Comment and Analysis

In the lead-up to the March 24 NSW state election, you could be forgiven for believing that the NSW Greens were drug dealers: Hysterical attacks were launched on the party’s drugs policy, which focuses on harm minimisation and health issues.

By late March, Spain’s wind power generation was contributing 27% of the country’s total daily power demands, surpassing supplies by nuclear and coal. This marks a new record for the contribution of wind-generated power to Spain’s electricity grid.

In the lead-up to the April 27-29 ALP national conference in Sydney, a number of federal Labor frontbenchers and state premiers have declared themselves in favour of scrapping the party’s “no new mines” policy in favour of an unrestricted expansion of uranium mining. This push — which ignores the views of a majority of Australians and the extreme dangers inherent in uranium mining and the nuclear cycle that it is part of — reflects booming prices for the mineral on the world market. However, a number of trade unions have opposed the policy change and vowed to fight it at the conference.

While all eyes have been focused on the terrible plight of David Hicks, Willie Brigitte has been convicted and sentenced in France, nine Muslim men are undergoing a committal hearing in Sydney, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has allegedly confessed to a multitude of terror attacks and calls to ban the Muslim group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, in Australia have become more strident. This is all cause for concern, not because of a sinister threat by “terrorists”, but from the government-driven “war on terror”.

With the 15-year resources-led boom stimulating the economy, inflation at about 3% and official unemployment at just under 5%, Australians should have little to complain about. But, according to Tony Vinson of Sydney University’s Department of Social Work, the social divide between the rich and poor is deepening and increasing.

For a number of years Washington has been threatening Iran for its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Until now, the consensus has been that to undertake military action against Iran was so crazy that even President George Bush would not attempt it. But whenever questioned about whether military action or the use of nuclear weapons is under consideration, Bush’s officials repeat that “all options” are on the table.

Greenpeace has revealed that an independent report into safety testing by genetic engineering giant Monsanto was ignored in the lead-up to a vote on whether the company’s new genetically engineered maize would be approved for consumption in the European Union.

After five years imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without trial, David Hicks has agreed to a plea-bargain deal at his military commission trial to hasten his return to Australia. “I think most of you would be pleading guilty to something to get out of the place”, Hicks’s father Terry told the assembled media after returning to Adelaide from Guantanamo Bay on March 29.

This is an account of an encounter I had with police officers on March 6 outside the federal Parliament House. At about 3.30pm that day, I went there with the intention of standing in the forecourt and holding up a “Bring David Hicks Home!” poster.

On the grass outside an abattoir on the Western Plains of New South Wales, in the dark, cool air, a few workers are forming the late-night shift of a picket. Some journalists are hanging around, talking to them. It is less than a week after the federal government’s new industrial relations legislation, known as Work Choices, has taken effect. The men are outside the Cowra abattoir, not inside, because they have received termination notices. Twenty-nine have been sacked from their jobs for “operational reasons”.

On March 21, in a speech to mark the fourth anniversary of Australian troops being dispatched to Iraq as part of an illegal US invasion responsible for the deaths of more than half a million Iraqis, Prime Minister John Howard conceded that despite the “surge” in the occupiers’ troop numbers “success is by no means assured”.

When former naval officer and NSW opposition leader Peter Debnam began his campaign to overthrow the NSW Labor government there were hopes in the Liberal camp that the scene was set for a repeat on March 24 of the party’s last win — Nick Greiner’s 1988 walloping of the Barrie Unsworth administration.

Ten years ago, Australia led the world in voluntary euthanasia legislation. On September 22, 1996, Bob Dent became the first person in the world to receive a legal, lethal, voluntary injection. His peaceful and dignified death occurred under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI) of the Northern Territory.

As the ALP’s electoral fortunes lift with each new poll, unionists want to know exactly how a federal Labor government would carry out its promise to “tear up” the Coalition’s anti-worker Work Choices laws.

On February 14, readers of the Weekly Times, a local Ryde paper that covers Bennelong, PM John Howard’s electorate, couldn’t believe their eyes when confronted with the headline: “Global Warming? Climate Change? Bulldust!” The article, written by editor John Booth, dismissed global warming as “scaremonger propaganda” put forward by “Armageddon pedlars”.

Below is an abridged account by Tim Davis-Frank of the police raid on his home and his arrest in Sydney on March 14. His “crime” was to take part in the protests outside the G20 meeting in Melbourne last November. Davis-Frank is the University of Sydney student representative council’s global solidarity officer. Four G20 protesters from Sydney went to court on March 19, and will face court again in Melbourne on May 11.

Late February three wealthy business leaders with close Liberal Party connections — Robert de Crespigny, Ron Walker and Hugh Morgan — announced the formation of Australian Nuclear Energy to develop nuclear power generation. Prime Minister John Howard praised the initiative as “a great idea”.

Palestinian community leader and activist Shaher Hussein El-Mashni (Abu Nasser) died on March 1 in Melbourne. His memorial service, on March 18, was attended by more than 200 people, including representatives of Australian Palestinian groups and the Palestinian head of delegation to Australia, Izzat Abdul Hadi, who gave condolences on behalf of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

NSW’s big cities, especially Sydney, are poisoning the environment and making us all sicker and more stressed. The longer we continue with the state’s “transport model” — where cars carry 78% of people to work and trucks 60% of goods — the worse things will get.

