Australian News

As Victorian Labor Premier John Brumby prepared to deliver his first annual “statement of government intentions” to the opening of the 2008 parliamentary session on February 4, about 100 protesters gathered on the steps of Parliament House.

On January 28, 40 people gathered at Latin America Plaza, outside Central Station, to mark the 155th anniversary of the birth of Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti.

At 6am on January 29, environmental activists from the Bellarine Seastar — an arm of the Blue Wedges Coalition — crammed onto the Point Lonsdale pier, on the western side of the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, to protest the arrival in the bay of the giant Dutch dredging ship, the Queen of the Netherlands.

On February 1, 100 people gathered outside the State Library of Victoria to protest the Israeli siege of Gaza. The protest was initiated by the Melbourne Palestine Solidarity Network and organised by a wide range of groups including Australians for Palestine, Women for Palestine, Melbourne Stop the War Coalition, Federation of Muslim Students and Youth, Socialist Alliance and Resistance.

A snap vigil in Martin Place on January 31 was called by the General Union of Palestinian Workers and others in the Palestinian community to demand an end to the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Forty people attended the vigil, held near the US consulate. They held candles in solidarity with Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, deprived of basic living necessities, including electricity, by the siege.

The National Tertiary Education Union’s class action around AWAs against the University of Ballarat has ended with an out-of-court settlement. The action commenced early in 2006 out of a long-running dispute over enterprise bargaining. As Green Left Weekly reported at the time, the university offered AWAs (individual contracts) to break the NTEU’s bargaining position. A strong campaign by the union resulted in a collective agreement in August 2006.

Lawyers and civil libertarians have slammed Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty after he called for a media black-out on coverage of cases under the federal government’s “anti-terrorism” laws until all legal avenues have been exhausted.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received widespread popular acclaim when he toured the Central American countries of Guatemala and Honduras in mid-January, Rafael Pacheco, from Australian Solidarity with Latin America and the Committee in Support of the FMLN in Brisbane, told a meeting on January 28. The meeting was hosted by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network.

More than 40 people gathered at the Katoomba YHA on February 2 to demand that the Labor state governments in NSW and Victoria overturn their decisions to end the ban on the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) canola. From March this year, NSW farmers can apply to grow GM canola.

Several hundred people participated in a January 26 rally against homophobic violence in Harmony Park, next to the Surry Hills police station. The rally was called after the brutal assault in Oxford Street of Craig Gee and his partner Shane Brennan in December was met with an inadequate police response. Gee was left with a broken leg and serious facial injuries.

The February 1 West Australian newspaper’s website reported that police refused to reveal the results of a post-mortem examination on the body of an Aboriginal elder who died in police custody while being taken to Kalgoorlie in the back of a van.

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) of Australia Tasmanian branch plans to escalate industrial action on February 11 if their demands are not met. Members are calling for a fair resolution to a superannuation dispute from last year and for a proper pay increase. They also want an independent review into workload and other problems at the dispatch and communications centre.

As employers continue to push individual Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), some union leaders have urged the labour movement to press the new Labor government of PM Kevin Rudd to move more quickly and decisively against the former government’s Work Choices policy.

When the armed customs boat, the Triton, docked at Darwin’s Fort Hill Wharf on January 27, nine of the ship’s crew refused to disembark.

The campaign to stop the dredging of a new shipping channel in Port Phillip Bay had a partial victory on January 30 when a Federal Court judge ruled that the Blue Wedges environmental cCoalition must be given at least 24 hours’ notice of any plan to begin work on the $969 million project.

A December 22 warehouse fire in a shared residential and industrial zone on the outskirts of the western Melbourne suburb of Tottenham has caused local residents to demand information and better emergency response procedures after a cloud of chlorine gas covered a substantial part of the suburb.

Workers at the Foster’s brewery at Yatala, south of Brisbane, have stepped up their campaign for a union agreement, following a victory over the latest attempt by the company’s management to impose a non-union agreement on the workforce at the plant.

Two protests in one week have demanded that government plans for the development of South and Bathers beaches in Fremantle be canned.

The Australian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA) has called on the Australian government to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka, following the Sri Lankan government’s decision to abrogate the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

NSW TAFE teachers will consider industrial action when they return to work on January 29, in an attempt to maintain a quality TAFE system. A campaign of rolling stoppages and longer-term action will be discussed.

Professor Sharon Beder, a research fellow at the University of Wollongong, prepared a submission on behalf of Unions NSW to the Ownen Inquiry that makes a powerful case against Premier Morris Iemma’s government’s proposed energy privatisation.

