If the last federal election promised the beginnings of a break from the two-parties-for-capitalism electoral system that has plagued Australian politics for the past century, the March 29, 2011 NSW election seems to be a lurch in the other direction. The Liberal-National Coalition won dominance of the Legislative Assembly and (with small right-wing parties) control of the Legislative Council because a large number of working class voters punished the Labor party with a -13.5% swing.
The federal ALP government is pushing ahead with the punitive system of “income management” despite the fact that it is racist, unfair and expensive. In June 2010, the federal government passed legislation allowing the extension of welfare quarantining beyond the 73 Northern Territory remote communities that were its first target.
Australia is one step closer towards embracing disability as part of human diversity. On February 28 the Australian Government Productivity Commission released a draft report on Disability Care and Support. If the general recommendations of the report were to be implemented, people with disability, their families and carers would achieve a much-needed improvement to their lives, albeit starting in 2014-15. The report recommends a doubling of funding to the disability support system based on 2009-2010 spending, financed from general revenue.
The situation inside every one of Australia’s refugee detention centres has grown dangerously volatile. Just days after the Christmas Island breakout and subsequent protests, nine refugees climbed on the roof of a detention centre in Darwin after watching the assault of another refugee on March 15. Two days later, a 20-year-old Afghan man hanged himself with a bedsheet at the Scherger detention centre after his refugee application was rejected.
There has been intense activity in 2011 around the social and community services pay equity wage case pursued by the Australian Services Union (ASU) and four other unions. The claim, which was lodged in March 2010, is rapidly approaching its conclusion. Since late January 2011, there has been: • A new round of site visits, during which members of the Fair Work Australia tribunal hearing the case visited public sector workplaces to see how the work compared to that in the non-government sector.
Campaigners won a stunning victory on March 21 when the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) announced that there is “adequate information to demonstrate that Vasse Coal Management’s coalmining proposal is environmentally unacceptable”. EPA Chairperson Paul Vogel said: “In effect, this is an EPA ‘no’ to the proposal.” The proposed Vasse coalmine was to have been 15 kilometres from the popular tourist destination, Margaret River. Internationally renowned as a wine-growing region, Margaret River is in the south-west of Western Australia.
Melbourne activists protested outside Zimbabwe Airlines office on Monday 21 March to call for the release of six Zimbabwe activists who are facing charges of treason with threat of a death penalty. The activists were arrested while watching a film about the uprising in Egypt and have been tortured in prison. Forty-five people were arrested but 39 have since been released. The remaining six are still in serious danger.
The science that informs us about climate change is becoming more and more alarming. The National Snow and Ice Date Center said on March 23: “On March 7, 2011, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.64 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles). “The maximum extent was 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), and equal (within 0.1%) to 2006 for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record.”
United States President Barack Obama’s visit to El Salvador on March 22 became a focal point for protests. Protests were organised that day by Central American social movement organisations and their North American allies outraged by US trade policy and military meddling in the region. Local environmental and community organisations joined with allies such as US-El Salvador Sister Cities and Committees in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador to mobilise students and workers for rallies in the US and El Salvador on March 22.
Migrant Trade Union (MTU) president Michel Catuira is facing visa cancellation and possible deportation from South Korea. On February 10, the Korean Immigration Service issued a number of measures against Catuira. These included the cancellation of his visa and a departure order to leave the country by March 7. It also threatened him with forcible deportation to his home country of the Philippines.
Coal seam gas exploration is becoming a key political issue in NSW. The Labor and Liberal parties are pushing for a huge expansion in gas mining, including coal seam gas. But farmers, regional communities and city-dwellers are becoming increasingly worried about the health and environmental consequences of the gas rush. The NSW government recently approved energy company AGL’s bid to drill 90 coal seam gas wells and build a pipeline and processing centre near Gloucester, north of Sydney.
More than 40 people attended a rally in Fremantle on March 21 in support of Zimbabwean political activists who have been charged with treason. The rally was held to coincide with the court hearing in Harare for activists Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tafadzwa Choto, Hopewell Gumbo, Welcome Zimuto, Tatenda Mombeyara and Edson Chakuma. Independent MP for Fremantle Adele Carles told the crowd: “These brave men and women are charged with treason and face the death penalty.
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