Australian News

An analysis of the latest data published on the MySchool website for the Australian Education Union, shows that between 2009 and 2015, education spending by Commonwealth and state governments increased nearly three times as much to the independent sector and twice as much to Catholic schools as to public schools.

The analysis showed that between 2009 and 2015, combined state and federal funding rose by 38.7% for independent schools, 35.6% for Catholic schools and only 17.6% for public schools.

A new Amnesty International report Treasure I$land: How companies are profiting from Australia’s abuse of refugees on Nauru, has warned companies considering taking over Australia’s offshore detention centres when Broadspectrum’s contract expires in October that they would be participating in a deliberately abusive regime and would be complicit in “torture”.

Peter Cundall turns 90

Peter Cundall’s 90th birthday on April 1 was celebrated in Hobart with “Pete’s Picnic”, a public picnic in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

Born in Manchester to a poverty-stricken family in 1927, Cundall migrated to Tasmania in 1956.

He became a household name as the host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia but his love of nature also led him to become an environmental activist.

He was involved with protests against the Franklin Dam in the 1970s and ’80s.

Victorian teachers, education support staff, academics, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will take action over the first week of May to support refugees who have been detained by the Australian government.

The “Bring them Here” action will involve four groups of unionists wearing T-shirts to work and elsewhere. The four unions will also hold a rally in the CBD.

The action was initiated by Teachers for Refugees (TFR), a rank-and-file group within the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU).

About 50 Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members and supporters occupied the foyer of the Brisbane offices of Rio Tinto on March 28.

Rio Tinto has reneged on its agreement with the MUA to have 70–80% Australian crew on its coastal fleet. Instead it is using exploited foreign workers who are paid $3–4 per hour. This is despite posting a $6 billion profit last year.

Supporters of abortion rights gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral on March 26 to declare their support for choice.

The action was organised to counter the annual anti-choice “Day of the Unborn Child” event, described as “a peaceful march to protect preborn babies”. In reality, it is designed to perpetrate myths and shame anyone thinking of, or who has had, an abortion.

Environmentalists are outraged that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has called for a review of the protection status of Victoria’s faunal emblem, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum, so new logging zones in Victoria’s central highlands can be opened.

Joyce wrote to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on March 26, criticising the decision to reduce the logging quota offered to Gippsland’s Heyfield mill operators Australian Sustainable Hardwood (ASH) from 155,000 cubic metres a year to 80,000 cubic metres in 2017–18 and 60,000 cubic metres in the next two years.

Just weeks after a report highlighted plummeting koala populations, the federal government has given approved for coal seam gas (CSG) company QGC to bulldoze 54 hectares of koala habitat on Queensland's Western Downs.

The crew of the emergency towage vessel Coral Knight initiated a community assembly at the wharves in Cairns on March 30 after they were sacked from their jobs on the ship. These Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members were joined by dozens of unionists, environmental activists and other local community members.

The 10 sacked seafarers fear public and environmental safety has been put at risk for the sake of replacing them with a cheaper alternative.

First night parrot sighting in WA for 100 years

In the first verified sighting since 1912, a night parrot has been photographed in Western Australia.

It follows a history of disbelieved reports, futile ecological surveys and unverified sightings of the species that was presumed extinct until it was rediscovered in Queensland four years ago.

The #StopAdani Roadshow attracted thousands of supporters across the country, who oppose the federal and Queensland government’s support for Adani’s $22 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

About 1200 people in Brisbane on March 28 and 1000 in Sydney the next day heard from Indian environment campaigner Dr Vaishali Patil, Californian Clean Energy Fund director Danny Kennedy, SEED co-director Millie Telford and 350.org CEO Blair Palese.

In her first address to the National Press Club as ACTU secretary on March 29, Sally McManus repeated her earlier statement that it was right to break unjust laws.

She said Australia’s workplace laws were broken and that “wage theft” had become the new business model for too many employers. McManus also set out the ACTU’s case for a $45 a week increase in the minimum wage.

The NSW Gladys Berejiklian government’s forced council amalgamation policy is in crisis, after the NSW Court of Appeal on March 27 blocked the merger of Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby Councils.

The court accepted Ku-ring-gai Council’s appeal against the merger, in part because the state government kept the KPMG consultants’ report on the amalgamations secret from the public and from the delegate appointed to investigate the merger.

The Supreme Court of Victoria handed down its judgement on March 21, quashing the appeal of an anti-abortion protester who had been convicted for displaying images of aborted foetuses.

