Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Protest against Bandyup Women’s Prison overcrowding

The Bandyup Action Group (BAG) held its most recent speak out on July 18 to protest against conditions in Bandyup Women's Prison.

There has been a dramatic rise in incarceration rates, particularly for non-violent acts such as non-payment of fines. About 30% of women detained at Bandyup are there because of unpaid fines; 30% have existing and severe mental health problems; and 90% have been physically and/or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.

The Bandyup Prison, the only women's jail in Western Australia, was built with an original design capacity of 180 persons. According to the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (DICWC) WA, the population of the prison today is more than 300, with those without beds sleeping on the floor on mattresses next to toilets.

This overcrowding is directly linked to higher levels of distress and anxiety for those detained there. Recently a 50-year-old woman ended her life in the shower block. Overcrowding and security issues also makes gaining access to meetings with lawyers on time difficult.

Bandyup was built as a maximum security facility, but less than 10% of the women there are detained for crimes requiring high security.

One of the common causes of “maximum security” incarceration is for the homicide of an intimate partner. Studies show that many of the women jailed for the killing of an intimate partner often experienced years of violence from that person, and that violence used is most likely in the context of defending oneself.

This kettling of larger populations of prisoners comes as funding for women's refuges and crisis accommodation in the community is being cut despite an epidemic of violence against women. Every week, two women are killed in cases of domestic violence across Australia, and every three hours a woman is hospitalised.

Aboriginal women are dramatically over-represented in WA prisons. Aboriginal women make up 3% of the total state population, but 50% of inmates at Bandyup. More than 70% of women detained for fine defaults are Aboriginal, indicating that the very poorest suffer most under these laws.

There is a new women's prison planned for WA, planned to cost $22 million. While it is being built it is suggested that part of the Hakea men's prison be partitioned to deal with the overcrowding at Bandyup.

However BAG says that building new prisons is not the answer. BAG activist Kelly Somers said: "If you build more prisons, you're going to put people in them. Let's find other ways to understand and overcome why women are going to jail."

Mark Newhouse from the DICWC told Green Left Weekly: “What the community needs is properly funded community legal and social services. That's where this $22 million and much more should be going."

On July 20 the ABC reported on a new 12-month trial that will start soon in Western Australia. For the first time in this country, people who have committed low-level crimes can sign a pledge of “good behaviour” to avoid a prison term.

Warren Mundine, head of the prime minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, supports the project, and according to the ABC said: "The best time to intervene is after someone's first offence."

Surely the best time for intervention is not at first contact with the criminal justice system, but through a proactive approach to funding the services the community is so much in need of: housing, employment, health and an end to the racism that sees such appalling over-representation of Aboriginal people in jail and dying so much earlier than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

Measures to avoid sending people to jail are welcome, but unless these underlying issues are addressed there will be no justice or real change for those suffering now and into the future.

[This article by Chris Jenkins was first published in Green Left Weekly #1062.]

Friday, July 24, 2015

Perth solidarity with Suruç

45 people gathered in Perth on July 24 to express solidarity with a group of young people who were victims of an Islamic State suicide bombing in the Kurdish town of Suruç on July 20.

At least 32 people were killed and over 100 injured in the attack which was directed at young people gathered in a community centre on the Turkish side of the border with Syria. They were planning to travel to Kobane in the Kurdish liberated zone in Syria.

The protest was addressed by Brin Aslan from the Kurdish Association which organised the action. Nyoongar activist Marianne Mackay compared the oppression of Kurdish people to that faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

"People are being labelled 'terrorist' when they're not," she said, referring to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which is on the Australian government's list of terrorist organisations.

"In this country, the biggest terrorist is the Australian government," she said.

Alex Bainbridge from the Socialist Alliance called on the Australian government to pressure Turkey - a NATO member - to stop giving support to the Islamic State group. He also raised support for the campaign to lift the ban on the PKK.

A solidarity message from Greens senator Scott Ludlam was also read to the rally.

[This article was first published in Green Left Weekly 24 July 2015.]

Sam Wainwright: Don't privatise Fremantle Port

Fremantle port privatisation: lessons from the Wheatbelt

Farmers are worried that the proposed privatisation of Fremantle Port will lead to a dramatic escalation in their freight rates. The 800% increase in rents charged to stevedores by the newly privatised Port of Melbourne would be ringing some alarm bells.

Closer to home are the disastrous consequences of the privatisation of WA's freight rail network via a secret 49 year lease in 2000 when Premier Colin Barnett was Minister for Transport.

