Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rocking the Foundations: 15 November 2013

Friday Film Fanatics - Rocking the Foundations

An outstanding historical account of the Green Bans first introduced by the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation in the 1970s in response to community demand to preserve inner- city parkland and historic buildings. One of the first women to be accepted as a builders labourer, filmmaker Pat Fiske traces the development of a quite singular union whose social and political activities challenged the notion of what a union should be.

The BLF imposed a series of work bans, the green bans, on developers who wanted to demolish heritage buildings and sites of environmental significance in NSW. The workers saved trees and buildings which, to this day, remain a powerful symbol of how successful environmental campaigns can be run. Crucial to the green bans' success was active support from community activists and social movements. Together they formed an unbeatable partnership.

6:30pm Fri 15 Nov

Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St, (next to McIver Station)

Entry by donation. Ph 9218 9608, 0413 976 638

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to shape a social justice council

The result of the October 19 Fremantle Council election was a real glimmer of hope for us in Western Australia, particularly after the bleak state and federal results this year.

Under the first-past-the post system used in WA council elections, I was re-elected in Hilton Ward with 58% of the vote, compared with 33% in 2009. In the other wards, the incumbent councillors defeated more conservative opponents. Mayor and Greens member Brad Pettitt won more than 70% of the vote, defeating former state and federal Liberal candidate Matthew Hanssen.

The result was especially significant due to the state government’s plan to slash the number of councils in greater Perth from 30 to 15. This would, in practice, abolish the City of Fremantle — attacking democratic representation and the ability of the community to shape its destiny.

Big business and development moguls welcome the plan, but an extensive community survey of Fremantle residents showed that 70% were opposed to the amalgamation and 75% wanted to have a say on changed boundaries. The state government plans to ignore residents on both counts, despite promising otherwise during the state election campaign.

Like many local governments, Fremantle council earns income from commercial investments. The Low Carbon City Plan adopted in 2011 proposes that the council shift some of this capital into its own renewable energy infrastructure.

There's no better candidate than the community-owned wind farm proposed for North Quay at the gateway to Fremantle, given planning approval by council and actively supported by the Maritime Union.

It represents the antithesis of the fossil fuel mafia that runs WA. Perhaps that's the very reason the Port Authority, and through it the state government, refuses to grant approval. Meanwhile, they wasted $200 million trying to restore a coal-fired power station.

Support for the wind farm is growing. Broadening and strengthening the political campaign to get approval is one of the most important challenges for anyone in WA fighting for a clean energy future.

As a Socialist Alliance candidate in the recent state and federal elections, I hammered the point that there is no possibility of stopping runaway climate change or creating a more just and democratic society without bringing sectors of the economy like energy into democratic public ownership.

It is one thing to preach this in the abstract, but the chance to make it happen on the ground and prove it can work, even if on a modest scale, underscores how important this is.

I'm proud to have overseen a tenfold increase in the council's spending on cycling infrastructure. However, even this puts us on a collision course with the state and federal governments.

Perth doesn't have a proper bus service to the airport, let alone a train. Yet there are freeway works around the airport totalling $1 billion.

The state government is also trying to shut down 700 kilometres of grain freight rail lines and push an extra 40,000 truck movements a year onto roads. The overdue maintenance bill to keep these lines open is only $93 million.

Expanding road capacity and building new freeways doesn't solve congestion, it induces even more traffic. Vehicle movements in cities are rising at a higher rate than the population. Even modest attempts by local councils to encourage cycling and walking run up against the fact that freeway construction is flooding cities with more traffic.

State and federal transport policy is founded on subsidising the motor and road construction industries at a truly catastrophic cost to the community in terms of road accident trauma, diesel particulate pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the degradation of urban spaces.

In every Australian city, communities will find themselves fighting “freeway madness”. In Fremantle, the battle is shaped by the huge growth in freight volume to the port, causing huge growth in truck traffic and freeway projects at the northern and southern entrances to the city.

