Issue 865

News

The Queensland flood crisis is a national emergency that requires urgent action. Socialist Alliance Queensland co-convener Ewan Saunders told Green Left Weekly that the "Gillard government should call Australia’s soldiers back from the war in Afghanistan to help with tackling the flood crisis and its aftermath". Saunders said the billions in taxpayer dollars wasted on the Afghanistan war should instead be spent on flood recovery work.
Climate activists gathered outside the Melbourne head office of mining giant BHP on January 21 to show solidarity with victims of the recent floods in eastern Australia. Evidence has emerged linking severe flooding in Australia with human-induced climate change. Shaun Murray, an activist from the Switch off Hazelwood group, said: "The recent catastrophic floods are the result of human-induced climate change. “As coal is the biggest contributor worldwide to emissions, the coal industry should pay the cost of clean-up and reconstruction for these disasters.”
Socialist Party member Anthony Main on January 11 became the second socialist elected to the City of Yarra council. The Labor mayor for Yarra, Jane Garrett, resigned after she was elected to state parliament in November. This left a vacancy on the council, which Main has filled. He was elected after a count back of votes tallied at the last council election. Main told Green Left Weekly that of the nine councillors, three are Greens, two are Labor, two are right-wing independents and, now, two are socialists.
Ten-year-old Tamil refugee Brindha faces deportation to Sri Lanka after being rejected by the immigration department, the January 3 Australian said. In March 2010, she told Green Left Weekly the International Organisation for Migration was treating refugees “like animals”. At the time, she was onboard the Jaya Lestari, a boat packed with 254 Tamil asylum seekers who had tried to reach Australia for protection from persecution.
Three years after Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was cooked to death in the back of a prison van travelling from Laverton to Kalgoorlie, charges have been laid against the four parties found responsible by coroner Alistair Hope. The parties prosecuted are the Western Australian Department of Corrective Services, the private prison van contractor G4S (formerly GSL) and the two drivers of the prison van. State government workplace safety agency WorkSafe laid the charges under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has delayed its decision on the controversial new coalmine proposed for Margaret River in Western Australia. The EPA decision was expected early January. Yet it has chosen to give the mining company LD Operations more time to provide more information. The EPA chairperson is now expected to make a decision at the end of February.
A six week-long battle at Swift Australia Meatworks in Brooklyn, Melbourne, has ended with 140 National Union of Workers (NUW) members keeping conditions that were lost by the plant’s 500 other employees two years ago. Swift Australia locked out the picketers in early December after they took protected industrial action in the course of their enterprise bargaining negotiations. The strikers are mostly of migrant backgrounds, from all corners of the globe. Some are recently arrived refugees.
The Socialist Alliance (SA) has criticised recent state government changes to the Liquor Control Act as an infringement of civil liberties. Under the changes, police have the power to issue “barring orders”, which ban an individual from licensed premises without incurring a criminal conviction. “Giving police the power to issue barring orders to patrons of licensed premises is tantamount to dishing out punishment before a person has been found guilty,” said SA spokesperson Alex Bainbridge.
Paola Harvey, Socialist Alliance candidate for Keira, has called on the NSW government to reverse its January 14 approval for a second gas-fired power station at Tallawarra. She said the government should make plans to phase out coal and gas-fired power and invest in a large-scale size solar-thermal power station. Harvey said the decision to build the gas-fired station was “suicidal in the context of global warming”.
Testimony to the NSW upper house inquiry into the sale of NSW’s electricity assets has alleged that only a fraction of the $5.3 billion price tag will reach the public purse. Billions will be eaten up by “associated costs”. These costs include about $1.5 billion in government funds to buy a new coal mine north-east of Lithgow to ensure a cheap coal supply for the new private owners. A further $1 billion in coal price subsidies is guaranteed to the private energy companies over the life of the mine.
Hundreds of protesters rallied in support of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks and its editor in chief, Julian Assange, in Sydney on January 15. Other rallies also took place in major cities around the world. The rally, which began at Sydney’s Town Hall, was addressed by several key speakers. The protesters later took to the streets for a loud and lively march, which went past the US consulate and ended at Hyde Park.
Marrickville Council has stayed firm in the face of criticism for its recent decision to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli apartheid in Palestine. The council passed a Greens-initiated motion to support the BDS campaign on December 14.
Seventy asylum seekers held at the Darwin detention centre have donated the small amount of cash they had to the Queensland flood appeal, said SBS on January 14. Asylum seekers held at Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre also showed their support for the victims of the Queensland floods in a symbolic action on January 17. The detainees in Villawood painted a large banner that read: “Dear Queenslanders: we asylum seekers are with you in this difficult times with flooding.”
Aboriginal leaders in Sydney and around Australia, together with the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and other community organisations, have called for a memorial to be built in the Block in Redfern, for all Aboriginal people who have died in custody. To this end, a march will be held on February 14, seven years to the day that a young Aboriginal boy, TJ Hickey, was allegedly rammed by a police vehicle during a pursuit and killed.

