Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sri Lankan Genocide 2009 - photo exhibition

Photo Exhibition

Scott Ludlam (Greens senator)
Melissa Parke (ALP member, Fremantle)
Raj Rajeswaran (Australian Tamil Congress Chairperson)
Aran Mylvaganam (Tamil Refugee Council)

Pending confirmation:
Julie Bishop (minister for foreign affairs)
Thisara Samarasinghe (Sri Lankan High Commissioner)

Wed 30 April

Opening: 6pm. Forum with Q&A: 7pm

Victoria Hall, 179 High St, Fremantle

The photo exhibition will run Thurs 1 - Sat 3 May (11am-6pm)

Enquiries: Leonie M 0439 475 174

Presented by: Action for Human Rights Tamil Eelam Sri Lanka and Australian Tamil Congress

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Construction workers face government moves to seize homes, cars

For the first time in Australian history, construction workers are facing government moves to seize houses and cars in relation to an industrial dispute.

The 33 workers affected took part in an eight-day strike in north-west WA in 2008. Mick Buchan of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) told the ABC that the dispute between workers and the company was resolved at the time.

“It was some time later that the ABCC [Australian Building Construction Commission] intervened and brought charges against individuals”, he said.

The ABCC was established by the former Howard government in association with the Work Choices legislation. When Kevin Rudd was elected prime minister, the ABCC was eventually incorporated into the Fair Work Commission with most of its powers intact.

Before the 2007 election and while the Your Rights At Work campaign was ongoing, Rudd deliberately created the impression he would “rip up Work Choices”, even though this was not his policy.

Instead, Rudd created the Fair Work Commission, which was labelled by unionists as “Work Choices Lite”, because it retained most of the anti-worker provisions of Work Choices.

It should be emphasised that the dispute in question took place under Rudd's government. Had he “ripped up” Work Choices — instead of pretending to do so — 33 workers would not now be threatened with the loss of their houses and cars.

The situation was escalated sharply when Tony Abbott won government last year. He reappointed Nigel Hadgkiss — a class warrior on behalf of the bosses — to head Fair Work Building and Construction (the new name for the ABCC).

It is Hadgkiss who has taken the step of trying to seize property from workers who have not paid fines.

Hadgkiss told media that “if you break the law, you've got to be prepared to pay the consequences”.

However, the real question is, are these laws fair? Of course, the answer is no.

An Australian Manufacturing Workers Association spokesperson told the April 4 West Australian: “These fines highlight the [FWBC] has nothing to do with industrial fairness or productivity and everything to do with intimidating workers into not standing up for their rights.”

Militant unionists have long realised that bad laws need to be broken.

Nobody should criticise the workers who took industrial action — which is, after all, a worker's fundamental right. Equally, nobody should criticise those workers who did not pay their fines.

The labour movement needs to stand up to this aggressive escalation of industrial bullying with a determined resolution to not allow a single house or car to be seized.

In the same week that Labor is facing criticism for having preselected arch-conservative Abbott supporter Joe Bullock into the number one Senate position, this latest move against workers' rights should be a wake-up call about the role of Labor.

Bullock may well be among the most offensive of Labor's spokespeople, but he is not the sum total of the problem.

This issue was caused because Rudd refused to rip up Work Choices, even though he had the political conditions that would have made it possible.

People who support workers' rights need to build a party of their own that will help organise and defend their interests.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #1005. He was a Socialist Alliance candidate in WA's recent Senate election re-run.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Palm Sunday march for #Justice4Refugees

Around 1000 people marched through the streets of Perth on Palm Sunday (13 April 2014) pas part of the #Justice4Refugees campaign. This video shows the speech of Refugee Rights Action Network member Sarah Ross at the rally. The transcript of her speech is below.

Transcript of Sarah Ross' Palm Sunday speech

I stand here today, delivering one of the most difficult speeches I have ever written. The past few weeks have been filled with heartbreak, injustice and stories that are longing to escape the confines of the fences they are contained in - and I have to grapple with my desire to tell you all of them. I have never felt a more pressing or urgent time or sense of responsibility to tell them than now.