Michelle Fraser, an anti-abortion protester, had displayed placards of aborted foetuses with anti-abortion slogans, outside the Melbourne Fertility Clinic, in February 2013. In 2014, she was convicted of displaying obscene images.

Members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) working in the Department of Human Services (DHS) resumed rolling strike action on March 24 in support of their longstanding struggle for a new enterprise agreement.

The workers in DHS, which includes Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support, had already begun work bans as part of their campaign.

Some 50 people rallied outside the Northern Territory Labor Party conference on March 25 to demand NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner keep his promise to ban fracking in the territory.

The Labor government came into power in the NT in a landslide on August 27. Among the many promises Labor made was a commitment to a moratorium on hydraulic fracking until the process is proven to be safe.

More than 1000 submissions were received about plans to build a $500 million waste-to-energy plant proposed for Western Sydney. Community members and health authorities have shown strong opposition to the incinerator and its associated health risks.

The incinerator, to be built at Eastern Creek, would use thermal technology to create electricity from waste that would otherwise go to landfill. While the proposal is designed to reduce greenhouse gases, there are concerns it could have a detrimental impact on air quality.

Manus Island protests

A year after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ordered that the Manus Island detention centre be closed, people are still living in the same compounds and sleeping in the same beds.

In the latest protest, as tensions simmer inside the detention centre, guards hastily withdrew from Mike Compound on March 18 after a protest erupted in the mess area following Border Force renovations that made the serving area more like a prison.

A public forum on March 17 discussed the implications of Melbourne City Council's proposed amendments to Activities Local Law 2009.

The changes would broaden the definition of “camping” to mean people currently sleeping rough could be forcibly moved on by police and face fines for possessing a piece of cardboard or bedding. The city of Melbourne would be effectively criminalising homelessness.

Students and academics at the University of New South Wales have mounted a major exhibition outlining a proposal for a radical redirection of the WestConnex tollway project from road to rail.

The exhibition, Civilise WestConnex, imagines what could be done if Stage 3 of WestConnex was cancelled and the other tunnels already under construction were converted from roads to train lines.

Hundreds of trade unionists braved the rain at Solidarity Park, outside the WA State Parliament, on March 21 to protest against what the organisers describe as a “war on workers”.

The rally was hosted by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), and heard from various unions and members of parliament.

A bill to remove the controversial "gay panic" defence from Queensland law was passed on March 21. It had been used by people accused of murder to claim they were provoked due to an unwanted homosexual advance.

Those who pleaded under section 304 of the Criminal Code (killing on provocation) reduced their criminal responsibility to manslaughter and avoided life in jail.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the bill delivered on an important promise to the LGBTI community of Queensland.

New laws to legalise abortions were passed by the Northern Territory parliament on March 21. The bill passed by 20 votes to four after a lengthy and emotional debate.

The new laws mean the NT joins the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania in decriminalising abortion and stands in stark contrast to NSW and Queensland, which have Australia’s most restrictive abortion legislation.

The Victorian government announced on March 14 a $20 million tender, to install up to 80MW of grid-scale energy storage by 2018.

It invited proposals from batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheel, and solar thermal technologies.

But its deadlines, of 30MW expected to be installed by next summer and 50MW by the following summer, are impossible for two of those technologies to meet.

Pumped hydro facilities take several years to build, because dams, tunnels and pipelines would need to be built.

Conan Zamolo, a former youth justice officer at Don Dale youth detention centre, has admitted he filmed himself bursting into a cell and repeatedly asking the boys in their beds to give him oral sex.

He was giving evidence to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

Zomolo said he was "goofing around" in the videos and had a "good relationship with the kids".

Zamolo also admitted to the hearing he had filmed children being forced to eat bird faeces and posted the footage on social media site Snapchat.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was dealt another embarrassing blow on March 21.

The Federal Court dismissed all claims against the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) after finding prosecutors had made a deal with a confessed blackmailer to give evidence for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in return for staying out of jail.

Residents, unionists and supporters marched and rallied on March 19 in Millers Point, to protest the continuing eviction of remaining public housing tenants of the Point, Dawes Point and the iconic Sirius Building. The event, which attracted about 200 people, was sponsored by the Millers Point Community Working Party and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

“The fight to remain in our community goes on. The fighting spirit of the elderly, the frail and the vulnerable continues the struggle,” publicity for the action stated.