Analysis

Reports that the WA state government is planning to give police "stop and search" powers during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this year should concern all Western Australians. Even more worrying — albeit unsurprising — is that the ALP has dropped its lukewarm opposition to the laws, at least for the duration of CHOGM. Stop and search laws were rejected by the state upper house November and the CHOGM summit is no excuse to bring them in by the back door.
The flood disaster that struck three-quarters of Queensland over the past month and then spread to Victoria and Tasmania is the worst overall flood catastrophe in recorded Australian history. It has also inspired a massive outpouring of public sympathy and solidarity. The disaster has shown in practice the huge potential for ordinary people to mobilise in support of fellow human beings in need of help. Tens of thousands of Brisbane residents volunteered to help people whose homes had been flooded by the raging Brisbane River, especially over the weekend of January 15-16.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral service of Mavis Mary Moore on January 21. May, as she was known, passed away on January 17, aged 86. She lived a life dedicated to social justice and caring for friends, community and family. Unionist Paddy Gorman delivered the eulogy. He said: “May was a remarkable woman, one of a kind, who inspired many. She and husband Fred were a formidable team in the struggle for workers’ rights and social justice. “May believed in equality for all and had complete contempt for the rich and powerful who exploited working people.”
A fresh federal government inquiry was announced on January 14 into the alleged torture of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib. This follows the release of independent evidence supporting Habib’s claims and the recent undisclosed compensation settlement the Australian government made with him in December. Prime Minister Julia Gillard had asked the inspector-general of intelligence and security Vivienne Thom to conduct the inquiry after new evidence was presented supporting Habib’s allegations that Australian officials were involved in his torture in Egypt in 2001.
If a city drowns beneath a once-in-a-hundred-years flood, that's weather. Such things have happened in the past. But when hundred-year floods start happening every few decades, that's no longer just weather. The dice have become loaded for different outcomes. Climate — that is, the average of weather — is changing. So let's get down to the question everyone's asking. Were this summer's floods the result of climate change?
People who grew up in Queensland can tell you about the afternoon storms that heralded the start of summer. Like clockwork, shortly after the kids finished school, the clouds would start to gather. And then that strange quiet, before a great gust of wind would send leaves swirling and branches swaying. And then the rain would come. Huge droplets of rain that would smash down for maybe an hour, maybe more — and then it was over. Sure enough the next day it would come again — the monsoonal downpours that would cool everything down after a sweltering summer’s day.
When I met Kathir (not his real name), in the maximum security stage of Villawood Detention Centre just before Christmas, he had been on hunger strike for five weeks. The Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka was protesting against ASIO’s negative security clearance assessment of his asylum claim. This assessment — made entirely in secret — allows him to be held indefinitely.
Australia Day is traditionally the most racist day of the year for Aboriginal people. When people celebrate on January 26, there is no escaping the fact they are celebrating the day that one race of people invaded another race of people’s country and took control of Aboriginal lands and tried to dominate Aboriginal people. Invasion Day, as it should be called, celebrates the dispossession of land, culture, and way of life of Aborigines.
The significance of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks can be measured by the hysterical and panicked response of the powerful to it. Wikileaks’ ongoing release of thousands of secret US government cables and other secret documents is being met with outrage, assassination threats, censorship, a corporate boycott and legal action. Much of this has centred on Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. The allegations of sex crimes (for which no charges have yet been laid) have been used to hound him through the courts.
Hundreds of Aborigines and supporters are preparing to defend the kutalayna Aboriginal site in Tasmania’s lower Jordan Valley, in a protest that some say has the potential to be as big as the huge Save Franklin River protests of the 1980s. In dispute is the route of the Brighton bypass highway, north of Hobart. The Tasmanian government is pushing ahead with a bridge that will damage the historic site. Aboriginal activists and their supporters want the bridge to be moved at least 300 metres away. Already the campaign has drawn support from high-profile figures.
“WikiLeaks has had more scoops in three years than the Washington Post has had in 30.” — Clay Shirky It is for this reason that Wikileaks has become an incredibly important news source, with its commitment to provide the public with information that is deliberately withheld by governments and corporations, and to expose corruption. Its recent release of classified diplomatic cables revealing what our governments are really talking about behind closed doors has created a great divide in public opinion about just how much we, the people, really have a right to know.
The governments of Australia and Afghanistan have struck a deal to send back rejected Afghan asylum seekers against their will. Australia promised $5.8 million to the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai to “improve the passport system” and fund resettlement, but has been condemned for neglecting the interests of refugees themselves. Immigration minister Chris Bowen signed the deal with a minister of the corrupt Karzai regime on January 17. Afghan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Dr Jamaher Anwary was in Sydney to take part in talks on “people smuggling”.
The message below from ABC broadcaster and journalist Phillip Adams was read out at the January 15 Defend Wikileaks rally in Sydney. * * * First right-wing bloggers called for Julian Assange's assasination. Now voices in Washington want “the death penalty on the table” if they can get him into a US court. I'm proposing we put him up for sainthood — but after Wikileaks’ leaks on the Vatican that may be out of the question.
The article below is based on a speech by Socialist Alliance upper house candidate in the March NSW state elections Patrick Harrison. He spoke at the 'Carols at the Colliery', an action held on December 21 in Russell Vale (near Wollongong) to protest a proposed coalmine expansion. ***** The Socialist Alliance opposes all new coal development and infrastructure. It's what the science demands we do, and the alternatives to coal are ready to go. The expansion of the Gujarat NRE No.1 colliery is a threat to local residents' health and safety.

