GREEN LEFT WEEKLY - Australias independent voice committed to human and civil rights, global peace, anti-capitalism etc.
Chelsea Manning, the US army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking military and diplomatic intelligence, will be freed in May after President Barack Obama announced that he has commuted the remaining prison sentence.
Manning tried to commit suicide last year and, as the only transgender woman incarcerated at the all-male Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, Obama's decision could save her from an uncertain future.
Jailed for nearly seven years, her 35-year sentence is by far the longest punishment ever dished out in the U.S. for a whistleblowing conviction. Manning is set to be freed in five months on May 17, 2017, rather than in 2045.
WikiLeaks, the organization that Manning leaked millions of US military documents to, called the news a “victory” in a tweet.
"Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible," the organization's head, Julian Assange, said.
Similarly, prominent whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted that President Obama "alone can save" Manning's life on January 11, thanked the outgoing US president for the move.
Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, was hit with a 35-year sentence after a 2013 military court conviction for providing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks.
It was the biggest breach of classified material in US history. Among the files that Manning turned over to WikiLeaks in 2010 was a first-person video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected Iraqi insurgents in 2007. A dozen people were killed, including two Reuters news staff.
After a two-year investigation, in 2012 the UN special rapporteur on torture denounced Manning's incarceration as cruel and inhumane.
Reposted from TeleSUR English.1123International News
Pro-choice activists in Queensland say the campaign for abortion law reform is entering its “final, most important stage”.
This was the assessment of Kate Marchesi and Olivia King from Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose about the campaign to support abortion law reform measures introduced by independent state MP for Cairns, Rob Pyne.
Abortion is currently in the Queensland Crimes Code Act 1899. Pyne has moved two bills which will be voted on in parliament on March 1. The first bill removes the provisions of the Crimes Act relating to abortion; the second imposes certain regulations on how legal abortions can be performed.
Pyne told Green Left weekly that he respects people’s right to have different views but “surely we can all agree that this medical procedure should not be in the criminal code”.
“Nothing is ever given for free”, he said. “All rights are fought for.”
“Now we really need Queensland and Australian women to get behind this campaign so that women can have control of their own reproductive health.”
Marchesi and King told GLW that “with the vote now fast approaching it's time to build on the accomplishments made so far”.
“We need to let our MPs know just how much support there is to take abortion out of the criminal law.”
Regular pickets, organised by the recently reformed Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign (WARC), have been held throughout Brisbane calling on politicians to support the reform bills. The pickets have also sought to build support for the upcoming February 16 and March 1 rallies.
Anna McCormack from WARC told GLW that the February 16 rally will be a “very significant because the [parliamentary] report [into the second of Pyne's bills] will be handed down the next day.
“So, we’d urge everybody to make an effort to get along.”1122Australian News
The New South Wales state government has released changes to the state’s planning law which, if passed, will grant big mining companies more power and reduce communities and councils’ already limited rights of appeal.
The government says the changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A Act) 1979, released on January 9, are primarily about promoting “confidence” in the state’s planning system.
But Lock the Gate Alliance said the proposed changes could well have been written by the mining industry itself.
The updated objectives are a fuzzily-worded promotion of “community participation”, “proper management” and “conservation” of NSW’s “natural and other resources”.
The government has committed to halving assessment times for “state significant projects” — mines, wind energy developments and industrial manufacturing sites — that are already under scrutinised.
The changes also strengthen the planning minister’s power to override local council planning decisions and allow government appointees to sit on local planning panels.
The draft bill aims to do away with “reviews” by the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) and make substantial regressive changes to the already flawed process.
The PAC will essentially be merged with another authority, the mining and petroleum gateway panel, with some members of the gateway panel becoming commissioners.
NSW planning minister Rob Stokes said the new authority “will guide assessments undertaken by the department” to ensure the average project proposal period was halved by between 70 and 160 days.
The changes will also remove the avenue for appeal against certain development decisions, including those in the mining sector. The NSW Minerals Council is happy with the proposed changes.
“Internal reviews of state significant development will not be available for high-risk developments, such as heavy industries, intensive livestock industries and mining operations if the commission has held a public hearing into the development”, the summary noted.
Marie Flood, from Stop Coal Seam Gas Sydney, said the Mike Baird government is not to be trusted.
“We know the Baird government’s record: pushing for more CSG and coal mines, passing new laws to greatly increase penalties against anyone who dares to protest against mining and development projects and the weakening of environmental protection laws”, she told Green Left Weekly.
“Parts of this new proposal do seem to be a response to corrupt and incompetent practices by miners and developers”, Flood said, “but ultimately the changes are about speeding up the excise of power”.
“We will keep this record in mind as we read the proposal critically and make submissions, drawing attention to what good planning laws would look like.”
Lock the Gate Alliance’s Georgina Woods said that if communities are not able to query approvals in court and the new “Independent Planning Commission” is not accountable, protests againstr mine approvals would continue.
“Overall, the Baird government is giving the mining industry what it wants while leaving communities to suffer under the same unfair rules they’ve already got,” said Woods.
[The draft changes are open for public comment until March 10. Go to planning.nsw.gov.au/Have-Your-Say/Community-Consultations or forward written submission to the Department at the Legislative Updates email firstname.lastname@example.org.]1122Australian News
As the people on Manus Island prepared to see in the New Year, drunken immigration officials and police beat up asylum seekers who were then taken into police custody and denied food and medical treatment. PNG politician Ronny Knight responded by tweeting “They deserved what they got”.
Barely a week earlier Faysal Ishak Ahmed, a Somalian asylum seeker in Manus Island detention centre, died on Christmas Eve after months of being denied adequate medical treatment.
Meanwhile, bureaucratic hurdles continue to delay a court case that will determine the future of the Manus Island detention centre. The centre was found to be in breach of Papua New Guinea's constitution last year.
And no one is closer to being resettled or given citizenship in the United States. The refugee deal is showing its true colours as a political tool and not a “solution”.
Welcome to the beginning of the fourth year in offshore detention centres for many refugees and asylum seekers. This year will also herald 25 years since the policy of mandatory detention was first introduced in 1992.Refugees beaten, killed
The beatings of asylum seekers came almost three years to the day of Reza Berati’s murder in February 2014. Berati was beaten to death in an attack on the Manus Island detention centre by guards and local vigilantes.
Many hoped these brutal scenes would lead to an end to offshore detention.
Instead, two local PNG guards were convicted for Berati’s murder, each given jail sentences of five years. Some people have spent longer in detention.
An Australian and a New Zealand guard also accused of involvement in the attack were whisked off Manus Island before they could be charged.
No police officer or guard was charged or detained for the assaults on New Year’s Eve. Authorities have claimed it was the refugees who attacked them — photos of the injuries the refugees sustained suggest otherwise.
Later in the same year that Berati was murdered, another murder of a different kind occurred. Hamid Khaezi died from septicaemia that developed from a small cut.
Subsequent reports have squarely laid the blame on numerous requests for medical treatment being denied by the private contractor International Health and Medical Service (IHMS) and approval for an emergency evacuation by Department of Immigration being delayed until it was too late.
Ahmed’s death was also the result of being denied medical treatment for several months, during which he suffered regular blackouts. Over fifty refugees in Manus Island wrote a letter to the Department of Immigration asking them to provide him with access to medical treatment.
Their deaths are separated by almost three years. Three years of countless reports, testimonials and the most tragic of circumstances detailing how the denial of medical treatment is leading to deaths in detention.
Their deaths, like the abusive guards are not a fault in the system but its purpose.Mounting pressure
While human rights abuses worsen in detention, the pressure to close them is growing. If offshore detention was winning public support, there would be no need to be branding about the US refugee deal.
A concerted campaign to reveal the human rights abuses in offshore detention centres, coupled with diverse protests since the their introduction, is making them increasingly unpopular.
Crucially, refugees in detention are playing a leading role in this movement through their ongoing protests and constant release of photos, videos and social media updates, often going to great personal risk to get information out of detention.
Benham Satah — who witnessed Berati’s murder — faced death threats in the lead up to testifying in court and was refused a transfer request from PNG.
Despite the huge geographical distance between refugees protesting in detention and activists in Australia, people are constantly finding inventive ways of communicating and collaborating.
It is probably for this reason that the Department of Immigration announced in late 2016 that it is planning to ban mobile phones in detention centres. This needs to be resisted as it would not just be another attack on freedom of speech; it would also remove a critical support network for many people in detention.
As the government continues to trample on human rights, more details of its sinister US refugee deal are coming to light.
People in Manus Island detention centre have been told they need to move to the East Lorengau camp, which is outside of the detention centre to apply for a US visa. This would allow the government to close the centre down and leave the several hundred men on Manus Island.
Manus is a small island where many people live off the sustenance of what they can grow and catch. Its medical services — especially psychological care which many refugees desperately need — are limited and stretched. Manus Island does not have the capacity to cope with resettling the refugees there.
By pursuing this plan, the Australian government is fuelling conflict between refugees and locals. This has already led to violence towards refugees.
There is speculation the government is pursuing this path to remove people from the detention centre before the PNG court case is decided. The case has been consistently stalled by moves such as demands that lawyers obtain more than 700 individually signed applications from people in the detention centre before proceeding further.
The refugees involved in the case are hoping the court’s judgement will order that the men in Manus Island detention centre need to be returned to Australia.
2017 marks 25 years since the introduction of mandatory detention: a policy that has rapidly gotten more horrific and is normalising the inhumane.
It is also coming under more public pressure than ever before, as greater numbers are becoming outraged at the cruelty and taking part in the refugee rights campaign.
2017 started off with more cruelty towards refugees. Let’s end it with the camps closed.1122Comment and Analysis
Socialist Alliance is fielding four activists in the March 11 Western Australia state election under the slogan “For the billions, not the billionaires!”
All four candidates are involved in the campaign to stop Roe 8 and are passionate about creating a society that puts people and the planet ahead of the big corporations.
The candidates are (from left to right): for the Legislative Assembly, Biboolmirn Yorga woman Corina Abraham (running in Willagee) and mental health nurse Chris Jenkins (Fremantle); and for the Legislative Council, former teacher Petrina Harley and Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright (South Metropolitan).1122Australian News
Thousands of wetlands protectors participated in a peaceful protest on January 12 at the site of the state government’s Roe 8 highway project, a $450 million extension to Stock Road across the Beeliar Wetlands.
Work on the project was delayed as hundreds toppled the temporary fence surrounding the exclusion zone around the cultural and environmentally significant site. They continued through to encircle an inner compound where a front-end loader for clearing more bush was being kept.
At this point, two protectors locked onto the device and another performed a tree sit above.
Thirty one people were arrested that day, including an elderly Aboriginal man who was slammed to the ground by police.
Several people, including Socialist Alliance Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright and Melville councillor Tim Barling, were arrested the day before after they locked onto bulldozers.
