Friday, January 31, 2014

Organic farmer Steve Marsh fights the GM monster

"Steve's case is really a case about all of us," declared renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva in a support statement for Steve Marsh. It is about our right to "have the freedom to eat healthy safe organic food".

Marsh is an organic farmer from Kojanup in Western Australia who is embroiled in a landmark "David versus Goliath" legal case about GM pollution on his farm.

In 2010, his neighbour Michael Baxter started growing genetically modified (GM) canola. The same year, shortly after harvest, a strong wind blew and Marsh found stalks and seed heads from the GM canola on his farm.

More than 15 years ago, Marsh started down the road of organic farming, yet he lost the organic certification over 70 per cent of his farm in one fell swoop after self sown GM canola started growing on his land the very first season after the WA government approved GM canola for commercial use on farms.

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), which is responsible for organic certification, has a zero tolerance policy in relation to GM. To be certified organic, there must be zero presence of genetically engineered plants on the farm

"There was evidence of GM seed growing on his property; we know that was not his fault, that it was not deliberate, but that is not the issue," the NASAA's Jan Denham told The Australian in 2013.

"NASAA's national certification standards and international export standards clearly state that 'any GM organism is prohibited' [on an organic farm] so [Marsh] had to be decertified because there was clear evidence of contamination of genetically engineered canola on his place," she said.

Supporters of GM technology, such as then Agriculture Minister Terry Redman, blame organic standards for being too strict. "The threshold for accidental presence in organic crops is an important issue which needs to be addressed to enable coexistence," Redman wrote to Marsh in 2010. He said that zero tolerance for GM in organic crops is "unrealistic". This continues to be the position of the WA government and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA).

However Scott Kinnear from the Safe Food Foundation told Green Left Weekly that it is the right of the organic standards bodies to set their own standards.

A zero tolerance threshold, in relation to particular diseases for instance, is not unheard of when classifying grains in circumstances unrelated to organic certification, according to Kinnear.

In any case, he said, "organic standards have been around a lot longer than GM crops".

The loss of his organic certification was a major financial blow to Marsh, leaving him with no choice but to sue his neighbour and lifelong friend. (Both farmers are well regarded in the community and both come from families that have farmed the region for generations.) The matter is due to start on February10 and is scheduled to run for three weeks.

There are well established common law provisions in agriculture which give legal protection to farmers from their neighbours over-spraying or contaminating crops with diseases. However, there are currently no provisions relating to GM pollution.

Therefore this is a landmark case which will set a precedent in relation to GM pollution. It is internationally significant. It could well be the first case in the world where an organic farmer is taking legal action over GM pollution.

While Monsanto initially declared that they would support Baxter, they later reversed that position according to Kinnear. He said there is currently no evidence that Monsanto is giving material support to Baxter.

However the PGA is supporting Baxter with media comment and a fighting fund. PGA spokesperson Sheldon Mumby told Green Left that Monsanto is not supporting Baxter or the PGA and has no involvement in the case. Mumby presents the case as being simply a matter of one farmer suing another farmer.

Nevetheless, the case will have an internationally significant impact in relation to the rights of farmers to choose to grow organic produce and the rights of consumers to choose non-GM food. Already a wide range of environmentalists, farmers, chefs and others have come out in support of Marsh.

Gardening Australia presenter, Costa Georgiadis, for instance, has appeared in a support video for Marsh saying "Steve Marsh may be in Western Australia, but he's actually in your pantry, in your fridge, in your local supermarket, wherever and whenever you put something in your mouth."

This is because as soon as GM crops are allowed to be commercially grown, contamination is inevitable. "If we lose this case, you can kiss goodbye to our right to eat organic food," said Kinnear.

Socialist Alliance candidate for the expected WA senate re-election, Chris Jenkins, puts it this way: "It is not possible for GM and non-GM crops to coexist separately. As a community, we have to choose one or the other."

"If you asked the people, most people would choose GM free," said Jenkins. "Instead of deciding democratically, governments and corporations are imposing the GM option on us. That is why we are supporting Steve Marsh."

"This is a system of food dictatorship," Shiva says in a similar vein. "We've got to stop before it is too late."

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #995. Steve Marsh can be supported via the Safe Food Foundation.]

Help Steve Marsh stop GM canola

March Against Monsanto supports Steve Marsh

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Green Left Weekly 1000th issue celebration dinner

Help celebrate an important milestone:

1000 issues of Green Left Weekly

with a sumptuous solidarity supper!

