Monday, December 31, 2012

Bolivian response to Electricity Prices

Bolivian President Evo Morales nationalised two Spanish-owned electricity companies on Saturday in a bid to improve rural energy services.

He took over the subsidiaries of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola in a public ceremony at the governmental palace.

Soldiers and police guarded buildings belonging to the newly nationalised Electropaz and Elfeo, many of which were draped with colourful banners reading "nationalised."

President Morales said he had been "forced to take the step" to ensure "equitable" energy prices in rural areas of La Paz and Oruro.

He said the end to "unfair" disparities was in line with the constitution, which rules that public interests override private profit in energy provision.

Customers currently pay 0.63 bolivianos (10 cents) per kilowatt in the cities of La Paz and Oruro but 1.59 (22 cents) bolivianos per kilowatt in rural areas.

The country's first indigenous president said Iberdrola will get the full market value of its seized shares as determined by an independent arbiter in the next 180 days.

Iberdrola said it hoped it would receive a "fair" price for the shares, valued at around $90 million by the Spanish media.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry criticised the decision, saying the assets had "never belonged to the Bolivian state."

Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera reassured workers that "there will be job security with a guaranteed wage curve."

But the decree excludes senior managers from employment continuity.

Mr Morales told a rally in Cochabamba later that day that he had spent four months negotiating with the firm to equalise energy rates without success and so had been forced to nationalise the distribution.

Since his 2005 election victory Mr Morales has moved to take control of his country's resources from a rampant private sector.

His government nationalised around a dozen foreign oil firms in May 2006. and in May this year he sent troops to take over an electrical company owned by Spain's Red Electrica, which controlled 75 per cent of energy transmission in the Latin American country.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

CFMEU: Mining Monopoly Myths

Unions fear greater Queensland job losses after global mining giant Xstrata confirmed on Friday 95 positions would be slashed from its Collinsville mine, north-west of Mackay, by the end of January.

This is on top of the 600 job cuts it announced in September for regional Queensland, Brisbane and Sydney.

Xstrata Coal blamed poor coal prices for the job cuts at its Collinsville mine site, run by contractor Thiess.

"Due to the downturn in coal prices we have been working with Thiess to review mining operations at Collinsville and, as a result, we expect 95 Thiess positions will be made redundant in January," Xstrata Coal claimed.

Thiess said it had "left no stone unturned" in examining all options for retaining as many staff as possible.

"A reduction in the mine fleet has made redundancies unavoidable," it said.

"Thiess is continuing to identify opportunities to redeploy a number of these employees to other projects."

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) spokesman Steve Pierce said Xstrata and other mining companies were exaggerating the severity of the downturn in export coal prices to justify job cuts.

"They're saying that the market is shot, the industry is dead," he said.

"Well, they are still making in excess of $100 a tonne for coal that three or four years ago was getting $40 and $50 a tonne for, so they are still making damn good profits.

"We need to dispel the myths that is being perpetrated by the coal industry that they are going broke."

Mr Pierce said the move was pure greed and short-term thinking.

"It is really a mercenary decision in our view by Xstrata to protect their profits," he said.

CFMEU had been working with Thiess for five weeks to avert the job losses, Mr Pierce said.

"No doubt mid-next year... we're going to have Xstrata whingeing there's not enough skilled people in Australia and potentially wanting to bring foreign workers back into the country."

Chile - Eight Charged with Víctor Jara's Murder

Eight retired army officers were charged on Friday with the murder of a popular songwriter and theater director, Víctor Jara, who was tortured and killed days after the 1973 military coup in a stadium that had been turned into a detention center.

Judge Miguel Vásquez charged two of the former officers, Pedro Barrientos and Hugo Sánchez, with committing the murder and six others as accomplices. Mr. Sánchez, a lieutenant colonel, was second in command at the stadium. Mr. Barrientos, a lieutenant from a Tejas Verdes army unit, currently lives in Deltona, a city southwest of Daytona Beach, Fla., and was interrogated by the F.B.I. earlier this year at the request of a Chilean court. Attempts to reach Mr. Barrientos for comment were unsuccessful; his two listed telephone numbers had been disconnected.

Judge Vásquez issued an international arrest warrant against Mr. Barrientos through Interpol Santiago and ordered the arrest of the other seven, who were in Chile. Those charged as accomplices are Roberto Souper, Raúl Jofré, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Hasse, Luis Bethke and Jorge Smith.

