Comment and Analysis

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has backed calls for a new “people’s bank” to challenge the power of the Big Four mega-banks. He told the National Press Club on March 15: “The time has come for a people's bank, one that injects real competition into the banking sector.”

Senator Di Natale drew on the example of the state-owned KiwiBank in New Zealand, run by the NZ Post Office. A similar operation in Australia would boost competition, push down fees, help young buyers enter the property market and deter “unscrupulous behaviour”, he said.

Refugee activists have maintained watch at Villawood Detention Centre to stop the deportation of Saeed (not his real name), a 60-year-old Iraqi man, since March 22.

Through the hot days and cooler nights activists have been at each of Villawood’s three entrances, checked every leaving vehicle to see if Saeed is being deported and issued regular calls to action and updates on Facebook livestream in support of Saeed.

Students and staff are celebrating the defeat of Sydney University’s attempt to cut semesters from 13 weeks to 12. After almost no consultation with students or staff, the university attempted to push through the move at the Academic Board meeting on March 28.

Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) protested against the proposal and called on the board to vote "No". Overwhelmingly academic staff took this advice, with only management voting for the change.

The federal Labor Party decided on March 21 to tip the scales dramatically in favour of Adani’s $22 billion coalmine in Queensland when it agreed to support the Coalition’s bid to weaken native title in favour of the corporations.

The childcare workers’ strike on International Women’s Day caused me to reflect on the long journey towards equal pay and my personal experience over 50 years of my working life.

My first job as a student was as a conductor on Sydney buses from 1964 to 1966. Bus conductors and teachers were the only jobs that paid women the same rates as men, because there were “manpower” shortages in these industries. However, it was not until late 1966 that women conductors could be promoted to drivers.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), electricity supply will be threatened as early as next year by “shortfalls in gas”, or failing that, households may face cuts to their gas supply. 

On March 22, the day after the NT parliament legislated to decriminalise abortion (see page 4), doctors in Queensland called on the state government to follow suit.

When Julian Assange appeared in front of the Melbourne Town Hall pipe organ, the pipes shimmered, nearly whistled; leaky, ready to burst. Pastel white as he was beamed in live from London, Assange looked surprisingly well.

The pipe setting became more allegoric as he spoke of his latest alarming leak: The Pied Piper theory. The reference is not to Assange leading his followers into the unknown. But more on that madcap theory later.

Lecture and Q&A specialist company ThinkInc, toured Assange across Australia under the banner of “No more secrets: No more lies”.

Foreign Correspondent’s “Venezuela: A nation on the brink”, screened on the ABC on March 21 was a straight out piece of US State Department propaganda.

It was also more evidence of the ABC’s rightward trajectory under ex-Murdoch executive and CEO Michelle Guthrie.

“Venezuela is a disaster,” reporter Eric Campbell and producer Matt Davis begin. “It has the biggest oil reserves on the planet. But instead of living like Middle Eastern sheiks, many Venezuelans are on the brink of famine.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should hang her head in shame. She has proven once again that the word “Labor” in “Australian Labor Party” has no connection with the interests of working people in Australia — or anywhere else.

Palaszczuk headed a delegation to India on March 17 to underscore her government’s support for the Adani company’s proposed Carmichael thermal coalmine. If it is given the go ahead, it will be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world. It would be the first for the Galilee Basin, and it would open the door to more.

Here we go again. The second version of the Omnibus bill that the Turnbull government is trying to drive through parliament — the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 — promises yet more savage attacks on welfare recipients and the working poor, and we haven't even seen the 2017–18 budget yet.

Today, as vaccinations are being used as a political weapon, we need to look again at the science and when, where and how they matter. We also need to question whether the punitive way the major parties are driving policy on immunisations will increase the vaccination rate.

Over hundreds of years, immunisation has been scientifically proven to prevent many diseases. It is worth examining some of the history that promoted the realisation that diseases can be prevented.

Laws prohibiting the homeless from sleeping, eating, soliciting, or, let’s face it, being seen in public, are older than most modern institutions.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale raised the prospect of a “four-day work week or a six-hour day” as part of an address to the National Press Club on March 15.

This is a good discussion to be having in a country where people work among the longest hours in the world and where productivity growth has massively outstripped wage growth in recent decades.

Di Natale also flagged the possibility of a Universal Basic Income — which he described as a “guaranteed adequate income”.

