 20, the offices of Kurdish groups in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne were raided by Australian Federal Police and state police. Police alleged the groups were linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which struggles for self-determination for the oppressed Kurdish minority in Turkey. The PKK was listed as a “terrorist organisation” by the Australian government in 2005. Kurdish leaders in Melbourne, along with the association’s lawyer Chris Ryan, questioned the timing of the raid, coming as it did the day before the federal election.
Just three days after the federal election, with the result still in the balance, the Refugee Action Coalition held a protest outside the Sydney law courts in support of a High Court case that is challenging the legality of off-shore processing of asylum seekers. If the case fails, there will be no further legal barrier to deporting refugees currently held in detention centres.
Safe Climate Perth has called a strategy meeting to plan a grassroots campaign against the new coal-fired power stations approved by the state Liberal government. The campaign will also take up other proposed developments such as a suggested new coal mine at Margaret River, which has already sparked a dynamic community campaign. Safe Climate campaigner Kamala Emanuel told Green Left Weekly: “We are planning a campaign that can win. “The first step to getting to a safe climate future is to stop the increase in emissions of greenhouse pollution from new coal power stations.

Analysis

On July 26, Wikileaks released thousands of secret US military files on the war in Afghanistan. Cover-ups, a secret assassination unit and the killing of civilians are documented. In file after file, the brutalities echo the colonial past. From Malaya and Vietnam to Bloody Sunday in Ireland and Basra in Iraq, little has changed. The difference is that today there is an extraordinary way of knowing how faraway societies are routinely ravaged in our name.
In April 2009, Kevin Rudd, then Labor prime minister, announced the National Broadband Network (NBN), a massive infrastructure project to provide high-speed network access to 93% of Australia, with satellite access for the rest. Rollout of the network began in Tasmania in July. 2009. Operations began in some other areas in July 2010.
Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle, a documentary that aired on ABC1 on August 12, made no modest claims. It went for the direct, hard sell. Its message: “Cutting immigration to Australia is a great product, and you should buy it.” It said a smaller Australia would not solve just one or two social problems, but more than a dozen.
Over the weekend of August 14-15, a “Compassion Caravan” left Perth to visit the Leonora immigration detention centre. Organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network of Western Australia (RRAN), the caravan included 22 people (including university lecturers and children) and a cargo of gifts for the 195 mothers, fathers and children in the remote Leonora detention centre.
"It seems that the whole narrative of politics is going through a seismic shift”, said Greens lead candidate for the NSW upper house at the 2011 state election, David Shoebridge at an August 25 forum discussing the post-election political landscape. Shoebridge told the meeting, which was organised by Socialist Alliance, that the result would impact on upcoming state elections in Victoria and NSW. In NSW, Labor is particularly hated.
Voters’ stunning rejection of both major parties has left neither likely to form a government in its own right. Whichever party governs, it will have to rely on the support of at least three and probably four independents, with Andrew Wilkie's chance of taking Denison from Labor firming.
Greg Eatock, a well-known Indigenous activist in Sydney, passed away aged just 51 on August 24. His early death, from chronic health problems, was more proof of the shameful 11.5-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous males in Australian. One of Greg's brothers, Ronald, had already passed away, aged 27. Greg came from a family with a four-generation history of political activism. His great grandmother, Lucy Eatock, and her husband William were veterans of the great 1890s shearers’ strike. Lucy later moved to Sydney from Queensland.
For John, a Socialist Alliance member in his nineties, it was “the best election result in my lifetime”. He was referring to the political impact of a hung parliament and a record vote for the Greens. From the top of the stairs at a polling booth in inner-western Sydney’s once safe, now marginal, seat of Grayndler, John waved the Socialist Alliance’s “how to vote” card to the queued voters and campaigners. His defiant gesture towards the numerous ALP booth workers was a metaphor for the Socialist Alliance’s campaign across the country.
The death of Lance-Corporal Jared Mackinney in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan on August 25 brought the death toll of Australian soldiers to 21 — 10 of whom have died since June. Mackinney was the third Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan in four days. Defence minister Senator John Faulkner defensively admitted at a media conference the same day that Australians are increasingly questioning the near nine-year old war.
Rather than giving us the government we deserve, the August 21 federal election delivered an outcome the two old parties deserved. Because both Labor and the Coalition focused on negative campaigning, sloganeering and scapegoating refugees and other minorities, a large number of voters decided to vote for alternatives with some vision. A hung parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate was only a partial reflection of this growing disenchantment with the two-party system.
By denying both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the the Liberal-National coalition an outright majority in primary votes and in House of Representatives seats, Australian electors voted “neither of the above” for the traditional parties of government. This followed an election campaign in which the major parties conducted an ugly race to the right, most notoriously by scapegoating the few thousand desperate refugees who attempt to get to Australia on boats.
Barb Shaw, a well-known Aboriginal activist from Alice Springs’ town camps who has campaigned tirelessly against the Northern Territory intervention, doubled the Greens’ vote in the huge NT seat of Lingiari. The result damages the government’s claim that Aboriginal people support the intervention. The intervention imposes a series of discriminatory measures against Aboriginal people in remote communities. It was launched by the Howard Coalition government in August 2007 and has been extended under Labor.
Unexpectedly, it seems to me, a great opportunity for social change has emerged. This might seem strange, with another neo-fascist on the verge of becoming Australian Prime Minister. However remember that real change comes from widespread social participation, over longer periods.

