Comment and Analysis

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has called for a national day of rallies for June 20 to stop the attacks on workers.

This is the second national day of action called by the CFMEU this year, with a previous round of rallies having taken place in March.

The day after a public meeting to oppose development on a toxic site in a northern suburb of Melbourne, the developer put it up for sale on a real estate site, without any mention of the contamination. In Victoria, there is no legal requirement for the sellers of contaminated land, to indicate that a site is contaminated.

Local residents packed the Fawkner Senior Citizens Centre on May 11 to hear speakers about the issues around this toxic site.

Like many Victorian TAFEs, Melbourne’s Polytechnic is in decline. Trade training facilities sit idle and rusting away, mere ghosts of their former selves. Student activity in the once grand technical campuses is at a record low in Melbourne. Enrolments have dropped by tens of thousands — an overall decline of 40% — as courses are cancelled, staff made redundant, libraries shut down.

As we celebrate the courage and the achievements of Eddie Koiki Mabo we all walk in his determined footsteps in our hope for a brighter future. The Mabo family asked me to paint you a picture of how Australia can offer an example to the world, if we achieve what that passionate man dreamed of, if we do it with reason and common sense, and if we show the care and respect that will create here in the 21st Century a Great Society like none the world has ever seen.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has become so despised by sections of society that some are questioning if he has a soul or heart.

This could also apply to any Coalition or Labor immigration minister over the past couple of decades.

Watch videos of refugees protests over the past decade and it will not be long before you hear chants such as “Lock up [insert current immigration minister] throw away the keys, we won’t stop till we free the refugees” or “Blood on your hands [insert name]”.

The Australian national anthem is a fraud when it says: “For we are young and free”.

As I pass people on the streets of Melbourne, many grab their bags, dogs, kids, anything valuable, as I pass, simply because people — especially young adolescents — with a South Sudanese background are perceived as criminals. What if they greeted us with “g’day”, as they do to every other Australian, instead of being fearful of us?

Once again the mainstream media is using lurid headlines and racist hyperbole to convince us that Australia is under threat from the spectre of Islamist terrorism.

Right-wing columnists are whipping themselves into a frenzy calling for further curbs on the already minuscule opportunity for refugees to settle in Australia, further criminalisation of ideological views and imprisonment without conviction.  

We condemn the terror attacks in London and Manchester, but we also need to call out the cynical and dangerous response from those in charge who have one solution — more of the same.

British Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump are using these tragedies to ramp up Islamophobia, expand police powers, weaken civil liberties and strengthen the “war on terror” — the same policies that have failed to stop individuals from carrying out terror attacks.

The Australian Financial Review Rich List for 2017 features 60 billionaires — the most ever in its 34-year history. The total wealth of all "rich listers" has reached $233.1 billion, up from $197.3 billion last year.

Highest ranked among the 200 richest people in the country is paper and packaging tycoon Anthony Pratt, with a fortune of $12.6 billion. It looks like all that plastic packaging floating in the world's oceans has reaped at least one plutocrat some positive returns.

To mark the sixth international March Against Monsanto activists in Sydney organised an event on May 20 to raise awareness about the dangers of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food technology.

This year the focus was on Monsanto’s “Roundup” herbicide, an organophosphorus compound the company patented in 1974. In 2105, the World Health Organization urged people to stop using it due to its extreme toxicity saying that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer. The use of glyphosate has increased 16-fold since the mid-1990s when GMO crops were first introduced.

For the briefest of moments — and to everyone's great surprise — it seemed like the Queensland government was finally going to do one thing right in relation to the Adani coalmine.

Unionists held a protest in favour of penalty rates on May 27 outside the Liberal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson’s Geelong office. Adele Welsh, a social worker and member of the Australian Services Union and Geelong Trades Hall Executive, gave this speech at the protest.

* * *

Rosie Scott, the well-known writer and human rights supporter, died on May 4, after a long battle with cancer. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1948, she was the author of seven books of fiction, beginning with the collection of poetry, Flesh and Blood, in 1984.

In 1988, she published her first novel, Glory Days, which depicted the lives of Auckland social fringe-dwellers. The last of her seven works was Faith Singer, published in 2003, which explored the tumultuous world of the people who dwelt in Sydney's Kings Cross.

