Issue 857

News

Western Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has said many of the 200 remote Aboriginal communities in WA will be shut down. ABC Online reported on October 14 that Barnett said: "There's no doubt that under policies really initiated by the Federal Government, small, isolated Aboriginal communities were promoted. "The reality is that there's no employment prospects in those areas, or very limited." Barnett’s comments were in relation to the small community of Oombulgurri, where there are 50 residents and 14 public servants.
Union and community opposition has firmed against Labor Premier Anna Bligh’s bid to privatise Queensland Rail National (QR), as the government prepares to launch shares in the rail freight corporation on November 22. QR National, a 140-year-old public asset, will be sold off at an estimated $2.50-$3 a share, raising up to $7.3 billion, ABC’s Lateline said on October 11.
About 40 people attended the launch of a No New Coal campaign by Safe Climate Perth on October 10. The launch took place as part of the 350.org “global work party” — an international day of action involving more than 7000 events around the world. As part of the campaign, activists aim to get 10,000 signatures in 10 weeks on a petition opposing new coal developments in Western Australian.
Australia’s big banks would like you to think they care about climate change and the environment. But don’t believe them. A new report by Greenpeace Australia has revealed the “big four” — Westpac, ANZ, Commonwealth and NAB — are investing billions of dollars in Australia’s dirty coal boom. Burning coal for energy is Australia’s single biggest contributor to climate change, making more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution. Australia is also the world’s biggest coal exporter — and the export trade is growing fast.
Gippsland unions and community organisations took part in the fourth in a series of “transition jobs seminars”. The seminar took place on October 13 under the auspices of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council (GTLC) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). It dealt with the region’s current skills base in brown-coal mining, dairy and other industries, and the sort of training needed to skill workers for environmentally sustainable production.
The elegant, seaside town of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria was once a quiet “sleepy hollow”, according to Chris Johnson, a local resident and public housing tenant for 30 years. But recently the Victorian Office of Housing realised its tenants were sitting on a goldmine. Some tenants have been relocated to shoebox-sized units in less attractive areas. Meanwhile, on October 9, two heritage-listed pilot cottages owned by the department were sold for $1.2 million.
The campaign against South Australian Labor treasurer Kevin Foley's latest budget is gathering strength. The second rally protesting against the wide-ranging budget cuts — particularly to the public sector — organised by SA Unions, attracted up to 10,000 people on 14 October. Members of the Legislative Assembly were invited to speak, including independents, the Liberal Party and Family First. The campaign has called on the Upper House MPs to block the legislation.
The “Switch off Hazelwood, Switch on Renewable Energy” protest targeted Australia’s dirtiest coal-fired power station, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, on October 10. It was successful but muted in contrast to its predecessor in 2009. The mood was no less festive, but this year, there was no climate camp, no mass actions and no arrests.
This year is the 15th anniversary of the Nargar Kovil school massacre in Tamil Eelam, the Tamil area of Sri Lanka. On September 22, 1995, the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) bombed Nargar Kovil Maha Vidyalayam schoolyard, which was crammed with 750 children on their lunch break. Reports of the number of children killed vary from 26 to 70. Twelve of the children killed were six or seven years old. One hundred and fifty were injured, including 40 seriously. Twenty-two children had their limbs amputated. Ten of the amputees were under 12.

