Issue 985

Australia

Australian Unions has initiated a petition against NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's cuts to the NSW fire service. Text is below, sign it here.

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The National Tertiary Education Union released this statement on October 21.

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Australian immigration officials have refused to grant a visa to a Bangladeshi union activist on the basis that he is too poor.

The activist's trip was to be sponsored by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) as part of its contribution to Anti-Poverty Week, which draws attention to issues of poverty and social exclusion.

Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor Sam Wainwright was re-elected to the Fremantle council on October 19. In the other wards, progressive councillors defeated conservative opponents, and Mayor Brad Pettitt was also returned.

Wainwright won 58% of the vote in his ward compared to 33% at the 2009 poll. Wainwright's absolute vote also increased from 438 votes to 602 this year.

Hundreds braved rain on October 13 to rally against the construction of the East West link in Melbourne's inner suburbs.

The Socialist Party's Anthony Maine, vilified by the Herald Sun as a “serial pest” spoke at the rally. He said: “The government is making decisions on behalf of the road lobby. We have the potential of mass support on our side of people that want to see more rail [lines] built. Our goal has to be to mobilise these people into action."

A half-day strike by NSW public servants planned for October 22 has been called off after the Barry O’Farrell government agreed to meet with the NSW Public Service Association (PSA) to discuss the union’s concerns about the high number of redundancies being implemented across the public service.

The PSA central council voted on October 14 to put industrial action on hold pending talks with the NSW government about the axing of 15,000 public sector jobs over four years and concerns about the new Government Sector Employment Act.

A bill to recognise crime or harm against a foetus was debated a second time in NSW parliament on October 17. About 100 protesters rallied outside before filling the public gallery to witness the debate.

Liberal MP Chris Spence's bill, the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 No. 2, also known as “Zoe's law”, aims to amend the NSW Crimes Act.

It would give rights and personhood to foetuses of more than 20 weeks (or weighing more than 400 grams), which has troubling implications for women’s reproductive control.

Refugee advocates in Australia reported that 15 pregnant women would be sent to the Nauru detention camp on October 18, as the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) released alarming information about conditions in the camp.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison had earlier overseen the transfer to Nauru of two pregnant women — one seven months pregnant with twins. He said Nauru’s hospital had two delivery beds, six post-natal beds and a “special-care baby unit”.

International students and supporters rallied on October 17 to oppose international students being exploited, bullied and pushed into poverty in Melbourne’s office cleaning industry.

The rally was called by cleaners’ union United Voice as part of anti-poverty week.

United Voice Victoria secretary Jess Walsh said: "International students are a very important part of our community. A quarter of the international students we surveyed received less than $10 an hour at work, and 60% received less than the minimum wage and many reported experiencing racism and sexual harassment.

Protesters gathered outside the immigration department CBD offices on October 18 to call on the Australian government to allow seven West Papuan asylum seekers to seek protection in Australia.

The seven West Papuans arrived in Australia’s Torres Strait on September 24. They fled West Papua, fearing reprisal for involvement with a Freedom Flotilla from Australia.

More than 100 residents of Sydney's inner western suburbs attended a public meeting at Leichhardt Town Hall on October 10 to oppose the NSW Liberal government's plan to build the WestConnex toll road.

The road would link the M4 motorway to Sydney Airport. The $10-15 billion project would involve a 33-kilometre toll road to extend the M4 from Strathfield to Mascot Airport and Port Botany, and duplicate the M5 East and M6 tollways.

A group of Iranians were on hunger strike outside the immigration department in Melbourne on October 19. Local Australian-Iranian man Jahangir Hosseini has been on hunger strike for more than 30 days. Another four women and one man have joined him on hunger strike.

The hunger strikers plan to continue their hunger strike until seven hostages abducted by Iraqi forces are released.

Hosseini called on the Australian government to intervene to secure the immediate release of the seven hostages, six of who are women.

PRIVATISE HECS

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is considering a plan to sell off Australia’s $23 billion Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debt, Yahoo News said on October 16.

The debt, owed by university students, could be privatised and sold to investors.

The Victorian treasurer has recently announced a budget surplus, but Melbourne taxi drivers have been forced to protest outside of parliament this week due to the Coalition's austerity-driven taxi reforms.

The Denis Napthine government wants to deregulate taxi licensing and claims that taxi standards have been compromised due to a lack of "competition" in the industry.

Taxi drivers and stakeholders know this is a lie.

The federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane announced early in his term that one of his first priorities was to expand the coal seam gas (CSG) industry in NSW.

This will put him on a collision course with a powerful rural and city alliance – including activists like mother-of-four Melinda Wilson from western Sydney.

Wilson helped form No CSG Blacktown and CSG Free Western Sydney. She is organising a protest outside the East Coast Gas Outlook conference in Sydney on October 22.

These photographs were taken on October 17 from Sydney's inner-west — many kilometres away from the nearest fires (which were in the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Newcastle) in what has been described as the worst bush fires in the state of NSW in decades.

World

The mother of Ribhi al-Battat, 60, gave birth to him in one of the caves inhabited by the people of the small Palestinian village of Zanuta in the West Bank, about 30 kilometres north-east of Be'er Sheva.

Battat says his mother, Mariam, gave birth to her own children and midwifed many of his relatives and neighbours in the caves that once served as homes for centuries and are now used primarily as pens for sheep, or for storage.

Jasmine Acosta and Hector Zabala are social activists from the Caracas neighbourhood of 23 de Enero (January 23). They come from a working-class neighbourhood with a strong tradition of community activism. This barrio of about 250,000 inhabitants has been part of all the major revolutionary moments in Venezuelan history.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has launched the second phase of his Street Government initiative, with the aim of inaugurating new projects and strengthening community organisation.

