Australian News

More than 1000 submissions were received about plans to build a $500 million waste-to-energy plant proposed for Western Sydney. Community members and health authorities have shown strong opposition to the incinerator and its associated health risks.

The incinerator, to be built at Eastern Creek, would use thermal technology to create electricity from waste that would otherwise go to landfill. While the proposal is designed to reduce greenhouse gases, there are concerns it could have a detrimental impact on air quality.

Manus Island protests

A year after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ordered that the Manus Island detention centre be closed, people are still living in the same compounds and sleeping in the same beds.

In the latest protest, as tensions simmer inside the detention centre, guards hastily withdrew from Mike Compound on March 18 after a protest erupted in the mess area following Border Force renovations that made the serving area more like a prison.

A public forum on March 17 discussed the implications of Melbourne City Council's proposed amendments to Activities Local Law 2009.

The changes would broaden the definition of “camping” to mean people currently sleeping rough could be forcibly moved on by police and face fines for possessing a piece of cardboard or bedding. The city of Melbourne would be effectively criminalising homelessness.

Students and academics at the University of New South Wales have mounted a major exhibition outlining a proposal for a radical redirection of the WestConnex tollway project from road to rail.

The exhibition, Civilise WestConnex, imagines what could be done if Stage 3 of WestConnex was cancelled and the other tunnels already under construction were converted from roads to train lines.

Hundreds of trade unionists braved the rain at Solidarity Park, outside the WA State Parliament, on March 21 to protest against what the organisers describe as a “war on workers”.

The rally was hosted by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), and heard from various unions and members of parliament.

A bill to remove the controversial "gay panic" defence from Queensland law was passed on March 21. It had been used by people accused of murder to claim they were provoked due to an unwanted homosexual advance.

Those who pleaded under section 304 of the Criminal Code (killing on provocation) reduced their criminal responsibility to manslaughter and avoided life in jail.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the bill delivered on an important promise to the LGBTI community of Queensland.

New laws to legalise abortions were passed by the Northern Territory parliament on March 21. The bill passed by 20 votes to four after a lengthy and emotional debate.

The new laws mean the NT joins the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania in decriminalising abortion and stands in stark contrast to NSW and Queensland, which have Australia’s most restrictive abortion legislation.

The Victorian government announced on March 14 a $20 million tender, to install up to 80MW of grid-scale energy storage by 2018.

It invited proposals from batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheel, and solar thermal technologies.

But its deadlines, of 30MW expected to be installed by next summer and 50MW by the following summer, are impossible for two of those technologies to meet.

Pumped hydro facilities take several years to build, because dams, tunnels and pipelines would need to be built.

Conan Zamolo, a former youth justice officer at Don Dale youth detention centre, has admitted he filmed himself bursting into a cell and repeatedly asking the boys in their beds to give him oral sex.

He was giving evidence to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

Zomolo said he was "goofing around" in the videos and had a "good relationship with the kids".

Zamolo also admitted to the hearing he had filmed children being forced to eat bird faeces and posted the footage on social media site Snapchat.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was dealt another embarrassing blow on March 21.

The Federal Court dismissed all claims against the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) after finding prosecutors had made a deal with a confessed blackmailer to give evidence for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in return for staying out of jail.

Residents, unionists and supporters marched and rallied on March 19 in Millers Point, to protest the continuing eviction of remaining public housing tenants of the Point, Dawes Point and the iconic Sirius Building. The event, which attracted about 200 people, was sponsored by the Millers Point Community Working Party and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

“The fight to remain in our community goes on. The fighting spirit of the elderly, the frail and the vulnerable continues the struggle,” publicity for the action stated.

The University of Melbourne has renamed the prominent Richard Berry building for maths and statistics after a long anti-racism campaign by a group of staff and students.

Until his retirement in the 1940s, Berry was Australia’s leading voice in the pseudoscience of eugenics, which aimed to produce a superior human race by having suitable people breed, while at the same time sterilising those with “rotten heredity”.

A Sydney man has been awarded $3000 for being stopped by police for four minutes at Liverpool Station, after a court ruled this amounted to false imprisonment.

Sam Le was approached by two police officers in January last year and asked to produce his Opal card and pensioner concession card, along with photo identification to prove the cards belonged to him.