The Fremantle Road to Rail campaign has actively sought to avoid the “not-in-our-backyard” response of trying to push the traffic into someone else's lap.

The campaign has led to new allies, such as farmers and National Party voters in the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance.

There have also been strides towards social justice. We now have a Workplace Values policy that recognises council workers' right to organise and several measures favouring affordable and social housing. The council directly employs staff with disabilities and is improving access and inclusion as well.

But there is more work to do before it can be called a social justice council. A decade ago, Fremantle led the way in programs and activities that actively supported and involved youth, the aged, and Aboriginal people.

The modest but important recent achievements of Fremantle Council are down to two things. First, the Labor and Liberal parties don't caucus at council level in WA, making it possible to build agreement and alliances that might otherwise be excluded. There isn't a policy achievement I've been associated with that hasn't been actively supported by one of my council colleagues; whether Green, Labor or independent.

Second, and most importantly, we have an engaged and activist local community pushing council and shaping public debate. Encouraging and organising community activism is more important than ever, and the preservation and extension of these gains will depend on it.

[This comment piece was written by Fremantle councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright for Green Left Weekly #986. Photo by Rez Nez of Sam Wainwright speaking at a Refugee Rights rally 24 August 2013.]

Video and photos from Reclaim the Night Fremantle

150 women and their supporters marched through the streets of Fremantle on October 25, 2013 to mark the annual Reclaim the Night. Speakers included: ALP senator Sue Lines, Kamala Emanuel from the Socialist Alliance, Kate Peterssen, Christie Woodleigh and Kaila de Cinque from Reclaim the Night, Bec Davies from People for Sex Worker Rights and Karen Swin from the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Check out photos and videos below.

Sarah Ross speaking about refugee rights and violence against women

Rebecca Davies speaking about sex worker rights

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New video supports campaign to Boycott CHOGM in Sri Lanka

This new video supports the campaign to Boycott CHOGM this year in Sri Lanka and to promote the powerful film No Fire Zone.

Sign the Australian petition: www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/prime-minister-reconsider-chogm-2013-in-sri-lanka

Get on board the Global campaign: www.facebook.com/boycottsrilankanchogm

Action for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam & Sri Lanka

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fremantle Road to Rail Campaign is running a crowd funding appeal

Please give support and get this link out to all your networks: www.pozible.com/project/172968/-1

The aim is to raise $2,500 to create a wonderful contingent in this year’s Fremantle Parade getting the message out:
• Get freight onto rail to get the trucks off the road
• Give us back our clean and safe community
• Support state shipping to relieve pressure on roads
• Save Beeliar Wetlands

Support the Road to Rail campaign. We require a campaign kit to spread our critical message.

Green Left TV on Road to Rail Campaign

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Reclaim the Night rallies in Fremantle and Perth

Reclaim the Night marches will take place in Fremantle and Perth on Friday (25 October).

The Fremantle march begins at 6:30pm at Kings Square in Fremantle.

The Perth march begins at 6pm at the Perth Cultural Centre in Northbridge.

The statement by the Fremantle Reclaim the Night collective is below:

Stop violence Against Women
Every woman has the right to freedom from violence. As women, we demand the right to be safe everywhere. In our homes, in the streets, out with friends and by ourselves, physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse is not okay. We have the right to be able to live without having to constantly think of our safety. There should be nowhere that is deemed unsafe. We are rallying to reclaim the night, the day, the streets, the home, our places of work, study, worship and recreation and to demand the changes needed to make this a reality.

Consent Education
All women need to be respected sexually. We need comprehensive education programs for high-school students about healthy, safe and consensual sex, as well as sex and gender diversity. Everyone needs to understand the importance of active consent in sexual interactions (as opposed to silence, or resignation in the face of unwanted sexual activity).

