Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 991

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.

The formation of the Labor Party — created as part of a global movement to form mass workers’ parties in the 1890’s — differed markedly from the formation of social democratic parties in mainland Europe. The tendency in these countries was for the formation of workers’ political parties to precede the formation of a mass union movement which the parties then encouraged.

At the recent UN climate talks in Poland, poor nations and NGOs singled out the Australian delegation for doing the most to block progress on a new deal to cut carbon emissions.

Since capitalism began, socialists have debated how to bring to an end to class divisions and make society more fair and just.

Early on, a split developed between those who thought revolution was necessary to overthrow capitalism, and others who thought a socialist society could be created gradually through parliamentary reforms.

Some socialist parties started with radical politics but gradually became part of the system and gave up on calling for revolution.

It's long been a favoured wish of many environmentalists to go off the grid, to be self-sufficient in energy and other services, and avoid the corporate utilities and their coal-powered electricity. The ambition for freedom from energy bills and fossil-fuel electricity is understandable.

And now in the age of relatively cheap solar panels (which weren't around in the 1970s), you can live off the grid and use a huge battery attached to a large array of solar PV (photovoltaic) panels, to maintain a hi-tech lifestyle on clean solar energy.

After attending the national day of action on climate change, organised by GetUp on November 17, Sally Rawsthorne wrote in the Guardian that “fringe dwellers” like the Socialist Alliance and the Green Left Weekly participating in the rally “does climate action a disservice”.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo on November 15 — boycotted by India and Canada in protest against the Sri Lankan regime's crimes against humanity towards the Tamil people — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the regime's crimes: "Sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.”

Imagine if we found out exactly who was systematically destroying the habitability of Earth? If we had their names and addresses? Wouldn't a responsible society make them stop the destruction?

Climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado has done a study which found that just 90 companies — among them Chevron, Exxon, BHP, Rio Tinto and BP — have been responsible for producing two-thirds of all global warming-causing emissions.

On the same day that Tasmania decriminalised abortion, the New South Wales parliament took a big step backwards for women’s rights. The Legislative Assembly voted 63 to 26 for a bill aimed at giving 20-week-old foetuses the same legal rights as human beings.

The Socialist Alliance condemns the violation of Indonesia's national sovereignty through the actions of the Australian government in tapping the mobile phone of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and nine of his closest advisors, including his wife.

These actions are a reflection of how Western nations such as Australia treat poor nations with neo-colonial contempt.

GLW Issue 989

World War II was fought to resist fascist aggression; the Vietnam War was an imperial war of aggression fought chiefly by France and the US, alongside allies that included Australia. The wars have been well documented, but rarely will you find an account of how they were instrumental in rejuvenating and then expanding the heroin trade.

At long last the reality of the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka is appearing in the Australian media. Not just the fact that more than 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan army in a month in 2009, but that Sri Lankans of all ethnic backgrounds continue to be subject to torture, rape, arbitrary detention, disappearance and death.

The Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which opened in Sri Lanka on November 15, has meant special attention is being paid to these human rights abuses.

Another round of United Nations climate talks were being negotiated in Warsaw, Poland, this week when the strongest typhoon recorded to hit land swept across the Philippines before moving on to Vietnam.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, has killed an estimated 10,000 people in the area of Tacloban, mostly from the strong tsunami-like storm surges that accompanied the typhoon. Entire villages were flattened and a large rescue effort is underway to evacuate survivors.

For as long as rulers have abused their power there has also been political satire. Satirists have used wit and comedy as a weapon against the powerful, sometimes braving imprisonment, torture or the gallows.

Over the years, I have heard many left-wing activists say that mass peaceful protests do not achieve anything. Rather, “militant actions” which “take it up to the ruling class” are more important.

But for smaller direct actions to have any real political significance, they have to be connected to a patient and democratic approach to building mass movements that can win reforms. Smaller direct actions that are not tied to this political aim are a posture.

Brisbane activists, academics and unionists have resolved to launch a broad community campaign to fight the Queensland Coalition government’s attack on civil liberties.

The decision was made at a forum organised by Green Left Weekly on November 12. Dr Mark Lauchs from the Queensland University of Technology, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope, and assistant secretary of the Queensland Electrical Trades Union Peter Ong spoke at the well-attended meeting.

It is not news to progressive people in Australia that this country is profoundly racist.

Extensive anti-asylum seeker policies and racial vilification as government policy, the extension of the Northern Territory intervention and continued discrimination in the workplace and the wider community all means people of colour face significant challenges in modern Australia.

The corridors of the Australian parliament are so white you squint. The sound is hushed; the smell is floor polish. The wooden floors shine so virtuously they reflect the cartoon portraits of prime ministers and rows of Aboriginal paintings, suspended on white walls, their blood and tears invisible.

The parliament stands in Barton, a suburb of Canberra named after the first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, who drew up the White Australia Policy in 1901. "The doctrine of the equality of man," said Barton, "was never intended to apply" to those not British and white-skinned.

The Western Australian government has finalised its acquisition of land in the Kimberley for future development, despite long-standing opposition from environmentalists and the local Aboriginal community.

The 3414 hectares of land near James Price Point — part of one of the most ecologically opulent and pristine stretches of land left in the world — north of Broome, was bought from traditional landowners as “unallocated crown land.”

The area is now under management of LandCorp and the Broome Port Authority.

I am a 32-year-old mother of two from suburban Perth. I am writing in regard to the case of Latifa, a 31-year-old woman of the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar [Burma], who recently gave birth in immigration detention. Her newborn child is in NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] and her access is strictly limited due to the harsh and inhuman policies of your department. The child has never had any contact with its father also held by your department. 

All workers are treated equal, right? Same award rates for the same work, equal pay for women and uniform national modern laws.  But what about workers who are not allowed to work, such as refugees on bridging visas; or workers brought by employers to Australia on 457 visas, who are used for a short time and then sent back? 

Are these workers being treated equally and how can their treatment affect the rest of us in the future?
 

GLW Issue 988

In December last year, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco.

This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

The same-sex marriage bill passed in the Australian Capital Territory on October 22 was the most important victory of the equal marriage rights campaign so far. It is the first time queer people have had the right to marry in Australia and follows a seven-year campaign in the ACT, and a nine-year struggle nationwide.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is likely to do everything in his power to overturn the legislation. The federal government will be taking it to the High Court next month.

Top officials from the John Howard government's Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) have been appointed to head its successor, the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (FWBII).

The ABCC was never completely abolished under the recent Labor government, but instead had most of its functions transferred to the Inspectorate.

Employment minister Eric Abetz appointed former ABCC deputy commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss as director of the inspectorate, and former ABCC commissioner, John Lloyd, as chair on October 17.

Unity negotiations between Australia's two largest socialist organisations, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, ended after the latter's National Committee decided on October 26-27 that the unity process had “reached an impasse and consequently we are for ending the negotiations with the Alliance”.

Over the past few months there were tactical disagreements between the two groups over how to advance the movements for the rights of asylum seekers and for women's liberation.