Australian News

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.

Logham Savari, a young Iranian refugee fled from PNG to Fiji in late January. He was sent to Manus Island detention centre in 2013, after he tried to get to Australia by boat.

He suffered constant beatings and abuse and eventually accepted resettlement in Port Moresby to try and escape the horrors of detention.

But in Port Moresby he suffered more abuse and lived in constant fear and destitution, often homeless.

In Fiji he was welcomed with kindness and was staying with a family. He was reportedly happy for the first time in ages.

A new school funding analysis Uneven Playing Field — the state of Australia’s schools, says private schools are rapidly becoming public schools, based on the amount of public funding they receive.

The report says the argument that subsidising private schools saves public funds was questionable and for all but the wealthiest schools, fees are now the “icing on the cake”.

Dylan Vollar released

After a family-led campaign for justice, Justice David Dalton of the NT Supreme Court said on February 2 he accepted that Dylan Vollar has post-traumatic syndrome disorder, was suffering from stress and would benefit from being released from prison.

He has been eligible for parole since 2015.

A rally organised by Australians for a Free West Papua in support of West Papuan independence was held outside the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin on January 31.

Maritime Union of Australia NT secretary Thomas Mayor pledged the MUA’s help to grow the campaign for a Free West Papua. The rally burned a copy of the Lombok Treaty.

The West Papuan struggle continues to gain momentum as the facts about the West Papua struggle become known via social media.

Santos released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on February 1, declaring it intended to develop a controversial gas reserve in Narrabri, in north western New South Wales.

Farmers, townspeople, Traditional Owners and environmentalists are opposed to the proposed gas field: an overwhelming 96% of landholders, representing 3.2 million hectares of land over which Santos holds leases, have declared their lands “gasfield free”.

Santos wants to drill 850 wells at 425 sites on about 1000 hectares in and around the Pilliga State Forest, near Narrabri.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system, protect government whistleblowers and end an ongoing “abuse of government power” that is causing distress and financial hardship to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

ACOSS joined a wide range of charities, welfare groups, legal bodies, unions and advocacy services, which have all expressed serious reservations about the accuracy and fairness of the debt recovery system.

Dave Oliver announced his resignation as secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on January 31 after five years in the post. Vice-president Sally McManus is likely to take the role.

“This brings pride to our people. This is a turning of the tide!”, First Nation’s activist Ken Canning told the thousands on the streets for the Invasion Day march from Redfern to Chippendale on January 26. 

Indeed, it was. 

“Richard Di Natale, I am a member of Left Renewal and I hope you can hear this because the Greens are my party too,” a woman said to great applause at a meeting of Left Renewal (LR) on January 25.

More than 100 people, including from Newcastle and Wollongong, came to the first public meeting of LR, an anti-capitalist grouping within The Greens, to hear about its aims and objectives.

The number of people deported because of serious criminal convictions has increased tenfold over the past two years, with New Zealanders bearing the brunt of tougher deportation policies.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave said more than 1200 people were deported between January 2014 and February 2016 because of a criminal conviction, including 697 New Zealanders.

He also said the government had broken its promise to revoke visas well before prisoners’ expected release dates, meaning they remain in prison after their release dates while their cases are being determined.

The 570 workers at the Loy Yang power plant in Victoria's Latrobe Valley will have their wages slashed by between 30% and 65% following a Fair Work Commission decision on January 12 to terminate an enterprise agreement.

The enterprise agreement will be scrapped from the end of January, meaning workers will revert to the minimum award rates until a new agreement can be reached.

The decision caps a bitter 15-month conflict between AGL and the Electrical Trades Union and CFMEU's Victorian mining and energy division over the terms of a new agreement.

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) filed a request with the Fair Work Commission on January 20 for a ballot on protected industrial action by UFU members in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB).

The proposed industrial action would involve 21 work bans, including bans on communicating via email, processing payments to vendors and conducting any work in relation to tenders.

The 12th Socialist Alliance national conference, held over January 20 to 22 at the Geelong Trades Hall, discussed the challenges facing the left and the state of the fightback against neoliberalism in Australia. It also adopted new policies and elected a new national executive.

Despite declaring that housing affordability would be a key priority of her government, the new NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has squibbed the challenge of any real action to improve the lot of first home buyers and renters in New South Wales.

Berejiklian was unanimously elected premier on January 23 after former leader Mike Baird resigned in the face of widespread opposition to his neoliberal policies.

She immediately named housing affordability as “the biggest concern people have across the state”.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) support renaming January 26 as “Invasion Day”. The two organisations decided this on January 15.

They are encouraging a rethink of the meaning of "Australia day" on January 26 to support justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. They are also urging people to attend one of the many nationwide protests on January 26 (see below).

In an overt case of political censorship, the unelected Inner West Council (IWC) sent contractors to remove Invasion Day graffiti on a wall in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park on January 24.

The graffiti — which read "Only fuckwits celebrate genocide" — was only painted alongside the First Nation flag the night before on a wall backing on to the Camperdown Cemetery.

Anyone who walks through this park knows that the walls, built in 1848, are full of graffiti, only some of which is political.

Newtown firefighters have once again set a fine example of international people-to-people solidarity by posting "Peace be with them" in Farsi on their noticeboard.

