Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Socialism and religion seminar

Karl Marx famously said that “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Yet this statement is frequently misunderstood.

This seminar will feature presentations from three socialists - Christian, Muslim and atheist - discussing the attitude of socialists to religion and the roles of science and faith in liberation and social change movements.

Kate Massam (Christian)
Syed Dashlooty (Muslim)
Kamala Emanuel (atheist)

3-5pm, Sat 2 July
Perth Activist Centre (15/5 Aberdeen St, Perth - next to McIver station)

Presented by Socialist Alliance and Resistance. All welcome.

Ph 9218 9608 or 0413 976 638 or 0415 922 740 for more info.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fremantle port used to shift Australian radioactive mining waste to Malaysia

Public opposition to a plan by an Australian mining company, Lynas, to build a rare earth refinery in Malaysia showed itself in demonstration held outside Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on May 20.

Lynas plans to ship ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia, through the port of Fremantle, to Malaysia to be refined. The refinery will prodiuce some 230,000 tonnes of solid waste per year, containing radioactive thorium and a range of heavy metals and toxic substances. It will be dumped in Malaysia.

Malaysian Socialist Party (Parti Sosialis Malaysia - PSM) MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, told Green Left Weekly that there was strong community opposition to the Lynas rare earth refinery plan:

“This whole Lynas deal has been done in a very non-transparent way. They’ve already made a deal to bring this ore from Australia to refine here in Malaysia, then export the rare earths, then keep the waste here. It has been done without consulting people yet it is almost like a done deal. They have already built the factory and it is quite close to a highly populated residential area.

“The people of Malaysia have made their opposition to this sort of project very clear. About 20 years ago in Bukit Merah, there was a similar refinery set up to process [local] tin mine tailings and refine rare earths from it. The major issue is the Thorium in the residue, which is going to remain radioactive for years. The local people went to court and finally stopped the whole exercise.

“So for Lynas to try and do this now in Pahang, without consulting people and without resolving the who issue of how to keep radioactive waste safely, is not on.

“People are going to mobilise. You can see this is an issue that is getting people very agitated.”

Mitsubishi forced to close previous rare earth refinery

Dr T Jayabalan, an environmental activist and an occupational health and safety consultant working at the National Poison Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia told GLW that 55,000 signatures were collected for a petition against the Lynas rare earth refinery, precisely because of the earlier experience with a similar project.

“During the course of operations of the previous Mitsuibishi-run rare earths refinery in Bukit Merah (in the state of Perak), the local people suffred many health problems such as miscarriages, leukemias, cancers and lots of other illnesses. People mobilised, were able also to take the case court and ultimately prevailed after a 12 year struggle forcing the factory to close down. Mitsubishi was forced to clean up the whole area which was contaminated.

“Now the same sort of plant is being set up in the state of Pahang, very close to a residential area, using basically the same operation extracting rare earths from ore exported from Australia.

“These rare earth are found in deposits with transuranics such as thorium, with a half-life of 14 billion years, uranium with a shorter life and radium. All these are found intimately bound with these rare earths. In extracting them what they do is get the rare earths and then leaves a residue of concentrated thorium, uranium, radium and a whole lot of other highly toxic material including lead and arsenic.

“The rare earths will be taken by Lynas to be sold and shipped off to other countries. This will be very profitable because 95% of rare earth refinery is done in China. No other country wants to experiment in this sort of process.

“Somehow Lynas was able to sell this idea to Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry which wants foreign direct investment at any cost. So they facilitated the setting up of this factory. In fact the company gets a 12-year tax-free status. In other words it doesn’t even have to pay royalties. And they will only create 2-300 jobs.

“Hasn’t the Malaysian government learn anything from what happened in Bukit Merah? We don’t need these few hundred jobs and we don’t need the waste.

