Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 1003

Born in 1929, Michael Denborough studied medicine in Cape Town, South Africa, and as part of his training went to treat people in the black townships. Later as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, he saw the stark contrast between the two worlds and his passion for social justice was ignited.

World War II had had a profound effect on him as people he had known at school were sacrificed in an “appalling waste of humanity”. He said: “The nuclear industry seems to embody everything that is worst about human nature. It could destroy all life on earth 50 times over simply for greed”.

Community Services Minister Pru Goward announced that 293 public housing in Millers Point and The Rocks on Sydney's harbourside would be sold. The billions gained would be used to invest in public housing in the rest of the state, Goward said. But the sell-off would come at a human cost — the destruction of the close-knit working-class community that has existed there for hundreds of years.

These are dark times, so we should celebrate what victories come the way of working people facing the brunt of the Abbott gang's “kick everyone and their dog” strategy.

And so we should celebrate the big win for workers' rights with media star, would-be politician and part-time Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes' announcing his resignation from the union movement.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended Papua New Guinea's efforts to shut down at least two legal inquiries into the treatment of asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre, after the violence that left one man dead and scores injured.

A PNG National Court judge, Justice David Cannings, announced early last month he would hold an independent inquiry into the conditions in the centre, and determine whether asylum seekers' human rights were being upheld under the country's constitution.

The Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy (BASE) celebrated its two-year anniversary on March 22. During the past two years, BASE has experienced community support and state repression in their struggle to put Indigenous sovereignty on the agenda in Brisbane and has served as a beacon for Indigenous freedom fighters across the country.

Boe Spearim spoke to Green Left Weekly about the history of BASE, its projects, influences and future.

What were the origins of the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy project?

GLW Issue 1002

Jock Palfreeman is serving a 20-year sentence for murder in Sofia Central Prison, Bulgaria. His conviction followed a trumped-up trial in a dysfunctional state where the local gangsters known as mutri hold sway, and hatred of Roma is a national pastime for many.

Palfreeman was alleged to have killed Andrei Monov in Sofia in December 2007 while trying to defend two Roma men. Monov was the son of a Bulgarian MP who wants Jock to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The Liberal Party swept to victory in the Tasmanian elections on March 15, winning 14 seats of the 25 seat parliament. The Labor Party, which had governed for the past three years in coalition with the Greens, received a swing against of 9.5%. It won only six seats.

The Greens were also heavily punished, losing two seats in an 8% swing against them. Party leaders Nick McKim and Cassy O’Connor managed to keep their seats. Kim Booth looks likely to be re-elected as well.

To get elected, wait until the existing government makes itself unelectable. Say as little as you can about your real policies. Smile, and present a small target.

Those were the perspectives of South Australia’s Liberal opposition in the run-up to the state elections on March 15. The key Liberal slogan, outside polling places throughout the state, was “A Fresh Start”. A start to what, specifically? Voters weren’t supposed to ask.

As David Harvey reminds us, capital never solves its crisis tendencies, it merely moves them around. Since the turn to neoliberalism in the 1980s there has certainly been a lot of movement.

Throughout the 1980s there were big recessions in all of the rich countries. Across Africa, Latin America and Western Asia at that time there was a depression, although it was not called this because of a self-imposed taboo on the word by mainstream economic commentators since 1929.

Community gardeners were stunned when AusVeg, the peak body for the vegetable industry, publicly welcomed the federal government’s cut in funding the Food Grants Program.

Mentioning “biosecurity risks” and “food safety concerns”, AusVeg spokesperson William Churchill said the program “has been identified as a potential risk to the national horticulture industry”.

"The solution to Qantas's problems is being framed as a choice between lifting the level of permissible foreign ownership or a public debt guarantee,” Chad Satterlee wrote in article in the Guardian on March 3. “There is another option: renationalisation".

Washington's role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a "strategic threat". The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?

In the strange furore surrounding right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt demanding an apology from the ABC over a guest on Q&A suggesting he was racist, it is Bolt's long-time readers and fans for whom I feel the most.

It must be something of a shock to see the strident opponent of “illegal boat people” and “fair-skinned” Aboriginal people, a man who refuses to even acknowledge the existence of the Stolen Generations, insist that he is not actually racist after all.

A former welfare worker at the Nauru refugee detention camp says the July 19 riot that razed most of the Topside compound was an “inevitable outcome” of a “cruel and degrading policy”, in a new book released last week.

The Undesirables by Mark Isaacs follows several big whistleblower revelations that have come from Nauru since the camp was re-established by then-PM Julia Gillard in August 2012.

The March in March protests across Australia over March 15-17 were a resounding success – not just because of their size, focus and breadth.

Just as significant is the fact that March in March tore apart the idea – seeded by the cynical rhetoric of John Howard's spin doctors in the wake of the invasion of Iraq – that protests don't work.

This protest worked precisely because it brought between 80,000 and 110,000 people out of their homes and into the streets in a disparate yet united way against the Tony Abbott government's attacks.

