Australian News

GLW Issue 1005

"Money speaks” is the message we should be taking from the resignation of NSW premier Barry O'Farrell, after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revealed he accepted a vintage bottle of wine valued at almost $3000 from the head of Australian Water Holdings (AWH), Nick Di Girolamo, who was lobbying for a lucrative state government contract.

AWH is accused of inappropriately billing Sydney Water and using the money for political donations while lobbying for an public/private partnership with state-owned Sydney water to roll out Sydney’s water infrastructure.

For the first time in Australian history, construction workers are facing government moves to seize houses and cars in relation to an industrial dispute.

The 33 workers affected took part in an eight-day strike in north-west WA in 2008. Mick Buchan of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) told the ABC that the dispute between workers and the company was resolved at the time.

“It was some time later that the ABCC [Australian Building Construction Commission] intervened and brought charges against individuals”, he said.

About 500 workers took to the streets of Geelong on April 7 demanding support for manufacturing jobs.

Many workers were from Ford and Alcoa, which have recently announced closures. Workers from other related industries also attended along with firefighters, nurses and teachers showing solidarity on the march.

Not all workers and unions were from blue-collar backgrounds. Clerical workers, technical staff and support services are also affected by the closures.

The Friends of the Earth “Radioactive Exposure Tour” is taking place from April 12 to 27. Forty people will travel from Melbourne and Adelaide through to Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

The tour will take people to the heart of the Australian nuclear industry, exposing the realities of “radioactive racism” and the environmental impacts of uranium mining.

Public housing residents from the historic inner-suburb of Millers Point rallied at Sydney Town Hall on April 7 to oppose state government plans to sell off nearly 400 public housing properties.

City of Sydney Liberal councillor Christine Forster moved a motion in support of the state government's move to evict the tenants and sell the properties. But the council voted overwhelmingly against the sale plan and instead allocated funds and resources to help the residents' campaign.

In heritage-listed trees around Cairns’ main library, a colony of flying foxes has lived and bred for 30 years.

As evening sets in, thousands of fruit bats fly out across the city and Trinity Inlet in search of food. Tourists look up in wonder at this wildlife event in the heart of a city.

Fruit bats, or spectacled flying foxes, have been listed as vulnerable due to a decline in overall numbers.

More than 400 people turned out in Geelong on April 5 to demand that the government be more humane to refugees and asylum seekers.

The Combined Refugee Action Group (CRAG) organised the rally, and called on the government to: immediately end offshore processing and mandatory detention, re-install family reunion for refugees, and to end the indefinite detention of refugees with negative ASIO status.

Two hundred people attended a public meeting at the University of Sydney on April 7 to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Guest speaker Professor Jake Lynch is facing legal action from an Israeli law centre, the Shurat HaDin, for his refusal to cooperate with Israeli academics in honour of the academic boycott called by Palestinians.

The Western Australia senate election re-run has resulted in a big drop in support for the major parties and significant swings to the Greens and the Palmer United Party (PUP).

Greens, PUP and Labor have won one seat each while the Liberals have won two seats. The final seat will be decided by preferences and is expected to go to either Liberal or Labor.

Despite two court decisions rejecting Rio Tinto’s bid to expand a Hunter Valley coalmine, the expansion may still go ahead under NSW government rules that allow the company to override environmental concerns and local community objections.

An ongoing blockade of a coal seam gas drill site in Bentley, 12 kilometres from Lismore’s CBD in NSW, has so far stopped gas company Metgasco from starting exploration in the area.

This test drill will help determine whether there are commercial quantities of gas available, and if so, up to 1000 wells could potentially be drilled in the area.

Hundreds of people are permanently camping on land next to the drill site, and at times numbers have swelled to 2000, as the community acts to stop heavy machinery from entering.

Vanessa Powell has been visiting the Villawood detention centre for three years, and helped to organise a large visit at Christmas last year and a Persian New Year's celebration recently.

When she heard asylum seekers housed there were being forcibly transferred to detention centres in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, she decided to join others in blockading the front entrance to stop the transfers on April 4.

During the protest, Powell, along with many advocates, took photos of refugees handcuffed inside darkened buses and uploaded them to Facebook.

GLW Issue 1004

ADELAIDE: Sun 13 April 2pm, at the steps of Parliament House. Gather there then walk to Light Square via the Immigration office in Currie Street

ARMIDALE: Sun 13 April 11am, Central Park

BRISBANE: Sat 12 April 1pm, King George Square

CANBERRA: Sun 13 April 1pm, Gareema Place, Civic

MELBOURNE: Sun 13 April 2pm, State Library

PERTH: Sun 13 April 1pm, St George's Cathedral

SYDNEY: Sun 13 April 1pm Hyde Park

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) said it is taking part in a “global crackdown” on tax cheats. The project is aimed at recovering billions in tax revenue held in bank accounts in offshore tax havens.

It is part of what is said to be a "global war" against tax evasion following recent work by the OECD and G20 finance ministers on automatic exchanges of tax information.

In an address to the Tax Institute on March 29, tax commissioner Chris Jordan set out the terms of Australia’s involvement with a tax office disclosure initiative called Project DO IT.

Chanting "Julie Bishop you can't hide — you support genocide", supporters of human rights in Sri Lanka gathered outside the foreign affairs minister's electorate office in Subiaco on March 29.

The protest was in response to the Australian government's public opposition to the independent inquiry into Sri Lanka's human rights record adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva on March 27.

