Issue 916

News

LIVE BLOG Sunday March 25 Green Left Weekly is reporting live from the Coal Seam Gas Community Conference at Wollongong Town Hall on March 25. ----
After three weeks of action, warehouse workers at the Sigma pharmaceutical Melbourne plant returned to work on March 21. Workers fended off attempts by the company to abolish afternoon and night shift loadings. They also won a 4% pay rise. The workers, members of the National Union of Workers at the Rowville plant in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, had rarely been on strike.
In response to timber industry lobbying, independent MP Rob Oakeshott moved a motion in federal parliament to allow foresters to claim Renewable Energy Certificates for burning native forests for power. The vote was lost on March 19 on a casting vote from the Speaker of the House Peter Slipper. The Labor Party, Greens, and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor voted against the motion. The Coalition voted for it.
On March 9, Gunns Ltd notified the Australian Stock Exchange that potential investor Richard Chandler Corporation pulled out of its bid to buy a 40% stake in the company. The Singapore-based investment firm of New Zealand millionaire Richard Chandler had planned to invest $150 million in the company. But it dropped the plan after consulting with stakeholders and communities. The news was welcomed by environmentalists as another big setback for Gunns’ plans to get its $2.3 billion Tamar Valley pulp mill started in northern Tasmania.
The planned expansion of coalmining in Victoria has led the member for Bass, Liberal MP Ken Smith, to oppose his own party on the issue. Bass Coast Shire Council said it “is totally opposed to new mining of coal, and to gas extraction associated with coal (unconventional gas), within the shire,” in a resolution on March 21. The motion asked the government to exempt land within the shire from coal and unconventional gas exploration or mining licences.
For more than 100 days, Miranda Gibson kept a 24-hour vigil 60 metres up a gum tree. Dubbed the ObserverTree, it is in Tasmania's logging coupe TN044B, whose steeply forested slopes have been earmarked for cable logging. The tree is in an area that is being assessed for reserve status under the Tasmania forestry peace deal. From the platform, Gibson can see areas of clearfelled forest around her.
Mental health workers voted to escalate industrial action in two weeks unless Ted Baillieu's Coalition government begins to seriously negotiate with their union. The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) covers psychiatric nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and support staff. The Australian Nursing Federation covers some mental health nurses as well.
Healesville-based group, MyEnvironment, has lost a court case it mounted against government body VicForests over the logging of Victoria’s central highlands areas that include habitat for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Justice Robert Osborn handed down his decision in the Supreme Court on March 14. He refused to order a stop to logging in three forest coupes at Toolangi, including the Gun Barrel coupe that was the scene of blockades and protests in late 2011.
Aboriginal rights protesters gathered outside the Northern Territory tourism bureau in Sydney on March 21 to protest the death in custody of 28-year-old Aboriginal man Terrence Briscoe, and to condemn the “Stronger Futures” bill that will extend the NT intervention. Deaths in custody campaigner Ray Jackson told the rally: “When Terrence died in a police cell, the family were first told it was a heart attack. Then it was respiratory. Then it was asphyxiation. How do you asphyxiate? When police jump all over you, forcing your breath out.
The Northern Territory’s peak doctors’ body says Darwin’s main hospital is struggling to cope with up to five refugees a day coming in for treatment for self-harm, mental illness and chronic anxiety. See also: The Northern Territory: Australia's refugee detention capital
A lively picket was held outside Arrow Energy’s main Brisbane office on Albert Street on March 23. Called by Socialist Alliance candidate for South Brisbane, Liam Flenady, the picket protested the recent revelations that BNG, a subsidiary of Arrow Energy, has a permit for coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in the western suburbs of Brisbane, including the suburbs Pullenvale, Karara Downs and Moggill.
Members of Occupy Melbourne took Melbourne Council to court on March 20 over its attacks on the movement last year. Occupy Melbourne said: “Hearings commence today at the Federal Court as part of the legal challenge against the City of Melbourne’s response to the peaceful Occupy Melbourne protests held throughout the city since October 2011.
Liam Flenady, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of South Brisbane, released the statement below on March 21. * * * The Socialist Alliance declares its full support for the Sovereign Embassy Brisbane, established by the Murri community in Musgrave Park, South Brisbane, on March 13.
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) released the statement below on March 20. * * * The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) has been informed that an Iranian man in Darwin’s Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) swallowed parts of a light bulb today as a form of self harm. The man is detained in the North 2 compound that has seen large numbers of suicide attempts and self-harm incidents this year.
More than 100 activists and refugee campaigners gathered on March 17 for the first protest held at the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) detention centre in Pinkenba. The protest was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (Queensland). Originally intended as a centre to house people who had overstayed their visas, due to the overcrowding in other detention centres in Australia BITA now serves as yet another refugee detention centre.