“Apart from the radioactive wastes, there are also a lot of other chemicals that are used in the refining process and it uses large volumes of water. Dangerous gases and hazardous chemicals will be released into the land, air and sea. At the end of the day, nobody wil buy our palm oil, nobody will want to come as tourists here, the firshermen will not be able to sell their produce and a whole range of other things will be destroyed just to for a few crooked businessmen who cannot do the same thing in Australia because of tighter safety laws.

“There has been deception and there have been lies. At first this company said that the waste material was not radioactive. It is “zero radioactive, they said. Then they changed their story to it is only radioactive to the workers and that it was just like background radiation.

“So we suggested that they send back the waste to Australia but they say no way can we take the waste back.”

Broader nuclear agenda

“The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) thinks that this campaign feeds into the broader campaign against nuclear energy”, MP Jeyakumar added.

“The Malaysian government has a plan to open two nuclear reactors in the 2020s. They are allocating M$20 billion to do that. So we think this campaign is a precursor to a broader campaign for safe alternatives to coal and gas.”

[Article by Peter Boyle. Picture: Demonstration outside Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on May 20, 2011, over the proposed Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang. Photo by Bawani/PSM. Both Dr Jayabalan and Dr Jeyakumar would like an opportunity to address Australian communities and groups about this issue.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Socialist Alliance and Resistance discuss #SpanishRevolution

For weeks, the central plazas of big cities and towns across Spain have been the site of the camps of the “outraged” (los indiganados) of the M-15 movement — so-called after the large May 15 national protests that sparked the movement.

This meeting will give an outline of events in Spain and an examination of their causes. It will also discuss the potential for such demonstrations to spread and the solidarity we can give from Australia.

Featuring a presentation by:
Helen Reichelt (Resistance)
and participation and insights from Javier Tierno (Spanish activist)

6pm, Wed 15 June 2011
Perth Activist Centre
15 / 5 Aberdeen St, Perth (next to McIver station)

Organised by Socialist Alliance and Resistance
www.socialist-alliance.org and Resistance.

Ph 9218 9608 or Alex (0413 976 638) or Chris (0415 922 740).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Justice for Rex Bellotti Jr

Since March 2009 it has been unclear whether promising footballer Rex Bellotti Junior will need to have his leg amputated after he was run over by a police four wheel drive in Albany, Western Australia.

The Indigenous boy, then 15, was leaving a wake when the police vehicle, driving on the wrong side of the road, struck him with sufficient force to drag him under the van, breaking his right femur and inflicting lacerations to his legs.

Though severe, Bellotti Jr’s injuries did not compel the officers involved to stop and assist. They instead left the boy in the care of family and passersby. Fortunately, among them was an off-duty medic who gave him immediate attention.

Thirteen hours passed before Bellotti Jr arrived in surgery, in which time irreparable damage to his legs had already been done.

He was then transferred for treatment in Royal Perth Hospital, where he was subjected to a “random” strip search after medications went missing in his shared ward.

His family has since moved to Perth to be close to their son and campaign for justice from the state government and against the racial discrimination that permeates the justice system in Western Australia.

Neither Bellotti Jr nor other key witnesses were even interviewed by police until April 2009, more than a month after the incident — and this only after The Sunday Times had published an article on the whole debacle.

An Albany newspaper article published four days after the incident quoted police officers saying “it appeared the teenager had deliberately walked in front of the ongoing car” which they claimed had “slowed down to 40km/hr”.

For more than a month, local police involved in the incident seemingly saw no need to add further testimonies to their own. But statements taken since from other witnesses have refuted the version of events given by police.

An internal inquiry performed by the Western Australian Police Force in October 2009 concluded that while errors in police handling had occurred, it was “satisfied that every effort had been made by the WA Police to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into these matters”.

However, the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) slammed these “satisfying” conclusions in November 2009. It said: “Given the injuries suffered by Rex Jr, it would be hard to accept that the lack of obtaining statements is merely ‘an oversight’.”

However, the CCC fell short of acknowledging the racist motivations behind this sickening case of injustice.

