Australian News

A rally in support of equal marriage has drawn the biggest LGBTI rights rally in Canberra's history and the biggest crowd Canberra has seen since the rally against the decision to send Australian troops to Iraq in 2003.

More than 3000 supporters of marriage equality filled Garema Place on September 2, before marching through Civic to demand immediate action on marriage equality.

The rally was organised by marriage equality group Equal Love, which organised the Melbourne protest on August 26 that saw more than 20,000 people demand equal marriage rights.

Less than a week after federal education minister Simon Birmingham urged universities to follow the example of Murdoch University in West Australia in terminating its enterprise agreement (EA), vice chancellors at another two universities launched actions designed to undermine staff unions and collective bargaining.

Life could become harder for some of Australia's lowest paid workers.

The Australian Industry Group, on behalf of Hair and Beauty Australia, has asked the Fair Work Commission to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates in the hairdressing industry.

They want to reduce Sunday penalty rates for hairdressers from 200% to 150% and public holiday rates from 250% to 225%.

The Australian Workers Union said the cut would mean a qualified hairdresser could lose $85 a week for an eight-hour Sunday shift and almost $4500 a year.

In another example of wage theft, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has revealed that employers have failed to pay superannuation for their staff by an average of $2.81 billion every year between 2009 and 2015: a total of $17 billion.

The worst offenders were small and medium businesses in the construction, retail, food and accommodation sectors.

The ATO has been investigating "the superannuation guarantee gap" — the difference between the 9.5% superannuation guarantee payment required by law and the contributions employers actually make.

Adani lobbyist and former Queensland Labor Party state secretary Cameron Milner, who played a key role in the 2015 election win of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, has returned to Labor headquarters.

Not only is the controversial WestConnex system of motorways and tunnels a social and environmental disaster, the tolls set to be charged by the NSW Coalition government will rip off ordinary motorists on behalf of the giant private roadway companies.

The latest revelation is that the M5 motorway could be tolled for 40 years after 2026, when the existing toll was due to end.

When Australia began forcibly moving people out of Manus Island detention centre to East Lorengau and Port Moresby in August, peaceful protests were launched in the detention centre.

When Australia cut off the power and water, people continued to defiantly protest.

When a detainee, Hamed, was found dead, his body beaten and hung from a tree near the East Lorengau transit centre, a vigil was held for him and the protests continued.

About 100 people attended a community celebration in Port Augusta on September 2 to mark a huge win for the local community: the state government’s support for Australia’s first solar thermal power plant with storage in Port Augusta.

This was the culmination of a seven-year campaign and it will have a far-reaching impact on the future of renewable energy in this country. US company SolarReserve will begin construction of the 150MW plant in 2018. It is expected to be completed in 2020.

September 5 was a big day for Victoria’s extreme Right.

In the morning, three fascists, United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell, the Party for Freedom’s Neil Erikson and supporter Christopher Shortis, were all found guilty of inciting serious contempt of Muslims.

In the evening, nine protesters from Party of Freedom, armed with megaphones and clutching signs reading "Love it or leave it", stormed the Yarra Council meeting to oppose its decision to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day and to cease holding any citizenship ceremonies on that day.

More than 350 activists participated in the Sydney Stop Adani Summit on September 2.

Participants came from a range of organisations. Some were part of the Stop Adani Alliance, which includes the Bob Brown Foundation, the Australian Conservation Foundation, 350.org, GetUp!, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, Sea Shepherd and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Early childhood educators, from Cairns to Hobart and from Perth to Townsville; from big cities like Sydney to the smallest like Launceston, walked off the job on September 7 to demand equal pay.

Around Australia, 90 child care centres and more than 3000 educators, parents, children and supporters from other unions and community groups joined the largest early childhood walk-off in Australia’s history.

In a move reminiscent of Australia’s infamous military ties to Indonesia’s murderous Suharto dictatorship, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced on September 1 that Australia would send special forces to the Philippines.

The descendants of Gurindji workers who participated in the historic walk-off at Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory have used its 51st anniversary celebration to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart and call for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice in parliament.

Federal immigration minister Peter Dutton has come up with a new act of cruelty against asylum seekers: he is trying to force people now in Australia back to danger in Nauru and Manus Island.

Dutton has invented a new class of visa — the final departure bridging E-visa — which cuts income support from asylum seekers already living in the community. They have been given six months to arrange to either go back to their home countries or be sent back to offshore detention.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said the Fair Work Commission’s decision on August 29 to agree to terminate Murdoch University’s enterprise agreement (EA), which covers more than 3000 staff, is extremely disappointing but not unexpected.

