Issue 858

News

Greens federal parliamentary leader Senator Bob Brown spoke in the parliamentary debate on the Australian military intervention in Afghanistan on October 25. His speech came amidst reports of growing unease in the Australian Labor Party ranks over the conservative line being implemented by the Gillard Labor minority federal government and an associated rise in support for the Greens to a record 14%.
WOLLONGONG — The Illawarra's peak union body, the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC), has called on the Australian government to pull troops out of Afghanistan and pursue an independent foreign policy. “In recent decades Australia has been dragged into quagmire after quagmire — blindly following the United States into military disasters that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of military and civilian casualties”, Arthur Rorris, SCLC secretary, said on October 22.
Family, friends and justice supporters rallied on October 16 in support of Jock Palfreeman, a 23-year-old Australian jailed in Bulgaria, whose appeal started on October 21. Palfreeman was convicted of premeditated murder for an incident in 2007. But he says he was acting in self defence when he ran to the aid of two Roma men being attacked by 16 men. During the ensuing conflict, two of the attackers suffered stab wounds, and one died. Palfreeman was sentenced to 20 years’ jail and fined $375,000, despite eyewitness accounts supporting his account and key CCTV footage going missing.
On October 20, Wollongong Students Against War occupied the University of Wollongong’s Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), bringing its operations to a halt for a few hours. SAW is waging a campaign against military research on campus, such as the DMTC’s work on the Joint Strike Fighter project with the US. SAW also organises opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan. For more information visit studentsagainstwar.wordpress.com.
One hundred people gathered in Brisbane’s King George Square on October 22 to commemorate the tragedy of the SIEV X, an Indonesian fishing boat bound for Australia, which sank on October 19, 2001, drowning 353 asylum seekers — 146 of them children. The rally and the march through the city was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC). A RAC statement said: “The Australian government knew of this disaster and allowed these refugees, fleeing war and persecution, to die.
Two weeks ago, NSW Labor Premier Kristina Keneally sparked controversy when she declared that NSW would not honour its commitment to the national occupational health and safety (OH&S) harmonisation process. The October 18 Australian said PM Julia Gillard had threatened the NSW government by withholding a $144 million reform incentive if it did not continue with the process, as agreed by all states except Western Australia in December last year.
On October 20, the committee of the WA parliament tasked to look into the proposed Criminal Investigation Amendment Bill 2009 reported its findings. A majority of the committee opposed the bill, which would drastically expand police stop-and-search powers at the expense of civil liberties. The report was delayed twice due to the controversial nature of the bill and disagreements on the committee. Protests against the proposed laws were held this year by the group, Search For Your Rights.
On October 21, 70 local parents and supporters filled Moreland Concert Hall to hear state election candidates from the Pascoe Vale and Brunswick electorates speak on the issue of a high school for Coburg. The meeting was organised by the campaign group High School for Coburg. HSC was established about two years ago by a group of parents who were concerned that there was no local high school for their children to attend.
Over October 16-17, 120 people participated in lively and informative discussions at the Latin America Solidarity Conference. “Challenging corporate globalisation: people’s power is changing the world” was organised by the Latin America Social Forum. LASF brings together the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN — Australia), Guatemala Human Rights Committee, Ibiray-Fondo Raul Sendic (Uruguay), Honduras’ National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP), Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network and Socialist Alliance.
More than 150 people packed into a Wollongong university lecture theatre on October 21 for the Wollongong launch of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan (ZCA2020). Launches of the plan in Melbourne and Sydney that attracted about 700 and 1000 people respectively, and on October 15 it won the Mercedes-Benz Australian Environmental Research Award. The plan is the product of a collaboration between the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).
PERTH — Jewish American author Anna Baltzer spoke to a packed audience of more than 100 people at a forum hosted by Friends of Palestine WA on October 21. She began by explaining that there were differences between the words "Jewish" (relating to faith or kinship), "Israeli" (relating to citizenship in the state of Israel) and "Zionist" (a political ideology). Most of her presentation documented the illegal occupation of Palestinian land sponsored by the state of Israel and the effects of that occupation.
During UN Disarmament Week (October 24-31), a bill to enact the UN Convention banning Cluster Munitions is to be tabled in the House of Representatives. However, it is unlikely to contain a provision prohibiting financial institutions from funding manufacturers of cluster bombs. It has been found that the ANZ bank has provided loans of $136.5 million to producers of cluster bombs.
Mark Fordham, an Aboriginal activist from the Northern Territory and member of the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, is touring the east coast to raise awareness about the jobs with justice campaign. The campaign aims to force the government to provide real jobs and services to remote Aboriginal communities in the NT (see article page 7). In Sydney, Fordham spoke to waterside workers with Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) officials. He thanked maritime workers for their solidarity with the Gurindji workers who walked off Wave Hill station in 1966.
On October 20, 50 people attended a forum, “Politics, the Union Movement and the Illawarra”, organised by the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC). Speakers included Darin Sullivan, president of the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union; Naomi Arrowsmith, Illawarra organiser of the Australian Services Union; and Nicole Calnan, regional organiser of the NSW Teachers’ Federation.
Despite all the rhetoric on climate change, both the NSW and federal governments consider it acceptable to allow seismic testing and drilling to explore for gas and potentially oil off Australia's east coast. Despite the potential to develop entire new industries in clean, renewable energy, governments will not or cannot break their addiction to fossil fuels. They have literally placed the entire offshore Sydney Basin on the market for fossil fuel extraction; an area of 6000km², extending from Wollongong to Port Stephens.

