GREEN LEFT WEEKLY - Australias independent voice committed to human and civil rights, global peace, anti-capitalism etc.
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.
Sydney University’s manoeuvre follows a trend of “trimesterisation” of higher education institutions. University Technology Sydney, Deakin and Bond universities have all implemented trimesters (three terms) and last year University New South Wales (UNSW) announced plans to introduce a trimester academic year in 2019.
This initiative, which is being referred to as UNSW3+, will cost the university $3 billion. UNSW is implementing the “Stanford model”, which allows for 10 weeks of learning and assessment time per trimester, with two-week breaks between trimesters, an optional five week summer school at the end of the year and then a four-week summer break.
The study load for this new academic calendar remains the same, with a minimum of six subjects per year for a full-time student. This means students will have the same course work, the same assessments and the same work load, but a shorter amount of time to do them.
At the same time, Sydney University, which has a semester-based academic calendar, tried to cut their semesters from 13 weeks to 12 weeks. Like the UNSW3+ plan, this change would place pressure on students to finish the same work and absorb the same information in a shorter amount of time.So why introduce these changes?
The changes are primarily to tie in with academic calendars in the northern hemisphere, so international students can more easily study in Australia in Study Abroad programs.
UNSW is advertising their new trimester-based calendar as an “exciting and progressive change”. The main marketing point for it is that international students will not have to spend as much time in Australia as previously to complete a degree. They can come to Australia, give UNSW their money and leave as soon as possible — albeit with a lower quality education.
While Study Abroad programs can offer unique learning opportunities to the privileged students who partake in them, the argument that the whole nature of higher education needs to be changed to accommodate international study programs is highly questionable.
Implementing these changes would lead to increased strain on the physical and mental wellbeing of students and staff, especially disabled, single-parent and low income students and staff, as the consequences of missing even one class skyrocket.
SUPRA co-president, Ahmed Suhaib said: “We support the university’s initiative to encourage more students to be part of Study Abroad programs and other learning opportunities, but reducing semester time is not the way to do it.
“Trimester-based campuses and 12-week semester proposals will be detrimental to already disadvantaged students, in hopes of providing a more exciting university experience for the small percentage of students who can afford to study overseas, while lowering education quality for all students at Australian campuses.”
Schools with trimester academic calendars, place less importance on face-to-face learning and discussion, and more importance on mechanical and online learning. UNSW, for example, has allocated $75 million of their $3 billion budget for this initiative exclusively towards online learning and teaching platforms.
This lower-quality education is the trade-off for the fact that UNSW can now streamline its graduates directly into the workforce, less equipped, less educated and less aware, but still holding the same qualifications. This is corporate greed removing human growth and learning from the education system.
UNSW3+ and the USYD semester cuts create uncertainty for professional staff at these universities, who are now being replaced with online methods and “self-learning”.
This is just the latest way UNSW is undermining their staff, after the leak of its plan for 2025, which proposes a job cut over two years of about 415 fulltime staff. Sydney University casual staff face an attack as they are paid piece rates and one fewer week a semester would see them suffer financially. Many casual staff live under the poverty line.
The reaction to the announcement of UNSW3+re has been widespread dissent from students and staff. Students called a rally on the UNSW library lawn on March 8 that drew 800 people. Sydney University’s 12-week semester proposal met stiff resistance at the Academic Board meeting and was voted down. According to a Honi Soit article, Sydney University’s pro-corporate Vice Chancellor “Michael Spence indicated that should feedback from students and staff improve, the proposal may be reintroduced”.
Sydney University staff and students staved off another anti-education measure from management and stood up for quality education and the rights of casual workers. Despite this step forward, students, university staff need to be ever vigilant against the corporate agenda that permeates universities today.
[Rachel Evans is the SUPRA co-education officer and co-orgainser of Socialist Alliance Sydney branch.]1132Comment and Analysis
One hundred years ago, on March 14, 1917 (March 1 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, issued the following appeal to soldiers.
At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were striving to bring order into the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the Soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma.
Nonetheless, the Soviet's "Order No. 1," issued on March 14 (March 1) in response to soldiers' pressure and published on March 15 (March 2), called for soldiers to elect representative committees all along the chain of command, stipulated that officers treat soldiers respectfully and asserted the Soviet's primary influence over soldiers by stating that they should obey only Duma commands that did not contradict Soviet resolutions.
The Duma Committee announced the formation of the Provisional Government on March 15 (March 2), and Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. By March 16 (March 3), the autocracy had collapsed.
Thus, the ground was prepared for the period of "dual power" in Petrograd – between the rival Duma and Provisional Government on one side and the Petrograd soviet on the other – that prevailed between the February and October Revolutions.
The Interdistrict Committee, co-authors of the appeal below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDRP), but later in 1917 fused with the Bolshevik current.
Their leaflet here presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee's course.
According to historian Michael Melancon, it circulated on March 14 (March 1), probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1.
Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the executive committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (March 2).
The leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Barbara Allen.
It is the eighth piece in the ongoing “1917: The View from the Streets – Leaflets of the Russian Revolution” series being co-ordinated by Allen and John Riddell.
It was first published at John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
* * *
It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.
Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy.
Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people’s blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!
As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom – that is what you need!
You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government.
Still, you have not heard a word from [MV] Rodzianko [Duma chair] or [PN] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!
Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!
Go ask the Duma, will the people have land, freedom, and peace?
Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted.
The people’s cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies – not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people’s cause!
Take power into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you.
Elect your own platoon, company, and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.
Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.
Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.
Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox’s tail [intrigues] than the wolf’s tooth [outright aggression].
Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone.
Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people’s Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!
Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, State Treasury, and monasteries?
Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don’t waste time!
Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
All land to the peasants!
All freedom to the people!
Long live the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!
Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, March 1917
[Published in AG Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1. On Shlyapnikov’s role in the 1917 events, see Barbara C Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik.]1131International News
English socialist Phil Hearse writes: “The victory of the Brexit vote last June represented the spectacular victory of the Conservative right and the forces that backed them – like UKIP.”
Given this, Hearse argues, “The first duty of socialists is to face reality as it is, not how they would like it to be.
“The Brexit on offer is a right-wing, reactionary Brexit imposed by the xenophobic ultra-nationalist right wing. We should fight it every inch of the way.”‘Ecosocialism is more than a strategy, it’s a project for civilization’
Alexandre Araujo Costa, a Brazilian ecology activist, interviews Belgian ecology writer and activist Daniel Tanuro on a range of questions concerning ecology and ecosocialism.
In the interview, Tanuro argues: “Ecosocialism is much more than a strategy to link social and environmental demands: it is a project of civilization, aiming for the development of a new ecological consciousness, a new culture of the relationship with nature, a new cosmogony.”‘All power to the Soviets!’ - Biography of a slogan
In the first of a seven-part series, Lars Lih examines the origins, in its original context of Russia in 1917, of the slogan “All power to the Soviets!”, surely one of the most famous slogans in revolutionary history.
When, why and how did the Bolsheviks come to adopt this slogan in the spring of 1917?
Lih sets out to challenge the common assertion that in order for the party to arrive at the slogan, it had to be rearmed by Lenin’s April Theses.1131Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
Massive mobilisations involving 1 million people across Brazil and a mood for general strike unlike anything seen in some time marked March 15.