World

UPDATE: The media are reporting a second day of large anti-government protests. The regime has cracked down, with reports of at least 500 people arrested across the country. See also: Tunisia: People's power ousts dictator Tunisia: Arab rulers shake in fear
Renowned investigative journalist and film maker John Pilger interviewed Wikileaks' editor-in-chief about the “war on WikiLeaks” in response to the website “speaking truth to power”. For more information on Pilger's work, visit www.johnpilger.com . More Wikileaks coverage: Assange awarded Sydney Peace Prize ‘gold medal’ Pilger, Wilkie, Burnside to defend WikiLeaks at Sydney public forum
You may have read about the prison riot in England on New Year’s Day, with prisoners staging an uprising over searches for contraband booze. What received less coverage was the much bigger and more important protest by prisoners in the United States in December. Prisoners in a number of Georgian prisons began a strike on December 9, the December 20 Huffington Post said. The strike was called off after six days, “following reports of violent crackdowns and rising fears that the situation would escalate”, the article said.
Georgia prisoner strike demands Over December 9-15, prisoners in a number of prisons in the US state of Georgia organised a strike via contraband mobile phones. The prisoners refused to perform prison labour in protest at a range of unjust conditions they face. BlackAgendaReport.com said on December 15 that one in 12 Georgians were in prison. The December 20 Huffington Post published the prisoners' demands, which are listed below. * * *
One of the claims made most often by Israeli officials and supporters is that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”. But in recent weeks, media outlets around the world have reported on a string of new laws in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) meant to curtail the work of human rights non-government organisations (NGOs). Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has even referred to such groups as “terrorism aids”. The targeted NGOs report on human rights abuses in the entire area under Israeli control: that is, within the state of Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
On December 31, the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales repealed a decree, passed five days earlier, to remove subsidies for fuel. The repeal came after protests and discontent at the resulting price increases from many of the government’s poor supporters. “Why is the government making us suffer during these days … I don’t understand, I don’t understand”, Carla, a housewife in El Alto told Radio Atipiri on New Years Eve.
On December 10, surrounded by union leaders and foreign dignitaries, President Evo Morales announced Bolivia’s new pension law at the headquarters of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the country’s militant national trade union federation. The unprecedented and highly symbolic event was the result of a four-year negotiating process, during which the COB agreed to suspend its mobilisation for higher wages in exchange for comprehensive pension reform.
At last someone has dared to defend the oppressed people of the British banking community. Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays bank, who himself has to suffer the trauma of an £8 million bonus, said yesterday that the bankers’ “period of remorse and apology should be over”. And you feel his pain, because the first words to cross your mind when you see a banker are “remorseful and apologetic”.
Britain: Goldman Sachs gives huge bonuses “Bankers were accused of ‘sticking two fingers up to austerity Britain’,” the British Guardian reported on January 19, “after it was revealed that [Wall Street bank] Goldman Sachs had handed its staff a £10bn payday as new figures showed unemployment among Britain's young people had hit its highest level since modern records began”. The article said data from the Office for National Statistics showed that one in five people under 25 were out of work by the end of November last year — a total of 951,000 people.
The attempted political assassination of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8 opened a new debate about the depth of political divisions in the United States. It has included hot button issues of gun control and mental illness. Giffords amazingly survived a gunshot wound through the head, but six of her supporters at the sidewalk meeting died. It included a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge. Thirteen people were wounded.
One government — that of Bolivia — stood alone against the world at December’s UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. It dared to reject an agreement endorsed by 191 other nations. And Bolivia was right to do so. Cancun was a step backwards for action on climate change. Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, explained his country’s stance in the December 21 Guardian: “The text replaces binding mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with voluntary pledges that are wholly insufficient.
Acting Nepali Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has argued that bullets, explosives and other munitions no longer constitute “lethal military hardware” as long as they are to be used for “training and other related works”. MK Nepal was seeking to justify the decision to allow India to resume arms supplies to Nepal. He has never been elected and came to power after the Maoist-led government was brought down by a soft military coup in 2009.
Twenty-six children in Gaza were shot by Israeli troops near the border during 2010, a Save the Children report found. AlJazeera.net reported on January 18 that the report found: “Children in Gaza are coming under regular gunfire from Israeli soldiers while scavenging in the ruins of buildings bombed during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009 ...”
Lawyers for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have accused Swedish authorities of secretly planning to extradite him to the US as soon as it has built a criminal case against him. Lawyer Mark Stephens told the media on January 12: “We are hearing that the Swedish are prepared to drop the rape charges against Julian as soon as the Americans demand his extradition.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said that over the next six months, Wikileaks will be releasing more files related to Israel. “There are 3,700 files related to Israel and the source of 2,700 files is Israel,” he told Al-Jazeera on December 22. “The Guardian, El Pais and Le Monde have published only two percent of the files related to Israel due to the sensitive relations between Germany, France and Israel.”
A number of Wikileaks revelations have shown that US officials, despite their public stance, have been well aware of corruption and human rights abuses of regimes it has supported. In some cases, the US funded these regimes and trained their military. * * * Indonesia A leaked September 2009 US cable indicates that US officials are aware that in West Papua, the Indonesian military (TNI) are responsible for serious human rights abuses and corruption.
The popular revolution that has overthrown US- and French-backed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (in power since 1987) continues to shake the country despite repression. It has sent shockwaves through the regime, raising prospects of inspiring the democracy movements in other Arab nations. Jordan has been hit by protests against price rises.