I deliver this speech to you today with the voices of a man in Yongah Hill Detention Centre - who has been denied as a refugee, despite having Taliban bullets still physically embedded in his body - in the back of my mind and at the forefront of my heart.

I deliver this speech to you today, with the assumption that my friend on Manus Island who first introduced himself to me as FRT 003 – his boat ID number because he had forgotten his name – is yet again under suicide watch as I haven’t heard from him the past three days - and having had him confess to me that he had tried to hang himself and would undoubtedly try do so again.

I deliver this speech to you today with the knowledge that last week an asylum seeker on Manus Island tried to electrocute himself, and another put his head through a glass window. That in Sydney a Tamil refugee doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire because he would rather burn to death in Australia than be sent back to Sri Lanka.

I deliver this speech to you today with the knowledge that there are two Syrian men in Manus Island Detention Centre who have been on hunger strike depriving their bodies of food for the past 60 days.

That symptomatic of starvation, their bodies are breaking down their muscles, their organs, their nervous system and that the beat and strength of their hearts grows fainter with each day. That they are on hunger strike because they wish to be returned to Syria - a brutal warzone - rather than stay in an Australian Immigration Detention Centre.

As someone who visits in detention I can say with no greater certainty or authority that Australian Immigration Detention Centres are factories for mental illness. They are institutional machines designed to detain, to deter, to degrade and most of all to break people. They are machines engineered to replicate conditions more horrific and more inhumane than the horrendous genocide and the blood soaked war zones that people are fleeing from.

They are machines that systematically strip people of their dignity, their family, their name, their sanity, their will to survive and most of all their hope.

The refugees detained in our detention centres are sending us a clear message - with their bodies and their desperation as their medium - that their incarceration is killing them slowly, progressively, surely and without mercy.

It is up to us respond to this call. In the words of Mario Savio “There’s a time when the operations of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to indicate to the people who own it that…the machines will be prevented from working at all.”

The only thing that allows this policy to continue to happen is the silence of good people. We must ask ourselves the question, are we the type of people to meet desperation and injustice with silence and apathy or are we the type of people who choose to speak out.

We are in the midst of history in the making and we must choose which side we are remembered as being on - for it will inevitably be history that judges our silence.

I have seen the horrors of detention and I am sickened and I choose to be silent no longer.

Let us not send sympathy across the ocean to Manus Island and Nauru. Nor sympathy over the towering fences and vast distances of the onshore detention centres.

But let us match the calls of those inside. Let it be our voices that the refugees on Manus Island hear over the racist rhetoric of the government and the media. Let it be our voices that they hear over the guards. And let it be our voices that our politicians in parliament hear. But in order for them to hear us, we need to raise our voices.

I ask you today, to join with me to take a stand against these policies, to raise your voice. To write a letter to parliament, to visit a detention centre, to take up the argument with your peers and to take to the streets to publicly demonstrate that you do not support what is happening. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, and take it one step further.

Let this be the very day, that we start a movement. That we declare to ourselves and to each other that we will no longer remain silent.

Let this be the day, that we start a movement in which we will no longer tolerate this purposeful infliction of cruelty upon innocent human beings in our country and under Australian polices.

Let this be the day that we start a movement that will fight for a nation where people are treated according to the rule of law, equally, with justice and compassion regardless of which border they were born within or in what mode of transportation they arrived.

For the sake of every man woman and child in Australian Immigration Detention let this be the very moment that we begin a movement that fights for their freedom as if that freedom is inextricably bound in our own freedom.

Say it loud, say it clear. Refugees are welcome here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Greens winners as Labor, Liberals slump in WA poll

The Western Australia senate election re-run has resulted in a big drop in support for the major parties and significant swings to the Greens and the Palmer United Party (PUP).