Analysis

As Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan continues to preach about a strong Australian economy underlined by a surge in job creation, youth unemployment figures continue to rise to record heights, reflecting a disturbing global trend. According to the August 12 Sydney Morning Herald, in 2009, global youth unemployment grew at a rate twice that of adults, affecting 13% of 15 to 24-year-olds. Australia was not exempt from the alarming trends.
The federal Labor government has announced plans to move some children and families out of refugee detention, but will not change its policy of locking up unaccompanied children who arrive in Australia by boat. The October 18 announcement followed a concerted campaign by refugee advocacy groups to end mandatory detention and a Greens bill to release all 738 children presently in detention.
Ron Guy has been pre-selected by the Socialist Alliance to run for the seat of Melton in the Victorian state election in November. Guy was born in Bacchus Marsh where he lives with his partner and son. He has been an Australia Workers Union (AWU) delegate for more than 15 years. Guy was one of the main instigators of setting up the Arts co-operative Maribyrnong River Edge Artists Movement, believed to be one of the longest running arts co-operatives in Australia.
On October 20, 200 people gathered in the community of Kalkarindji to protest against the policies of the Northern Territory intervention, launched in 2007 by the Howard Coalition government. Under the intervention, Aboriginal welfare recipients in the NT have half their pay “quarantined” onto a Basics Card, which can be used only in approved stores and only for food, clothing and medical supplies.
Below are excerpts from the October 20 speech in the federal House of Representatives — part of the debate on the war in Afghanistan — by Greens member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt. The full text can be read here. * * *
Union pressure is building against Premier Mike Rann's ALP government of South Australia. Treasurer Kevin Foley and Rann have been targeted in a campaign by trade unions against the recent state budget. A number of rallies have been called since the budget was handed down. The largest so far, on October 14, estimated at 10,000 by the Public Service Association (PSA).
Sources in Victorian public housing say proposed changes to the system will increase rents for tenants and replace government-funded public housing with more expensive privatised housing. Public housing in Victoria is being dismantled and privatised by stealth, without open and genuine public consultation.
All societies need some form of law and order. Over many years of political organising, police who agreed with my right to protest and assisted when political or industrial rallies were being organised earned my respect. But throughout Australia’s history, there are many examples of how laws in our society tend to protect the rights and property of the wealthy at the expense of the working class. Well known are massacres against Aboriginals and miners at Eureka. Less well publicised has been police violence during industrial disputes, acting on the side of employers.
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. It was a farce. Despite most Australians opposing being involved in the US-led occupation, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australian troops could remain for 10 years — which is longer than even the US government predicts.