This was the first time in the campaign against Roe 8 that such numbers have been successfully mobilised. It demonstrates the speed and depth to which the issue is galvanising local community support.
Other recent developments in the campaign include the High Court’s December 16 decision to turn down an application to appeal against the project and WA Labor’s announcement that it will scrap the project if elected at the March 11 state election.
Labor has said it will redirect funds currently allocated to Roe 8 to four other road projects. As yet, there is no clear environmental or financial case for these projects and many are concerned the projects have been devised primarily to compensate Leighton Holdings, the company contracted to build Roe 8.
The campaign against Roe 8 is very broad and includes Nyoongar activists, wharfies, parents, residents, doctors and farmers, each with their own overlapping reasons for wanting to stop this highway from going ahead.
Wainwright , who was charged with trespassing and disobeying a move-on order, told the Fremantle Herald shortly after his arrest that he was confident he had done the right thing and was buoyed by support from onlookers and social media.
“What is clear is that the [Colin] Barnett government has no moral compass”, Wainwright said on January 12, commenting on the heavy handedness of the police who pushed around peaceful protesters, threatening them with dogs and horses.
It is estimated to cost more than $40,000 a day to police the site. That, plus growing community opposition means the political cost to the state government is mounting: it has to decide whether building this road and fulfilling its contract to Leighton is worth the price of losing power after March 11.
Dramatic moment as crowd takes down fence in a amazing action of community civil disobedience #SaveBeeliarWetlands #RethinkTheLink #noroe8
Posted by Friends of the Earth Perth on Wednesday, January 11, 20171122Australian News
Millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money will be used to fund the Conservative government’s bid to smash rail unions so that firms can impose the widespread use of driver-only operated (DOO) trains, rail union RMT warned on January 12.
Research by the union shows that government ministers were inserting new clauses in franchise agreements to allow train-operating companies to claim back any revenue lost to industrial action over the plans to get rid of guards.
This would ensure that operators make a profit of more than £1 billion over the next 20 years, according to the Railway Safety Standards Board.
Private operator Southern Railway’s contract means the company has not lost any revenue as a result of strikes over DOO. The bill, in the region of £60 million, is set to be paid by the taxpayer, according to RMT.
The Northern Rail franchise agreement, which contains a government directive to introduce DOO, also contains a clause promising that public funds will be used “to reimburse or ameliorate net losses of the franchisee arising from industrial action (however caused and of whatever nature).”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “As with Southern, the government is inserting clauses into new franchise agreements which will mean the taxpayer will bankroll [Prime Minister] Theresa May’s war on the unions.
“It is clear that rail disputes are nothing to do with modernising our railway and everything to do with old-fashioned union-busting and cost-cutting.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling also condemned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for striking railway workers. Corbyn said he would join rail worker picket lines.
[Abridged from the Morning Star.]1122International News
Deputy secretary-general of the socialist Awami Workers Party (AWP) Ismat Shahjahan expressed deep concern about the mysterious disappearance of renowned literary figure, university lecturer and progressive activist Salman Haider from the outskirts of Islamabad on January 6.
That night, Haider’s wife received a message from an unknown number informing her that Haider’s car could be picked up from Koral Chowk. The AWP calls on the authorities to use all of the means at their disposal to identify his whereabouts and secure his immediate safe release.
Haider is a faculty member in the Gender Studies Department at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University and is a well-known progressive poet, playwright and theatre actor. He gained widespread fame on social media a few years ago for his satirical poems on social issues. On countless occasions, he has come out in support of the oppressed across Pakistan.
Shahjahan said the AWP demands a transparent investigation into the matter. With all of the investment that the federal government has made in boosting the authorities’ surveillance capabilities in the capital, especially the countless surveillance cameras set up all across the city, it should be possible to trace Haider’s whereabouts swiftly.
The AWP also calls upon the literary community of Pakistan to mobilise support for his immediate and safe recovery, she said.
[Farman Ali is the AWP information secretary.]1122International News
In 2014, Hong Kong was rocked by the “Umbrella Movement” — an ongoing series of mass protests featuring sit-ins against a series of attacks on democratic rights.
Robin Lee, a British left-wing activist living in Hong Kong who is an editor of the Borderless Movement, was interviewed by Green Left Weekly’s Alex Bainbridge about the current situation.
Can you make some comments on the current political situation in Hong Kong since the 2014 democracy uprising?
Hong Kong has been facing an increasingly challenging political situation since the end of the Umbrella Movement. It has been continuing to experience an erosion of its autonomy as Beijing appears to have adopted a more hardline stance towards it.
The movement just over two years ago failed to achieve its aim of genuine universal suffrage. But it did result in the politicisation of large sections of Hong Kong society, which had not been so active in politics before.
This, along with the intervention by Beijing, has led to changes in Hong Kong’s political landscape. Most notably, it has contributed to a rise in localist politics and the emergence of a number of new political groups. These groups do not all share the same positions and there has been a shift to the right associated with this.
In some senses, as we have been witnessing in many parts of the world, we have seen some decline in support for the liberal centre. In this case, this has partially been in reaction to the past failures of the pro-democracy camp, which has been too conciliatory towards Beijing and not done enough to address issues affecting ordinary working people.
Nevertheless, it is the right that has gained the most ground as a result, and this is a worrying development.
What has been the role of China in relation to Hong Kong politics?
China has a huge impact on Hong Kong politics. Officially since the handover from British rule in 1997, Hong Kong has been ruled under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
This means that while the country was reunified with China, Hong Kong was supposed to retain its own economic and political system.
In practice, China has continued to exert an increasing degree of control over Hong Kong and any illusions of autonomy have become more and more diminished. This has intensified since 2012, when Leung Chun-ying was selected as Hong Kong Chief Executive and President Xi Jinping came to power nationally.
One example of the disregard for Hong Kong’s relative autonomy was the incident last year when five Hong Kong booksellers, who had published books critical of Beijing, were abducted and detained by Chinese authorities.
More recently, after Legislative Council elections in September and protests by some of the lawmakers during the oath swearing-in ceremony, China intervened directly with the National People’s Congress, issuing an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. This interpretation has already been used to disqualify two newly elected right-wing localist lawmakers, and is now being used to challenge four of the more progressive democratically elected representatives.
How important are the issues surrounding, and relative merits of, independence, autonomous and self rule?
The increasing intervention by Beijing, in recent years has angered many Hong Kong people who support democracy in Hong Kong and the right for Hong Kong people to decide their own fate. In this context, the demand for independence has surfaced and gained a degree of support.
The call for total independence from China has most strongly been advocated by groups politically on the right, and has often been accompanied by xenophobia towards people from the Chinese mainland. Some have also previously expressed support for the idea of a return to British rule. It has not been uncommon to see the British colonial flag being carried by some individuals and groups at demonstrations.
On the other hand, there are some more progressive groups that have also been advocating for “democratic self determination”. This has chiefly involved the League of Social Democrats (LSD) along with three other new groups, which formed around individuals involved in the Umbrella Movement and earlier campaigns. They were elected for the first time to the legislature in September at the expense of Hong Kong’s small Labour Party.
With the exception of the LSD, these groups are more to the centre-left and are still in the early stages of their political development. This means that it is still hard to say which direction they might go eventually. For instance, the Demosisto group, founded by Joshua Wong, has sometimes adapted to the far right localists and even marched with them.
What has been the response from civil society to increased intervention by China into Hong Kong politics?
Hong Kong civil society feels increasingly threatened by the greater intervention by China and the decline in freedom of expression, but the responses have been mixed and contradictory.
The liberal centre right is still clinging to its position of demanding universal suffrage within the confines of the Basic Law, although the decision in 2014 by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has already shown that this is a dead end.
Some of the far right localists have gone to the other extreme, and not only demanded independence but have also previously agitated for armed resistance. During the last Chinese New Year holiday, during an incident which has been dubbed the “fishball revolution”, they incited young people to throw bricks at police, resulting in a lot of arrests while some of their leaders ran away.
As for the new forces advocating “democratic self-determination”, they have no previous political experience, and what is more worrying is that they have no clear understanding of the far right and are not sensitive to what it represents.
What is the current situation regarding left-wing organising in Hong Kong?
Partly due to the way that socialism and left-wing ideas are still associated with China, the situation for forming genuine left currents in Hong Kong is very difficult and left-wing voices remain largely very marginalised. This doesn’t mean that left-wing and progressive ideas are not starting to gain some ground, especially among young people in Hong Kong. Many reject the xenophobia of some of the right-wing localist groups, and who have become concerned not only about the political situation and the lack of democracy, but also issues related to Hong Kong’s rising social inequality.
Nevertheless, the problem is that while the remnants of the old leftists from the 1970s have been so weakened to the extent that they do not have much public visibility, the younger leftists are still too inexperienced to respond adequately to new opportunities.
New international talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict may be unlikely to succeed, but they do mark shifts in the alignment of competing forces.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted on December 31 to support a ceasefire in Syria that started the previous day. The latest round of international peace talks are scheduled for January 23 in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.
There have been many rounds of international talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria, which has raged for almost six years, killing half a million people and displacing 11 million. None have been successful.
The latest talks are no more likely to end the conflict, but do reflect changes in both the situation in Syria and the alignment of regional and global powers involved in the conflict.
The location of the talks partly reflects this. Previous rounds were usually held in Geneva under UN auspices, with the US playing a prominent role. The Astana talks are being brokered by Russia and Turkey, who also brokered the December 30 ceasefire signed in the Turkish capital, Ankara. The US was not asked to take part.
However, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva are scheduled for February and UN special envoy on Syria Stefan de Mistura has endorsed the Astana talks, stating: “We hope Astana strengthens the cease of current hostilities and generates favourable conditions for the political dialogue we want to re-establish at the beginning of February.”
As in previous internationally brokered talks, the Syrian parties represented are the regime of Russian-backed Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups loosely affiliated with the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition — only two sides in a multi-sided conflict. The rebel groups have been threatening to boycott the talks, citing ceasefire violations but unhappy at the central role being played by Russia.
However, the ceasefire was signed in the wake of the rebels being driven out of eastern Aleppo, which they had held for more than four years. Their weaker position makes some participation likely. Further, many of the rebel groups are materially dependent on Turkey, a key sponsor of the talks.
Foreign forces were decisive to the Assad regime’s victory in Aleppo. Russian air strikes were most significant, but ground forces included Iranian troops, Iranian-backed militias from Iraq and fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Outside forces have helped shape Syria’s civil war from the start. The decisive shift in Aleppo stemmed, in part, from the dramatic warming of the relation between the authoritarian rulers of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Talks between Russia and Turkey on the eve of the regime’s victory in Aleppo appear to have included agreement that Turkey would ask armed groups it supported to leave Aleppo and cut aid to those who refused.