Greens, PUP and Labor have won one seat each while the Liberals have won two seats. The final seat will be decided by preferences and is expected to go to either Liberal or Labor.

Prime minister Tony Abbott has sought to play down the swing against the government, claiming it was a “typical by-election result”. This ignores months of consistent bad polls for the new government, which has been the “least popular incoming administration in four decades”.

Following the March in March, the result is a further demonstration that there is a strong mood to resist the Abbott government's agenda.

In this context, the dramatic swing against Labor — which scored its lowest vote in a WA senate election — reveals it is not just the Liberals who are on the nose. It can't have helped that the day before the election it was widely reported that Labor's lead senate candidate Joe Bullock claimed that Abbott had the “potential to be a good prime minister”.

He also claimed that Labor members were mad, that the party can't be trusted and he made offensive comments about the sexuality of his running mate Louise Pratt.

This demoralised ALP members on the eve of the election and has resulted in significant public criticism of Bullock, including a call for his resignation by United Voice secretary Carolyn Smith on April 10, who was one of the unions that guaranteed his preselection at the top of Labor's ticket.

However, much of the comment within Labor has focused on Bullock's role as a former trade union official rather than his conservative political views. Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten immediately reacted to the senate result by vowing to sever the link between unions and the parliamentary party.

Popular local member Alannah MacTiernan has argued a similar view.

This is essentially an organisational response to the political problem that Labor has moved so far to the right. Senator Mark Bishop and state Labor leader Mark McGowan are advocating political change by putting forward right-wing views, such as arguing against Labor’s mining tax.

The truth is that none of these versions of looking to the right will fundamentally solve Labor's problems, which are much bigger than just Bullock.

More interesting is an examination of the support base of the PUP. Abbott accurately claimed just before the election that Palmer was trying to buy seats in parliament. Palmer reportedly spent ten times the advertising budget of the major parties.

In the final week of the campaign, a number of other establishment figures came out to warn people not to vote Palmer. The West Australian ran a front page article one week before the election titled: “Sold a PUP: Palmer cannot deliver on absurd promises to WA voters”.

The front page editorial the day before the election argued: “The state will be best served by electing credible candidates from either of the major political parties'” and encouraged voters to elect the Liberals.

The editorial said Palmer’s electioneering style “is all about slogans but has little substance and most of his promises do not stand up to scrutiny”. On election day, the Liberal party produced posters for polling booths that read “Clive is in it for WA” with “WA” crossed out and replaced with a handwritten “Clive”.

These interventions, while generally accurate, amount to an admission by the establishment that they are worried by the Palmer phenomenon. This arguably enhanced Palmer's standing among people who are dissatisfied with Labor and Liberal.

The Greens were the stand out winners of the campaign, winning a 6% swing or a total of 15% of the vote. Senator Scott Ludlam easily won his seat in his own right without the need for preferences flowing from other parties.

The Greens' campaign was characterised by an impressive mobilisation of members and supporters who felt that they had something at stake in Ludlam's seat. This campaign is worth studying by all socialist and progressive activists — both to try to replicate it during future election campaigns, but also in extra-parliamentary campaigns as well.

The Socialist Alliance result was small, but it was nevertheless a campaign worth waging. The size of its vote confirms that the socialist movement in Australia is speaking to a very small audience at the moment. But the fact is that the audience we were speaking to in this election was much larger than just the people who voted for us.

The Socialist Alliance was saying something that no other political force was saying — that we need to decisively break the power of the big corporations in this country if we are to solve the pressing social justice and environmental problems that we face.

It was the only party that ran explicitly on a platform of breaking the power of the big corporations — starting with the public ownership of mines and banks. Running in the election made it possible to spread this message further than if we didn't.

We are still at the initial stage of popularising these ideas and winning an audience to the idea that these apparently radical policies are both feasible and necessary.

