Australian News

Residents across south-west Western Australia reacted angrily to a state government admission that unconventional gas exploration and mining could still go ahead despite an election promise to ban fracking in the state.

The Fair Go For Pensioners coalition organised a rally on May 24 in response to the federal budget’s significant new restrictions for those on Centrelink payments, including older Australians.

Their main concerns are with the change to the pensioner assets test, attacks on Medicare, the threat to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and a reduction on the right to overseas travel. The rally also addressed issues faced by the unemployed on Newstart, those on disability support and single parents.

The Victorian Labor government has announced its plans for restructuring Victoria's fire services.

Currently, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade covers only part of the Melbourne metropolitan area, while the Country Fire Authority (CFA) covers not only rural areas but also regional cities and many of Melbourne's suburbs.

The proposed law would create a new body, Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), which would cover the whole Melbourne metropolitan area and regional cities.

Big steps campaign to escalate

United Voice, the union covering early childhood educators, announced on May 27 the result of a ballot of more than 3000 educators on whether to escalate their equal pay campaign.

The union said 95% of educators voted to take action on equal pay with sector-wide walk-offs later this year.

The move follows similar action on International Women's Day, when about 1000 workers walked off the job across Australia.

Bus drivers across Sydney implemented a "fare-free day" on June 1 as part of their campaign of industrial action against the NSW government's plan to privatise buses in the inner west. Drivers from 12 depots around the city turned off their Opal Card machines and wore plain clothes to draw the attention of passengers to the threat to public bus services.

On the evening of May 22, more than 300 residents packed out Balmain Town Hall for a public meeting on the NSW Liberal government's proposed Western Harbour Tunnel toll road. This proposed 6km tunnel will connect to the fiercely contested WestConnex tunnel interchange in Rozelle going under the Balmain peninsula, then under Sydney Harbour before connecting to the Warringah Freeway.

The meeting was called by NSW Greens Balmain MP Jamie Parker who condemned the project as "yet another polluting, destructive, private tollway."

Australia's four big banks plus AMP are ripping off the country's workers with huge fees charged on their superannuation investments, a recent study has revealed.

New research carried out by Rainmaker for Industry Super Australia, a mainly union-backed body, shows that the retail super funds, largely operated by the big banks, absorb about half of all fees charged in the superannuation system, despite holding only 29% of retirement savings.

Three protesters charged under a new section of the NSW Crimes Act have pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing in Mudgee on May 17.

The “Wollar Three” are challenging the draconian new law aimed at criminalising those who protest at coal and gas mine sites. If convicted they could face a maximum penalty of seven years’ jail.

The NSW Country Women’s Association passed a motion at its state conference on May 27 calling for a halt to any further “unconventional gas exploration” in NSW — a ban on coal seam gas. The motion was put by the Maules Creek branch.

It flies in the face of last week’s announcement by NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro that he wanted an expansion of the CSG industry, although not on the Liverpool Plains.

Two hundred people came from as far away as Gympie, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba to join a Thursday morning protest outside Queensland parliament. The protest was against the proposed Adani coal mine in the Galilee basin.

On May 17, I received an email from Centrelink advising that I would no longer be eligible for the student start-up scholarship.

This means the $1035 payment that helped to pay for my textbooks, university car parking fees and other course materials will now only be available as a loan I will have to pay back on HECs.

Losing this start-up scholarship will hurt many students, with welfare payments hardly keeping up with the ever-increasing cost of living and rent.

Australian anti-racist athlete Peter Norman, who was born in Coburg and later became a trainer and player for West Brunswick Football Club, is to be recognised by the Moreland Council.

Norman remains Australia’s fastest sprinter — his Australian 200-metre record from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics still stands.

However, Norman was not just an extraordinary athlete. He also took a stand against racism and for human rights. He was the third man in the iconic photo of the medal ceremony for the 200-metre race.

Immigration officials told asylum seekers and refugees in Manus Island detention centre on May 15 that the centre will be closing, beginning on May 28 and completely shut down by October 31. This comes after a PNG supreme court last year ruled the detention centre was unconstitutional and must be closed.

The Australian government has refused to bring any refugees to Australia and is widely reported to be pressuring them to accept deportation with threats and bribes.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has called for jail terms for employers who deliberately underpay their staff.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said this was “wage theft” and it was time to treat bosses with the same rules as employees.