Economic Security
Underpinning violence against women are sexist assumptions that are fostered by the inequality women experience. While education and adequate funding for support services for women experiencing assault are essential, tackling violence against women also requires changing the conditions that support sexist ideas, along with ensuring women have the economic security necessary to avoid or leave financial dependence on abusive partners. We demand reversing the cuts to single parents payments that has placed sole parents (mostly women) and their families below the poverty line; increasing funding for public housing, refuges and sexual assault support services; and equal pay for equal work.

Decriminalising Sex Work
Criminalisation of sex work is an obstacle to sex workers achieving safety from violence. Police with the role of regulating the sex industry are more likely to perpetrate assault, and sex workers may be reluctant to report assault because of concerns about not being taken seriously or being charged with prostitution offences. We support the campaign to decriminalise sex work. We call for an end to violence against sex workers.

Transgender Struggles
We demand full recognition of transgender women as women. There are a diverse range of gender identities and expressions. Trans* women and their specific concerns are an essential component of the movement to end violence against all women. We demand the acceptance of transgender women into women’s refuges. In addition to the violence women face generally, trans women also face transphobic violence and discrimination. They should not be turfed out onto the street on top of that.

The policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing harms refugee women emotionally, mentally and physically; many of these women experience gender based emotional and mental violence.

The Involvement of Men
RtN is an event organised for women and by women, however, we encourage men who support our demands for ending violence against women to attend.

* * * * * *

Green Left TV video from last year's Reclaim the Night march in Fremantle

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Socialist councillor re-elected in Fremantle

Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor Sam Wainwright was re-elected to the Fremantle council on October 19. In the other wards progressive councillors defeated more conservative opponents, and Mayor Brad Pettitt was also returned.

Wainwright won 58 per cent of the vote in his ward compared to 33 per cent at the 2009 poll. Local government elections are "first past the post'' in WA, so 33 per cent was enough to win the election in 2009. Wainwright's absolute vote also increased from 438 votes to 602 this year.

Over the last four years Wainwright has made a priority of organising and promoting community campaigns and supporting council initiatives such as a dramatic increase in the cycling budget. He has been a strong supporter of the Fremantle Road to Rail campaign and helped promote a community owned wind farm at North Quay.

He introduced the Workplace Values policy which recognises the right of council employees to union representation and job security; and set an indigenous employment target.

Wainwright has vigorously defended the Warrawee Women's Refuge which battles to maintain funding levels, and introduced policy to include and respect people with disabilities.

In 2012 he co-founded Action for Human Rights in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka, a group which campaigns against Australian government support for the genocidal Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka. In this capacity, he has actively supported the campaign for refugee rights.

The candidates opposing the incumbent councillors and Mayor ran on a conservative platform that counter-posed the provision of services like rubbish collection and road repair to environmental and social initiatives. In particular they opposed the skateboarding facilities proposed for the Youth Plaza to be built on Fremantle's Esplanade Park.

Wainwright attributes his success to his record of support for grassroots action, principled progressive politics and engagement with council processes to achieve improvements in community services.

Pettitt – a member of the Greens – won a resounding victory against former state and federal Liberal candidate Matthew Hanssen, securing just over 70% of the vote.

Communist Party member Vinnie Molina ran a strong independent campaign for a spot on the Vincent Council but was defeated in the context of a wide field of candidates including some supported by the Labor Party.

Declaration of the result in Hilton ward

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #985.]

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nyoongar Tent Embassy opposes native title deal

Representatives from the Nyoongar Tent Embassy gave a presentation forum on Nyoongar native title at Murdoch University on October 15, hosted by the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre.

The focus of the forum was the ongoing negotiations between the Western Australian state government and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) to extinguish native title in the Nyoongar territories of WA (roughly the region south of Geraldton and east to Esperance) in exchange for a $1.3 billion cash and land package.

SWALSC used the forum to continue to advocate for the proposed deal. Part of the case SWALSC made was to suggest that native title is no longer legally recognised for the Nyoongar people anyway, and that the deal meant getting something rather than nothing.