Analysis

The United Nations Committee Against Torture said in 2007 that “TASER electronic stun guns are a form of torture that can kill”. These deadly “forms of torture”, which are now part of policing in every Australian state, killed again on March 18. Twenty-one year old Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti died after six police officers chased him down a Sydney street, capsicum-sprayed him, and then tasered him in the back. Police say Curti, who was unarmed, “may” have been involved in a robbery of “a packet
About 120 unionists and supporters rallied outside the New Zealand Consulate in Sydney on March 19 in solidarity with 292 Auckland wharfies who were sacked for being members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand. The rally was organised by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). It called on the NZ government to pressure the Auckland Council, which owns Auckland port, to immediately reinstate the workers.
The New South Wales Liberal government said on March 11 that it planned to force schools to bear the responsibility for its latest funding cuts. The government did not consult the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) before releasing the “Local Schools, Local Decisions” and “Empowering Local Schools” initiatives, which it claimed would deliver “autonomy” to local public schools. In reality, the move is a smokescreen that forces public school principals to implement the government cuts of $250 million a year.
Of all the people infuriated by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer’s March 20 claim that the Greens are funded by the CIA, it is not hard to imagine the angriest were heads of the Murdoch media. Having declared in an Australian editorial in 2010 its intention to “destroy the Greens”, the Murdoch press has worked hard to relentlessly spin a tale of the political party as far left lunatics — old-style commies in green T-shirts.
Activists campaigning for stronger action to stop climate change often come up against pseudo-scientific arguments from climate change deniers. Arguments put forward by misusers and abusers of the science such as Ian Plimer or “Lord” Christopher Monckton have become mainstays of the deniers’ argument arsenal. Below are three of the most common violations of science that are touted as evidence disproving the “theory” of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, and response to these arguments.
The Tasmanian and federal governments signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) last August that promised immediate protection for 430,000 hectares of high conservation value forest. But it also agreed to continue supplying the industry hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of sawlogs and veneer peeler logs. The agreement included more than $250 million in finance to restructure the timber industry.
For many months now, major party politicians and the big business media have sung paeans to the Lucky Country’s luckiest mining bonanza yet, riding the coat-tails of the rapid industrialisation of China and India. Federal treasurer Wayne Swan told the National Press Club on March 5: “Asia’s enormous appetite for our mineral commodities drives an investment pipeline in the resources sector worth $456 billion.
"This is a bittersweet victory for nurses and midwives after an unprecedented industrial marathon with the Baillieu Government to protect patient care and secure a fair pay rise.” — Lisa Fitzpatrick, State Secretary, Australian Nursing Federation (Victoria). The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) of Victoria has had a good win. At a time when the employers are on the march, the Victorian ANF ran a campaign that involved two periods of industrial action, including bed closures, elective surgery cancellations and four hour rolling stoppages twice a day.
Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan said on March 20 that his government’s Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) was “central to the government’s plan to spread the benefits of the mining boom to more Australians for generations to come”. Lauding the tax, which had passed through parliament the day before, he said the MRRT was about “ensuring all Australians share in the benefits of the mining boom, not just a fortunate few”.
The Greens were dead against the former Rudd Labor government’s Carbon Pollution Trading Scheme (CPRS) in 2009 and voted it down in parliament. Today, the Greens are champions of the Gillard Labor government’s carbon price. A recent Greens brochure, “The Carbon Price Explained”, says it only “happened because of the Greens”. The strangest thing is that the two carbon price schemes — Rudd’s and Gillard’s — are mostly the same.
The federal immigration department said on March 20 that it would bring all asylum seekers under a “new single protection visa process”. From March 24, refugees that arrive by boat would be able to put their cases for refugee status to the same body — the Refugee Review Tribunal — as those who arrived by plane. Since former Liberal prime minister John Howard excised large parts of Australia’s migration zone in 2001, asylum seekers that arrived by boat were taken to the Independent Merits Review (IMR) system.
One of my first jobs as a junior reporter was to meet flights bringing famous people to Australia. Growing up in a country far from everywhere (except, as my father would say, "where you come from"), I was led to believe that Australia's honour was at risk unless a well-known person from Over There said something flattering about us, preferably the moment they arrived at Sydney airport.
The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry presented its final report on March 16 into the January 2011 flood that submerged parts of suburban Brisbane. There have been very few more expensive exercises in irrelevance than this 658-page report.

