Melbourne

The Coalition opposition has blocked legislation introduced by the Victorian Labor government to restructure Victoria's fire services.

The legislation aims at changing the current situation where cities such as Geelong and Ballarat, and many Melbourne suburbs are covered by the Country Fire Authority (CFA) rather than the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Victorian state government’s March 29 announcement to arm its police with semi-automatic, military-grade weapons was an early April Fool’s joke.

After all, the announcement came in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in the United States. It also came after the Crime Statistics Agency published data on March 15 showing that crime rates have fallen by 9.9%.

“What is happening in Venezuela is a revolution, not a dictatorship,” Pacha Catalina Guzman, an activist with Venezuela’s largest peasant-based organisation, the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) and the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), told a public meeting of more than 40 people on March 29.

The meeting was the last in Guzman’s Australian tour coordinated by Latin America Solidarity Network (LASNET) that took her to Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney.

About 30 National Union of Workers’ members at Yakult’s Dandenong South probiotic drink factory won a wage rise of 3% and reinstatement of RDOs on March 28 after being on strike for 10 days.

The workers walked off the job on March 19 and maintained a 24-hour picket line at the site while management refused to discuss the issue. Yakult had offered 2.5% at the cost of ending RDOs and deduction of union dues from wages. Australia is profitable for Yakult — it made $332 million profit in 2016-17.

 

More than 6000 early childhood educators walked off the job on March 27 for the third time in 12 months to demand equal pay. In addition, more than 30,000 parents made other arrangements for their children, or kept them at home, to stand in solidarity with childcare workers.

The walk-off was part of a nationwide day of action called by the workers’ union United Voice prompted by the failure of the federal government to act on equal pay. Early childhood educators are among the lowest paid professionals in Australia.

The result of the Batman by-election on March 17, triggered by the resignation of Labor MP David Feeney over his citizenship status, shows Labor, with the right combination of candidate and policy, can hold off the Greens.

Labor’s Ged Kearney retained the seat, with 43% of the primary vote. The Greens’ Alex Bhathal, who many expected to win, received 39%. The Liberals did not contest the seat, although a variety of small conservative parties did.

 

Residents of Fitzroy’s massive Atherton Gardens public housing estate rallied and then occupied the local office of the Housing Department on March 16.

The rally was organised by the Atherton Gardens Residents Association (AGRA) and was also attended by supporters of public housing including the Victorian Socialists.

The Victorian Socialists released this statement on the Batman byelection on March 18.

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The Labor Party has managed to retain the seat of Batman, by offering a progressive and competent candidate in Ged Kearney, after years of imposing the right-wing powerbroker David Feeney on the electorate, as part of factional deals.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have undertaken a series of actions against the Victorian Transport Association, which held its annual conference at Lorne’s Mantra Hotel on March 19 and 20.

The actions were taken in protest over the Victorian Transport Association’s support for the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT).

More than 100 people marched in Northcote on March 10 in support of refugee rights. The rally was called by the Refugee Action Collective to focus attention on refugees in the context of the Batman by-election.

Aziz Muhammad, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for 5 years, spoke to the rally via skype. He spoke of the “terrible” conditions on Manus Island. The three camps where refugees are living are overcrowded. There is no proper medical care. Mental health is deteriorating, as people see no hope. Refugees have been badly beaten by local people.

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