Activists from the Tent Embassy have consistently rejected the proposed deal, claiming no amount of money compares with cultural and tribal ways, and recognition as a sovereign people.

They have called the $1.3 billion proposed offer by WA premier Colin Barnett insulting.

When divided equally between all 35,000 Nyoongar people alive today, it is a tiny amount and would leave nothing to future generations to come.

SWALSC has also sought to minimise the significance of what extinguishment of native title would mean for sacred sites. The tent embassy's Marianne Mackay claims that sacred sites are already being threatened by the state government, using the example of police harassment last year at Matagarup, a traditional birthing place for Nyoongar women and meeting place for Nyoongar men.

During the forum, Herbert Bropho, a prominent Aboriginal activist gave a strong intervention in support of Aboriginal sovereignty. He outlined the ongoing issues faced by Aboriginal people living without sovereignty and within a white-dominated culture.

He spoke of the suicides within the family, his father's death, the issue of homelessness and other social expressions of the hardships experienced by Aboriginal people.

A vote of whether to accept Barnett’s deal will be held in May next year. With SWALSC actively promoting the deal, Tent Embassy representatives claim there has not been an open and frank discussion that would allow for informed decision making.

[This article by Seamus Doherty was written for Green Left Weekly. Photos by Alex Bainbridge from July 12 protest by Nyoongar Tent Embassy.]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Resisting Abbott's War on the Environment: Wed 23 Oct

Public forum - all welcome

Resisting Abbott's War on the Environment

* Climate * Fracking * Forests

This forum will take up Abbott's early attacks on the environment, what can be expected in the future and what the election means for climate policy in Australia.

Farida Iqbal (Socialist Alliance)

6pm Wed 23 October

Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St, Perth (next to McIver station)

Hosted by Socialist Alliance

Friday Film Fanatics: Oct - Dec

A series of three films at the Perth Activist Centre

6:30pm Friday 18 Oct
The Future of Food

A film about genetic engineering, Monsanto and food security

*   *   *

6:30pm Friday 15 Nov
Rocking the Foundations

A film about the famous "Green Bans" by the NSW Builders Labourer's Federation in the 1970s. A landmark struggle that deserves to be remembered today.

*   *   *

6:30pm Friday 20 Dec
Joyeux Noël

A film about the remarkable Christmas truce's during World War One.

*   *   *

All films at the Perth Activist Centre, 15/5 Aberdeen St (next to McIver station)

Entry by donation

Ph 9218 9608, 0413 976 638

Monday, October 14, 2013

Julie Bishop: BLOOD on your hands - Fri 18 Oct

[Information supplied by Refugee Rights Action Network.]

The Abbott [and Rudd and Gillard] Government policies have led to more drownings at sea, more loss of human life.

The Australian Government introduced regressive and dangerous agenda under the moniker of 'Operation Sovereign Borders', claiming to 'stop the boats' and end the deaths of asylum seekers arriving to Australia from Indonesia. Over the past few weeks, we have seen anything but.

On this occasion, we will also commemorate the 12th anniversary of the SIEV X tragedy: on October 19th, 2001, 353 people, mostly women and children, died when their boat sank in the waters between Indonesia and Australia.

Then and now, the Australian Government has mislead the community over important questions of prior knowledge of impending tragedies, our responsibility in preventing the drownings, and lack of our duty of care to the survivors.

Join the Refugee Rights Action Network WA in a protest against those policies at the offices of MHR Julie Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

4pm Friday 18 October

Julie Bishop's office, 414 Rokeby Road, Subiaco

Attend on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/events/425604794211507

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Anti-Monsanto t-shirts available now

These t-shirts say "Stop the Monsanto Monster: Environmental justice not corporate greed".

Order yours by sending an email to: wacontact [at] socialist-alliance [dot] org

The cost is $20 ($26 includes express post dispatch). Preferred payment method is by transfer to:  Perth Activist Centre, BSB 066003 Account 10253459. Payment can also be made by credit card over the phone.

