Comment and Analysis

Since the Howard Coalition government was elected in 1996 record numbers of women have entered parliament, yet women’s rights are under massive attack without so much as a murmur of opposition from the female Coalition MPs and very little outcry from the ALP.

The following letter was sent by Cuban consul-general Nelida Hernandez Carmona in response to Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine’s claim that, “You know Australia has lost its mind on the green front when the conservative Howard government starts emulating the communist dictatorship of Cuba”. Devine (the SMH’s resident right-wing ranter) argued that while “federal environment minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan, foisted without warning on the nation last week, to ban incandescent light bulbs from 2010 and force us to replace them with more energy-efficient fluorescent ones” was presented by the government “as a world first, the Associated Press soon pointed out that Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago… His protege, Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez, soon followed suit. You might say Turnbull, Castro and Chavez are the three amigos of the climate change nanny state.”

The Howard government’s Work Choices laws “have had an overall negative effect for women in the work force”, Griffith University Professor David Peetz told Green Left Weekly on February 27. “The slow trend toward improvement in female compared to male levels of pay and conditions has been reversed under Work Choices, threatening much of the gains of the previous 10 years”, said Peetz.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has never been popular. With more than 650,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, having been killed since the March 2003 US-British-Australian invasion, it is not surprising that three quarters of Iraqis want the US and other foreign troops out, with 61% supporting armed attacks on US troops. The war is also opposed by a majority in the West, including those countries that are involved in the US-led occupation.

Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, raises the issue of global warming in a way that scares the bejeezus out of viewers, as it should since the consequences of global climate change are truly earth-shaking. The former vice-president does a good job of presenting the graphic evidence: exquisite and terrifying pictures that document the melting of the polar ice caps and the effects on other species, new diseases and rising ocean levels.

A small Western Australia-based company, Eden Energy, is working on a project to convert most of India’s public buses to run on a cleaner type of gas that will reduce smog in packed Indian cities. Eden Energy owns the patent for a fuel known as Hythane, or HCNG, a compressed mixture of hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

I was very saddened to hear about the death of Neville Curtis at his home in White Beach, Tasmania, on February 15. He was 60 years old.

Coalition leaders have had a rush of blood to the head over David Hicks. After five years of inaction, PM John Howard and foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer are trumpeting what a hard line they are taking with the George Bush administration to get Hicks back to Australia — after he is found guilty at a military commission of course!

NSW Labor Premier Morris Iemma is digging in on the proposed desalination plant at Kurnell in NSW. Despite continuing public opposition, Iemma seems determined to go ahead with this expensive, electricity-guzzling project.

What are the alternatives to the “last resort” plan — the $1.9 billion desalination plant at Kurnell — that NSW Premier Morris Iemma’s Labor government is so keen to get moving on?

The nationalist rejoicing and fervour displayed on January 26 each year celebrates the 1788 colonial invasion of Australia. However, this year the jingoism was broken by the Palm Island victory against the racist cops of Queensland. This resulted from the combined mass actions of the Palm Islanders themselves (including physical struggle in the immediate wake of the murder of Mulrunji Doomadgee), a similar grassroots response by the Aboriginal community at Aurukun against racist cop violence, and the urban solidarity campaigns centred in Brisbane.

Twenty-four hours before British PM Tony Blair’s February 21 announcement that his government would withdraw 1600 troops from Iraq in “coming months”, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer warned that any, even staged, withdrawal of US and allied foreign troops from Iraq would be a “victory for the al Qaeda terrorists”.

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).

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