Comment and Analysis

Today — ANZAC Day — is the climax of the orgy of nationalism and militarism we've been subjected to in recent times, ostensibly to remember the ordinary people who responded to the lies of the government by fighting and dying in an unjust war.

Of course progressive people have sympathy for the soldiers who died as well as the soldiers who didn't die but nevertheless witnessed or experienced terrible things.

“Brexit” and the recent US presidential election are symptoms of the crisis capitalism has wrought. People are hurting and it has become obvious that instead of “trickle down” we have, in Arundhati Roy’s words, “gush up”. Even mainstream media carry articles suggesting neoliberalism has had its day.

Since US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, there has been a spike in commentary about the increasing risk of a war in our region — a war that could involve the US and China. As things stand, it would be impossible for Australia to avoid involvement in such a war. That is a reality we must urgently confront.

We're all familiar with the old maxim: “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer”. It is said as often with resignation as it is as a call to action.

Left unquantified it remains abstract but it is much easier to get worked up when the sheer scale of material inequality is in front of your face. Hence the growing outcry surrounding Oxfam's recent annual reports on global inequality that clearly demonstrate the concentration of world resources in the hands of the 0.1%.

Over the Easter weekend, the Safe Schools program was gutted in NSW. Education minister Rob Stokes announced that the program would not be funded when federal government support ends later this year. The rights of LGBTQI youth were eroded not with a bang, but with a murmur — and a Miranda Devine article.

Friends of Victoria University released this statement on April 19.

* * *

Victoria University is planning to fundamentally change the structure of its workforce and radically alter the type of education that students receive.

Up to 115 academic staff will be sacked and replaced by 65 entry-level academic staff (Academic Teaching Scholars). These staff will have increased teaching hours and inferior retrenchment provisions so that they can be easily sacked should there be future cuts at VU.

US President Donald Trump’s threat to unleash a new nuclear war should not be dismissed as the ravings of an unhinged individual. He may be that, but he has also shown that he is prepared to start a new war and ratchet up old ones.

The US’s missile attack on a Syrian government air base on April 7 and its decision to drop an 11-ton GBU-43/B (or MOAB, Mother Of All Bombs), the world’s biggest non-nuclear bomb, on Afghanistan on April 13 is proof of that.

US President Donald Trump sent his vice-president Mike Pence on a beat-the-drums-of-war Asia-Pacific tour and even before Pence got to Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull started talking Trumplish.

He regurgitated Trump's jingoistic riffs with near word-for-word precision: “Australia and Australians first”, “Australian values”.

In a live video on Twitter a man is speaking rapidly. He gives his name as “Maoud, my ID is GRL11”. Then he says: “The local guys attacked the camp and they just used the guns, they just shoot the gun. I don’t know what to do…” A gunshot is heard and he appears to duck, before looking up and saying “they just shoot”. Then the video cuts out.

Tasmania’s Black War (1824-31) was the most intense frontier conflict in Australia’s history. It was a clash between the most culturally and technologically dissimilar humans to have ever come into contact. At stake was nothing less than control of the country, and the survival of a people.

A groundbreaking report was released last month on the future of drug policy in Australia. The report, Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely? openly acknowledged the failure of Australia’s punitive drug policies and called for a steady path towards decriminalisation.

Below is an open letter to ABC’s Foreign Correspondent by Eulalia Reyes, a Venezuelan activist and Brisbane co-coordinator of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network. It was written in response to March 21 program titled “Venezuela Undercover”.

 ***

As a Venezuelan that has once again had to endure being insulted by you presenting my country as on the brink of disaster and Venezuelans as bring incapable of liberating ourselves from this situation, I am writing to demand respect for my country and its people. 

Foreign Correspondent disappointed with “Venezuela Undercover”, a good-looking but trivial piece of “investigative journalism”.

The 30-minute documentary by reporter Eric Campbell and producer Mike Davis was first screened on ABC on March 21.

It begins by asserting that Venezuela is, today, a “disaster”, though very little in the documentary is offered that might allow the viewer to understand why.