Rex Bellotti Senior told the National Indigenous Times in June 2009 that no internal inquiry would achieve justice for his son. “Police investigating police again,” he said. “At the end of the day they can exonerate each other … they’ve got each others’ backs.”

Accusations of racial discrimination to Indigenous people are hardly new for the WA police and the justice system.

Other recent scandals include the charging of a then-12-year-old Indigenous boy with receiving a 70 cent chocolate as “stolen property” in November 2009 and the ongoing Deaths in Custody Watch Committee campaign seeking justice for the family of Mr Ward, who died in horrendous circumstances in 2008 in a prison transport van.

Alongside these stands the tragedy inflicted on Rex Bellotti Jr and his family, who have been left until now without counselling services, without compensation and without a formal apology or recognition of guilt on the part of the state government or the WA police.

For Bellotti Sr, there is no doubt about the role institutional racism played in the treatment his son and family had suffered.

He told Green Left Weekly: “If I was driving a four wheel drive, like the one that I own, and ran over a young white child while driving on the wrong side of the road … and you can ask any of our Indigenous people here or in the eastern states as well … we would be considered guilty until proven innocent.

“My son and my family didn’t ask for any of this. We feel like we’ve gotten nowhere yet, but this is only the beginning.”

Supporters of Rex Bellotti Jr have demonstrated outside state parliament twice so far this year in a campaign that is expected to win wider support in the coming months.

[This article by Chris Jenkins was first published in Green Left Weekly #883.]

Friday, June 10, 2011

Carbon tax or genuine climate action?

[This article by Perth Socialist Alliance member Alex Bainbridge was printed in the Saturday 11 June 2011 issue of the Perth Voice Speaker's Corner.]

Thousands of people attended World Environment Day rallies in Perth and other cities last weekend to “say yes” to climate action.

Unfortunately, the rallies were also saying yes to a “price on pollution” which isn't quite the same thing and is even likely to be a step backwards.

While the Gillard government is determined to give us the carbon price, the action needed to actually reduce carbon emissions is clearly not part of its agenda.

The debate so far has largely been polarised between climate deniers who oppose any action on climate and those who advocate a carbon price as an “essential” step towards reducing emissions.

However, nobody has ever proven that market mechanisms are actually effective in reducing emissions, let alone that they are essential.

In fact, existing carbon markets around the world are in bad shape having suffered a decline last year according to a report released by the World Bank this month. The Guardian newspaper described the decline as an “almost total collapse”.

This was in the same year – 2010 – in which global energy-related emissions were the “highest in history” according to a May 2011 release from the International Energy Agency.

The most “successful” carbon market is the European Union which accounts for 97% of the world trade in pollution. Emissions in the European Union have continued to rise while polluting corporations have made billions of euros from the schemes.

The failure of existing market mechanisms underline the critical importance of developing a third pole in the climate debate: one that rejects an ineffective carbon price in favour of immediate public investment in renewable energy and other measures to reduce emissions.

Why should serious climate activists reject the carbon tax? After all, isn't something better than nothing?

Firstly, for clarity, it should be noted that the carbon “tax” is not really a tax – it is an emissions trading scheme that will operate with a fixed price for the first three to five years. That is, it is a similar mechanism to the “worse than useless” CPRS that the Rudd government tried to introduce in 2009 and similar to the failed schemes in Europe and other places referred to above.

Secondly, the carbon price will increase, not reduce, greenhouse emissions. This is because the biggest beneficiary of the scheme will be the polluting gas industry.

Wayne Swan has revealed that Treasury modelling demonstrates that the carbon price will result in a 150% to 300% increase in gas-fired electricity generation by 2050.

Between gas and renewables, Gillard's carbon price supports gas.

The preference for gas is not accidental, it is government policy. Greg Combet confirmed on Lateline in March that gas (and not renewables) is the government's preferred technology for new baseload electricity production.