Analysis

The second MP to speak in the House of Representatives debate on Australian military intervention in Afghanistan – a debate held nine years after the intervention began – was the newly elected independent Member for Denison (Tasmania) Andrew Wilkie.
On October 19, Sydney Stop The War Coalition activist Marlene Obeid was dragged out of the parliamentary public gallery as Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australian troops would be "engaged in Afghanistan at least for the rest of this decade". "They are war criminals", said Obeid as she was dragged off by Parliament House security guards. She was right but, until the new Greens MP Adam Bandt spoke (see full speech below) , her stifled protest was the sole voice for peace and justice in the House of Representatives chamber.
On October 19, at exactly 3.30pm, the Lib-Lab politicians suddenly went from smirk to sombre as the Afghanistan “debate” finally started – nine years too late. I was sitting in the public gallery, along with fellow activists from Sydney Stop the War Coalition, watching “question time” – where backbenchers ask “Dorothy Dixers” of their “senior” front benchers. We were becoming increasingly irritated by the major parties’ self-important MPs filling up the time with ridiculous antics while being ineffectively berated by the long-suffering speaker.
The Australian dollar has become a favourite for international currency speculators. Fuelled by expectations of rising interest rates, the A$ has increased in value from US$0.82 in June, to almost $0.98 on October 12. Some expect the $A could surpass the value of the US$ in coming weeks.
Immigration minister Chris Bowen visited East Timor on October 11 to push Australia’s offshore detention centre plan. He also visited Indonesia and Malaysia over October 12-14. Bowen’s purpose was to enforce “strong cooperation with regional neighbours” on Australia’s border control. He said he wanted East Timor to “play a role” by allowing the Australian government to build a refugee detention centre there.
There are many myths around the issue of asylum seekers in Australia. Yet, when you look at the facts, it’s obvious that asylum seekers aren’t a problem. The problem is Australia’s punitive policies, including mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat, which contravene international law. Lack of transparency ensures that human rights are abused daily in Australia’s detention centres, creating many mental health problems for people who are already traumatised. The policy of mandatory detention will cost the taxpayers more than $1 billion dollars over the next four years.
In early September, two transsexual men lost an appeal in Western Australia’s Supreme Court to be legally recognised as men. The negative ruling has consequences for other transsexual and transgender cases. The men are considering appealing to a higher body. Gina Wilson, spokesperson for Organisation Intersex Internationale (OIS), told Green Left Weekly: “The two appellants underwent top surgery [mastectomies] and were on hormone replacement therapy — testosterone. They were living as men and accepted as men by society and friends.
The following statement was released by the Socialist Alliance on October 8. * * * On October 17, 2001, the Liberal/National Coalition government of John Howard deployed Australian troops to Afghanistan, just nine days after the US had begun bombing one of the most poverty-stricken and war-weary nations on Earth. The then newly-formed Socialist Alliance responded to this attack and its reputed catalyst, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, by noting the US' hypocrisy and pledging to campaign against then president George W. Bush's “war without end”.
About 50 people attended politics in the pub at the Queensberry hotel on October 12, to discuss the upcoming November 27 Victorian elections. Greens candidate for Melbourne, Brian Walters, spoke about the Victorian ALP government’s record. He said the contract for the proposed desalination plant is secret, but the cost is likely to be about $18 billion. The plant will use huge amounts of electricity and add to greenhouse pollution.
The deluge of rain hitting south-east Australia has broken the 10-year drought that brought the Murray Darling Basin and many farming communities to the brink of disaster. A few months of wet weather have brought the wetlands back to life. The rivers are flowing again, and farmers might even be able to harvest a bumper crop if they can beat the mass locust hatchings.
In the following article Margarita Windisch explains why she is running as Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray in the November 27 Victorian election. Socialist Alliance’s other candidates are Mitch Cherry for Bellarine, Trent Hawkins for Brunswick and Ron Guy for Melton. * * * I moved to Australia from Austria in the late ’80s and currently teach welfare work at Victoria University TAFE in Footscray. There I have had firsthand experience of the Brumby government’s misguided “skills reform” agenda for the sector.
I welcome the discussion in Green Left Weekly about the burqa and the question of its banning. I agree wholeheartedly that banning the burqa is not the answer for women. As in all aspects of oppression, the oppressed are the ones who must liberate themselves, with the support and solidarity of others. It is not up to the state or religious institutions to impose “liberation” on them. While the burqa remains worn by women, I support their right to wear it if they choose, for a variety of different reasons.
Sydney’s Redfern Block is a colourful place. It’s houses and flats are covered by political posters and banners, graffiti and dot paintings. But new colours now appear on the doors of residents — eviction notices. The Redfern Block is set to be demolished and replaced by the $60 million Pemulwuy housing project. The last 75 residents have until November 19 to leave but will be able to reapply to return in 2013 when the new project is set to be complete. But those accused of selling drugs will be denied housing.
Moluccan refugees will protest against Australia’s support for the Indonesian military outside South Australian Parliament house on October 26. The protesters say that the Indonesian military, particularly Detachment 88, which receives financial and logistical support from Australian army, has been involved in heavy repression of Moluccan independence activists.
Beginning in April, so-called peace talks have taken place between some conservation groups and timber industry stakeholders about the future of the Tasmanian timber industry. Both sides have painted the talks as a once in a lifetime opportunity to “end the forest wars”. Environment Tasmania (ET) director Phill Pullinger told the May 13 Australian: “We've had 30 years of worsening trench warfare in Tassie over forests and now is the time and the opportunity to essentially solve the forest conflict — and solve it properly.”
The outcome of a trial against a Cairns couple for procuring an abortion has turned the tables on the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Queensland government. The Cairns jury swiftly returned a “not guilty” verdict on October 14 and the question now being asked is “what real crimes are exposed by this case?” For many, the real crime is the fact that the anti-abortion laws from 1899 have not been repealed.
Pip Hinman has been pre-selected to run for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW seat of Marrickville in the March state elections. She is an activist journalist and stood in the seat in 2007. Hinman was active in the pro-choice movement in Sydney and Brisbane in the 1980s and 1990s. Below, she responds to the October 14 not guilty verdict in the trial of the Cairns couple charged under Queensland’s abortion laws. * * * The not guilty finding of the young Cairns couple should be the impetus for the NSW government to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act of 1900.