As if the decision to cut the penalty rates of around 700,000 low paid workers in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors wasn’t enough, restaurant bosses are now opposing any increase to the minimum wage.

According to federal government ministers, Medicare is unsustainable. The aged pension is also unsustainable. The NDIS is unsustainable. Many other social services are unsustainable. However, billions of dollars of tax cuts to big Australian companies are perfectly sustainable.

In the short term, the government will be stealing $5.2 billion from the public purse and handing it over in the form of tax cuts to companies with an annual turnover of up to $50 million. In the medium term the cuts go further and will cost $24 billion.

"The NSW land titles registry's $190 million-a-year revenue stream could soon start flowing towards the Cayman Islands," the Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 3.

A Fairfax Media investigation found that “behind the newly created companies that may house Land and Property Information are an array of foreign players, a mysterious trustee, and business links to tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man.”

The Socialist Alliance released the following statement on April 7.

* * *

Socialist Alliance condemns the unilateral use of force by US President Donald Trump against Syria on April 7. 

The pretext for Trump's missile attack was a deadly chemical attack on civilians, which the US has blamed on the Bashaaar al Assad regime, rather than await the outcome of an investigation into who was responsible.

As immigration minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull boast in front of a wall of Australian flags about how they have stopped the boats and saved lives at sea, the Australian Navy is turning boats back to danger.

US immigration officials have admitted it is possible that no one from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres will be resettled in the US. Meanwhile, Australian border force officers have been ramping up deportations on Manus Island.

If we apply for a loan, we are subject to financial interrogation and if it looks like we will not be able to repay it the lender will not take the risk. It is reasonable to assume the same strict conditions apply when mining companies wish to buy or lease our land.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan fronted the media on April 6 with the news that the state’s economy is in a turmoil not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The recently elected Labor government has warned that its first budget will be “tough and uncompromising”, though tough and uncompromising to whom is yet to be seen.

The National Union of Students organised national actions for Free Education and against staff cuts and fee hikes on March 23. I was at the action and it made me reflect on Germany's free education. 

I spent my gap year in Germany. I decided to enrol in a German course to improve my language skills. I expected to have to pay for this course as I was used to paying for my education in Australia. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the course was completely free, as long as you were planning to be an immigrant.

When the federal government needed advice on the terms of a $2 billion loan to the NSW government for its WestConnex tollway, it outsourced the advice to the private sector. With the increasing privatisation of public service, there was nothing unusual about that.

What was surprising is that the companies it chose were already heavily involved in working on WestConnex for the NSW government.

The NSW government wanted the $2 billion concessional loan for Westconnex Stage 2 and a massive interchange next to Sydney Park in St Peters.

I wandered down to the Roe 8 freeway construction site after the March 11 state election that swept the Colin Barnett Liberal government from power. I'd heard Labor Premier-elect Mark McGowan on the radio calling on Main Roads to wind down construction immediately.

It was deserted. The hundreds of police were gone. The place where 200 of us had been arrested as we slowed the progress of the bulldozers was eerily silent.

Many people suffering in Manus Island and Nauru detention centres are struggling to find hope that their situation will change. One such person is Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist who fled Iran and has become well known for his writings about life in the Manus Island detention centre.

Between 40% and 50% of graduate teachers leave teaching within the first five years. Surveys reveal that they feel burnt out, unsupported, frustrated and disillusioned. Research shows that long-serving teachers are retiring early — if they can afford to — and most are feeling utterly spent.

Readers may have noticed that Australia is in the midst of an energy war. On one side are right-wing commentators attacking renewable energy at every turn. On the other side are renewables advocates, quick to retaliate, sometimes without considering the whole story.

All around Australia, racially oppressed minority communities are celebrating the late night defeat of the federal government’s attempt to weaken section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The bill, which sought to remove the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” from the section against racial vilification and replace it with “harass and intimidate” was defeated 31-28 with the support of Labor, the Greens and other small party and independent Senators.