The test for terminating an agreement is very low. The agreement must be past its expiry date, negotiations for a replacement agreement must have been unsuccessful, termination must not be against the public interest and it must be considered “appropriate” to do so.

Newcastle’s bus drivers have been repeatedly underpaid since the city’s public transport system was privatised on July 1.

About 70 workers have been underpaid between $200 and $600 since then.

The NSW government awarded Keolis Downer a 10-year contract to operate Newcastle’s public transport system of buses, ferries and the new light rail last year.

It was the first time in Australia that one company was awarded a contract to operate a city’s entire transport system.

Federal government departments have been ordered to keep their "average staffing levels" in line with those from 2006–07, the final year of the Howard government.

The Senate was told on August 28 that labour hire firms are reaping big profits from this by supplying temporary workers who cost the government more than if they were directly employed but who earn about 3% less money.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Melissa Donnelly said it was "an utterly ludicrous situation engineered entirely by the short-sighted policies of the Turnbull government”.

Community outrage over the NSW Coalition government's decision to shift the iconic Powerhouse Museum from its central city location in Ultimo to a flood-prone site on the Parramatta River is growing, fuelled by the excessive secrecy surrounding the cost of the move.

At a NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the plan, museum experts claimed the transfer could cost at least $1.5 billion, and risked destroying irreplaceable artefacts crucial to the collection.

Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) announced on August 30, it would withdraw as a service provider from the 1800RESPECT Trauma Counselling Service, the federal government-funded hotline.

The announcement punctuates a struggle waged by RDVSA workers to maintain the hotline as a non-profit specialist counselling service in the face of a push by the managing company Medibank Health Solutions (MHS) towards privatisation. After MHS’s subcontract with RDVSA expired in June, MHS put the contract out to tender with new contract provisions.

Sixty residents of Fawkner, a northern suburb of Melbourne, attended a meeting on August 27 to hear an update on the campaign against the proposed redevelopment of the site of the former Nufarm chemical factory.

One of the chemicals made in the factory was Agent Orange, which was used by the United States during the Vietnam War. Local resident Sally Beattie told the meeting Agent Orange is still causing birth defects in Vietnam today.

Mining company Rio Tinto has been fined only $50,000 over the collapse of a dam wall at its Mount Thorley Warkworth mine last year.

It is estimated that up to 4 megalitres of sediment-laden rainwater flowed into the Wallaby Scrub Road reserve from the dam. The company blamed the collapse on several days of continuous rain, which softened the dam’s earth wall. However the court found the event was not a major storm but "merely what is regarded as a one-in-two-year rain event". 

An open letter from eight former agronomists and soil scientists, including five who worked for the Department of Primary Industries, has urged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to halt Shenhua’s Watermark coalmine and protect the Liverpool Plains from mining.

The letter said the agreement the government reached last month with Shenhua to renew its coal exploration licence, paving the way for the mine to proceed, puts at risk “the future of one of the major contributors to food and fibre security”.

“Don’t let our community be destroyed” was the message of the Gronn Place community meeting organised by Friends of Public Housing and Socialist Alliance on August 30.

About 50 public housing tenants and supporters of public housing gathered to discuss their rights. This was the second meeting on the estate. The first meeting was held on July 15.

The belated decision by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to set up a public inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) is aimed at heading off the growing calls for a royal commission into the entire scandal-ridden banking sector.

The August 27 announcement by APRA of an “independent” probe into the country's biggest bank followed a series of scandals that have rocked the financial world.

More than 250 people gathered on August 26 for the Frack Free People's Rally organised by Lock the Gate Alliance and Frack Free WA outside the Western Australia State Labor Conference.

Townsville pizza delivery driver Casey Salt and the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) are taking Domino's to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in the latest challenge to unfair agreements struck between big retail and fast food employers and the conservative Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA).

Salt will ask the FWC to terminate an exploitative agreement her employer made with the SDA that has left workers underpaid tens of millions of dollars

The federal government’s war on militant unions has escalated with the introduction of a bill that would give it the power to deregister unions, disqualify officials and block unions from merging.

The bill, which was introduced on August 16, goes further than the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. It could scuttle mergers that have been approved by an overwhelming majority of union members, based on opposition from business.

Cancer Council Australia, unions and public health advocates have expressed alarm over proposed federal government changes to industrial chemical regulations.

