Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 954

Figures released by the department of immigration showed the number of refugees held in Australian mainland detention peaked at 10,271 in November last year, the highest since mandatory detention began.

This included housing and alternative places of detention, but not the almost 400 men held on Nauru by that time.

Children made up 1221 of those held in detention as at December, another record high. The last time more than 1000 children were held in detention, the government was forced to allow more than half to be released.

As one who took part in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, I could hardly believe it when the US “war machine” resurrected itself and began its march on Iraq.

Appalled by what appeared to be happening, I was delighted to discover, following a rally in November 2002, that a local peace group had been created. I joined that group and began actively campaigning for peace which I continue to this day.

Simon Butler was a 25-year-old activist who helped organise the mass mobilisations in Sydney in February and March 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. He was also a leader of the socialist youth group Resistance and the student anti-war movement Books Not Bombs, which Resistance initiated.

“Enough is enough,” warned a full page ad taken out by the Mineral Council of Australia in the February 13 Australian, “in relation to the obsession with increasing taxes on mining in Australia."

It was like an exasperated parent pushed too far by a naughty child. “Enough! Go back to playing with your toys. What about the welfare recipients? You love kicking them! Go on, leave us adults alone!”

Federal environment minister Tony Burke has rejected National Heritage listing for the Tarkine wilderness.

On February 8, Burke announced 10 new mines proposed over the next five years for the Tarkine wilderness area. Nine of these 10 mines will be open cut leaving scars of devastation in an area of north-western Tasmania.

Britain’s House of Commons voted in favour of equal marriage rights on February 5. France’s lower house approved a bill for equal marriage rights on February 12.

If these bills make it the rest of the way through their respective parliaments, Britain and France will join the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Massachusetts, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark in having equal marriage rights.

This was a speech given to a One Billion Rising event in Sydney on February 14.

***

I'd like to welcome you all here tonight. I'm a Kairi and Badjula woman, so I can't do a welcome to country, but I can do an acknowledgement. So I'd like to acknowledge that this celebration is taking place on the stolen lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

The Gadigal people were the first to endure the impact of invasion and as a result their communities were decimated. Invasion was a violent process, though history has tried to cleanse it was with the word colonisation.

Guess who thinks the Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) is working well?

Sorry, but there's no prize if you guessed right.

“The MRRT was designed as a tax on super profits on the mining industry and importantly the tax is actually operating as it was physically designed," mining giant Rio Tinto's new chief executive Sam Walsh told AAP.

Err, yes, very well designed — for some — by a Gillard government fresh from the ALP leadership coup, with more than a little help from the biggest mining companies.

Parliamentary leader of the far-right Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, is visiting Australia this week. He is speaking at public meetings in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Wilders makes use of a tightly rehearsed script focusing on opposition to Islam which he describes as a "totalitarian ideology" to cover for his racist and fascist outlook.

As the fossil fuel lobby tells it, natural gas — in chemical terms, almost all methane — is clean and green. Burn it in a modern power plant, and per unit of electricity produced, only about half as much carbon dioxide is sent up the exhaust stack compared to good-quality coal.

That’s like saying you’re making progress if you get off heroin onto amphetamines. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel. Even if the sums worked the way the gas corporations suggest, a wholesale switch to gas would put off climate disaster only by a few decades.

Lionel Bopage, 68, was jailed twice and tortured for his roll as a former leader of a mass liberation movement in Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 1980s, called the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front). He rose to the position of general secretary of the JVP but resigned from the group in 1984 over a number of differences, including his principled support for the right of national self-determination for the Tamil people. He was eventually forced into political exile together with his wife, Chitra.

GLW Issue 953

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch's propaganda machine has a penchant for using Green Left Weekly as a metaphor for left-wing opinion.

This was on the sports page of the February 4 issue of its giveaway tabloid mX: “Shane Warne played Statesman last week with his ambitious Where is Australian Cricket At? Volume 1 ... it contained more utopian fantasy than your average issue of Green Left Weekly.”

A highly publicised report by the United Nations' refugee agency labeled conditions in the Manus Island refugee camp “unlawful”, but stopped short of pushing the government to close it completely.

The report was released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on February 4 after a visit to the detention centre over January 15-17. It principally called for the release of children from the “closed” detention camp. It said the Australian government's regime of “arbitrary, indefinite detention” with no legal framework was “deeply troubling”.

Soon after Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the September 14 federal election, opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison confirmed the Coalition's startling plans to turn back every refugee from Sri Lanka without exception.

This would include a new plan to enlist the Australian and Sri Lankan navies to detain and return to Colombo any refugee trying to flee the country by boat, Morrison told ABC's Lateline on February 4.

