Issue 853

Australia

The statement below was released by the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition on September 20.

VILLAWOOD IN CHAOS AFTER SUICIDE AS HUNGER STRIKES AND PROTESTS CONTINUE

The suicide of a Fijian man facing deportation from the Villawood detention centre this morning has thrown the detention centre into chaos.

The Fijian man died after throwing himself from the roof of a building in stage 2 of the detention centre.

Five families are suing Xstrata, the Queensland government and the Mt Isa council over alleged lead contamination.

As part of their case, they commissioned US neuroscientist Theodore Lidsky to examine brain tests on Mt Isa children. His report found some Mt Isa children had brain damage from long-term exposure to lead, the families’ lawyer, Damian Scattini, told ABC News on September 17.

On October 10, climate activists will converge on the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley in eastern Victoria. They will use mirrors to try to create Victoria's “first solar thermal power” station at the Hazelwood gate, to show solar is a viable alternative.

Shaun Murray from campaign group Switch off Hazelwood told Green Left Weekly: “Hazelwood is the most carbon-intensive power station in Australia relative to its output, and has been an ongoing target by climate campaigners.”

The National Tertiary Education Union is undergoing a leadership renewal that will strengthen its progressive role on industrial and educational issues. The process will also help the NTEU on the social and environmental fronts on which it is showing leadership.

Matthew McGowan, the former secretary of the union's Victorian division, has been elected as the union's new national assistant secretary. When McGowan headed the union’s Victorian division it succeeded in repelling serious attacks on staffing and educational standards at Victoria University and the University of Ballarat.

Three of the 12 Tamil asylum seekers accused of rioting at Christmas Island detention centre in November 2009 have had their charges dismissed.

The lawyers for detainee Mr Suntharalingam successfully argued that it would not be fair to use his record of interview against him, as he did not fully understand the caution given to him by the Federal Police at the start of the interview.

Without the interview Commonwealth prosecutors were unable to continue the charges against him.

In an attempt to divide staff, on September 13 management at Macquarie University (MQ) proposed to split the current Enterprise Agreement in two, and tried to ram through a second-rate agreement for general staff.

If successful this would mean MQ general staff would have the worst conditions of any of the 26 agreements across Australian universities. This has angered the local National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) branch.

The NTEU is campaigning to defeat the push by calling for a “No” vote in a ballot of general staff set to open on September 23.

A rally outside Queensland state parliament on September 14 demanded the charging of police who break the law, a full royal commission into the state’s police force and real accountability. After the rally, a delegation from the Aboriginal community met police minister Neil Roberts and discussed issues arising from the deaths in custody crisis.

Below is an excerpt from the speech Murri leader and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson gave at the rally.

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Building worker Ark Tribe appeared before Adelaide magistrates Court for the 11th time on September 13. Several hundred people gathered outside the court to support him.

Tribe faces jail for refusing to speak to the anti-union secret police force, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The rally was addressed by local and national trade union leaders. The highlight was Tribe's brief speech. He made it clear this was not just about him but about the right of all workers to organise.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union members at Megabolt in Campbellfield, Victoria went back to work on September 16 after taking successful protected industrial action to win their first union collective agreement.

AMWU officials formed a guard of honour for the workers as they walked into the factory for the first shift.

For the first time, many Megabolt workers’ pay has risen above the minimum wage with an immediate 10% pay rise, sign-on bonus and back pay to June 2. This will be followed by 4.5% raises over the following two years.

A new dictionary to help deliver health care to Yolngu people of East Arnhem Land was launched in Darwin on September 7. Linguist Marilyn McLellan and Yolngu translator Yurranydjil Dhurrkay from the Elcho Island community of Galiwin'ku have produced a dictionary of 200 medical and anatomical terms in English and Yolngu Matha.

The dictionary has been produced and published by the Aboriginal Resource Development Services (ARDS), a not-for-profit organisation based in Nhulunbuy and Darwin.

Greens MLC John Kaye officially welcomed to Sydney the new Cuban consul Reinaldo Garcia as part of an event to mark 12 years since the arrest of the “Cuban Five”.

The Cuban Five are anti-terrorist fighters who were arrested in the US for infiltrating and collecting information on Miami-based right-wing anti-Cuban terrorist groups.