Víctor Jara, then 40, was a member of the Communist Party and a leading folk singer in the late 1960s and early ’70s. A day after the American-supported Sept. 11 coup that ousted the socialist president, Salvador Allende, Mr. Jara was arrested by the military at the Santiago Technical University, where he was a professor and researcher, along with hundreds of students, teachers and staff members.

The detainees were bused to Chile Stadium, since then renamed Víctor Jara Stadium, and held in the bleachers for days with thousands of other prisoners, in the custody of army units brought in from various parts of the country.

Judge Vásquez established that Mr. Jara was recognized by military officers, separated from the rest of the detainees and taken to the basement dressing rooms, which were being used to question prisoners. There, he was interrogated, beaten and tortured by several officers, according to the court.

On Sept. 16, 1973, when the stadium was evacuated and the prisoners transferred to the larger, open-air National Stadium in the capital, Víctor Jara and a former prison service director, Littré Quiroga, who was also detained there, were taken to the basement and killed. The bodies of both men and three other victims were later found dumped near a railroad track outside a cemetery; one of the victims remains unidentified. According to the autopsy report, Mr. Jara was badly beaten and was shot 44 times.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

USA: Radical Women

2012 was a year of protests and fight-backs. Working women and men stood up and spoke out - from Chicago teachers going on strike to students in Tucson battling for Ethnic Studies, from massive demonstrations over the racist murder of Trayvon Martin to the outcry demanding Susan G. Komen for the Cure continue funding Planned Parenthood.

This coming year looks to be just as full of opportunities to make our voices heard, as debates over the "fiscal cliff" show. Behind closed doors, politicians exchange budget proposals aimed at avoiding a combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect January 1. They debate whether it's better to slash Social Security or Medicaid and argue over what is a "fair" tax on billionaires.

A look at the money trail shows the richest 400 Americans already have more wealth than half the country combined. And, as Senator Bernie Sanders wrote, corporate profits are soaring, yet about one in four major profitable corporations pays nothing in federal income taxes. The taxes on the wealthy that are under discussion are pocket change for the super-rich. They should pay much more. Meanwhile, there is a deafening silence about cuts looming over desperately needed social programs.

Some of President Obama's proposals include $2.50 in cuts for every $1 in revenue. Programs in danger are ones women and their families depend on, like Head Start, childcare assistance, unemployment benefits, food stamps, children's healthcare, reproductive health services, senior nutrition programs, school breakfast and lunch programs, and federal work-study programs. Already over 47% of families headed by single African American, Latina and Native American mothers live in poverty and 60% of women over 65 cannot cover basic living expenses. It's women and children first over the fiscal cliff.

The Republican schemes are worse. They oppose any tax increases on the wealthy. Speaker Boehner's attempt to tax those making over $1 million failed because of opposition within his party. They argue Obama is not cutting enough and proposed eliminating an additional $300 billion in discretionary spending, which includes social programs like food stamps. They've suggested raising the Medicare eligibility age. And last week they won Obama's agreement to slash cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries. This move will dramatically increase senior poverty in coming years.

The Democratic Party pretends to be on the people's side while continuing to decimate an already shredded social safety net and asking for peanuts from the wealthy. Meanwhile, neither party is talking about the fact that over half of federal spending goes to the bloated military and ugly imperial wars. What an indictment of capitalism that this is all it has to offer!

In 2013 feminists can move our goals beyond what establishment political pundits consider reasonable and fight for what we know is necessary for women, children, the poor and the vulnerable to thrive. It's not complicated. We can start from the premise that the state's obligation is to help people survive, not boost private profits. The richest country in the world can provide things like money to buy food and clothes; programs like public works jobs that employ people at union wages; and services like childcare, education and housing.

A combination of bold ideas, tenacity, street heat, and confidence in our collective working-class power to change things is what the times demand. We can even raise the issue of the socialist solution to the dead end road we're on while we fight for what we need.

Let's do it together! Connect with Radical Women

Thursday, December 27, 2012

NSW: National Parks - preparing for danger

Anger among National Parks and Wildlife Service staff intensified over Christmas after a leaked draft risk assessment report showed the government will proceed with the plan despite warnings that a fatality or serious injury by gun wound was a ''major risk'' once shooting begins in March.