Outside forces helped militarise the uprising against Assad in 2011, although it was Assad’s resort to military force against peaceful protesters, and the defection of some of his military to form the Free Syrian Army in response, that started the conflict.
Because Syria was a major ally of Russia and Iran, and had supported Hezbollah's resistance to Israel in Lebanon, the West was willing to funnel arms to opposition groups. For the same reason, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have fought to keep Assad in power.
Outside forces were also significant in fracturing the opposition, although the FSA was always an umbrella covering a number of independent military units.
Western aid channelled through regional allies run by Islamist regimes led to Islamist groups proliferating among the armed opposition.
The Syrian conflict became a magnet for Islamist extremists worldwide: veterans of other conflicts were joined by alienated youth from the West. Western support for the rebels became more lukewarm, as policymakers tried to distinguish between “moderate” and “extremist” Islamists — the distinction based entirely on their attitude to the West.
Turkey’s goals in Syria changed after the grassroots democratic, feminist social revolution in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) in 2012 because of that revolution’s ideological affinity with the Kurdish freedom movement in Turkey and broader Turkish progressive opposition. Turkish policy in Syria became intertwined with Erdoğan’s attempts to strengthen his rule and crush opposition at home.
One result was the rapid rise of ISIS. The unspoken secret behind ISIS's rapid rise to become a major military force in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and the world’s most notorious terrorist group, was Turkish aid — in the aftermath of other Turkish-backed Islamist groups failing to crush the Rojava revolution.
The rise of ISIS changed Western goals in Syria. ISIS’s 2014 invasion of northern Iraq, along with its extreme violence, support of terrorist attacks in the West and stated objective of world domination, made it an easier enemy than Assad to sell to a war-weary Western public.
The West continued to provide arms and diplomatic support to the rebels (now affiliated with the SNC), but the air strikes launched by a US-led coalition since September 2014 have targeted ISIS.
Since the defeat of the ISIS siege against the Rojava town of Kobanê in 2014, the US-led coalition has been coordinating its air strikes with the armed forces of the Rojava revolution — the People’s and Women’s Defence Units (YPG/J). However, in 2015 it welcomed NATO-member Turkey as a partner in the “coalition against ISIS”, ongoing Turkish support for ISIS notwithstanding.
US policy has been contradictory: recognising the YPG/J as the only force willing and able to beat ISIS in ground combat, while politically supporting the SNC.
The Rojava revolution has spread beyond the Kurdish areas where it began. During the siege of Kobanê, the YPG/J forged an alliance with armed groups based outside the Kurdish community, including some FSA groups. As the revolution spread, more groups joined the alliance.
The US has recognised the YPG/J-led Syrian Democratic Forces as its main military ally on the ground against ISIS. Yet it has worked to exclude it from peace talks.
Meanwhile, as the Assad regime lost territory to its multiple enemies, Russian support for the regime increased. Russia began air strikes in 2015, like the West using ISIS as a pretext but directed mainly against SNC-affiliated rebels and other Islamist groups.
Turkey and Russia
In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian jet, hoping that fuelling NATO-Russia conflict would force the US to see the SNC-affiliated groups as more important allies than the SDF. It had the opposite effect, fuelling an increasing perception by the Obama administration that Erdoğan was an erratic and unreliable ally.
SDF victories against ISIS continued and the long-held aspiration of liberating the whole of Rojava got close. Achieving this would give the SDF control of a contiguous strip of territory along the Turkish border.
Erdoğan changed his strategy. Unable to rely on ISIS to crush the Rojava revolution, he decided to commit Turkish ground forces. First he made efforts to improve relations with Russia, apologising to Putin for shooting down the Russian plane.
He gained immediate benefits. The first was a diplomatic card to play with the US, naturally disconcerted by seeing a NATO member draw close to Russia. The US supported Turkish forces invading northern Syria last August.
The Turkish force occupied the border town of Jarabalus with little resistance from ISIS, suggesting possible collusion.
For years, both Russia and the US have hinted at partitioning Syria. Assad has never been keen on this idea. However, the retaking of eastern Aleppo with the confinement of rebels to an enclave around Idlib and the Turkish-occupied area around Jarabalus would make it more palatable.
In the final analysis, if Russia agrees to partition, Assad has no choice.
On January 3, the Turkish pro-government Daily Sabah reported that Russia and Turkey were coordinating air-strikes against the strategic northern Syrian town of al-Bab, which both the SDF and Turkey wish to take. Reuters reported that the US provided Turkey with air support.
The war in Syria is not ending, but its configuration is changing. Previously it centred on two conflicts, sometimes parallel, sometimes intersecting — between the regime and the rebels, and between the Rojava revolution and ISIS.
The rebels are now being reorganised as auxiliaries of the Turkish army or defeated. Particularly in Idlib, there is resentment among rebels at Erdoğan’s betrayal. However, to what extent they’ll accept their new allotted role fighting against the SDF on behalf of a Turkish regime that abandoned them to their enemies remains to be seen.
ISIS is close to being defeated in Syria. In the wake of its defeat, the Rojava revolution has spread to become a revolutionary force in broader areas of northern Syria. Behind the SDF is the revolutionary system of “democratic self-administration” pioneered in Rojava.
On November 30, the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria — the areas under “democratic self-administration” — declared their system “to be a democratic solution for the future of Syria and a system to guarantee an exit from the current crisis and to prevent social collapse.
“In addition, the administration experience we have achieved since the July 19 revolution that occurred with the participation of all peoples has posed an example for all of Syria.”
The Constituent Assembly changed the name of the federation from Democratic Federation of Northern Syria-Rojava, removing “Rojava”. This emphasised that their aim is a democratic Syria, not Kurdish separatism.
Stopping this democratic Syria is the aim that unites Erdoğan and Assad and this will define the next phase of the conflict.1122International News
This year will be the year of the showdown between Catalonia and the Spanish state over whether the Catalan people have a right to vote on self-determination in relation to Spain.
The year starts with the final battle lines already drawn in the contest between the right-wing Spanish-patriotic People’s Party (PP) government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the pro-independence Catalan government, headed by Carles Puigdemont.
The Rajoy government justifies its stance by falsely claiming the 1978 Spanish constitution prevents it from granting Catalonia a Scottish-style referendum. Puigdemont claims the Catalan administration is simply acting on democratic grounds, given that more than 80% of Catalans support their right to decide via referendum.
On January 11, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said about the Catalonian government’s 46-point list of complaints about Madrid’s treatment of the region: “I call them 45 points plus one, which is the referendum — we can’t negotiate about that.”
Catalan treasurer Oriol Junqueras, also leader of the centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), says Saenz de Santamaria had told him that “we will do everything possible to stop you holding a referendum”. He replied: “Well, we’ll do everything possible to hold it.”
The PP’s leader in Catalonia, Xavier Garcia Albiol, said on January 5 that no referendum would take place. The Spanish government and other anti-independence forces had learned from their failure to block the “participatory process” on Catalan statehood that was carried out by 37,000 volunteers on November 9, 2014 (known as 9N).
Garcia Albiol told Europa Press: “They fooled us once but they won’t get away with it again … What happened on 9N was an unprecedented case of improvisation. However, in 2017, the government and the constitutionalist parties have got things very clear…
“That’s why there won’t be any repeat of what we went through then. No one will be setting up illegal ballot boxes in public buildings.”
The heart of the approaching struggle is over the validity of a referendum declared and run unilaterally by Catalonia. How to ensure that it will not be a repeat of 9N, which was largely ignored by anti-independence Catalans with 2.3 million people participating as against 4.1 million in the September 27, 2015 Catalan regional election?
How, above all, to ensure that the referendum actually takes place in the face of a gamut of threats, including placing the Catalan police force under the direct command of the Spanish government?
A December GESOP poll indicated what a plausible result of a unilateral consultation would be: 64% of the electorate (around 3.4 million) would vote — more than in all previous referenda — and the vote for independence would be 79%.
The percentages of supporters of parties opposed to a unilateral referendum who would still take part if it happened would be: PP 12%; Citizens 29% and Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) 33%.
Seventy-five per cent of supporters of the left coalition Catalonia Yes We Can (CQSEP, which includes Spanish-wide left party Podemos and supports self-determination but not necessarily independence) would also take part.
The legitimacy of such a result would be unquestionable.
As a consequence, having rejected the negotiated referendum that would actually give it the best chance of stopping the Catalan rebellion, the Rajoy government must now use all possible means to stop a unilateral consultation.
In a taste of what is to come, the Spanish judiciary is prosecuting former Catalan premier Artur Mas and three of his ministers. They face charges of ignoring a Spanish Constitutional Court order to stop 9N from going ahead.
These charges are part of more than 400 investigations so far launched by Spanish courts and prosecutors against elected officials and local councils in Catalonia.
The intensifying Catalan conflict increasingly demands clarity from all political forces in the Spanish state. This includes the Catalan left that supports a right to decide but not necessarily independence, and from the all-Spanish left in Podemos and the United Left.
While supportive of a Catalan right to self-determination, these forces have issued mixed messages over the unfolding fight.
On December 19, Podemos political secretary Inigo Errejon told Catalan Nacio Digital that “it is very hypocritical for the Spanish government to be demanding a stop to unilateralism when it is offering no alternative”.
Errejon said: “If you close the door on any sort of bilateral relation, you are leaving the door open to unilateralism. Catalonia cannot wait.”
By contrast, Podemos’s secretary for relations with civil society Rafael Mayoral told Europa Press on January 8 that only a referendum negotiated with the Spanish state would have authority, stating: “I believe if we really want to find an effective way to decide how our country fits together territorially, it has to be based on an agreement.”
Mayoral felt he was supporting a January 3 statement by Xavier Domenech, the leader in the Spanish parliament of the radical Catalan coalition Together We Can (ECP), which includes the Catalan affiliates of Podemos and the United Left.
To the surprise of many, Domenech had called for early elections in Catalonia, saying that “a unilateral referendum would be no different from 9N, which had no binding political or legal impact”.
The next day, Domenech, politically close to Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, backed away from the call for an early poll. He said that, to be effective, the referendum would have to meet three conditions: participation by a majority of the population, international recognition and fulfilment of appropriate political and legal criteria.
On January 11, Colau, who had taken part in a December 23 government-convened summit of all forces supportive of a referendum, said: “The question is not whether it is negotiated or not, but whether it is real.”
She added that a judgement could not be made until the Puigdemont government produced a specific proposal.
The Puigdemont administration is based on a pro-independence majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament. However, this majority is not ironclad, institutionally or socially, as its parliamentary majority corresponds to 47.7% of actual votes cast.
In parliament, the government has the unconditional support of the 62 pro-independence MPs belonging to the Together For The Yes (JPS) bloc.
