Issue 909

News

Many Muckaty Traditional Owners are opposed to establishment a radioactive waste dump on the Muckaty Land Trust, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. This is a short video appeal to Senators calling on them to oppose Minister Ferguson's National Radioactive Waste Management Bill, which would entrench Muckaty as the only site to be actively considered for the dump.
Port Kembla Coal Terminal workers began a week-long strike on February 1. The action is a result of management scaling back conditions during negotiations over a new enterprise agreement. BHP Billiton operates the coal terminal on behalf of its owners, which include Xstrata, Peabody Energy, Gujarat NRE and Centennial Coal. Management’s latest offer triggered Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) delegates to take industrial action. About 100 workers had previously voted to approve a seven-day stoppage from February 1, unless management made a late offer
Thousands of Victorian nurses, mental health workers, public servants and others have been trying to negotiate new enterprise bargaining agreements with the Coalition government. Premier Ted Baillieu's intransigent state government has insisted it will not agree to any pay rises above 2.5% a year without productivity trade-offs. The exception was the police force, which won a 4.5% annual pay rise a few days after more than 500 police violently evicted Occupy Melbourne protesters from City Square.
In an historic decision, Fair Work Australia (FWA) awarded pay rises of 19-41% to 150,000 mostly female workers in the social and community services sector (SACS) on February 1. It was the most important equal pay case since equal pay for work of equal value was formally recognised in 1972. The decision awards an extra 4% rise in loadings, designed to recognise impediments to bargaining in the industry. Workers will also be entitled to any wage review by FWA each year. The pay rises are effective from December 1, to be phased in over eight years.
Socialist Alliance candidate Liam Flenady, who will run in the March 24 Queensland state election, announced the party's key policy pledge on February 4. The policy said: “Set up a new Queensland State Bank: Provide low-interest loans to householders, farmers and small business. Stop the private banks ripping off the community.”
The trees are coming down. Against a backdrop of grey skies and at times torrential rain, to a soundtrack of chainsaw, wood chipper and howls of protest and grief from anguished residents and exhausted protesters, the magnificent, healthy, 80-year-old iconic cathedral arch of the Laman Street Fig Trees in Cooks Hills, Newcastle, is being reduced to wood chip as this goes to press. Sixty riot police guard the area, which is bordered by a double ring of tall temporary perimeter fencing. Onlookers shrieked in outrage and amazement as a large bird’s nest was fed into the mulcher.
February 1 was the day of the most vibrant climate rally seen in Melbourne for some time, with nearly 500 protesters overflowing from the steps of the state parliament house to call on the federal and state governments to revoke their funding of HRL, Victoria’s proposed new coal-fired power plant. The rally, called by grassroots climate collective Quit Coal, was held principally to influence the federal government, which is currently reviewing HRL’s Howard-era $100 million grant.
About 200 unionists gathered at King George Square on February 2 for a meeting to commemorate the centenary of the 1912 Brisbane General Strike, one of the first of its kind in the world. The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) jointly sponsored the meeting. Speakers, including RTBU state officials Owen Doogan and David Matters, ALP Senator Claire Moore, and QCU assistant secretary John Battams outlined the history of the 1912 strike and its significance for today. Murri elder Bobby Anderson gave a welcome to country.
A new government report has found that just 174 of the 700 workers laid off by BlueScope Steel late last year have found new jobs. The federal Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education compiled the report.
Friends of the Earth Australia released the statement below on February 3. *** Friends of the Earth have refuted claims made today by the National Irrigators Council (NIC) that environment groups want government to deliberately flood people’s homes during the current NSW flooding. “This absurd statement has no factual basis and reveals a callous desire to exploit fear for political gain,” said Murray-Darling Friends of the Earth Campaigner Jonathan La Nauze. “We extend our hearts to those people battling floodwaters in NSW and wish them every assistance.
The statement below was posted on the Observer Tree blog on February 3. * * * Today Miranda Gibson has broken the Tasmanian record for the longest time spent at the top of a tree. Miranda has been on a platform 60 meters from the ground for 52 days, and will remain there to highlight the ongoing destruction of Tasmania’s forests.
Stop CSG Illawarra released the statement below on February 2. * * * Stop CSG Illawarra members have decided to organise a community blockade if any work starts on the local coal seam gas (CSG) project. A meeting of local residents voted unanimously to take this course of action if needed. Spokesperson Jess Moore said: “If the government won’t protect this community, we’ll have to do it for ourselves.