World

Coasting on the back of environmental protests and a hemorrhaging two-party system, the German Greens have sent shock waves through German politics, surging into the position of main opposition party for the first time. The Greens, who were part of a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1998-2005 at the expense of many of the party’s principles, are benefiting from the unraveling of Germany’s traditional two-party system.
Workers and students mobilised in their millions on October 12 in the fourth and largest day of action in the past month against laws that will reduce workers’ pension entitlements. The protests and strikes came as the Senate passed aspects of the pension bill that will see an increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age and increase the period of time workers must work to receive a full pension. The protests show growing polarisation over who should pay the price for the economic crisis in the lead up to national strikes on October 16 and 19.
No legally-binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be made at this year’s big United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 to December 10. And that’s just the way the rich nations want it. Few world leaders are even expected to turn up to the Cancun talks. For months, key players have tried to dampen down public hopes that the summit will mark a shift away from business as usual. The British Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote on September 20 that it was time for climate action campaigners to accept the UN process was dead.
The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), involving involves police and soldiers, is set to continue its occupation of the Pacific island for at least “five to six years”, despite a change of government in the Solomon Islands. Danny Philip was elected prime minister of the Solomon Islands by parliamentary vote on August 25, the Solomon Star said, after the August 4 general elections in which 25 out of 50 seats changed hands.
On October 3, US authorities warned US citizens travelling in Western Europe that there was an increased threat from Islamist terrorism. The same day, British authorities cautioned their citizens travelling in France or Germany. France, for its part, issued a warning for French nationals visiting Britain. The nature of the supposed terrorist threat was unspecified. The media breathlessly speculated about planned “Mumbai-style” attacks.
The following call was issued by Canadian-based non-government organisations, community groups and individuals to join the growing global movement for climate justice. It calls for mobilising in the lead-up and during the United Nations climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, over November 27-December 10.
On his TV show Alo Presidente on October 3, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez drove tractors and inspected corn crops as he pledged to accelerate land reform and increase the government’s share of food production and distribution. Chavez announced the nationalisation of the agricultural supplies company Agroislena and the Venezuelan properties of the British Vestey Group. The show took place in Guarico state, where Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won most of the state seats in the September 26 National Assembly elections.
The rescue of 33 miners in Chile on October 14 is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a facade. The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Factory workers from the Venezuelan chemical and lubricant company Veneco held a demonstration on the evening of October 10 in Carabobo state to show their support for the company’s nationalisation. President Hugo Chavez announced the nationalisation that afternoon. Jose Martinez, the general secretary of the Venoco workers’ union, said: “We are endorsing this takeover that will bring us many benefits. “It will bring a change from the capitalist mode to the socialist mode and we are going to strengthen our company.”
In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on September 30, left-wing Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has vowed to deepen his “citizen’s revolution” in the small Andean country. After the coup attempt by sections of the police and armed forces failed amid pro-government protests, Correa’s approval rate has surged to 75% in some polls. In response, Correa, said his government had not done enough to implement its pro-people program and would radicalise its project to build a “socialism of the 21st century”.
Despite carefully-crafted appearances to the contrary, projects like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) are no solution to the problems that confront the colonised “developing” world. Endemic corruption, environmentally unsustainable development and spiralling income inequality are inseparable from the process of capitalist global expansion, which EITI and other corporate-funded front organisations only serve to legitimise.
The political situation in France is dominated by the struggle against the proposed reform of the pension system to raise the age of retirement, among other things. This reform is at the heart of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s austerity policy. Although presented as a demographic necessity, it is increasingly opposed by the public. The struggle has been growing since the start of the mobilisations in May and the first day of action in June. Since the beginning of September, three days of strikes and demonstrations have brought out about 3 million people on each occasion.