In a recent public discussion, campaigners against WestConnex — the huge motorway and tunnel project in Sydney — were challenged to sum up their case against WestConnex in three sentences. “Start with what the proponents of WestConnex say will be the benefit of the project then say what is wrong with it.”

There were half a dozen seasoned anti-WestConnex activists in the room and each came back with much more than three sentences.

This statement was posted on the National Tertiary Education Union website on May 30. The author, Adam Frogley is NTEU National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator and a Taungurung man from the Kulin Nations.

* * *

The Australian Refugee Action Network (ARAN) held its inaugural conference on May 20-21 at the Australian National University in Canberra. It brought together more than 150 activists and representatives of 48 refugee advocacy and activist groups from around the country. 

Participants included a large number of activists from Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) groups. RAR held its own national meeting over the conference, and elected a new leadership. The proposal to form ARAN came out of discussion at last year’s RAR conference.

French economist Thomas Piketty argued in his bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that capitalism arose from feudalism and is in many ways reverting to it.

On May 30, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the first of the “coalition of the willing” to declare he would support US President Donald Trump’s request for more occupying troops in Afghanistan. Sydney Stop the War Coalition issued this statement which is abridged below.

* * *

Sydney Stop the War Coalition opposes the Turnbull Coalition government’s decision to take up US President Donald Trump’s request and send more Australian troops to the quagmire in Afghanistan.

A conference on the Rojava Revolution will be held as the struggle in northern Syria enters perhaps its most critical phase.

“The Rojava Revolution in Northern Syria: An experiment in radical democracy, feminism & ecology” will be held in Melbourne on June 30 and July 1. The event aims to inform participants about the revolutionary process, to discuss the problems it faces and to build support for it.

The recent federal budget announced a terrible new policy — drug testing 5000 new recipients of Youth Allowance or Newstart. The drugs tested for will be cannabis, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the policy as "aimed at stabilising the lives of people with alcohol and drug abuse problems by encouraging them to participate in treatment as part of their Job Plan". At the same time, people with diagnosed substance abuse disorders have been excluded from disability benefits.

Just two weeks ago, four young Muslim women wearing hijabs were assaulted right in front of the University of Technology Sydney at about 1.30pm. They were punched, one after another, by a woman they had not spoken to or interacted with in any way.

One of the women, a young student at UTS, and a recent migrant, was punched in the face and fell to the ground bleeding. A staff member who witnessed the assaults rushed to her assistance and photographed the alleged assailant.

A recent essay by Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it was both moving and frustrating.

Moving because he’s right when he says: “…a calamity is unfolding, that the life systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival.”

Runaway global warming threatens mass species extinction and the collapse of agriculture. It may bring with it the most traumatic and violent phase of human history. It’s truly scary stuff.

Twenty years after the original Bringing Them Home report was released, Aboriginal children are still being taken from their parents — in greater numbers than before.

Commenting on the impact of Bringing Them Home — which documented evidence about the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children — Murri elder Sam Watson told Green Left that “it is beyond dispute that Aboriginal children were removed in significant numbers”.

“Every single [Aboriginal] family was affected,” Watson said and this “dated back to the first years of European invasion”.

As expected, the major banks are preparing to launch a media war against the Turnbull government’s proposed $6.2 billion bank levy, as outlined in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s May 9 federal budget speech.

Australian Bankers’ Association head Anna Bligh was furious. She said a campaign was being considered, claiming the government was playing “fast and loose” with the nation’s financial system.

Veteran environmental campaigner and former Greens senator Bob Brown has previously pointed to Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine as the new Franklin River of environmental protest in Australia. Yet the future of this “climate bomb” hangs in the balance.

Newcastle Students Against Detention (SAD) culture jammed the University of Newcastle’s rebranding launch on May 15, putting pressure on the administration to cut ties with Broadspectrum which runs Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The students were leaked the designs which they parodied to better reflect the University of Newcastle’s (UON) odious business ties, and stuck them over the official ones.

The rebranding focused on the word “New”, so SAD made posters stating: “New Abuses. New Human Rights Violations. Lose Your Ethics at UON.”

For millennia, women have had to contend with the ideology that because of their biology, women’s second class status is part of some “natural order”. This has been perpetuated by the state, the church, the family, and reflected in laws and through education.

But this is bullshit. Throughout many millennia of human history, women occupied a status at least equal to men’s. The problem is that you won’t hear about this reality in school, you won’t see it reflected in the media or in film.