Re-elect councillor Sam Wainwright

[Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright is currently contesting an election to retain his spot as Hilton Ward councillor on the Fremantle City Council. This is a link to and some of the text of his election leaflet.]

DOWNLOAD: Sam Wainwright's election leaflet

I have renominated for Hilton Ward for the council elections. I believe I've been hard working and effective, both collaborative and prepared to speak out.
I've supported the regeneration of the Fremantle CBD as well as taken a keen interest in the issues affecting our suburbs. I'm committed to social justice sustainability and community.

This leaflet explains some of my activities, the things I've helped achieve and the projects I will work on in the next term. I'm an activist councillor with more energy to give, and there's plenty more to be done. I hope you'll consider supporting me again.

Slow South St, create a Hilton Town Centre

With the support of council I convinced Main Roads to reduce the the speed limit between Hines and Stock Roads to 60 km/h. Will seek a reduction to 50 km/h through the Hilton Town Centre.

Supported successful community campaign for a pedestrian crossing of South St at Collick St.

Have begun negotiations with MainRoads for street-scaping of the Hilton Town Centre including trees, street furniture, paving, banner poles and red bitumen; subject to full community consultation.

Pushed for the final completion of the traffic lights at McCombe Ave Samson.

Freo people support social justice

Initiated the Workplace Values policy that respects council workers right to secure employment and union organisation; and set an indigenous employment target.

Put a greater emphasis on participation in the White Ribbon Day events, will work to get council to do even more in the campaign against family and domestic violence.

Secured council sponsorship and support for the annual Refugee Welcome Walk and Fiesta.

Sustainability, we can lead the way

Chaired the Climate Change Working Group whose Low Carbon City Plan was adopted by the City and will see it reduce its carbon emissions by 40%.
Vigorously defended the SMRC composting facility when threatened with closure by the State Government which would have destroyed a $100 million facility that belongs to us.

Actively supported the Fremantle Community Wind Farm proposal and will begin work on a solar farm for the old South Fremantle tip site.

Dignity and inclusion for people with disabilities

Supported the $53,000 'Count Me In' inclusion grant secured by Hilton Harvest.
Proposed the disability parking bay on Sellenger Ave at Samson Park.

Ensured that full access ramps for both the 25 and 50 metre pools were included as part of the Leisure Centre upgrade.

Proposed the City begin to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Parks & Gardens.

20% of dwellings in the Burt St development to be adaptable for people with mobility disabilities.

Road to rail, there's no freeway solution to road congestion

Actively supported the campaign for light rail to connect suburbs to the east and south of Fremantle to the CBD.

Successfully proposed that Fremantle become the first metro council to join the Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance.

Oppose Roe 8 and turning High St into six lanes.

A bike friendly Freo, it's happening

Increased rates of cycling benefit the whole community by reducing congestion freeing up parking spaces and better health. The City of Sydney estimates that for one dollar invested in cycling they save the community four dollars.

Expenditure on cycling infrastructure has increased from a tiny $39,000 per year to nearly $500,000 and cycling rates have increased.

With some of the key infrastructure in the CBD done, we can now fix problems in the suburbs. This year we will create a proper bike connection across Carrington St connecting Lefroy Rd to Rennie Cres.

When the connection between Beaconsfied and Hilton is done, we will be in a stronger position to again ask Main Roads to build an overpass across Stock Rd connecting Hilton and Samson at a mid-point between South St and Winterfold Rd.

Affordable housing, it's a right

Supported the small dwelling amendment that allows anyone to rent a granny flat.
Successfully proposed a 15% affordable housing target for CBD developments in the Amendment 49 area.

Secured a 15% low-income/social housing component for the Bannister St site.
Supported the Burt St redevelopment with an overall target of 45% affordable housing with a 10-15% social housing component.

Defend and extend our services

Assisted successful community campaign to stop the state government from slashing its contribution to: our local library by 70%; cutting Buster the Fun Bus; and removing staff from the PCYC.