That day, various organised sectors came onto the streets to protest a packet of reforms proposed by the government of President Michel Temer.
Temer was installed in power last year after a constitutional coup removed elected president Dilma Rousseff, of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT). Since then, Temer has carried out a harsh austerity program and wound back a number of progressive reforms implemented by the PT governments of Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) before her.
In the biggest rally, in Sao Paulo, professors and subway workers prominently featured in the 200,000-strong protest that was primarily focused on stopping the reform of the pension system.
Below, Paulo Pasin, president of the National Federation of Subway Workers (Fenametro), discusses the importance of the March 15 mobilisations in an abridged version of an interview done by Gabriel Brito for Correio da Cidadania. It has been translated by Federico Fuentes.
* * *
Firstly, why did subway workers go on strike and what are your demands?
Our strike was against the reforms to the pension system and labour regulations. Our union has a tradition of struggles in defence of the rights of all workers.
That is why our strike was supported by commuters using the Metro. Not even the media, which always attacks our strikes, could hide the population’s support for our strike. Many people said: “everyone needs to go on strike”.
What can you say about the pension reform proposed by the Temer government?
It is not a reform, but rather the destruction of the pension system. The proposed changes would stop millions of Brazilians from accessing this right.
Establish a minimum retirement age of 65 years for men and women; increase the number of years worked to 49 in order to receive a pension equivalent to the wage you received; no longer tie the Continuous Cash Benefit (BPC) program to the minimum wage; gradually lift the minimum age of retirement from 65 to 70 years; reduce the BPC paid to poor people with disabilities or illnesses; oblige rural workers to not only work for longer but also hand over a large sum of money [to retirement funds]; this is perverse.
We know that life expectancy in various regions of Brazil, such as the north and north-east, is less than 65 years. Studies show the reality is similar in the outer lying areas of Sao Paulo.
That is, the majority of workers, mainly the poor and those who work in the most dangerous and unsafe industries (farm labour, construction, etc.) will not live to reach the minimum age of retirement.
Ignoring the double burden of labour and the inequality of work conditions that women face confirms the retrograde and sexist position of this illegitimate government. Temer not only ignores the fact that women work more than men, but also that this gap has increased further in the last decade.
In line with this, how do you evaluate the set of reforms the federal government is seeking to implement?
The central objective of all of the reforms and measures of this government is to make workers and the poor pay for the crisis of the capitalist system.
They have already passed legislation to freeze social spending for two decades (health, education, housing, public transport, etc), penalising the poorest.
Now they want to pass the pension reform, and labour reform to increase and generalise unrestricted casualisation.
And, because they know that workers will react, they are strengthening the repressive character of the state and further limiting the right to strike and protest.
What is your analysis of the national day of protest against the reform? Specifically, how do you evaluate the protest in Sao Paulo?
I believe the national day surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. There were strikes by various sectors in all of Brazil, including various public transport strikes. We, subway workers, went on strike in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Recife, and opened ticket barriers in Mercado station in Porto Alegre. There were also big actions in various capital cities and road blockades on important highways.
The protest in Sao Paulo was very impressive, demonstrating that, contrary to Temer’s speech on March 15, society does understand the pension reform, which is why it opposes it and is mobilising to defeat it. The large support of the population towards subway workers is also a sign of this comprehension; that it is necessary to struggle in defence of this right.
What lies ahead? What are your expectations for 2017 and the continuity of the Temer government?
Despite being strong, the protests on March 15, as well as the women’s mobilisations on March 8, were the start of a series of days of struggle against the Temer government’s reforms.
Despite being anti-people, the reforms have the support of all fractions of international and national capital, of this conservative and corrupt parliament, of the courts and of the media.
We need to continue taking to the streets and preparing for a general strike at the grassroots level in every union. We should not channel our struggles towards the 2018 elections, as the PT want.
We also cannot accept a path that will lead towards divisions within our class, one of putting forward specific proposals to modify the government’s project. We have to defeat the pension and labour reforms.
The future of generations in Brazil will be defined in 2017. Either we greatly broaden out the unity of our class with even stronger actions, or we will lose those minimal rights we have won in the last decades.
The result of this battle will determine the continuity or not of this illegitimate government, as the approval of its reforms is a condition for its existence.
In this sense, it is fundamental that we achieve a broad unity of action with all those who are in favour of direct mobilisation to defeat the pension and labour reforms.1131International News
On an August evening in Glasgow last year, supporters of Celtic Football Club waved dozens of Palestinian flags during a Champions League playoff match against Israeli team Hapoel Be’er Sheva, garnering global attention.
The governing body of European football (soccer), UEFA, responded by fining Celtic for violating the sacrosanct — and many say highly selective — prohibition against mixing football and politics.
But the penalty only presented members of the Green Brigade, Celtic’s famously fanatical left-wing supporters, or “ultras”, with a chance to further oppose Israeli occupation while providing practical solidarity to Palestine.
They launched a “Match the Fine for Palestine” online fundraising campaign. Celtic supporters raised and donated more than US$210,000 divided between the Lajee cultural centre in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem and the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.BDS potential
This example shows the “hugely significant” potential of football — the world’s most popular sport — in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement opposing Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies.
Aubrey Bloomfield, a New York-based researcher specialising in sport and politics, told The Electronic Intifada that sport’s role in the BDS movement could have a big impact.
A successful campaign of boycott against Israeli football, Bloomfield said, “would have a significant psychological and reputational impact”.
Geoffrey Lee, a coordinator with Red Card Israeli Racism, a British-based campaign group, said football is “one of the most perfect normalisation activities” for Israel.
Within BDS, sport falls under the cultural segment, which is led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
PACBI spokesperson Mariam Ibrahim called the Celtic fans’ example a “model” of how football can play a central role in raising awareness about Palestine.
“The use of football to whitewash Israeli policies can be also an opportunity to open a debate to a much broader global football audience and mobilise millions to support Palestinian rights and the global BDS movement,” Ibrahim said.
Much current football BDS activism is focused on the six Israeli settlement teams in the occupied West Bank that play in the Israel Football Association leagues.
Activists are calling for FIFA, football’s global governing body, to either force Israel to exclude the settlement teams, or to exclude Israel from international competitions if the Israel Football Association refuses.
FIFA’s own regulations, specifically statute 72.2, state that clubs from one national association cannot operate in the territory of another national association without its consent.Precedents
One course of action for FIFA and UEFA could lie in applying the solution they settled on in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The “Crimean solution”, instigated by UEFA, set a precedent by enforcing the principle that teams based in occupied land (Crimea) cannot play in the leagues of the occupier (Russia). But in the case of Israel, FIFA seems to be “frozen into inaction”, Lee said.
Lee suggested, “there is a natural conservatism among the game’s authorities, and they don’t want disruption, especially when it comes to politics.”
Bloomfield said it is FIFA itself, however, that continues to mix politics and football by allowing settlement clubs to play under its authority, “in violation of both FIFA rules and international law”.
FIFA has previously responded to calls for boycott. In 1964, it suspended South Africa from international football and then expelled the country completely in 1976. It was not until 1992 and the end of the Apartheid regime, that the country’s FIFA membership was restored.
This stance is “today seen as a moment of pride for football’s governing body”, Ibrahim said. “It contributed to the international isolation of apartheid and the strengthening of international solidarity with Black South Africans resisting oppression.”
