Australian News

About 100 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and other transport unions rallied outside the Madagascar Consulate on February 28, as part of a global campaign by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in solidarity with 43 unfairly sacked dockworkers at the Port of Toamasina, Madagascar.

The unionists were calling on the Madagascan government to take action to have the dockworkers reinstated.

The ITF organised rallies outside Madagascan embassies and consulates in Sydney, Washington, Brussels, Rotterdam, Paris, Istanbul and Helsinki on the day.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) has launched a video campaign demanding the federal government change workplace laws to restrict union entry into workplaces. The animated video depicts union representatives disrupting work on resource projects.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott has also written to key senators and members of parliament, highlighting the “absurd costs, delays, productivity impacts and safety issues associated with the thousands of site entry requests resource employers now receive each year”.

The Australia Institute (TAI) said the federal government’s $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) lacks resources and lags behind other comparable government organisations in terms of process and disclosure and in operational funding.

The government has said it would “look seriously” at using the fund to provide $1 billion to build a railway to carry coal from the controversial Adani Carmichael coalmine in Queensland to port for export and for a “clean coal” baseload power plant.

A new study from the Australian National University suggests that a 100% renewable energy electricity grid for Australia is not only possible, it would be a significantly cheaper option than the current coal and gas-powered network.

The study, by energy experts Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu and Matthew Stocks, proposed a mix of solar PV and wind energy, backed up by pumped hydro as the cheapest option for Australia.

About 30 people attended a meeting on February 23 on the theme: "How can we stop deaths in custody and hold the police to account?". The meeting was organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA).

ISJA member Cheryl Kaulfuss spoke about the death of Aboriginal teenager TJ Hickey as a result of police action in Redfern in 2004. Nationwide protests on the anniversary of his death led to the formation of ISJA Melbourne.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has approved moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale, despite one in five regulatory scientists quitting rather than move.

The $25 million move has sparked allegations of pork-barrelling, given Armidale is in Joyce's electorate of New England.

A Senate Estimates hearing heard APVMA staff have been working out of the local McDonald’s because no office space was available. The hearing also confirmed a new facility would need to be built to accommodate the agency.

The “clean coal” power generator being promoted by the federal government comes from a 2009 proposal by Clive Palmer to provide electricity to Galilee Basin coalmines planned by Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Adani.

Palmer’s Waratah Coal applied to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on February 24 to finance a 900MW coal generator that proposes to use an unproven technology: carbon capture and storage.

The plan is to bury the emissions from the coal plant in the Galilee Basin, “sequestered” in an “un-mineable” area of coal seams one kilometre underground.

A Southern Brown Bandicoot that was found injured in the Roe 8 construction site in early February has been rehabilitated and released in Bibra Lake by local wildlife organisation Native ARC.

The young male bandicoot was hospitalised for four weeks after he was found by a Roe 8 contractor with wounds to his back and rump, eye injuries and suffering dehydration.

Lex Wotton said he can finally relax after the Queensland government dropped its appeal against a Federal Court ruling that found police had been racist in their response to riots on Palm Island in 2004.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced the government was withdrawing the appeal on February 28, “having received legal advice about the State’s prospects of success”.

A new scandal has erupted over the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway project.

The Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) announced it is considering two sites in inner-west Leichhardt for a “dive site” to be used for tunnelling between Haberfield and Rozelle, as part of the 33 kilometre motorway’s third stage. Residents opposed to the environmentally and socially destructive tollway are campaigning to reject both sites.

A protest was held on February 18 in response to the City of Melbourne’s proposed by-law amendments that ban any form of public camping and make it easier for the confiscation of unattended property — essentially criminalising rough sleepers in the streets of Melbourne.

Eaten Fish

Iranian cartoonist Eaten Fish (Ali Duranti) ended his hunger strike after 18 days on February 18. He went on hunger strike to protest being sexually assaulted and guards ignoring his complaints, often bullying him in response.

More than 400 people rallied for abortion rights outside the Queensland parliament on February 16 in the lead up to a March 1 debate on decriminalising abortion in the state.

One feature of the rally was the strong support by unionists speaking out in favour of the campaign demands. General secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions Ros McLennan gave a powerful speech criticising the “weak-kneed hand-wringing and flip flopping” of the state's politicians when the “right thing to do is just so clear”.

The Australian government, at the behest of the United States, has decided to boycott major United Nations nuclear disarmament negotiations beginning on March 27. It argues that US nuclear weapons are essential for Australia’s security and therefore should not be prohibited under international law.

"We will do everything we can to make sure Westpac decides they won't fund the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and the Adani coal mine," Amy Gordon, from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), told a crowd of about 200 outside the head office of Westpac Bank on February 20. The rallies were organised by the AYCC and 350.org.

About 65 workers at the Parmalat dairy factory in Echuca, Victoria, have been locked out since January 18 in a dispute over the company's plan to radically slash pay for new employees.

Parmalat is a national dairy company, whose brands include Pauls, Oak and Vaalia. In February last year it was bought by French-based company Lactalis, the largest dairy manufacturing company in the world. Emmanuel Besnier, CEO of Lactalis, has a personal worth of $6.7 billion and in 2015, Parmalat Australia’s sales revenue was $1.65 billion.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and other construction unions are organising national rallies on Thursday March 9 against the Turnbull government’s war on construction workers.

The resurrected Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is an attack on the industry and it will endanger lives.

Australians overwhelmingly believe keeping asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru indefinitely is cruel, but are evenly split on whether they should be resettled in Australia. 

This was the result of a survey by Roy Morgan Research over February 18 to 19.

The poll found a majority of voters in Victoria (52%), NSW (51%) and Tasmania (58%) supported bringing those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.

A majority of voters in Queensland (53%), WA (57%) and SA (54%) opposed resettlement in Australia.

Victoria passes Climate Change Act

Victoria’s new Climate Change Act, which was passed on February 23, will set Victoria on the path to zero climate pollution.

The act will establish a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; require five-yearly interim emissions targets from 2020 onwards; improve accountability and transparency on efforts to cut emissions; and ensure all arms of government are factoring climate change impacts and emissions reductions into their decision making and policy setting.

Severe coral bleaching could return to the Great Barrier Reef in the next four weeks scientists warn, after new bleaching and unusually high ocean temperatures have been documented.

Newly bleached corals have been discovered near Townsville.

Vast swathes of the Great Barrier Reef have been placed on Alert Level 1 by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch for the next four weeks — meaning that coral bleaching is likely.

Australia ranks equal 15th overall in a new World Bank scorecard on sustainable energy, tied with five other countries in the bottom group of wealthy OECD countries.

The Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) provides benchmarks to evaluate clean energy progress.

RISE rates country performance in three areas: renewable energy, energy efficiency, and access to modern energy (excluding advanced countries), using 27 indicators and 80 sub-indicators.

A push is underway to set up a safe injecting room in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond to reduce the number of fatal overdoses of drug users.

With the state coroner and other medical professionals supporting the push, Sex Party MP Fiona Patten has introduced a private member’s bill to set up a trial safe injecting room, which was debated in state parliament on February 22.

The misnamed Fair Work Commission decided on February 23 to cut Sunday penalty rates. This will slash the take-home pay of about 700,000 workers in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors by up to $6000 a year.

The commission will also reduce public holiday penalty rates for full-time and part-time workers in these industries.

Victorian Trades Hall Council and We Are Union called a snap action outside the Fair Work Commission in Melbourne just before the decision was announced.

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.

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