Artist and activist Benny Zable has been wearing a mask at protests throughout Australia for more than 30 years.

His distinctive skull-like gas mask and painted death-bringer costume, atop large black radioactive drums has become an icon of peace, anti-nuclear and environmental movements throughout the country. He is a performance artist who uses his art form to depict a chilling prophesy of nuclear and environmental catastrophe.

It is just as well we are so alert these days to “fake news”, otherwise some might actually believe media claims the federal government has delivered a “left-leaning” budget.

The Victorian Labor government delivered a May 2 budget in which a multi-billion dollar war chest was set aside for “law and order” and new prisons. This is despite Victoria having the lowest crime rate in Australia.

It also continued with its neoliberal privatisation program, including the sell-off of the Land Titles Registry.

Victoria aims to employ one in every 400 people as a police officer or a protective services officer and, with thousands more prison cells available, presumably the state government calculates these people will have jobs.

The Tax Justice Network (TJN) has criticised the failure of the federal government's review of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) to recommend a new royalties regime to force the major gas corporations to pay their fair share of tax.

The review by former treasury official Mike Callaghan, instigated by federal Treasurer Scott Morrison last November, recognised problems with the existing PRRT system and recommended some changes for new liquified natural gas (LNG) projects.

Fifty years ago most people, including politicians, championed the idea of equal educational opportunities for all. The politicians may have only done so for their own political advantage, but even this indicates the strength of the notion.

State vice president of the CFMEU’s Victorian Construction and General Division Robert Graauwmans gave this speech at Socialist Alliance’s May Day Dinner in Geelong on May 6. Below is an edited version of his speech.

* * *

I’ve been asked to speak on the topic of “Why we should break bad laws” and while I welcome the invitation and the topic, tonight I will not talk about the whether we need to break bad laws, but rather, why we must defy injustice.

The Big Four banks, ANZ, Commonwealth, National Australia Bank and Westpac, plus Macquarie Bank were hit by a surprise proposal for a $6.2 billion levy over four years in the federal budget on May 9.

Under the new measures, banks with liabilities of more than $100 billion will be taxed 0.06% on those “liabilities”.

Speculation about a new levy on the big banks sparked a run on banking shares, wiping $14 billion from their market value. Shares in the Big Four banks fell by between 2.1% and 3.6%.

Australia’s largest milk processor Murray Goulburn has announced it will close manufacturing plants in three small rural towns: Kiewa and Rochester in northern Victoria and Edith Creek in Tasmania.

Murray Goulburn expects 360 people will lose their jobs. The closures are in areas where there are no other industries.

This will have a huge impact on these three local communities. The 700 residents of Kiewa-Tangambalanga will lose 135 jobs from Murray Goulburn's factory closure.

Australia’s refugee policy over the past 25 years has resulted in a detention process best described as “Hell on Earth”.

Mandatory detention was first introduced in May 1992 by the Labor government with the support of the opposition and has been marked with increasing human rights abuses including deliberate medical negligence, sexual assault by guards, self-immolation and murder.

It suffocates people’s hope, as many people have been in detention for more than four years with no certainty of ever being released.

Toxic sites in Australia are not well known or well managed. One such site is the old Nufarm chemical factory site in Melbourne’s northern suburb, Fawkner.

The factory operated from 1957 to 1974, making a wide range of noxious chemicals including dioxins; DDT; toluline-based emulsifiable concentrate; phenoxyacetic acid herbicide; 2,4-D; 2,4,5-T; esters; dichlorophenol and trichlorophenol and arsenic-based sheep dip.  

The federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham will release a report on May 8 commissioned by the government that will allegedly indicate that universities receive adequate funding for most courses and that their revenues are growing faster than their costs.

This report will be used to justify a proposed $2.8 billion funding cut that will raise the costs of course fees and mean that students will need to repay their HECS debts sooner.

In April the Federal Court ordered the oil and gas multinational Chevron to pay $340 million in tax. For the past few years this company has gotten away with paying no company tax at all by claiming that it did not make a profit.

The truth is it made billions, but the company inflated its expenses by having its Australian operation take a loan from a US subsidiary with an interest rate 25 times higher than the market norm.

Today’s crisis of the established political parties and the rise of far-right political projects are linked to the long-running capitalist crisis in which neoliberalism is immiserating the working class and small producers.

Pages