Rangers will consider walking off the job in the new year but Fairfax Media understands a second and more likely option is parks staff refusing to collect entrance fees as a way to keep parks open and shield the public from the industrial dispute while hitting the O'Farrell government in the hip pocket.

Steve Turner of the Public Service Association said rangers had reached boiling point after the risk assessment listed parks' staff, contractors and volunteers at the top of those at risk of ''projectiles'', including bullets and the arrows of bow hunters.

''They are very unhappy people and really scared about what will happen in March,'' Mr Turner said. ''It's like watching a head-on crash unfold in slow motion. Rangers know the day is coming and, thanks to this risk assessment, they now know how dangerous it will be.''

A Public Service Association survey of 292 rangers in September found more than 90 per cent did not support hunting in national parks and did not believe it would control pests.

Rangers are particularly concerned over a lack of information about how hunters will be managed in the 79 parks where shooting will be initially trialled.

Under the the overhaul of the Game and Feral Animal Control Act - which takes effect on Thursday - just 48 parks, mainly in the Sydney metropolitan area, have been quarantined from hunting, leaving more than 650 potentially open to hunters in future.

Read more

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sydney: O'Farrell's Helipad Scam sinking in choppy water

The consultant employed to test the noise levels of helicopters for the controversial heliport on Sydney Harbour has admitted he is not an acoustic engineer and has never previously produced a report on helicopter noise.

Carl Holden, director of the noise testing company, Airport Friendly Solutions, also conceded that he had been wrong to describe himself as a member of the "Australian Acoustics Society". The peak body, which is actually called the Australian Acoustical Society, told Fairfax Media Mr Holden has never been a member, although he used to subscribe to its magazine.

The first ''noise assessment'' report Mr Holden wrote for Newcastle Helicopters, the company planning to operate the heliport, has since been ridiculed by industry leaders and removed from the project's website. 

That report was produced in October. Mr Holden was also involved in acoustic tests from residences around the harbour hastily commissioned by Newcastle Helicopters this week as opposition to the project mounted.

Read more

Among protestors is Ian Kiernan who proposes some guerrilla tactics - the platform surrounded by the spear-like masts of protesting yachties.

''Wild Oats has got a 40-metre mast,'' he says darkly. ''We'll be putting yachts right around it, I tell you. Vertical spears - that will make it pretty hard for them.''

Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia, is a voice in the chorus of protest building against the irresponsible project, which envisages operating up to eight flights an hour from a floating platform moving between some of the harbour's most spectacular locations.

The state government approved the heliport without an environmental impact statement, without a public tender, without public consultation and without noise-testing.

Coalition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull has given the plan both barrels, describing it as a ''reckless and undemocratic'' disgrace.

''I'm terribly disappointed about it,'' Turnbull said. ''People will look at this and say, well, it's back to the old way of making decisions and letting people know afterwards.''

Turnbull and Kiernan say it is also the tinnie users, the yachties, the little racing skiffs holding weekly races, the people in parks and those on the beaches.

''The nightmare I've got in my mind is a combination of a summer's afternoon, many hundreds of boats out on the harbour, most of them sailing skiffs, a strong nor-easter, sailing races under way, and these helicopters landing. Seaplanes have to find somewhere with no boats. The problem for the helicopter is he has to land on the barge,'' says Turnbull. ''Who's going to be responsible the first time there is an accident ?''

The commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Malcolm Levy, is equally alarmed. He says the first he knew of the proposal was when he read about it in the press.

''The area I see designated on a plan shows quite a large part of the harbour … used continuously in yacht races and by recreational users. If there's going to be a barge stuck in the harbour, does that mean we are to stop what we've been doing?''

Safety concerns have barely been addressed in the government's initially enthusiastic pronouncements. The air safety regulator, CASA, says it is not involved in approving the project because the pontoon is not an aerodrome.

The National Trust has launched an urgent investigation into whether the proposed operations area for the helicopter platform will intrude on the buffer zone set up around the Opera House as part of the iconic building's World Heritage Listing.

Read more

Growing Gap Between Wages and Profits

The new ILO Global Wages Report confirms the trend of a greater share of GDP going to capital income while the proportion going to workers in the form of wages has fallen dramatically.

The new report on global wages from the International Labour Organization (ILO), released on 7 December, paints a startling picture of the extent to which workers are missing out on their fair share of the wealth that they are helping to generate. With some regional exceptions, during the period of the economic crisis real average wage growth globally has remained below pre-crisis levels.