Support the continued provision by council of the Warrawee Women's Refuge and Fremantle Community Legal Centre. Campaigned to to get the state government to properly co-fund these vital services.

I support the transition to water-wise gardens and greater subsidies for mulch and native plants. However cutting the mowing service leaves residents who are unable to maintain their verge in the lurch.

Other local projects and infrastructure I've supported

Renewal of the play equipment in Moornie Boorne Park on Rennie Crescent.
Renovation of Fremantle Junior Dockers club room plus light towers at Dick Lawrence Oval.

No forced amalgamations: Freo Forever, keep Samson

The State Government proposes to merge Fremantle, East Fremantle and Melville in July 2015. This mega-Melville Council makes would create a massive and unwieldy entity lacking focus.

It would dramatically reduce democratic representation. Fremantle has thirteen elected members 26,000 residents. The merged enitity would have around 140,000.

According to our community survey only 31% of Fremantle people support the proposal, and only 28% supported the state government unilaterally imposing mergers.

55% of residents wanted the right to have a vote on any proposed reform or merger.


March Against Monsanto: Sat 12 Oct

Join the March Against Monsanto on:

Sat 12 October

1:30 for 2pm, WA Parliament House (Harvest Terrace, West Perth)

[Information below supplied by March Against Monsanto.]

Please gather at Parliament House at 1.30 where we will have a couple of speakers and an amazing singer to start us of. We will begin the march at 2pm and will be walking down St Georges Terrace, along King Street, Along Hay Street and through the malls to Forrest Chase, up the escalator to the station overpass and through the Amphitheatre to James Street, finishing at Russell Square at approx 3pm. We will then have a number of speakers and several stalls set up in Russell Square.

We are marching for:
  • The right to plant and collect our own seeds.
  • GM labelling on all GM derived food and the basic right to know what's in our food.
  • A halt to ALL GM food approvals both imports and local grown GM crops.
  • A stop to GM contamination.
  • Farmer protection legislation.
  • Sustainable GM-free agriculture and protection of biodiversity.
  • A stop to public funding of GM crops.
  • Transparency and accountability.
  • Saying NO to being ruled by Corporations and not being a part of the democratic political process.

Check out also the upcoming screening of The Future of Food at the Perth Activist Centre:

The first of a series of films at the Perth Activist Centre.

The Future of Food distills the complex technology and consumer issues surrounding major changes in the food system today -- genetically engineered foods, patenting, and the corporatization of food -- into terms the average person can understand. It empowers consumers to realize the consequences of their food choices on our future.

6:30pm Fri 18 October
Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St (next to McIver station)
Entry by donation. Ph 9218 9608, 0413 976 638

Attend on Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/1389683364599094

Defend 457 visa holders: No $4000 fee for education!

Dean Keating and Stef Hayward from the "457s in Oz" group speak out alongside Alex Bainbridge from the Socialist Alliance against the Barnett government's attempt to impose education fees on the children of 457 visa holders.

Read Green Left Weekly on the attacks on 457 visa holders:

"One of the most harmful stings in the budget is a new fee of $4000 a year for each primary or secondary school student whose parents hold 457 visas. A family with five children would be expected to pay $20,000 a year for public education.

"This policy comprises three main attacks on workers' rights. It is an attack on a relatively weak section of the workforce, an attempt to increase the divisions between workers with and without residency rights, and likely a "thin end of the wedge" against the whole population. If a fee of $4000 can be normalised for workers on 457 visas it would be easier to extend that fee to everyone later on."
From: www.greenleft.org.au/node/54888

"Another attack on education (and workers' rights more broadly) is the threat to charge a $4000 annual fee per student for children of workers on 457 visas. One effect of this policy will be to drive these workers to send their children to private schools, thereby undermining state education as a whole.

"This policy also ignores the fact that workers on 457 visas pay tax while they are in Australia and deserve full access to the range of social services, including education, that are available to all members of the community.

