Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iraq: orphans' war memorial

A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

A monument to a shoe thrown at former President Bush is unveiled at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

A huge sculpture of the footwear hurled at President Bush in December during a trip to Iraq has been unveiled in a ceremony at the Tikrit Orphanage complex.

Assisted by children at the home, sculptor Laith al-Amiri erected a brown replica of one of the shoes hurled at Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi during a press conference in Baghdad.

Al-Zaidi was jailed for his actions, and a trial is pending. But his angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero. Demonstrators in December took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release.

The shoe monument, made of fiberglass and coated with copper, consists of the shoe and a concrete base. The entire monument is 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) high. The shoe is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.

The orphans helped al-Amiri build the $5,000 structure -- unveiled Tuesday -- in 15 days, said Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director.

"Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush's war," al-Naseri said. "The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist."

"Then their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadhir al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit."

Al-Zaidi marked his 30th birthday in jail earlier this month. One of his brothers said he is "in good health and is being treated well."

Al-Zaidi's employer, TV network al-Baghdadia, keeps a picture of him at the top left side of the screen with a calendar showing the number of days he has spent in detention. The network has been calling for his release.

By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Telstra ballots fail AEC standards

Two workplace ballots at Telstra last year were flawed and did not meet the Australian Electoral Commission's minimum standards, the AEC says.

The workplace ballots at Telstra have been controversial because the company has sought since last July to bypass unions and offer pay deals to staff directly, a move that has attracted criticism from Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn, in a letter to the ACTU, admitted there were two cases last year where employees were denied the right to be scrutineers.

That was despite that right being a minimum standard that the AEC requires of its clients - in this case Telstra - in workplace elections.

Mr Killesteyn said the AEC would move "to tighten our internal procedures" to ensure that every client "discharged its responsibilities fully".

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons accused Telstra of exploiting what "remains of WorkChoices" to push through non-union deals before the introduction, probably in the middle of the year, of more union-friendly laws.

Mr Lyons said that under current law Telstra was only required to sign a statement on the legitimacy of the elections and the Industrial Relations Commission was unable to examine the fairness of the ballots. "Telstra should conduct ballots in a fair and open and democratic way," he said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rascist flag-wavers in Manly

Manly resident Nina Burridge, who was at The Corso when the Australia Day celebrations turned ugly and has studied ethno-cultural diversity in communities, said there was no question the youths' taunts and cheers were racially motivated.

"It was a mix of hoodlums who had obviously been drinking as well but, to me, there was also an underlying element of racism dressed up as nationalism," Dr Burridge, a senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, said.

"When they were gathering on the [oceanside] beachfront, that's when they were screaming out 'If you're Aussie and you know it clap your hands' and 'If you're white and you know it clap your hands'."

Dr Burridge said an 18-year-old woman was traumatised when three teenagers jumped on the car she was in and smashed two windows.

The youths went on to jump over other cars and damage shop awnings as they ran through the area chanting "Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi" and "Aussie pride".

"When I was on the beach there was a bunch of them ... and these are teenagers -15, 16-year-olds - with slogans on their backs and postcodes with Penrith and Londonderry," she said.

Premier Nathan Rees today condemned the mob's "absolutely reprehensible" behaviour.

"To use an Australian symbol or the Australian flag to promote racism is to fail to understand what those symbols mean. This kind of bigoted behaviour has no place in NSW," Mr Rees said.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Australia Day 2009

The Woggan-ma-gule Ceremony, meaning Farm Cove in the Gadigal language, is the traditional opening of Australia Day celebrations, and takes place where the first European settlers arrived.

Indigenous elder Aunty Pansy Hickey said in her welcome to country that it was a reminder of the invasion by European settlers, and that she looked forward to the day when all Australians could see the day as a celebration.

The Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson

Fifty eight year old Mick Dodson is a Yawuru man from the Broome area of Western Australia. He is widely recognised as a proud, courageous and humble Aboriginal leader who has spent his adult life trying to explain to people why and how they can help his people. He has pursued justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians. 

Last year Mick's brother Pat Dodson was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Townsville toilet row: man sacked

Amador Bernabe, 43, uses water to clean himself instead of toilet paper.

Mr Bernabe, a machine operator on a working visa from the Philippines, said it was his culture.

But on Thursday he got the shock of his life when his foreman followed him into the toilet questioning his toilet hygiene.