The lease is now owned by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management, the same company that has the contract to build the new Perth stadium and has secured two sites in the state government's Elizabeth Quay waterfront project.

In 2010 it announced that it would close 720kms of so-called Tier 3 lines unless the state government tipped in $93.5 million of taxpayers money to carry out essential capital works. The government refused.

These rail lines carry 92% of grain to the port from the area they serve, between 1.5 and 2 million tonnes each season. This equates to 57,000 to 86,000 extra truck movements per year forced on to our roads. The cost in terms of road accident trauma, extra pollution and the destruction of lightly constructed rural roads that are not built to take road trains that have to be repaired by local councils has never been considered.

Bizarrely the state government refused Brookfield's request but announced an extra $100 million for Wheatbelt roads to enable them to take the extra truck traffic. But this amount doesn't even come close as Main Road's own report at the time indicated a maintenance backlog on Wheatbelt roads of over $800 million.

Meanwhile the state government has never called Brookfield to account for its failure to maintain the railway lines in proper order while still returning hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to its parent company.

In response the farmers' cooperatives CBH which by this time was running its own trains offered to take over the Tier 3 lines but was refused, and this is where the story gets really murky.

An October 2014 Legislative Assembly Economics and Industry Standing Committee report revealed that the Public Transport Authority, the entity that is supposed to manage the railway lease on behalf of the people of WA, agreed in a secret deal in 2010 to remove the "use it or lose it" clause in the lease in return for taking 15% for Brookfield's grain division profits. And some people think we live in a democracy! Brookfield is already touted as a possible buyer of the port.

The federal government is encouraging the states to "recycle assets" by selling existing ones to pay for new infrastructure. Why would we want to sell the port to pay for Perth Freight Link? In the case of the railways lines the value of an asset built up over decades by Western Australian farmers and taxpayers has been run down and recycled straight into the pockets of a multinational conglomerate.

Strategic monopoly assets like the port belong to the people of WA. If privatised they don't create "free enterprise", there's no competition. It just deprives us of income from that asset and with it the possibility of proper democratic planning.

[This article by Fremantle councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright was written for Green Left Weekly. The City of Fremantle was the first metropolitan council to join the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance]

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Perth Freight Link hits a rock

Community resistance to the Perth Freight Link, a $1.6 billion freeway project proposed by the state and federal governments for the south-west region of Perth is growing at an explosive pace. The strength and depth of this opposition is now so strong that the issue will almost certainly dominate the next federal and state election campaigns.

While the part of the freeway that would cut through the Beeliar Wetlands, known as Roe 8, has long been favoured by the Liberals at state and federal level, its continuation towards Fremantle Port is the product of a classic Tony Abbott "thought bubble", announced without any consultation with the state government, local governments, the transport industry or affected communities.

The consequence of this has been a chaotic combination of secrecy and contradictory information coming from the agencies tasked with starting work on the freeway in early 2016 but who do not yet even have a defined route. The uncertainty as to which residents may find themselves next to a six-lane highway or have their homes compulsorily acquired has added to the sense of chaos and outrage.

The freeway is touted as a direct route to the Fremantle port, but it stops short of that location on the wrong side of the Swan River. This has been conceded by Main Roads WA who have been considering extending it via a duplication of the Stirling Highway bridge and further flyovers that would push the cost of the project to more than $3 billion and cut a swath through east and north Fremantle.

In May four community groups opposed to the freeway — Save Beeliar Wetlands, Rethink the Link, Fremantle Road to Rail and 350.org — came together to form Rethink Perth Freight Link. This alliance has since been joined by a further 23 community groups and three local councils; the City of Fremantle, the Town of East Fremantle and the City of Cockburn.

The growth in the campaign alliance has been matched by the mushrooming of local neighbourhood groups and a frenetic level of activity. For a month and half not a week has gone by without a large community protest or public meeting taking place. Typical of this was the exuberant crowd of 500 people who marched through suburban Hamilton Hill in driving rain on July 5, led by a truck carrying dancing children and blaring AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" through loudspeakers.

No proper cost–benefit analysis that captures all the costs of the freeway has been attempted. Such a study would include capital costs, loss of remnant bushland, destruction of urban connectivity and amenity, increased congestion on feeder roads, greenhouse gas emissions and health impacts of carcinogenic diesel particulate pollution. Once calculated, this cost should be compared to alternatives including the expansion of public transport and rail freight infrastructure.

However, in the "freeways equal shiny progress" land of Abbott's imagination such objective analysis is unnecessary, no matter how much public money he spends. This fanatical freeway fundamentalism was borne out by his withdrawal of more than $500 million in federal co-funding for the "Max Light Rail" that had been promised by Abbott's own WA colleagues at the last state election, and its replacement with a freeway that no one asked for.

