Australian News

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.

Despite the wet weather, the commemoration of the 213th Anniversary of the Battle of Vinegar Hill went ahead at the Vinegar Hill Monument in the grounds of Castlebrook Memorial Park on March 5.

A plaque in memory of Tomas O'Gliasain, also known as Thomas Gleeson, was unveiled by his widow Christine. Gleeson has contributed to the commemoration for the past 20 years and worked tirelessly over that time to keep the event going.

The campaign against the NSW Coalition government's controversial WestConnex tollway is mounting. In addition to various locality groups maintaining their protests, a combined rally — “Grand Theft WestConnex — has been called outside NSW State Parliament on March 30 from 4.30pm.

The rally has been endorsed by a number of anti-WestConnex groups, and is seeking further endorsements. The rally is demanding that the $1.6 billion federal loan for WestConnex, which is yet to be paid, be stopped.

Thousands of unionists attended protests around the country on March 9 in opposition to the federal government's new building code, the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and its planned penalty rate cuts.

The rallies were called by the CFMEU Construction Division and supported by the ACTU and individual unions. Community anger against the cuts to wages and conditions was palpable.

On March 7, Victoria became the first state in Australia to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the dangerous process used to mine unconventional gas. This important victory sets the stage for other states to follow.

The Victorian government has also decided to extend the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling until June 30, 2020.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said it was prevented from conducting a safety inspection at a construction site at the giant Barangaroo project at Darling Harbour, where a 32-year-old worker was killed on March 1. Tim Macpherson, father of a young family, was crushed to death when a large metal beam fell on top of him at the Barangaroo Ferry Hub worksite.

MUA Sydney deputy secretary Paul Keating said he attempted to inspect the site when his union was notified in November about concerns that the barge used at the site did not comply with maritime standards.

More than 1000 early childhood educators walked off the job at 3.20pm on March 8 as part of a national action to protest gender pay inequality and a lack of government funding for the industry.

Dozens of childcare centres closed mid-afternoon to support the national campaign, which follows similar actions held on the same day last year.

Workers locked out of Parmalat's Echuca dairy processing plant since January 18 resoundingly rejected the factory's latest EBA offer.

The workers voted 67 to 1 against the unfair offer on March 3.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union food secretary Tom Hale said the deal failed to address a large number of concerns relating to wages, leave, redundancy and contractor agreements.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has signed new work arrangements with Japanese energy giant Inpex covering the $34 billion Ichthys LNG project, off the north-west coast of Western Australia.

They include the implementation of a diversity program, the promotion of Australian crews on certain support vessels and an enhanced dispute settlement process with a dedicated conciliator to help resolve potential disputes.

There have been destructive attacks on the homeless in the past year in Melbourne, but the vitriolic hate campaign and physical attacks on the street, and on squatters, has reached a deadly level: murder. 

Just before midnight on March 1, a cowardly arson attack set off a blazing fire at Kinnear’s rope factory in Footscray, which took 40 minutes for the fire brigade to control. Three squatters were tragically killed: Tanya Burmeister and her 15- year-old daughter Zoe were among the dead.

Days after 21 people were hospitalised for drug overdoses at Melbourne’s Electric Parades Music Festival, and just over a month after three people were killed in Melbourne by a toxic batch of MDMA (ecstasy), a February 21 poll found most Australians support pill testing to allow consumers to know what is in the drugs they buy.

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.

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