Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 992

The following is an edited version of a speech by Mary Merkenich at the December 15 rally against the Victorian government's proposed East-West Link tollway tunnel. Merkenich is on Manningham Council’s Residents Advocacy group for Rail to Doncaster, speaking here in personal capacity.

Our residents group in Manningham is campaigning for a new rail line to Doncaster because it will reduce traffic and congestion on the Eastern Freeway.

Socialist Alliance WA senate candidate Alex Bainbridge has added his voice to those rejecting a proposed $5 or $6 Medicare co-payment.

"We should be moving in the direction of reducing out of pocket costs for medical care not increasing them," said Bainbridge.

"The proposal to introduce a co-payment is a major attack on Medicare which has already been significantly undermined since it was first introduced," Bainbridge said.

In the late 1960s, I was given an usual assignment by the London Daily Mirror's editor-in-chief, Hugh Cudlipp. I was to return to my homeland, Australia, and "discover what lies behind the sunny face".

The Mirror had been an indefatigable campaigner against apartheid in South Africa, where I had reported from behind the "sunny face". As an Australian, I had been welcomed into this bastion of white supremacy. "We admire you Aussies," people would say. "You know how to deal with your blacks."

In his opinion piece “Will Radicals Set Back the Marriage Equality Movement?”, OutInPerth editor Graeme Watson writes that Equal Love is threatened by a “socialist takeover”.

In a divestment valued at 256 million euros, the Norwegian government pension fund has blacklisted Australian company Incitec Pivot and the US/Canadian company Potash last year due to their phosphate imports from occupied Western Sahara.

In response to the announcement by General Motors from its corporate headquarters in Detroit that it will discontinue vehicle and engine manufacturing and significantly reduce its engineering operations in Australia by the end of 2017, the Socialist Alliance calls for the immediate nationalisation of General Motors Holden (GMH) plants under workers' and community control.

The death of Nelson Mandela on December 5 has focused attention once more on the global struggle against South Africa's aparthied regime. The heroic struggle of the Black population inside South Afica and the solidarity shown by ordinary people around the world was essential to winning Mandela's freedom and dismantling apartheid.

This is the last issue of Green Left Weekly for the year. We are taking a break for a few weeks and the next issue will be out on January 22.

Early next year, GLW will be celebrating its 1000th issue. This is a huge milestone for an independent newspaper that does not rely on advertising to survive. Instead, it is the support of hundreds of people who write for, distribute and donate money to the paper year after year that keeps it going.

Since launching in March 2011, the campaign to stop coal seam gas (CSG) mining has grown into one of the most powerful and broadly supported community campaigns ever seen in the Illawarra.

Involving unprecedented numbers of people, the immense pressure on the government has so far put a stop to the local CSG project, which threatens the drinking water for greater Sydney.

Samuel Johnson famously said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” and so it was that Attorney-General George Brandis insisted ASIO's raid against a former spy who exposed Australia's spying operation against East Timor in the interests of Woodside Petroleum was in “the national interest”.

The raid targeted a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer who exposed the spying program Australia ran against the East Timorese government in 2004 during negotiations for the $40 billion Timor Sea oil and gas fields to which Woodside held the rights to develop.

Communities in the firing line of the East-West Link road in Melbourne have been agitating not merely against the tunnel, but for a shift of transport priorities to public transport. Labor politicians, including Richard Wynn in the City of Yarra, have supported the campaign, and promised an alternative transport plan.

In early February 1978, on the strength of a claimed turnover of $1 billion, the Australian Financial Review reported that “at this sort of growth rate Nugan Hand will soon be bigger than BHP.”

"Qantas in crisis: 1000 jobs to go; Warning of $300 million loss; [federal transport minister Warren] Truss rules out aid," was the dramatic headline on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald on December 5.

The deep problems ailing Australia's national airline pose a clear choice between two options: allow the airline to battle on in the chaos of the international airline wars, or re-nationalise Qantas as a key part of a socially progressive and environmentally sustainable public transport policy.

Ninety two percent of Indigenous languages are fading or extinct. Australia has suffered the largest and most rapid known loss of languages and past government policies have been largely to blame.

This is clearly outlined in the Our Land: Our Languages report which was released by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs late last year.

Under the guise of “law and order” — to protect the community from “criminal bikie gangs” and “pedophiles” — Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has rushed through several new laws. These are the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act, Tattoo Parlours Act, Criminal Law Amendment Act and Dangerous Sex Offenders Act.

Together with laws relating to the G20, and, amendments to industrial legislation, these laws have implications for the civil rights of the wider community.

The unity discussions between the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative have come to an end.
In a November 3 letter on behalf of the Socialist Alternative National Executive, Mick Armstrong wrote: “The overall political projects of both organisations are not sufficiently similar to carry through a sustained and productive unity that could advance the cause of the revolutionary left in Australia and the broader class struggle.”