Analysis

This year, the rules of the game have changed drastically. The ALP now supports marriage equality, and the Greens submitted its Marriage Amendment Bill 2010 to a senate inquiry on January 26. The problem is the numbers in parliament. The ALP has allowed a conscience vote, which means its MPs can vote against party policy, while Liberal Party members are required to vote against marriage equality.   
Truth and accuracy have never been the highest priorities for the mainstream media. But hysteria and misrepresentation of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest in Canberra on January 26 have been taken to an absurd level. Terms like “mob violence”, “thuggery” and “riot” have been used by journalists and politicians to describe a protest where no one was injured, no property was damaged and no one was arrested.
Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper, The Australian, has been on a campaign to destroy the Greens because the party represents a big electoral break from the two-parties-for-capitalism system that has dominated politics in this country for more than a century. In the past two weeks, this campaign has been hyped into McCarthyite Cold War hysteria.
US gangster Al Capone once said: “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.” 19th century US president Thomas Jefferson said: “Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” These quotes capture the bastard nature of the dangerous racket that is the Australian banking cartel. See also: Socialist candidate says fight private bank ripoffs
Well, it is only February and one thing is certain: a federal election doesn’t have to be called until as late as November 2013, but the Tony Abbott-led Coalition smells blood and, as far as they are concerned, they are in election mode. This means if you are dark-skinned, downtrodden or desperate, you had better look out. You are right in the Coalition’s firing line, and just behind them is a desperate Labor government (led, for now, by Julia Gillard) eager to play the futile game of blunting attacks from the right by joining in.
In the week after the January 26 Aboriginal Tent Embassy anniversary celebrations and protests, the mainstream media poured out a continuous stream of negative, scathing commentary on the Tent Embassy and the people that defended it. Ignoring the thousands of people gathered for three days to recognise the achievements of the Tent Embassy and protest against ongoing attacks to Aboriginal people today, the corporate media ran stories of an “angry mob” that surrounded a Canberra restaurant and “besieged” Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott.
State planning minister Brad Hazzard released draft guidelines to regulate NSW wind farms in December. The guidelines allow anyone with a residence within two kilometres to veto a wind power project. If the guidelines become law, this would put the brakes on the wind industry, as the coal seam gas industry bolts ahead.
Pat Eatock, a veteran of the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy, was recently splashed all over the news holding the Prime Minister's shoe. The shoe was lost when Julia Gillard was clumsily evacuated with opposition leader Tony Abbott by her panicked security detail from a function just 100 metres from the 40th anniversary gathering at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The gathering took place next to the Old Parliament House in Canberra on January 26.
Political establishment and mass media ill will towards the Aboriginal Tent Embassy should not confuse us. The real and valid question is still the past, present and future of Aboriginal Australians.
Arabunna man Peter Watts is the co-chair of ANFA, the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance. Formed in 1997, ANFA (formerly the Alliance Against Uranium) brings together Aboriginal people and relevant NGOs concerned about existing or proposed nuclear developments in Australia, particularly on Aboriginal homelands. This year, Watts represented ANFA at the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World, held in Yokohama, Japan, in the wake of the Fukushima disasters.
Moments before Julia Gillard was whisked away from the angry crowd, losing her shoe in the process, she began an awards ceremony speech with these words: “Can I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and in the spirit of reconciliation pay my respects to elders past and present.” It was an expression she had used many times before, like an eastern mantra. A brief check of her press website shows she had said these exact words on 19 and 20 January 2012, 18 November 2011, 21 and 4 October 2011, and 1 Jan 2011.
Bob Briton, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) by-election candidate for the seat of Port Adelaide, launched his campaign at a function on January 21. Below is his speech at the election launch. * * * Thank you friends and comrades for turning out in such good numbers at a difficult time of the year given holidays and family commitments. We’ve been encouraged that there appears to be momentum from the campaign we conducted for Lee in 2010.