"The blatant injustice of this policy has resulted in a lot of criticism and pressure on the government. It is trying to find a way to moderate some aspects of the policy without abandoning it.

"The $4000 charge on only a section of the community is a blatant attempt at "divide and rule". It is important that the union movement as a whole defends the rights of these workers by opposing this fee as an integral part of the campaign to defend education."
from: www.greenleft.org.au/node/54948

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The future of food - Fri 18 Oct

The first of a series of films at the Perth Activist Centre.

The Future of Food distills the complex technology and consumer issues surrounding major changes in the food system today -- genetically engineered foods, patenting, and the corporatization of food -- into terms the average person can understand. It empowers consumers to realize the consequences of their food choices on our future.

6:30pm Fri 18 October
Perth Activist Centre
15/5 Aberdeen St (next to McIver station)
Entry by donation. Ph 9218 9608, 0413 976 638

Attend on Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/1389683364599094

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teachers tell Barnett: money for education, not stadiums

Schools across Western Australia were shut down by a statewide stop-work on September 17, called to fight education funding cuts proposed by the state Liberal government.

About 500 education assistants are set to lose their jobs. A change in the school staffing formula also means that there will be 585 fewer teaching places next year, in comparison to what there would have been under the previous funding model. Program cutbacks on top of this mean that altogether there will be up to 1000 less teachers next year.

These aren’t the only cutbacks in the August budget. 1200 public servant jobs are also under threat.

The cuts are happening at a time when the state Liberal government is investing huge sums of money in development projects all over Perth. The Elizabeth Quay, a Dubai-style development on the Swan River foreshore, is unpopular even among Liberal voters.

This is happening in the midst of what is supposed to be a mining boom. Super-profits from the resources and banking sectors, which are owned by the public, are instead lining the pockets of private interests.

A long-term funding plan would include nationalising these sectors and spending the profits on increased funding to education.

Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, education minister Peter Collier and the Liberal Party have avoided this. This is a deliberate failure to plan for the future.

A high-school teacher who attended the stop-work rally, Stuart Shields, spoke to Green Left Weekly about the education cuts. He said: “Anger and despair brought me to the rally; disbelief that a government in one breath says 'this is the richest state in the country' then tells us to 'tighten our belt'.

“These 'reforms' — lets just call them cuts, because that's what they are — will set education back decades.

“Governments, both state and federal, have thrown money at education fads such as outcomes-based education, 1:1 computer ratios, when what they should be doing is investing the money in supporting up the foundations of education.

“And here today we see a government who panders to resource giants in the hope that the trickle-down effect will benefit the rest of the population ... and it won't. It will only benefit shareholders. Resource giants continue to profit, while the quality of children's education and employment prospects are negatively affected.”

When asked how this impacts day-to-day classroom environments, Shields said: “The immediate impact is the stress it places on teachers and support staff who wonder if they will have a job next year.

“Planning around budget constraints, and less staff to teach subjects, will mean existing staff will have to teach in areas they are not familiar while their colleagues will be forced to look for work elsewhere. The long-term impact will see class sizes increase, children with educational needs struggle to cope, and course options be reduced.

“Nearly 20 years ago, the government closed education support units, in favour of inclusive schooling, which meant instead of special needs students being taught separately from their peers, they would be 'included' in the class, but have help provided by an education assistant.

“A cynic might say this is just a cover to save money. A cynic would say that 500 education assistants that are going to be unemployed will save the government more money — at the expense of kids who need it the most.

“The actions of the government once again represent the interests of big business such as land developers. Such infrastructure projects need to be cost-effective, protect social values, and provide value for the money invested.”

In a meeting with unions on September 23, Collier and Barnett are refused to back down. But in a resolution passed at the rally in Perth on September 17, education workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of “action of a political, industrial and social nature” to “continue for such time as is required to bring about a reverse in the budget cuts for 2013 and 2014”.

Green Left TV on the campaign against education cuts

[This article by Farida Iqbal and Chris Bonds was written for Green Left Weekly #983.]