At the burning phase, gas produces less emissions than coal. However, when the whole greenhouse “footprint” of gas is considered (including the extraction, processing and transportation stages), gas turns out to be as dirty if not dirtier than coal over a 20 year time frame – which is the relevant time frame for preventing runaway global warming.

Thus, there is no reason to assume that Gillard's carbon price is even a small step forward. More likely it will be a step backwards.

Even worse, is that the whole process of debating the mechanism of a carbon price represents an unforgivable delay in the adoption of measures that genuinely can reduce emissions.

The real alternative to coal and gas is renewable energy. The Victorian-based Beyond Zero Emissions have demonstrated convincingly that Australia could move to 100% renewable energy by 2020 given the appropriate political will. That is, existing commercially available renewable technologies can provide reliable baseload power.

Despite their rhetoric about tackling climate change, the Labor government is still surely in bed with the fossil fuel industries. This is revealed most clearly in the $10 billion per year that is handed out for free to polluting industries in government subsidies of various kinds while renewable energy initiatives receive a paltry drop in the bucket by comparison.

The first and simplest measure that any government would take to tackle the climate crisis is to reverse that situation. Yet there are no indications in the recent budget or anywhere else that Labor is even considering measures like that.

The conclusion from this is that the current government still needs to feel the full weight of public pressure if we are to see measures that will genuinely reduce emissions.

Demanding a better policy than the carbon price, instead of implying that a carbon price will achieve more than it can, is the best way to exert that pressure.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

World Refugee Day rally - Sun June 19

Keys for refugees

12:30pm Sunday 19 June
Wesley Church corner
cnr William & Hay Sts, Perth

On Sunday, June 19, 2011 join refugee support groups from around Perth as they come together to support the rights of refugees. Demand an end to mandatory detention and defend the legal right of people escaping persecution to seek asylum in Australia.

Bring a picnic lunch and any spare keys to contribute to an art piece that will be assembled on the day.

Assemble at Wesley Church for a solidarity walk to Stirling Gardens where the main event will take place.

Supported by: Refugee Rights Action Network, Amnesty, CARAD, Curtin Uni Centre for Human Rights.

Also supported by Socialist Alliance and others.

Also: Speak out against Labor's "Malaysia solution"
4pm, Friday 10 June
Murray St Mall, Perth City (outside Perth Underground Station)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Carbon price is not real climate action

The worst thing about the Labor government’s proposed carbon price scheme is that it’s a diversion from real action on climate change.

Few of its supporters say it will deliver significant renewable energy or emissions cuts any more — only that it will “start the process” and complement other measures.

It won’t really make the big polluters pay, but it will give them millions, if not billions, in compensation handouts.

It is designed to become an emissions trading scheme, which has not brought emissions down anywhere.

The Labor government has said repeatedly that it wants the carbon price to drive a boom in natural gas. But taken over its full life cycle, using gas for energy is as bad as burning coal.

Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan told parliament on May 25 that the carbon price would help the coal industry too. He said: “I am so optimistic about the future of our coal industry because we have some of the cleanest coal in the world.”

This hasn’t reassured the Liberal Party and the fossil fuel lobby. Their campaign against the carbon price has made headway.

They have made countless absurd claims: the carbon price will supposedly shut down industries, destroy regional towns, throw tens of thousands out of work, add thousands of dollars to annual grocery bills and cause rolling power blackouts.

For them, facts just get in the way. Their real messages is that any action on climate will always hurt working people and the climate problem is exaggerated, if it exists at all.

The climate denier crusade has left Labor floundering, but has also had an impact on the big environmental groups and the Greens.

They have moderated their demands and asked for less, pretending the carbon price plan is better than it is in the hope that at least something can be salvaged.

A sign-on statement circulated by Climate Action Network Australia in February said: “Saying yes to a price on pollution means saying yes to investment, innovation, and new jobs based on renewable energy that never runs out.”

But there is no evidence Labor’s carbon price will deliver these things. Supporting the carbon price in this way does nothing to pressure the government to go further — it takes the pressure off.