It was great to see all big health unions in Victoria hold a joint community rally on February 3 to protest against the state and federal governments’ slashing of health funding in Victoria. But any casual observer couldn’t help feeling that a re-elect Labor strategy was lurking.

It was true that all of the secretaries from the key health unions roundly condemned the state Coalition and federal Labor governments for the $107 million cut to be implemented by June this year. The cut will result in more than 300 beds closing, elective surgery delays and job losses in many hospitals.

Ten years ago, the February 14-16, 2003 global protests against the looming US-led invasion of Iraq involved more than 12 million people in 700 cities around the world. A million people marched around Australia — 500,000 of them in a huge protest in Sydney that was so big that most participants could not move (let along march) from Hyde Park.

It was the biggest globally coordinated protest ever — certainly the biggest global anti-war protest.

National protests have been held around the country to oppose changes to welfare payments for sole parents. The federal Labor government is forcing parents to switch to the Newstart allowance once their youngest child turns eight, leaving parents up to $140 a fortnight worse off.

A new group, the Single Parents Action Group (SPAG), coordinated protests across the country on February 5. Rallies took place in every state and territory.

A report has found that focusing on the treatment and rehabilitation, rather than imprisonment, of Aboriginal people facing drug and alcohol-related charges would save state and territory governments up to $110,000 a year for every person.

Sam Wainwright has been a Socialist Alliance councillor on the City of Fremantle council since 2009, when he was elected in the Hilton ward with 33% of the vote. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Mel Barnesabout what he has been able to achieve while on council.

The first part of this interview “Making Fremantle a 'social justice town'” was published in last week’s issue.

***

What are the challenges to working on council?

Thousands of government and private school teachers plus education support (ES) staff will stop work for 24 hours on February 14. They will attend two separate stop work meetings, then join to march together on the Victorian parliament to show their determination to win better working conditions and pay.

Why are teachers and ES staff striking?

The Labor federal government and the Greens said on January 23 that an 8.6% fall in emissions from the energy sector proved the new carbon price scheme was working. But evidence from Europe suggests Australia’s emissions trading scheme is likely to hinder, not help, emissions cuts.

The arrest on February 6 of an Indigenous elder and another Githabul traditional owner on a coal seam gas (CSG) blockade should act as a siren call to all those concerned about our future.

They were arrested along with farmers and other Lock the Gate campaigners for mounting a blockade at Doubtful Creek in northern NSW to stop CSG company Metgasco carrying out test drills.

See also: White paper reveals gas industry scared of global protests

Naturally, once Julia Gillard called the federal election for September 14, it was all hands on deck in Labor to spruik the party and its many great achievements to ensure Tony Abbott is denied keys to The Lodge.

GLW Issue 952

Last month a South Australian Police (SAPOL) officer asked me to monitor the activities of political activists in Adelaide.
 
On January 17, a plain-clothed officer approached me in a coffee shop. He explained that he recognised me as an activist, and told me he was with a special area of “security and intelligence” that aimed to create links between the police and the activist community.
 
He appeared interested in gaining information on the activities of environmental groups, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israeli products and Tamil solidarity actions.
 

The NSW Coalition government announced plans on December 13 last year to cut the Newcastle rail line at Wickham station. As part of the urban renewal strategy document, passengers would have to transfer to buses to complete the last two kilometres of their journey to Newcastle.

A long-running community group, Save Our Rail, has twice stopped former Labor and Coalitions governments' attempts to cut the line.

Here are ten reasons why the campaign needs to continue:

There is no solution proposed for rail users affected by the cut

The international media totally misreads the Venezuelan people on President Hugo Chavèz (currently battling serious illness) argues Professor Miguel Angel Nuñez, an adviser to Chavèz on agro-ecology, in an interview with Green Left TV. The interviewers were Jim McIlroy and Coral Wynter, authors of Voices from Venezuela. Filmed and edited by Peter Boyle.

The latest weekly "Our Common Cause" column of the Socialist Alliance argues the time is well-over due to phase out fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.

* * *

It's been another summer of record-breaking extreme weather in Australia.

Veteran political commentator Michelle Grattan has dubbed PM Julia Gillard's early announcement of a September 14 federal election as the opening of the “longest election campaign in history”. She says it's “clever tactics” on Gillard's part. Another prominent political commentator, Lenore Taylor, says that this is an attempt by an embattled ALP government to “reboot the political debate”.

Sam Wainwright has been a Socialist Alliance councillor on the City of Fremantle council since 2009, when he was elected in the Hilton ward with 33% of the vote. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Mel Barnes about what he has been able to achieve while on council.

***