Despite disclosing information they had gathered to US authorities, it is they and not the terrorists that are facing jail terms, in some cases double life sentences.

Police broke up a blockade by several Aboriginal and environmental activists at Sandon Point on September 14 after they tried to stop land clearing by the Stockland property group.

Sandon Point, on the NSW south coast, has cultural significance for local Aboriginal people. It is home to a number of endangered and threatened species, which activists say are threatened by the planned development.

Activists from campaign group Sydney Says No 2 Honduran Coup gathered on September 15 to mark Honduran Independence Day, 14 months after elected president Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped and flown out of the country in a military coup on June 28, 2009.

Although in exile, Zelaya continues to campaign against the coup regime. Inside Honduras, the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) campaigns against the illegitimate government of Porfirio Lobo.
Below is an abridged version of a speech given by Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon at the Sydney action.

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World

Thailand Troubles said on September 19 that a motorcade of 150 vehicles made their way from Bangkok to Chiangmai for a rally of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), popularly known as the Red Shirts, that was expected to draw 10,000.

A growing crowd of Red Shirts gathered since morning around Ratchaprasong Intersection, the site of the April-May mass protest camp of Red Shirts that was bloodily repressed by the military on May 19.

Comparisons must be made between the impact of the September 5 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the quake that hit Haiti in January.

In Haiti — with a population of about 9 million — about 250,000 people died in the earthquake. According to government figures, 200,000 were injured and 1 million were made homeless.

Eight months later, disaster still grips people’s lives.

Fortunately, but in staggering contrast, no lives were lost in New Zealand, although the earthquake was of a similar — but slightly more powerful — magnitude (7 on the Richter scale).

Fresh claims have emerged that an Indonesian “counter-terrorism” unit that receives Australian funding and training has perpetrated human rights abuses against independence campaigners in Maluku and West Papua.

Thirty-three miners trapped 700 metres underground in northern Chile have been told they will not be paid in coming months, despite the fact it is expected to take close to two-and-a-half months to pull them out.

Representatives of the San Esteban mining company told the workers’ union that no guarantees can be given that the wages of those miners stuck underground since August 5 will be paid. The company insists it is bankrupt.

Seventy-five people staged a noisy rally in Vancouver on September 11 in support of 492 Tamil asylum seekers who landed on Canada’s west coast in August. The rally was organised by the Vancouver chapter of No One Is Illegal.

The rally was held outside the Burnaby Youth Detention Center where many of the 63 women and 49 children who were on board the MV Sun Sea were held. (Burnaby is a suburb of Vancouver). Noisemakers and loud music were deployed to send a message to the asylum seekers that they have strong support in Canada for their claim for refugee status.

On September 10, the players of the Serie A — Italy's top football league — declared they would strike on September 25 and 26.

AC Milan defender Massimo Oddo, speaking on behalf of the Italian Players' Association (AIC) and the captains of all 20 Serie A clubs, made the declaration as a dispute over the renewal of the collective agreement for the game's top players intensifies.

Serie A is trying to replace the old collective contract — which ran out on June 30 — with one that strips players’ rights in order to maximise profits for football clubs and their owners.

Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s north, is considered to be a stronghold of the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement the popular name for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship — UDD).

On August 29, 21-year-old local Red Shirt activist “James” Krissada Klaharn and his girlfriend Nongnuch Kampor were driving home at about 1.15am after a long day selling popular stickers at a roadside stall, when the killers struck.

A vehicle with its headlights off pulled alongside and sprayed their cars with bullets. Krissada was hit in the legs, abdomen and shoulder.

Misunderstandings over Cuba run very deep — and not just among the enemies of socialism or those who have had little contact with the country.

Naturally, people are influenced by the corporate media, which wages a ferocious and relentless propaganda campaign against the little independent island.

As former Chilean president Salvador Allende, whose elected government was overthrown in a US military backed coup on September 11, 1973, told the Chilean Senate in 1960: “Day by day and minute by minute … [the corporate media monopolies] misrepresent what is happening in Cuba.”

