Issue 885

Australia

In opposition to the Baillieu government’s proposed fine for “offensive language or behaviour”, about 1000 people marched on June 25 at the aptly named “Fuckwalk”.

The rally was the second event held in response to new powers that allow police to issue $240 on-the-spot fines for using language they deem “offensive”.

Initiated through Facebook, organisers said they were surprised at the big turnout.

The statement below was released by a coalition of groups that held a protest on July 5, disabling a coal seam gas rig in Pilliga State Forest in NSW.

* * *

Yesterday, in a first for NSW, a coal seam gas rig was the target of a peaceful protest, with a protester scaling 25m into the air and hanging suspended from the rig for almost 16 hours. The rig was working in the Pilliga Forest, near Narrabri in north-west NSW.

The protester, Warrick Jordan was arrested late on Tuesday afternoon, and spent close to five hours being processed by police at the Narrabri police station.

Workers in the Australian Taxation Office have rejected management's proposed enterprise agreement by 59% to 41% in an all-staff vote. Workers in the Department of Defence voted against their management's proposal by 72.5% to 27.5%.

This follows similar votes by employees at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the immigration department.

Palestine solidarity campaigners in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt are celebrating raising more than $5000 for kindergartens in the South Hebron Hills at their annual Refugee Week Festival of Friendship on June 18.

Leichhardt Friends of Hebron’s festival attracted several hundred visitors to a photographic exhibition, indoor market, musical performances, a screening of the film Return to Gaza and a panel debate on boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel.

On June 20, 20 workers, members of the Textiles Clothing and Footwear Union Australia (TCFUA), made their way from Melbourne Town Hall to a boutique called Scanlan and Theodore. The workers were employees of a company called Blossom Road, which made products for the high-end fashion label.

About 150 protesters rallied at a mining expo in Toowoomba on June 22 to protest the expansion of coal and coal seam gas mining in the Darling Downs region.

They confronted state mining minister Stirling Hinchliffe to demand that other areas in Queensland should be exempted from coal seam gas mining — similar to the recent rejection of a mining permit in Toowoomba, the June 23 Brisbane Courier Mail said.

Community Voice, a united ticket of the left and progressive community in Wollongong, was formed on June 18 after a thorough discussion focussed on putting local council back in the hands of the community.

More than 40 people attended including, Reverend Gordon Bradbery, who nearly won the seat of Wollongong in the recent NSW election; Dr Munir Hussain, chairperson of the Omar Mosque; leading members of progressive parties the Greens and the Socialist Alliance; independent and community activists; trade unionists and other activists.

About 120 people attended the Pitt St Uniting Church on June 18 for the launch of Refugee Week, which was the themed “Freedom from Fear”.

Five women singers from Sierra Leone in traditional dress and headgear opened the event, which was hosted by the Refugee Council of Australia and NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.

The chairperson, SBS Dateline’s Yalda Hakim, who is also a former refugee from Afghanistan, said she had just returned from Tunisia where 100,000 foreign workers are crossing the border to escape the fighting in Libya.

More than 1,000 people gathered on June 19 to protest mandatory detention and the Gillard government’s highly contentious asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia –– under which Australia would exchange 4,000 processed and confirmed refugees from Malaysia for 800 unconfirmed asylum seekers from Australia.

The crowd gathered at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Carlton Gardens to hear speakers before marching to join the Emerge Festival at Fitzroy Town Hall. Speakers included Greens MP Adam Bandt, Julian Burnside QC, and several refugees.

The Refugee Art Project’s Fear+Hope exhibition’s opened at Sydney’s Mori Gallery on June 20, during International Refugee Week. The exhibition showcased 20 refugee artists from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Iran, the Kurdish regions of the Middle East, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia.

All of the artists produced their art locked up in Australia’s detention centres. Only three of the artists were released to be at their exhibition opening.

Australian Taxation Office staff will vote on management's proposed enterprise agreement between June 27 and June 30.

The Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Services Union have balloted their tax office members. In each case, the vast majority has voted to reject management's offer.