The call follows a string of scandals at franchise operators 7-Eleven, Caltex, Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut, where employees have been underpaid by tens of millions of dollars. 7-Eleven has so far paid out $90 million for non-payment of wages while Caltex has set up a $20 million fund to repay their workers.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) dropped its landmark case against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and seven crew members of the Tandara Spirit on May 15.

The case related to alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act when the MUA and the seafarers failed to comply with orders from the Fair Work Commission in late 2014.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the FWO pulled its investigation after wasting the time and resources of the union and putting the workers through unacceptable stress and anxiety.

NSW Coalition MPs voted down a bill, 35 to 45, on May 11, that mandated registered nurses in residential aged care facilities. Labor, the Greens, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, as well as Independents Alex Greenwich and Greg Piper supported the bill.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association’s Brett Holmes said the government’s decision was “shameful” because not having skilled nurses in nursing homes would mean that the quality of care provided to some of the state’s most vulnerable would deteriorate.

Students at RMIT marched through Melbourne on May 12 as part of a global push for fossil fuel divestment.

After making noise throughout the university they ended their march with a game of hopscotch outside the university management offices to show university management how they can make the leap to divestment.

Thanks to three years of pressure from students and staff, RMIT has introduced new investment principles which put it in the right position to divest.

While this is an important step for the university it still has to make the leap and actually divest.

A report on the impact of youth programs in remote central Australia found that, with enough effort, they provided significant support to children, their families and communities, as well as the broader health, education and justice systems.

They also actively reduced rates of crime and drug and alcohol abuse among young people.

The report, released on May 16, examined three youth programs in Utopia, Hermannsburg, and Yuendumu.

Four hundred people gathered at the summit of Mt Donna Buang in the Yarra Ranges National Park on May 13 to create a human sign spelling out support for a new Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands and Gippsland.

Called The Great Forest Picnic, the human sign was 60 metres long, 50 metres wide and spelled out the words “We ♥ parks”.

The Victorian Labor government is considering a restructure of Victoria's fire services, according to a report in the May 9 Herald Sun.

Victoria has two fire services — the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA). The boundaries between the zones covered by these two bodies have not been changed for many years. With the expansion of Melbourne, many outer suburbs are covered by the CFA. So too are large towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo.

Bylong Valley, near Mudgee in NSW, is a tranquil and secluded village. It is listed by the National Trust as a Landscape Conservation Area because of its stunning beauty and abundant prime agricultural land. But its tranquillity is under threat.

Sydney bus drivers walked out on May 18 in a 24-hour strike against plans by the NSW Coalition government to privatise public bus services in the city’s inner-west.

The action, which defied the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), affected four bus depots: Leichhardt, Burwood, Kingsgrove and Tempe.

Newcastle Uni cuts ties with Broadspectrum

The University of Newcastle will cut its controversial $88 million contract with Broadspectrum, the company responsible for running Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

A university spokesperson confirmed it had “reached agreement” with Broadspectrum to “progressively transition out of the current maintenance and facilities services contract before the end of the year”.

Ninety-five year old Bill Ryan was one of about 15 protesters from the Galilee Blockade group who tried to meet mining contractor Downer’s chief executive Grant Fenn on May 16. Their aim was to encourage Downer to pull out of the Adani coal mine.

Residents and supporters held a protest in Sydney Park on May 6, when contractors for the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway moved in to destroy more trees for the St Peters interchange.

The works are part of the project's push to remove more than 800 trees in Sydney Park, St Peters and Alexandria to allow widening of roads around the planned interchange.

Student groups nation-wide registered their opposition to the government’s proposals to raise student fees and lower the HECS threshold at an action in Canberra on budget day on May 9.

The $2.8 billion in cuts would see fees increase by a maximum of $3600 for a four-year course with students paying for 46% of the cost of their degree on average — up from 42%. The cuts propose a lowering of the HECS threshold — down from $55,874 to $42,000.

Unionists and their supporters defied a police ban on this year’s traditional May Day march with a militant march and rally of some 500 unionists and their supporters through the city’s streets on May 6.

An obstructive Wollongong City Council had blocked police approval and demanded a hefty fee for private security services.

South Coast working class icon and veteran class fighter, 95-year-old Fred Moore, proudly marched at the front. He has never missed a May Day march since his first in 1932.