World

A video put together by Paul Benedek, seeking to expose the dangerous myths behind Invisible Children's viral film "Kony 2012". Is the focus on Kony justified? Should we support the Ugandan army? Will US intevention help? "Kony 2012": viral activism or viral imperialism?
Thousands of people gathered in Union Square in New York City on March 21 for a "Million Hoodie March" to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, as outrage at his racist murder continues to spread across the country and the world. Martin was gunned down in the central Florida town of Sanford in late February as he walked to the home of his father's fiance. His killer was George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who was patrolling a gated community when he spotted Martin.
On March 17, New York police attacked Occupy Wall Street protesters seeking to re-occupy Liberty Park in Manhattan, leading to 73 arrests. The park was occupied from last September until a violent police raid cleared it in November. In response, OWS protesters occupied Union Square, a public square in Manhattan. It was violently raided by police on March 21. Below is an abridged report from www.occupywallst.org on March 22 on the running battles with police. * * *
On March 18, Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services confiscated the entire print run of Al Midan, the Sudanese Communist Party's newspaper. This was the third consecutive issue to be censored by the NISS. The March 18 Sudan Tribune said: "Sudanese authorities routinely confiscate copies of newspapers as a punishment for publishing contents critical of the government. The measure is intended to inflict financial damage on the already hard-pressed papers." ​
The United Nations Human Rights Council had passed a resolution calling for the Sri Lankan government to carry out the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The LLRC was appointed by the Sri Lankan government to appease international concern over atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Army during its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Six Zimbabwean socialist activists were convicted on March 19 for “conspiracy to commit public violence”. Their “crime” was to watch a video in February last year about the anti-dictatorship uprising in Egypt. But the activists won a partial victory two days later when they were given suspended jail sentences of two years. The six were also ordered to each do 420 hours of community service and pay a fine of US$500 (A$478). The six had faced up to 10 years’ in jail, a sentence demanded by the state prosecutor, Edmore Nyazamba.
A number of high-profile industrial struggles are unfolding in New Zealand. About 1500 aged care workers, members of the Service and Food Workers Union, are taking part in rolling strikes against a 1% pay rise offer. About 750 meat workers have been locked out by their employer AFFCO and about 1250 workers are involved in rolling stoppages in solidarity. Striking Auckland waterside workers are also into their fourth week on the picket line. What links all these struggles are pay and conditions ― especially the fight against casualisation.
The massacre of 16 people in the Panjwai District of Kandahar province in Afghanistan on March 11 re-ignited widespread calls, inside and outside Afghanistan, for Western forces to leave. US army spin has not quelled anger or questions over how the massacre took place, who was involved and how to deal with those responsible. Witnesses say US army staff sergeant Robert Bales, along with 15-20 others, went on a rampage — sexually assaulting, then massacring and burning mainly women and children from the remote farming villages of Najeeban and Alkozai.
Preliminary court-martial proceedings against United States soldier Bradley Manning have shown the US government's strong desire to make an example of him. Manning is the military analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and US military reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Rather than seek to investigate the serious war crimes revealed in the leaks — and prosecute those responsible — the US government has persecuted Manning.
Malalai Joya, a former MP and one of Afghanistan’s best-known democratic leaders, recently survived the sixth attempt on her life. Taliban gunmen attacked her office at 3 am on March 10, wounding two of her guards. In an exclusive interview, she told Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman that “such terrorist acts will never stop my fight for freedom, democracy and justice”.
Last week I had a dream that my house in the western part of Tokyo was shaking violently around me. Then I woke up and discovered it wasn’t a dream at all. It was a 5.3 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in nearby Saitama. It was the second earthquake I had felt in less than a week following the March 11 anniversary of Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster. It was a frightening and potent reminder of exactly why it is so important to rid Japan of nuclear power plants.
At last, the bill has been passed to enable Britain's health service, the envy of the world, to become more like the United States system, universally derided as a chaotic disaster. Now they can introduce bills to make our ferry service more like the one in Italy, and our record on child abuse more like that of the Vatican. It takes inventive thinking to hear that in the US, drug companies spend twice as much on advertising as they do on research, and say, "That's MARVELLOUS, why can't WE do that"?
Tens of thousands of students and their supporters marched in big Quebec cities on March 18 to oppose the Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s government’s promise to impose a 75% rise in post-secondary education fees over the next five years. In Montreal, about 30,000 “former, present and future university students” protested. The march stretched for more than 1.5 kilometres, newspaper Le Devoir said. Thousands more marched in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Alma.

Culture

Protest singers aren't always producing angry slogans to give their audience a sense of solidarity: there are some who can make you consider an issue in a new light by using well-constructed lyrics, a tuneful melody, humour, and a gently persuasive voice. Such a catalyst is Jez Lowe, a British singer/songwriter, who is touring Australia. Lowe writes specifically about life in his native north-east England, but there is such truth and universality in his writing that it appeals to audiences across the world. He is to folk song what British screenwriter Jimmy McGovern is to television.
A Rose Loupt Oot Edited by David Betteridge Smokestack Books 2011 £8.95, 64 pages www.smokestack-books.co.uk Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the work-in Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) in 1971, a campaign by Scottish workers that resulted in the reversal of the Conservative government’s decision to close down a number of shipyards on the River Clyde in Glasgow. A Rose Loupt Oot is a collection of poems, songs and artwork marking the anniversary.
Living Black Sundays, 4.30pm on SBS One from March 18 “I had a terrible time at school,” Living Black presenter Karla Grant tells Green Left Weekly. The veteran journalist, who is about to host a new series of the flagship Aboriginal affairs show she launched for SBS a decade ago, has come a long way since being taunted as a “boong” and “coon” in Adelaide playgrounds. “It was awful,” says Grant, who is now Living Black’s executive producer as well as its host. “They were very ignorant - and I was the only Aboriginal kid at the school.”