Mr Bernabe said his employer Townsville Engineering Industries (TEI) sacked him yesterday for not going to the toilet the Australian way.

"I went to go to the toilet and I took a bottle of water when my foreman saw me and he said `you can't bring the water in there'," Mr Bernabe said.

"I asked why and he said it wasn't good but I said it's our way and he followed me into the toilet.
"I said it's my personal hygiene. I didn't break any law, I didn't break any rules of the company, why can't I do this, and he said he would report me to the manager.
"The next morning when I came in I went to punch my time card and he told me the manager wanted to talk to me in his office.
"He asked me what had happened and I explained to him and he said if I didn't follow the Australian way I would be immediately terminated and I said "Sir, then you better terminate me'."

Australian Manufacturing Worker's Union state organiser Rick Finch said the incident was shocking.

"I think it is atrocious, an invasion of a person's rights and cultural beliefs," he said.
"The paradox of the toilet and a person's actions is something that no boss can even think about interfering with and the thought that bosses think they have the control to get involved in the toiletry is a gross invasion of an employee's privacy.
"If it wasn't so disgusting it would almost be laughable."

Greens spokeswoman Jenny Stirling praised Mr Bernabe for standing up for his rights.

"I commend the man for standing up for himself and I encourage the employer to have further talks with the union and the employee and I am sure commonsense will prevail," she said.
"I would like to see how Australians feel when they go to Europe where in places they don't have toilet paper."

Thuringowa MP Craig Wallace said the company should re-evaluate their priorities.

"Employers should be worried how their business operates rather than what their employees do in the loo," he said.
"I know in a number of cultures using paper to clean yourself is considered an offence because of their beliefs.
"If he is being hygienic and not bothering anyone else then good luck to him."

Mr Finch said employers should be more tolerant of their employees, especially in Mr Bernabe's case where he has been brought to the country by TEI on a 457 visa.

"At the end of the day we are a multicultural society and if they want to import workers then they need to be tolerant of other workers and other cultures," he said.
"They don't own these workers, they are borrowed and hired to carry out a job.
"The thought these bosses think they can lord it over these workers is insane.
"What it shows is the company's complete arrogance for workers' rights."


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pete Seeger at Lincoln Memorial

Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang Woody Guthrie's 'This Land is Your Land' at the Lincoln Memorial Obama inauguration concert 18 January. They sang the extra and often censored verses Woody wrote.

Pete Seeger first sang there when Martin Luther King Jr made his historic 'I Have a Dream' speech on 28 August 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Pete Seeger offered Barack Obama an "old school" method of staying in shape when the president-elect asked the 89-year-old entertainer how he stays fit.

The singer and Obama spoke after Seeger's performance of "This Land is Your Land"

Rodriguez-Seeger told the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Journal that Obama asked Seeger how he stays so fit. According to the grandson, Seeger told Obama that he stays healthy by living out in the woods and chopping and hauling firewood.

Unions call for new economic stimulus

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Unions have welcomed strong indications from the Prime Minister that the Government is preparing for a second stimulus package for the Australian economy.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the threat to the economy and to jobs had not lessened since the $10.4 billion injection into the economy late last year, and a new stimulus had to target immediate job starts.

“This is good news that the Prime Minister is proposing another stimulus package, which is absolutely essential as the outlook for the global economy becomes bleaker by the day,” Ms Burrow said.

“The next stimulus must be aimed at jobs that can be brought on stream from day one - jobs that can start now.

“One priority should be retrofitting houses and commercial buildings to make them energy and water efficient. This serves a dual purpose of tackling the economic crisis and threat of climate change.

“If small-scale construction jobs can begin, that will flow through to manufacturing and services.”

Ms Burrow has just returned from meetings in Washington DC with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund where it was warned that governments around the world needed to invest at least 2% of global Gross Domestic Product into stimulus measures targeted at jobs and vulnerable workers to avoid the economic downturn worsening.

She said employers, unions and employees must work together to confront the economic crisis and to protect jobs and incomes.

This was best achieved through collective bargaining, which brings employers and the workforce to a negotiating table to achieve the best outcome for all concerned on a case by case basis.

Unions will be responsible in wage claims in the difficult economic environment, but expected employers to have a reciprocal awareness of the need to maintain jobs.

“Jobs will be the number one focus, but retaining real wages is absolutely essential as well,” she said.

