Comment and Analysis

February 23 marked the deadline for submissions to the federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCT) on the new Australia-Indonesia “security” pact. If there is any uncertainty about the hypocrisy that underlies Australia’s neo-colonial foreign policy, then this treaty — a “mending the fences” exercise after the federal government granted asylum to 43 pro-independence West Papuan refugees in 2006, and, before that, Canberra’s reluctant 1999 intervention in East Timor — should end it.

On February 16, ABC News featured the US military prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis vilifying Adelaide father of two David Hicks as a war criminal. Davis would not specify when Hicks would be brought before a military tribunal of the type that was ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court last June but reinstituted by Congress a few months later.

At a meeting in Melbourne on February 8 journalist and film-maker John Pilger hailed Shirley Shackleton as one of Australia’s “heroes”. He praised her tireless dedication, since 1975, in exposing the genocide in East Timor and in pursuing the truth about the death of five journalists in Balibo, East Timor. One of the journalists killed was her husband Greg Shackleton.

The Socialist Alliance is campaigning for urgent action to address the environmental catastrophe in NSW caused by drought and decades of bad management.

The call by Australian Greens’ leader Senator Bob Brown on February 9 for a long-term plan to phase out coalmining, exports and power generation has predictably stirred a barrage of outrage from the coal industry. Brown’s call also flushed out the Labor-Coalition bipartisan consensus of support for coal-company profits over the environment.

Rachel Siewert, Greens senator for Western Australia, is concerned that the federal opposition hasn’t come out more strongly against the government’s welfare package. “We would get rid of Welfare to Work and look towards better options that support people”, she told Green Left Weekly.

Two months before the Howard government’s draconian Welfare to Work package went to federal parliament, Labor’s spokesperson for employment and workplace participation Penny Wong argued that the proposals were “the most extreme attack on the social security system in history”.

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition was launched around the country on February 16, World Kyoto Day. In Sydney, activists gathered at the Bondi office of federal environment minister Malcolm Turnbull to deliver the AYCC’s declaration.

The following article was submitted by members of the Ongoing G20 Arrestee Solidarity Network: Last November 18, approximately 40 men met at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne. The discussions of the G20 finance ministers took place behind barricades and high fences to, as Treasurer Peter Costello argued, create a space conducive to free and frank dialogue.

“I voted yes and will always vote yes”, Reuters quoted Laurinda Duarte as saying. “Abortions will always take place so why not vote to allow women to carry them out under decent conditions? I am a Catholic but that does not mean I am not free to vote.”

Australian coal-mining companies and Prime Minister John Howard are promoting “clean coal” as a technology that will enable the coal industry to continue its exports while supposedly cleaning up the greenhouse-gas emissions from the burning of this coal.

Debate about public transport and its decline is raging in NSW in the lead-up to the March 24 state election. The NSW public transport system is plagued by delays, reliance on old equipment, breakages, lack of staff and, as a consequence, inadequate services to remote and poorer areas. As yet, neither Morris Iemma’s Labor government nor the Liberal opposition has proposed adequate solutions to the crisis.

It was with much disgust and sadness that I watched the demolition, on February 6, of perfectly good public housing on the Macquarie Fields public housing estate.

According to former French intelligence security chief Alain Chouet, the terrorism-related charges against Willie Brigitte, who is being tried in France, are “weak”. Quoted in the February 5 Australian, he said Brigitte is a “person without importance whom the Australian authorities continue to play on to create fear”.

In his first two months since being elected federal ALP leader on December 4, Kevin Rudd has made subtle, but significant changes to federal Labor policy in its “battle of ideas for Australia’s future”. As if following a dictum not to be “wedged” — politically outflanked from the right by PM John Howard’s Coalition government — Rudd is moving significant sections of Labor policy in a more rightward direction and attempting to position Labor as the defender of “the fabric of Australian family life”.

The release of the fourth assessment report by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on February 2, and the dire predictions in it of the impact of global warming on Australia, was seized on by PM John Howard to push his “solutions” to global warming. These have less to do with saving the environment than protecting corporate profits, with the main prongs being defence of the coal mining companies and support for an expanded nuclear industry.

Prime Minister John Howard created a stir in late November when, in Vietnam for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, he publicly defended the Australian role in the Vietnam War. Howard said, “I supported our involvement at the time and I don’t intend to recant that … I supported the reasons for Australia’s involvement and nothing has altered my view that, at the time, on the assessments that were made then, I took that view and I took that view properly.”

As with other environmental issues, Australia’s water crisis has reached such an extent that mainstream media and politicians are being forced to abandon their traditional policy of denial. However, true to form, politicians are proposing solutions that are a mixture of the half-hearted, the irrelevant and the destructive. In common with the debates on global warming and Third World poverty, there is an underlying assumption that the water crisis can be overcome by the very thing that created it — the market economy.

This May-June, 12,000 Australian soldiers and nearly l4,000 US troops and sailors will bombard our shores and fragile landscape, storm our beaches gunning down “terrorists” in the newly-built urban guerrilla warfare training centre, and test their latest laser-guided missiles and “smart” bombs in some of the most pristine wilderness on this planet.

Queensland Aboriginal activist Phil Perrier died on January 26 after struggling with cancer for several months. A ceremony for Phil was held on February 2 at Sorry Place on Jagara nation tribal land in Brisbane’s West End.