The changes mean more than 99% of new industrial chemicals will not be officially assessed for threats to public health and the environment before being introduced to the public.

The federal government’s vulnerable workers legislation, which it says is to crack down on franchisee underpayments, would give the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) coercive powers to investigate unions and compulsorily obtain information from workers over suspected unlawful industrial action.

Employment Minister Senator Michaelia Cash said on August 16 the new law would mean the FWO could obtain evidence of "discrimination, coercion, conduct relating to false records, unprotected industrial action, accessorial liability, unfair dismissal [and] bullying claims".

Workers employed in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) will vote on a new enterprise agreement during the two weeks beginning on August 31. The Corporate and Technical Division includes non-firefighting employees of the MFB, such as payroll and finance staff and computer technicians.

In the lead up to the September 9 election for the forcibly amalgamated Inner West Council, Labor candidates are feeling the pressure of strong community opposition to the multi-billion-dollar WestConnex motorway tunnel.

Multinational giant Unilever, which owns Streets ice cream, has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate an enterprise agreement at its Minto plant in western Sydney. If the workers are forced back on to the award, they would suffer a significant loss in pay and conditions. 

The Minto workers, members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), rejected a proposed agreement that would have seen new employees paid less and with worse conditions compared to existing workers.

The Andrews Labor government’s euphemistically titled Public Housing Renewal Program aims to sell a range of public housing estates across inner Melbourne in a series of public private partnerships.

These deals will hand over large swathes of land currently owned by the Department of Housing to developers and allow the construction of high rise apartment buildings. The state government wants to remove planning controls over these developments from local councils by creating a special planning committee to oversee the developments within the department.

Activists opposing the proposed megamine that Indian miner Adani wants to build in central Queensland have suffered two legal setbacks in their quest to block the mine.

On August 25, the Federal Court dismissed the appeal by the Australian Conservation Foundation against the federal government’s approval of Adani's Carmichael coalmine.

Local comedian Pauline Fartson (aka Helchild) summed up the sentiment of the Busk for Free Speech rally on August 6 when she held up a giant permit, which said “Permit to breathe in public places in Moreland”.

Busk for Free Speech was held to highlight some of the anti-democratic and discriminatory local laws being proposed by Moreland City Council as part of its review of local laws. Most of the proposed laws already exist under the current local laws but they are also being included in the draft general local law.

The City of Port Adelaide Enfield, in Adelaide's northern suburbs, made history on August 8 when it became the first local government in Australia to publicly advocate for the Newstart Allowance to be raised.

The motion, calling on Port Adelaide Enfield Council to lobby the federal government to raise Newstart, as well as produce a report into how council can assist local unemployed residents who are struggling, was sponsored by Councillor Michelle Hogan, and seconded by Councillor Peter Jamieson. It was passed by 11 votes to 2.

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In recent months a small section of Venezuelans living in Australia have decided to embrace some of the aggressive tactics used by fellow right-wingers living in other parts of the globe.

With a campaign established to deport Lucia Rodriguez, the daughter of Caracas mayor and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Jorge Rodriguez – she was accosted in Bondi a few months ago – and two Venezuelans removed by police from the Latin America Down Under mining expo held in Perth, it is becoming apparent some Venezuelans view these types of actions as acceptable.

More than 150 unionists and two giant inflatable mascots rallied outside Esso's Australian headquarters in Southbank, Melbourne, on August 3. The rally was organised by the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

The rally was in support of maintenance workers who have been picketing Esso's Longford gas site since June in protest over the plan by UGL, which holds Esso’s maintenance contract, to retrench them and have a subsidiary rehire them on 30% less pay and a two-week fly-in, fly-out roster.

Opponents of the controversial $18 billion WestConnex tollway have continued protesting around the Inner West, as public opinion is turning against the state government's growing network of tollways, road tunnels, exit ramps and polluting smokestacks.

The anti-WestConnex movement is now spreading into opposition to the government's proposed Northern Beaches Link and the planned F6 expansion threatening a section of the Royal National Park to the south.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has launched the First Nations Workers' Alliance to represent the 30,000 participants in the federal government’s Community Development Program (CDP), most of whom are Aboriginal people.

The move followed a resolution adopted by the ACTU executive authorising all means at its disposal to be mobilised towards dismantling the program. The resolution will kick-start the exploration of legal and legislative challenges to the program, as well as the mobilisation of campaign resources.

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