Australian News

The mis-named 'Fair Work' Commission has delivered its decision to cut Sunday penalty rates, slashing the take-home pay of around 700,000 workers in retail, hospitality and fast food.

Workers gathered outside the offices of the Fair Work Commission in Melbourne in the lead up to the announcement.

Following the decision, Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary, Luke Hilakari told the crowd, "This is disgusting. These are young people, these are older workers, who rely on this money to make sure they can put food on the table and they can pay their bills."

In Melton, an outer-western suburb of Melbourne, Shane Gillard, a man with links to the far-right group Soldiers of Odin, used Facebook to blame “Sudanese thugs” for a carjacking on February 9.

However, as police reports of the incident surfaced, the truth emerged: no Sudanese immigrants were involved, but two men had a violent altercation in a carpark before the offender, “of Caucasian appearance”, stole the other's car.

The Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) has announced a "Put the Liberals Last" campaign in the coming state byelections in NSW, with SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn saying: "They [the Liberals] will be massacred in the North Shore byelection."

The group was responding on February 14 to the decision by Premier Gladys Berejiklian to push ahead with the forced amalgamations of 20 urban councils and continue to pursue the mergers of the five Sydney councils that are currently taking legal action against the plan.

First Nations activist Lex Wotton has announced he will contest the state seat of Townsville as an independent in the yet-to-be-announced Queensland election.

Wotton was jailed for two years for his role in the Palm Island riots of 2004.

More recently the Federal Court found that police breached the Racial Discrimination Act after the death of Cameron Doomadgee, but the Queensland Government has appealed the ruling.

It was this appeal that spurred him into action.

The federal government announced changes to Centrelink’s controversial automated debt recovery system on February 14.

The changes include no longer demanding immediate payment from people who dispute a debt; allowing people to use bank statements, instead of hard-to-obtain payslips, to prove their income; making it easier to contact Centrelink; and allowing people to by-pass the MyGov portal to review their debt.

But unions, community groups, Labor, the Greens and GetUp! have all warned the changes do not address fundamental flaws with the system.

I teach at Victoria University, in the heart of Footscray. Footscray is an extremely vibrant and bustling suburb with an incredible population diversity, which is also reflected in VU’s student and staff population. This diversity is a real asset to our university and I feel privileged to be able to teach in such a unique environment.

Firefighters save flying foxes

Temperatures above 40°C on February 10 and 11 were perilous for Canberra’s flying fox colony in Commonwealth Park.

Extreme heat can cause them to become distressed and sometimes die, as happened in Singleton, where temperatures over 45°C killed hundreds of grey-headed flying foxes.

Knowing the risk to the animals, volunteers from ACT wildlife, the National Capital Authority, Jerrabomberra Rural Fire Service Brigade and ACT Fire and Rescue combined to spray water on the animals.

“How can Shadow Minister for Renewables David Southwick continue to hold his title while opposing investment in wind and solar?” asked Friends of the Earth renewables campaigner Pat Simons after the Victorian Liberals declared they would abolish the state renewable energy target if elected.

Protesters gathered outside his Caulfield offices on February 14 with a banner reading “Shadow Minister against renewables” and also outside state Opposition leader Matthew Guy's office in Bulleen. 

My friend and comrade Marc Newhouse died peacefully at home on February 12 at the age of 58, surrounded by his family and close friend, Nyoongar Elder Uncle Ben Taylor Cuiermara.

Marc was a well-known and respected activist in the WA progressive community. He played a leading role in the First Nations Deaths in Custody Watch Committee for more than 15 years.

“Stop WestConnex! No WestConnex!” rang out across Macquarie Street from a snap action of up to 100 people outside NSW Parliament on February 14. A number of anti-WestConnex groups gathered at short notice after the Australian National Audit Office released its damning report into WestConnex.

About 200 people marched from Hyde Park to the NSW State Parliament on February 13 to demand an end to the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families and for Aboriginal control of Aboriginal child welfare. They chanted, "What does Sorry mean? You don't do it again!"

The march, organised by the Sydney branch of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), was held on the ninth anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations.

Legislation was passed in Queensland parliament on February 14 that will mean operators who refuse to remove “offensive” slogans from vehicles within 14 days will have their vehicles deregistered.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said the legislation was targeted at the van rental company Wicked Campers, whose vehicles often displayed “sexist, demeaning slogans”.

The Advertising Standards Board will be responsible for determining if a slogan is inappropriate.

Car operators will then be contacted and told to remove the offensive material within 14 days or be deregistered.

Members of the Australian Young Greens (AYG) met in Canberra over January 27 to 29 for their annual conference which included Senator Lee Rhiannon addressing the climate emergency and the need for a just transition.

AYG members also elected a national leadership, headed by co-conveners Axeris Sondyre and Robyn Lewis.

