Sydney

SYDNEY— One hundred and fifty people took part in a pro-choice rally on May 29. The rally called for the repeal of anti-abortion laws and for charges against the Cairns couple facing prosecution for having used RU486 to be dropped. Labor MLC Penny Sharpe and Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon echoed the views of pro-choice activists in saying the laws were draconian and needed to be repealed. The protest, called by Women's Action Abortion Campaign, was timed to coincide with a Right to Life conference, which ended up not going ahead.
The national executive of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) decided at its May 12 meeting to join the global campaign to isolate apartheid Israel. The union assessed the approach of trade unions around the world and consulted Izzat Abdulhadi, head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia.
“Break the war alliance” is one of the key messages anti-war groups will send to US President Barack Obama when he visits Australia in June. Protesters plan to focus on the stepped-up US war drive in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will also demand of Obama and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that the occupying troops leave. Compared to the Bush administration, total US defence spending is projected to rise from US$534.5 billion in 2006 to $663.7 billion in 2010 according to Congressional budget papers.
More than 200 people rallied to call for an end to the Northern Territory intervention at Sydney Town Hall on May 28. Monica Morgan, from Amnesty International, told the crowd the intervention was forcing Aboriginal people off their lands and taking away their culture. Morgan said this was the outcome of an ongoing process of assimilation that began in Sydney in 1788 and spread across the country. She said ongoing solidarity was necessary for Aboriginal people to survive as a culture.
The New South Wales offices of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) construction division, was firebombed on Thursday May 13. “It is a miracle no one was killed or injured”, Howard Byrnes, CFMEU state councillor and delegate at Botany Cranes, told Green Left Weekly.
Members of the Iranian community and their supporters protested outside the NSW state parliament on May 13 after the executions of five union activists in Evin prison in Tehran on May 9. Shirin Alam-Houli, Ali Heydarian, Mahdi Islamian, Farzad Kamangar and Farhad Vakili were hanged after being convicted of Moharebeh — “waging war on God”. Four of the activists were members of Kurdish opposition groups.
The campaign against league tables continued on May 11 with a protest organised by the Inner City Teachers Association (ICTA) of the NSW Teachers Federation. Fifty people rallied outside the office of NSW education minister Verity Firth. After the Australian Education Union federal executive’s last-minute decision to lift the ban on the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy tests, the action showed the campaign against league tables, and the damage they do to school communities, will continue.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Villawood detention centre. Most of what I knew came from mainstream media, which usually ignores a particular perspective: that of the refugees themselves. “Queue-jumpers”, “expensive”, “unwelcome”, “should be sent back” are common themes. This rhetoric reduces asylum seekers and their experiences to nothing more than blood-sucking parasites looking for a warm place to nestle. “Boat people” make up only 3% of all refugees coming to Australia. The rest arrive in planes. Where’s all the hype about “plane people”?
Thirty people gathered on May 6 at a meeting organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF). The theme of the meeting was “Trade Unions and Climate Change: Challenges, Opportunities and Alliance Building”. Jeremy Kerbel, climate justice campaigner with the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, outlined some of the LHMU’s climate change initiatives, such as calling hundreds of delegates in the lead-up to the 2009 Walk Against Warming and sponsoring the event.
Clients at the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre heard on April 29 that people in disadvantaged areas, such as Fairfield, could have their welfare benefits "quarantined" as early as next year. The public meeting at the centre featured Peter Davidson from the Australian Council of Social Services and Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Alyawarr people’s walk-off in the Northern Territory. The walk-off began in July 2009, protesting against the effects of welfare quarantining, and other NT intervention measures, in the community of Ampilatwatja.
Visiting Pakistani socialist and anti-war activist Ammar Ali Jan and Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning delivered powerful presentations on why the Afghanistan-Pakistan “war on terror” was a fraud. They spoke at a meeting organised by Stop the War Coalition on April 27. Ali Jan said the US was facing a checkmate in Afghanistan after failing to find a credible replacement for the corrupt and increasingly weak President Hamid Karzai (also known as “the mayor of Kabul” for his limited political influence).
The March 15 banning of two Socialist Alliance activists, Paul Benedek and myself, from the University of Sydney was revoked on April 9, after vice-chancellor Michael Spence received a storm of protest letters. Among the many who protested against this attack on freedom of speech were renowned journalist John Pilger, 15 professors and lecturers at Sydney and other universities, Sydney City councillors Meredith Burgmann and Irene Doutney, leaders of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), students and civil rights activists.
The following is a transcript of a speech by award-winning journalist John Pilger at the Sydney Teachers’ Federation on April 23. It was part of a public launch of the Four Days in July national Aboriginal rights convergence in Alice Springs from July 6 to 9. * * * I am honoured to be on this platform tonight, and I would like to express my warm appreciation to Richard Downs for asking me to join him in launching this extraordinary call-out to all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

This is an interview with writer and former GI resister to the Vietnam war, David Cortright. He is the author of many books and is now the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The interview was done in Sydney on Decenber 12, 2009, and conducted jointly by Helen Patterson, Max Watts, Pip Hinman and Vivienne Porzolt.

On May 17, a candlelight vigil was held in in Taylor Square to mark International Day Against Homophobia. The vigil was organised by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Network of Amnesty International and Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) and called for the immediate release of Ali Humayun, a gay refugee from Pakistan who has been held in the Villawood immigration detention centre for more than two years.

The action was in response to threats by federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock to have the governor-general disallow proposed ACT legislation on same-sex civil unions. In June 2006, the federal government disallowed an ACT bill on civil unions because it could have “undermined” the “institution of marriage”.

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