Actor and activist Danny Glover and veteran actor and former Screen Actors Guild president Edward Asner, called on fellow artists to add their name to a letter to US President Barack Obama asking him to issue an executive clemency order to free the Cuban Five.

Glover and Asner are co-chairs of Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five”

The Cuban Five are five Cuban men jailed in the US for their role in collecting information on behalf of the Cuban government on potential terrorist acts by violent anti-Cuban groups in Miami.

After the April 20 Deepwater oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, many commentators have tried to explain why it happened. Many blame greed and arrogance in BP’s executive offices.

Others blame it on the military-oil-government alliance that views free-flowing oil (and free-flowing oil profits) as something to promote at all costs.

But some writers identify a different cause. Bonus-seeking executives, corrupt politicians and oil-hungry generals all played a role, but they were only front men for the real villains — consumers.

The statement below was initiated by Working People Association (Indonesia) and Network of Progressive Youth Burma. It was released on September 16.

Other left groups from the Asian region that have signed it are: the Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance; the All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions; the Socialist Party of Malaysia; Socialist Alliance (Australia); and Socialist Alternative (Australia).

If your organisation would like to sign, email international@prp-indonesia.org.

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Indigenous Mapuche political prisoners in Chile continue to stand firm, more than two months into a hunger strike against the repression against their people and the militarisation of their lands.

The hunger strike, which began on July 12 and has been joined by four opposition parliamentary deputies and a dozen activists from student and social organisations, is the latest step in the campaign by the Mapuche people to demand the repeal of anti-terrorism laws.

On September 2, direct talks began between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority with the US government acting as mediator.

US President Barack Obama has declared the success of these “peace talks” to be a main foreign policy goal of the last two years of his term.

But whatever their outcome, the talks cannot end the conflict because both sides are not evenly represented. The mediator, the US, is the major financial, political and military sponsor of one of the parties to the conflict, Israel.

As Venezuela’s September 26 National Assembly election time approaches, international media have increased negative coverage of the South American nation.

The bombardment of negative, false, distorted and manipulated news about Venezuela in US media has increased in volume and intensity during the last few days.

Venezuela is subjected to this every time an election nears. This international media campaign against the left-wing government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appears to have a clear and coordinated objective: removing the Chavez from power.

The statement published below was released by the Thai Red Australia Group for Democracy. You can add your name to it here.

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Four years ago on September 19, the Thai people were concerned about a very damaging coup that toppled an elected government and resulted in the political and economic crisis that persists today.

This historical event was followed this year, on April 10 and May 19, by two tragic massacres. The Thai military shot down pro-democracy activists in the streets of Bangkok.

In the lead-up to the September 26 national Assembly elections, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on workers to not allow the right-wing opposition to halt the advance of the Bolivarian revolution.

Chavez, who is also president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), made the call on September 15 while addressing the Socialist Electrical Workers Front Braulio Criollo.

Faced with acts of sabotage in various electrical substations across the country, Chavez urged workers to not lower their guard.

Analysis

Despite several symbolic gestures by state and national governments, no real plan has been put forward to reduce chronic inequality in Aboriginal Australia.

As part of a deal to set up a minority government, the federal ALP has agreed to a referendum to change the constitution so that it recognises Aboriginal people. On September 8, the NSW parliament passed legislation doing the same for the NSW constitution.

Now that we finally know who is going to govern our country; now that we know who is backing who and why; now that we’ve breathed a collective sigh of relief; now — right now — it’s time to mobilise!

It’s time to mobilise around what I’ve been muttering to anyone who’ll listen over the past few weeks: renewables, renewables, renewables.

Coal rules. That was the message delivered last week by the new Labor government.

Freshly appointed climate change minister Greg Combet began his ministership by telling the September 13 Australian: “The coal industry is a very vibrant industry with a strong future. What you've got to do is look to how we can achieve in the longer term things like carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations.”

On September 10, the commercial television regulator, Commercials Advice (CAD) withdrew approval for the screening of a pro-euthanasia ad by Exit International on September 12.

Exit International condemned the decision as an attack on free speech. According to its website, Exit International is ”a leading end-of-life choices (voluntary euthanasia/ assisted suicide) information and advocacy organisation”.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) welcomed the announcement of Senator Chris Evans to a portfolio responsible for skills, taking in higher education and TAFE.