JPS is composed of the ERC, the conservative nationalist Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) — formerly the ruling Convergence for Catalonia (CDC) — smaller pro-independence groups, and a range of non-aligned figures. Most of the non-aligned MPs hold left positions on social issues and several are Puigdemont government ministers. Puigdemont himself belongs to PDECat.
The other 10 pro-independence seats were won by the left-nationalist People’s Unity List (CUP). A bloc of radical nationalist and anti-capitalist forces, the CUP has swung between agreement with and opposition to the JPS government.
In November 2015, the CUP signed agreements with JPS outlining the road-map for the creation of a sovereign Catalan Republic as well as its social goals. Yet in January last year, the CUP forced the resignation of Mas as a condition for supporting a JPS government. In July, it voted to reject the JPS government’s 2017 budget entirely.
But the CUP returned to voting support when Puigdemont brought on a motion of confidence in his government in September.
In December, the CUP joined JPS in rejecting the budget amendments of all other parties but submitted its own €760 million set of amendments. These would set up 11 special funds to finance a guaranteed minimum income, increased public housing, improved public education, support for cooperative economy, and struggles against climate change and gender violence.
However, the CUP’s amendments — like those of the left alliance Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP) — clash with the debt reduction strategy of the JPS government as well as with the instincts of the more conservative parts of the PDECat voting base.
It is unlikely that many of the CUP’s amendments will be acceptable to the government. This will leave the left-nationalist force having to decide at the end of this month whether to pass a budget that improves spending on public services, but still leaves it below pre-economic crisis levels.
The alternative for the CU P, which all polls show could have its parliamentary presence cut by up to half, would be to trigger an early election.
This dilemma confronts the CUP as the aggression of the Spanish government increases daily and only a fortnight after reaching an agreement with JPS on legislation that will cover Catalonia’s shift from Spanish to Catalan legality.
That bill, which is being kept secret to prevent it being ruled unconstitutional, will be brought before parliament when the pro-independence camp judges the time is right to declare disconnection from the Spanish legal system.
It would aim to provide a legal framework for a unilateral referendum as well as shelter in law for the Catalan police and for any public servants transferred from Spanish to Catalan jurisdiction.
At the same time, the Catalan government is intensifying its appeals for international support for Catalonia’s right to decide. There have been many international expressions of concern at Spanish intransigence and its use of judicial weapons to settle political issues.
Within Catalonia, the government is launching its campaign to convince doubters of the need for the referendum and the benefits of independence. One feature will be a TV series in which the Catalan premier fields questions from doubtful or hostile citizens.
As 2017 progresses, political forces across Europe will increasingly have no choice but to say where they stand on Catalonia’s right to determine its future.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. A more detailed version of this article will be published on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]1122International News
Donald Trump may have won the US elections with demagogic, strongman promises to “Make America Great”, but, in the lead up to his inauguration, the hollowness of such claims is clear as he stocks his Cabinet with oligarchs collectively worth billions.
Last year’s presidential election was marked by deep divisions in both the Democratic and Republican parties, on top of a stalemate in Congress between the twin parties of US capitalism.
The election occurred with the nation deeply polarised over race, economics and many other issues. There was no mass working-class party that could have championed an alternative to the status quo.
In this context, Trump won by presenting himself as a strongman who could set things right. Exactly how was left largely unexplained.
The background for this disarray was the Great Recession that began in 2007. Financial institutions were bailed out, but the mass of workers were hit by high unemployment, foreclosures on their homes and wage cuts.
In the slow recovery that followed over the next eight years, profits rose while working class living standards did not. Ninety-five percent of households have not seen their incomes regain 2007 levels. Wealth and income inequality have grown.
This eight-year period coincided with the years of the Obama administration. During this time, the administration did little to counter this reality.
In fact, when the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and moved hard to the right, the Democrats were pulled to the right in their wake, agreeing to large cuts to social programs.
The Democratic and Republican establishments paid little heed to the growing despair and anger in the working class. But the two candidates who ran anti-establishment campaigns — Bernie Sanders in the Democrats and Donald Trump in the Republicans — tapped into this anger.
The demagogic Trump promised — with few actual proposals — to bring well paid jobs back. He blamed other countries, especially China and Mexico, for the fact that US-based corporations outsourced labour-intensive aspects of their production to countries where wages were very low. He vowed to use tariffs to counter this.
Such a nationalist stance was combined with racist scapegoating of Blacks, Latinos and immigrants for the loss of white working class jobs.
In the Republican primaries, Trump smashed his establishment Republican opponents with unparalleled denigration and insults, presenting himself as a “winner” capable of remaking a corrupt government — unlike his “loser” opponents.
Trump captured the Republican Party, which is now beholden to him. Most Republicans in Congress, with a few old establishment has-beens bleating in the wings, are so far to the right that Trump fits right in. Moreover, whatever disagreements they have with Trump are overridden by their knowledge that they will rise or fall with Trump.
For the Democrats, the primaries quickly boiled down to a contest between Sanders and the Democrat establishment figure Hillary Clinton.
Sanders ran as the opponent of the 1%, proposed steps to give working people some relief and styled himself as a democratic socialist. His proposals included raising the minimum wage to US$15 an hour, national health insurance for all and free college.
To the surprise of the Democratic establishment, Sanders’ campaign caught on with workers and youth, including Black youth. In fact, during the primaries, more people under 30 voted for Sanders than Clinton and Trump combined. Sanders held large and enthusiastic rallies as opposed to Clinton’s modest events.
The establishment rallied around Clinton to discredit Sanders, as documents released by WikiLeaks showed. When Sanders lost, he threw his weight behind the Clinton campaign, despite having blasted her as Wall Street’s candidate.
Sanders’ Achilles heel is his strategy to reform the Democratic Party, one of the ruling class’s two main parties, rather than building a new, independent party based on his pro-working class platform.
In the lead up to the November 8 elections, both Clinton and Trump had majority negative ratings among the population. In the end, although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump won the undemocratic Electoral College.
Trump’s base was among open racist elements in the white middle and working classes. They rallied around his attacks on Mexicans and Latino immigrants; his threats to “deal” with Black communities with even greater police repression; his proposals to entirely ban Muslim immigration and create a watch list of all Muslims living in the country; and his anti-Semitic dog whistles.
His many attacks against women, including his defence of his open bragging about sexual assaults, were also embraced by this base.
Every brazen insult or bigoted statement was greeted at his large rallies with loud cheers and chants, as were his fomenting of violence against any protesters present. His attacks on Clinton were greeted by loud chants of “Jail her! Jail her!”
Open racists among whites of all classes are a minority, but a significant one. Not all who voted for Trump are open racists. Many naively hope that Trump will strong-arm the system to create decent jobs.
But in voting for him, they were willing to put aside Trump’s overt racism, misogyny and bullying. Many whites also feared, even if unconsciously, being driven down into the second class status of non-whites.
Trump can rely on Republican control of both houses of Congress and two-thirds of state legislatures. Many state legislatures are already carrying out some of Trump’s proposals, attacking unions, women’s rights and other democratic rights — and they will be emboldened by Trump’s election.
Trump also inherits a strong state from past administrations, both Democrats and Republicans. The vast NSA spying apparatus, the CIA, FBI and other similar agencies will now be in his hands. Trump will also be the Commander in Chief of the most formidable military the world has ever seen.
Trump’s choices for cabinet and other posts give a glimpse into what to expect from his regime.
From his court in Trump Tower in New York City, the president-elect brought in a large number of people for private interviews, ostensibly to consider a wide range of candidates and opinions. This became a daily media circus, with a wide range of figures essentially grovelling before him like loyal subjects before a monarch.
It is revealing to look at his choices. Many have noted that his proposed cabinet is largely composed of billionaires and multi-millionaires, who together are worth more than $9.5 billion. Key posts are to be filled by generals, bankers, fossil fuel moguls, authoritarians and racists.
Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, comes from the extreme white Christian evangelical movement. As a Congressperson, Pence opposed federal funding for HIV treatment unless the government also funded programs against same-sex relationships. As Indiana governor, Pence signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the US.
Some examples of Trump’s choices are:
• for attorney-general, the racist Jeff Sessions, will be Trump’s domestic “law and order” enforcer. Like Trump, he backs the police against Black Lives Matter, supports the “War on Drugs” and mass incarceration, and anti-immigrant measures.
• for Homeland Security is retired General John Kelly. Along with Trump, he charges that immigrants bring in drugs and terrorists.
• Steve Bannon will be Trump’s chief strategist. He is the former owner of Breitbart News, a key voice for the “alt-right” — a euphemism for white supremacists. He advocates an authoritarian presidency.
• Trump’s national security advisor will be retired Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn. He attacks Islam as a religion, claims Iran is the greatest threat to the US and says Sharia law is gaining in the US.
• Secretary of Defense is slated to be retired General James Mattis, a central commander in the US wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. He famously “joked” that it was “fun” to kill Afghans who resisted the US invasion.
• The Treasury and Commerce departments will be headed by Steven Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, billionaire hedge fund managers who made huge profits from mortgage foreclosures in the Great Recession.
• As Secretary of State, Trump proposes Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, a climate change denier, whose international expertise is limited to the oil and gas giant’s vast holdings around the world.
Trump has also made a series of nominations designed to undermine the agencies they will head. These include:
• Ryan Zinke for interior secretary, responsible for managing the nation’s public lands and waters. As a Montana congressperson, he proposed gutting protections of public lands and waters.
• Rick Perry for energy secretary. He has proposed abolishing the department — as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. A former Texas governor and climate change denier, he has close ties to fossil fuel giants.
• Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor, the strongly anti-union head of a big fast food chain. An opponent of any minimum wage, he is known for attacking the Labor Department, which he will now head.
• Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency. A close ally of the fossil fuel moguls and climate change denier, he has built his career fighting environmental regulations.
• Ben Carson to head the Housing Department. A millionaire neurosurgeon who knows nothing about housing, he opposes programs to help homeowners, especially those with low incomes.
• Betsy DeVos as education secretary. She opposes public schools and supports privatisation schemes and pushed this agenda in Michigan. From a family of billionaires, her brother Erik Prince helped found the notorious Blackwater mercenary army hired by the US military to carry out dirty tactics in Iraq.
• Tom Rice, representative from Georgia, for head of Health and Human Services. He waged a crusade against Obamacare (calling it socialised medicine) and will help overthrow it and replace it with something even worse.
How far Trump will get with his agenda — made clear by these nominations — depends on the opposition his administration faces.
Trump will be a “law and order” president. He will increase police powers to keep a lid on the Black and Latino communities. There will be no more federal oversight (already weak) of police violence in these communities. There will be further militarisation of the police.
There will be no rollback of the “War on Drugs” or mass incarceration; instead these will be stepped up. The stocks of private prison companies jumped immediately following Trump’s election.