World

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed on March 24, 1980 by one of El Salvador’s infamous government-backed “death squads”. As archbishop, Romero spoke out about economic inequality and violent government repression. The anniversary of his murder always triggers reflection on the nightmare the country experienced during the 1980-’92 civil war, which left 75,000 people (mainly civilians) dead, 8000 “disappeared” and 50,000 permanently disabled.
The Gulf of Mexico is still threatened with an ecological catastrophe, but the US government and British Petroleum (BP) are trying to cover up the scale of BP’s Macondo oil well disaster. About 4.9 million barrels of oil escaped into the sea after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. BP capped the well on July 15, but work on the relief well to permanently plug the spill is expected to be delayed until early September, Bloomberg.com said on August 20.
One of Venezuela’s state-run food supply networks increased by 70% its sales in July, Edward Ellis reported in the Correo del Orinoco International on August 13. Ellis said commerce minister Richard Canan told Venezuelan television program Desperto Venezuela of a record income for the Bicentennial Markets, which took in a total of US$56.5 million in July. Ellis said Canan, a member of socialist President Hugo Chavez’s government, reported a 2.1 million people visited the markets in July, an increase of 35%.
August 19 marked 91 years since Afghanistan gained its freedom from the British Empire, following three bloody wars of independence. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a video statement to mark the occasion. It’s worth watching, if only to appreciate the new Empire’s irony-laden platitudes. In her greetings of “friendship”, Clinton wished Afghans a “happy and safe Independence Day”. She said: “On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I want to congratulate the people of Afghanistan on 91 years of independence.
The following statement was released on August 20 by the Labour Party Pakistan (Karachi) and Pakistan’s National Trade Union Federation. See Laborpakistan.org for more information. * * * The recent floods represent the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history. The country has been devastated from the northern areas to its southern tip.
The two major civil service unions on strike against the South African government have vowed to intensify pressure in a struggle pitting more than a million workers against a confident government leadership fresh from hosting the World Cup. Along with many smaller public sector unions, educators from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and nurses from the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) have picketed schools, clinics and hospitals, leading to widespread shutdowns from August 18.
With floods caused by the heaviest ever recorded rainfall sweep down the Indus River toward the Arabian Sea, a fifth of Pakistan was under water by late August. More than 16,000 people have been killed and 20 million displaced. The death toll is likely to rise due to hunger and disease. Food insecurity and malnutrition were endemic in Pakistan before the catastrophe. On August 25, the United Nations reported 120,000 cases of suspected dengue fever and malaria and more than 600,000 cases of acute diarrhoea. The outlook for farmers who have lost all means of livelihood is grim.
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi announced on August 24 that its affiliated unions will launch a solidarity “secondary strike” on September 2 in support of the country's 1.3 million public servants and teachers on strike for better wages and allowances. Vavi warned: “No member of COSATU will be at work next week.”
To give yourself a stressful and futile day, try telling people there are no plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero. You’ll get nowhere, although the truth is there are plans to build an Islamic centre, with a swimming pool open to everyone, two blocks away from Ground Zero site of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
On August 24, New York cab driver Ahmed Sharif was viscously assaulted by a passenger in his cab, who asked him if he was a Muslim before attacking him with a knife. Sharif was hospitalised but survived. The NYC Coalition to Stop Islamophobia released the statement below on August 25. It is abridged from the website of the Coalition to Stop Islamophobia in America. * * *
As the mainstream press frets that the much-touted “economic-recovery” appears to have lost steam, the economic crisis continues to escalate for ordinary people. With official unemployment holding steady at 9.5% (real unemployment is much higher), and with the state budget cuts producing yet more tuition increases, a growing phenomenon is sweeping the nation: homeless and hungry college students.
The call for action against New Zealand-owned Burger Fuel chain for anti-worker practices below is reprinted from Unityaotearoa.blogspot.com. Campaigners have called for international action targetting Burger Fuel, which has two Sydney stores in Newtown and Kings Cross. Campaigners have called for coordinated pickets of Burger Fuel stores on Saturday, September 4.
Below is an English translation of an open letter to the French government published in the August 16 French daily Liberation signed by a wide-range of writers and activists. Signatories include writers Tariq Ali, Eduardo Galeano and Naomi Klein, Filipino parliamentarian Walden Bello and US academic Noam Chomsky. The English statement, and the introduction below, are reprinted from The Bullet, where a full list of signatures can be found.
Peru’s Amazonian indigenous people have announced the creation of their own political party and will contest the presidential elections in April 2011. The indigenous people clashed with Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government in 2009 to defend their ancestral lands in the largest indigenous uprising in recent history.

