Australian News

Just months after an Electrical Trades Union (ETU) victory against Carlton and United Breweries, a much larger battle looms over Melbourne’s industrial landscape. 

In early July, the behemoth Crown Casino laid off its entire electrical workforce. Like the Carlton brewery before it, the casino has tendered an electric gaming contract to the poker machine supplier Amtek. Just three weeks ago Amtek advertised the new casino positions, with wages set at 50% of the old salary.

Liverpool Plains farmers have reacted angrily to NSW resources minister Don Harwin’s announcement on July 12 that it will buy back only half of the Shenhua coal exploration licence covering the Liverpool Plains. This means that the government is allowing an open-cut coalmine in NSW’s food bowl.

The NSW government will pay $262 million to buy back 51% of Shehua’s exploration licence. However, as eight years have passed without the coal giant starting “substantial development”, the government could simply cancel its exploration licence without compensation.

New South Wales housing minister Anthony Roberts told a 600-strong meeting on July 12 that the main solution to Sydney’s housing affordability crisis was to create more supply. He derided those arguing for affordable rental housing targets as “simplistic”.

The Sydney Alliance’s second “housing assembly” included Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, Churches Housing executive officer Magnus Linder, Greater Sydney Commission CEO Sarah Hill and several people who presented their personal experience of housing stress.

Peace activists are planning a court support solidarity action with Jim and Franz Dowling, Tim Webb, and Andy Paine as the group faces court on July 19.

They will appear before the Brisbane magistrate’s court on charges related to the March 1 action in which a sword was removed from a war memorial and shaped into a gardening tool. The group are members of the Catholic worker movement.

Far North Queensland Stop Adani groups mobilised when the Queensland government announced its latest "governing from the regions" exercise would be in Cairns over July 10–14.

They wanted their message that the massive Carmichael coalmine must be stopped to become the main issue and not the government’s pork-barrelling.

“The revelation that Sydney is set to become the ‘toll road capital of the world’ shows the madness,” said Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate for Stanmore ward in the September Inner West Council elections.

“The disastrous $17 billion WestConnex tollway is just the latest in a string of tollroads around the city, and should be halted immediately,” she told Green Left Weekly on July 15

The Queensland Land Court delivered its judgement on Hancock Galilee’s proposed Kevin’s Corner coalmine on July 4. Hancock Galilee is a wholly owned subsidiary of the GVK Group, which also owns the adjacent Alpha mine.

Land court member Wayne Cochrane determined: “There is no basis upon which I should recommend refusal of the grant of the mining lease, notwithstanding that it will convert otherwise useful grazing land into a coalmine.”

National secretary of the Finance Sector Union Julia Angrisano gave this speech at the CFMEU’s National Day of Action to Stop the Attacks on Workers on June 20. It was an inspiring speech that raiased some key issues affecting bank workers today.

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Activists from Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) blockaded the entrance to the office of Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems in Port Melbourne on July 7 as part of international week of action.

About 40 protesters gathered on July 1 at Bundeena Reserve in the Royal National Park to tell the NSW government they will not let the “Royal National Park be attacked for a freeway”.

They were there to protest against a so-far vague proposal to cut off about 60 hectares of the park to extend the F6 motorway and make the drive between Wollongong and Sydney a bit quicker.

For a fraction of the cost of the motorway, improvements to the South Coast rail line would reduce the travel time from Wollongong and remove the need for a freeway.

Speakers at Newcastle’s refugee week rally on June 24, including Rafi, a detainee on Manus Island who spoke via telephone, called for activists to keep up the pressure on the government’s inhumane refuge policies.

Gleny Rae, Go back to where you came from; Fr Rod Bower, Gosford Anglicans; Dr Kate Murton, Doctors for Refugees; Keira Dott, Students Against Detention; Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition; Rafi, from Manus Island via telephone; Councillor Therese Dole, Newcastle City Council and others spoke about maintaining the rage. 

Solidarity with the Kurdish freedom struggle was stepped up at an inspiring conference held in Melbourne over the June 30–July 1 weekend.

The conference, held at Victoria University (VU), discussed the bold experiment in radical democracy, feminism and ecology that is taking place in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). Most importantly, the conference resolved: “It is a duty of supporters of the liberation struggle in northern Syria to make determined efforts to publicise its inspiring achievements and build practical solidarity with it”.

The immigration department has confirmed it wrongly sent two Australian citizens to immigration detention after cancelling their visas.

The two, who were born in New Zealand and hold dual citizenship, were taken to immigration detention after their visas were cancelled following their release from prison.

