Australian News

Two protesters from Front Line Action on Coal blocked Aurizon’s coal railway near Bowen for five hours on January 9, calling on the Queensland government to rule out funding for Aurizon.

They prevented any coal trains getting to Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal by locking their arms inside a steel barrel filled with concrete on the train tracks.

The Queensland Labor government is currently considering rail operator Aurizon’s bid for a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility loan to build a rail link between Adani’s Carmichael coalmine and the terminal.

Five activists who scaled the Sydney Opera House roof to unfurl banners reading "Australia: World Leaders in Cruelty #BringThemHere" and "Evacuate Manus" on November 9 pleaded guilty to trespass in the Downing Centre Local Court on December 20.

They were fined a total of $20,000.

WACA spokesperson Lily Matchett said: “We face court in Sydney today for protesting the inhumane treatment of refugees while the injustice on Manus Island continues to unfold.

Rail workers will stop work for 24 hours on January 29 to push management to negotiate a fair enterprise agreement. The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) said on January 16 that the government and management had left them no choice but to take this kind of action.

As 2017 drew to a close the climate movement had much to celebrate. Hard fought campaigns directed at potential financial backers had resulted in Adani’s Carmichael coalmine being a far less certain prospect as one by one financial options dissolved.

With major financial institutions in Australia and overseas ruling out support for the project, Adani had pinned its hopes on China as a possible funding source as well as a market for Galilee Basin coal. In spite of the Australian government oiling the wheels for a deal, all major Chinese banks backed away in the end.

Despite appeals from the Prime Minister to keep it open, AGL has announced it will close Liddell, NSW’s dirtiest coal-fired power station, and repurpose it with clean energy.

This is a blow to the government’s pro-coal agenda, and an important step forward for the transition to clean energy and a better future.

AGL will close Liddell in 2022 as planned and invest in gas, renewables and battery storage as part of the NSW Generation Plan. It is also exploring the feasibility of a pumped hydro project in the Hunter region.

The South Australian government has approved a solar thermal power plant to be built at Port Augusta this year.

SolarReserve's 150 megawatt plant will use mirrored panels to concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver at the top of a 220 metre tower.

This will heat molten salt to 565°C, which is used to generate steam, drive a turbine and produce 150 megawatts of electricity, even without sun.

On January 13 Socialist Alliance members took the opportunity to visit the striking Esso workers in Longford who have been maintaining their picket line for more than 200 days.

The picket was established on June 20 last year in protest at 200 sacked Esso workers being offered their jobs back with a 30% pay cut and unfair roster changes.

The Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT), south of Wollongong, locked out its 58 permanent employees without pay for five days from January 7. The move is part of the company’s ongoing drive to force workers to accept cuts to their wages and conditions.

PKCT has been in negotiations with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) for a new agreement since 2015, when the previous enterprise agreement expired.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Queensland construction branch has reached an in-principle agreement that will end weekend work and increase pay and overtime rates.

The new agreement with Multiplex, Hutchinson, Watpac, Probuild and Icon complies with the federal government's building code. This prevents builders with agreements containing banned conditions, including restrictions on casual labour, union consultation arrangements and controls over rostered days off, from competing for federally-funded work.

Labor backbencher Michael Danby charged taxpayers $4574 for two advertisements in The Australian Jewish News attacking the ABC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The MP for Melbourne Ports, who has long been an outspoken defender of Israel, used his parliamentary communications allowance to fund the ads.

One advertisement accused ABC journalist Sophie McNeill of covering the eviction of a Palestinian family but ignoring the murder of three Jewish settlers by a Palestinian.

Figures released on December 28 by the Australian National Audit Office revealed the Australian Defence Force has spent $10.3 billion on weapons and military equipment from the United States in the past four years. The report estimated about half the money was spent supporting Australian Defence Force activity in Syria and Iraq in that four-year period.

The Traditional Owners of the Mount Jowlaenga area in Western Australia’s Kimberley have won an appeal in the Federal Court against miner Sheffield Resources and the West Australian government over one of the country’s biggest mineral sands deposits.

The win means the Traditional Owners have succeeded in preventing Sheffield Resources from constructing its multi-million dollar Thunderbird project on their land without having reached agreements with them in key areas, including compensation and the management of Aboriginal heritage sites.