The two unions have agreed on a joint campaign to reject management's draft agreement.

They have produced joint posters and leaflets pointing out that management's pay offer of 9% over three years is likely to be less than the rise in the cost of living over that period.

World

The Greek parliament defied huge popular opposition, including a 48-hour general strike, to pass the latest set of extreme austerity measures demanded by the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) in return for fresh loans.

However, many commentators have pointed out it is one thing to vote up the measures and another to force them on an increasingly discontented populace.

Thirty activists from the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) have been charged and kept in jail over planned pro-democracy protests in Malaysia on July 9.

Altogether, the TheStar.com.my said on June 30 police arrested 101 people nation-wide in a preemptive move against the July 9 "Bersig 2.0" demonstrations, which have been declared illegal. The article said 45 were still detained.

The United States government has stepped up its intimidation of whistleblowing media organisation WikiLeaks by forcing several of its supporters to appear before secret grand jury hearings in Alexandria, Virginia.

Those subpoenaed have been targeted for their connections to Bradley Manning, the US army private suspected of leaking thousands of secret documents which were later published by WikiLeaks.

Manning, who is yet to face trial, has been in jailed for more than a year.

In a June 22 televised speech from the White House, United States President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 US soldiers from Afghanistan in 2011 and a further 23,000 in 2012.

This would leave US soldier numbers at about 70,000 the same as before the official "surge" by occuyping forces began at the end of 2009.

Britain’s Channel 4 said on June 24 that the reduction in soldier numbers would be partially compensated for by increased use of armed, pilotless drones.

Celebrated US author and poet Alice Walker is among 38 people who will join Audacity of Hope, the ship sponsored by US Boat to Gaza as part of an international effort to break Israel’s maritime siege of  Gaza.

Walker has authored more than thirty books, the best known of which is the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple.

“During the first years of the siege, we could still manage, but nowadays we have no alternatives,” says Dr Hassan Khalaf, deputy health minister in Gaza.

“It is a major crisis: many health services have stopped, and I’m afraid this will spiral out of control, because Gaza doesn’t have the essential medicines and supplies  needed.”

Cancer, kidney, heart and organ transplant patients, as well as patients needing routine surgeries, including eye and dental surgery, have been suffering for the past five years under the Israeli-led, internationally-backed siege of the Gaza Strip.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his PASOK party government survived a June 21 confidence vote in parliament. This came ahead of a parliamentary vote scheduled for a week later on the austerity measures demanded of Greece in return for new loans from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greece is in the grip of a desperate economic crisis. The government bailouts, engineered by the EU and IMF, have come with demands to slash spending, cut the wages and benefits of workers, and privatise public enterprises.

One of the most original and provocative books of the past decade is Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt.

“A critical look at salaried professionals,” says the cover, “and the soul-battering system that shapes their lives.”

Its theme is postmodern America. But it also applies to Britain, where the corporate state has bred a new class of Americanised manager to run the private and public sectors: the banks, the main parties, corporations, important committees, the BBC.

More than 40 Aboriginal delegates attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to refute the Australian government’s reporting on its treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Huge demonstrations of the anti-austerity M-15 movement in 97 Spanish cities and towns brought at least 250,000 people onto the streets on June 19.

This vast and peaceful turnout marked a new phase in the rising struggle against the austerity policies of the country’s “parties of government” ― the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), the People’s Party (PP) and the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) ― as well as against the recently adopted Euro stability pact.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced and countless numbers killed in the north Sudanese government’s latest offensive in the region bordering south Sudan.

South Sudan is set to formalise its secession on July 9 after a near-unanimous vote for independence in the January referendum.

Britain’s public sector unions are set to unleash a wave of strikes starting on June 30 in response to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s attack on workers’ pensions.

Unions have called a national day of action for June 30. Nearly 1 million public sector workers will strike for 24 hours.

How is the government getting away with this idea that a public-sector pension is a “luxury”?