World

Cutting the working day to a maximum of seven hours, eliminating subcontracted work and raising maternity leave to a period of five months were some of the proposals put forward by thousands of workers across Venezuela for the country's new Labour Law, Socialist Bolivarian Workers’ Central president Will Rangel said on January 31. Venezuelan workers have been mobilising across the country since President Hugo Chavez announced his government would overhaul the country’s Labour Law (LOT). This came after a sustained campaign by workers to have the law changed.
Egyptian citizens have accused the police and military of failing to intervene on February 1 to stop clashes at an Egyptian football match that killed at least 74 people. Dozens of angry protesters sealed off Tahrir Square, the centre of the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. Others blocked the street in front of the state TV building in central Cairo ahead of planned marches to the interior ministry to denounce the police force.
The streets of Cairo were full of protesters on January 27, two days after the first anniversary of the beginning of the revolution on January 25 last. The day was called “Friday of Pride and Dignity". The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was again defeated by the huge participation of Egyptians in the demonstrations. The protesters' slogans and chants demanded the overthrow of SCAF and direct transition of powers to the parliament. The attempts by SCAF to transform the anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising into celebrations were a failure.
Do you remember what happened on February 2 last year? On that day, one year ago, Tahrir Square was attacked by thugs on camels, horses and donkeys. These clashes, which lasted for hours and were watched live on TV all over the world, came to be known as the Camel Battle. It was an unforgettable day in Egypt's 18 days of protests that ended with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011.
Early in January, the Sa-Ka-Kha-9 military division based near the ancient Falom village seized about 50 houses and a mosque that had been built at the village's edge. It is one of 36 that are Rohingyan (a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority) in the Kyauktaw township in the western Burmese Arakan state along the Kaladan River. These lands had been re-bought from the military by Falom villagers. For 17 years, until re-buying the land, the village consisted of 280 houses and some farm lands. The mosque was demolished by the military in 1995.
From January 24-29, the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre was again the staging ground for the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual international gathering of anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist activists. Among the various movements present, one of the most visible was Brazil's Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), possibly the largest social movement in Latin America.
In a big win for environmentalists and the planet, the administration of United States President Barack Obama announced on January 20 that it would deny a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada. Anti-tar sands activists in the US and Canada have been seeking to stop the pipeline, planned to transport oil from the Athabasca tar sands in north-east Alberta to refineries in the United States. Mining the Athabasca tar sands is one of the most environmentally destructive practices on the planet.
The United Nations estimated early last month that more than 5400 people had been killed since protests against the dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year. Since then, the rate of killing has probably increased, but the UN said the violence has made further casualty counts impossible.
A vast icy pool of Siberian air, the coldest in 50 years, settled over all Europe in late January. At least 150 people without shelter were killed. Yet the suffering from this extreme cold snap will be nothing compared with that of the economic ice age now threatening to entomb Europe’s most vulnerable economies. Over the past fortnight southern Europe’s growth prospects have become increasingly wintry:
The Supreme Court hearing in the Julian Assange case has profound meaning for the preservation of basic freedoms in Western democracies. This is Assange’s final appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct that were originally dismissed by the chief prosecutor in Stockholm and constitute no crime in Britain.
Laayoune is the largest settlement in Western Sahara territory, which has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. The Sahrawi people continue to demand independence after decades of poor treatment under Moroccan rule. Many Sahrawi report being routinely subjected to police brutality and say they suffer widespread discrimination. Activists in Laayoune face a day-to-day struggle with local authorities. The city is touted by the Moroccan government as a regional development hub, but from the ground looks more like an infantry barracks.
United States' oil giant ExxonMobil had the largest profits of the “big five” oil companies last year, raking in US$41.1 billion. This is a 35% jump from the year before. Here are a few more facts about ExxonMobil: Exxon’s $41.1 billion in 2011 profit translates into nearly $5 million in profit every hour, or more than $1300 every second. Exxon pays a lower tax rate than the average US citizen. Between 2008-2010, Exxon Mobil registered an average 17.6% federal effective corporate tax rate, while the average American paid a higher rate of 20.4 percent.
Cajamarca, a town with tragic associations in Peruvian history, is the setting of another devastating imperialist onslaught. In 1532, a band of Spanish conquistadores ambushed the Inca king Atahualpa in the central plaza of this Andean town. The brutal spirit of conquista is alive and well in contemporary Cajamarca, in the form of the US-based Newmont mining corporation, an outfit with a slick PR machine and a very dirty environmental and human rights track record.
Five anti-nuclear activists travelled from Australia to attend the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World held in the Japanese port city of Yokohama, over January 14–15. The conference was attended by 11,500 people over the two days including 100 international participants from 30 countries.