Indeed, a sporting boycott is the reason Israeli football is now played in a European framework. With most of its members refusing to play Israel, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decided to expel the country in 1974. After a period in football limbo, Israel joined UEFA as a full member in 1994.
The AFC continues to push for sanctions against Israel. Last month, the confederation’s executive committee agreed to call on FIFA to seek an “urgent resolution to the ongoing Palestine issues with Israel” and help Palestinian teams to play unhindered.BDS football strategy
In 2015, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), led by Jibril Rajoub – a former West Bank security chief seen as close to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas – threatened to call for a vote by FIFA members on Israel’s membership.
Ultimately, the PFA backed down, apparently due to a lack of support for the motion among FIFA members.
Bloomfield, however, speculated that perhaps the moves to call a vote were only ever “empty threats” intended to make Rajoub “sound tough and seem like he was standing up to Israel”.
“One important challenge is the tension between BDS and the Palestinian establishment, which includes the PFA,” Bloomfield said.
“The Palestinian establishment does not explicitly support BDS, but at times tries to strategically co-opt the movement and its political capital, something that has drawn criticism from BDS supporters.”
Ibrahim was scathing in her assessment of any PFA role in BDS, telling The Electronic Intifada: “The space for effective BDS action on Israel inside FIFA remains limited because the Palestinian Football Association, which exercises a tight control over the sports community in Palestine, has acted against Palestinian interests and rights and betrayed its duty to defend Palestinian football.”
The actions of football supporters, such as Celtic fans, have also provoked discussion on whether the BDS movement should limit itself to the issue of settlement clubs.
“[BDS] should be targeting the Israeli occupation as a whole, just as the sporting aspect of the anti-apartheid movement was focused on the whole of the apartheid system, not just racial discrimination in South African sport,” Bloomfield said.
Ibrahim agreed that “football has not been exactly prominent in the BDS movement”, but added that “momentum is now growing for the FIFA campaign”.
For Lee, part of the reason football has not played a major role in BDS so far is because of Israel’s “low profile” in international football.
He said this was a shame, “as in Israel football is of prime importance within domestic politics in order to normalise Israel” as a state with so-called European values.
Bloomfield envisions “key BDS groups developing a strategy, coordinating with supportive fans and activists, and explicitly articulating what a sporting boycott and sporting sanctions would and should look like”.
Independent, creative actions by fans such as Celtic’s are “part of why BDS has been so successful and grown so much”, he said, and should be complemented by a clearer, more comprehensive strategy to harness football’s potential.Vulnerable sponsors, reluctant footballers
Another option for expanding the sporting boycott, Ibrahim said, is to target the economic side of Israeli football. This would involve pressuring companies that sponsor clubs while drawing attention to FIFA’s own professed commitment to ethical business practices.
Article 3 of FIFA’s statutes, for example, states that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights”.
Ibrahim said fans should also educate their clubs and footballers about BDS and Palestine, and retired athletes, “who are more free to speak out”, taking public stands.
So far individual football players have been slow to step forward. In other areas of the cultural boycott, prominent musicians have emerged as vocal supporters, former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters being one example.
“The emergence of a Waters-type figure in sport would be a sign that the profile of the sporting aspect of BDS had already grown significantly,” Bloomfield said.
Increasing the prominence of football within BDS has great potential to complement the actions of supporters on the terraces and in the streets.
The case of Celtic serves as an example of the way sporting spaces generally, and football in particular, can be fertile ground for mobilising international support for justice in Palestine.
[Abridged from The Electronic Intifada.]
Rene Perez, aka Residente, co-founder and lead singer of Puerto Rican band Calle 13, has slammed the United States for being one of the most “racist” countries on the planet.
“[US president Donald] Trump helped identifying the racists, you can see them with the little cap,” Residente said this month, alluding to the red “Make America Great Again” headwear that is popular with Trump supporters.
He emphasised that racism has always existed in the US, but during former President Barack Obama’s administration society believed “everything was fine” even though “it was actually the same country”.
On the issue of Puerto Rico, Residente branded it “ridiculous” that the Caribbean island “remains a colony” of the US, unable to elect its own president.
His comments come as Puerto Rico’s US-appointed oversight board approved on March 13 a revised version of a fiscal plan proposed by Governor Ricardo Rossello to tackle the island’s debt crisis. It will ramp up punishing austerity measures through more cuts to public spending.
Puerto Rico’s status as a US colony forbids it from making any independent decisions about its economy, particularly regarding debt.
This status denies it the legal right to file for bankruptcy and means it cannot negotiate new debt terms, which would allow the protection of public assets and pay for essential services.
Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898 when the US usurped it from the Spanish Empire.
There is a new push for the territory to become a US state. But Residente insists that full independence is key to Puerto Rico managing its own resources and breaking free from Washington’s colonial rule.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]
“The world’s poorest countries, those with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, will be the most severely affected by extreme temperatures brought on by global warming.”
Statements such as that appear in virtually every report and article on climate change. A feature of most such statements is use of the future tense: the poorest countries will be worse-hit than the rich ones.
But new research shows that the predicted unequal climate future has actually been with us for decades. The poorest countries have already experienced twice as great a rise in extreme temperatures as rich ones — and the gap has been widening for more than 30 years.
A study published this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, compares the number of extremely hot days and nights in high- and low-income countries, showing how the frequency has changed since the period 1961-90.
The report says: “Low income countries have experienced more than twice the increase in the number of hot days occurring each year compared to high income countries.”
The researchers point out that because most poor countries are in the tropics, the human impact of hot days is more dangerous. When normal temperatures are already “close to the upper threshold for human comfort”, even a small rise in day and night temperatures “can contribute substantially to heatwave mortality”.
The authors conclude:
- “Low income countries have already suffered disproportionately from global warming and have done so for decades … Low income populations should expect more severe temperature extremes earlier than high income populations as greenhouse gas emissions continue.”
- “If the rate of change in temperature extremes remains the same in low-income countries, then within two decades the number of hot days experienced each year will very likely triple compared to the 1961–90 average.”
- Climate change negotiations should “take into consideration the faster growth in temperature extremes that most low-income countries have already experienced due to global warming. Our findings give weight to arguments developed by many low-income countries to justify an increase in their adaptation finance as they have already experienced disproportionately adverse impacts from global warming — and are likely to continue to do so.
“Our findings also lend support to calls for explicit loss and damage compensation.”
[Abridged from Climate and Capitalism.]1131International News
A new report released on March 22 found President Donald Trump has broken his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” at every turn. Instead, he has turned the government over to corporate interests and enriched his bottom line.
The joint report from advocacy groups Public Citizen and Every Voice analyses the two months since Trump took office. It concludes that the new administration is mired in corruption and conflicts of interests. The president himself has hired the very figures he claimed he would fight — big-money donors, lobbyists and Wall Street executives.
In fact, the administration has even failed to live up to its own “painfully inadequate” ethics standards, the groups said.
That includes refusing to divest from his corporate empire, conducting private business deals overseas while decrying foreign trade, and failing to donate the Trump Organization’s foreign profits to the US Treasury — thereby violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, according to Public Citizen and other watchdogs.
The report, “Broken Promises: How Trump Is Profiting Off the Presidency and Empowering Lobbyists and Big Donors”, outlines some of the discrepancies between what Trump promised and what he has actually done:
- Trump promised: To “isolate” himself from the management of the Trump family businesses.