Is it something that suave bachelors show off, saying: “Once I’ve taken you for a spin in my Aston Martin, how about I show you the mid-range forecast for my teacher’s pension over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.”

A pension is a necessity, so you might as well say we simply can’t go on enjoying the luxury of a sewerage system, given that the amount of waste we’re flushing is 35% higher than in 1996, so from 2015 we’ve got to throw it out the window otherwise we’ll end up like Greece.

Analysis

I was 12 years old when for the first time in my life I became a citizen of a country — Australia. Before that, I was a stateless Palestinian refugee.

There were two laments my parents always repeated whenever they spoke of their place of origin Palestine: if only we could have stayed and if only we could return.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in 2009 there were more than 10 million refugees around the world in need of assistance.

Unions Tasmania President Roz Madsen gave the speech below at a large June 16 rally outside the Tasmanian parliament — the day Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings announced a harsh new budget.

* * *

Not so long ago, politicians and political parties were fairly predictable. People entered politics on one side or the other, based on a set of values they held personally and then they pursued outcomes designed to fulfill those values.

The Department of Defence said on June 22 that more than 22,000 Australian and US troops would take part in the annual Talisman Sabre military exercises near Rockhampton, Queensland. In response, activists have called a Peace Convergence.

The following call to action was released on June 22 by Peace Convergence convener and Peacebus.com activist Graeme Dunstan.

* * *

Every two years in July, US-Australia war games take place at Shoalwater Bay, near Rockhampton in Central Queensland.

This article is based on a June 24 statement released by Socialist Alliance members in Tasmania.

* * *

Socialist Alliance members were outraged by the harsh, neoliberal budget handed down by the Tasmanian Labor-Greens government on June 16.

The budget slashes $1.4 billion from the public sector over the next four years, including a $100 million cut to health within the next financial year and the closure of 20 schools.

At least 1700 full-time equivalent jobs will be scrapped, including 100 police jobs.

The public wants meaningful action to address climate change. The 2010 annual Lowy poll found that 86% of Australians support climate action. Forty-six percent said they supported strong action and a further 40% supported gradual steps.

Moreover, a 2011 poll by the 100% Renewable Energy Campaign asked 14,000 people their views on renewable energy and the government’s responsibility. It found 91% of respondents think the government should increase action to roll out renewable energy and that 86% think the government needs a plan to get to 100% renewables.

On June 22, the federal government announced a six-week consulting period before creating new laws to continue the Northern Territory intervention. Prime Minister Julia Gillard “left no doubt that abolishing the intervention was not on the agenda”, said the June 23 Australian.

The statement below, titled Rebuilding From the Ground Up — an Alternative to the Northern Territory Intervention, was officially launched at the Prescribed Area People’s Alliance conference in Darwin on June 21.

* * *

The NT intervention has been a disaster for Aboriginal communities.

The lawyer who won access for refugees to Australia’s courts last year has gone to the High Court again to prevent a family being split up by the federal government’s “Malaysia swap”.

David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre said he would represent a Kurdish woman and her four-year-old son, who fled war-torn Iraq and are now held in the Christmas Island detention centre.

See also
Letter from a refugee on hunger strike: 'This system broke my heart'

Over three nights last week, hundreds of thousands of people watched something very rare: a Reality TV show that actually showed some reality.

Australia’s public SBS television station showed a special three-episode program called Go Back To Where You Came From about the experience of six Australians (with widely varying views about refugees and asylum seekers) as they are sent on a 25-day trip to trace, in reverse, the routes that refugees have taken to reach Australia.

For something as simple as stubbing your toe and saying “Oh, fuck” in public, the Victorian police will now be able to fine you $238.90 for swearing or using offensive language.

Does this mean that an entertainer or musician can also be fined for swearing or using offensive behaviour in their act or song?

The anti-swearing legislation doesn’t define what a “swear word” actually is. This gives the police extraordinary power to use these laws in discriminatory ways.

The June 10 Sydney Morning Herald said that a study released by the National Union of Students (NUS) that day indicated a “surprisingly high proportion of female university students have been sexually assaulted, stalked or sexually harassed”.

