Comment and Analysis

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.

The election is coming! Roll out the pork barrels! What a sickeningly familiar pattern we are witnessing as DD-Day approaches.

Last week, the Malcolm Turnbull government's front bench went into an ecstatic chorus about the $50 billion deal to build submarines. It was said to be an investment in jobs bigger than the epic post-World War II Snowy Mountains Scheme.

We arrived at twilight and put up our tents using the headlights from the car. A young man at the camp helped us with threading those damned rods with elastic bits through the tape slots on the tent. We had just got it up when we heard a bell ring for the evening meal. The meal was delicious, catering for both vegetarians and meat eaters. Although they didn't exactly admit it, the meat dish was possibly a road-kill kangaroo.

As South Australia's economy continues to tank, local business leaders and the state Labor government have snatched at the nuclear option.

Leading the hopes for salvation is a proposal for a giant underground waste dump to store some of the world's spent reactor fuel.

In many ways, environment minister Greg Hunt's attendance at the New York signing of the Paris Agreement on April 21 underscored the Coalition government's resistance to in taking real action to curb toxic carbon dioxide emissions.

GLW Issue 1092

The federal government's move to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is an attempt to make it harder for the unions to go in and fight for workers' rights and conditions in all parts of the construction industry.

Conditions in the building industry are now extremely varied. At the Barangaroo development the big builders are doing massive hours but their workers are paid decently and their safety is reasonable to good.

The electioneering has begun. In a campaign set to be dominated by economic issues, the Coalition and Labor are locking horns over who can best manage our finances, protect jobs and make housing more affordable. The Greens predictably decry the major parties, including their cavalier climate change policies.

Less than 1% of rental properties are affordable for low-income families in Sydney and the Illawarra, according to a new report launched on April 21 by Anglicare Sydney.

The federal government has succeeded in scrapping the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT). Legislation to abolish the tribunal passed the Senate without Labor and the Green's support on April 18 after two hours of debate.

The bill passed 36 to 32 with the support of the crossbench except Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast Party.

I live and work as a nurse in Fremantle and I'm the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Fremantle in this year's federal election.

The Socialist Alliance recognises that not only has corrupt, business-as-usual politics caused a deepening social and climate crisis, but that those entrenched and greedy interests are unwilling and incapable of providing real solutions. Major system change is needed.

There is a growing despondency amongst large sections of the community; real anger and frustration in the way things are going. And rightly so.

This month marks 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody tabled its national report.

With five volumes of research, investigative accounts of 99 deaths in custody, and 339 recommendations, the report was meant to be a blueprint for reducing the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous Australians and deaths in custody.

But a quarter of a century later, the situation is actually worse.

The impetus

There is a joke in Australia that there will be a high-speed rail service linking the major cities on the Eastern seaboard that will run about once in every three years — whenever there is an election looming. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has, like the previous Labor government, again floated the idea.

Mainstream media chatter about recent polls showing the Coalition's honeymoon has dramatically ended has ignored another revealing statistic: there is a growing slice of the population that rejects the politics-as-usual model. They are the people the surveys lump into the category of “don't know”.

These are the people who do not engage with the pollsters' questions. They have a variety of reasons, but disengagement from the whole political process as they see it on TV and hear it on the radio is one of them.

GLW Issue 1091

The gender pay gap is a serious issue in Australia, and there has been much talk about the 17.9% pay differential. One such effort to educate and open debate, however, was met with alarming backlash.

The University of Queensland's annual Feminist Week, hosted jointly by the UQ Union (UQU) and the UQU Women's Collective, held events from April 4 to 8, aiming to educate and broaden the student population's perspective on feminism.

I moved to Sydney at the start of this year. For months I have spent every Sunday I'm not working rushing around the Inner West being interviewed as a flatmate, only to suffer rejection after silent rejection.

The Construction Forestry and Mining Employees Union (CFMEU) has produced this short explanation of what the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is and what it will mean for Australian workers.

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What is the ABCC?

The ABCC, or the Australian Building and Construction Commission, was created by John Howard in 2005. It was abolished in 2012, but now Malcolm Turnbull wants to bring it back — only it’s going to be bigger and more powerful.

What does it do?

"Let's take the big banks head on over their crimes and their attempts to cover up their massive financial rip-offs, and nationalise them under workers' and community control," Peter Boyle, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Sydney in the upcoming federal election, said on April 14. Boyle was responding to reports the banks were considering a huge advertising blitz against plans by the Greens and the Labor Party to launch a Royal Commission into the banking and finance sectors.

The Beyond Coal Gas Conference held over April 9 to 11 at Myuna Bay invited many Aboriginal leaders involved in the struggle against fracking or coalmining on their country to share their stories and promote solidarity with their campaigns.

Speakers over the three days included Kylie Sambo from SEED, the Indigenous youth climate network; Gadrian Hooson from the NT campaign against fracking in Borroloola and other Aboriginal communities; Paul Spearim from the Gamilaraay People and Clan Groups against CSG and Coalmining; and Balai elder Mabel Quakawoot.

Fifty years ago building worker activists took back control of their union, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), from a leadership clique that ignored the members.

Under the new leadership of , the re-energised BLF created high standards for workplace safety, decent pay, union democracy, accountable leadership, community engagement and, most famously, Green Bans.

The Panama Papers provide proof that many politicians, capitalists and members of royalty use overseas tax havens to escape paying tax on their activities in the countries where they reside.

What does the process involve and who benefits at whose expense?

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) makes it crystal clear that individuals and businesses are legally obliged to declare all their worldwide income to the ATO every year. “Their” income does not only mean payments received in their name personally, but also includes any kind of income in which they have a “beneficial interest”.

I had a call from Rosalie Kunoth-Monks the other day. Rosalie is an elder of the Arrernte-Alyawarra people, who lives in Utopia, a vast and remote region in the "red heart" of Australia.

The nearest town is Alice Springs, more than 300 kilometres across an ancient landscape of spinifex and swirling skeins of red dust. The first Europeans who came here, perhaps demented by the heat, imagined a white utopia that was not theirs to imagine; for this is a sacred place, the homeland of the oldest, most continuous human presence on earth.

In all the official Anzac 100-year commemorations to remember and celebrate the undoubted courage of World War I diggers, there is an extraordinary amnesia about how ambivalent Australians were about that war. This ambivalence grew as mounting casualties affected families all over the country and the 1916 Irish Easter Uprising was brutally supressed.

At the edge of the south east, the Arctic is nebulous, but its ice shards are felt on the hands, and you can feel tingles of dim isolation in the wildness of Tasmania's oceans.

Sequences and currents from Tasmania's Huon Valley rivers and Cygnet Bay dip to the deep-sea behind the pristine Bruny Island. The bio-network of inlets, bays and streams move lightly and serenely downwards with the humid vapour of the mountains. Sheltered water habitats protect rare crays, platypus, seals and southern right whales.

As a sagging economy cruelled their electoral chances, right-wing parliamentarians and power-brokers in the South Australian Labor Party decided in late 2014 that it was time to ditch a once fiercely-defended point of policy. The party's remaining opposition to the nuclear fuel cycle would have to go.

Labor Premier Jay Weatherill soon came on board, and by March last year the state's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was under way.