Will the election of former Australian Services Union NSW head Sally McManus as ACTU secretary result in a strategic shift in the trade union movement in this country? Many unionists and activists are hoping so.

The government is tightening the screws on workers and the poor, intent on further attacks on the social wage, privatising health, education and welfare services and attacking refugees. We need to fight back. Strong, fighting unions are essential to building an effective resistance to corporate power and to defending our rights.

The Barnett Liberal government, which had been in power for the past eight years, was definitively trounced in the March 11 WA state election. A defining theme was the government's accumulation of $40 billion of debt despite governing through an unprecedented mining boom.

The big winner was the Labor Party, which on the back of a 9.1% swing has won 42 seats, 12 more than the 30 needed to secure a majority. There was a 15.8% swing against the Liberal Party which lost votes to both Labor and One Nation.

The 2017 state election marked a modest but important advance for Socialist Alliance in Western Australia.

We achieved state party registration, giving us a huge boost. For the first time in a WA election “Socialist Alliance” featured on the ballot paper — previously our candidates were officially listed as independents. Having our name on the ballot paper allows us to reach out beyond recognition of the individual candidate, and makes it clear that we are a collective project that people can support and join.

“I’d rather kill myself than return to Iran — to the hell where I was violently raped by my own stepfather. But unless immigration minister Peter Dutton urgently intervenes by exercising his discretion and allowing me to apply for a partner visa while in Australia, I’ll spend my life in limbo with the never-ending threat of indefinite detention in Australia or forced return to Iran.”

By now you must have heard. The ACTU has been taken over by a terrorist spouting, in Christopher Pyne’s words, “anarchist Marxist clap trap” about destroying the rule of law, and presumably replacing it with a reign of terror in which CFMEU thugs will drag innocent bosses and Liberal politicians to the guillotine.

In public policy, there are many dog’s breakfasts presented as considered initiatives. Rarely, though, are we served up such a self-contradictory, irrational and generally talentless a dish as the new “energy intervention” announced by South Australia’s Labor government on March 14.

Aimed at side-stepping conservative attacks over recent power cuts, the government’s plan makes some provision for storage back-up to underpin wind and solar. But mainly, the $550 million scheme consists of large-scale concessions to fossil fuel interests — in this case, the gas industry.

Trevor Grant passed away on March 6, after a long battle with asbestos-caused mesothelioma.

Trevor was well known as a sports reporter, particularly for his reporting on AFL, for many Melbourne newspapers. While the mainstream media has focused on that aspect of his life, what was not mentioned was the contribution he made to the community via 3CR, a community radio station in Melbourne, and as convenor of the Tamil Refugee Council.

Generating electricity using renewable energy is now cheaper than using fossil fuels, but mining companies, banks and governments in Australia continue to invest significantly more in coal, oil and gas than wind and solar. 

"Former NSW Premier Mike Baird has enthusiastically accepted a job at the National Australia Bank as chief customer officer, in order to spend less time with his family," The Chaser revealed on February 28.

"Baird has reported an exhausting five weeks spending quality time with his children. According to Lucy Baird, his eldest daughter, Baird's return has polled badly among the family, following his controversial policy of putting his children to bed two hours earlier than they were previously used to.

A large commercial beekeeper in Darlington Point in the Riverina, southern NSW, has been forced to pack up and move after hundreds of beehives were devastated by pesticide-drift from nearby cotton farms. It is thought the bees died due to the spraying of neonicotinoid insecticides.

With the passage of the Climate Change Act (CCA) that mandates a target of zero net emissions by 2050, Victoria is formally in the leadership among state and federal governments. 

There’s a new bogey man on the block.

It is credited with the rise of brazenly crude figures such as Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson. It is behind outrageous-sounding propositions like Safe Schools, anti-discrimination laws and gender equality. It is running around Melbourne, putting a tiny skirt on the little figure on traffic lights.

In this increasingly polarised political climate, political correctness has emerged as the new villain.

Jesse Lee* is organising the Sydney leg of the March in March protest on March 25. She lives in Sydney’s west and is the primary carer for one of her children. She has first-hand experience of the welfare cuts and the vagaries of the disability support scheme. 

Lee put her hand up to organise the Sydney march because she strongly believes that protests are important and they work. She also believes that now is not the time to be quiet.