World

In a daring and audacious move, Matt McCarten, General Secretary of the Unite Union, announced his candidacy in the Mana By Election in Wellington earlier today. Matt has had a quarter of century's experience fighting for New Zealand's poorest workers, and was a founding member of both the New Labour Party and the Alliance. Now standing as a member of the Independent Left, he would make an excellent champion for the thousands of low-paid and unemployed workers in Mana.
Boats — an enemy evoked by major Australian political parties to win elections — have become a symbol of international resistance to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. This is particularly the case since Israeli commandos attacked an aid flotilla headed for Gaza in May, killing nine people. With this in mind, the Berlin Coalition for Gaza (BCG) launched a one-boat “flotilla” through an inner-city Berlin canal on October 15.
On October 20, thousands of students and workers marched on Downing Street in London to protest against the savage cuts in social spending announced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, Counterfire.org reported that day. The protest was organised by the Coalition of Resistance, Camden Trades Council and the People’s Charter. The cuts in public spending announced by British chancellor George Osborne that day amount to 81 billion pounds.
“History was made early today on the other side of the world”, said Grant Morgan, an Auckland-based organiser of the Kia Ora Gaza convoy bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza in defiance of Israel’s siege. Kia Ora is a six-person New Zealand team that has joined the Viva Palestina covoy. “The vicious Israeli siege of Gaza has been broken by an international aid convoy of 400 volunteers from 30 countries driving 150 vehicles carrying vital medical supplies worth NZ$7 million.”
Out-of-favour Manchester United star Wayne Rooney must look in the papers every morning and think: “How does [Liberal Democrat MP and business secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition] Vince Cable get away with it? “Just like me, a year ago he was a national hero, the embodiment of hope, and now he’s a bumbling fool and revealed as a cheat. But he's allowed to carry on as he pleases and isn’t even substituted. “I want a transfer to the Liberal Democrats.”
A million trade unionists marched past Rome’s Colosseum on October 16 in defence of rights that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government and Fiat bosses are trying to water down. The attacks are part of the government’s “deficit reduction” measures. Under red flags, and the banners of the metal workers’ union (FIOM-CGTI), workers from metal and other industries, students and opposition politicians shouted: “Strike, strike, strike!”
About 15,000 New Zealand workers joined the “Fairness at Work” National Day of Action on October 20, highlighting growing opposition to the government's proposed employment law changes, said the country’s largest private sector union, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU). At least 7000 people packed the TelstraClear Pacific Stadium in Auckland and 4000 rallied outside parliament in Wellington. Thousands turned out in regional centres including Hamilton, Hastings and Nelson.
Belgian railway workers shut down almost the entire national rail network and disrupted international services on October 18 in protest at rail freight reforms that could cost hundreds of train drivers” jobs, the Morning Star said that day. The strike was called in protest against the terms of new “flexible” contracts that rail bosses are seeking to impose on staff. Unions warned that the contracts would make it easier for bosses to lay off hundreds of train drivers.
A visiting International Monetary Fund official urged ministers in the Romanian capital of Bucharest to rebuff union demands for an increase to the minimum wage, the Morning Star said on October 20. The monthly minimum wage in Romania is just 600 lei (less than $200). But IMF mission chief Jeffrey Franks, in Romania to review the right-wing government’s progress in implementing an austerity program in return for a major IMF loan, warned any increase in the minimum wage would discourage bosses from hiring new staff.
“Nothing! Nothing! We’ve seen nothing!”, chanted a crowd of internally displaced people (IDP) on October 6. They were pursuing former US president Bill Clinton from his photo-op in their squalid camp on his way to the third Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) meeting in downtown Port-au-Prince. The crowd protesting against Clinton was from an IDP camp on the golf-course of the former Petionville Club, a bourgeois enclave created by US Marines when they first occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934.
Malalai Joya, now 32, was the youngest woman elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2005. A feminist activist who has defied the Taliban, Joya is also an outspoken opponent of the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Joya says the war is a crime against her people that is propping up corrupt warlords and fundamentalists no better than the Taliban.
Since October 12, France has been gripped by intensifying mass opposition by workers and students to proposed counter reforms to the country’s pensions system by the right-wing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Public opposition to the attack has been highlighted by three national strikes each involving millions of people, two national student strikes and a growing wave of indefinite strikes in a range of industries — most notably the crippling shutdown of the oil industry.
Anna Baltzer is a US activist who worked in Palestine with the International Women's Peace Service documenting human rights abuses. She is author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.
The following statement was released by the Socialist Alliance in Australia. Visit www.socialist-alliance.org for more information. * * * Socialist Alliance salutes the millions of French workers and students who have taken to the streets in a wave of sustained demonstrations and strikes against the Sarkozy governments’ attack on pensions.
More than 100 landowners from the Madang Province of Papua New Guinea have said they want to join a court battle to stop millions of tonnes of mine waste being dumped into the sea, the Ramu Nickel Mine Watch website said on October 17. The challenge was launched by 37 landowners, with others indicating their intent to join the case.
Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who last year ordered the brutal massacre of protesting Amazonian tribespeople, has once again resorted to violence — this time in person. Visiting Edgardo Rebagliati Hospital in Lima, on October 9, Garcia encountered 27-year-old Ricardo Galvez, who shouted “corrupt” at the president. Eyewitnesses say Garcia flew into an uncontrollable rage and forcefully struck the volunteer worker in the face. Members of Garcia’s entourage landed follow up blows, knocking a defenceless Galvez to the floor where he was subjected to further mistreatment.
Venezuela’s representative in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Alfredo Missair, spoke on October 18 about Venezuela’s achievements in the field. He said that 14 million citizens (about half of the population) now have access to food at fair prices. On the TV show Desperto Venezuela, broadcast by VTV, Missair stressed the country is on track to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals of halving the proportion of the population that is undernourished.

