Australian News

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 This follows another delay in achieving legal reform after private member's bills were withdrawn earlier this year.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."

The misogynist Fred Nile has opportunistically seized the moment — provided by Tanya Davies, the new NSW “pro-life” minister for women — to reintroduce a bill to give foetuses legal rights.

Nile, a NSW MLC, introduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017 on March 9. The wording is the same as his last attempt.

Nile first tried to push his anti-choice law in 2010. He managed to get it through the Legislative Assembly in 2013 (63 votes to 26) with Davies’ support. 

Can the political debate about Australia's “energy crisis” get any more weird?

For the first time scientists have cured Tasmanian devils suffering from the deadly devil facial tumour disease by injecting live cancer cells into infected devils to make their immune system recognise the disease and fight it off.

Five devils with the disease were treated using the technique over six years, and three survived.

A Federal Court judge has blasted the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for wasting time and taxpayers' money on taking two Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.

Justice Tony North said on March 10 it was “astounding” that the ABCC had conducted days of hearing with dozens of participants over two years for “such a miniscule, insignificant affair”.

A group of Brisbane grandparents occupied the South Brisbane headquarters of Queensland Labor for 10 hours on March 6. The Grandparents for the Galilee came prepared with food and bedding, vowing to stay until Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk signed a legal letter rejecting the proposed $1 billion loan to Adani.

Taxpayers will subsidise the clean-up costs of oil spills in the Great Australian Bight under the terms of the controversial Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.

Treasury officials have confirmed that clean-up costs for oil spills from exploration wells would be classified as “exploration expenditure” under the PRRT regime, meaning they would be tax deductible for oil companies and could be held over and “uplifted” into future years at an annual rate of 17.5%.

The CSIRO will spend $29.7 million on a three-year project to conduct an assessment, separation and treatment of radioactive waste at a CSIRO facility located on Department of Defence land near Woomera, South Australia. The Woomera facility is one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) called a meeting to inform residents about its housing development, the Pemulwuy Project, at the Block in Redfern on March 9.

About 200 people packed the Redfern Community Centre to ask questions of AHC about its plans to increase the size of the development. After just 25 minutes, AHC closed the meeting down as the audience loudly voiced its opposition to the radically enlarged plans.

Pubs have taken Coopers beer off their taps and drinkers have vowed to boycott the beer after a political marketing stunt backfired on the South Australian brewer.

The V8 Supercars race through Newcastle East will leave behind a trail of destruction even before the checkered flag goes down next November.

Former Liberal leader Mike Baird and Labor Party mayor Nuatali Helms announced that the race would be held in Newcastle late last year following not very transparent negotiations.

The apparent secrecy has continued and residents are still asking how they are supposed to live with high speed racing just outside their front doors.

More than 300 people demanded answers to these questions at a rally on March 5.

United Firefighters Union (UFU) members working in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) have voted overwhelmingly for a campaign of bans in support of their enterprise agreement campaign.

The Corporate and Technical Division includes non-firefighting employees of the MFB, such as payroll and finance staff and computer technicians.

The West Papuan Friendship Mural in the Darwin CBD, which has become a poignant symbol of solidarity between the people of West Papua and Australia, was half painted over on March 4 after strong pressure from the Indonesian Consulate.

The mural was painted in June 2015 as part of a week of action in solidarity the West Papuan struggle for independence from Indonesia.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said on March 7 it feared the system’s treatment of welfare recipients was scaring individuals away from exercising their right to claim income support.

Speaking as the Senate inquiry into the Centrelink debt recovery system began, ACT ACOSS Director Susan Helyar described the system as an abuse of government power that was undermining confidence in public administration.

“Some of our members have wondered whether individuals are being encouraged to stay out of the welfare system,” she said.

An Essential poll released on March 7 found 56% of voters disapprove of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates in the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy industries, while 32% approve.

Asked what would be the result of the cuts, 57% said businesses would make bigger profits; only 24% thought more people would be employed.

On whether the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, 51% said yes while 31% said it should accept the decision.

Commonwealth Bank to repay superannuation

The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has agreed to repay employer superannuation to more than 7000 part-time workers that was not applied to overtime over the past eight years.

The CBA will repay the superannuation to all part-time workers since 2009, including those who have switched to full-time positions or have since left the bank. The average payment is $180 a year.