When the Nationals visited Narrabri on May 12 for dinner and talks, many in the community lined the entrance to voice their opposition to coal seam gas (CSG). NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro did not receive the welcome he expected.

"Hopefully he takes the message into the event that the electorate does not want this industry to take hold," said Narrabri farmer Stuart Murray.

Complaints by conservative commentators that Treasurer Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have delivered a “Labor budget” show how low expectations are that any federal government in Australia will deliver a budget aiming to advance genuine social justice in this country.

Assistant secretary of the Newcastle East Residents Group (NERG) Karen Read addressed Newcastle Trades Hall (Hunter Workers) recently about the supercars race scheduled to run through Newcastle’s historic East end in November.

Read fielded questions about residents needing to be credentialled to enter their own homes, the needs of the elderly, contacts with other groups such as Save Albert Park and the lengthy period of construction and dismantling of race infrastructure.

Residents, unionists and supporters protested outside the NSW Department of Housing office in Redfern on May 10, following the first forcible eviction of a resident of Millers Point public housing.

Peter Muller, a 57-year-old electrician, was out working, when police broke into his home and removed a number of supporters who were defending the house.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) has criticised ExxonMobil for its failure to respond to an oil spill on February 1 near its West Tuna oil platform, about 45 kilometres off the Victorian coast in Bass Strait.

Labor has backed away from supporting Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine. Previously, Labor leader Bill Shorten said he supported the project “so long as it stacks up”.

But on May 1, Labor’s energy and environment spokesperson Mark Butler warned it could hurt other coalmining areas. “It will simply displace existing coal operations elsewhere in Australia,” he told ABC News. “There will be jobs lost elsewhere in Queensland or there will be jobs lost in the Hunter Valley.

More than 7000 submissions were presented to the NSW Department of Planning after a lively march through Sydney’s CBD to protest against Santos coal seam gas mining that threatens the Pilliga Forest and goes against the wishes of the Gamilaraay traditional custodians of the land.

Narrabri gasfield threatens two precious water resources: the Great Artesian Basin and the Murray-Darling Basin.

The area of the Great Artesian Basin with the highest recharge rates is almost entirely contained within the Pilliga Forest.

"Disability — not for sale!" was one of the slogans shouted by Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) members as they marched on Parliament House on May 10 to protest against the Victorian Labor government's plan to privatise state-run disability services.

HACSU state secretary Lloyd Williams told the rally that Premier Daniel Andrews had broken a promise not to privatise public disability services in Victoria.

More than 600 local residents and traders rallied at the Preston Market in Melbourne’s north east on May 6 to tell Minister for Planning Richard Wynne to “call in” a development application for multi-storey apartments and a generic shopping centre that risks destroying their much-loved community hub.

The unexpectedly large turnout spilled out onto the road, prompting police to tell organiser Lori-anne Sharp, of the Save Preston Market group, to “pick a bigger site next time you call a protest”.

The latest Essential poll released on May 9 shows voters disapprove of cuts to universities and higher student fees and fear the impact on young people.

It also showed Labor comfortably ahead of the Coalition on the two-party preferred vote by 54% to 46%.

The poll showed 56% disapprove of the government’s reduction in funding for higher education by $2.8bn and 60% disapprove of increasing student fees.

A report obtained by the ABC says coal prices will fall significantly and exports from Australia's biggest coal port will decline if Adani's Carmichael coalmine goes ahead.

If the coalmine went ahead, it would add 40 million tonnes a year to the market and global coal prices would fall by $3.80 to $65 a tonne.

Competition from the mine would reduce exports from the port of Newcastle by 11 to 12 million tonnes a year, which would lower the coal royalties NSW receives.

WA councils support marriage equality

The Western Australian city councils of Bayswater and Fremantle passed motions of support for marriage equality on April 26. Both motions instruct the councils to write to the Prime Minister and all federal MPs, calling on them to make marriage equality a reality.

The motion passed in Bayswater "calls on the council to acknowledge … that many residents are disadvantaged by the current laws and that marriage equality laws have been passed in 22 countries around the world".

Victoria’s Labor government voted down the “#MetreMatters” bill on May 10 which would have required motorists to give cyclists at least 1 metre of space when passing. Earlier in the day, Greens MPs had moved the bill in the upper house, where it passed with the support of Coalition MPs.

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