Culture

Sound Strike is an organisation of musicians across the United States who oppose the extremely racist SB 1070 law in Arizona that targets migrants. Sound Strike artists have pledged to support the international boycott of Arizona until the law’s repeal. The organisation is planning to release “Sound Strike Songs”, a series of exclusive collections of songs that will be sold at www.thesoundstrike.net.
The Pacific Solution By Susan Metcalfe Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne, 2010 Review by Julian Gormly
What’s on your iPod? Personally I have an eclectic mix — from hippyesque acoustic folk through to American “gangsta” rap and random electronic post-modern wankery you'll only hear on Triple J. Musically, we all enjoy different stuff. Most readers of Green Left Weekly would have broadly similar political beliefs, so why the difference? Why don’t people who converge politically also enjoy similar cultural tastes?
When US director Danny Schechter’s 2006 film In Debt We Trust predicted a huge financial crisis was coming, he was laughed at. It turned out he was right. His latest film, Plunder: The Crime of Our Time shows how the crisis was created by Wall Street bankers breaking the law to manipulate the markets — and suggests a bigger crisis is on the way.

Fighting Fund

A crude and jingoistic appeal to Australian patriotism is the last refuge of the pro-war scoundrels as we approach the Australian parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. Australia sent troops to Afghanistan in October 2001, but it has taken nine years for parliament to discuss this act of war. Is this how Australia’s celebrated democracy works? Australian troops were sent to wage wars on an impoverished, already war-devastated and traumatised country without even a discussion in parliament, let alone a vote.

General

BP abolishes safety ombudsman “BP is disbanding the external safety ombudsman it set up after a fatal explosion at a company refinery in Texas in 2005 despite a growing number of concerns raised by the oil company’s employees. “More than half the issues raised since the office was established in 2006 relate to BP’s operations in Alaska. “BP said it would not extend the office’s tenure beyond June. “The move comes less than a fortnight after the company announced it was setting up a new internal safety function, led by its head of safety and operations, Mark Bly.

Letters

Banning burqa not progressive Dave Bell is welcome to his opinion about the “idiocy” of wearing the burqa (GLW #856). Since he dislikes it so much, I suggest he refrains from wearing one. Yet his demand that socialists line up with the call from Christian fundamentalist politicians in Australia to ban the burqa is wrong, dangerous and is not feminist.

Resistance!

The Australian federal government spends more money on private schools than most other wealthy countries, and spends less than most on public education. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education at a Glance 2010, showed Australia gave 16.9% of education money to private schools and 71.9% to government schools. The US spends 0.2% and 99.8% respectively. Most money for private school funding comes from the federal government, which argues that “grants” and “subsidies” make private schools more affordable.