Culture

The introduction in May of a racist law targetting immigrants in the US state of Arizona has sparked a powerful movement from wide sections of US society. It has also sparked the biggest movement of musicians in the US since the times of South African apartheid, with a growing number of artists refusing to play in Arizona in protest. The musicians are organised through Sound Strike, an organisation initiated in May by Rage Against the Machine (RATM) lead singer Zach de la Rocha and film-maker Michael Moore.
A powerful new film about the Northern Territory intervention, Our Generation, is being shown to audiences across the NT, and will screen in places across Australia. The film-makers, Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis, spent three years with “just a camera and a microphone and lots of tape stock and time” and no script, allowing Yolngu people in North-East Arnhem Land to tell their stories about how the policies of the intervention — introduced by the Howard government and continued by Labor — have changed their lives.
No … politeness, happiness, humanity Have … pain, sorrow, suffering Nobody is here, to love us Nobody is here, to be honest We are suffering without love We are expecting politeness person We are looking for humanity — but we couldn’t see anywhere We couldn’t see in the dream also We are suffering difficulties for a long time We faced so many sorrows in our country Even we can’t tell anything that our past life We can’t explain in a word
Trans-Continental Hustle Gogol Bordello Colombia/ DMZ Review by Mat Ward Gogol Bordello have always said their aim is to smuggle Roma music into mainstream Western society. Their latest album, produced by former Beastie Boys DJ-turned-super-producer Rick Rubin, might just do that. The US-based band, whose music combines elements of traditional Romani music with punk rock, is largely made up of Eastern European Roma immigrants who understand the long-standing persecution of their people.

Fighting Fund

The federal election result was a breakthrough for all who dream of being liberated from the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee politics that has been foisted on Australia for many years. By denying the major parties a majority mandate, and by swinging strongly to the Greens, the possibility for a very political future has been opened up. Of course, there are many challenges ahead.

Letters

Green Victory I The most striking thing about the Greens victory in the seat of Melbourne is not that it is their first lower house seat at a federal election. More significant is that more than 11% of the vote for the Greens results in less than 1% of the seats. In theory, a party could receive 20% or 30% of the vote and get no seats whatsoever. It is time that Australia moved to a more democratic proportional representation system where parties are represented in proportion to their level of support among the people. Alex Bainbridge Perth

Resistance!

Ben Kohler, a year 11 student and member of the Socialist Alliance and Resistance, is running for the position of school captain at Woonona High, in Wollongong's northern suburbs. He spoke with Green Left Weekly’s Patrick Harrison about his campaign. * * * What motivated you to run for school captain? I was reading Stupid White Men by Michael Moore. He talks about schooling, and basically encourages students to take over the school. He also said we should “mock the vote” and I thought, “I have to do that!”
For most queer rights activists, the most pressing issue is queer marriage rights. Denying this basic right to a large number of Australians is abhorrent. In a democracy, the elected officials are supposed to represent the views of the people who elect them. The majority of Australians are in favor of giving same-sex couples the right to marry, but both major parties have shown their contempt for the opinions of the majority.