Between 1999 and 2011 average labour productivity in developed economies increased more than twice as much as average wages. The ILO points to various factors that are contributing to this declining labour share including technological progress, trade globalization, financial globalization and the expansion of financial markets. Attacks on unionization resulting in declining union density and bargaining power have had a significant impact.

The result is growing income inequality and a decrease in aggregate demand that is necessary for recovery and growth.

The report calls for ‘rebalancing’ that reconnects labour productivity with wage increases and warns against ‘competitive wage cuts’ leading to a race to the bottom. This must include strengthening minimum wages and support for collective bargaining.

A copy of the report can be found on the ILO website

Thursday, December 20, 2012

If the Workers Take a Notion

Old Joe Hill verse turned into song

ACTU - 2012 Summary

UNIONS have called for a mature debate about productivity and a focus by politicians on the future of manufacturing as they reflect on 2012 and look forward to next year.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the lowpoint of 2012 was “the ludicrous campaign by employers to strip workers of weekend penalty rates in the name of productivity”.

“Employer arguments that stripping workers’ pay leads to greater productivity has been rejected by Fair Work Australia. The attack on penalty rates is totally contrary to the Australian way of life,” he said.

Oliver’s 2012 highlight was the legislation to lock in the Fair Entitlements Guarantee to make sure that workers who face unemployment through the collapse of their company do not also miss out on their redundancy pay because the employer has failed to keep aside money.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union National Secretary Paul Bastian said the productivity debate needed to focus on what was required for Australia to be trade competitive in a high cost, high skill and high wage economy.

“The real answer to lifting productivity lies in improving our management and leadership; increasing our skills; investing in research and development and plant and equipment; empowering workers and engaging them in planning, innovation and problem solving – not in attacking workers’ wages and conditions as some employer groups and the Coalition continue to advocate,” he said.

Manufacturing dominated both Bastian’s highlights and lowlights. He said the loss of manufacturing jobs in iconic companies like Qantas, Ford, Toyota, Darrell Lea, Heinz, Fairfax, HWT, Cussons and many more less known businesses was a lowpoint. But delivering a road map for the future of the industry as part of the Prime Minister’s Manufacturing Taskforce, along with the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, were highpoints.

In 2013, the AMWU will continue to campaign to ensure that the Federal Government takes up the challenge of implementing the policies necessary to keep jobs and skills in manufacturing now and to develop a national manufacturing plan for the future.

Job and income security is another area where union leaders are hoping to see action in 2013.

The National Secretary of the National Union of Workers, Charlie Donnelly, noted that he lowpoint of 2012 was too many workers had lost their jobs, and he hoped to see real change for workers who have been trapped in insecure work.

“Workers should not have to choose between paying the rent and buying food, they should be able to take sick leave and plan their future. We need structural change to put an end to worker exploitation and a new debate about productivity and flexibility that workers can actually be part of,” he said.

It is a theme that was also picked up Dave Oliver.

“There is now recognition in the broad community that something needs to be done to restore a universal right to things such as sick and annual leave that were once considered a basic part of the Australian ‘fair go’,” he said.

“In 2013, union members will be campaigning for real and lasting changes in federal laws and practices at the workplace to improve the rights of casuals, contractors and labour hire workers.”

For Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, the highpoint of 2012 was the passage through Parliament of significant shipping reforms after a 17-year campaign.

“Already the Australian shipping sector is seeing signs of revitalisation and we are seeing more foreign ships decide to operate with full Australian crews as a result,” he said.

He predicts that productivity drivers, penalty rates, union governance, good faith bargaining, guest labour and compulsory arbitration were likely to be big issues in 2013.

“Superannuation fund investment in infrastructure through both direct investment and bonds will become a dominant feature of policy development in the area of capital productivity,” he said.

For the Australian Services Union’s National Secretary David Smith there was a clear-cut highlight in 2012: Fair Work Australia’s decision in February to award pay equity to 150,000 social and community sector workers.

Along with fighting to protect and defend members’ pay, conditions and rights, the ASU will be campaigning alongside the Finance Sector Union against offshoring.

“Through our Secure Jobs Secure Data campaign, which will be heightened in 2013, we will urge the Federal Government to act on our claims protecting jobs and sensitive personal data from being offshored, and thereby preserving Australia’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace,” Smith said.