One was taken to Christmas Island, while the other was detained onshore.

Under section 501 of the Migration Act, a non-citizen's visa must be cancelled if they serve a jail term of more than 12 months.

About 200 people rallied at Town Hall Square to protest the federal government's proposed new citizenship laws. The new laws extend the residential waiting period for citizenship and raise the standard of the English-language test.

The existing law requires a minimum of four years of continuous residence, with at least one further year as a permanent resident, to qualify for citizenship. The new law would require people to wait four years after becoming permanent residents.

A Commuter Action Day was held across the Inner West of Sydney on July 5 to oppose the state government’s proposed privatisation of Region 6 of the metropolitan bus network.

Volunteers gathered at bus stops across the inner west to speak to commuters, get signatures on petitions and hand out information about why privatising Sydney buses will result in worse services, cancelled routes and closed bus stops.

About 100 residents and supporters marched from Penrith Station to the electoral office of the Liberal Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres on July 1, to protest plans to construct "the world's largest waste incinerator" at Eastern Creek. They chanted, "No waste dump for Western Sydney," and gathered signatures on a petition calling on the NSW Parliament to cancel the waste incinerator proposal.

Children carried placards that said "Please don't poison me", "Don't make us wheeze” and “We need clean air to breathe".

More than 20 workers who were paid nothing to work in customer service roles at the Melbourne Grand Prix will receive back-pay.

Before the race, labour hire firm Adecco offered casual workers a “volunteer opportunity” that involved pre-race training and three full days’ work in customer service, all unpaid.

For a second time the Fair Work Commission has rejected the ACTU’s bid to make 10 day’s paid family and domestic violence leave a minimum standard in all modern awards.

However, in what the ACTU said was a move in the right direction, the full bench of the FWC said it had “formed the preliminary view that all employees should have access to unpaid family and domestic violence leave and … should be able to access personal/carer’s leave for the purpose of taking family and domestic violence leave”.

The Victorian government announced on July 3 it had made an in-principle deal to buy the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) timber mill. The deal to save Australia's largest hardwood mill could cost taxpayers up to $50 million.

Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released this statement on June 26.

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Just days after agreeing to pay Manus Island asylum seekers and refugees $70 million in damages for unlawful imprisonment and physical and psychological damage, the government has stepped up its punitive program to forcibly relocate the detainees.

On June 23, all gym equipment was removed from Mike and Oscar compounds. A new notice has announced that Foxtrot Compound will be closed and that asylum seekers should move from Foxtrot to Mike compound.

Geelong Trades Hall Secretary Colin Vernon, along with other union and community activists raised the rainbow flag above Geelong Trades Hall on June 27. The flag symbolises support for marriage equality, the LGBTI community and Surf Coast Shire residents who have been campaigning to keep the flag flying at their local council building.

CSIRO staff voted by 58% to approve a new enterprise agreement, in a second round of voting after the 70% No vote last October.

The CSIRO Staff Association said the new agreement restored rights including a commitment to secure, ongoing employment, flexible working hours and on-site childcare, which were not in the October deal.

“While the new agreement represents a substantial improvement on the CSIRO’s first offer there is a long way to go to rebuild morale, trust and confidence among scientists, researchers and other staff,” the Staff Association’s Sam Popovski said.

Members of the Australian Workers' Union have set up a protest outside the Longford gas plant in Victoria because of changes to the maintenance contracts for hundreds of workers in the oil and gas industry.

UGL holds the maintenance contract for Esso's onshore facilities and offshore platforms but about 200 workers were told they had to sign up with UGL subsidiary MTCT Services at between 15% and 30% lower wages or lose their jobs.

In a move similar to the one that preceded abortion law reform in Victoria and Tasmania, Queensland Attorney-General and justice minister Yvette D’Ath has referred abortion to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC). It has been tasked with drafting legislation to modernise abortion law. The current laws date back to 1899 and have not been amended since.

Homelessness is a growing problem in Australia.

The biggest privatisation scam in NSW history is about to start as the NSW Coalition government prepares to sell off the $17 billion WestConnex tollway. The government and its project adviser Goldman Sachs are expected to start a market-testing exercise, with a deadline of October for expressions of interest from major private corporations.

Refugee activists from the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) hung a banner off the Channel 7 building in Melbourne’s Docklands on June 23.

The Channel 7 building is in direct line of sight of the Border Force headquarters in Customs House, where operational matters in Manus Island and Nauru refugee detention camps are managed.

Eighty tenants and supporters rallied at the Northcote public housing estate on June 24 to protest plans to evict the tenants and demolish their homes.

