Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 1096

Australian farming is in crisis.

Family farmers are being taken over by corporate agribusinesses, their land is being polluted by mining companies and they are powerless to stop and the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths which keeps prices low for consumers by paying producers prices so low they barely cover costs.

At the same time there is increasing speculation in buying water rights. Farming cannot survive without clean water. The most reliable source of water is artesian, which the mining industry can draw from unregulated and pollute at will.

Eight short months ago, much of the population celebrated Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to power. Small-l liberals were drunk with joy and rumour has it that even some self-styled socialists joined the love-in. Turnbull was the Great White Knight who had slain the Abbott Dragon. He would turn the political rudder to the left, so we were told, and we would all live happily ever after.

Many writers, no doubt, were also sucked in by this master of spin and his chorus of sycophants. Eight months on, the illusions of those spring days pile up like dead leaves.

As South Asia swelters through a record-breaking heatwave — with reports of hundreds of lives lost in India on top of the hundreds of farmer suicides this year owing to crop failures due to drought — a May 20 Reuters report that Pakistanis were digging mass graves in preparation for heatwave-related deaths brings the grim situation we are in into sharp focus.

GLW Issue 1095

Sometimes there are things that appear in the media that just make you shake your head in disbelief. Take for example the tale of Duncan Storrar, the man on ABC's Q&A who dared to ask why the budget was looking after higher income earners while ignoring those on the lower end of the scale.

For his trouble, Storrar was mercilessly attacked by sections of the media for everything from his tax record to his criminal history — all because he publicly dared to question the economic orthodoxy of the federal budget.

While everyone's eyes were focused on the federal budget, the NSW government released a very controversial piece of draft legislation that will remove restrictions on land clearance and, despite their claims, threaten biodiversity.

On May 16, students gathered outside the at Wesley College gate with their mouths taped shut, demanding the names of the editors of the 2014 Wesley Journal which included a page called the “Rackweb”.

Support for Australia's Safe Schools program has been gathering pace since plans to gut the anti-bullying initiative and cut its funding were announced by the federal government in March.

One good thing about being out of the country for a while is not having to listen to the lies of the Coalition and Labor. We know that on every occasion they lie to get into power.

They take no responsibility for the carnage they cause in their quest to see who can be the biggest slaves to corporate Australia.

The Socialist Alliance is running myself, Susan Price, Sharlene Leroy-Dyer and Howard Byrnes in the NSW Senate. Peter Boyle is running for Tanya Plibersek's seat of Sydney.

As Brother Kev Carmody's song goes: “From little things big things grow”.

Climate change was a glaring omission from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s address announcing the federal election. It has also been below the radar on the Labor’s campaign trail.

In contrast the Greens launched their election campaign at a protest on May 8 organised by climate group 350.org, which closed down the coal port of Newcastle. Greens leader Richard Di Natale said it was time Australia got serious about “tackling dangerous global warming”.

On May 10, the MP for Cairns Rob Pyne did what many politicians in Queensland have claimed for the past 30 years could not be done: he presented a private member's bill to decriminalise abortion.

While some members of parliament over the years have claimed to have had a private members bill in their top drawer ready to go, when it came to the crunch these bills never saw the light of day. But it was not due to a lack of evidence from medical, legal and public health experts, who supported removal of abortion from the Crimes Act.

The federal Coalition government is planning to hold a referendum in 2017 on Constitutional Recognition of Australia’s original inhabitants. So far the campaign consists of establishing the Recognise campaign, in a bid to educate Australians about the importance of the recognition referendum.

The government has already funded the Recognise campaign to the tune of $15 million, and promised another $15 million in this year’s budget. At the same time, it has cut funding to Aboriginal medical centres, Aboriginal legal services and other Indigenous programs and services.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon was one of the invited speakers at the annual Nakba rally, in Sydney on May 15, organised by the Palestine Action Group.

The next day the Daily Telegraph ran an almost full-page story, under the headline “Taxpayers funding Greens' Israel blitz”, alleging Senator Rhiannon had misused her parliamentary allowance by photocopying the poster advertising the rally.

With polls showing growing support for the Greens and independents, the powers-that-be and their media hacks are becoming increasingly hysterical.

For the 1% and their supporters, the prospect of the July 2 double dissolution election delivering a hung parliament is the worst of all possible worlds. Uncertainty threatens their profit margins and means political and economic chaos — a nightmare for the ruling class that has had it so good for so long.

Duncan Storrar, the man who dared to ask a question about tax thresholds on ABC TV's Q & A program on May 9, has thanked Australians for their support and criticised the Murdoch press after he was villified in News Corp newspapers the following week.

A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in the following days raised more than $60,000 for Storrar, after he questioned the Coalition government's tax policy, introducing himself as someone with a "disability and a low education".

Zebedee Parkes, an activist in Sydney’s Refugee Action Coalition and member of Socialist Alliance prepared this for Green Left Weekly.

1. Asylum seeker protests in Nauru detention centre for more than 60 days

Protests in the Nauru detention centre started on March 20 and have now continued for more than 60 days in the face of hostility from guards and attempts to stop messages from getting out to the world.

GLW Issue 1094

Oppressed people around the world have long used self-immolation to protest grossly unjust regimes.

Thich Quang Duc protested the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government in June 1963 by burning himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection.