This year marks 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent. One hundred and fifty years later a group of Aboriginal men and women met in the Australia Hall in Sydney to declare January 26 a Day of Mourning.

Every year the Invasion Day protests grow as more and more people realise it is not a day to celebrate but a day to say "enough is enough" and stand with first nations’ people of this country.

A rally of members of the Kurdish community and their supporters was held in Sydney on January 8 to demand justice for Sakine Cansız, Leyla Şaylemez and Fidan Doğan, three Kurdish women activists who were assassinated in Paris five years ago by a suspected agent of the Turkish secret police.

There has still been no adequate inquiry into their deaths and the rally, outside the French consulate, called on the French authorities to publicly investigate all the available evidence in this case.

A snap solidarity action organised by a network of Iranians brought more than 100 people together in Parramatta on January 6 to declare their support for those protesting in Iran.

Mansour Razaghi from the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People (Sydney) told the rally that those protesting were workers, teachers, women, students, nurses and many others who are fed up with high unemployment, extremism and religious tyranny.

A resolution between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) was agreed on December 15, following a 19-day community assembly at Webb Dock and more mass support planned. Union leaders have described it as an important win for workers.

Despite court action by the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) against unions and key union leaders, support for the community assembly at Webb Dock is growing.

At the annual Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) President’s Night on December 12, a solidarity motion with the community assembly was carried unanimously. The 100-strong gathering also agreed to mobilise the community on New Year’s Day 2018.

Melbourne unionists closed down Webb Dock in Port Melbourne. Photo: Matt Hrkac

On December 8, national president of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Christy Cain told a peaceful assembly of trade unionists and their supporters that every dock in Melbourne had been closed.

On that day, some 3000 trade unionists attended a rally at Webb Dock in Port Melbourne called by Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) in support of MUA members protesting the bullying, harassment and sacking of their members.

After an appeal process, described by activists as “plagued with allegations of corruption”, the University of Wollongong (UOW) has overturned the election result for the Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association (WUSA).

The elections, in which more than 1500 students voted, the biggest student participation in many years, was hotly contested between the Liberals, standing as Revolution, and a broad left group Save Our Union. It followed a year of uncertainty over whether the student union would be closed down.

Six Christian “peace pilgrims” who were found guilty of illegally entering the top-secret Pine Gap military intelligence base near Alice Springs have avoided jail time.

James Dowling, Franz Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Margaret Pestorius were found guilty of entering the joint US defence facility at Pine Gap on September 29 last year. In a separate trial Paul Christie was found guilty of committing the same offence a few days later.

A new report by Environment Victoria, Licence to Pollute: Why climate pollution is the unfinished business of reforms to the Environment Protection Authority, found the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is failing to tackle climate pollution, despite undergoing a $162 million reform process.

Family and supporters of the Whittaker family gathered outside NSW Parliament on December 6 to demand justice for Eric Whittaker who died in custody in July.

Eric died, shackled to a hospital bed. The horrific nature of his treatment in custody has only come to light because a photo of him lying manacled and unconscious was only recently given to the media.

Diane Whittaker, one of Eric’s aunts, told protesters that there had been a failure in duty of care and that people had to be held responsible for the cruelty shown her nephew.

As the decision deadline looms for the $1 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan to Adani for construction of rail infrastructure for the Galilee Basin mega coalmine, a rash of protests erupted in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and at Adani’s work sites near Belyando in Central Queensland.

More than 1500 people, including some who travelled hundreds of kilometres from the Eyre Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges, gathered outside Parliament House in Adelaide on December 2 for the Don’t Dump on SA rally.

Australian Services Union (ASU) members at Melbourne’s Women’s Health West (WHW) took protected industrial action and walked off the job on November 29 to protest their employer’s actions in relation to stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations.

WHW is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of domestic violence and women’s health services to the community. The industrial action took place during the global “16 Days of Activism” campaign held from November 25 to December 10, which focuses on eliminating gender-based violence against women and girls.

A coalition of anti-tollway groups has called for a mass rally early next year to bring together communities fighting against the controversial $18 billion WestConnex tollway and other disastrous road projects being pushed by the NSW Coalition government. The rally is planned for February 17 at 2pm.