“History has shown that cutting wages in a downturn is counter-productive when the recipe for economic recovery is stimulating demand.

“We will be responsible and flexible, but we will not accept wage freezes that actually cut the real incomes of Australian workers.

“It is no fault of workers that we had a financial crisis. They still have to pay their bills, so the time to actually maintain wages is now because you keep demand in the economy.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Torture: Guantanamo Bay

The Humpty Dumpty gang should take their great fall over Guantanamo

Jeff Sparrow, editor of Overland writes:

Yesterday, the Washington Post gave Bob Woodward the front page for a story in which Susan J Crawford, the convening authority for Bush’s military commissions acknowledged the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," she said.

She was referring to the treatment of a Saudi man who was kept nude in sustained isolation, deprived of sleep and exposed to cold, until his condition became "life threatening".

As scoops go, this is hardly Watergate. The blogger Digby points out that Al-Qahtani's interrogation logs were published in Time three years ago, while Dick Cheney, CIA Director Michael Hayden and George W. Bush himself have all acknowledged the use of waterboarding, a favoured torture technique of the Khmer Rouge.

No, the significance of Woodward’s article lies almost solely in Crawford’s use of the T word.

Throughout the Bush years, politicians and the media, both in Australia and abroad, have been prepared to play brazen Alice in Wonderland games with definitions. You’ll recall that Humpty Dumpty, a fellow who looks and sounds very much like Dick Cheney, scornfully explained to Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

That’s been the modus operandi of the Bush gang. You can admit to the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, s-xual humiliation and the rest of it -- brutalities long familiar from the dungeons of the most sinister regimes in the world -- so long as you barefacedly announce, as Bush did in 2006: "The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values."

Similarly, despite the Downing Street memo, Bush and Blair and Howard can, by defining "truth" in the narrowest possible fashion, insist that they never actually lied their way into Iraq. The world’s legal experts can state, in the clearest possible terms, that the invasion violated international law, yet because the good and the great rely on their own definition of legality, we see the war’s architects not in a dock but in grotesque ceremonies where they pin medals of freedom on each other.

Still, the Woodward story represents just one of many signs that a change is now afoot. For instance, if the T word constituted one of the great taboos of the Bush era, the I word was another. The rule for politicians and journalists was strict: one could not, despite all the evidence to the contrary, acknowledge that President Bush was a dribbling idiot. No, despite the gaffes, the bizarre press conferences and the weird facial contortions, the pundits all had to pretend that the man leading the free world was not a farting frat boy but rather a great reader, a historian and a thinker.

These days, though, everyone seems to be shouting that the Emperor has no brain. A few days ago, the Telegraph ran a column documenting the best-known Bushisms, a piece significant because it was authored not by Michael Moore or John Pilger but by Boris Johnson, London’s ferociously right-wing Mayor.

Of course, the real question is whether this new willingness to call things by their right names will translate into action. Take torture, for instance. A week ago, Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, received a sentence of 97 years gaol for torturing his opponents.

"It is hard to conceive of any more serious offenses against the dignity and the lives of human beings," U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga Altonaga said.

"The international community condemns torture."

Matthew Friedrich from the the U.S. Justice Department's criminal division released an equally stern statement. "Our message to human rights violators, no matter where they are, remains the same,’ he said.

"We will use the full reach of U.S. law ... to hold you accountable for your crimes."

One couldn’t agree more. So now that we have an admission that what took place in Guantanamo constituted torture, when do the prosecutions begin? The truth has long been available to anyone who wanted to see it. It’s well past time for the Humpty Dumpty gang to take their great fall.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ACTU: IR laws must restore rights at work

Labor’s proposed industrial relations legislation fails to fully deliver on the Rudd Government’s pre-election promise to scrap WorkChoices and restore workers’ rights, says the ACTU.

Releasing the ACTU’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Fair Work Bill today, ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the legislation was a major step forward after a decade of attacks on workers rights, but needed amendments to several key deficiencies.

“The single most important factor in the election of the Rudd Government was its promise to get rid of WorkChoices,” Mr Lawrence said. “Now is the crunch time for the Labor Party to fully deliver on this promise.

“There are several important flaws in the Government’s proposed legislation where the Bill falls short of what Australians expected when they voted to reject WorkChoices. Working Australians who voted for change at the last election will be very disappointed if these flaws are not corrected by the Senate.”