The Street Government is a governance mechanism implemented by Maduro this year which involves the national executive visiting Venezuela’s regions and holding meetings with different neighbourhoods and social groups.

These meetings allow the government to orientate its regional development strategies and launch new projects with the support and involvement of communities.

In an interview with independent progressive media outlet Democracy Now! last month, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, discussed why President Rafael Correa did not attend the United Nations General Assembly then taking place.

When I first stepped into kampong (“village”) Hakka a year ago, I was amazed that to find a new Chinese village complete with temple, community hall and school existed. I was further shocked to learn that all the people living there had been declared illegals just because a rich company had bought their land.

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan on its website.

The site said: “Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks ... Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings.

An “extraordinary summit” of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on October 11 and 12 took place without a threatened mass withdrawal of AU member nations from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The mass withdrawal threat was in response to the ongoing prosecution by the ICC of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto. They were elected in March this year while already facing charges for political violence after Kenya’s previous elections in 2007.

An unprecedented lawsuit has been launched against the United Nations over the world body’s responsibility for the cholera epidemic in Haiti that exploded in October 2010. The epidemic killed more than 8300 people and stricken more than 650,000.

The legal action was formally launched in New York City on October 9 by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), its partner office in Port au Prince, the Office of International Lawyers (BAI), and the Miami-based civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt (KKWT).

Fourteen Caribbean nations are suing the governments of Britain, France and the Netherlands for reparations over what the plaintiffs say is the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, AlJazeera.com said on September 27.

In a September 27 speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves said the European nations must pay for their deeds.

In April, Calgary-based pipeline company TransCanada ― the same company behind the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ― formally proposed and launched an open season for a monumental new project: the Energy East tar sands pipeline, a C$12 billion, 4400 kilometer long pipeline connecting Hardisty, Alberta to dedicated export terminals at ports in Quebec City and Saint John, New Brunswick.

The project could carry up to 1.1 million barrels per day of crude oil including a substantial amount of diluted bitumen tar sands crude.

Thousands of high school students have confronted authorities in Paris after several asylum seekers were deported by the French government.

Protests broke out on October 17 with students building barricades in the streets and occupied their schools, as well as engaging in clashes with riot police. The students were opposing the deportation of several of their peers who had been stolen away by the racist French government.

First Nations people have blockaded motorways on October 17 in Rexton, New Brunswick in Canada's west in protest against the violation of their traditional homelands by colonist mining companies seeking to commence fracking for shale gas.

Protsters from the Elsipogtog First Nation were joined by other local residents to stop shale gas exploration over fears it would lead to environmentally damaging fracking processes.

Discussing the last-minute deal in the United States Congress to avoid triggering a debt default, Gail Collins, a columnist in the New York Times wrote: “Well, um, yippie. Wow.

“Congress has decided it won’t trigger a global financial crisis out of pure pique. Can’t get any better than that.”

Much could be written about the antics of the far right in the Republican Party on display for the world these past weeks.

Analysis

Mainstream media outlets gave substantial coverage to the UN’s new report on the climate change crisis late last month, which said the Earth’s climate is warming faster than at any point in the past 65 million years and that human activity is the cause.

Disappointingly, though not unsurprisingly, the news reports dried up after only a few days.

I recently had the misfortune of being granted an audience with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and was unlucky enough to conduct an interview with him. I include the transcript below.

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Well, thank you very much, prime minister, for agreeing to this interview.

Well, I am always very happy to be interviewed by my good friends at the Daily Telegraph.

Yes...

You’ve moved offices I see. Nice Che Guevara poster!

Yes... Can I get you something to drink? I’m having a beer.

You don’t have any Bollinger do you?

A new free trade deal to be signed this year could allow foreign corporations to sue the Australian government for introducing environmental regulations on coal seam gas (CSG).

Australia has joined 11 other countries — the United States, Malaysia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Unlike most trade deals, other countries can sign on in the future.

On Thursday October 17, New South Wales suffered the worst outbreak of bushfires in decades. Although it is not yet summer, the day was another one of high temperatures and hot, dry gusty winds. Fires raged out of control destroying hundreds of homes and killing one 63-year-old man trying to defend his home.

Sydney city and surrounding suburbs, as well as Newcastle and Wollongong, were covered by towering smoke plumes and ash, even though the nearest bushfires were tens of kilometres away to the north, west and south. It was apocalyptic.

In the ballot to elect the Australian Labor Party leader that concluded on October 9, 74% of the membership voted — 30,426 of the party’s 43,823 members — apparently energised by the novel prospect of having a say in the leadership.

Although the two aspirants, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, are leaders of the party’s right and left factions respectively, both avoided controversy by saying next to nothing about policy.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill told ABC News Breakfast on October 18: “The climatic conditions that fuelled that fire yesterday were just unprecedented ... an unprecedented disaster.”

More than 100 fires broke out across New South Wales on October 17. By October 19, they had destroyed at least 193 homes in the Blue Mountains alone and caused at least one confirmed death.

Culture

“It’s a massive display of powerful corporation dick-shaking,” British-born Tamil singer MIA said in response to being sued by the National Football League in the United States over her performance at last year's Superbowl performance.

“They want me on my knees and say sorry so they can slap me on my wrist.”

Call me old-fashioned, but as far as celebrity outlaws go, I’ll take Ned Kelly over Chopper Read any day.

The rise to fame of recently deceased Mark “Chopper” Read symbolised the emptiness of our celebrity culture. In a world governed by large-scale gangsters in control of big industry and finance, Read was a mere petty psychopath and opportunist who figured out how to turn a buck from the fact that, as he famously noted, “posh people love gangsters”.