He will increase already huge border control measures with Mexico, but not Canada. The huge deportations under Obama will be greatly stepped up.
Military spending will significantly rise. The US arsenal of nuclear weapons, already being “modernised” by Obama at the cost of about $1 trillion, will increase.
Trump will prevent, under one formula or another, most Muslims from immigrating to the US, including millions of desperate refugees from Washington’s wars.
Big tax cuts for the rich are certain. Regulations on the financial firms will be relaxed. Regulations on oil, coal and natural gas including on fracking will be abolished or severely weakened, as will regulations of other industries such as finance. The stock market soared after Trump’s win.
Trump will appoint a candidate for the Supreme Court who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade, which made abortions legal, and who will back Trump if he encounters legal problems, as is likely. States will be encouraged to pass more restrictions on abortions.
Trump has also projected major infrastructure projects. But he presents contradictory proposals on how to fund this, and the Republican Congress has been reluctant to support spending for such projects.
He will likely raise tariffs on imports, targeting China especially. Business with Russia is likely to improve. But he will follow a general protectionist and economically nationalist agenda.
Throughout his campaign, Trump constantly attacked the corporate media as “scum” or worse. He will continue to do so in a bid to domesticate the major media. He will hold few press conferences and will continue to use Twitter and other measures to go over reporters’ heads.
Trump will attack democratic rights in general, as is already in the works in Republican-controlled states. How this works out remains to be seen, but we can expect more restrictions on the right to assemble and protest, and more police violence at protests.
On foreign policy, much remains to be seen. Secretary of State nominee, Tillerson, is a friend of authoritarian Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Trump’s campaign pledges to downgrade NATO may, or may not, be forgotten.
Trumps pledges to wage a trade war on China were given a boost when he nominated Peter Navaro as his White House trade guru. Navaro is known for extreme views against trade with China, which in the words of the Financial Times implies “tearing up the rule book” concerning “the world’s most important bilateral economic relationship”.
This could spill over into a deeper split between China and the US in all areas.
Trump’s appointment of David Freidman as ambassador to Israel rips away Washington’s fig leaf of the “two state solution”. Freidman has close ties to illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and opposes any Palestinian state. He supports Israel annexing the West Bank. Trump says he will move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ratifying Israeli claims to all of the city.
Small wonder Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks forward to working with Trump — and has gone full steam ahead on new settlements.
Nature of Trump’s regime?
Some on the left have noted Trump’s racism, misogyny, authoritarianism, demagogic claims to support workers, and anti-democratic stands to label him a fascist.
But, historically, fascism represents a mass, organised, and armed movement ready to fight the workers’ movement (parties and trade unions) in the streets before taking power, to crush it with mass violence after taking power, and to establish a totalitarian state to do this. The capitalist ruling class does not resort to such extreme solutions unless its rule is threatened. There is no such threat in the US at present, to say the least.
It is certainly true that white nationalist groups joined the Trump campaign. They openly brag that he has made their message more mainstream and they have grown as a result. But they remain small, fragmented and are unable to unite behind one leader. The appointment of the far right Bannon as Trump’s main advisor is significant, but is also a bone thrown to the “alt-right.”
This is not to say Trump, and his regime, will not be an extremely dangerous and authoritarian one, that will aim to curtail democratic rights to the greatest extent possible on behalf of oligarchic corporate interests.
The scale of the danger comes from the sheer global power of the US. The danger will be even worse if Trump consolidates dictatorial like powers.
What can stop him from realising his ambition?
It appears Trump will inherit an economy experiencing modest growth. In any case, he will likely have a “honeymoon” period where many will hope he can improve workers’ lives.
But given the experience of the Great Recession and the past eight years, and major problems in the world economy, it is likely there will be another crisis during Trump’s administration. Workers who voted for him may feel betrayed, undercutting his support.
Could sections of the ruling class also become exasperated with his likely reckless policies, potentially moving against him at some point?
The organised working class is weak in size, strength and leadership. But hopefully workers will not rely on the Democrats, but rather their own power to counter the Republicans’ continued attacks on the unions.
It will not be easy for Trump to carry out his planned attacks on two large, mostly working-class sectors — African Americans and Latinos, who will likely fight back. Women, Native Americans, environmentalists, civil libertarians and others will also resist. It is among such forces that hope lies.
[A longer version of this article can be found at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]1122International News
As Invasion Day approaches, Murri leader Sam Watson told Green Left Weekly that January 26 was “only a date when a motley collection of boats made landfall on Gadigal country to establish the colony of NSW”.
“It is important to mobilise and march [on Invasion Day] to remind everyone that an illegal invasion took place on this soil.
“They came here to launch a war of genocide against the 500 sovereign nations of this land.
“They came to invade as a fully-armed military force. They massacred and slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent people.
Watson told GLW that already this year Aboriginal people in Brisbane have observed the January 5 memorial for Dundalli — a senior resistance leader of the tribes of south east Queensland.
He was executed in 1855 while hundreds of Aboriginal people paid respects on the slopes of Wickham Terrace. Many white people fled town that day fearful of the consequences of murdering the Aboriginal hero.
Watson explained that Dundalli had “been charged with responsibility by the senior leaders to carry out a war of resistance against the white invaders”.
There were a number of massacres and terrible crimes against Aboriginal people right across the area, Watson said. These included rape and poisoning of local Indigenous people. Dundalli's actions were a response to these, yet he faced an unfair British court and was sentenced to death.
Dundalli fought an honourable war, Watson said.
“We need to honour the tens of thousands of men, women and children who died in the struggle to hang on to their sacred homeland,” Watson told GLW.
“You can walk right through the city of Brisbane and not find a single plaque or memento that acknowledges the terrible crimes against humanity committed against the Aboriginal people.”
“This is despite the fact that Campbell Newman, when he was lord mayor of Brisbane, promised there would be a plaque established.”
“White Australia has shrines and war memorials right across the countryside celebrating their heroes who died in foreign wars,” said Watson. “But there is nothing to commemorate those Aboriginal people who died on home soil.”
“So that's a struggle we're going to fight again this year,” Watson said, referring to ongoing efforts to get adequate recognition for Dundalli and other resistance fighters.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which allowed the federal government to make laws regarding Aboriginal people and to count them in the census. It will be important to recognise this anniversary, Watson said.
Also important according to Watson, is the campaign against the new Stolen Generation. “This year is the 20th anniversary of the Stolen Generations report” Watson said. “Yet far more of our kids are taken from their homes than ever.”
As the February 13 anniversary of then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations approaches, we need to “stand and honour those generations of Aboriginal children who were taken away by white authorities”, at the same time as we campaign against the record numbers being removed from their families today, said Watson.
In response to the decision by Fremantle City Council to reject the January 26 date for national celebrations, Watson said “the people of Fremantle are making a stand and we salute them”.
The date of January 26 has “nothing to do with setting up the so-called Australian nation” he said.
“I've always said it should be June 3 — which is Mabo Day, the first time ever that a British colonial court has ever acknowledged Aboriginal people.”
Watson is a staunch fighter for the rights of his people: “We start 2017 stepping up to the line and ready to continue the struggle, ready to take on the challenges that are before us.”1122Australian News
When Fremantle councillors voted in August last year to end the Australia Day fireworks display that it had been running for the last eight years, I fully expected a conservative backlash. But even I was surprised to see the decision featured in news bulletins for months on end.
On one level the whole thing is bizarre. Local governments are not obliged to do anything special on January 26 and most of them don't.
What drove the conservative media and Coalition politicians into a frenzy was the council's reason for doing dropping the fireworks display.
They are not too fussed by academics and progressive minded people acknowledging that modern Australia was founded on the violent dispossession of its Indigenous peoples when talking among themselves.
They do not care if Indigenous people themselves describe it as Invasion Day.
But an arm of government – even one as small as the City of Fremantle – disrupting the happy-clappy nationalist and racist narrative that they cling to was just too much.
If they had any smarts they would have taken the "ignore it and it will go away" approach. But they couldn't help themselves.
It had to be nipped in the bud and smashed to stop the contagion spreading. An example had to be made of the heretics. Thankfully, the full-throttle outrage has backfired on them.
The frothing of the Murdoch press was predictable.
The West Australian tried a slightly more subtle approach, with patronising editorials chiding us for our “well-meaning but misguided approach”. When that failed they resorted to cartoons ridiculing Mayor Brad Pettitt, portraying him as a naive little boy.
Despite being vilified and ridiculed the council has stood its ground and the longer the conversation has gone on, the more the it has shifted in favour of a re-examination of January 26. It has popping up everywhere, some of it prompted by the Fremantle Council decision, in other places we just helped it along.
Confirmation that the tide was flowing in the right direction was the Gruen segment on “selling the impossible” which chose changing Australia Day as the theme. Other examples are the petition for Triple J to change the date of its Hottest 100 and the Adelaide brewery that's released a beer under the label “First Nations – Change the Date”.
For its part, the City of Fremantle has replaced the fireworks with a free community concert on January 28 called “One Day in Fremantle” and including artists such as John Butler, Dan Sultan and Mama Kin. It does not pretend to be the new “Australia Day”, it is just a nice day in January for some inclusive events.
Importantly, the day will begin with a Nyoongar cleansing smoking ceremony at the Roundhouse, the place where many hundreds of Aboriginal prisoners were held on their way to Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), mostly to die.
Dropping January 26 as Australia Day, by itself, does not change the structural causes of Indigenous disadvantage or reverse the horrors of the past. But unless we can have an honest discussion about the past we will not be able to create a better future.
The national days of other countries, no matter how much they may be manipulated by politicians, often mark truly historic advances for humanity. Examples are the French revolution, South Africa’s Freedom Day and, for so many countries, their hard fought independence from a colonial occupier.
What about Australia Day?
Should we propose a different date or is the very purpose of such a day simply to cultivate mindless nationalism? Perhaps we should put it a different way.
Australia Day – or whatever it might be called – should be on the day that Australia becomes a republic.
A republic founded on a treaty (or treaties) with its Indigenous people that recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
A republic with a bill of rights that recognises people’s right to housing, education and a livelihood.
A republic that recognises that human society needs to live in peace with the planet.
Our purpose in dropping January 26 should be to focus on the changes we need to make if want a more just and inclusive society for all.
[Sam Wainright is a member of the national executive of the Socialist Alliance and a Fremantle City Councillor.]1122Comment and Analysis
The Conscription Conflict & the Great War
Edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot & Sean Scalmer
Monash University Publishing, 2016
The First World War was to take the lives of eleven million soldiers on both sides, seven million civilians, and, as a further consequence, the loss of some 50-100 million lives worldwide from the Spanish Flu pandemic which began in the troop staging camps and hospitals in Étaples, France, and which returning troops brought home with them. Australia itself lost 61,524 soldiers, one in 80 of the Australian population at the time, not counting those who died from the influenza pandemic.