The CBA maintains it was not breaking the law by only paying superannuation on ordinary hours to part-time staff rather than extra hours or overtime.

Sex workers and their allies rallied for law reform and an end to stigma in Brisbane on March 8. It was the first public rally held by Respect Inc, a peer-led rights and support organisation for sex workers. Twenty people wearing red, holding signs and displaying red umbrellas gathered in Queens Garden and marched to Parliament House.

Speaking out against Queensland's 17-year-old sex work laws and chanting, “Nothing about us without us,” workers demanded the Labor state government consult with them to ensure legal changes that would decriminalise their work.

Despite the wet weather, the commemoration of the 213th Anniversary of the Battle of Vinegar Hill went ahead at the Vinegar Hill Monument in the grounds of Castlebrook Memorial Park on March 5.

A plaque in memory of Tomas O'Gliasain, also known as Thomas Gleeson, was unveiled by his widow Christine. Gleeson has contributed to the commemoration for the past 20 years and worked tirelessly over that time to keep the event going.

The campaign against the NSW Coalition government's controversial WestConnex tollway is mounting. In addition to various locality groups maintaining their protests, a combined rally — “Grand Theft WestConnex — has been called outside NSW State Parliament on March 30 from 4.30pm.

The rally has been endorsed by a number of anti-WestConnex groups, and is seeking further endorsements. The rally is demanding that the $1.6 billion federal loan for WestConnex, which is yet to be paid, be stopped.

Thousands of unionists attended protests around the country on March 9 in opposition to the federal government's new building code, the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and its planned penalty rate cuts.

The rallies were called by the CFMEU Construction Division and supported by the ACTU and individual unions. Community anger against the cuts to wages and conditions was palpable.

On March 7, Victoria became the first state in Australia to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the dangerous process used to mine unconventional gas. This important victory sets the stage for other states to follow.

The Victorian government has also decided to extend the moratorium on onshore conventional gas drilling until June 30, 2020.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said it was prevented from conducting a safety inspection at a construction site at the giant Barangaroo project at Darling Harbour, where a 32-year-old worker was killed on March 1. Tim Macpherson, father of a young family, was crushed to death when a large metal beam fell on top of him at the Barangaroo Ferry Hub worksite.

MUA Sydney deputy secretary Paul Keating said he attempted to inspect the site when his union was notified in November about concerns that the barge used at the site did not comply with maritime standards.

More than 1000 early childhood educators walked off the job at 3.20pm on March 8 as part of a national action to protest gender pay inequality and a lack of government funding for the industry.

Dozens of childcare centres closed mid-afternoon to support the national campaign, which follows similar actions held on the same day last year.

Workers locked out of Parmalat's Echuca dairy processing plant since January 18 resoundingly rejected the factory's latest EBA offer.

The workers voted 67 to 1 against the unfair offer on March 3.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union food secretary Tom Hale said the deal failed to address a large number of concerns relating to wages, leave, redundancy and contractor agreements.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has signed new work arrangements with Japanese energy giant Inpex covering the $34 billion Ichthys LNG project, off the north-west coast of Western Australia.

They include the implementation of a diversity program, the promotion of Australian crews on certain support vessels and an enhanced dispute settlement process with a dedicated conciliator to help resolve potential disputes.

There have been destructive attacks on the homeless in the past year in Melbourne, but the vitriolic hate campaign and physical attacks on the street, and on squatters, has reached a deadly level: murder. 

Just before midnight on March 1, a cowardly arson attack set off a blazing fire at Kinnear’s rope factory in Footscray, which took 40 minutes for the fire brigade to control. Three squatters were tragically killed: Tanya Burmeister and her 15- year-old daughter Zoe were among the dead.

Days after 21 people were hospitalised for drug overdoses at Melbourne’s Electric Parades Music Festival, and just over a month after three people were killed in Melbourne by a toxic batch of MDMA (ecstasy), a February 21 poll found most Australians support pill testing to allow consumers to know what is in the drugs they buy.

About 100 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and other transport unions rallied outside the Madagascar Consulate on February 28, as part of a global campaign by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in solidarity with 43 unfairly sacked dockworkers at the Port of Toamasina, Madagascar.

The unionists were calling on the Madagascan government to take action to have the dockworkers reinstated.

The ITF organised rallies outside Madagascan embassies and consulates in Sydney, Washington, Brussels, Rotterdam, Paris, Istanbul and Helsinki on the day.

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