The state and federal governments claim to have done a business plan but this has been kept secret on the basis that its proposed operation as a toll-way by a private partner makes it "commercial in confidence".

Attempts by local activists and members of parliament to access the business plan via Freedom of Information applications to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development have hit a brick wall, with the Director asserting via a mind-boggling leap of logic that this would not be in the public interest. It begs the question, which bit of the "public interest" is being served: the general public or the freeway construction and tollway companies?

To sharpen the focus on the complete failure of state and federal governments to canvass either the true costs of the freeway or potential alternatives, the City of Fremantle commissioned the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute to assess the project.

The report, Making the Right Investment in Perth's Freight Task, points out that for two decades all the relevant state agencies in WA, under both Labor and Liberal governments, have worked on the assumption that when Fremantle harbour reaches capacity a new port would have to be built to the south in Cockburn Sound. It is clearly absurd to pour billions of dollars into a freeway running to the existing port before resolving that issue.

It further points out that the state government will have a financial disincentive to encourage more container traffic onto rail if its private tollway partner is dependent on increasing truck movements to get a return on its investment. In fact, the state government has already sabotaged attempts to get more containers on rail by returning funding for a satellite container hub connected to the port by rail that had been approved by the previous federal Labor government.

In a further twist the state government is proposing to privatise the Fremantle port at the same time. By doing this the two things have become inextricably linked, the freeway becoming the gift wrapping for the private port owner. This has drawn the Maritime Union of Australia into the campaign and they are now energetic participants in the Rethink Perth Freight Link alliance.

The City of Cockburn has been taking out extensive public advertising opposing the project. To Fremantle's north the Cottesloe Residents Association has also joined the campaign. In spite of its name, more than 90% of traffic on the freeway is expected to be private motor vehicles, which will all be funnelled into Perth's leafy western suburbs, including the Premiers own electorate.

The Rethink Perth Freight Link alliance has launched a special pledge to which it is seeking signatories. It reads,

"I am opposed to the state and federal governments constructing the proposed Perth Freight Link. I, along with other community members, will engage in peaceful but determined protest activity in opposition to this unpopular, costly and environmentally devastating freeway."

Around the country campaigns to stop socially and environmentally destructive freeways are emerging as the urban Franklin Dam campaigns of our era. They embody two different visions for our cities: one that serves the endless growth of motor traffic and those that profit from it, versus cities that serve the people who live in them.

[This article by Sam Wainwright - who is a Councillor at the City of Fremantle, Co-convenor of Rethink Perth Freight Link and activist with Fremantle Road to Rail - was first published in Green Left Weekly #1061. Photos by Alex Bainbridge from a June 24 protest against Perth Freight Link.]

Protesting against 'Reclaim Australia'

3-400 anti-racist activists faced off against 4-500 "Reclaim Australia demonstrators in Perth on July 19. This was part of a national weekend of counter rallies against those called by the far right group 'Reclaim Australia'.

The first Reclaim Australia rally in Perth on April 4 was clearly larger than the counter protest that was called at last minute. However this rally saw an increase in anti-racist numbers and a possible decline in Reclaim numbers.

The rally itself was addressed by a range of union and community activists condemning Reclaim's racist and divisive agenda. These included Linda Goncalves from the Civil Service Association and 'Jammo' Jamieson from the Maritime Union of Australia. Marziya Mohammedali spoke as a Muslim Activist and Mick Sutor spoke as a representative of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee.

Wiwince Pigome spoke as a West Papuan activist which was significant since Reclaim made an attempt to present itself as supportive of the West Papuan independence movement. She began her talk by saying that "in the West Papuan struggle, there is no room for racism".

"We are up against the system," she said. "But we are not against the Muslims."

Anti-racist activists have vowed to organiser further actions if Reclaim mobilises again. In particular, Solidarity Park is an important site for the trade union movement in WA, having been the location of a 1997 Workers' Embassy in opposition the Court government's 'third wave' industrial relations legislation.

Reclaim Australia has intentionally aimed at associating their activities with the park in an effort to associate their campaign with that of 'the underdog', 'the battler'. Unions WA has distanced the union movement from Reclaim Australia and anti-racist activists are determined to deny them an association with Solidarity Park.

[This article by Chris Jenkins first appeared in Green Left Weekly 20 July 2015. Photos by Alex Bainbridge. Video by Green Left TV.]

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hundreds join silent protest against Border Force Act

"Shamed", "human", "citizen".