They are showing solidarity with 20 or more firefighters in Tehran, Iran, who sacrificed their lives fighting a fire in the 17-story Plasco building on January 20. The high rise was built in the early 1960s and was the tallest building at the time of its construction.

I came across members of the Iranian community who had come to thank Newtown firefighters for their solidarity.

Pro-choice activists in Queensland say the campaign for abortion law reform is entering its “final, most important stage”.

This was the assessment of Kate Marchesi and Olivia King from Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose about the campaign to support abortion law reform measures introduced by independent state MP for Cairns, Rob Pyne.

The New South Wales state government has released changes to the state’s planning law which, if passed, will grant big mining companies more power and reduce communities and councils’ already limited rights of appeal.

The government says the changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A Act) 1979, released on January 9, are primarily about promoting “confidence” in the state’s planning system.

The Socialist Alliance is fielding four activists in the March 11 Western Australia state election under the slogan “For the billions, not the billionaires!”

All four candidates are involved in the campaign to stop the Roe 8 highway and are passionate about creating a society that puts people and the planet ahead of the big corporations.

Thousands of wetlands protectors participated in a peaceful protest on January 12 at the site of the state government’s Roe 8 highway project, a $450 million extension to Stock Road across the Beeliar Wetlands.

Work on the project was delayed as hundreds toppled the temporary fence surrounding the exclusion zone around the culturally and environmentally significant site. They continued through to encircle an inner compound where a front-end loader for clearing more bush was being kept.

As Invasion Day approaches, Murri leader Sam Watson told Green Left Weekly that January 26 was “only a date when a motley collection of boats made landfall on Gadigal country to establish the colony of NSW”.

“It is important to mobilise and march [on Invasion Day] to remind everyone that an illegal invasion took place on this soil," he said..

“They came here to launch a war of genocide against the 500 sovereign nations of this land.

“They came to invade as a fully-armed military force. They massacred and slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent people.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop was quick to reiterate the Australian government’s firm support for Israel and distance it from the December 24 vote on UN Security Council resolution 2334 reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.

The resolution was passed by the Security Council, with the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the vote, as it has traditionally done with resolutions that have criticised Israel.

The deadline for submissions to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory has been extended by four months.

The royal commission was announced on July 26 by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to investigate allegations of abuse of minors in the NT’s child detention system.

It came on the back of a July 25 Four Corners episode that showed youth detainees being stripped, beaten and strapped into a chair in “Guantanamo-style” conditions.

A rally for justice for David Dungay-Hill junior, a Dunghutti man from Kempsey, was organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Assocation last December 29.

Dungay-Hill, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man, was an inmate in Long Bay Prison. A sufferer of chronic diabetes, Dungay-Hill ate a biscuit in his cell to restore his blood sugar levels. For this “crime”, eight officers restrained him while another administered a sedative. Seconds later he cried “I can't breathe” and within a minute he was dead.

The United Nations adopted a historic resolution on December 24 to launch negotiations this year on a treaty to render nuclear weapons illegal.

Australia opposed the resolution. The government said US nuclear weapons are essential for security and their use could be justified in certain circumstances. This position was opposed by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand which supported the resolution. The General Assembly vote was 113 nations in favour and 35 against, with 13 abstentions.

Speculation is increasing that the federal government will lend mining giant Adani half the $2.2 billion cost of a rail line to take coal from the proposed Carmichael coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal terminal.

The money is likely to come from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. The $5 billion infrastructure fund has granted preliminary approval for the subsidy.

The Court of Disputed Returns has dismissed an application by the Northern Territory Electoral Commission to render void the election of Yingiya Guyula to the Northern Territory seat of Nhulumbuy.

Guyula is a Yolngu leader who ran on a platform of treaty and bicultural education for the Yolngu majority seat in the August 27 NT election. After preferences were distributed, Guyula toppled the sitting Labor member Lynne Walker by eight votes. Walker was the only Labor candidate to lose their seat in that election.

In the early hours of last December 12, 55 Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) workers returned to work to the sound of bagpipes and applause.

Five hundred unionists and community members turned out to congratulate the workers on their successful 180-day campaign.

Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg has again approved the use of a marine supply base at Port Melville in the Tiwi Islands without an environmental impact assessment and with none of the environmental conditions that were previously imposed.

A spokesperson for Frydenberg said on December 15: “The department has decided the operation of a marine supply base at Port Melville is not likely to have a significant impact on the environment and can proceed without further assessment under national environment law.

On January 11 at 6.30am, tree loppers started felling some of the 500 trees slated for destruction at Sydney Park to make way for WestConnex’s St Peters interchange near the corner of Euston Road and Campbell Street.

Before that, Steffie Leedham had climbed up to a platform connected to three trees. She told Green Left Weekly from the platform that she would stay up there “for as long as it takes to stop WestConnex vandalising Sydney Park”.

Several others tried to stop the felling but were mostly pushed aside by police. At least two were arrested.

The staff who have to adminster Centrelink’s “robo-debt” system are under huge pressure and are demanding an immediate halt to the punitive approach.

A Centrelink worker told Green Left Weekly that the system was implemented without staff being trained and that they were ill equipped to explain the debts.

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