Baloney Abbott turns up on polling day

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #1005. He was a Socialist Alliance candidate, pictured with Chris Jenkins (middle), in the WA senate election re-run. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam above. Video by Zeb Parkes.]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Fremantle takes the fight to the freeway

A decision by the Fremantle City Council at its March 26 meeting to reject a Main Roads WA request to voluntarily hand over land began a dramatic new phase in the campaign against the state government's freeway building agenda.

The state government wants to replace a section of High Street on the eastern approach to Fremantle with a freeway at a cost of more than $100 million. This is intended to be the first link in their plan to build a six lane "freeway standard" route connecting the Kwinana Freeway to the Fremantle container port.

There is general consensus in the community and on the council that the existing road needs to be modified to make it safer and to create a more efficient intersection with the Stirling Highway. However the scale and destructiveness of the government's proposal has galvanised fierce opposition.

Main Roads proposes to flank the length of the road with concrete "sound walls". These are not high enough to significantly reduce noise pollution, but will completely separate adjoining suburbs and dramatically reduce pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. Up to half a dozen commonly used crossing points would be replaced with one pedestrian overpass.

At the council meeting, Socialist Alliance councillor Sam Wainwright described it as "cutting a swathe through the community like the Berlin Wall." Fellow councillor Andrew Sullivan described the design as "crap", adding, "I could have designed something better in half a day."

The proposed route would cause the destruction of about 200 trees, including a significant stand of mature Tuarts. Most of the trees could be retained if the state government were prepared to agree to a four lane road within a four lane reservation.

The council reaffirmed its position in a November 2013 resolution moved by Wainwright, declaring that it only supported a four-lane road and requiring that pedestrian and bicycle connectivity be retained at multiple locations. Wainwright's membership of the Socialist Alliance drew an attack in parliament from the gaffe prone former treasurer and transport minister Troy Buswell, who condemned the council's "obstruction" and dismissed the resolution as being proposed by "Councillor Worthington" from the "Socialist Loony Party".

The road has its origins in the defeat of the plan for the Fremantle Eastern Bypass after an extended community campaign in the 1990s. In its place, Main Roads wishes to build the Roe 8 through the Beeliar wetlands (part of the original plan), a six-lane Stock Rd and High St and to widen Stirling Highway to six lanes through east and north Fremantle. This project would cost well over $2 billion.

The freeway building is justified on the basis of projected increases in container traffic, which Fremantle Port says will double by 2020 and triple by 2030 on 2010 numbers. In anticipation of this argument local residents and sustainable transport advocates formed the Fremantle Road to Rail campaign group in 2011.

It has consistently made the case that investing in rail freight infrastructure and shifting more freight to rail would be cheaper than freeway building. When the combined cost of diesel particulate pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, road accident trauma and noise pollution are included, it becomes even cheaper. Diesel particulate pollution was classified as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2012, and Doctors for the Environment calculate that every dollar spent on reducing diesel emissions saves the community a staggering $30 in health costs.

As a mark of Road to Rail's success in shifting the public debate, the state government agreed to the target set by the former Labor government to get 30% of containers to the port by rail. However, it has no plans to actually achieve this and, in a letter to the group, Buswell described it as an "aspirational target". In fact his government has actually dropped a plan to upgrade the Kewdale rail facility that had secured federal co-funding.

The state government has also indefinitely deferred its promised MAX light rail and airport rail line election promises and cut its cycling budget, while pressing ahead with $1 billion of works to build freeways around the airport. The federal government cut its $500 million contribution to these projects after Tony Abbott's infamous comment in April last year, “We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

Wainwright told Green Left Weekly: "This rotten outcome is socially and ecologically destructive capitalism at its worst. Perth doesn't even have a proper bus service to the airport, let alone a train.

"Our state and federal governments are actively creating more traffic for its own sake. Freeway funding never has to justify itself or be subject to a true benefit cost ratio analysis.

"What is called transport planning in this country is mostly endless subsidies to the road transport, road construction and fossil fuel industries - at literally any cost to the public purse, environment, urban form and human health. Stopping endless freeway construction is not some NIMBY thing, it's about creating people-friendly cities."