More than five years since the global financial crisis, many OECD countries are still facing high rates of unemployment, losses in income and worsening social conditions. This was confirmed in the latest OECD social indicators report, Society at a Glance 2014, released on March 19.

The reports says: "The financial upheaval of 2007-08 created not just an economic and fiscal crisis but also a social crisis ... Some 48 million people in OECD countries are looking for a job – 15 million more than in September 2007 – and millions more are in financial distress.

GLW Issue 1001

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigned from his position as chair of the board of the Biennale of Sydney on March 7. Biennale organisers announced it was cutting ties with major sponsor Transfield, of which Belgiorno-Nettis is a director.

The divestment was the result of pressure from artists boycotting the Biennale, because of Transfield's connection to the detention of asylum seekers. The company has a $1.2 billion contract to run the Nauru and Manus Island centres.

The global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has come of age in the past 12 months. Since Palestinian civil society groups made the call for the boycott in 2005, it has become a significant tool that has allowed people around the world to protest against Israel’s relentless and persistent violations of human rights and international law.

I have been a single parent for 10 years now. My children are aged 13 and 16. I now face the challenges of raising teenage children on my own, which can leave me at times mentally and physically drained. They are good boys though and I am proud to be their mother.

As single parents we endure discrimination in numerous places, in the workplace, while applying for rental homes, obtaining loans, in the media, from the public and even from some friends and family, but worse still, at the hands of our politicians.

ACTIONS OF GOVERNMENTS

Western Australia will go to the polls on April 5 to re-elect its federal Senators.

The election was called to fix a mammoth electoral bungle, which left many Western Australians questioning the democracy of the political system.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam appealed for a recount of the Senate vote when it looked like he had narrowly lost his seat to the Palmer United Party in the September federal election. During the recount, it came to light that 1375 votes had gone missing, and the result of the election was declared void. Six seats are up for re-election.

Another International Women’s Day passes. It’s been 157 years since working women first took to the streets. Back then, thousands of women textile workers marched through the wealthy boroughs of New York, protesting their miserable working conditions.

Modestly describing herself as “Australia's richest intellect”, Gina Rinehart has launched a new intervention into Australian politics that is calling for a cut in government spending and other measures to make private corporations “thrive”.

True, she is not calling for an end to government subsidies to the mining industry. She is not calling for an end to corporate welfare and she's not calling for a reduction in wasteful military spending.

Most of the first world is still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis (GFC), as economies remain either stagnant or in recession. The financial crisis can be traced back to the decision in the United States to lower interest rates, which fell from 6% in January 2001 to 1% in mid-2003.

This led banks and other financial institutions, awash with cheap money, to conclude that lending to prospective home buyers at risk of being unable to afford their repayments was a safe bet. Between 2002 and 2007, sub-prime lending rose from 3% of US residential mortgages to 15%.

First there was climate denial. But the mocking laughter of the informed public – along with the indignation of the scientists – finally reached the energy-company boardrooms.

So now instead we get the non sequitur. That’s Latin for “it doesn’t follow”. Rather than lying outright, the fossil-fuel chiefs make nakedly contradictory statements and count on us not to notice.

GLW Issue 1000

Shares in Qantas were traded at $1.25 on February 21, the highest price since October last year. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the stock exchange would know that the company has been in deep trouble for some years.

In October 2011, it stranded thousands of its passengers after it grounded its entire worldwide fleet during a union dispute.

When rumours began circulating throughout the media after its half-yearly report meeting that Qantas was preparing to shed thousands of jobs at, its share price began to rise. Sacking workers is a profitable sign for speculators.

These are dark times for would-be political satirists. We've now got a self-proclaimed “government of adults” headed by Tony Abbott and featuring the likes of Christopher Pyne and Cory Bernardi. These jokes are just impossible to top.

The federal Coalition government is set on a path of unprecedented cuts to public services; Medicare is under threat, as are workers' penalty rates. Added to this is the large-scale selling out of action on climate change along with important natural environments, such as forests and the Great Barrier Reef, to make way for destructive mining and logging industries.

You can tell how good a newspaper is from the enemies it keeps. The Australian wrote a sneering dismissal of the new Saturday Paper, launched last weekend, and used its ultimate insult by comparing the new paper to Green Left Weekly, calling GLW “ignorant, moralistic and simplistic”.

When the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology released their State Of The Climate 2014 report on March 4 it should have made headlines for days, provoked a big parliamentary discussion and a public debate about the emergency action we need to take to address the climate crisis.

But it didn't.

The report made the news for a day but the main impression put across mainstream media was that Australia was getting wetter.

That's good news, right?

A report commissioned by the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) shows that energy sector privatisation in Australia has been "a dismal failure", which has produced "no benefits" for consumers, but has resulted in "large fiscal losses" for taxpayers.

Economist John Quiggin, from the University of Queensland, reviewed energy sector privatisation and the related process of electricity market reform between the early 1990s and now, and found no long-term benefits for either governments or consumers.