“Already the Australian shipping sector is seeing signs of revitalisation,” says MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.

Lee Thomas, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, said the highlight of her year was the successful enterprise bargaining campaign by the ANF’s Victorian branch.

“Thousands of community supporters got behind the campaign to save nurse to patient ratios in Victorian hospitals and maintain safe patient care,” she said.

Thomas’ big hope for the 2013 election year is that both the Government and Opposition will make commitments to improving health, particularly to fix the graduate nurse crisis.

Senator Doug Cameron - 2012 summary

It has been a momentous year with the government continuing to pass important legislation on climate change, anti-dumping, and manufacturing support.  We have ensured that those who least can afford it are not subsidising the health insurance payments of the wealthiest Australians.  We have also abolished the Australian Building and Construction Commission and despite hysterical opposition from the mining industry and the Coalition we introduced a Minerals Resources Rent Tax.

The government has an ambitious reform programme for 2013 including aged care, the national disability insurance scheme and the Gonski education reforms.  These are initiatives designed to build a good society, a society where the strong help the weak and the rich help the poor.  This broad based policy of reform will need to be articulated to the broader community and a fiscal program designed to make the programmes real.

I have been on the public record on many occasions opposing a budget surplus fetish and arguing against fiscal austerity which results in important programmes being "prioritised" in an effort to meet the political promise of a budget surplus.  I am opposed to a surplus at the expense of the jobs of loyal public servants or decent conditions for new start recipients.  I am opposed to our overseas aid budget being diminished on the altar of a budget surplus .We are one of the richest nations in the world with one of the highest standards of living.  This fact stands in sharp contrast to the reality of Australians who rely on the Newstart allowance depending on charity to survive.

I have no problem with responsible economic management.  Nevertheless, consigning our fellow Australians to poverty for the sake of a budget surplus and an unproven theory that imposing poverty will motivate people to work is inconsistent with the values that Labor has built itself upon.

Funding our ambitious social programme and ensuring fairness and equity from Newstart recipients requires a reassessment of the tax base.  No government can meet the expectation by the Australian public of Scandinavian level social services while we continue to be the fifth lowest taxing country in the OECD.

I have argued for a widening and deepening of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the implementation of a Financial Transaction Tax, checks and balances on the use of Super Trusts by the richest and most powerful people in the country, and modest increases in tax through hypothecated taxes where taxpayers contribute to the education Gonski reforms, the National Disability Insurance Scheme And Aged Care Reforms.

Modest Hypothecated taxes mean that taxpayers understand how much they are contributing to important social benefits relating to building a good society.  These are debates that will not go away and I look forward to additional voices being raised on these issues in 2013.  The continued clamour for reduced business tax, and an increase to the GST will not deliver a world class public education system, care for aged Australians, and support for those with disabilities.

In addition to the economic debate, the plight of asylum seekers must be addressed through humane policies and approaches.  There must be recognition that unless living standards can be lifted around our region then there is inevitability that economic refugees will join asylum-seekers in an attempt to achieve a better life in Australia.  The conditions in Australia’s detention centres are unacceptable.  Our international reputation is being demeaned as a result of our treatment of refugees. The government must continue to strive for a regional framework, under the auspices of the UNHCR which give refugees hope for the future.

The government's decision to abstain from the United Nations vote on observer status for Palestine is a small step forward in recognizing the inviolable right of the Palestinian people to have their own state under a two state solution in the Middle East.  I am extremely proud to have played a small role in moving the government from a 'No' vote to an abstention and look forward to the day when Palestine achieves full recognition in a peaceful Middle East with peaceful coexistence with Israel.

I would have many New Year wishes but one of my wishes would be to have genuine progress towards increased democracy within the ALP.  The allegations being made against former New South Wales Labor ministers are extremely serious and a blight on the party.

Ray Gietzelt: SMH Obituary

Bob Hawke and Ray Gietzelt - 1984

AFL-CIO: US Millionaires' sense of entitlement

Yet again, Republicans are proposing to wrap the rich in a blanket of more tax cuts while pushing working families out in the cold.

The new plan from House Speaker John Boehner and his extremist friends makes it clear they have no problem harming the economy to get their way. They want to extend tax cuts on income between $250,000 and $1 million a year—which would benefit millionaires as well. In fact, about half of the Boehner tax cut would go to millionaires.