A war on such a scale was not conducted without much anguish, debate, and conflict on conscription issues within the affected democracies. Yet, as Robin Archer and Sean Scalmer note, the conscription issue and associated anti-conscription movements in Australia, England and other English-speaking parties to the war, have received relatively little analysis: “while the centenary [of the war] has generated much discussion about those who fought the war, those who sought to prevent it or contain its effects have received far less attention”. This new book on WWI conscription issues, “aims to offer new interpretations” of the conscription issues, conflicts and policies in the English-speaking countries involved in the war, with a particular focus on Australia as the one country to decide against conscription by popular vote.
The book was launched, fittingly enough, by the Labor Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, at the Victorian Trades Hall, on the eve of the 100-year anniversary of the first 28 October 1916 Conscription Referendum that saw a majority of Australians vote against Prime Minister William Hughes’ proposal to introduce conscription in Australia. A year later, on 20 December 1917, a second referendum was lost by an even greater majority. The Trades Hall location for the launch was particularly appropriate given the central role that trade unions and the Interstate Trade Union Congress played in successfully galvanising opposition to the proposed conscription scheme, both within the labour movement and more broadly.
The book most certainly delivers on its promise of offering many new interpretations and fresh insights into the conscription issues and dilemmas of the day. This is particularly the case in looking at Australia’s unique decision to let Australians vote directly on the matter in the two plebiscites, but the book also throws much light on conscription policies and decision-making in Britain, New Zealand, the US, and Canada.
While all the chapters have much to offer in relation to specific aspects of the conscription issue, Frank Bongiorno’s chapter on “Anti-Conscriptionism in Australia” is an exceptionally insightful overview of the whole Australian anti-conscription movement at the time. Within the necessary constraints of a single chapter, Bongiorno does justice to the main strands of the movement (socialist, unionist, labour, women’s, Irish-Catholic, Quaker and pacifists) who joined together in opposition to conscription. He not only succinctly explains the roles of the various strands at key moments in the course of the 1916-17 anti-conscription campaigns but also makes very effective use of the actual words of key protagonists. Of all the contributions to the book, Bongiorno’s comes closest to capturing and portraying the dynamics of the anti-conscription campaigns and the passions of its participants. As he memorably concludes: “The campaigns over conscription were imbued with the grief and anxiety of a society at war, yet they were also colourful and exciting, occasions for marching and singing, for rallies, concerts and torchlight processions, for compelling oratory.”
Several of the chapters deal with the conscription issue in other English-speaking countries. Douglas Newton provides detailed insights into Liberal thinking on conscription in England before and during the war, and explains how the change from anti-conscription to pro-conscription positions occurred in the Liberal leadership. John Connor offers an analysis of the reasons for the implementation of conscription in some English-speaking countries but not in others. Ross McKibbin provides a detailed comparison between the British and Australian experiences of conscription. All three of these contributions tend to focus on parliamentary and political party leaderships without providing much detail on what was happening in terms of grass roots opposition to conscription. In noting that “16,500 British men claimed exemption from conscription as Conscientious Objectors”, Connor asserts: “Overall, most British people seem to have accepted military compulsion”. Since there were no opinion polls in this period, and since using electoral data on who voted for anti-conscriptionist candidates only involved male voters (as women could not vote in Britain at that time), it seems a somewhat questionable claim for Connor to make. Presumably, the fact that only 16,500 sought CO status is supposed to indicate that all the other conscripts, and the majority of the British population, supported conscription. Yet anyone at the time who sought CO status faced gaol or even being shot (if their application failed), or at the very least being vilified as “shirkers”, so it may be surmised that there were many who did not actually “accept” conscription but were intimidated into not applying for exemption.
McKibbon makes a more nuanced and evidenced case for arguing for widespread acceptance of conscription in England but is careful to limit his generalisation to males, saying that if a plebiscite had been held, “the majority of men would have voted Yes”.
It was a little disappointing that all three commentaries on the British conscription issue seemed to neglect David Boulton’s seminal study of the WWI British anti-conscription movement (Objection Overruled, 1967) which is the English parallel to Leslie Jauncey’s study of the Australian anti-conscription movement (frequently referred to in the chapters on Australia). In particular, at the grassroots level, the No-Conscription Fellowship of conscientious objectors in Britain both preceded and helped inspire the comparable Australian WWI No-Conscription Fellowship, which in turn partly inspired the establishment of the Draft Resisters Union during the Vietnam War (not, as Scalmer suggests elsewhere, inspired solely or even mainly by “the draft dodgers of America”, itself a pejorative way of describing those who in conscience could not participate in the unjust and genocidal war against the Vietnamese).
The 1916-17 Conscription Referenda in Australia are unique in how they show how Australians at that time viewed the specific issue of conscription, or rather conscription for overseas service as distinct from Australia’s “boy conscription” scheme for home defence only. Murray Goot’s chapter provides a perceptive detailed analysis of the voting patterns in the two referenda and relevant elections, and very effectively counters a number of previous interpretations of the voting outcomes, particularly the widely cited notion that the vote of farmers concerned about losing farm labour was the decisive factor in the No vote.
In analysing the origins and actual debates involved in the Australian referenda, Robin Archer, makes a persuasive case for the importance of liberal concepts of freedom and liberty in the anti-conscription campaigns as against other more class-based or economic interpretations, and suggestions that liberal references were mere rhetoric. This focus on the importance of liberal concepts was shared by a number of the book’s contributors. However, one aspect that continues to be neglected in the relevant scholarly discourse – yet is abundantly evident in the words, songs, poetry and posters of the anti-conscriptionists – is the simple moral and emotional impact of the enormous slaughter that was occurring during the war, and associated efforts of anti-conscriptionists at the time to seek a negotiated end to the war and the slaughter. This humanitarian aspect is not necessarily limited to a particular framework, such as liberalism. As official histories of the war have now shown, there were a number of key moments when the German side was ready for negotiation, yet ignored by the British side. It is likely that the ready availability of “cannon fodder” through conscription pipelines prolonged the war by making leaders more inclined to continue fighting than negotiate peace.
Joy Damousi’s chapter on Melbourne University’s support for the “Yes” campaigns is a more micro-analytical account of one particular section of the more general “establishment” support for the war and conscription. It demonstrates well the complexity of views amongst leading academics who shared some of the values of liberty and freedom with those in the anti-conscription cause, yet often responded in very intolerant and illiberal ways. Oddly, in her discussion of Alexander Leeper, warden of Trinity College and founder of the collegiate system at the university, Damousi does not mention Leeper’s key role in seeking to have the radical anti-conscription student (and later a founder of the Australian Communist Party), Guido Baracchi, expelled by the Academic Board for an article in the Melbourne University Magazine that merely said “The war, whatever the jingoes and junkers may tell us, is not primarily our affair” (for details of this episode, see Jeff Sparrow’s biography of Baracchi, Communism: a Love Affair, 2007). Even more surprisingly, Leeper appeared to be more zealous in seeking sanctions against Baracchi than Melbourne’s own military censor, Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Newell, who had already cleared Baracchi’s article for publication. In the same chapter, Joy Damousi discusses the extraordinary argument of the contemporary medical fraternity that conscription was needed to replace men at the front falling victim to “infectious and exhausting diseases”. In the context of the Spanish Flu pandemic that was to emerge in the war zone, it would be useful to explore how the medical fraternity of the day later viewed the whole question of the war following the enormous loss of life resulting from the war-generated pandemic.
Sean Scalmer’s final chapter rounds out the book by surveying Australian processes of remembering conscription issues dating back to the First World War, and argues for the need to acknowledge the positive democratic aspects of the conscription conflict at the time, and the role of the popular vote in limiting state powers. The whole book, with its wealth of new insights into the extraordinary and highly successful efforts of the anti-conscription movement in winning the 1916-17 referenda, will be an important resource for students and researchers studying this period, and a very necessary complement to the abundant literature focussing solely on WWI military activities and service.
[This Article first appeared at Labour History Melbourne and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Michael Hamel-Green is a Emeritus Professor in the College of Arts, Victoria University.]1122Cultural Dissent
Northern Ireland is in the grip of a deep political crisis.
The power-sharing administration in the six northern Irish counties still claimed by Britain between the Irish republican party Sinn Fein and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed when Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned on January 9 and called for new elections.
Explaining his decision to resign, McGuinness cited “growing DUP arrogance and lack of respect, whether that was for women, our LGBT community, ethnic minorities or the Irish-language community and identity.”
The catalyst was the refusal DUP First Minister Arlene Forster to heed Sin Fein calls step aside or allow an independent inquiry over her role in a huge scandal involving a government-sponsored energy program.
However, it is only the latest flashpoint in growing anger from Sinn Fein and the nationalist community over a series of issues ranging from corruption, lack of progress on equality measures, destabilisation of the peace process and British-pushed austerity measures.
The principles of power-sharing are part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that aimed to end decades of violence between republicans groups and the British military occupation and pro-British loyalist forces.
The conflict broke out after a civil rights movement, which arose in the late 1960s to call for equality in Northern Ireland, was violently repressed by police, pro-British gangs and eventually the British army directly.
The Northern Ireland state was established when Ireland was partition in 1922 at the end of the Irish War of Independence, with Britain retaining its rule over six of Ireland’s 32 counties. The state was set up to guarantee an artificial majority for the largely pro-British Protestant community, with Northern Irish rulers explicitly declaring it a “Protestant parliament for Protestant people”.
The largely nationalist Catholic minority was reduced to second-class status. In the 21st century, despite the peace process and power-sharing, many of the issues created by partition remain unresolved.
Sinn Fein continues to campaign for a united Ireland — an issue that has been given fresh momentum by Britain’s “Brexit” vote, with most in Northern Ireland voting to remain in the European Union.
Social and economic issues have also been greatly worsened by austerity measures imposed on Northern Ireland from London, which still controls its budget and has imposed savage cuts. Sinn Fein has protested the austerity and clashed with the DUP over spending cuts and attacks on welfare.
Sinn Fein says it remains committed to the principles of power-sharing, but is refusing to enter an administration with the DUP unless its concerns are dealt with. McGuinness has said there would be “no return to the status quo”. With last minute talks failing, it appears certain new elections will be held.
Anger at DUP arrogance over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, known as “cash for ash”, extends well beyond Sinn Fein. Writing in Derry Now on January 12, former DN editor Garbhan Downey said that “it’s clear by now that no self-respecting republican, nationalist, conscientious unionist or independent is ever going back into any administration alongside the current brand of DUP”.
In a January 12 column in republican paper An Phoblacht, McGuinness wrote: “Over the course of the last ten years, I, along with my party colleagues, worked tirelessly to ensure the political institutions deliver for everyone in our community…
“We worked to promote partnership, equality and reconciliation. We worked to see the potential of the Good Friday and other agreements realised.”