Northcote is one of nine public housing estates the Victorian Labor government wants to demolish. It wants to sell the land to private developers who would build high rise units. Some "social housing" would also be built.

Addressing the rally, Aboriginal activist and public housing tenant Viv Malo linked the planned evictions to the history of dispossession of Aboriginal people.

The neo-Nazi True Blue Crew held their second "Australian Pride" rally in Melbourne on June 25 and were met with an "anti-racist/anti-fascist" counter protest by No Room For Racism and Campaign Against Racism and Fascism.

There were about 150–200 fascists and about 200–300 anti-racists. Several hundred police, including from the Public Order Response Team, kept the two sides apart.

Five people were treated by Ambulance Victoria after police pepper-sprayed the anti-racists in Russell St after the main rally had broken up.

More than 200 people packed into the Pitt Street Uniting Church on June 28 to protest the state government’s plans to privatise public bus services in the city's inner west.

The community assembly, organised by UnionsNSW and the Sydney Alliance, drew bus drivers and other workers, unionists and concerned members of the public to join the growing campaign to stop the sell-off of public transport.

The Australia Institute has warned that continued coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef could lead to plummet in international visitors to the region by more than a million a year. The massive drop in visitors would result in the loss of $1 billion in tourism income and up to 10,000 jobs.

The institute surveyed 3000 Chinese, US and British visitors. The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s top tourist attraction, but more than one-third of Americans, 55% of Chinese and 27% of British visitors surveyed said they would holiday elsewhere if the reef died completely.

The Socialist Alliance has announced three candidates for the Inner West Council elections to be held on September 9.

Pip Hinman will run in Stanmore, Susan Price will run in Ashfield and Blair Vidakovich in Leichhardt.

Twenty-five abortion rights protesters picketed in central Brisbane on June 28 to demand decriminalisation of abortion. In peak-hour traffic, they walked into a pedestrian intersection, chanting and waving placards and urging motorists to honk their horns in support of abortion rights.

Christians, Jews, Baha'is, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas and Quakers were among the religious groups represented at multi-faith gathering for climate action in Brisbane on June 27.

Anglican Dean Peter Catt spoke first arguing that Earth is part of God's creation and needs to be protected for its own sake, not simply for utilitarian reasons. This opened up a theme developed by other speakers about religious motivations for taking environmental action.

Justice Peter Applegarth of the Supreme Court rejected on June 23 the application by New Acland Coal (NAC) for judicial review of the Queensland Land Court’s decision, which recommended rejecting the Stage 3 expansion of the New Hope Mine. He said he was not satisfied irreparable harm would be caused to New Acland Coal and other third parties if a stay was not ordered.

Senate to investigate SDA deals

The giant Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) will be subject to a parliamentary inquiry over wage deals that have cost workers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Senate inquiry, initiated by Nick Xenophon and backed by the Greens, will examine claims that workers at retailers such as McDonald's, KFC and Coles are paid penalty rates under their SDA-negotiated enterprise agreements that are lower than the industry award.

The V8 supercars race due to run through Newcastle streets in November places “private profit over the common good and social justice” according to the Newcastle East Residents Group (NERG).

In a recent leaflet NERG points out that residents continue to be sidelined by Newcastle City Council, Destinations NSW (a government tourism body) and Supercars Australia Pty Ltd.

The race deal was worked out in a private briefing and closed council meetings without community involvement last year.

A proposed law restructuring Victoria's fire services has been referred to a parliamentary select committee, and will not be put to a vote until parliament resumes in August. This follows the expression of "concerns" about the law by conservative crossbenchers in the upper house.

The proposed law would end the antiquated situation where regional cities and a large part of the Melbourne metropolitan area are covered by the Country Fire Authority (CFA), and receive an inferior service. 

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has called on workers to start demanding pay rises.

Lowe said on June 19 Australia’s economy is suffering a “crisis” in wage growth and the relatively low unemployment rate means workers should start asking for a larger share of the nation’s economic pie.

His call comes as data shows the share of national income going to workers has fallen to a 50 year low and the underemployment rate, where workers want to work more hours, rose to 8.8%.

Underemployment has now risen for the past six consecutive quarters.

Representatives at the annual meeting of the Australian Local Government Association voted on June 20 to back a motion by Hobart city council to push for the federal government to change the date of Australia Day.

Hobart city council voted in April to sponsor changing Australia Day from January 26, a date many Indigenous people regard as Invasion Day.

This year, the City of Fremantle moved some Australia Day events to January 28, after local Aboriginal elders said January 26 was not a day to celebrate.

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