In reality: Trump’s business partners were invited to his inauguration; a Kuwaiti Embassy event at a Trump hotel raised questions about violations of the foreign bribery clause of the Constitution; Trump’s rollback of environmental protections will benefit his golf courses.
- Trump promised: That the Trump businesses will not pursue “new” foreign deals.
In reality: After a decade of inaction, the family businesses restarted a Dominican Republic project; a fight over trademarks of Trump’s name in China was settled weeks after his inauguration, with the country approving the trademarks shortly after Trump asserted US support for the “One China policy”; a businessperson with ties to Chinese intelligence just bought a penthouse from Trump.
- Trump promised: To donate foreign profits from his Washington, DC, hotel to the US Treasury.
In reality: He has not donated these profits; the Trump Organization announced that the donation would be made at the end of the year. It remains unclear how the profit will be calculated, and the money received from foreign entities that isn't profit still violates the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
- Trump promised: To appoint an independent ethics officer for the Trump businesses.
In reality: He appointed a loyal Republican election lawyer and a long-time attorney for the Trump family business. It’s not clear whether vetting is actually happening.
David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a group that fights against big money in politics, said of Trump: “In just two months, he has shown himself to be everything that on the campaign trail he expressed to hate about Washington — a self-dealer more interested in helping his friends and big donors than creating a democracy that works for all of us.”
[Abridged from Common Dreams.]1131International News
The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was originally set up by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2005. Another former Prime Minister Tony Abbott tried but failed to reintroduce it in 2014.
It was the reason Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution election last year. The result was a Senate willing to pass ABCC legislation, thanks to the likes of Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch who voted with the Coalition.
Why is the ABCC so controversial and why are unions, particularly the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), so opposed to it?
- ONE: The ABCC has coercive powers to compel people to speak. This effectively takes away building workers’ right to silence and to a lawyer. Failing to comply can result in six months’ jail.
- TWO: The ABCC is discriminatory. No other industrial regulator has the power to disregard basic legal rights.
- THREE: When this legislation was last in effect under the Howard government, the workplace deaths of construction workers reached a 10-year high.
- FOUR: The ABCC makes it harder for union and workplace health and safety representatives to ensure safety on site.
- FIVE: The ABCC is anti-union, specifically aimed at the CFMEU. The CFMEU now faces harsher penalties than any other union in any other industry if it breaks industrial laws in defence of its members.
- SIX: This legislation does not just affect construction workers. The new ABCC also includes anyone who is involved in the industry, including truck drivers and manufacturers. It will also impact on workers’ families due to secrecy provisions, which prevent an individual worker from telling their family they have been interrogated.
A national day of rallies against the ABCC and other attacks on workers was organised on March 9. Thousands of workers and supporters protested across the country. Newly elected ACTU Secretary Sally McManus refused to be backed into a corner and condemn the CFMEU for breaking the law, said where the laws are unjust they should be broken.
Labor’s Bill Shorten did not back McManus, saying "If you don't like a law, if you think a law is unjust, use the democratic process to get it changed." Shorten’s comments have prompted many sarcastic responses on social media, including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union tweeting a list of gains for workers (and society) which were all won by breaking unjust laws.
The ABCC is yet another unjust anti-union law that will need to be broken. No doubt construction workers will be arrested, as some are already pledging to do, rather than give up another worker.
The test, however, will be in the actions in coming months and the campaigns that need to be built to challenge and ultimately rip up any laws that put workers’ lives at risk.1131Resistance!
“Water is Life” was the slogan behind one of the most important mobilisations involving water last year where Native American tribes, calling themselves “water protectors”, fought against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for fear of it contaminating their main water source, as well as it destroying their sacred lands.
As the world marked World Water Day on March 22, I could not help but recall that the United Nations has already warned that water shortages will hit a record high in 2030. Some warn that water — arguably human beings’ most valuable resource after air — could become the next commodity over which communities and nations will wage bitter fights.
“By 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity,” former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in 2015. “Demand could outstrip supply by 40%.”Mismanagement
Climate change and global warming are some of the main causes behind deepening water problems. However, other less discussed factors are also a major part in the crisis, such as mismanagement and extraction of underground water sources.
The rate at which humans are draining rivers and precious groundwater is a few times faster than nature can recharge, which is leaving many parts of the world without enough water.
“Global food trade is also a culprit, as is the way we grow food,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chair of the board of Food and Water Watch. “Industrial farming, mining and extreme energy production all pollute and stress local water sources.”
Such practices are worsening problems in water-stressed areas and have already fuelled several conflicts, as warring parties use water as a weapon.
“There is little doubt that water shortages have played a part in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen,” said Barlow. “When you already have drought, inequality and social unrest, the lack of clean water and the food it grows can be the spark.”
In a 2015 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, scientists made a strong argument linking climate change over the past century to droughts in Syria, Egypt and Yemen that, they speculated, acted as a catalyst to the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, which later escalated into full-blown conflicts.
In Syria, for example, an extreme drought parched the country between 2006 and 2009, which the researchers argue was caused by climate change and hotter temperatures.
Meanwhile, Yemen has been one of the most impoverished countries in the world for years, even before the 2011 uprising against former long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In 2009, the country was rocked by months-long water riots and experts then warned that Yemen’s Sanaa could be the first waterless capital in the world. The country mostly depends on groundwater due to a highly dry climate.
The country’s humanitarian crisis and, in particular, its chronic lack of clean water, was significantly worsened after Saudi Arabia and its regional allies launched a military campaign against the Ansarullah Houthi rebels in March 2015.
Aid groups, including the UN and Oxfam, have estimated that at least 50% of Yemen’s 28 million people do not have access to clean water.
In conflicts, water is also being used as a weapon as is the case in Syria by both the government and rebel groups.
In December, the Syrian army and anti-government groups traded blame when a historic water source in the valley of Wadi Barada, which supplies some 5 million residents in the Syrian capital Damascus, was cut by the city’s water authority.
The government said rebels had contaminated it with diesel, while the insurgents said bombing by the government had damaged the infrastructure.
As the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas — which are mainly used for agriculture and drinking — come under stress, nearly 2 billion people who rely on that threatened water are now set to be exposed to shortages within 15 years.
If this trend persists, water could move from being a trigger for conflict to becoming the main reason behind a war. Shortages will, on one hand, result in shrinking economies and increasing poverty while, on the other hand, climate change will deplete whatever is left, spurring states to begin to fight over resources.
The United States government back in 2012 ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a report to address “how will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years?”
The report found that “depleted and degraded groundwater can threaten food security and thereby risk social disruption” and that such a crisis would take place within the next 10 years from the publication of the report.Corporate exploitation
This social unrest is already underway and non-profit groups and environmentalists are already working with affected communities. Blue Planet Project has been on the frontlines tackling global water justice around the world and in Latin America.
Meera Karunananthan, director of the Blue Planet Project, said the global water crisis is rooted in the privatisation of water resources in countries in both the global North and South. This has led to mismanagement by putting profits before people and the environment.
“Chile is the country with the highest rate of water privatisation in the world,” Karunananthan said. “Water and sanitation services are run primarily by large, privately funded corporations.
“In addition, freshwater supplies are managed through a market-based allocation system, which forces corporations and other users to purchase rights to access water.”