“In contrast,” McGuinness said, the DUP “never fully embraced the ideals which underpin the Good Friday Agreement.”
He said the DUP has “acted with disrespect and at times outright bigotry towards the Irish language … They also showed no regard for the identity, traditions and symbols of the nationalist and republican people.
McGuinness added: “Successive British governments have also failed in their responsibilities to the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements.
“They have totally failed to meet their obligations on addressing the legacy of the past, the introduction of a Bill of Rights, legislation to protect the rights of the Irish-language community, and many other issues.
“This — combined with their relentless adherence to a punishing austerity agenda and their determination to drag the North out of the EU against the wishes of the people — has deepened the growing crisis of confidence in politics and the political institutions.”
McGuinness repeated calls for Foster to step aside and allow an independent inquiry into the “cash for ash” scandal. He said this was not an “Orange and Green issue”, rather about the “need to tackle allegations of corruption and have the highest standards of governance so that people can have confidence in the political institutions”.
He concluded: “We need to get back to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement: equality, partnership and respect. Without these, we do not have genuine power-sharing institutions.”1122International News
New Year’s Day is usually a moment of peace in the chaos of Mexico City — but not this year. For Mexicans, 2017 began with nationwide protests against the government’s plans to deregulate petrol prices, a move opponents say will hurt everyone from the poor to middle class.
Since January 1, protests have only continued to spread, with almost daily demonstrations in nearly every large city. Major highways have also been blockaded by furious transport workers, who say they can’t keep up with rising prices at the bowser.
Already, a minimum wage earner can expect to spend about two weeks’ worth of wages to fill up an average family vehicle. At the time of writing, fuel prices were at US$0.90 a litre, with a minimum wage of about $4 a day.
However, it is not the petrol prices themselves causing the most anxiety.
“Everything — all the prices in the shops — will go up,” one protester called Lorenzo in the central city of Puebla told Green Left Weekly.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has dismissed such claims, but most economists agree protesters like Lorenzo probably have a point.
“Inflation might rise sharply in January,” Barclays Plc chief Mexico economist Marco Oviedo told Bloomberg. “We might see some second round effects later.”
Meanwhile, a report from Citibanamex found a petrol price rise could push up this year’s annual inflation by as much as a percentage point, with consumer prices expected to rise by 4.8% by the end of the year. All this comes amid growing nationwide anxiety over the state of the country’s stagnant economy.
The value of the Mexican peso has been anaemic since global oil prices collapsed in 2015, but things really took a turn for the worse late last year. In the days after Donald Trump’s November 8 victory in the US, the peso was plunged into chaos. At the time of writing, it was trading at a record low of less than 22 to the dollar.
The peso hasn’t fared this badly since the economic turmoil of the mid 1990s, when Mexico was crippled by hyperinflation, capital flight and widespread fears of default. Now, old fears are again emerging.
“It’ll affect us all,” another protester said in Puebla. “Obviously, it’ll affect the most vulnerable the most, but we’ll all be affected.”
The deregulation of petrol prices is actually just the latest phase in Mexico’s decades-old experiment with neoliberalism. Since the crisis of the 1990s, successive Mexican governments have sought to liberalise what was once a heavily state-centric economy.
This project has been lauded by economists as successful in terms of growing the economy, but not in terms of improving the lives of the poor.
World Bank data shows the economy grew from $364 billion in 1992 to a height of $1.2 trillion in 2012. However, during that same period the percentage of Mexicans living in poverty remained mostly static at about 50%, according to data from the government’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL).
The picture gets worse when population growth is taken into account. According to CONEVAL’s data, the number of Mexicans living in poverty increased from 46.1 million in 1992 to 61.4 million in 2012. In the most impoverished regions like Chiapas, 78.8% live in poverty.
Nonetheless, governments have long argued the solution to Mexico’s stubborn poverty problem is more neoliberal reform, such as 2015 legislation allowing for the privatisation of municipal water companies. At the time the legislation was passed, the government said privatisation would lead to cheaper prices, and cleaner water.
Puebla was one of the first states to privatise its water supply. Today, it has the most expensive water of any major city in Mexico. Its prices are about 10 times higher than neighbouring Mexico state, according to the National Water Commission. Meanwhile, the city’s tap water remains undrinkable.
Now, the government is turning its focus to the oil sector, where state firm Pemex has held a monopoly for more than seven decades. Energy reforms began in 2008, and initially focused on opening extraction and refinement to private competition. WikiLeaks cables reveal that behind closed doors, the reforms were pushed by the US government, though a leaked 2010 embassy document indicated this connection was being kept quiet.
Instead, Pena Nieto has justified the privatisation drive on grounds it will pave the way for an influx of foreign investment. Since 2008 however, the global price of oil has collapsed. Repeated attempts to auction offshore leases have largely failed to coax investors as promised, with the notable exception of a successful round of auctions late last year.
Nonetheless, the government remains dedicated to its vision of rolling back the state’s role in the oil sector, this time at the consumer end.
Technically, the government has been incrementally increasing the regulated petrol price for years. However, until now the rises have been of just a few pesos each year.
That changed in December, when the government announced price rises that the finance ministry says will likely reach 20% by the end of January. The government says it will continue to raise prices throughout the year, before allowing prices to float at market rates in 2018.
The latest round of unrest appeared to have caught the government by surprise. As the public outcry began, Pena Nieto was busy playing golf in an exclusive resort. The president remained silent for the first days of protests, even as looting broke out in some cities.
Since then, more than 1000 people have been arrested in connection to protests, mostly under allegations of vandalism and looting. This figure includes a group of four police officers who were detained after footage surfaced of them loading a patrol vehicle with looted goods from a nearby supermarket.
At least six people have been killed in clashes and more than 300 businesses have been ransacked. Protesters themselves argue most of the cases of violence have been sparked by agent provocateurs, and point to the tens of thousands of people who have marched peacefully.
During a march in Puebla, one protester told GLW: “This is a movement of peace.”
Meanwhile in Mexico City, Pena Nieto broke his silence almost a week after protests began. In a televised address, he said he understood the “anger and irritation felt by the general public”, but that the price rises were needed to stave off cuts to welfare services.
On the streets, protesters said Pena Nieto did not understand their plight at all, arguing he has lost touch with ordinary Mexicans.
“As usual, corruption has played a role in this,” said one activist. “Corruption affects everything here.”
Even before the current protests, nine out of ten Mexicans viewed all political parties as corrupt or extremely corrupt, according to a 2013 study by Transparency International. Meanwhile, Pena Nieto’s approval rating remains at about 25%, making him one of the Western Hemisphere’s least popular heads of state.
With the protests growing, Pena Nieto’s popularity seems unlikely to bounce back any time soon. This could spell trouble for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in next year’s federal elections.
Polls indicate the frontrunner for next year’s presidential race remains the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election by fewer than 250,000 votes. If the polls hold up, Obrador would be the first leftist president in Mexico for generations.
Meanwhile, the radical left Zapatista movement is also planning on endorsing its first presidential candidate in history, saying the candidate will be an indigenous woman.
Throughout last year, devastating conflicts raged in Iraq and Syria. The Afghan War entered its 16th year with a record number of civilians deaths, while in Yemen, a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition continued to bomb civilian targets using British and American-made weapons.
More people are being displaced by war and persecution than ever before, according to the United Nations. This is creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
War is bad news for human beings. But it is good news for the arms trade.
A Defence Trade Report published last June by IHS Janes said the value of the global arms trade hit a record high of US$65 billion in 2015 and was predicted to rise to $69 billion during 2016.
In our region, heightened tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea have created big opportunities for arms exporters. Arms imports by Southeast Asian countries rose by 71% between 2009 and last year, the report said.
The Australian government wants to help arms companies cash in on the boom.Australian arms industry
The Australian arms industry consists of the Australia subsidiaries of several global “defence primes” (large companies such as BAE Systems, Thales and Lockheed Martin), along with Australian shipbuilding prime, Austal, and about 3000 “small to medium sized enterprises” (SMEs).
The federal government’s 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement said the global primes account for about 50% of employment in the industry and the SMEs operate “mostly as subcontractors to prime companies”.
Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said the government wants to help Australia to become a “world player” in the arms trade and a net exporter of arms, meaning that we would export arms than we import. This would be a dramatic shift.
Australia sits at number five on the list of arms importing states and number 20 on the list of exporting states based on figures from 2011-2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). A comparison of imports to, and exports from, Australia during this period using SIPRI’s arms transfer database suggests that Australian arms imports are 11-12 times greater than its arms exports.
SIPRI data also shows that to compete with the top five arms-producing states, the US, Russia, China, France and Germany, Australia would have to increase its exports at least fifteen-fold.
More arms exports would mean more Australian involvement in a trade that undermines peace, exacerbates conflicts, facilitates human rights abuses, diverts resources from social spending, and reportedly generates 40% of all corruption in global transactions.
British research and advocacy organisation, Campaign Against Arms Trade, says: “While the benefits of the arms trade accrue to international companies, the costs are to the people on the receiving end of the weaponry, the citizens and taxpayers of both buying and selling countries, non-military industry, and national and international security”.Government support
Government support for arms and arms-related exports has grown since the Australian arms industry was corporatised and privatised in the 1980s and 1990s.
Austrade provides export advice to arms companies and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation helps them to access finance. Several other initiatives have been introduced in the past 10 years to promote sales.
In 2007, the Howard government established a unit within the Department of Defence specifically to promote “defence” exports. The Defence Export Unit, later renamed Team Defence Australia (TDA), organises trade missions and arranges for delegations to attend international arms fairs.
The Department of Defence says that since 2007, “TDA has assisted 288 defence industry companies to secure export contracts for defence capabilities and technologies to the value of approximately $785 million”.
Under the Global Supply Chain program, launched by the Rudd government in 2009, the government pays the Australian subsidiaries of global “defence primes”, Boeing, Raytheon, Thales, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Rheinmetall, to help smaller Australian companies win work with them.
In 2012, the Australian Military Sales Office (AMSO) was established to “facilitate the overseas sales of Australian-made capital equipment through government-to-government channels and to provide assistance in commercial-to-government export”, the Department of Defence said.
Last year, the Turnbull government announced several measures it says will expand the local arms industry and boost exports. It includes an 80% rise in Australia’s military spending over the next decade and the creation of a new $230 million “Centre for Defence Industry Capability”.
The changes prompted one industry magazine to proclaim that “defence industry is the new black”.
Turnbull says that he sees government spending in the Australian arms industry as “a key part of our economic plan”, which will “will drive the jobs and the growth in advanced manufacturing, in technology, right across the country”.