The conference took place as rumblings about the direction of the Australian Greens increased following the emergence of an anti-capitalist tendency called “Left Renewal” which was condemned by the party's leader, Richard Di Natale.

Derryn Hinch and the three Nick Xenophon Team Senators voted with the government on February 15 to pass a bill fast-tracking the new federal building code that outlaws union-friendly agreements on Commonwealth-funded building sites, such as schools, hospitals and roads.

The clauses include union consultation provisions, restrictions on the use of labour hire staff, and requirements for non-working site delegates.

Up to 3000 construction companies will now have to replace their union-friendly agreements before they can become eligible to win lucrative federal contracts.

The preference deal announced on February 11 between the Liberals and One Nation, leaving the Nationals furious, is adding to what is expected to be a highly contested state election on March 1 in Western Australia.

The deal has the potential to give One Nation the balance of power in state parliament. It represents further inroads by the far-right party into electoral politics. It also demonstrates the vulnerability of the Liberal Party, which has been in power for the past eight years, and the growing schism between it and its traditional running mates — the National Party.

The Community of Upset General Householders (COUGH) organised a rally outside the Western Australian Department of Health on February 10 to protest the clearing of bushland for the Roe 8 freeway despite clear evidence of large quantities of dumped asbestos littering the site.

Local residents and activists have documented asbestos remaining on site after Main Roads-commissioned clean ups. They are concerned that the movement of machinery and mulching of cleared vegetation with pieces of asbestos has exposed residents to an unacceptable risk. 

Refugee activists have been holding LetThemStay actions and protesting against refugee policies outside the office of Federal Labor MP Sharon Claydon every Thursday afternoon since February last year.

The group, which includes members of The Greens, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, Quakers, Uniting Church, Catholics and Grandmother's Against Children in Detention, raise a chorus of supportive horns from passing traffic.

They say they will not stop until all refugees are free.

Attorney-General George Brandis has moved fast to neutralise a recent Federal Court finding that all, not just some, native title claimants must agree for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) to be valid. The February 2 ruling overturned a ruling in 2010 that had decided the opposite.

Western Australia goes to the polls on March 11. Green Left Weekly spoke to Chris Jenkins, left, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the seat of Fremantle.

* * *

What are some of the key issues you want to raise this state election?

In contesting the state election, the Socialist Alliance hopes to start a public discussion about who is genuinely entitled to use the resources we have as a society and the processes by which they are allocated.

Australia–US deal

Is it back on? No one knows. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the media that after that phone call with US President Donald Trump his strong approach had led many politicians in the US to call him to say the deal for the US to take up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru will go ahead.

The situation is causing a lot of stress to refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. In response, the PNG government is requesting that additional police officers be deployed to Manus Island.

Eaten Fish (Ali Durrani), a 25-year-old Iranian cartoonist began a hunger strike on January 31 in Manus Island detention centre. He has now been on hunger strike for more than two weeks.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) published an open letter on February 5 calling on the federal government to free and resettle Eaten Fish and two other media colleagues, journalist Behrouz Boochani and actor Mehdi Savari.

Trump’s unstable executive orders loomed large at 2017’s first Left Q&A on “The rise of the populist right and the anti-globalisation backlash”. Common talking points at the February 4 forum held in Melbourne’s Trades Hall were Trump’s xenophobia, the demise of the Labor Party, the breakdown of consensus across the West and the new rejection of neoliberalism.

Panellists from the left lauded the worldwide anti-populist protests, legal battles and upsurge in left-wing action, while advocating an Australian left unity project.

"Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) was formed two years ago in opposition to the state government's forced mergers of local councils. We believe in local democracy," Carolyn Corrigan from SOCC told a rally outside the office of resigned Liberal MP Julia Skinner on February 5.

"Forced council amalgamations are a stitch-up. Big business and big developers are behind it. We want the stitch-up to be ripped up," she added, to rousing applause.

SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn added, "Forced amalgamation is a deeply flawed process. Let's end this quickly.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members in the federal Department of Human Services (DHS) have launched six days of rolling industrial action over the stalled enterprise bargaining process and the Centrelink robo-debt crisis.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers will strike and take other forms of industrial action over February 13 to 24.

A map sent to the group No WestConnex: Public transport, not motorways by an insider has revealed plans for Stage 4 of WestConnex. Beginning with the Western Harbour Tunnels, this $11 billion, 22 km tunnel system is being readied before the planning has finished on Stage 2 and without any connection to Sydney Airport.

The six “peace pilgrims” who were arrested last September on the Pine Gap US military intelligence base, near Alice Springs, have now received court summons.

Jim Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling of Brisbane and Margaret Pestorius and Paul Christie of Cairns are each charged with trespass under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act and face maximum penalties of between seven and 14 years in prison.