The state already owns the land it wants for the High St project, but it takes the form of public reserves vested in council under a management order. If the council doesn't relinquish the land voluntarily the state government will need to scrap the management order through an Act of parliament. More important than the administrative delay, the state is desperate to gain council support to claim "social licence" and community support.

In return for voluntarily relinquishing the land, Main Roads has promised to make additional funds available to compensate organisations that use portions of the reserve and will have to be moved to accommodate the freeway, including two golf courses and the Fremantle Environment Resource Network (FERN).

An implicit threat from the state government is that if council does not agree, this funding may not be made available and that control of the entire reserve may be stripped from the council.

This threat led Mayor Brad Pettitt to advocate that council choose pragmatism over principles and agree.

Opponents of the freeway appealed to council not to give in to state government pressure. FERN convener Billy Amesz told council that while his organisation had the most to lose if the state government played hard ball, he did not want this to change his commitment to oppose the road.

Former councillor Kathy Anketell, a key organiser of the campaign against the Fremantle Eastern Bypass, wrote to councillors: "Council will lose all credibility with the community if you give in to their bullying tactics. If MRD still chooses to go ahead with this over-developed road at the expense of the community that is very different to Fremantle Council giving them the green light."

After lengthy debate council voted nine to four to reject the Main Roads proposal. White Gum Valley precinct convener Roy Lewisson thanked council for standing up to Main Roads, saying: "We understand and accept the risks of saying no to Main Roads. Your job is done, now it's our responsibility to build a community campaign."

[This article by Chris Jenkins was written for Green Left Weekly #1004. Photo by Alex Bainbridge.]

Protest tells Julie Bishop to end support for genocide

Chanting "Julie Bishop you can't hide — you support genocide", supporters of human rights in Sri Lanka gathered outside the foreign affairs minister's electorate office in Subiaco on March 29.

The protest was in response to the Australian government's public opposition to the independent inquiry into Sri Lanka's human rights record adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva on March 27.

Australia is not currently a voting member of the council, but Bishop lobbied against the resolution, saying: "I do not think the resolution adequately recognised the significant progress taken by the Sri Lankan government to promote economic growth and its investment in infrastructure in areas formerly dominated by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] in the north and north-east of the country.

“We should recognise the brutality of the LTTE, a proscribed terrorist organisation, during the 30-year civil war from which the country is struggling to emerge."

Sam Wainwright, co-convener of Action for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka, said in response: "Bishop's comments are absurd. Every independent organisation that's looked at the issue has described the country as a human rights catastrophe.

“The continuing persecution of Tamils in the north and east meets the international legal definition of genocide. That persecution was the cause of the civil war and it has not gone away. The idea that Sri Lanka is making progress is a lie and Bishop knows it."

Victoria Martin-Iverson from the Refugee Rights Action Network said the Tony Abbott government had recently gifted two navy patrol boats to the Sri Lankan navy to prevent people from escaping persecution in the first place. Wainwright said this was like "blocking the fire escape to a burning building."

Martin-Iverson also blasted the decision by the former federal government to allow the appointment of a former Sri Lankan army officer as an operations manager at the Manus Island detention centre, knowing that many detainees would be Sri Lankan Tamils.

In response to the UNHCR decision, the Sri Lankan government has declared more than a dozen Tamil diaspora organisations to be proscribed terrorist groups, including the Australian Tamil Congress and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.

Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Australia, retired Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, told SBS radio: "What did the LTTE finally want to achieve? Separatism. Any organisation that acknowledges separatism or do not reject separatism in Sri Lanka is supporting terrorist ideology."

This shows how the Sri Lankan government refuses to tolerate Tamil aspirations for greater self-determination in any form.

[This article by Zeb Parkes was written for Green Left Weekly #1004. Photo by Zeb Parkes.]

Friday, April 4, 2014

How to vote Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance how-to-vote card for polling day.

It is not too late to volunteer to help on your local polling booth. Ph Kamala 0417 319 662 if you can help.