However, as the Medical Association for Prevention of War has pointed out: “The 2016 Defence White Paper and federal budget treated major weapons acquisitions programs as job-creation schemes, completely ignoring the much wider regional ramifications of contributing to, rather than attempting to rein in, the arming of our region.”Arms exports inquiry
The government’s embrace of the arms trade appears to have been influenced by the arms industry itself. Arms companies were given the chance to advocate for more government assistance during a recent inquiry into federal government support for Australian arms industry exports by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
The inquiry was initiated at the request of then-defence minister David Johnson and conducted over 2014-15.
Submissions were made by the Australian subsidiaries of global “defence primes”, including Thales, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, as well as Australian prime Austal, and SMEs such as CEA Technologies and Ferra Engineering. Arms company representatives were given further opportunity to put their views at public hearings.‘Defence industrial base’ argument
Government support for arms exports is often justified on the ground that it is necessary to maintain a country’s “defence industrial base”, an argument that featured strongly in the submissions. According to this line of reasoning, governments must ensure that domestic industry is maintained at a level that could sustain the nation’s military forces during a conflict, when recourse to external suppliers may be limited.
In the post-privatisation world, this means maintaining a profitable arms industry. Exports play a crucial role by enabling arms companies to achieve “economies of scale”, so the argument goes, and should therefore be promoted by government.
The inquiry’s terms of reference included “assessment of the export support given to Defence industry by governments of comparable nations”. Many submissions complained that arms exports are not supported enough in Australia compared to major exporting states, such as Britain and France.
Australian shipbuilding company, Austal, said that “strong Government support for Australian defence industry exports is a national security issue that warrants considerable co-ordinated effort across government”.
Similarly, Northrop Grumman Australia said: “Government policy in supporting defence exports should be viewed, as it is in many other developed countries, as an integral element in strengthening Australia’s own national defence capabilities.”
MBDA Australia, the subsidiary of British missile company MBDA UK Ltd, said the Department of Defence should move away from a strictly competitive approach towards procurement in areas where it is “essential to maintain a level of in-country capability”. It should instead pursue partnerships with industry.
The defence industrial base argument is a convenient, but false, justification for public expenditure that increases arms company profits, but does nothing to make Australians safer.
As Thales Australia admitted in its submission to the inquiry, Australia is “not directly threatened by another power”. The 2016 Defence White Paper also acknowledged that “there is no more than a remote prospect of a military attack by another country on Australian territory in the foreseeable future”.
The Australian military is more likely to be engaged fighting US wars overseas than defending Australia from attack. High levels of military spending are driven not by genuine defence needs but by our politicians’ desire to prove to the US that Australia is not a “strategic bludger”.
Expanding the local arms industry will do nothing to tackle the real threats to security, here or around the world — namely climate change, resource depletion and inequality. Moreover, arms exports promote military responses to international disputes, increasing the likelihood of future armed conflicts.Jobs?
Another justification for government support of the arms trade, often invoked by politicians, is that it supports thousands of Australian jobs. However, the Australian government could choose to support workers in less harmful industries.
Research by British group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), has shown that the skills that currently benefit British arms companies could be transferred into the renewable energy sector. A 2007 study by US academics found that government spending of US$1 billion on healthcare, education or transport would create more jobs than the same amount spent on the military.
The jobs argument also ignores the fact that for corporations, the pursuit of profit overrides allegiance to their workforces, which they will abandon if the profit motive dictates.
In its submission to the inquiry, Austal complained that Australian labour costs are often “more than ten times those of developing countries such as China and Vietnam”. The company had opened a shipbuilding facility in the Philippines in 2012, the submissions said, “due to the significantly lower labour costs” there.
Lockheed Martin Australia listed “high labour rates” as an impediment to increased arms exports, as they “make Australian Industry inherently expensive”. Ferra Engineering also mentioned the “relative high cost of Australian labour” in its submission.
[This is the first of a three-part series, The next article will cover government promotion of arms sales, human rights and the role of the Defence Export Control office.]1122Comment and Analysis
The Federal Court ruled on December 16 that delays by the Department of Immigration and Border Security (DIBS) in making decisions on citizenship were “unreasonable”, prompting hope for people with refugee backgrounds in a similar plight.
One litigant said: “This may set an important precedent for individuals in similar circumstances.”
Acting CEO of Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) Tim O’Connor said the decision was a “landmark ruling” which recognised the “injustice” citizenship delays had caused.
This case “provides hope for 10,231 people that the department confirmed were in similar situations,” he said.
Under the aegis of RCOA, the case was brought by two Hazara men, known to the court as “BMG16” and “BMF16” in July last year.
The Hazaras are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. They continue to be victimised in their homeland and neighbouring countries where they have sought refuge.
On November 21, a crowded Shia mosque in Kabul was attacked after worshippers gathered for the annual Shia observance known as Arbaeen. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which resulted in 32 deaths. This is one of several attacks the Hazaras have experienced this year alone.
Last month in the Kabul Shrine attack, a man killed 14 and wounded at least 30 other Shia Muslims, the majority being Hazara.
It is no wonder then that many Hazara refugees who flee to Western countries such as Australia are eager to reunite with their families in their adopted countries through sponsorship programs.
But many refugees who came by boat claim they are being discriminated against by the government, especially in the issuance of citizenship test dates and the subsequent citizenship ceremony. They say the government is doing everything it can to penalise them in the process of naturalisation.
Shafa Ali Rajabi, a Hazara, came to Australia by boat in 2010 and sought asylum. He passed his citizenship test in May 2014. DIBS claims “80%” of Australian citizenship applications are processed within “80 calendar days”. But Rajabi’s application has been in process for more than 918 days.
On numerous occasions, Rajabi contacted the department requesting an explanation for the protracted citizenship application delays.
“Each time I called, the department merely advised me that my application was still in process and that I needed to wait,” he said. “I asked them, do you require any documents which I have not provided. But they [the Department] say no, we have all documents required.
“After I passed my citizenship test, [the Department] said I would be called for a ceremony within six weeks. I called after six weeks and they said I needed to wait a further six months.
“I waited another six months, but didn’t receive any notice from them. So I called again. They repeated yet again, wait another six months. Over two and half years has gone by. I just don’t know what to do.”
He is one of thousands of individuals who are in a similar quandary. They have passed their citizenship tests and 80 calendar days have well and truly elapsed, but they are yet to be called for a ceremony.
In a report published last year, RCOA found that the overwhelming majority of individuals experiencing citizenship application delays were refugees who came by boat and held Onshore Protection Visas.
The same report also disclosed that refugee visa holders experienced not only delays in citizenship ceremonies but also delays in being provided a citizenship test date.
Ramazan Ali Jafari, a Hazara artist and construction worker, said “20 months” has passed but “the department has yet to provide me with a date for my citizenship test”.
Jafari said he contacted the department three times. “Each time, they said my application is in process, and the security check has yet to be completed. They have not provided me with a satisfactory response at all. It is almost unbelievable that a security check can take nearly two years.”
David Manne of Refugee Legal said there has been “a disturbing pattern of delays” in citizenship applications of permanent refugee visa holders.
“There appears to be no legal basis for these inexplicable and unjustifiable delays and impediments, given the clear-cut citizenship laws,” he said. “It raises serious questions about the government acting lawfully and in good faith.”
Earlier this year, the chief executive of RCOA Paul Power said: “This is a deliberate ploy by this government to further punish boat arrivals ... it's horrible, absolutely horrible.”
Manne said “Rather than welcoming and embracing this fundamental act of refugees in desiring to symbolise their full commitment to membership of the Australian community, the government responds in such a way as this.”
Barat Ali Batoor, a renowned Hazara photographer and community advocate, said: “The citizenship delay is the cause of anxiety and depression for many Hazaras in the community.”
Consultations with mental health professionals substantiated this claim in the RCOA report. One psychologist said: “In summary, the prolonged delays in processing of applications for citizenship, particularly in the case of 866 visa holders is causing acute and severe mental distress.”
Like most refugee visa holders, Rajabi and Jafari fear for their families’ safety, who as Hazaras continue to face persecution and discrimination. Pakistan is repatriating thousands of Afghan refugees back to their war torn country as part of the country’s new national refugee policy.
Jafari said: “As my children were born and reared in Pakistan, if the Pakistani government expels them to Afghanistan — on account of not possessing the required legal documents — then my family would be devastated.
“Firstly, we — the Hazaras — are targeted by fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan. And secondly, my children are not acquainted with the language and tradition of that land [Afghanistan].”
Jafari, whose art has been exhibited at Mildura Arts Centre, said he often resorted to drawing, writing poetry and calligraphy as means of overcoming his anxiety and depression which emerged following his citizenship test delay.
He said drawing initially acted as a catharsis for him, but does not work anymore. He is on several medications to treat anxiety and depression.
“The medication bag has become like that of a supermarket grocery bag. Each time I go [to the GP], they change my medications and prescribe new ones because of my stress and sleeping problems. Such is the situation my life has been reduced to,” he said.
Rajabi and Jafari said they are beholden to the Australian government and its people, but their families are dwelling in precarious conditions which in turn are causing them profound torment.
As the attacks on Hazaras continue, the Federal Court decision provides a ray of hope for many refugees stymied in citizenship delays.1122Comment and Analysis
Foreign minister Julie Bishop was quick to reiterate the Australian government’s firm support for Israel and distance it from the December 24 vote on UN Security Council resolution 2334 reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.
The resolution was passed by the Security Council, with the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the vote, as it has traditionally done with resolutions that have criticised Israel.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who participated in the recent Australia-UK-Israel Leadership Dialogue trip to Israel, followed this up with his suggestion that Australia’s embassy be relocated to Jerusalem. The historic city has been at the heart of a decades-long dispute between Israel and Palestine, with both claiming it as its capital.
Bishop has said that moving the embassy from where it is in Tel Aviv is not on the government’s agenda
It seems Abbott’s primary motivation for suggesting the move was to be seen as concurring with the incoming Donald Trump administration, which has floated moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Following the vote, Trump expressed his strong opposition to the UN Security Council resolution and support for Israel.
Abbott also launched an attack on the Palestinian Authority, despite only participating in a solitary, token meeting with Palestinian representatives during his recent trip.
After meeting with Palestinian Authority PM Rami Hamdallah, Abbott refused to accept Hamdallah’s statement that the PA acknowledges Israel’s right to exist, and instead talked up the PA’s supposed glorification of suicide bombers, equating the very limited financial support it provides to Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel and their families with funding terrorism.
The Australia-UK-Israel Leadership Dialogue trip was attended by a number of other Australian politicians, including Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow minister for immigration Richard Marles.
For all the vitriol and threats coming out of Israel following the vote on Resolution 2334 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried it as anti-Semitic and vowed to “re-examine” Israel’s participation in various UN bodies – it is clear that Israel continues to have many friends and is unlikely to face meaningful governmental actions to its illegal settlements.1122Australian News