Chairperson of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) Wayne Byres recently said that he would not use the “B-word” to describe the housing market, preferring instead to use “heightened risk” rather than housing bubble.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has backed calls for a new “people’s bank” to challenge the power of the Big Four mega-banks. He told the National Press Club on March 15: “The time has come for a people's bank, one that injects real competition into the banking sector.”

Senator Di Natale drew on the example of the state-owned KiwiBank in New Zealand, run by the NZ Post Office. A similar operation in Australia would boost competition, push down fees, help young buyers enter the property market and deter “unscrupulous behaviour”, he said.

Refugee activists have maintained watch at Villawood Detention Centre to stop the deportation of Saeed (not his real name), a 60-year-old Iraqi man, since March 22.

Through the hot days and cooler nights activists have been at each of Villawood’s three entrances, checked every leaving vehicle to see if Saeed is being deported and issued regular calls to action and updates on Facebook livestream in support of Saeed.

Students and staff are celebrating the defeat of Sydney University’s attempt to cut semesters from 13 weeks to 12. After almost no consultation with students or staff, the university attempted to push through the move at the Academic Board meeting on March 28.

Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) protested against the proposal and called on the board to vote "No". Overwhelmingly academic staff took this advice, with only management voting for the change.

The federal Labor Party decided on March 21 to tip the scales dramatically in favour of Adani’s $22 billion coalmine in Queensland when it agreed to support the Coalition’s bid to weaken native title in favour of the corporations.

The childcare workers’ strike on International Women’s Day caused me to reflect on the long journey towards equal pay and my personal experience over 50 years of my working life.

My first job as a student was as a conductor on Sydney buses from 1964 to 1966. Bus conductors and teachers were the only jobs that paid women the same rates as men, because there were “manpower” shortages in these industries. However, it was not until late 1966 that women conductors could be promoted to drivers.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), electricity supply will be threatened as early as next year by “shortfalls in gas”, or failing that, households may face cuts to their gas supply. 

On March 22, the day after the NT parliament legislated to decriminalise abortion (see page 4), doctors in Queensland called on the state government to follow suit.

When Julian Assange appeared in front of the Melbourne Town Hall pipe organ, the pipes shimmered, nearly whistled; leaky, ready to burst. Pastel white as he was beamed in live from London, Assange looked surprisingly well.

The pipe setting became more allegoric as he spoke of his latest alarming leak: The Pied Piper theory. The reference is not to Assange leading his followers into the unknown. But more on that madcap theory later.

Lecture and Q&A specialist company ThinkInc, toured Assange across Australia under the banner of “No more secrets: No more lies”.

Foreign Correspondent’s “Venezuela: A nation on the brink”, screened on the ABC on March 21 was a straight out piece of US State Department propaganda.

It was also more evidence of the ABC’s rightward trajectory under ex-Murdoch executive and CEO Michelle Guthrie.

“Venezuela is a disaster,” reporter Eric Campbell and producer Matt Davis begin. “It has the biggest oil reserves on the planet. But instead of living like Middle Eastern sheiks, many Venezuelans are on the brink of famine.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should hang her head in shame. She has proven once again that the word “Labor” in “Australian Labor Party” has no connection with the interests of working people in Australia — or anywhere else.

Palaszczuk headed a delegation to India on March 17 to underscore her government’s support for the Adani company’s proposed Carmichael thermal coalmine. If it is given the go ahead, it will be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world. It would be the first for the Galilee Basin, and it would open the door to more.

Here we go again. The second version of the Omnibus bill that the Turnbull government is trying to drive through parliament — the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 — promises yet more savage attacks on welfare recipients and the working poor, and we haven't even seen the 2017–18 budget yet.

Today, as vaccinations are being used as a political weapon, we need to look again at the science and when, where and how they matter. We also need to question whether the punitive way the major parties are driving policy on immunisations will increase the vaccination rate.

Over hundreds of years, immunisation has been scientifically proven to prevent many diseases. It is worth examining some of the history that promoted the realisation that diseases can be prevented.

Pages