The article mentioned an Australian Defence Force Academy student who, after being raped, had experienced attitudes of “just get over it” from fellow students — a culture of silence surrounds such attacks.

The federal Labor government put a new law before the Senate on June 14 to set up a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory.

The same day, opponents of the radioactive waste dump plan gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra to protest.

Federal resources minister Martin Ferguson has said the government’s preferred site is Muckaty station, 100 kilometres north of Tennant Creek. The proposed bill also gives the government the go-ahead to set up dumps elsewhere in the NT.

Feeling the heat from opposition leader Tony Abbott’s scare campaign against the government’s planned carbon price, PM Julia Gillard told ABC radio’s AM on June 24 that she “never meant to mislead anybody during the last election campaign about carbon pricing”.

This was a reference to her promise — made days before the 2010 election — that a Labor government would not set up a carbon tax.

I was 12 years old when for the first time in my life I became a citizen of a country — Australia. Before that, I was a stateless Palestinian refugee.

There were two laments my parents always repeated whenever they spoke of their place of origin Palestine: if only we could have stayed and if only we could return.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in 2009 there were more than 10 million refugees around the world in need of assistance.

Contrary to the popular belief that Australian citizens hold absolute rights to freedom and privacy, Australia continues to evolve toward a “big brother”-like society as the government strengthens the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

With the support of the opposition, the government expanded ASIO’s powers to share information from wiretaps and computer access with other agencies. The expansion came with the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act, passed in March.

In a show of anger against the attacks on workers rights by NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, 12,000 public sector workers stopped work and rallied outside NSW parliament on June 15.

The protest was organised in just over a week, and several unions, including the Nurses Federation and the fire fighters took stopwork action on the day.

In spite of constant rain, the rally spread out for more than a block along Macquarie Street and into Martin Place.

UPDATE — June 24: The author of this letter carried out a five-day hunger strike at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin that began on June 20.

During his hunger strike, he protested on the rooftop of the detention centre and refused to come down.

He says that although he has been found to be a refugee, he does not know when his 18 month long detention will end as ASIO has not given him a security clearance. He now says that he wants to leave Australia.

See also

The message below was sent on June 20 — World Refugee Day — from an asylum seeker named Jaffer. Jaffer is held in Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.

See also
Letter from a refugee on hunger strike: 'This system broke my heart'
End the live export of asylum seekers
Nauru detention plan extreme, dehumanising
Malaysian MP slams refugee outsourcing deal

Culture

The Sydney Film Festival, held over June 8-13, featured 161 films from 42 countries. Every one of the eight films I was able to see was packed out, even the beautiful State Theatre which holds more than 2000 people.

Four films I saw are a must-see if they ever get a general release in suburban cinemas.

The first was Sing Your Song, a biography of African-American singer and actor Harry Belafonte.

Indigenous rapper Caper says a backlash from his fans caused Facebook to reverse their banning of the video to his song "How Would You Like To Be Me?" (lyrics below).

The song, which addresses racism in Australia, has enjoyed extensive radio airplay, becoming one of the most requested songs on Magic FM.

The 30-year-old musician, otherwise known as Colin Darcy from Whyalla in South Australia, said in a post on the social networking website: "Whoever reported my new video 'How Would You Like To Be Me' as offensive has actually stopped it from being promoted on facebook.

Wild International
Art exhibition by Sam Bullock
June 1-July 2
Andrew Baker Gallery
26 Brookes St, Bowen Hills
Brisbane
www.andrew-baker.com

Sam Bullock has a wonderful artistic talent. He is also autistic.

We kid you not

US man robs store to get health care in prison

“A North Carolina man robbed a local store for a dollar just so he could get health care in prison, he said.

“James Verone, 59, handed the teller a note demanding $1 and claimed he had a gun … He then walked away and sat down, waiting for police.
 
“[He said:] 'I wanted to make it known that this wasn't for monetary reasons, but for medical reasons.'