Karunananthan said this has brought big industries into conflict with small farmers and communities who are running out of drinking water during periods of drought.
“I have just returned from Chile where large monoculture avocado and citrus plantations are tapping freshwater from rivers upstream while communities downstream lack sufficient supplies to meet their basic needs,” she explained.
Karunananthan’s group is also working with local communities in El Salvador, where metal mining companies are contaminating freshwater resources that thousands of people depend on. Community leaders have been fighting for years for legislation to protect the human right to water in the face of chronic corporate exploitation.
Whether or not the next war will be over water, there is no doubt that without a drastic and relatively quick change to the way we use and handle this valuable resource, as well as a serious and committed policy to tackle climate change, water crises are poised to inflict suffering to millions in the coming decades.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]1131International News
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.
Dubbed the “Adani bill”, the changes will allow corporations, such as Adani, to reach an agreement with just some, rather than all, native title holders, flouting the original intent of the law. It means the fight being waged by the Galilee Basin’s traditional owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J), against the coalmine, for which Adani has not secured a land use agreement, will be that much harder.
“Labor has lined up with the government to wind back our rights — and their own commitment to land rights,” said Adrian Burragubba, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council. “They have swallowed the arguments of the mining and agricultural lobby that there is a crisis that needs an urgent response.”
He went on to dispute the argument that federal Attorney-General George Brandis’s changes are “small” and “technical”. “The consequences of this bill are profound and adverse, affecting not just us, but Aboriginal people around the country and future generations,” Burragubba said.
“By pushing this bill through, The Coalition and Labor are attacking the integrity of our decision making, and our rights to self-determination.
“Aboriginal people should be able to say ‘no’ to destruction of our country and heritage. The Senate report is inadequate in dealing with the real intent and failures of the bill, and cuts off genuine Native Title Act reform.”
The long-running battle to stop the Adani coalmine is gaining momentum.
A new #StopAdani coalition warned on March 21 that the Queensland and federal governments will face a “Franklin-dam style” protest campaign if they approve the promised conditional $1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to build a railway to transport the coal from the Galilee Basin in central Queensland to the port at Abbot Point.
The new protest coalition is also highlighting the lack of agreement from the traditional owners.
The W&J people said: “The scale of this mine means it would have devastating impacts on our native title, ancestral lands and waters, our totemic plants and animals, and our environmental and cultural heritage.
“It would pollute and drain billions of litres of groundwater, and obliterate important springs systems. It would potentially wipe out threatened and endangered species. It would literally leave a huge black hole, monumental in proportions, where there were once our homelands. These effects are irreversible. Our land will be ‘disappeared’.”
The new environmental coalition is highlighting the climate change risks, including the devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef during and after construction, as well as coal dust and particulate pollution as key reasons for why the mine should not go ahead, nor the loan approved.
Former leader of the Greens Bob Brown, environmental advocate Geoffrey Cousins, authors Richard Flanagan and Tim Winton, Telstra chair John Mullen, banker Mark Burrows and cricket giants Ian and Greg Chappell are among 90 high-profile Australians who signed a letter to Adani Group chairperson Gautam Adani on March 16 requesting he invest instead in renewables.
Adani claims its 45-kilometre Carmichael mine, with 6 open pits and underground workings, would provide a permanent work force of 4000 people. Brown and Cousins disputed this and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s claim that Adani would provide much needed jobs, saying that “renewables would create 1 million jobs by mid century”.
“The Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier say that this is a jobs bonanza. This is a lie. If they approve the mine they will be putting into doubt the world heritage listing for Great Barrier Reef ... Consider what would happen if we lost the listing — so many jobs will go.”
In 2013, Beyond Zero Emissions’ 10-year transition plan to shift from fossil fuels to renewables estimated that the combination of wind and concentrated solar thermal would create 80,000 jobs in the construction phase and 45,000 during its operation and maintenance. It also estimated that there could be an additional 30,000 jobs in manufacturing if half the plants were made in Australia.
Cousins recently visited India to talk to indigenous communities impacted by Adani’s operations. He heard about and saw Adani’s “reckless history” of non-compliance with the law and questioned why Australian governments think it would behave differently in Australia.
Dr Vaishali Patil from the Konkan Coast region of Maharashtra, India, confirmed this negligence in a letter to opponents of the mine.
Patil, who will join in the 350.org-organised #StopAdani roadshow, has been campaigning against the devastating impact of coal on the poorest and most marginalised people in India.
“This work has brought me face-face with many of the world’s worst coal companies. At the top of that list is mining giant Adani. The damage that this company has done to our people and precious environment can’t be overstated,” she said on March 5.
“Local fishing communities unable to access their fishing grounds; vast quantities of coal spilled into our oceans and not cleaned up for years, devastating local tourism, beaches and marine life; mass destruction of mangroves, which play a vital role in purifying our water.
“But it doesn’t end there. Adani has used bribery and intimidation to silence opposition to their plans, they’ve employed child labour, underpaid workers and in some cases not paid them at all. Workers have died from accidents in their coal plants, not to mention the more than 120,000 Indians who die from coal pollution every year.
“And now they want to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in your beautiful country so that they can ship more dirty coal over to my country.
“Adani’s coal is devastating India and it will devastate Australia too. The last thing we need is more of it.”
Patil said Adani will only be stopped by a “powerful community-led movement”.
The W&J people need to be front and centre of this movement. Murrawah Johnson, a youth spokesperson for the W&J Traditional Owners Council, said while the major parties have given Adani a free kick, Indigenous people will continue to fight for country.
“We are meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights … [and] are continuing to pursue Adani’s fake land use agreement in the courts.”
“Adani believes its mine will go ahead, because our political leaders keep telling them they’ll remove all the obstacles in their way.”
But, as Burragubba said, the Traditional Owners will never accept Adani’s “offers” or “shut up money”.1131Comment and Analysis
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.
The union was very public on the job. A desk was set up next to where we collected our pay (in cash in those pre-digital days) for us to pay our dues and take up any issues with our union rep.
It was a closed shop. You had to be a union member to be employed. When I worked in local government in Adelaide in the 1990s it was also a closed shop. I think we have Prime Minister John Howard and WorkChoices to “thank” for the demise of closed shops.
After graduating I went to work in the public service in Canberra. I sometimes regretted rejecting the Depot Master’s offer of a permanent job as a bus conductor with progression to driver. Women in the public service were paid 80% of the male wage; it would be six years before I was paid the equivalent of a bus driver’s wage.
Just before I became a Commonwealth public servant in December 1966 the “marriage bar” was removed, meaning that women no longer had to resign when they got married. It was normal practice in job interviews for women to be asked their marital and pregnancy status and future plans. Men were never asked these questions. The public service was a male-dominated environment. Workplace discrimination against women was based on women’s perceived role in the family.
When I was elected in 1967 to be a delegate to the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association (ACOA) branch conference — the union then covering public servants — I was the only woman among more than 100 delegates. I was also the youngest at 21 year’s old — most delegates were over 40. The branch, controlled by the right-wing National Civic Council, referred to delegates as “brother”, so I posed a linguistic, as well as political, problem for them.