The most glaring broken election promise concerns the limit on what workers and employers can bargain about and include in a workplace agreement. The Bill prevents workers from bargaining for better unfair dismissal protections and for improved access to advice and assistance from unions in their workplace.

“It is vital to prevent workers being exploited or discriminated against that unions can enter workplaces and are able to inspect pay and personnel records,” Mr Lawrence said. “Equally, workers must have access to timely advice and support from unions.

“Unless changed, the legislation will make it unlawful for an employer and a union to agree to reduce the qualifying period before employees are entitled to be protected from unfair dismissal.”

The ACTU’s submission also calls for the scope for multi-employer bargaining to be broadened to be consistent with international labour standards.

Workers, represented by unions, should be able to bargain with a group of employers without restriction, Mr Lawrence said.

“Along with adopting the improvements in the ACTU submission, the Government must resist the misleading and deceptive campaign being waged by a number of the employer groups,” he said.

“These groups were in the cheer squad for WorkChoices. They were apologists for the exploitation and rip-offs of vulnerable workers that became rampant under the Howard-Costello IR laws.

“Especially in the current difficult economic environment, it is essential that the Senate pass these new IR reforms, as amended, so that workers’ rights are restored and the jobs and incomes of employees are safeguarded,” Mr Lawrence said.

Mr Lawrence also challenged the Liberal and National Parties to end the word games and state once and for all whether they will support these reforms in the Senate, or remain tied to WorkChoices.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amnesty International: Gaza

The situation in Gaza remains bleak.

On Sunday a further 26 Palestinians were killed and scores of people injured as Israel stepped up its military attacks. Meanwhile, armed Palestinian groups have continued to fire rockets indiscriminately into southern Israel.

As the death count rises towards 1,000, civilians continue to suffer from insufficient access to food, water and medical assistance.

Stop the loss of innocent lives - send an email to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Over 3,500 of you have emailed Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to call on the UN Security Council to end the violence in Gaza. Thanks to your pressure the UN unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire and introduced a "three-hour humanitarian lull". But what use is such a brief respite when civilians don't have time to queue for a loaf of bread?

Please email Kevin Rudd to halt the violence and bring immediate humanitarian aid to the region

We need at least 10,000 names to send a strong message to the Prime Minister that Australians are not prepared to stand by and let innocent people die in a senseless conflict. When we reach our target, your names will be presented to Government to keep up the pressure.

ACTU: Protect living standards

The living standards of the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers must be protected as Australia faces an economic slowdown this year, say unions.

Clamping down on the minimum wage would be counter-productive by dampening consumer spending at a time when the government is trying to stimulate domestic demand to prevent the downturn from worsening, said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

It would also be inequitable to expect workers who are totally dependent on the wage safety net to have a cut in their real income when they are already struggling to make ends meet, he said.

Mr Lawrence urged the head of the Fair Pay Commission, Ian Harper, to be careful when considering the needs of low-paid workers.

“Professor Harper knows that if the minimum wage does not rise, people will leave the labour force and go onto the unemployment rolls,” Mr Lawrence said.

“It would be a mistake for him to listen to the discredited and utterly predictable arguments from employers that a modest increase in the minimum wage will lead to unemployment.

“Last year, the lowest paid gained a pay rise of just 57 cents an hour from the commission. That was hardly a great extra burden on business and despite the scaremongering of employer groups, employment has risen every year since 1996, unaffected by increases in the minimum wage.

“Unions will be responsible in their wage claims this year but we will continue to do our job to obtain improved outcomes for Australian workers and we’re certainly not proposing that wages go backwards.”


Friday, January 09, 2009

Gaza: Red Cross report

Four small starving children too weak to stand were found next to the bodies of their dead mothers by ambulancemen who had been trying to reach their Gaza neighbourhood for four days after it came under Israeli attack, the Red Cross said yesterday.

In what the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called a "shocking incident", another man, also too weak to stand, was found in the same bombed house, along with at least 12 corpses on mattresses.

Accusing Israel of violating international law by imposing "unacceptable" delays on rescuers trying to reach the scene, the ICRC said that when ambulance crews were finally allowed to access the area in Gaza City's Zeitoun district during a bombardment pause on Wednesday, they found 15 other survivors, including several wounded in another house. In a third house, they found three more corpses.

The ICRC said that because the military had erected large earth walls around the site, the crews were forced to use donkey carts to convey the children and the wounded to ambulances. Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said: "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

The organisation accused the Israeli military of "violating its obligations under international law to care for and evacuate the wounded". The criticism was unusual as the ICRC generally refrains from publicly attacking the conduct of warring parties in conflict zones.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Maritime Union condemns Gaza invasion

05 January 2009
By MUA media release

The Maritime Union of Australia today condemned the Israeli invasion of Gaza and called for the Australian Government to back the United Nations General Assembly calls for an immediate withdrawal and ceasefire.

"We call on the international trade union movement and the Australian Government to join the UN General Assembly condemnation of the invasion as a 'monstrosity' and the Israeli blockade of Gaza as a breach of international law," said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.

The national secretary said that the union did not condone terrorism or the killing of innocents by either side, but noted the disproportionate loss of Palestinian lives.

"Even by conservative estimates nearly a quarter of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in the latest bloodshed are civilians - men women and children," he said. "More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in the past week against the 20 Israelis deaths by Hamas rockets in the past eight years. Israel is not eliminating Islamic extremism by such bloodshed, it is helping create it - worldwide. Far from their intent of creating a more moderate Palestinian government they are giving Hamas even more legitimacy and support among Arab and Islamic peoples."

Mr Crumlin said he also noted the cynicism of the Israeli government in moving before US President elect Barack Obama replaces Bush in the White House on January 20 and the Israeli elections in February.

"The Australian government should not wait for the Democrats to take office, but act immediately in speaking out against the invasion and calling for peace negotiations to resume."

The Maritime Union will be supporting people in the occupied territory through the ACTU aid agency Apheda and calls on members to do likewise.

Apheda reports medical supplies in Palestinian hospitals are seriously depleted due to the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip for the past two years.

In a Palestinian population of 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations reports that almost 80 percent of Palestinian families are almost entirely dependent on food aid or direct assistance

"Union Aid Abroad -APHEDA calls on the government of Israel to immediately cease all military attacks and open the borders for the flow of essentials: water, food, medicine and fuel."

To deliver much needed assistance, Union Aid Abroad is asking for a ONE-OFF DONATION, to help continue to implement our program in Gaza.

How to Donate

1800 888 674 (toll free)


Made to Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA and posted to:
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA,
Level 3, 377-383 Sussex Street,
Sydney NSW 2000.

PPP and Tolls

Tolls on and for the people
Sydney Morning Herald (5 Jan 2009)

Large corporations are not to be trusted with public assets, at least not as much as they used to be. This is one of the harsh lessons of the global credit crisis. It is one of the byproducts of a sequences of disasters and excess by the private infrastructure sector.

First, we had the financial collapse of the Sydney Airport rail link. Then the bankruptcy of Sydney's Cross City Tunnel. Then the virtual bankruptcy of Babcock & Brown. Then the debacle of Macquarie Bank's public float of the Brisbane toll road company, Brisconnections. Then the plunge in the market value, and reputation, of Macquarie Bank itself. Then the cost blow-out in the State Government's toll rebate scheme. Now comes the news that by the time the Sydney Harbour Tunnel reverts to state ownership in 2022, NSW taxpayers will have paid about $1.8 billion for an asset that cost $550 million to build.

This is but a partial list of problems. It is time to reconsider whether the financing and ownership of such public assets should return to state control, a model that worked well for two centuries. In the past, the Herald has supported the growth of infrastructure projects funded and owned by public-private partnerships, or PPPs as they have come to be known. It is a field in which Australia led the world, and was in the large part successful. But the world has changed. Would the state be better off returning to building public infrastructure with public financing, so that when the public pays for using toll roads at least they are paying tolls that are for the people and by the people?

With the federal Labor Government about to finance an ambitious national infrastructure program, and the NSW Labor Government in financial straits, this question has urgency. Several factors suggest that reliance on private funding is no longer as necessary as it once was. The Federal Government is intent on upgrading Australia's infrastructure and stimulating the economy in the process. There is an enormous pool of superannuation savings looking for safe havens. The cost of government borrowing is lower than the cost of private borrowing. These elements could be harnessed in common cause by the creation of infrastructure bonds, issued by the government, backed by the assets they fund.

This is not an original suggestion, yet it barely rates a mention in public policy.