Culture

Sydney’s inner-west played host to the inaugural Live Red Art event. The festival of radical art drew a crowd of more than 400 people to the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville on October 17. The Great Hall was transformed into a makeshift gallery, with three walls constructed from 250 milk crates stacked six high and fastened with cable ties and string to house print and mixed-media works.
US teenage pop star Justin Bieber released a book on October 12. First Step 2 Forever: My Story is supposed to be his autobiography. The notion that a 16-year-old has been through enough turmoil to merit an autobiography is bewildering, but then, I suppose only something his ghost-writer had to worry about. The book comes on the heels of Bieber releasing his own line of nail polish. Yes, nail polish. At least the marketing team behind “The Bieb” knows the target audience.
Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam By Mark Curtis 352 pages (pb), Serpent's Tail, 2010. In Tony Blair's new memoir, A Journey, the former British prime minister says one of his biggest regrets is introducing the Freedom of Information Act, because journalists have used it “as a weapon”.
Serge Rodriguez is a Perth-based singer-song writer. Originally from Uruguay, Rodriguez formed the band Gypsy Earth last year. Below are the lyrics of one song, ‘Judas’. Visit GypsyEarth.net for more information and to buy his music. * * * Young man don’t you follow, don’t you head the call. Wars resolve nothing, only destroy. Look around you and see what it’s done to your world. What it’s done to our children before they are born. High and mighty men profess with their words. They’ll try to incite you to march off to war.

Fighting Fund

Just 8% of the world’s population owns 79.3% of the world’s total wealth, a new study by the research wing of the giant Swiss bank, Credit Suisse found, Sam Pizzigati said on the A World of Progress blog on October 18. Further, 35.6% of all wealth is held by just 0.5% of the world’s 4.4 billion adults. On the opposite end of the scale, 68.4% of the world’s adults get to share just 4.2% of global wealth.

Letters

Beware! Labour hire Little Jonny Howard's anti-worker IR laws are alive and well and living in a state near you. After asking if we could have a cleaner to look after the lunch sheds and toilets, I was sent an email while on RnR telling me I was no longer required, even though the Gorgon/Chevron gas project is still ramping up workers with my qualifications. North West Labour Solutions, based in Albany, WA, has taken advantage of workers and their good faith by offering employment under the guise of what is essentially an AWA.

Resistance!

A survey of 8800 Australian teenagers, carried out over 10 years by La Trobe University, has found that the number of young people having sex has risen. The proportion of sexually active year 12 women who reported having had sex with three or more partners in the previous year more than doubled to 27% in the decade to 2008. Meanwhile, the NSW health department said in September that sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly chlamydia, were on the rise.