In January, the Socialist Alliance decided to embrace animal rights when it adopted a new animal welfare policy.

The Socialist Alliance has the twin aims of fighting the capitalist system and pursuing freedom from all forms of oppression. The animal welfare policy continues that goal in aiming to better the lives of animals.

The public debate over the problems of electricity supply displays a curious disconnect. On the one hand, there is virtually universal agreement that the system is in crisis. After 25 years, the promised outcomes of reform in the electricity industry — cheaper and more reliable electricity, competitive markets and rational investment decisions — are further away than ever. 

Decriminalisation of abortion will be referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) by the Palaszczuk Labor government after independent MP Rob Pyne withdrew his private member's bills on the issue.

The bills were due to be debated on March 1 but Pyne withdrew them the day before — to the disappointment of many pro-choice activists — when it became clear they faced defeat in the parliament.

The campaign against Roe 8 and the whole Perth Freight Link freeway project has produced an unprecedented outpouring of creativity, community spirit and determination. The past month and a half has produced another phase — the Wetlands Defenders, characterised by their remarkable resilience and courage.

One of our young Socialist Alliance members, just out of high school, is currently locked on up a tree. We know she is well supported by good caring people, the people who have organised this phase of the campaign.

Company profits have skyrocketed, while real wages have fallen. This is the harsh reality of the class war being pursued by Australia’s big-business rulers, as underlined by the latest Bureau of Statistics figures released on February 27.

In the last three months of last year, profits surged by a massive 20%, while wages fell by 0.5%. Over 2016, profits were up 26%, while wages grew by a mere 1%, less than the inflation rate of 1.5% — effectively a wage cut.

The NDIS bilateral agreement signed on February 1 by the Western Australian and federal governments resulted in a separate NDIS being rolled out in WA. In this version, WA will pay all the administration and operating costs but governance responsibilities will be shared with the Commonwealth.

At ANZ’s Annual General Meeting in December last year, chairperson David Gonski asked why any corporation would stay in Australia where they are taxed "so highly" in comparison to other countries?

The response to this is that companies should be made to pay even more tax, and those which pay none should be made to pay. More than one third of large public and private companies paid no tax in 2014-15.

The misnamed Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision on February 23 to cut penalty rates will hit hundreds of thousands of casual and part-time workers. But women will fare worse because the gender pay gap continues.

The employer’s argument, that penalty rates prevent them from hiring and remaining open on Sundays, is disproved by the facts. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show that despite the mining boom slow down, the retail and hospitality sectors are booming.

The recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision to cut penalty rates for weekends and public holidays will deliver a windfall to big retail and hospitality bosses, while slashing the wages of about 700,000 low-paid workers.

Figures released by the ACTU put the average worker in accommodation and food services on only $524 a week and those in retail on just $687. Contrast this with the average pay of $1163 for all Australian workers and you can see just how draconian FWC’s decision is.

International Women’s Day (IWD) in Australia has lost its radical edge. In recent years, it has become more about holding cosy breakfasts and receptions where female bureaucrats and businesswomen can rub shoulders with political leaders and congratulate themselves on their “success”.

These events can make us forget that IWD has a radical socialist history of women determinedly marching for their rights. And once it even helped spark a revolution.

The February 23 ruling by the so-called Fair Work Australia Commission to allow the slashing of weekend penalty rates for those working in the food and retail sector is a direct attack on some of the most vulnerable and underpaid workers in Australia.

Green Left Weekly’s Chris Jenkins spoke to Aaron Beardsell, WA state organiser of the newly formed Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) about the new union and the challenges facing workers in their sector.

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The appointment of former Queensland Labor premier Anna Bligh as CEO of the Australian Bankers' Association (ABA) is a desperate public relations ploy by the Big Four Australian banks to head off a looming royal commission into their crimes and misdeeds.

It seems unlikely to succeed, given the anger in the community against the Big Four — the Commonwealth, National Australia Bank, Westpac and ANZ — and their systematic gouging of the general public.

With the decision by the misnamed Fair Work Commission to slash the take home pay of some of the lowest-paid workers, it is worth restating that all wealth in our society is created by workers and not capitalists.

Profits come from the difference between the value of the goods and services created by a worker and what they are paid for their work. Some of this "surplus value" is invested back into production, but the rest is siphoned off as profit.

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