Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 988

This is the Lucky Country, right? The Lucky Country that escaped the recession after the global financial crisis. The Lucky Country where a mining heiress’s wealth grows by $650 a second. Where banks break new profit records, year after year.

Not so “lucky” for some though.

An ongoing Roy Morgan survey found 2.41 million people in Australia (19.3% of the workforce) were unemployed or underemployed in October. An estimated 1.33 million (10.7% of the workforce) of these were unemployed.

On November 3, Brian Manning, one of the Northern Territory’s most respected activists and trade unionists, passed away surrounded by friends and family at the age of 81.

He was a long-time member of the Communist Party of Australia and the Search Foundation. This obituary was written by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

***

Manning was a wharfie and staunch MUA member up until his retirement in 2002. He continued to be very active in the trade union movement until his passing.

GLW Issue 987

Comedian, Hollywood star and former host of MTV and Big Brother's Big Mouth Russell Brand took on veteran BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman in a Newsnight interview subsequently viewed millions of times on YouTube.

The journalist, veteran of many bruising encounters with politicians of all stripes, decisively lost.

Despite a Victorian state moratorium since last year barring the use of “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) to extract gas, communities across the state continue to protest against gas drilling and exploration.

Sixty locals protested at a test drilling site in Yarragon in Gippsland, east of Melbourne, on October 19, where Greenpower Natural Gas holds a licence to explore for coal seam gas (CSG). The moratorium on fracking does not prevent exploration works such as drilling and flaring off.

More people die from air pollution in Australia than the road toll, Greens Senator Richard Di Natale told a public meeting in Melbourne’s inner-west municipality of Maribyrnong on October 23.

Di Natale instigated the recent Senate inquiry into the effects of air pollution on human health, which concluded in August. He said there had been a “catastrophic failure in this country to monitor air quality”.

Police on horseback and riot officers violently broke up a student protest in Melbourne on October 30. The demonstration was held to oppose federal government threats to higher education, and was part of a national week of student action, called by the National Union of Students.

Just two days before the protest, education minister Christopher Pyne told the ABC’s Q&A the government was investigating the possibility of selling off student HECS debt to private companies.

The Country Liberal government of the Northern Territory announced on October 26 it was extending a reservation over Darwin’s rural area to “protect rural and rural-residential areas of the Greater Darwin region from oil and gas development”.

“Whilst the Country Liberal government is open for business, we know it is not practical to have oil and gas development in the middle of the Greater Darwin Region”, said mines and energy minister Willem Westra van Holthe.

The stack of new laws rushed through the Queensland parliament in recent weeks have put the Liberal National Party government on a collision course with the judiciary, the legal fraternity, trade unions and civil liberties activists not seen since the days of Joh Bjelke Petersen.

These new laws — directed at bikie gangs, G20 protesters, sex offenders and workers compensation — attack basic freedoms of association, the right to protest peacefully, fair sentencing and the right of workers to sue negligent employers.

Many residents have been involved in the campaign to stop the East West tunnel in Melbourne, an $8-15 billion tollway project of Denis Napthine’s Coalition government.

One resident, Keith Fitzgerald, has lived in Collingwood for 70 years.

Fitzgerald told Green Left Weekly his grandparents had come over from Richmond in 1898 and settled in Collingwood. His father was born in Collingwood in 1900.

Fitzgerald has lived in the same house for 69 years but has received a letter saying it is likely to be requisitioned,

The ANZ announced a full-year cash profit of $6.5 billion on October 29.

Two days later, the NAB posted a profit that was not quite so big. It had only managed $5.94 billion in the year to September.

Banks make their profits in a number of ways. One is a sort of bankers’ version of two-up, betting on foreign exchange rates. This is the world’s largest market.

Reserve Bank of Australia figures for April put the average Australian foreign exchange turnover at US$181.7 billion a day.

This statement was released by the Socialist Alliance on October 28

***

The passing of the ACT assembly's bill to allow same-sex marriages on October 22 is a significant win and a step towards full, federal marriage equality.

The win is a result of long, hard-fought, grassroots campaigning. The federal government's bid to quash it with a High Court challenge is testimony to its bigotry and hostility to equality. We must defend the bill against the federal government's attack.

Selected people in Australia recently received the following invitation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: “Dear TPP Stakeholders, As part of the Australian Government’s ongoing public consultation process on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations, the TPP negotiating team will be visiting Sydney on 30 October 2013 to meet with interested members of the public, and business and civil society stakeholders.

“The meeting will provide an update on the negotiations and an opportunity for further stakeholder input.”

Just what questions can you be asked when you apply for a job? According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 12, global energy company Chevron asks some intrusive reproductive health questions of women applicants in its recruitment process.

Questions include whether an applicant has been sterilised, their pregnancy history, how many abortions and stillbirths they have had, the number of “normal” children they have and any birth defects their children may have.

Secondary Students for Refugee Rights (SSFRR) is a group that was founded by Caitlin Woodland and Lucy Dodd, both students at Princes Hill Secondary College, to advocate for refugees’ rights.

It formed during the federal election campaign in response to refugees being demonised by politicians during the campaign.

GLW Issue 986

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) is a powerful right-wing lobby for big corporations, which has spearheaded the push for deregulation and privatisation in Australia for four decades.

It has also led the war on trade unions and the promotion of individual contracts to replace collective bargaining.