* Delicious three course meal
* Entertainment and greetings
* support Australia's best progressive newspaper

7pm Sat 15 March

MUA Hall, 2-4 Kwong Alley, North Fremantle

$60 solidarity/$30 waged/$15 unwaged

Book via phone (below) or online at:

Ph 9218 9608 or Alex 0413 976 638, Chris 0415 922 740, Sam 0412 751 508.

Monday, January 27, 2014

More "Utopia" screenings

The Nyoongar Tent Embassy and the Green Left Weekly have teamed up to present a series of free screenings of John Pilger's latest film, Utopia.

Due to popular demand we've added new screenings. Current options include:

6pm Thurs 30th January
2:30pm Saturday 1st February
6PM Saturday 1st February


Book here:

Address: 15/5 Aberdeen Street, East Perth.
Near McIver train station, behind the Aboriginal Legal Service.

Details about the film are posted below

** please note that there is limited parking available. Catching the train is the best option.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Turn up the heat on Abbott

Public ownership of the resource sector
can pave the way to renewable energy
Australian Services Union leader Sally McManus has compiled a list of 85 broken promises or other attacks on the Australian community by the Abbott government in the less than six months since the federal election. Prominent on the list are attacks on refugee rights, workers' rights, public services and the environment.

The latter include: abolition of the Climate Commission, abolition of the High Speed Rail Advisory Group and formal attempts to wind back world heritage listing of Tasmania's forests.

In addition the Environmental Defenders Office has been defunded and federal environmental law has been weakened.

At the same time, the Abbott government has approved Clive Palmer's ``mega coal mine'' in the Galilee Basin which seriously threatens the Great Barrier Reef. Linked to this, the government has also approved the largest coal port in the world which is actually in the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Area.

Taken as a whole, these decisions represent a conscious refusal to take the threat of catastrophic runaway climate change seriously. This should be a concern for all as 2013 was found to be the hottest year in Australia since records began. At a global level, it was the equal fourth hottest year since records began and the 37th consecutive year above the 20th century average.

Heat waves in just about every state are a reminder that this problem is real and not going to go away by itself.

This raises the question: is it too late to make a change. Complex system researcher Brad Werner addressed this question with an academic paper titled "Is Earth fucked?" at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2012.

"The bulk of Werner’s talk, as it turned out, was not profane or prophetic but was a fairly technical discussion of a 'preliminary agent-based numerical model' of 'coupled human-environmental systems'," it was reported.

"Active resistance by concerned groups of citizens, analogous to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements of the past, is one of the features of the planetary system that plays an important role in his model... if you’re interested in averting the scenario in which the Earth is f**ked—then, Werner’s model implied, resistance is the best and probably only hope. Every other element—environmental regulation, even science—is too embedded in the dominant economic system."

The Socialist Alliance election campaign for an expected re-election for the senate in WA will be conducted in this spirit of popular, grassroots resistance to the capitalist status quo.

We are aiming to "upset the apple cart" by calling for the transfer of banks and mines into public ownership. Even with governmental power, this policy could not be implemented without popular mobilisation at the grassroots level.

But these are exactly the kinds of measures required if we are to take the take the planet off our current crash course towards oblivion. These measures would go a long way towards breaking the political and economic power of the big corporations and opening up a pathway towards genuine democracy, social justice and environmental reform.

Averting runaway global warming would be reason enough to take this approach but it is worth noting – as McManus clearly shows – that Abbott's attacks are not limited to environmental concerns. Likewise, our policy of bringing mines and banks into public ownership is motivated just as much by social justice concerns. It is about transferring wealth, as well as democratic control, from the obscenely rich to the community as a whole.

[Alex Bainbridge is a Socialist Alliance candidate in the expected re-election for the senate in WA. This article was written as an Our Common Cause column for Green Left Weekly #994.]

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Campaign continues as Barnett's shark cull plan comes unstuck

Colin Barnett's wildly unpopular shark cull policy is facing legal and political hurdles as activists gear up for major protest actions on February 1.

On January 22, the media was awash with the report that an unidentified fisher had been contracted to administer the baitlines along the south west coast of WA even though he admitted he has ``practically no experience as a shark fisher''. He had a ``direct line'' to police should his activities be interfered with he said.

This was widely publicised as an indicator that all is well with the policy. However, it has not been possible to find a contractor to administer the policy around the Perth metropolitan area as everyone who had expressed interested in the contract has withdrawn.

Instead the government will direct the fisheries department to implement the policy. The Community and Public Sector Union which covers these staff have expressed concern about the arrangements.

Greens parliamentarian Lynn MacLaren says that this is a sign the policy is in a shambles pointing out that ``the WA Fisheries Department’s mission is to conserve and manage the aquatic resources of WA to ensure there are ‘fish for the future’ – the shark cull completely contradicts this.''

At the same time, a new opinion poll of 300 Perth residents showed that around two thirds opposed the policy. On January 16, a petition with 8000 signatures against the shark cull policy was presented to Colin Barnett's office.

It has also been revealed that the federal government has given only temporary permission to implement the policy. The state government needs federal approval to implement the policy because the killing of the endangered sharks targeted by the policy is a contravention of federal environmental law.

Activists have also argued that the shark cull runs contrary to WA legislation including the Wildlife Conservation Act and the Fish Resource Management Act. In addition the cull is against international environment treaties.

Protest organiser Natalie Banks told Green Left Weekly that protests will take place in eleven places across Australia and New Zealand on February 1.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #994. Photos and video from January 4 protest for sharks in Perth.]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

John Pilger's "Utopia" - three free screenings

The Nyoongar Tent Embassy and the Green Left Weekly have teamed up to present a free screening of John Pilger's latest film, Utopia.

There are now three screenings:

1:30pm Saturday 25th January
5pm Saturday 25th January
6PM Saturday 1st February


Book here:

Address: 15/5 Aberdeen Street, East Perth.
Near McIver train station, behind the Aboriginal Legal Service.

Details about the film are posted below

** please note that there is limited parking available. Catching the train is the best option.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chris Jenkins: 'We'd like to see Holden's factories nationalised'

Opposing cuts to Medicare and tertiary education and bringing the Holden factories under public ownership are some objectives highlighted by Socialist Alliance senate candidate, Chris Jenkins, in an interview with the January 18 Fremantle Herald.

"This Senate re-run will be very interesting and I think the Abbott government has had the shortest honeymoon of any government elected," Jenkins, who is a Notre Dame University student told the Herald.

Taking the fight up to Abbott and bringing mines and banks under public ownership will be some of the key slogans under which the Socialist Alliance will contest a re-election to the WA senate if the high court determines, as expected, that a new election will be held.

On Holden, he said he’d like to see Holden’s factories nationalised to create more green jobs, arguing the company has been given so many billions in public money the public has a right to exercise democratic control over the factories.

"It’s absolutely scandalous to find out how many public subsidies were going into Holden, and Ford before that," he told the Herald.

"And when Ford was going to the wall shelving those jobs, what we were calling for was the public ownership of those factories and industries to be re-tooled for wind turbines or renewable energies. Or at least the infrastructure for renewable energies, because I wouldn’t say right now we need more cars, we need to work towards a transit system."

Commenting on the small right wing parties that won senate positions at the last poll he said that "we will provide more an opening for those people who are at the other side of things".

However, the Socialist Alliance faces a tough battle to win a senate seat he told the Herald: "We acknowledge we are a very small party ... if we won, we would be pleasantly surprised," he said.

But he also pointed out that socialists have been making small but important electoral advances. In Australia two Socialist Alliance members elected to local governments (Fremantle and Moreland in Victoria) brings to four the total number of elected socialist councillors. More recently Kshama Sawant from the US group Socialist Alternative has been elected to the significant Seattle City Council.

"We have seen with the election of a socialist to the Seattle city council ... that even in a very traditionalist pro-capitalist country ... those inroads can be made.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

VIDEO: Perth rally to save Medicare

Over 170 people protested in 44 degree heat to Save Medicare on January 11. See the video from Green Left TV above.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Make Medicare better, don't wreck it

A major attack on Medicare is on the cards after the Abbott government has refused to rule out forcing all patients to pay an upfront cost when they visit the doctor.

Former health advisor to Tony Abbott, Terry Barnes, has written a paper to the federal government's “Commission of Audit” recommending a $6 up-front fee to see a doctor. The Commission of Audit was appointed by the federal government to propose business-friendly cuts to government spending in the lead up to the May budget.

Abbott government ministers claim that the commission is independent but in reality it is headed by Tony Shepherd from the Business Council of Australia. The BCA's chief economist Peter Crone also heads the commission's secretariat. Corporate profitability rather than community need will be the key drivers of the commission's recommendations.

