Australian News

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.

Western Australia goes to the polls on March 11. Green Left Weekly spoke to Chris Jenkins, left, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the seat of Fremantle.

* * *

What are some of the key issues you want to raise this state election?

In contesting the state election, the Socialist Alliance hopes to start a public discussion about who is genuinely entitled to use the resources we have as a society and the processes by which they are allocated.

Australia–US deal

Is it back on? No one knows. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the media that after that phone call with US President Donald Trump his strong approach had led many politicians in the US to call him to say the deal for the US to take up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru will go ahead.

The situation is causing a lot of stress to refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. In response, the PNG government is requesting that additional police officers be deployed to Manus Island.

Eaten Fish (Ali Durrani), a 25-year-old Iranian cartoonist began a hunger strike on January 31 in Manus Island detention centre. He has now been on hunger strike for more than two weeks.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) published an open letter on February 5 calling on the federal government to free and resettle Eaten Fish and two other media colleagues, journalist Behrouz Boochani and actor Mehdi Savari.

Trump’s unstable executive orders loomed large at 2017’s first Left Q&A on “The rise of the populist right and the anti-globalisation backlash”. Common talking points at the February 4 forum held in Melbourne’s Trades Hall were Trump’s xenophobia, the demise of the Labor Party, the breakdown of consensus across the West and the new rejection of neoliberalism.

Panellists from the left lauded the worldwide anti-populist protests, legal battles and upsurge in left-wing action, while advocating an Australian left unity project.

"Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) was formed two years ago in opposition to the state government's forced mergers of local councils. We believe in local democracy," Carolyn Corrigan from SOCC told a rally outside the office of resigned Liberal MP Julia Skinner on February 5.

"Forced council amalgamations are a stitch-up. Big business and big developers are behind it. We want the stitch-up to be ripped up," she added, to rousing applause.

SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn added, "Forced amalgamation is a deeply flawed process. Let's end this quickly.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members in the federal Department of Human Services (DHS) have launched six days of rolling industrial action over the stalled enterprise bargaining process and the Centrelink robo-debt crisis.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers will strike and take other forms of industrial action over February 13 to 24.

A map sent to the group No WestConnex: Public transport, not motorways by an insider has revealed plans for Stage 4 of WestConnex. Beginning with the Western Harbour Tunnels, this $11 billion, 22 km tunnel system is being readied before the planning has finished on Stage 2 and without any connection to Sydney Airport.

The six “peace pilgrims” who were arrested last September on the Pine Gap US military intelligence base, near Alice Springs, have now received court summons.

Jim Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling of Brisbane and Margaret Pestorius and Paul Christie of Cairns are each charged with trespass under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act and face maximum penalties of between seven and 14 years in prison.

 

Corina Abraham is a Bilboolmirn Yorga, and recognised custodian of the Beeliar Wetlands in the lands of the Whadjuk people in the south-west of Western Australia. She is running as a Socialist Alliance WA candidate in the upcoming state election for the lower house seat of Willagee.

She spoke to Chris Jenkins about why she is standing in the election.

* * *

Aunty Corina, what inspired you to run as a candidate?

Parliament has resumed sitting and immigration bills are on the agenda.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton is proposing a new bill which would give him executive powers to cancel anyone’s visa under any circumstance or for any reason — such as someone’s country of origin or religion.

It has drawn comparisons to Trump’s Muslim ban.

The other bill is the refugee visa ban which was held over from last year. It is unknown when debate on the bill will resume in the Senate.

The visa ban came under increasing pressure last year after it passed the lower house.

The CFMEU told a Senate inquiry building materials containing asbestos, formaldehyde and cheap glass that explodes are being imported and used in Australian building sites.

Assistant national secretary of the CFMEU Construction Division Brad Parker said the Australian Border Force was seriously under resourced to intercept the arrival of dangerous building products.

Protesters gathered outside Melbourne’s Town Hall on February 7 ahead of a volatile council meeting to discuss proposed changes to council laws that would effectively make homelessness illegal in the community.

Camping is currently banned in Melbourne if a person uses a tent, car, caravan or other structure. Councillors voted 5–4 to broaden the definition of camping, a move legal experts say could lead to rough sleepers being forced to the outskirts of Melbourne or fined for sleeping with nothing more than "a cardboard box and blanket".

A man who was previously tried and acquitted of the murders of two Aboriginal children at Bowraville, on the NSW mid-north coast in the early 1990s, has again been charged with their murders.

The man, whose name has not been released, appeared at Newcastle local court on February 9 and was granted bail until his next court appearance in August.

Environment groups have raised concerns about the Victorian and federal governments’ decision to extend the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). 

The RFA is a 20-year agreement between state and federal governments that exempts logging from compliance with federal environment law if the state implements measures to protect federally-listed threatened species. 

Goongerah Environment Centre spokesperson Ed Hill said: “Since the RFA was signed 20 years ago, federally-listed threatened species have dramatically declined.

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.

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