As the second wave of feminism gained momentum, the ACTU launched the Working Women’s Charter. This provided a framework for women unionists to organise within and across unions. It was a contributing factor in the shift to the left in the ACOA. In the 1970s the ACOA held national plebiscites of union members in opposition to uranium mining and in favour of abortion rights — both of which were seen as industrial issues.
I was promoted several times in my first six years in the public service and ended up supervising men years younger than me, with the Intermediate Certificate (Year 10 equivalent) as their highest qualification. But, even though these young men were many job classifications below me, they were paid more than me.
It was not until December 1972 that women in the Commonwealth public service were granted equal pay. The granting of 12 weeks maternity leave on full pay soon followed.
I retired at age 67 in 2012 after spending the last six years of my working life as a community sector worker in Brisbane. Although men and women in the community services industry were on the same pay rates, they were extremely low in comparison to state and local government workers. My salary fell by $20,000 when I moved from a job in local government in Sydney to Brisbane.
As a bookend to my career, I was centrally involved in the Pay Equity Campaign of the Australian Services Union (ASU) in 2007–08. The campaign was successful and in 2009 the Queensland Industrial Court ruled on the ASU Queensland Branch’s pay equity claim.
It recognised work in the social and community services sector had been historically undervalued as it was seen as caring work and an extension of women’s work in the home. Pay rises of between 17% and 38% were awarded to rectify this gender inequity.
More than 30 years after “equal pay for work of equal value” was formally achieved in Australia, overall, women’s wages are still two-thirds of male wages because of Australia’s gender-segregated workforce. This will be exacerbated with the current attack on penalty rates, which impacts more on women workers.
Following the success of the Queensland Pay Equity Campaign a national claim was lodged with the Fair Work Commission in 2010 and was successful in 2011.
I pay tribute to the fight of the childcare workers and those other valiant women fighting to keep their penalty rates. The torch has been passed to a new generation of women workers.
Today, we are on the verge of a third wave of the women's movement. Young feminists, please accept my solidarity and benefit from the experiences of previous generations of women. You have a wonderful heritage to draw on from socialist revolutionaries Alexandra Kollanti, Clara Zetkin and Celia Sanchez to the women fighters of Rojava today. The future is yours.1131Comment and Analysis
On the tail of its damning CIA hacking bombshell, WikiLeaks published another trove of documents on March 23 outlining how the spy agency has been uploading secret software to Apple devices as far back as 2008.
Named “Dark Matter”, the latest release shows the CIA has been infecting iPhones since shortly after the product’s launch in June 2007. In some cases, the agency “interdicted mail orders and other shipments” to open, infect, and resend devices leaving the United States.
WikiLeaks said it was “noteworthy” that the NightSkies program, said to be a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone, “had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. I.e. the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008.”
TechCrunch observed: “It was quite powerful as NightSkies could access your address book, SMS conversations and call logs in order to upload it to the CIA’s servers. The agency could also execute commands on the iPhone remotely to install new tools and more.”
WikiLeaks noted: “While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization's supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.”
This technique was something that had been previously hinted at in documents released by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Among other capabilities, according to the outlet, the second batch of Vault 7 documents reveal the so-called “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, “as explained by the CIA, is a ‘mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting, allowing an attacker to boot its attack software, for example, from a USB stick ‘even when a firmware password is enabled.’”
[Abridged from Common Dreams.]1131International News
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.
This absurd state of affairs is misleading because there is no gas shortage. As Sinead O’Connor sang of Ireland’s Great Famine, “I want to talk about the “famine” /
About the fact there never really was one.” As she related, “Meat fish vegetables / Were shipped out of the country under armed guard / To England while the Irish people starved.”
Australia has actually become one of the world’s biggest exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG). We have plenty of gas — but it is being shipped overseas. In fact, gas companies are producing more gas than ever before.Gas industry agenda
Talk of a “gas shortage” hides a more sinister agenda: the gas industry wants to be set free from the various state restrictions on fracking for unconventional gas such as shale and coal seam gas (CSG). In the vein of Naomi Klein's description of “disaster capitalism”, a crisis (real or manufactured) is the perfect opportunity for big business to impose its own wishlist as a “solution”.
Two factors are driving domestic gas prices up. First, the opening of the east coast gas network, via the Gladstone liquefied natural gas (LNG) port, to the export market, where prices are higher; and second, the fact that companies such as Santos signed export contracts for more gas than they could guarantee.
This is driving the desperate push by Santos and others to open new CSG and shale gas fracking fields in NSW, and the moves for a gas pipeline to connect the Northern Territory to Queensland. It is also the reason South Australia experienced rolling blackouts during a period of peak electricity demand this summer. ENGIE, the operators of the idle Pelican Point gas-fired power station, decided it was more profitable to sell its gas to exporters than to operate a power station.
When this is combined with the closure of the large brown coal generator, Hazelwood, in Victoria, scaremongers in the Coalition parties are talking up the prospect of blackouts becoming common in Victoria. Are they and AEMO right?
Under the current electricity market, blackouts are a real threat because generators are paid more for their electricity if demand rises relative to supply. In other words, they have an incentive to produce less electricity and get paid much more for it due to scarcity.
Combine this with gas plants being given incentives to sell their gas overseas, and it is possible that more rolling blackouts could occur on days of high electricity demand like summer heatwaves. This is not the greatest disaster imaginable, but a sign of a system not working and certainly a cause of discomfort.
While the talk of “crisis” is being flogged for all it is worth by the big businesses, which want to impose the “solution” of open-slather fracking, it is unlikely these will benefit ordinary Australians. Progressives should combine forces to impose a better solution. There are several potential avenues already on the table from state and federal governments.Alternatives
A gas reservation policy, to ensure a proportion of gas is guaranteed to the domestic market, has been promoted by some. Despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull approaching the gas exporters, cap-in-hand, to demand they allocate some gas to the domestic market, it is unlikely to be available at anywhere near the historical cheap prices. Gas power generation is already the most expensive in the grid.
South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, sitting at the exposed end of the electricity grid where any shortage will be felt most keenly, has proposed an array of measures including solar, large-scale battery backup energy storage, and (perplexingly) a new gas power station. They plan to use these to intervene to protect South Australia's interests in the National Electricity Market, a seemingly radical step.
At the same time, South Australia has introduced incentives for farmers to host gas fracking — landowners are to receive a 5% share of royalties generated from each well on their property. This could divide farming communities, which have so far been united against the gas industry.
The Hazelwood power station had supplied about a fifth of the state’s electricity generation capacity. The state government has now authorised an expansion to the Loy Yang B coal power station, while initiating a relatively ambitious target to source 40% of the state's electricity from renewables by 2025, and banning fracking outright. This has angered the gas exporters greatly and the federal government has been echoing their calls to reverse the ban.
Turnbull’s federal proposal for an addition to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme is possibly pie-in-the-sky. It is expensive, will take a number of years to build and needs the support of state governments. In operation, it would probably render the expensive gas power generators obsolete. It might please coal generators and would not hurt the gas exporters, as the pumped hydro system could effectively store coal power to use — instead of gas — in periods of peak electricity demand. On the other hand it is appealing to supporters of renewable energy because, if combined with strong renewable targets, it may provide energy storage for renewables instead of coal.Do we need gas?
The elephant in the room is that Australia no longer needs to use any gas, not just in power generation but across the board — other than in a few specialised industries such as ammonia and plastics’ production. This should be cause for celebration: gas is expensive, dangerous and a major source of greenhouse gases.