Early critics of the proposed up-front fee include the Doctors Reform Society (DRS) and the Australian Medical Association.

Doctors have criticised the plan because it would amount to a false economy. The DRS says that even a small upfront cost would mean that people “stop seeing their GP, ending up sicker and going to hospital - which costs thousands of dollars a day versus the current $36 to see a GP bulk billed.”

According to the DRS, the Abbott government's refusal to rule out an up-front fee “opens the door to the destruction of Medicare as we have known it.”

Without commenting directly on Barnes' proposal, health minister Peter Dutton has indicated that he is supportive by saying that Medicare costs will become “unmanageable” unless the government cuts health spending. He also said that “it's hard to understand where we are going to find money [in the future] to pay for these services” referring to treatments for dementia and diabetes.

However, Terry Barnes' proposal is only aimed at “saving” $750 million over four years – less than $200 million per year. Current Medicare spending is in the order of $18 billion per year so the proposed upfront fee would barely make a dent in government health spending.

This proves that the $6 co-payment is merely the “thin edge of the wedge” against Medicare. If the government can get away with implementing such an upfront fee, it is reasonable to expect they will follow this up by extending upfront fees to non-GP services such as pathology and radiology tests and increasing the fees over time.

Barnes has already suggested upfront payments at hospital emergency departments as a measure to deter people from seeking health care there if they couldn't afford a doctor visit.

Many people today would laugh at the idea that there is no upfront fee to see a doctor. Medicare bulk billing is a thing of the past at many medical practices, or else severely restricted (for example limited to pensioners or people with health care cards).

Despite this, official Medicare statistics indicate that approximately 80% of Medicare services are bulk billed (up from less than 70% during the Howard government years). This apparent contradiction is probably best explained by the fact that a lot of Medicare services – such as pathology and radiology tests – are still bulk billed and that corporate-style super-clinics – infamous for five minute appointments – also typically bulk bill.

Already almost one fifth of health costs are borne by consumers through out-of-pocket expenses according to a Consumers Health Forum analysis of the last budget. Further, the numbers of people delaying a visit to the doctor for financial reasons has increased in recent years.

Australia has one of the highest rates of out pocket health payments in the OECD. A 2009 report by the Centre for Policy Development revealed that Australians pay over $15 billion a year in out-of-pocket health costs. This is more than double the amount contributed to the health system by private insurance companies.

This reveals that the government does not get value for money out of the billions of dollars used to subsidise private health insurance. The community would be better off if that money were simply redirecting straight to the public health system.

It is clear, however, that the proposal for upfront medical fees is motivated by a desire to push Australia in the direction of a more privatised health system.

“I make no apology for suggesting a modest price signal for bulk-billed GP and emergency department services, and encouraging people to question whether they really need a trip to the doctor,” said Barnes in a Fairfax opinion piece.

Bulk billing should be “confined” to those who can least afford the cost of medical care according to Barnes. Even these lucky few should be made to pay a co-payment, he said, but everyone else “should and must pay [for medical care], and shouldn't expect free treatment”.

This is an unrestrained argument for full privatisation of health services.

A fully privatised health system would be much more expensive than a totally free system. The United States for instance spends over 17% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health – the highest in the OECD. By contrast, several European countries with completely free health services – that is no upfront fees at all – spend at or close to the OECD average of 9% of GDP.

Health care in Australia should be improved by ending government subsidies of private health insurance, moving away from a “health insurance model” to a free public service model and abolishing the flat rate Medicare levy to fund health care from general revenue. This could be paid for by increasing taxes on corporations and the very rich.

Con Costa of the DRS told Green Left that he is not against reforming Medicare. “We want a better system, but they're not talking about that. They're talking about wrecking the system.”

Costa said that people would get a better (and cheaper) health service by increasing federal funding for primary health care instead of waiting for illnesses to become acute, requiring hospitalisation. For example, the federal government could fund community nurses to be attached to medical clinics who could be available for routine checks and home care.

Already the threat of imposing a major step towards privatisation has provoked a whole series of “save Medicare” rallies in Australian capitals. If Tony Abbott wants to attack Medicare, we should respond with a determined plan, not only to defend it, but to make it better.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was written for Green Left Weekly #993. Bainbridge is a Socialist Alliance candidate for the expected senate re-election in WA. Photos from Perth rally to save Medicare 11 January 2014.]

Friday, January 10, 2014

Perth Voice: Reds in WA senate race

The Perth Voice has reported that Socialist Alliance is mounting a campaign for the expected re-run of the WA senate election.