In a video captured on Le’s phone, he was told he was not under arrest but was “not leaving” until the officers had verified his identity.

Parmalat workers victory

More than two months after 60 workers were locked out of a Victorian yoghurt factory, AMWU and ETU members voted on March 20 to accept an agreement that includes wage rises and improved redundancy provisions.

The agreement also included provisions making all production workers direct employees of Parmalat and for mandatory consultation with the union if contractors are engaged.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus congratulated the workers on wining "an epic battle with a multi-national".

Nineteen doctors who are current or recent providers of abortion services in Queensland have signed a letter to the state premier calling for abortion decriminalisation to be resolved in the current term of parliament. This follows another delay in achieving legal reform after private member's bills were withdrawn earlier this year.

The signatories include an overwhelming majority of doctors performing abortion in Queensland.

"First Melbourne's East-West Tunnel was stopped by people's power, now the Roe 8 has been stopped in WA. Next to go, WestConnex?" Peter Boyle, an activist in the Newtown Residents Against WestConnex, said on March 13.

He was commenting on the decision by the new Labor premier of Western Australia, Mark McGovern, to order the suspension of all work on the Roe 8 section of the Perth Freight Link after the March 11 state election, which saw the Barnett Liberal government decisively thrown out of office.

It was fitting that Resistance Books’ new publication, Sustainable Agriculture versus Corporate Greed: Small Farmers, Food Security & Big Business, was launched in the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale on March 8.

Co-author Alan Broughton, a well-known figure in the local Organic Agriculture Association, gave a short but hard-hitting presentation at the local library.

He explained that agribusiness might be thriving but many smaller family farmers are doing it tough. Their financial situation is precarious.

About 100 students from universities across Australia and New Zealand shared campaign stories and made plans for the year ahead at the Fossil Free Convergence in the Blue Mountains in NSW over March 10–13.

Organised by 350.org, the convergence brought together fossil fuel divestment groups from universities across Australia and New Zealand, including the Australian National University, University of Auckland, University of Queensland, Melbourne University, RMIT, University of Newcastle and University of New South Wales — which brought 25–30 people to the conference.

Opposition is growing to the NSW Coalition government’s move to privatise the state-owned land registry, the Land and Property Information office (LPI). Sources inside the LPI are increasingly alarmed at the government’s rush to sell the office as community concern mounts against the sale itself.

Dylan Voller joined a small crowd protesting against the conditions in NT detention centres as the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice resumed hearings in Alice Springs on March 13.

Footage broadcast on the ABC showing Voller being tear-gassed, spit-hooded and shackled to a restraint chair prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call the inquiry.

Speaking outside the commission, Voller said he wanted to support the other young people giving evidence.

An interim report from the Koala Expert Panel, established by the state government after a catastrophic koala population crash in south-east Queensland last year, has offered little hope for the state’s faunal emblem.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor might be willing to support the deportation of children who commit crimes.

Australia does not currently deport minors. 

But the Joint Standing Committee on Migration is examining the screening process when people are given Australian visas and support services when they arrive in Australia.

They are also looking into whether their visa can be revoked if child migrants join gangs.

Shorten said there may be merit in changing the law.

Friends of Victoria University and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) organised a protest outside the university’s Flinders Street campus during a Victoria University (VU) council meeting on March 14.

The protest was in response to plans by VU’s management to sack 115 academic staff affecting undergraduate courses in the creative industries, marketing, communication, and professional and creative writing. Six post-graduate courses in communication and education will also be affected.

Widespread community opposition has reportedly pushed the NSW Coalition government to prepare to back down on its plan to move the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo westward to Parramatta.

The Inner West Courier reported on March 7: "Well-placed sources revealed last week the government believes taking down the current Powerhouse and selling the land to developers is so unpopular that it has decided to can the move."

The misogynist Fred Nile has opportunistically seized the moment — provided by Tanya Davies, the new NSW “pro-life” minister for women — to reintroduce a bill to give foetuses legal rights.

Nile, a NSW MLC, introduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017 on March 9. The wording is the same as his last attempt.

Nile first tried to push his anti-choice law in 2010. He managed to get it through the Legislative Assembly in 2013 (63 votes to 26) with Davies’ support. 

Can the political debate about Australia's “energy crisis” get any more weird?