It also welcomed the reappointment of Senator Kim Carr to the portfolio of innovation, industry and science, but reiterated concerns that a narrow focus on skills risks undervaluing the sector.

On September 15, Leela Krishna, a Tamil refugee in Villawood Detention Centre, was removed to Melbourne's Maribyrnong Detention Centre. Supporters of Leela protested and leafleted Sydney Airport's domestic terminal on the day.

Despite being recognised as a refugee by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in April, Leela is still being imprisoned while ASIO conducts “security checks”. A gay man, he has experienced sexual harassment, bullying and physical assault in detention and has attempted suicide several of times.

Green Left Weekly’s Simon Butler asked five Australian climate activists for their thoughts on the current state of the movement.

Phillip Sutton is the convenor of Melbourne’s Climate Emergency Network and co-author of the 2008 book Climate Code Red.

Adam Lucas is coordinator of Beyond Zero Emissions Sydney and lectures in the Science and Technology Studies Program at the University of Wollongong.

Australia now has a minority Labor Party government, backed by the Greens and independents. It is the best government available in the circumstances. It is certainly to the left of any government that would have resulted if either Labor or the conservative Coalition had won a majority at the elections.

Editorial

After a record high vote for the Greens in the August 21 federal election, it did not take long for the corporate media to get its claws out.

In particular, Rupert Murdoch-owned News Ltd’s flagship newspaper The Australian has been called out for its string of critical stories and headlines targeting the Greens.

In a September 9 editorial, the paper responded to Greens Senator Bob Brown's criticism that the paper was openly attacking the Greens-Labor deal, saying the Greens “are bad for the nation; and ... should be destroyed at the ballot box”.

Resistance!

Ammar Ali Jan is a 23-year-old activist in Pakistan who visited Australia earlier this year to speak at the Resistance national conference. He is an organiser of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF), which campaigns for democracy and against corruption. Last week, he spoke to Melanie Barnes from Resistance about what’s been happening in Pakistan, especially the devastating impact of the recent floods.
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Culture

The use of art as a commentary on social and political injustice is becoming increasingly innovative. Artists are embracing their varied mediums to share stories and ideas calling for a challenge to the status-quo.

From radical independent art, to mainstream artists using their influence, the fusion of social justice and art has been embraced by photographers, musicians, painters, filmmakers, fashion designers and more.

Many commercial artists who have enjoyed mainstream success have used their reach to convey messages of protest and encourage social change.

artRiot
September 11-26
Upstairs at the Annandale Hotel,
17 Parramatta Rd, Annandale, Sydney

Sydney is currently swathed in artist run spaces and ecologically concerned art. The Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest show, In the Balance — Art for a Changing World, is just one of a range of recent exhibitions that explore climate change and community involvement in solutions.

It’s in this context that artRiot has emerged. artRiot is a new art collective comprised of Sydney and Newcastle artists whose mandate is to combine art and activism.

In 1992, Michael Franti from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy warned that television was “the drug of the nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation”. Almost two decades later, the addiction and the ignorance are accepted as the norm.

Anyone who questions the authenticity of how crime is depicted on television must be an extreme sceptic who spends way too much time online, questions the material reality of the world and thinks The Matrix is a documentary.

Never Ever Again
By Caroline de Costa
Boolarong Press, 2010
www.carolinedecosta.com

A teenager and her boyfriend are catapulted to national notoriety when they are charged with procuring an abortion under Queensland’s archaic Criminal Code. Their identities are plastered across the internet, their home is fire-bombed and religious zealots shriek triumphantly from the pages of the local rag. Is this Caroline de Costa’s latest novel? Think again. Welcome to Cairns in 2010.

Fighting Fund

As the people of Australia face acute shortages in health, public transport, housing and welfare, the federal and NSW governments will spend about $3 million to get Oprah Winfrey — the US talk-show host and billionaire — to visit Australia. Wait a minute, WHAT?

Winfrey will fly to Australia in December — with 300 members of her audience — to shoot several episodes of her talk show. It has been reported that the federal government will chip in $1.5 million to the trip; the NSW government with throw in a further $1-2 million.