Candidate Alex Bainbridge is quoted saying "It’s true we’re a minor party, but it’s not like we’ve come from nowhere like a lot of [the small right-wing] parties have done."

"We are trying to make a gradual progression ... to go from a minor party to a major party," he told the paper.

He also said that "we are saying something in this election that no one else is saying".

The latter includes the party's policy of bringing the mining and banking industries into public ownership. Measures like these are essential if we are to break the power of the big corporations that are currently using their economic and political clout to block meaningful climate action and other social justice measures.

The Socialist Alliance campaign is directed primarily against the rampaging Abbott government and the lack of alternative offered by the ALP. However, when asked about differences between the Greens and Socialist Alliance, Bainbridge replied that the Alliance policies are "more far reaching and more practical".

Many Greens may bristle at the suggestion that a socialist approach is more practical than the approach of the Greens, however, it is true. The carbon price is one example of a policy supported by the Greens that is completely impractical in actually reducing carbon emissions, nor is it a 'first step' towards such a policy.

Moreover, because the best of the Greens' policies would challenge corporate power if implemented, they can only be won by concerted union and community campaigns, not reliance on parliamentary manoeuvres. Socialist Alliance prioritises these grassroots campaigns as an integral part its work.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Michael Moore's "Sicko" on Fri 17 Jan

With the Liberal government considering a major attack on Medicare it is worth seeing against this classic Michael Moore documentary about the shortcomings of a privatised health system.

The United States government pays a higher proportion of GDP to pay for a privatised system that provides a lower quality service than the public health service in Australia.

That is just one reason to fight hard to oppose the proposed Medicare co-payment and also to be part of this screening of Sicko (followed by discussion).

6:30pm Friday 17 January

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

Ph 9218 9608, 0415 922 740.

Attend on FaceBook:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Socialist Alliance supports rally against cuts to Medicare

The Socialist Alliance WA is encouraging all members and supporters to join us this Saturday in attending the Perth rally called to oppose the proposed changes to Medicare fees.

The Abbott government has refused to rule out introducing up-front fees of $5-6 to visit a GP. This could potentially be extended to hospital Emergency Rooms. It is a major attack on the community's right to heath care and would be a major step towards a fully privatised health system which would particularly disadvantage the most marginalized and without the means to pay.

The Socialist Alliance stands for free, quality and accessible health and dental care.

Please show your support by coming along

 SATURDAY January 11

3:00pm Stirling Gardens (cnr Barrack St & St Georges Terrace) 
***** NOTE NEW VENUE!!!!  *****

Attend on FaceBook:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thousands protest Barnett's shark cull policies

Cottesloe Beach was the site of a huge 4,000-strong protest on January 4 against the WA Liberal government's shark culling plan. This policy would see Perth’s beaches lined with drum lines and baited hooks a kilometre out from the coast and shark fishermen instructed to kill any tiger, great white or bull sharks spotted in the designated zones.

The plan is a knee-jerk response to a few high profile cases of people being attacked by sharks off the state’s coast in recent years and amounts to a policy of environmental vandalism by killing endangered species without any evidence that it will even save lives.

The rally, which was part of a national day of action, was held in the electorate of Premier Colin Barnett and was organised by scuba diving enthusiast Natalie Banks to call on the state government to abandon the proposed shark cull.

WA Shark Conservation founder Ross Weir told the crowd that if this policy went ahead it would result in the destruction not just of sharks but also stingrays, dolphins, large fish and turtles. Greens senator Rachael Siewart blamed the federal government for not intervening to protect the Great White Shark which is on the International Union of Conservation and Nature's red (endangered) list.

Managing director of Sea Sheppard Jeff Hansen called the great white shark the "doctor of the ocean" which maintains the life support of our eco-system. Noongar Elder Ben Taylor in his welcome to country speech said that Colin Barnett should hang his head in shame and that sharks where part of his culture and spirituality.

The crowd also heard from Greens MLC Lynn McLaren, shadow fisheries minister Dave Kelly and Tim Nicol from the Conservation Council of Western Australia. Afterwards the crowd turned around and bowed to the ocean to pay respect to the Great White Shark and the ocean.

Sea Shepherd is encouraging people to write, ring or fax their local MPs to let them know of their opposition to this culling of sharks.

[This article by Alex Salmon was submitted to Green Left Weekly. Photos and video by Alex Bainbridge. See also the article by Sea Shepherd.]