For the first time scientists have cured Tasmanian devils suffering from the deadly devil facial tumour disease by injecting live cancer cells into infected devils to make their immune system recognise the disease and fight it off.

Five devils with the disease were treated using the technique over six years, and three survived.

A Federal Court judge has blasted the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for wasting time and taxpayers' money on taking two Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.

Justice Tony North said on March 10 it was “astounding” that the ABCC had conducted days of hearing with dozens of participants over two years for “such a miniscule, insignificant affair”.

A group of Brisbane grandparents occupied the South Brisbane headquarters of Queensland Labor for 10 hours on March 6. The Grandparents for the Galilee came prepared with food and bedding, vowing to stay until Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk signed a legal letter rejecting the proposed $1 billion loan to Adani.

Taxpayers will subsidise the clean-up costs of oil spills in the Great Australian Bight under the terms of the controversial Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.

Treasury officials have confirmed that clean-up costs for oil spills from exploration wells would be classified as “exploration expenditure” under the PRRT regime, meaning they would be tax deductible for oil companies and could be held over and “uplifted” into future years at an annual rate of 17.5%.

The CSIRO will spend $29.7 million on a three-year project to conduct an assessment, separation and treatment of radioactive waste at a CSIRO facility located on Department of Defence land near Woomera, South Australia. The Woomera facility is one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) called a meeting to inform residents about its housing development, the Pemulwuy Project, at the Block in Redfern on March 9.

About 200 people packed the Redfern Community Centre to ask questions of AHC about its plans to increase the size of the development. After just 25 minutes, AHC closed the meeting down as the audience loudly voiced its opposition to the radically enlarged plans.

Pubs have taken Coopers beer off their taps and drinkers have vowed to boycott the beer after a political marketing stunt backfired on the South Australian brewer.

The V8 Supercars race through Newcastle East will leave behind a trail of destruction even before the checkered flag goes down next November.

Former Liberal leader Mike Baird and Labor Party mayor Nuatali Helms announced that the race would be held in Newcastle late last year following not very transparent negotiations.

The apparent secrecy has continued and residents are still asking how they are supposed to live with high speed racing just outside their front doors.

More than 300 people demanded answers to these questions at a rally on March 5.

United Firefighters Union (UFU) members working in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) have voted overwhelmingly for a campaign of bans in support of their enterprise agreement campaign.

The Corporate and Technical Division includes non-firefighting employees of the MFB, such as payroll and finance staff and computer technicians.

The West Papuan Friendship Mural in the Darwin CBD, which has become a poignant symbol of solidarity between the people of West Papua and Australia, was half painted over on March 4 after strong pressure from the Indonesian Consulate.

The mural was painted in June 2015 as part of a week of action in solidarity the West Papuan struggle for independence from Indonesia.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said on March 7 it feared the system’s treatment of welfare recipients was scaring individuals away from exercising their right to claim income support.

Speaking as the Senate inquiry into the Centrelink debt recovery system began, ACT ACOSS Director Susan Helyar described the system as an abuse of government power that was undermining confidence in public administration.

“Some of our members have wondered whether individuals are being encouraged to stay out of the welfare system,” she said.

An Essential poll released on March 7 found 56% of voters disapprove of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates in the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy industries, while 32% approve.

Asked what would be the result of the cuts, 57% said businesses would make bigger profits; only 24% thought more people would be employed.

On whether the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, 51% said yes while 31% said it should accept the decision.

Commonwealth Bank to repay superannuation

The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has agreed to repay employer superannuation to more than 7000 part-time workers that was not applied to overtime over the past eight years.

The CBA will repay the superannuation to all part-time workers since 2009, including those who have switched to full-time positions or have since left the bank. The average payment is $180 a year.

The CBA maintains it was not breaking the law by only paying superannuation on ordinary hours to part-time staff rather than extra hours or overtime.

Sex workers and their allies rallied for law reform and an end to stigma in Brisbane on March 8. It was the first public rally held by Respect Inc, a peer-led rights and support organisation for sex workers. Twenty people wearing red, holding signs and displaying red umbrellas gathered in Queens Garden and marched to Parliament House.

Speaking out against Queensland's 17-year-old sex work laws and chanting, “Nothing about us without us,” workers demanded the Labor state government consult with them to ensure legal changes that would decriminalise their work.

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