The Socialist Alternative letter lists four major political differences:

It’s wrong to think that we can campaign to stop climate change in the same way we might campaign to end a war. All the evidence says we are well past that stage now. That is, even if by some impossible, magical course of events all carbon pollution on Earth was stopped tomorrow, we’d still be in really, really deep trouble.

So many greenhouse gases have been pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere that we have rushed far past the safe upper limit — the famous 350 parts per million of CO2, the number that climate action group 350.org took for its name.

At the national refugee protest in Canberra on November 18, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young concluded her speech by saying her first involvement in politics was through the refugee movement and that she used to come to rallies like this, until she realised that it was more important to change the minds of the people inside parliament, so she stood for parliament instead.

I’ve heard Hanson-Young and Greens candidates make similar statements previously.

I think such statements need to be challenged.

More often than not I am not quick enough with a comeback and probably that is just as well. Just the other day, when I was out in the street distributing Green Left Weekly, a person roughly brushed past and muttered “traitor!”

She walked on and from about two metres away turned around, aimed her beady eyes at a poster I had put up advertising a Christmas visit to refugees in detention and shouted: “You are traitors, that’s what you are!”

“Give refugees some solidarity this Christmas,” was the headline on the poster.

Refugee rights advocates spent much of this year dreading the election of the Tony Abbott government and its predicted fallout for those seeking protection in Australia. What can they now expect in 2014?

GLW Issue 991

Peter Boyle interviewed Florencia Melgar, a former SBS journalist about her research into Australia's involvement in the 1973 military coup against the progressive government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

Watch the full interview here.

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When Japanese forces occupied French Indochina in 1941, it was not entirely without French opposition. But for the most part it was close to business-as-usual for the French in Vietnam. Japan left the French colonial administration intact, beholden now to Tokyo rather than Paris.

It was oppression-as-usual for the Vietnamese, 2 million of whom Japanese forces starved to death in 1944.

Finally, Aussie pride is back after a dominant display in a crucial international contest. Sure, our side came in for criticism for aggressive bullying and disrespectful behaviour towards the opposition, but you can't argue with results.

True, this was nothing so crucial to the fate of humanity as an Ashes Test. It was merely the United Nations Warsaw climate talks that ended on November 23 with no agreement for rich nations to severely cut the greenhouse emissions fuelling climate change or offer compensation to poor nations bearing the brunt of its increasingly devastating effects.

Australian oil and gas company AWE has signalled its intention to mine for unconventional gas on farmland bordering Western Australia’s Lesueur National Park. The proposal, released in October, includes plans to use the damaging process known as “fracking” to extract gas, starting in March next year.

The national park is a environmentally significant area. It holds more than 900 different plant species and more than 10% of the total known flora of WA. It also holds seven species of declared rare fauna, and nine taxa found nowhere else in the world.

The Grattan Institute and the Productivity Commission both released reports on November 22 into the affect an ageing population will have on Australia’s economy.

The Grattan Institute proposed that the pension age should be raised to 70, owner-occupiers should not be exempted from the Age Pension asset tests — meaning people could be forced to sell their home when they retire — and GST should be applied to fresh food.

The Productivity Commission suggests access to the Age Pension and retirement should be linked to life expectancy — to continue rising as people live longer.

As a mother and her baby fight to avoid the “rat-infested” Nauru refugee camp, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll showed half of Australian voters disapprove of the Coalition government's refugee policy.

The poll also showed Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come to the end of what has been described as the shortest “honeymoon period” of a PM in history. Abbott's popularity took an unprecedented dive — with a personal approval rating of 1%, believed to be fuelled by his attitude to the “diplomatic stand-off” with Indonesia over substantial spying allegations.

A new battleground has opened over the introduction of “foetal personhood” laws as the anti-choice lobby tries to use these laws to roll back women’s reproductive rights.

A private member’s bill giving legal rights to foetuses older than 20 weeks or weighing more than 400 grams passed the New South Wales lower house on November 21 by a large margin.

A similar bill was introduced in the South Australian Legislative Council on November 27 by right-wing Christian party Family First. It lost by one vote. The Western Australian parliament considered a “foetal homicide” law last year.

Twenty-two people from Bourke and Enngonia are about to graduate from the first intake of the Yes I Can adult literacy campaign classes. This new way of learning literacy for adults originated in Cuba and now operates in 28 countries round the world.

It came to Bourke and Enngonia after a successful trial last year in Wilcannia. Now it is set to spread further across the region. Jack Beetson, the national campaign coordinator, is overjoyed at the success in Bourke and Enngonia.

Where has the year gone? It feels like 2013 has rushed past like the high-speed train we still don't have in wealthy 21st century Australia.

And now, with just a month to go, we have the urgent task of catching up with the Green Left Fighting Fund. Our target for the year is $250,000, but so far only $160,338 has been raised. We will need some generous donations from our supporters to help us get there over the next four weeks.

GLW Issue 990

Australian environmentalists welcomed the October announcement that mining giant BHP was abandoning its plans for a coal export rail and port development at Abbot Point in Queensland.

However, the company is simultaneously involved in a giant new coal export development on Kalimantan in Indonesia.