Around the country, hundreds of people marked white invasion of Australia on January 26 by attending protests and festivals.

On January 8, protesters took to piers around Port Philip Bay as part of the campaign against the planned dredging of the bay — scheduled to begin in the coming weeks. The Port of Melbourne Corporation intends to dredge an underwater rock wall containing unique sea life.

The Say No to GMO campaign launched a new petition in Western Australia this month, asking that liability for contamination of non-genetically modified crops rest with those responsible for bringing GM crops or food into the state.

Long-time environmental campaigner David White has been preselected by the Socialist Alliance to contest the inner-city Central Ward in the March 15 Brisbane City Council elections.

Sydney Stop the War Coalition has confirmed that it will be organising an Australian tour of US Labor Against the War (USLAW) leader Kathy Black. The tour will be in the lead-up to the March 16 Palm Sunday rallies that will mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) held a snap vigil on January 15 outside the Villawood immigration detention centre in response to the death of a 62-year-old detainee (known to other detainees by his last name, Pishehvar). Pishehvar died of a heart attack on January 13. Around 25 community activists joined the vigil.

The proposal by Premier Morris Iemma to privatise electricity generation in NSW has been met with a campaign of opposition from unionists and community activists.

The Rudd Labor government has confirmed pre-election announcements that it will move to censor access to the internet. Originally announced by former ALP leader Kim Beazley in March 2006, the plan is outlined in a November 2007 document Labor’s Plan for Cyber-Safety. It states: “A Rudd Labor Government will require ISPs [internet service providers] to offer a ‘clean feed’ internet service to all homes, schools and public internet points accessible by children, such as public libraries.”

A proposal to build the 1200-student Al Amanah Islamic College in the semi-rural Sydney suburb of Camden has seen an escalation of organised racism not seen in the Sydney area since the 2005 Cronulla riots.

As part of a global day of protest to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay about 50 people gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide on January 11. Guantanamo Bay has a particular meaning in this city, as the home town of David Hicks, one of the first detainees to arrive at Guantanamo Bay and the first to be put through the military commission injustice system.

At a November 30 state council meeting, Victorian Australian Education Union (AEU) officials attacked the Teachers Alliance, a rank-and-file grouping, for distributing a leaflet at a November 21 stop-work meeting that warned of the dangers of compromises by the officials who are engaged in negotiations with the Victorian state government about a new agreement for teachers.

“In the new year, the progressive community needs to take up the cudgels for all those who continue to suffer human rights abuses in this country”, Sam Watson, Murri activist and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate in the recent federal elections, told a speak-out for International Human Rights Day on December 7. He condemned the attacks on Aboriginal rights inherent in the former Howard government’s invasion of the Northern Territory, and the infringement of civil liberties represented by the mandatory detention of refugees and the “anti-terror” laws.

An Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) spy told a NSW Supreme Court judge on December 4 that Australian counter-terrorist authorities had no evidence that Mamdouh Habib had engaged in terrorist-related activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan before he was abducted by US authorities in October 2001.

A bill legalising aspects of brothel operation is being debated by Western Australia’s parliament. The Prostitution Amendment Bill 2007 would change the current legislative approach to brothels from one of “containment” (brothels, while technically illegal, are regulated by the police), to one where brothel managers and owners could be formally registered.

Victorian unions have begun discussing the next stage of the campaign to rip up all of Work Choices.

Workers at the Foster’s brewery at Yatala, south of Brisbane, have stepped up their campaign for a union agreement, following a victory over the latest attempt by the company’s management to impose a non-union agreement on the work force at the plant. Scott Wilson, Electrical Trades Union (ETU) organiser for the site, told Green Left Weekly that the Yatala workers had voted by 154 to 120 to reject management’s third offer of a non-union agreement, which provides wages and conditions significantly below those of workers at other breweries in southern states.

The November 27 decision by the Victorian Premier John Brumby’s Labor government to lift a moratorium on commercially-grown genetically-modified canola has drawn sharp criticism from scientific researchers and environmental activists. Labor MPs declared that the decision had been made secretly, and should have been open to debate.

On November 21, up to 10,000 Victorian teachers went on strike, travelling from around the state to fill the Vodafone Arena in Melbourne. Around 150 schools were closed as a result of the industrial action. The teachers are calling for a 10% per annum pay rise over the next three years.

Twenty-one police cars swarmed on the inner-western suburb of Flemington on November 28 after allegations a teenager of African descent swore at two police cars on patrol.