Culture

Stop Signs: Cars & Capitalism ― On the Road to Economic, Social & Ecological Decay By Bianca Mugenyi & Yves Engler RED Publishing & Fernwood Publishing 2011, 259 pages, $27.95 (pb) The car, say Canadian authors Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler, who took a bus ride across the United States, is a doomed jalopy going nowhere. It fails, especially in the “home of the car”, on every green count. Cars are the single largest contributor to US noise pollution and 40,000 people in the US die from car accidents each year (one million across the globe).
Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Ruthlessly Targets Children Joel Bakan Random House, 2011 277 pages Parents who read Joel Bakan's new book, Childhood Under Siege, may find themselves un-liking Facebook. In it, the law professor ― whose previous book The Corporation was made into Canada's biggest-grossing documentary ― describes the effect of the social media giant's applications on his 13-year-old daughter.

Editorial

Nearly 10 years of a mining boom has made big changes to Australia’s economy and environment. Resource companies have made record profits. This has given Australia’s rich mining billionaires an inflated sense of entitlement. When the Resources Super Profits Tax (RSPT) was proposed we saw Gina Rinehart speaking to an anti-tax rally from the back of a truck along with fellow billionaire Andrew Forrest, who wore a high-visibility work shirt as though he was just another struggling worker.

Fighting Fund

The mainstream media’s “impartial and balanced” fig leaves began to slip on January 31, revealing their corporate genitalia for all to see. Australia’s richest person, billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, had begun buying more shares in Fairfax Media, increasing her stake towards 15% and raising questions about media impartiality. Fairfax journalists scrambled to report the news, tying themselves in knots over how much to admit about the corporate nature of their media outlets and whether Rinehart could have any influence on editorial input.

On the box

Film: Hunger ― A harrowing, award-winning drama on the final months of Irish republican prisoner Bobby Sands, as he went on hunger strike to protest the treatment of political prisoners by British prison guards. SBS2, Wed Feb 8, 9.35pm.

Resistance!

Recent national figures published by the Sydney Morning Herald show the rate of youth unemployment in Australia is well above the national average, hitting 17.3%. The figure is more than triple national unemployment, which stood at 5.2% in December. Almost one in five people aged 15 to 19 and not studying are out of work.
Activists from Western Australia’s Refugee Rights Action Network traveled more than 800 kilometres from Perth to the remote Leonora detention centre over January 27-29. The journey sought to draw attention to the 160 unaccompanied minors locked up in the detention centre. Immigration minister Chris Bowen had previously promised that all children would be moved out of detention centres by June last year.  

Sam's Freo report

A looming staffing problem in Western Australia's 26 Police and Community Youth Centres (PCYC) is exposing premier Colin Barnett and the Liberal government's disregard for youth services and the complete hypocrisy of the law and order rhetoric that crops up at every state election. PCYCs are formally independent non-profit organisations, supported by the state through the provision of police officers as full-time centre managers.