The University of Melbourne has renamed the prominent Richard Berry building for maths and statistics after a long anti-racism campaign by a group of staff and students.

Until his retirement in the 1940s, Berry was Australia’s leading voice in the pseudoscience of eugenics, which aimed to produce a superior human race by having suitable people breed, while at the same time sterilising those with “rotten heredity”.

A Sydney man has been awarded $3000 for being stopped by police for four minutes at Liverpool Station, after a court ruled this amounted to false imprisonment.

Sam Le was approached by two police officers in January last year and asked to produce his Opal card and pensioner concession card, along with photo identification to prove the cards belonged to him.

In a video captured on Le’s phone, he was told he was not under arrest but was “not leaving” until the officers had verified his identity.

Parmalat workers victory

More than two months after 60 workers were locked out of a Victorian yoghurt factory, AMWU and ETU members voted on March 20 to accept an agreement that includes wage rises and improved redundancy provisions.

The agreement also included provisions making all production workers direct employees of Parmalat and for mandatory consultation with the union if contractors are engaged.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus congratulated the workers on wining "an epic battle with a multi-national".

Nineteen doctors who are current or recent providers of abortion services in Queensland have signed a letter to the state premier calling for abortion decriminalisation to be resolved in the current term of parliament. This follows another delay in achieving legal reform after private member's bills were withdrawn earlier this year.

The signatories include an overwhelming majority of doctors performing abortion in Queensland.

"First Melbourne's East-West Tunnel was stopped by people's power, now the Roe 8 has been stopped in WA. Next to go, WestConnex?" Peter Boyle, an activist in the Newtown Residents Against WestConnex, said on March 13.

He was commenting on the decision by the new Labor premier of Western Australia, Mark McGovern, to order the suspension of all work on the Roe 8 section of the Perth Freight Link after the March 11 state election, which saw the Barnett Liberal government decisively thrown out of office.

It was fitting that Resistance Books’ new publication, Sustainable Agriculture versus Corporate Greed: Small Farmers, Food Security & Big Business, was launched in the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale on March 8.

Co-author Alan Broughton, a well-known figure in the local Organic Agriculture Association, gave a short but hard-hitting presentation at the local library.

He explained that agribusiness might be thriving but many smaller family farmers are doing it tough. Their financial situation is precarious.

About 100 students from universities across Australia and New Zealand shared campaign stories and made plans for the year ahead at the Fossil Free Convergence in the Blue Mountains in NSW over March 10–13.

Organised by 350.org, the convergence brought together fossil fuel divestment groups from universities across Australia and New Zealand, including the Australian National University, University of Auckland, University of Queensland, Melbourne University, RMIT, University of Newcastle and University of New South Wales — which brought 25–30 people to the conference.

Opposition is growing to the NSW Coalition government’s move to privatise the state-owned land registry, the Land and Property Information office (LPI). Sources inside the LPI are increasingly alarmed at the government’s rush to sell the office as community concern mounts against the sale itself.

Dylan Voller joined a small crowd protesting against the conditions in NT detention centres as the Royal Commission into Juvenile Justice resumed hearings in Alice Springs on March 13.

Footage broadcast on the ABC showing Voller being tear-gassed, spit-hooded and shackled to a restraint chair prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call the inquiry.

Speaking outside the commission, Voller said he wanted to support the other young people giving evidence.

An interim report from the Koala Expert Panel, established by the state government after a catastrophic koala population crash in south-east Queensland last year, has offered little hope for the state’s faunal emblem.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor might be willing to support the deportation of children who commit crimes.

Australia does not currently deport minors. 

But the Joint Standing Committee on Migration is examining the screening process when people are given Australian visas and support services when they arrive in Australia.

They are also looking into whether their visa can be revoked if child migrants join gangs.

Shorten said there may be merit in changing the law.

Friends of Victoria University and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) organised a protest outside the university’s Flinders Street campus during a Victoria University (VU) council meeting on March 14.

The protest was in response to plans by VU’s management to sack 115 academic staff affecting undergraduate courses in the creative industries, marketing, communication, and professional and creative writing. Six post-graduate courses in communication and education will also be affected.

Widespread community opposition has reportedly pushed the NSW Coalition government to prepare to back down on its plan to move the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo westward to Parramatta.

The Inner West Courier reported on March 7: "Well-placed sources revealed last week the government believes taking down the current Powerhouse and selling the land to developers is so unpopular that it has decided to can the move."

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