The Arab Spring famously began when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in December 2010 in response to repeated harassment and humiliation by local officials.

Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull have delivered a budget for the billionaires. They claim that opposition to their tax cuts for the rich is “class warfare”. But the truth is that they are the ones waging naked war against the ordinary people of Australia.

People earning less than $80,000 — the large majority — get absolutely nothing from this budget. The top 10% of taxpayers get three quarters of the benefits while the top 1% get almost half (47%) of the tax cuts.

It is amazing the conversations one overhears sometimes.

I was attending a vigil for Omid Masoumali, the young asylum seeker who died a few days after he set himself on fire in Australia's notorious refugee detention camp in Nauru. The atmosphere at the vigil was sad and tense. Among those at vigil were two young women quietly holding flickering candles.

Another woman holding a Teachers for Refugees banner asked the young women: “What school are you from?”

“I am not at school,” replied one of the young women.

Volunteer conservationists forced a last minute stay of execution for a section of forest near Toolangi that they had shown was home to the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which VicForests contractors were due to clearfell within days.

Despite finding evidence of the possum in mid-April, posted as a video on facebook, “citizen scientists” monitoring logging operations were alarmed on May 4 to find the Imperium logging coupe where the possum was found was due to commence logging any day.

A conspicuous absence from the weekend No Coal protests in Newcastle will be Greens MP John Kaye.

He would have certainly been there but for his sudden death on May 2 aged 60 of bone cancer. His death has robbed us all of an incomparable champion of the environment and the public interest.

John was widely known as the author of a plan to convert NSW to 100% renewable energy by 2030 and as the staunchest parliamentary champion of public education in the country.

Melbourne's Age newspaper has run a series of articles highlighting what it calls middle class “white flight” from inner north state schools closest to the Housing Commission towers, leading to unofficial segregation along race and class lines.

Experts say this phenomenon is mirrored around the country in areas where public housing meets affluent areas, such as the inner-Melbourne suburb of Carlton and inner-Sydney suburbs of Redfern and Glebe, as the gentrification of public schools with booming enrolments impacts on poorer students' access to a good education.

Treasurer Scott Morrison presented his budget for 2016-17 on May 3. What does it mean for young people today? Does it address higher education and growing youth unemployment? No.

From April 1 next year, jobseekers under 25 who are receiving welfare payments such as Newstart and have been looking for a job for at least six months, will be able to participate in intensive pre-employment skills training within five months of registering with the Centrelink program “jobactive”.

Retirement was only a few years away when Genevieve became so disillusioned and angry with her current circumstances that she joined a union; a most unexpected union.

The Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU) is one of a growing few in the Western world, with a membership base of 3500. As a laid-off public servant, Genevieve joined the thousands that chronicle our neoliberal times. Not since the 1930s have so many Australians been out of work. About 2 million people fall into the job status of unemployed, underemployed or precarious.

Treasurer Scott Morrison presented his proposed budget for 2016-2017 on May 3, but what does the budget mean for young people today? How does it address higher education and growing youth unemployment?

From April 1 next year, job seekers under 25 who are receiving welfare payments such as Newstart and have been looking for a job for at least six months, will be able to participate in intensive pre-employment skills training within five months of registering with jobactive.

GLW Issue 1093

After three years of murders, hunger strikes, mass protests and forcing people to live in some of the worst conditions imaginable, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled on April 26 that detaining asylum seekers in the Manus Island Detention Centre is a breach of the country’s constitution.

In the same week, Omid, an Iranian refugee who had been forcibly resettled on Nauru, self-immolated in front of UNHCR inspectors because he could not “take it anymore”.

Stage 2 of the $17 billion road project WestConnex, the M5 tunnel from Beverley Hills to St Peters, was approved last week despite massive public opposition.

More than 12,000 submissions — 99% opposed — sent to planning minister Rob Stokes were ignored and the approval was pushed through. The planning department was blockaded by protesters on the day of the announcement.

The May budget is just days away at time of writing, so while I don't know its exact details, I feel I can safely take an educated guess and suggest it probably won't include a fully-costed plan for a rapid transition to a post-carbon, zero emissions economy based on 100% renewable energy.

The first time I visited my family in Indonesia, I was 13 and I was told by an uncle that my skin was considered “traditional”. This was meant as an insult. In my family's house, whitening products sat tellingly on nearly every surface and I struggled to find products that did not contain chemical-filled, carcinogenic bleach.

Remember last year when federal Treasurer Scott Morrison, picking up where Joe Hockey left off, declared that we had a spending problem not a revenue problem? That seems like a long time ago now.

They did try to increase revenues by floating an increase in the GST but soon after came the revelation that 600 of Australia's biggest companies paid no tax and hundreds more pay less that the 30% they could be paying. This is all the more galling when you consider that the rate has been cut from the 48% it had been in the early 1980s. And then came the Panama Papers!

Remember the discussion the Coalition government was going to have with us about tax? You know, the one where “everything was on the table”?

Well, the metaphorical table, which started off as an enormous boardroom centrepiece carved from oak is now looking more like a tatty old cardtable with a wonky leg, as more and more items are dropped.

Even Treasurer Scott Morrison's near-daily mantra of "We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem" is apparently not resonating with most Australians.