Gas is methane, one of the most powerful of the common greenhouse gases. Over a 20-year timescale, its warming impact is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide. Just a tiny percentage of leaking gas makes it as bad as coal for the climate — and it could easily be leaking that much from shoddy CSG wells.
The LNG that is exported takes a lot of energy to pipe, compress and ship — meaning customers, such as Japan, are not getting a “low emissions” fuel, but something comparable to coal, even without factoring in methane leakage.
But in most applications, a combination of energy efficiency and upgrading to electric devices can remove the need for gas. Certainly, no home need have a gas connection any more — if they can afford to pay to replace hot water, heating and cooking appliances.Transition to renewables
A sensible climate policy would advocate not just a fast transition to renewable energy but a plan to get Australia off gas — both our exports and domestic use. Renewable energy can replace gas in power generation, whether hydro storage, batteries, or solar thermal. Many industrial processes can be replaced. Home energy use, typically highly inefficient and expensive, is an easy target for savings, both on reductions in household energy use and by avoiding the expense of maintaining a gas grid in parallel with the electricity grid.
We need a comprehensive program to reduce energy waste in all homes and workplaces. This should be done from the street level up, but with proper oversight and planning this time (learning from the failures of the Kevin Rudd government's home insulation scheme). Not only could household electricity use be slashed dramatically and solar power increased, it could be orchestrated with a planned and staged shutdown of existing gas reticulation networks, suburb by suburb and town by town.
These policies would create a significant number of jobs and would develop help depressed regional economies, as well as putting Australia on the road to meeting the Paris agreement on climate change.
Regardless of whether the gas crisis is all it is cracked up to be, we need these solutions.1131Comment and Analysis
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.
Nineteen doctors who are current or recent providers of abortion throughout the state went public with a letter to the state premier, deputy premier, Attorney-General and minister for women. They urged the government to take the steps needed to remove abortion from the criminal code and regulate it in health legislation, in this term of parliament.
Three weeks before, Independent MP Rob Pyne had withdrawn his bills to decriminalise and regulate abortion. The bills were due to be debated in parliament on March 1. At the same time, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath announced they would refer the issue to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) and introduce legislation in the next term of government to “modernise” abortion law. At time of writing, that referral has not been made.
In their letter, the doctors pointed out to the ministers that “the passage of legislation through the next parliament will be entirely dependent on the composition of that parliament, which has yet to be determined, and ... you may not be in a position to honour your promise.”
They expressed concern that by putting off reform until the next Labor government, there is “the possibility that legislative reform of abortion may be delayed for five years or even longer.”
They urged that the referral to the QLRC be made “in a timeframe of no more than six months, requesting repeal of sections 224-226 of the Criminal Code and regulation of abortion practice in the health legislation, so that this matter can potentially be resolved within the life of the current parliament.”
They pointed out that a lengthy consultation period is not required since research has already been prepared for the two recent parliamentary health committee inquiries and in other jurisdictions.
They outlined the detrimental impact of delaying law reform on patient access to abortion and provision of health care according to medical standards of practice.
On the same day, Cairns doctors involved in the provision of abortion services released a statement about the crisis in abortion service availability for women in Cairns and regional Queensland.
They revealed that Cairns women were being flown to Sydney to access surgical abortion, with all the additional stress and costs that entails.
“Safe affordable accessible abortion services are essential to the reproductive health of all Queensland women,” the statement read.
“Tacitly, but not overtly, the current government acknowledges this, by funding medical abortions in Cairns, and by providing funds to keep Townsville and Rockhampton abortion services open when the [private] services in those towns were faced with the need to shut down because of the high cost of providing fly-in fly-out doctors to run them.
“However ... Queensland Health itself refuses to establish effective and accessible public services and the result is a very fragile and piecemeal service everywhere north of Nambour, and no service at all west of Brisbane.
“Part of the reason for this is the continued refusal of governments over many years to address the urgent need for reform of 19th century Queensland abortion law. This is the essential first step to making abortion part of mainstream medical practice, as it is now in other Australian jurisdictions where the law has been reformed.
“We call upon the Queensland government to put Queensland women at the centre of this discussion and to address urgently both the immediate need for surgical abortion services in Far North Queensland, and the greater need for reform of abortion law to bring it into the 21st century.”
In another initiative, the Brisbane-based Women's Abortion Rights Campaign (WARC) launched a petition along the same lines, calling for the QLRC referral to be made and for abortion to be decriminalised this year. Within the first 48 hours, the petition had reached 600 signatures.
It marks a renewal of public campaign initiatives following the unexpected withdrawal of the bills from parliament. The campaign group is planning a picket to decriminalise abortion this year, an abortion rights contingent in the May Day march and an activist training day.
Anna McCormack, spokesperson for WARC, said, “We're more determined than ever to increase our efforts and pressure on both the Labor government and LNP opposition, as it's becoming more and more obvious we've had unacceptable delays and our interests are being sold out, especially since just yesterday, in the Northern Territory both sides of politics had no problem at all passing decriminalisation.”1131Comment and Analysis
More than 1000 submissions were received about plans to build a $500 million waste-to-energy plant proposed for Western Sydney. Community members and health authorities have shown strong opposition to the incinerator and its associated health risks.
The incinerator, to be built at Eastern Creek, would use thermal technology to create electricity from waste that would otherwise go to landfill. While the proposal is designed to reduce greenhouse gases, there are concerns it could have a detrimental impact on air quality.
Western Sydney already has an air pollution problem. As air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases. Ambient air pollution, made of high concentrations of small and fine particulate matter, is the greatest environmental risk to health, causing more than 3 million premature deaths around the world every year.
The St Marys-Mt Druitt Teachers Association released a statement opposing the approval of the incinerator. "There is a clear threat to public health across the Sydney airshed, and in particular to the health of students in the many schools located in close proximity to the proposed incinerator."
Western Sydney Local Health District also expressed its concerns. "The proposal to build and operate an incinerator within city limits is not consistent with over 100 years of environmental regulation to improve urban air quality by removing incinerators and power stations and other sources of pollutants from urban areas."
Melinda Wilson from No Incinerator for Western Sydney said: "It is a huge concern that our government is conducting a study to reduce population exposure to particulates and provide better knowledge of the most cost-effective policies to reduce population exposure to particulates within Western Sydney, while on the other hand that same government is considering a proposal in the same area for the world's largest incinerator, which are well known to produce ultra fine particulates. It just doesn't make sense.”
Particle pollution causes a number of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, the chemical components of some particles, particularly combustion products, have been shown to cause cancer. Particle pollution is already a major air quality issue in Western Sydney, without the incinerator.
Community members are also concerned about the dioxin that will be released by the incinerator into Sydney's airshed. The proposed incinerator will have an emergency shut down when the temperature reaches 37°, which is when the most dioxins are released. Last summer temperatures regularly reached 47° in Greater Western Sydney, which makes it an unsuitable area for an incinerator that shuts down at 37°.
Submissions have also raised questions about the company behind the incinerator, Next Generation Sydney, and the quality of its environmental impact statement (EIS). One company said: "IGGC is currently in a commercial dispute with Next Generation and its parent companies, which include Dial-a-Dump, over matters particularly in relation to non-payment of fees, including those for all of IGGC's work on the revised EIS. IGGC can provide no assurances regarding the accuracy or fitness for purpose of any of this material as the review and quality assurance process was not completed."