An historic High Court case on April 2 granted Norrie, a Redfern resident and activist, non-sex specific status. Norrie had been granted “sex: non-specific” status by the NSW Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in 2010, but, under the reign of ALP Premier Kristina Keneally, reversed its decision.

It's been a four year long legal and political battle, with two legal challenges by Norrie proving unsuccessful, but a third in May last year proved successful in the NSW Court of Appeal.

Qantas workers are "very worried" about their jobs, full-time Qantas baggage handler Jim Mitropoulos told a rally of more than 100 airport workers in Tempe on March 30.

Mitropoulos has worked at Sydney Airport for 28 years. He said: "Management has destroyed this company. But if they want to bring it on, we will take them on."

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced recently that 5000 jobs would go at the airline's various facilities around the country. The rally was organised by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to demand job security and union rights.

About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on March 27 to express their opposition to the death sentences imposed on 529 Egyptians at a mass trial of alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Minya.

Protestors held placards with slogans including “Say yes to democracy and no to brutal dictatorship”, and “Say yes to justice and no to a corrupt and complicit judiciary”.

Mahmoud Hegazy told the rally that the charges included membership of an illegal organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood), incitement to violence, and the murder of one policeman.

A defiant protest of public housing advocates gathered in Sydney on March 27. The rally of 150 people, organised by Hands off Glebe, marched from Hyde Park to New South Wales Parliament to demand $330 million in repairs that the state government is behind in paying.

It also rallied to stop the proposed sell-off of Millers Point near Sydney's waterfront and other inner-city public housing properties.

The issues about maintenance and lack of supply have been simmering. The announcement to sell off Millers Point poured salt into a festering wound.

About 1000 unionists rallied outside Queensland's Parliament House on April 1 to support doctors in their ongoing dispute with the state government.

The government has demanded that doctors sign individual contracts, which are due to come into effect on July 1, by the end of April or risk forgoing up to 30% of their pay.

The rally was called by the public sector workers' union, Together Union.

Federal minister for the environment Greg Hunt faces two big threats to waste reduction in Australia, but appears not to be aware of the problems.

Hunt boasted on March 6 about the effectiveness of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.

Australia had recycled “the equivalent of four Eiffel Towers in weight” of used televisions, computers and other electronic waste, he said.

However, growing piles of e-waste on the ground in Queensland show that Hunt is out of touch with reality. Australia is amassing e-waste with no plan for recycling it.

A decision by the Fremantle City Council at its March 26 meeting to reject a Main Roads WA request to voluntarily hand over land began a dramatic new phase in the campaign against the state government's freeway building agenda.

The state government wants to replace a section of High Street on the eastern approach to Fremantle with a freeway at a cost of more than $100 million. This is intended to be the first link in their plan to build a six lane "freeway standard" route connecting the Kwinana Freeway to the Fremantle container port.

The campaign to win equal wages for young workers made a big gain last month, when the Fair Work Commission ruled that 20-year-old retail workers must be paid full wages.

The ruling applies to workers with more than six months experience who are employed under the General Retail Industry Award and will be gradually implemented over the next financial year. It comes after a public campaign by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which represents more than 200,000 retail workers.

The Super A-Mart workers in Somerton have now been locked out of their workplace for three weeks. Management has refused the workers’ demands to raise wage rates to the industry average of $24 an hour, improve health and safety standards, start monthly rostered days off, and allow casual workers to become permanent.

In response to the lockout, the workers, members of the National Union of Workers (NUW), have initiated an indefinite strike and 24-hour picket at the Super A-Mart warehouse complex in Somerton.

A group of refugee rights activists staged an eight-hour blockade outside Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on April 3 to try to stop buses forcibly relocating refugees to Curtin Detention Centre in remote WA. Eight protesters, including Green Left Weekly's live blogger Rachel Evans (scroll down to see her photos from the action) were arrested.

UPDATE: April 5

GLW Issue 1003

In Canberra on April 21, there will be the first meeting of representatives of the groups that together make up the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN). The individual representatives will be drawn from every state and territory.

On April 22, the main conference will take place, with invited experts speaking on a range of related topics. The conference will be open to the general public and is expected to draw a large number of people with an interest in creating a more independent Australia.

A new documentary film Radical Wollongong, produced by Green Left TV, will premiere in Wollongong in early May, followed by screenings in other cities and regional centres.

The film features activist participants from Wollongong's radical history of strikes and community rallies, from miners’ struggles to Aboriginal justice and environmental protection.

Co-producer John Rainford gives some background to the first coalminers associations, setting up Wollongong with its reputation as a city of militants.

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A forum on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement will be presented in Sydney on April 8, and will be an opportunity to hear an open and informative discussion on peaceful non-violent resistance in Israel and Palestine.

As the Australian media and politicians debate the effectiveness and legitimacy of the recent Sydney Biennale boycott, a cross section of speakers will offer their support to the global BDS movement — the Palestinian led campaign for justice, equality and peace for all in Israel and Palestine.

After 1370 votes went missing during the Western Australian senate election last year, the vote was declared void. Another election has been called for April 5.

The difference between this election and the last one is that the agenda of prime minister Tony Abbott is clearer. Anti-Abbott sentiment was particularly dramatic at the March in March rally, which drew 3000 people in Perth.

Staff at Villawood detention centre denied Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers the right to celebrate Persian New Year’s, a festival that has been celebrated for more than 3000 years, over the weekend beginning on March 21.

A group of 10 volunteers, including former inmates, were denied the right to take in food during the visit, which occurred during regular visiting hours.