The Pacific island-nation of Tuvalu is the first country to have evacuated some of its citizens because of the sea-level rise driven by global warming. The highest point on the eight coral atolls that make up Tuvalu’s 26 square kilometres of territory sits only five metres above sea level. Almost a quarter of the nation’s population have already been evacuated and the remaining 8000 Tuvaluans may also have to leave in future years.

The Pacific island-nation of Tuvalu is the first country to have evacuated some of its citizens because of the sea-level rise driven by global warming. The highest point on the eight coral atolls that make up Tuvalu’s 26 square kilometres of territory sits only five metres above sea level. Almost a quarter of the nation’s population have already been evacuated and the remaining 8000 Tuvaluans may also have to leave in future years.

Turmoil continues in the Labor Party in Newcastle following the imposition by the party head office of Jody Mackay over popular local member Bryce Gaudry to contest the seat.

The federal Coalition, some state Labor governments and the corporate media have been justifying racist policies by claiming they are defending women’s rights. This argument has been one of several “justifications” for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for why we should all be worried about refugee arrivals.

John Bonsai (a very small bush) Howard is morally bankrupt, and cannot be trusted. While Saddam Hussein was a nasty bit of work, all of Bonsai’s arguments for war were lies.

The internet launch on March 5 of the Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) has provoked both criticism and support. Author Antony Loewenstein, one of the initiators, told Green Left Weekly that the Jewish establishment reacted “very badly” because, in his view, their position as the spokespeople for the Jewish community for decades is now being challenged.

The AC Neilson poll published in the March 12 Sydney Morning Herald had the federal Labor opposition in a commanding lead over the Coalition, with 61% of the two party-preferred vote. ALP leader Kevin Rudd was the preferred prime minister of 53% of respondents. Green Left Weekly asked a number of trade unionists how much of Labor’s rise in the polls can be attributed to the union movement’s campaign against Work Choices and how they believe these unjust laws can be defeated.

More than 500 people from 35 countries have been incarcerated in the Guantanamo Bay prison complex since 2002. Since becoming the detention centre for prisoners captured in US President George Bush’s unending “global war on terror”, it has been the source of numerous allegations of physical and psychological abuse. It is a legal black hole in which detainees have waited for up to half a decade without charges being laid.

In early February, rains that flooded up to 70% of Jakarta and displaced some 450,000 people began. Across Indonesia, 85 people died, according to a March 12 Agence France-Presse report. Bloomberg’s wire service reported on March 6 that, according to government estimates, the floods caused a direct economic loss of “at least 5.2 trillion rupiah” (US$574 million), with indirect losses of 3.6 trillion rupiah.

In the run-up to the NSW elections both major parties are claiming to be able to run the economy better. But the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ December quarter figures on March 7, which revealed that NSW is not technically in a recession, is likely to help the state ALP government’s lead over Peter Debnam’s Liberals on March 24.

With global warming increasingly dominating mainstream political discussion, the debate about solutions has intensified. While PM John Howard has thrown his weight behind the lie of “clean, green” nuclear power, the ALP has maintained its opposition to this deeply unpopular option.

Adelaide backpacker David Hicks will be arraigned before an illegally constituted military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp on March 20 and face the retrospective and ill-defined charge of “material support for terrorism”.

The Blue Team appeared to regain some advantage after the leader of the (mislabeled) Red Team was forced to admit he’d made an “error of judgement” in meeting up three times last year with convicted fraud and former WA premier Brian Burke (now a professional lobbyist).

A tiny group dominates Australian politics and Labor leader Kevin Rudd recently met them. He knows very well that the key to Labor’s electoral success later this year is an accommodation with the Australian oligarchy.

In Green Left Weekly #693 (http://www.greenleft.org.au/2006/693/36019), we published an article broadly in favour of George Monbiot’s call for carbon rationing. Below, Gar Lipow critiques this as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Lipow is an Olympia-based environmental activist and can be contacted at garlpublic@comcast.net.

A satirical website created by climate action group Rising Tide Newcastle (RTN) has twice been shut down by the powerful coal industry lobby group, the NSW Minerals Council.

While Qantas workers’ job security remains uncertain if the Airline Partners Australia (APA) $11.1 billion takeover bid for Qantas succeeds, executives at the national carrier stand to pocket millions.

Hicks has spent five years, mainly in solitary confinement, at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which the US set up on illegally occupied Cuban territory to ensure independence from the legal system of any country, including the US itself.

A United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) report released in February reveals that Australia’s economic growth over the last decade has done little to benefit the poorest sections of society, particularly young people. Indeed, in Australia and across the developed world, child poverty has increased in the last 10 years.

Serious fears are held for the safety of 83 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka who are, at the time of writing, being detained on Christmas Island. Australian, Indonesian and Sri Lankan officials are talking about returning the refugees to Sri Lanka, via Indonesia, without their asylum claims being assessed — a new departure from Australia’s international legal obligations to refugees.

When the vice-president of the “land of the free” came to Sydney recently, the joke going around was that he brought a “troop surge” to town. A few friends are still sporting bruises from that “surge”, made possible by the NSW Labor government’s generous provision of a large number of bullies in uniform to terrorise the local population.

Pages