The federal Greens have made some big policy concessions to Labor in the carbon price negotiations.

In 2010, the Greens agreed to compromise on the emissions cut target for the carbon price, accepting that Labor would not go beyond its tiny 5% reduction by 2020.

On May 25, Greens leader Bob Brown said the party would compromise on the actual price too — abandoning its preferred $40 a tonne for Labor’s $20 price.

And in return, Labor has conceded nothing.

Through this process, the most important climate measures — public investment in renewables, mass transit, energy efficiency and sustainable farming — have been sidelined.

A well-designed carbon price could play a positive role. But market mechanisms cannot be the driving force in the transition we so badly need.

[The above leaflet was handed out by Socialist Alliance and Resistance members at the climate action rally in Perth 5 June 2011. Ph 9218 9608 for more information. Photos from the rally below.] Don't forget the educational seminar on the carbon price at 3pm, Sat 11 June at the Perth Activist Centre.]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Carbon price: good, bad or neutral in achieving climate action?

An educational seminar presented by Socialist Alliance and Resistance

Carbon Price:
Good, bad or neutral in achieving climate action?

This seminar will discuss the proposed carbon price (really and emissions trading scheme) to be brought in by the Gillard government with support from the Greens.

Speakers include:
Alex Bainbridge (Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor)

3pm, Sat 11 June 2011
Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St, East Perth (next to McIver station)

Presented by Socialist Alliance and Resistance.
Ph 9218 9608, 0413 976 638

Third homeless rights protest

More than 60 people rallied outside parliament house on June 2 in support of rights for homeless people. This was the largest of three protests organised since the issue was raised in state parliament in April in relation to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Police minister Rob Johnson said on April 7 that homeless people would have to “sleep somewhere else'', implying they would be swept from the streets during CHOGM.

Later comments by the community services minster indicated that homeless people would be given accommodation during CHOGM and then put back on the streets afterwards. However, it is not clear if even this promise will be fulfilled.

The rally heard from leading homeless organiser Corey Wilkinson, who had chained himself to the offices of housing minister Troy Buswell on the previous Monday. Wilkinson had tried eight times by that point to arrange a meeting with Buswell but the minister had refused to meet.

Wilkinson asked why it was that the state Liberal government of Colin Barnett was able to offer accommodation to homeless people during the three days of CHOGM, but not for the rest of the year.

Greens parliamentarian Alison Xamon and ALP leader Eric Ripper also addressed the rally. Xamon said she was appalled by recent comments made by Johnson disparaging the plight of the homeless and refusal of Buswell and the government to deal with the issue.

Ripper tried to distance himself from the appalling public housing record of previous state ALP governments. However, he made no specific promises on behalf of the ALP.

Alex Bainbridge spoke next on behalf of the CHOGM Action Network (CAN), saying that he would be more impressed if Ripper could stand before the crowd with a specific number of public houses that a future ALP government would build. “I would be even more impressed if he would stand before us and pledge to wipe out homelessness completely,” he said.

“Not one single person should have to live on the streets.'”

Bainbridge also called on the protesters to help make the protest at CHOGM as big as possible.

[This article by Alex Salmon was first published in Green Left Weekly. Video by Zeb Parkes.]

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Perth City Council seizes Bradley Manning banner

One feature of the May 28 Bradley Manning protest was that the Perth City Council seized a Free Bradley Manning banner that had been hung up over the overpass above the Murray Street Mall.

The Perth Voice covered the issue in its June 4 edition.

"When protesters at the Free Bradley Manning rally photographed the ranger pulling the banner down, he reportedly threatened them with prosecution for taking his photograph without permission," the paper reported.

"It is not (yet) a crime in WA to photograph anyone (other than a protected person, such as an ASIO agent or ADF member) in a public place," the paper went on.

If you support WikiLeaks, support Bradley Manning

[This article by Perth Resistance member Kate Massam was published in the Perth Voice Saturday 4 June 2011 edition.]