These were some of the labels people wrote across their mouths at the silent protest in Perth against the chilling effects of the new Border Force Act.

The protest was in opposition to the threat of penalties for health workers and educators who speak out on behalf of refugees in their care on Manus Island and Nauru. The Act runs counter to the professional ethics of these workers since they have a duty to protect their clients.

300 people joined the protest on the steps of Parliament House. Social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, students, youth workers, community workers and psychologists were all specifically invited to attend and were well represented on the day.

However the crowd was very diverse.

"We oppose the intimidatory effects of this Act, we support those who have and will speak out against abuse in Australia's detention centres," organisers said in their invitation to the event. "And we will uphold our professional ethics and practice standards over the Border Force Act."

An open letter from health professionals working with families on Manus and Nauru has been published in opposition to the Act.

[Article and photos by Alex Bainbridge, first printed in Green Left Weekly #1061.]

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Perth fights for everyone's right to marry

A landmark demonstration was held on July 5 in Perth. The crowd of about 5000 people — in the rain — made it the biggest protest for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights that has ever happened in Perth.

It was also the biggest LGBTI protest across the country so far this year. The rally was organized by GetUp! and Australian Marriage Equality.

There was a broad cross section of the community in the crowd. There were queer couples with their children; straight parents of queer children; drag queens; a priest with members of his congregation; transgender people; partying queer youth; homeless people; and people of all cultural backgrounds, occupations and political leanings.

No matter who you were or what “label” you identified with, you were there on that day if you supported marriage equality. Australia’s funniest Prime Minister “Baloney Abbott” was even caught in an illicit encounter with one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

The rally clearly expressed community feeling in Australia. Ireland has marriage equality. The United States does too. It is high time we had it in Australia because public support for marriage equality is even higher in Australia than it is in the United States.

Every day the government delays marriage equality, Australia becomes more isolated. Every day the government fails to act on majority opinion, it becomes clearer that they do not care about democracy.

The rally heard from eight speakers. Ingrid Cumming gave a spirited welcome to country, emphasising that hatred and discrimination are not part of Nyungar tradition. Alannah MacTiernan spoke on behalf of the ALP. Rachel Siewert spoke on behalf of the Greens. Former Democrats senator Brian Grieg spoke about the early days of the equal marriage rights campaign and how far we have come. Ivan Hinton Teoh spoke on behalf of organising group Australian Marriage Equality. Sally Rugg from GetUp! chaired the rally.

But we did not just hear from politicians and professional activists. The grassroots voice of the queer community came through loud and proud. The rally heard from Joey Cookman-McAuley from Playgroups with Pride and Anglican priest Reverend Peter Emmanuel. Samantha Davies spoke on transgender rights.

Stephanie Hastings called for civil rights for her two queer sons. She reminded us that it was mass demonstrations in the 1960s and ’70s that won rights for women and racial minorities. The mass demonstrations now for marriage equality are a continuation of that tradition.

The demonstration was a huge success, and the organisers should be commended, however there were some shortcomings.

The Labor Party was let off the hook. The rally organisers called for a free vote in August when the marriage equality bills are put to parliament. If there is a free vote in the Liberal Party that is all well and good. Liberal Party politicians should defy party policy and vote for marriage equality. If PM Tony Abbott does not allow them a free vote they should cross the floor.

But we don’t want a free vote in the Labor Party. That could be a disaster. Labor needs to bind its vote so that all of its MPs vote according to party policy, which is for marriage equality. They should not be free to vote for discriminatory legislation.

Also the rally was not organised by an open committee. Local grassroots activists who have been working for years were shut out of the organising and from the speaking platform. The movement needs to be democratised so that we can exercise maximum strength.

The next rally in Perth will be held by Equal Love WA on August 9 in the Murray Street Mall at 1pm. This is two days before the beginning of the spring session of parliament, when it is expected that marriage equality will be debated.

This rally will probably also be large. Attendance on the Facebook event is already 3000 and climbing. We can also expect huge rallies across the country in the coming months.

[This article by Farida Iqbal first appeared in Green Left Weekly #1060. Photos below by Alex Bainbridge.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

GetUp organises Equal Marriage rally in Perth

Love in Perth
Rally for marriage equality

1pm Sun 5 July

Russell Square, Northbridge
Organised by GetUp

Attend on Facebook:

Followed by:

Equal marriage rights and the queer revolution
A post-rally discussion organised by Socialist Alliance

2:30pm Sun 5 July
Rosie O'Grady's (James St, across the road from the rally)

Attend on Facebook: