Comment and Analysis

GLW Issue 990

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.

In mid-October, principals in Victorian public schools told their staff they had been instructed to identify underperforming teachers and education support staff (ES staff) by the end of that month.

These staff members would not immediately be told they were underperforming, but would only receive a letter in March next year informing them they would not receive a pay rise. Some staff might even be fast tracked out of the profession.

The government told principals that between 20% and 40% of staff were to be identified as underperforming.

The company responsible for running many of Australia’s refugee detention centres, Serco, has been accused of ordering asylum seekers not to speak to the media as the federal government moves to deport more asylum seekers to their country of origin.

Asylum seekers in the Darwin Airport Lodge (DAL) detention centre have been subject to intimidation and several have been moved to Christmas Island after speaking to the media.

There is one obvious answer to the climate change crisis that is rarely up for discussion — the government has to take the lead with a huge green public investment drive.

It was nice of former prime minister John Howard to let us know he was still alive and spending his politician's pension wisely by flying to Britain to give a talk insisting the threat of climate change was “exaggerated”.

Howard gave the keynote address at the Global Warming Policy Foundation on November 5. The foundation was set up by climate “sceptic” and former chancellor in Margaret Thatcher's government Nigel Lawson.

The Australian mainstream media publishes a “substantial amount” of articles critical of the scientific consensus on climate change, says a report from the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism. The report has found that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp publications have a high rate of climate change scepticism, which leaves a large section of Australia without information on climate change science.

Under the guise of “law and order” and protecting the community from “criminal bikie gangs” Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has passed new laws that have implications for the civil rights of the wider community.

The Liberal-National Party used their majority to rush the laws through parliament on October 17. The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill, Tattoo Parlours Bill and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill specifically target bikies.

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.