For 11 long months one man - Bradley Manning - sat alone in solitary confinement in his jail cell. His crime? Allegedly blowing the whistle on some of America's worst war crimes.

The crimes that he is said to have revealed included the torture and killing of countless civilians, the illegal bombing of Yemen and the extent of the drone attacks on northern Pakistan.

Despite not having been convicted of any crime - nor even having yet faced a trial - Manning is being treated like a criminal as the presumed source of the documents published by online whistleblower publisher WikiLeaks.

He is simply a man who “wanted people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
He is a 23 year old gay rights activist who was kicked out of home and once lost his job for being gay.

On May 26, 2010 Manning was arrested in Kuwait on suspicion of leaking military documents from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, video footage of a military attack that killed a dozen civilians including two Reuter's journalists and 250,000 US state department cables.

Manning was kept in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia for 23 hours a day without charge or trial for over nine months. He was subjected to inhumane treatment that included inadequate access to sunlight and a strict exercise schedule that only allowed him to exercise by walking around in circles in a separate room to his cell for one hour a day.

During the day he was required to respond in the affirmative to the question “are you OK?” every five minutes and at night he had to respond to the same question every time he turned his back to the cell door or covered his face with his blanket.

After March 2, when he was finally charged with 22 various charges including “sharing state secrets” and “aiding the enemy via indirect means” which carries life imprisonment or the death penalty, he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked, to attention, every morning for inspection.

Many people raise the argument that in being a member of the US military Manning should have known that this would be the result of releasing their classified information however after becoming disillusioned by the realities of the US's war on Iraq and Afghanistan Manning made the conscious decision to not become complicit in those actions but instead to try and effect change to achieve a more peaceful world.

He reportedly hoped that releasing the information would spark “worldwide discussions, debates and reforms”.

In April around 300 of America's top law scholars, including Barack Obama's own constitutional law professor, came forward in a strongly worded open letter to the Obama Administration. They claimed that the conditions of Manning's detention violated the Eighth Amendment (outlawing cruel and unusual punishment) and the Fifth Amendment (prohibiting punishment without trial).

The letter even points out that there is no evidence that Manning's treatment is needed for his own safety or the safety of other inmates so it is highly likely that “this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistle-blowers or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.”

US State department spokesperson PJ Crowley resigned after speaking out against Manning's conditions saying that this treatment was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid”.

Meanwhile Obama has said that the conditions are “appropriate”.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world disagree and have been standing in support of Bradley Manning. This people power effort recently resulted in a lessening of the torturous conditions he was being held in, including an end to his solitary confinement.

The movement extends to Perth where more than 50 people attended a speakout protest on May 28. “Free Bradley Manning” banners were also hung two days earlier on the one year anniversary of his incarceration.

This issue also raises the need for stronger laws protecting whistleblowers in this country.
It is a sign of the times we live in where war criminals walk the streets freely whereas heroes like Bradley Manning suffer cruel and unusual punishment without even having been convicted of any crime.

However just as a people's power movement succeeded in toppling dictators in Egypt and Tunisia - inspired in part by the WikiLeaks revelations - the international solidarity movement will one day succeed in bringing the architects of the “war on terror” to justice and winning freedom for Bradley Manning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rally for homeless people's rights pre CHOGM - Thurs 2 June

Join the protest on Thurs 2 June
Parliament House (Harvest Terrace, West Perth)

* Justice for homeless people during CHOGM - permanent accommodation, not swept off the streets
* Increase public housing - a right not a privilege
* Increased services and facilities for homeless people (drop-in centres, laudries, safe spaces, etc)
* A full public apology by police minister Rob Johnson and Colin Barnett for their insulting comments in parliament

Speakers include:
Corey Wilkinson (homeless rights protest organiser)
Alex Bainbridge (Chogm Action Network)
Eric Ripper or Mark McGowan (ALP)
Alison Xamon (Greens)
Troy Buswell (Housing Minister) and Premier Colin Barnett have been invited to speak.