The people of Western Sydney will not let this incinerator go ahead. There will be a community forum on April 13 at 7pm in Erskine Park Community Hall, 57 Peppertree Drive, Erskine Park. For further info please contact No Incinerator for Western Sydney.1131Australian News
It comes after the US-led coalition targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) is being blamed for an air strike on a school where families had sought shelter near the northern Syrian town of Raqqa, Common Dreams said on March 21.
The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 33 people died as a result of the Raqqa strike.
In Modul, a correspondent for Rudaw said that 137 people — most believed to be civilians — died when a bomb hit a single building in al-Jadida, in the western side of the city on Thursday. Another 100 were killed nearby.
“Some of the dead were taking shelter inside the homes,” Hevidar Ahmed said from the scene.
A spokesperson for Central Command, which coordinates US military action in Iraq, told The Independent they were aware of the loss of civilian life as reported by Rudaw and the information had been passed on to the civilian casualty team for “further investigation”.
In Syria, those using the school in the village of Mansoura as shelter “were displaced civilians from Raqqa, Aleppo, and Homs,” Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
“They’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now,” he said. “Only two people were pulled out alive.”1131International News
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”.
The title implies there’s a lot for Assange to clear-up. But “no regrets” is Assange’s motto: he says there is nothing to make clear.
For more than four years while in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, Assange has been mind-bombing and leaking on Syria, Nigerian oil companies, Tunisian overlords and Hillary Clinton. Even as he talks, in complex monologs littered with expletives, he is clandestinely leaking on the French presidential election. Assange believes the leaks over the past ten years have been “perfect — metadata proves this”.
Alas, nothing is perfect. Subjective belief in the perfect truth, whatever the cost, is what makes Assange so utterly frictional. Some on the left are now cautious of Assange. The right wants to kill him. But some still love him.
Assange believes the outcomes of leaks are “always secondary considerations” and if he did not leak during the US election, truth would have been the first casualty.
Sarcastically, on the subject of the US election, he says “I won Trump the election, obviously”, to deathly silence from the sold out audience. Sensing the audience tautness, Assange begins to explain the Democratic National Committee’s Pied Piper strategy.
It is public knowledge that “the DNC knocked off socialist Bernie Sanders”, but it is little known that Democratic Party email leaks reveal the Clinton campaign played a crazy double game, elevating Trump into the spotlight and White House.
DNC emails outlined the agenda: “We don’t want to marginalise the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates who represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson. We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates … and tell the press to take them seriously.”
Afterthoughts from Assange on the US election, are cerebral. For example, he didn’t expect Trump to win, but attributes the win to Clinton's over reliance on identity politics.
Clinton’s campaign propelled the “white class acknowledging their whiteness and class existence for the first time in decades. She labelled the other candidates 'deplorable'. But Clinton was the candidate who lost to Trump — one of the worst candidates in history.”
While “Trump lied and Hilary lied”, a section of the US population believed Trump was “emotionally truer”. Assange happily summarised the Democratic Party’s hypocrisy when supporting WikiLeaks leaking information on the George W Bush administration (Iraq War) and later attacking WikiLeaks for leaking on Barak Obama and Clinton.
In another life, Assange could have been a first-rate political analyst or an exceptional counter-intelligence agent. One gets the feeling that the real WikiLeaks confrontation is with the CIA and NSA. Trump won't pardon him, he says: “You have to be realistic about who controls the White House. There’s a disproportionate influence over the White House from Defense, CIA, and NSA, as seen by the Flynn affair.”
Military contracts are in limbo, especially “the $1 billion Syria destabilisation fund”. The military and intelligence complexes are at war with the Trump administration, and "this is unprecedented".
Right now the American empire is the least of Assange's problems. Ecuador's presidential election is close and the right-wing opposition wants Assange out of the embassy.
Locked in the Ecuadorian Embassy for more than four years, the fight for his freedom is beyond Kafkaesque. The Swedish case was never prosecuted and is now a moot point and “probably [the right wing candidate] Lasso will win” but the Geneva Convention may still protect Assange.
“As a radical left state, Ecuador has done some great things. They have renegotiated foreign oil contracts and distributed 80% of the money. Ecuador is like family to me.”
If asked to leave a hostile embassy, would Australia help? Assange says the Australian state is “completely useless” and “schizophrenic”. “Australia doesn’t exist as a state, doesn’t have a language, wiped out a race, the Aboriginals [sic] don’t have a voice. It doesn’t have a diplomatic head and instead subordinates its foreign policy to the US.”
Assange equally mocks the British class system, saying it is “weak”. For all the millions spent on technology the “hopeless” British intelligence services surrounding the embassy, cannot stop the infamous Australian. Assange gleefully says: “We got Edward Snowdon from Hong Kong to Russia. Right under the noses of the intelligence community.”
Millions of pounds in security, Prism-NSA control of the global internet and internet blackouts can seemingly not stop Wikileaks receiving, and publishing, a mountain of leaks every day. The spy bureaucracy cannot compete with a man who seems to be all-knowing. “Think about the bureaucracy as second rate analysts in the state, in 1980s buildings, with 1980 infrastructure. They are utterly hopeless.”
It’s a catch me if you can attitude, which will no doubt continue to infuriate Washington and London.1131Comment and Analysis
A year after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ordered that the Manus Island detention centre be closed, people are still living in the same compounds and sleeping in the same beds.
In the latest protest, as tensions simmer inside the detention centre, guards hastily withdrew from Mike Compound on March 18 after a protest erupted in the mess area following Border Force renovations that made the serving area more like a prison.
Detainees had already objected to the new arrangement that required detainees to reach over a small fence in front of the serving window for a single tray. But the final straw came when detainees asked security how one of the very short detainees could be expected to reach the tray. “You can lift him up,” said the guards.
Detainees tore down the fence in front of the serving window, and overturned tables and chairs in the mess area. Wilson Security guards brought food the next morning and set up tables inside the perimeter fence. But no guards or Broadspectrum officers are in the compound.US refugee deal
The refugee deal with the United States may still happen. US immigration agents have been taking fingerprints of asylum seekers on Nauru as part of the vetting process to determine who can go to the US.
But the US is not obliged to accept any refugees and, having slashed its refugee intake, the chances of a sizable number of people being resettled there still looks unlikely.
Australia has no plans for the people who will be left behind and the immigration department said this week it is not in talks with other countries for resettlement.
Former US State Department assistant secretary for refugees and migration Anne Richardson has revealed part of the motivation for the deal was that Australia would accept more refugees from Africa and South America, particularly El Salvador.Doctors’ submission to Senate inquiry
Doctors and health professionals have been giving evidence at a Senate inquiry into the conditions in detention centres.
Their submission includes a 700-page collation of incident reports from 2014–15. Testimonies state people had to wait months for urgent medical treatment such as scans, and there regular delays in transporting people to Australia for medical treatment. There have been deaths in detention as a result of avoidable delays in transfers.
Doctors have also revealed that private contractors deliberately downgraded incident reports to save money and that they needed to get approval from the immigration department to access medicines.
Doctors for Refugees finished their submission by recommending the urgent evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.1131Australian News