Tim Zammit, a young worker at Woolworths in Hackham, South Australia, wrote the following letter to his union — the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) — in response to the recent employment agreement negotiated by the SDA.

The Labor and Liberal parties have been falling over each other in their rush to rub out the final vestiges of multiculturalism. In December, newly elected Labor leader Kevin Rudd renamed immigration spokesperson Tony Burke’s portfolio “immigration, integration and citizenship”. In his January 23 cabinet reshuffle, PM John Howard caught up, changing the name of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

In her 2001 book, Blue Army: Paramilitary Policing in Victoria, senior lecturer in criminology at Monash University Associate Professor Jude McCulloch reports 44 victims of police shootings in Victoria since the 1980s, mostly poor people from non-Anglo backgrounds, but also police themselves. That number is now more than 50.

David Hicks’s demonisation, and continued incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, helps the US and Australian governments’ promotion of its endless “war on terror”. The Australian government is keen for the US to prosecute Hicks rather than have him return home because he has done no wrong under Australian law.

Terry Hicks’s son has been detained for five years, without trial, in a prison camp likened by some to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

After five years of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay without trial, it is increasingly clear that David Hicks has committed no serious crime and that he is no threat. Yet, he is being held in a prison camp, often in solitary confinement, subjected to endless interrogations and physical and mental abuse to try and break his resistance to a guilty plea. Hicks is now in such a state that he cannot even bear to talk to his father on the phone.

The announcement on January 30 that Australia’s first nuclear reactor was to be decommissioned sounded good. But residents and activists hoping for an end to the nuclear industry will be disappointed to hear that this is not the end of Australia’s nuclear experimentation. The old HIFAR reactor, Australia’s only multi-purpose research reactor, has been superseded by another reactor in the same suburb of Lucas Heights.

“Brilliant, fantastic, inspiring … Never shaken so many hands in one day”, commented Pat Rogers, a Brisbane staff member of the Electrical Trades Union, after experiencing the May Day march of more than 1 million workers in Caracas during the Australian trade union solidarity brigade to Venezuela in April-May last year. People in Australia will have the opportunity to join a May Day brigade to Venezuela again this year, from April 30 to May 9, organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN).

When the NSW police minister condemned magistrate Pat O’Shane two weeks ago for throwing out a case involving spitting at traffic cops, her response was: “There is an election coming up”. The same answer could well be given for the bipartisan barrage of Muslim-bashing from senior NSW politicians in the countdown to the March state election.

Whether you admire him or hate him, Venezuela’s recently re-elected president, Hugo Chavez, is starting to attract a lot of attention in Australia, and around the world. The man who calls US President George Bush “the devil”, and the “new socialism for the 21st century” that he and his government are creating in Venezuela, are stirring hope in the hearts of many people — and fear in a few.

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth has helped dramatise the enormity of the global environmental crisis. The scale of the threat posed by industrially induced global warming, and the short time in which to take meaningful action to prevent catastrophic consequences, makes the question of how to combat global warming arguably the most urgent one facing humanity.

Annette Peardon was nine years old when she and her brother were forcibly removed from their family on Cape Barren Island. They spent their youth in a series of foster homes and institutions around Tasmania. Last November, Tasmania’s parliament passed the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Bill 2006, the country’s first compensation law. Green Left Weekly’s Susan Austin spoke with Peardon about the significance of this law, and her struggle for justice.

At a meeting in Brazil on April 26, 2006, plans moved ahead between Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil for a major transcontinental oil pipeline. The pipeline would be 10,000 kilometres long and would link the four countries plus Paraguay and Uruguay.

George Paris, convener of Save Our Rail (SOR), has congratulated Susan Price, a Socialist Alliance candidate for the NSW Legislative Council in the March 24 election, for a “worthwhile policy” on rail and public transport. SOR has been campaigning for the retention of electric rail services to Newcastle against repeated attempts by the Labor government to close the line.

George Paris, convener of Save Our Rail (SOR), has congratulated Susan Price, a Socialist Alliance candidate for the NSW Legislative Council in the March 24 election, for a “worthwhile policy” on rail and public transport. SOR has been campaigning for the retention of electric rail services to Newcastle against repeated attempts by the Labor government to close the line.

Sheikh Isse Musse, Imam of the Virgin Mary Mosque and spiritual leader of Melbourne’s Horn of Africa Muslim community, condemned the US bombing of his native Somalia and its instigation of the invasion by Ethiopian troops inlate December. He also expressed hope that out of the current conflict Somalia might regain its sovereignty and national unity after years of anarchy and violence.

The Australian writer Donald Horne meant the title of his celebrated book, The Lucky Country, as irony. “Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share its luck”, he lamented in 1964, describing much of the Australian elite as unfailingly unoriginal, race-obsessed and in thrall to imperial power and its wars.

The case of Melbourne man Jack Thomas should be ringing alarm bells over the use of the so-called anti-terror laws in Australia. Thomas’ case demonstrates that these laws can be, and are being, misused for political purposes against someone who is not a terrorist.

Tamworth, 595 kilometres north of Sydney, each year welcomes more than 50,000 people to its music festival. The town boasts it is the Australian equivalent of “Nashville”, albeit on a small scale.

The decision by a full bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) on appeal to deny a Victorian cinema manager access to unfair dismissal laws because he was sacked for “genuine operational reasons” is another blow to attempts to hold unfair employers to account.

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