A sleeper issue in the recent Queensland election was the inaction by mines minister Anthony Lynham on the Land Court’s ruling of May 31 to reject the application by New Hope Coal for the third stage in the expansion of the Acland coalmine, known as Acland Stage 3, in the agriculturally rich Darling Downs.

Workers gathered at Geelong Trades Hall on November 24 to raise funds for Esso maintenance workers in Longford, Victoria, who have been locked out for 170 days. Barbecues sizzled, drinks flowed and Scabby the Rat was inflated, while workers were entertained by the classic rock band, Rock n Roll Exchange.

Esso’s maintenance contractor UGL, which operates maintenance on the gas rigs in Bass Strait, ended the previous employment agreement and offered workers a new agreement with 40% less pay, worse conditions and extended rosters on the platform with no guaranteed shore breaks.

Victoria Police are being used by the state Labor government to threaten and harass protesters who have been organising in support of asylum seekers on Manus Island. Activists described the behaviour of the police at a recent rally as state sanctioned violence.

On November 24, a neo-Nazi grabbed the rally microphone and began screaming into it that refugees were rapists and that they should not be bought to Australia.

Momentum for a new super-union has accelerated with a strong vote by members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) in favour of amalgamating with the giant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Both unions reported an overwhelming Yes vote.

The MUA vote was 87% in favour, with 50% of members participating. This involvement is higher than past internal MUA elections for union officers.

War drums are beating louder in Asia. North Korea launched another ballistic missile on November 29. In response, the Japanese government requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and South Korea conducted a "precision-strike" drill, firing three missiles into the sea off the east coast that was designed to emulate a strike on the North's launch site.

Up to 100 people gathered outside Queensland state parliament to put the incoming government on notice that opposition to the Adani coal mine will be sustained until the project has been defeated.

The Labor government and the Liberal National Party opposition both suffered swings against them in the November 25 Queensland election. Greens on the left and One Nation on the right both increased their vote, but it is not clear that either have won any seats. The final results will be unclear for days.

In a hotly contested byelection on November 18, Lidia Thorpe became the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Victorian Parliament.

Thorpe, standing for the Greens, won 45% of first preferences. She was trailed by Labor, which has held the seat since it was created 100 years ago, with 35% of first preferences. Thorpe won 56% on a two party preferred vote.

In a win for residents, the Markham Housing Estate in Ashburton has been saved from being partially privatised.

Coalition and Greens MPs voted on November 17 to stop the Labor state government from amending the planning laws that would allow the partial privatisation of the estate.

Centrelink, the federal government's main social welfare agency, is planning to hire 1000 private labour-hire staff to carry out "debt recovery" operations and assist in enforcing compliance by welfare recipients.

This latest large-scale outsourcing exercise comes just a month after the Coalition government announced that controversial multinational corporation Serco would use 250 employees to staff a Centrelink call centre, supposedly to help reduce long waiting times.

Workers at the Streets ice-cream factory in the south-western Sydney suburb of Minto voted on November 22 to end a boycott campaign against the company, after agreeing to ratify an in-principle agreement with Streets over pay and other issues.

The new agreement will reportedly give the workers a 5% wage increase over three years, maintain their current working conditions and rosters and add 39 new flexible part-time jobs to the company’s workforce.

A rally outside NSW Parliament on November 22 delivered more than 5000 letters to Premier Gladys Berejiklian, calling her to halt the controversial WestConnex tollway and initiate a thorough review of the wasteful $18 billion project.

Greens MPs Jenny Leong and Jamie Parker, City of Sydney Deputy Mayor Jess Miller, independent MP Alex Greenwich and Inner West councillor Pauline Lockie called on the NSW government to listen to the growing opposition.

A new report has found it would cost $1.3 billion more to keep the Liddell coal-fired power plant in New South Wales open beyond its use-by date, than to replace it with a mix of renewables and other sustainable energy solutions.

As the tropical sun set over Manus Island detention centre on November 23, Walid Zazai wrote on Twitter for the final time that night. He reflected on the day as:

“A day of horror. A day of fear. A day I will never forget.

“I thought I’m back in Afghanistan in a war zone. There was no way to hide, just the sky.

“Friends have been beaten, have been taken by force to town centres.

“Don't know what will happen tomorrow. Remember us in your prayers.”

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