Culture

iNTervention Intervention Curated by Teena McCarthy & Brendan Penzer The Vanishing Point gallery 565 King Street, Newtown, Sydney January 13-30 “The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.... “We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country....
Ecology & Socialism By Chris Williams Haymarket, 2009 www.ecologyandsocialism.org United States activist Chris William’s new book, published by Haymarket Press, is an excellent introduction to ecology and socialism. It is well written and, despite being a long-time ecosocialist activist, I learnt a lot from it. Williams is a professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University, and chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute. He is a green activist and a member of the International Socialist Organization.
There are more revelations than you can count in the now-infamous Wikileaks cables — a fact highlighted by the arrest and extradition attempts against Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. But here’s another one that’s been buried, and it definitely hammers home the need to defend not just Wikileaks, but freedom of speech in general.
If it is Your Life By James Kelman, Penguin Books 2010 280 pages, hardback £18.99 This is Scottish author James Kelman’s first collection of short stories since The Good Times in 1998. Right from the very first sentence you know you are back in the distinctive world of Kelman’s fiction: “When I presented myself at the Emergency section of the Social Security Office I knew things could go wrong but I was not expecting a leg amputated.”

Fighting Fund

Welcome to another year of Green Left Weekly, a proudly independent voice committed to democratic, investigative journalism. 2010 ended on a high note as Wikileaks and Julian Assange showed what true journalism is: exposing the abuses of power that hide behind the veil of government secrecy. Assange was demonised by much of the mainstream media as a “criminal” and a “terrorist”, but the US and other governments could not defend their real crimes, which were exposed by the Wikileaks cables.

Letters

Time for People's Bank The very modest proposals to introduce more competition among banks by Treasurer Wayne Swan are generally judged as inadequate. We need to have a bank that introduces real competition, modest fees for its customers and pays its executives salaries that befit an egalitarian society, not the outrageous packages the CEOs of the four pillar banks extract from society. A true fifth pillar would be a new Peoples' Bank. Show us what you are made of Wayne Swan. Klaas Woldring, Pearl Beach, NSW NCCA & boycotts

Resistance!

Paying rent sucks. That's nothing new. Its not really profound or controversial to say that — hardly a purely socialist slogan. All of us would like a bit more dosh, and to hand over hard earned cash just for a shitty flat isn’t something anyone enjoys. But these days it’s much more than that — paying rent is hard, and getting harder.
Resistance members joined a protest march through Sydney on January 15 in support of whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. Rally goers chanted "Down with hypocrisy, we want democracy" and "Wikileaks is here to stay, we'll defend it all the way" as they marched from Town Hall to Hyde Park. Resistance member and Socialist Alliance NSW Legislative Council candidate Patrick Harrison said: "Wikileaks must be defended, governments can't be allowed to get away with lies — the people of the world need the truth."