 

Corina Abraham is a Bilboolmirn Yorga, and recognised custodian of the Beeliar Wetlands in the lands of the Whadjuk people in the south-west of Western Australia. She is running as a Socialist Alliance WA candidate in the upcoming state election for the lower house seat of Willagee.

She spoke to Chris Jenkins about why she is standing in the election.

* * *

Aunty Corina, what inspired you to run as a candidate?

Parliament has resumed sitting and immigration bills are on the agenda.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton is proposing a new bill which would give him executive powers to cancel anyone’s visa under any circumstance or for any reason — such as someone’s country of origin or religion.

It has drawn comparisons to Trump’s Muslim ban.

The other bill is the refugee visa ban which was held over from last year. It is unknown when debate on the bill will resume in the Senate.

The visa ban came under increasing pressure last year after it passed the lower house.

The CFMEU told a Senate inquiry building materials containing asbestos, formaldehyde and cheap glass that explodes are being imported and used in Australian building sites.

Assistant national secretary of the CFMEU Construction Division Brad Parker said the Australian Border Force was seriously under resourced to intercept the arrival of dangerous building products.

Protesters gathered outside Melbourne’s Town Hall on February 7 ahead of a volatile council meeting to discuss proposed changes to council laws that would effectively make homelessness illegal in the community.

Camping is currently banned in Melbourne if a person uses a tent, car, caravan or other structure. Councillors voted 5–4 to broaden the definition of camping, a move legal experts say could lead to rough sleepers being forced to the outskirts of Melbourne or fined for sleeping with nothing more than "a cardboard box and blanket".

A man who was previously tried and acquitted of the murders of two Aboriginal children at Bowraville, on the NSW mid-north coast in the early 1990s, has again been charged with their murders.

The man, whose name has not been released, appeared at Newcastle local court on February 9 and was granted bail until his next court appearance in August.

Environment groups have raised concerns about the Victorian and federal governments’ decision to extend the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). 

The RFA is a 20-year agreement between state and federal governments that exempts logging from compliance with federal environment law if the state implements measures to protect federally-listed threatened species. 

Goongerah Environment Centre spokesperson Ed Hill said: “Since the RFA was signed 20 years ago, federally-listed threatened species have dramatically declined.

Sydney University has said it will not shut down the Sydney College of the Arts at Callan Park for at least two years and students will continue to study at the historic Kirkbride campus until the end of 2018.

The university has planned to close the art school since 2015.

Its latest proposal is to move the art school to the Old Teacher's College, on the Camperdown campus, by early 2019.

No students were accepted for the bachelor of visual arts this year.

The Victorian government has announced it will amend the National Parks Act in May to include the Anglesea Heathlands in the Great Otway National Park.

“Protection of Victoria’s richest and most diverse vegetation community, the Anglesea Heathlands, was long overdue,” Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel said on February 2.

“For decades we have campaigned with the Geelong Environment Council and local group ANGAIR to have the Anglesea Heathlands protected.

Alone among Australian councils, the City of Fremantle in Western Australia recognised that January 26 is a date that many Australians do not want to celebrate and instead decided to celebrate with culturally-inclusive public activities two days later. 

Residents in Blacktown, in Sydney’s west, are organising to stop the construction of an incinerator at Eastern Creek. They are concerned it will cause health problems for those living nearby and potentially pollute the Hawkesbury-Nepean river basin.

Next Generation NSW wants to build an incinerator (dubbed an “energy from waste facility”) just 800 metres from homes that will burn waste to generate electricity. 

According to an Essential poll released on January 31, 40% of those surveyed believe the system needs to be “fundamentally changed”. Just 6% say it works well.

Rising unemployment, low wages, climate change, corruption, attacks on single parents, welfare recipients, refugees, asylum seekers and Indigenous people are just some of the concerns motivating people to join various protests and rallies.

About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on January 31 against the Turnbull Government's new practice of sending computer-generated debt notices to people who have received or are receiving Centrelink payments.

Up to 90% of these debt notices are false. Many people have received debt notices demanding they repay thousands of dollars that they dispute owing. Centrelink staff have been instructed not to fix any obvious errors unless the person complains.

Melbourne City Council sent 75 riot police to evict 10 rough sleepers who had been camping outside Flinders Street Station on February 1.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle had previously threatened to remove rough sleepers from the streets of the CBD and council officers had taken away the property of homeless people.

The NSW prison population has reached a record high of more than 12,700 inmates, largely due to bail refusals and an increase in assault offences.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research said the state’s adult prison population surged by 16% over the past two years.

However, the growth rate appears to be slowing and the average annual rate of growth has dropped to 3.8% in the past 12 months.

The number of juveniles in custody has been falling rapidly.

There are now 250 juveniles in custody, a drop of 38% from a peak of 405 detainees in June 2011.

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