Our preferences go to Greens, other progressive parties then Labor before Liberal. This makes a vote for Socialist Alliance a "safe" vote for progressives and the truth is, we really need your number one vote!

The West profiles Socialist Alliance

As part of their series profiling smaller parties in this election, The West Australian published answers we gave to their questions.

Here are our answers as supplied to The West:

Do all your candidates live in WA? If not, where, and what connection do they have to WA?

All our candidates live in WA and are hard working grassroots activists with a strong record of community engagement. That said, we believe it is more important to know what a candidate stands for than where they live.

The pitch - why should West Australians vote for you: (120 words or fewer)

Labor and Liberal have misused power by governing for the super rich.

Our plan to improve people's lives includes bringing the mines and banks into public ownership because they are among the most profitable monopolised industries.

We need to take this wealth from the billionaires who are destroying the planet and ruining people's lives, and put it into the hands of people and communities. This is the only way to ensure a fair and effective transition to an economy without carbon pollution where social resources are used democratically to meet needs like education, health and public transport.

We are an activist party. Voting for us strengthens the campaigns against Abbott's attacks and for social justice. A better world is possible.

If elected would you consider forming an alliance/voting bloc with any other party/Senator and if so, which/who and why?: (25 words or fewer)

The Socialist Alliance stands for the interests of workers, social justice and the environment and will independently assess policies from this standpoint.

Should the mining/carbon taxes be rescinded or kept and why? (25 words or fewer)

We support genuine climate action but carbon trading does not work. Increase the tax on mining profits and abolish the GST which hurts the poor.

Do you support deep cuts to the Budget and if so, in what areas? (25 words or fewer)

We support deep cuts in military spending and cuts to corporate welfare to fund higher spending on renewable energy and social services.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vote Climate gives Socialist Alliance equal top marks

The scorecard below has been produced by Vote Climate:

Explaining the scorecard they say:

"Parties were scored on climate, renewable energy, coal and gas policies. They were sorted according to their preferencing into three groups - those whose preferences flow to the Greens, those whose preferences flow to the ALP and those whose preferences flow to the Coalition or to climate change denying micro-parties."

Murdoch Guild rates SA higher ed policy with "distinction"

The Murdoch Student Guild has rated parties contesting the upcoming senate election on their higher education polices and given Socialist Alliance a "distinction".

A post on the Guild's Facebook page explained that "the Guild went to the trouble of analysing each party's higher education policy" given there is a "special bonus chance senate election this Saturday".

"It was disappointing that many parties, even major ones like Family First and the Nationals don't even have any higher education so we only graded those who do."

"To get a high distinction, parties had to award knighthoods to all university students," the note declared. "Sadly, no party aimed this high."

It turns out that the criteria for getting a distinction is that a party has to promise to abolish university fees.

The Socialist Alliance education policy demands: "Free, quality, secular education. No upfront university fees; abolish the Higher Education Contribution Scheme; abolish all TAFE fees and fees for post graduate and overseas students."

Further the policy demands also "a guaranteed independent income for students. A fully indexed, living wage for students set well above the poverty line; abolish the student loans scheme, pay apprentices at least the base rate for a qualified tradesperson during their training."

These demands are eminently realistic and can be achieved with a reorienting of social priorities towards the needs of people instead of the greed of billionaires.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Socialist Alliance needs your number one vote

If you support what Socialist Alliance stands for, then we need your NUMBER ONE VOTE.

The truth is, anything else won't get counted!

Our preferences will flow to the Greens and to other progressive parties before Labor and then the Liberals. 

So your vote for Socialist Alliance will help re-elect Greens senator Scott Ludlam.

But it is better to show your support for the strongest platform in support of the interests of ordinary working people, grassroots democracy and for the environment. The only way to register your support for the ideas we put forward is to vote for us number 1.

Also, the strongest vote you can make against Abbott's agenda is to vote 1 for Socialist Alliance.

Support our ThunderClap