The result of the October 19 Fremantle Council election was a real glimmer of hope for us in Western Australia, particularly after the bleak state and federal results this year.

Under the first-past-the post system used in WA council elections, I was re-elected in Hilton Ward with 58% of the vote, compared with 33% in 2009. In the other wards, the incumbent councillors defeated more conservative opponents. Mayor and Greens member Brad Pettitt won more than 70% of the vote, defeating former state and federal Liberal candidate Matthew Hanssen.

PM Tony Abbott has repeatedly said climate change has absolutely nothing to do with the recent record-breaking spring bushfires in NSW. Such ideas are “hogwash”, he told News Limited’s Andrew Bolt.

The claims associate his government with the most extreme climate change denial and explode Abbott’s carefully fashioned pre-election image as someone who now accepts the science but merely opposes costly action.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott had a really busy time last week, running around fighting fires before rushing back to his office to slash funds to those affected.

Between volunteering with the Davidson Rural Fire Service brigade to help fight the fires near the Blue Mountains and tightening eligibility requirements for bushfire victims to deny funds to those cut off from their homes, the poor guy must be absolutely exhausted.

Soh Sook Hwa, a member of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, is taking part in the conference “How to make a revolution” organised by Resistance. Resistance member Sean Brocklehurst interviewed her about the political campaigns she is involved with in Malaysia.

***

What is happening in Malaysian politics at the moment?

There was a historic election in May this year. Many Malaysians expected the government to lose power but the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), was re-elected with a majority of seats and 47% of the popular vote.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison reintroduced temporary protection visas (TPVs) on October 18 in a two-page “regulation” that amends the Migration Act and strips many rights and protections for refugees in Australia.

Morrison said the move was part of the government's “border protection policy” and aimed to “discourage” people from making “dangerous voyages to Australia”.

With political advantage from a national celebration of the centenary of World War I in mind, the Julia Gillard government last year allocated an initial $83.5 million towards the “Anzac Centenary”.

Through a local grants program, up to $125,000 is available for each federal MP to fund suitable projects in their electorates. But unfortunately for Labor, the project is now headed by Tony Abbott, who has appointed himself head of the Centenary. Stand by for a broadside of jingoism and a celebration of empire.

The Australian Capital Territory assembly passed a same-sex marriage bill on October 22. The Marriage Equality (Same-Sex) Bill 2013 allows same-sex marriages of ACT residents and non-residents, and is a huge step forward for marriage equality.

The ACT is the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise same-sex marriage, after a mammoth fight against a federal same-sex marriage ban.

The Labor ACT government passed the bill with the support of Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury while the Liberal Party opposed it. The bill passed narrowly, nine votes to eight.

Last month, the High Court heard a case brought by lawyers for Ranjini, a Tamil woman who was accepted as a refugee but is being held in indefinite detention because ASIO considers her a security threat.

Ranjini is one of 47 people in this situation. They face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in detention because ASIO claims that they are “likely to engage in acts prejudicial to Australia’s security”.

Ranjini’s lawyers said detaining people for life without charge, trial or conviction for any crime is illegal. The High Court has reserved its decision.

The Defence Department has confirmed it was responsible for starting the ferocious State Mine fire in the Blue Mountains that burnt over 50,000 hectares of bushland in the past two weeks.

An investigation found that a large amount of explosives — exceeding normal limits — were used during a training exercise at Marrangaroo.

Unlike the young boys who were arrested for lighting fires this week, it is unlikely anyone from defence will be charged.

A leaked draft of the second Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, due to be released in March, gives a sobering picture of what lies ahead for Aboriginal communities in Australia as climate change intensifies.

Last month, the IPCC said it was 95% certain that human activity was the main cause of climate change. The recent leaked report did not look at the science, but rather the impacts climate change will have, particularly in areas of vulnerability and adaptation.

GLW Issue 985

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill told ABC News Breakfast on October 18: “The climatic conditions that fuelled that fire yesterday were just unprecedented ... an unprecedented disaster.”

More than 100 fires broke out across New South Wales on October 17. By October 19, they had destroyed at least 193 homes in the Blue Mountains alone and caused at least one confirmed death.

In the ballot to elect the Australian Labor Party leader that concluded on October 9, 74% of the membership voted — 30,426 of the party’s 43,823 members — apparently energised by the novel prospect of having a say in the leadership.

Although the two aspirants, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, are leaders of the party’s right and left factions respectively, both avoided controversy by saying next to nothing about policy.

A new free trade deal to be signed this year could allow foreign corporations to sue the Australian government for introducing environmental regulations on coal seam gas (CSG).

Australia has joined 11 other countries — the United States, Malaysia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Unlike most trade deals, other countries can sign on in the future.

Mainstream media outlets gave substantial coverage to the UN’s new report on the climate change crisis late last month, which said the Earth’s climate is warming faster than at any point in the past 65 million years and that human activity is the cause.

Disappointingly, though not unsurprisingly, the news reports dried up after only a few days.

I recently had the misfortune of being granted an audience with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and was unlucky enough to conduct an interview with him. I include the transcript below.

* * *

Well, thank you very much, prime minister, for agreeing to this interview.

Well, I am always very happy to be interviewed by my good friends at the Daily Telegraph.

Yes...

You’ve moved offices I see. Nice Che Guevara poster!

Yes... Can I get you something to drink? I’m having a beer.

You don’t have any Bollinger do you?