And to make things worse, Boehner has been talking to President Obama about cutting Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs), which are especially important to keep inflation from eating away the benefits that seniors and people with disabilities depend on.

The Republicans' zealous support for making the rest of us pay for tax cuts for the richest 2% isn’t new—and neither are the benefit cuts proposed in Speaker Boehner’s plan.

The proposal by Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell and other extreme lawmakers to cut COLAs by changing the COLA formula would make it less accurate—an idea that more than 250 economists have said there is "no empirical basis" for doing.1

Unfortunately, this change isn’t just something we’d see on paper. It would have real consequences for working families, particularly for the oldest beneficiaries of Social Security. The older and more vulnerable you are, the worse your benefits will be cut under Boehner’s proposal. And it will hit those with disabilities even more.

For people who count on Social Security benefits for a large share of their income, it would mean less money for the prescriptions they need, for groceries, for their mortgages.

It's time for President Obama, your member of the House of Representatives Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Joe Manchin to hold firm against these out-of-whack policies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MUA: Fremantle Port - Job Security Win

MUA members have emerged from the Fremantle Port strike with a level of job security that previously did not exist.

The MUA's Assistant Branch Secretary in WA, Will Tracey, said a good outcome for workers and after weeks of uncertainty and planned industrial action, success had been achieved.

"MUA members are pleased to be back at work  – the only disappointment being that the Fremantle Port Authority could have agreed to these outcomes on Sunday and avoided industrial action altogether," Will Tracey said.

"With the assistance of Fair Work Australia, we were able to achieve an outcome that provided the workers with the level of job security needed.

"The workers have accepted a commitment from the Fremantle Port Authority that if there is to be privatisation leading to outsourcing or redundancies, compulsory arbitration would occur.

"We are also holding Troy Buswell to his word that privatisation is not on the cards."

Industrial action had been delayed to allow for Christmas stock to arrive and was only pursued as an action of last resort after repeated failures of the Port Authority to agree to provide job security in the event of privatisation.

Industrial action commenced on Monday at 5.30am and was ended late last night after a negotiated outcome was reached. Members voted to return back to work this morning.

Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre

The Arabana people have convinced the Geographical Names Unit to recognise the ancient name of Kati Thanda.

The often-dry saltpan will now have the dual name Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

Arabana Aboriginal Corporation chair Aaron Stuart said the ancient name had travelled with the generations.

"Our elders may have passed away, but we remember them and the name they used for the lake," he said.

"It was our ancestors who lived there when Edward John Eyre first saw the lake in 1840."

He said the recognition meant a great deal.

"Great acts done like this within states and territories for the Aboriginal people and for all Australians proves to the rest of the world us as a nation are really going forward," he said.

Arabana Aboriginal Corporation director Paul Tanner said the outback region in northern South Australia had been known as Kati Thanda for much longer than as Lake Eyre and the recognition was welcome.

Bill Watt from the Geographical Names Unit said it was hoped the dual titles would boost awareness of the vast region's Aboriginal heritage.

"We're quite happy for people in general conversation to use either one of the two names or both together," he said.

"We do like to see in all official publications the name spelt out in full."

According to the traditional owners, "the lake was created by our ancestors and arises from an ancestor, at the end of a long journey, spreading a white kangaroo skin on the landscape which formed the lake".


Meanwhile a conference in Adelaide has been warned the spectacle of a brimming lake could become a memory if the Queensland Government proceeds with a plan to open up the rivers to irrigation and mining uses.

The Government wants to remove wild rivers legislation that covers the three rivers.

Queensland grazier Angus Emmott warned South Australians should be concerned.

"The monsoonal influence across Queensland is what provides most of the water to Lake Eyre," he said.

"If we reduce that over time, there'll be less water going into the lake less often and the ecological processes won't work as well, but the eco-tourism benefits to South Australia will be strongly affected as well."

A director of the Pew Environment Group Barry Traill said a new approach to managing the river system could wreck one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet.

"Up to now local graziers, Aboriginal people, conservationists have been successful in saying 'No, these rivers are natural, they're very, very important for people, for wildlife, they need to be protected'. So it's of great concern that the Queensland Government is considering removing that protection," he said.

"I hope that the Queensland Government will listen. This is one the great iconic river systems of Australia, one of the most beautiful parts of the outback and it should be protected permanently."

Outrage at O'Farrell's Helicopter Harbour

O'Farrell's proposed floating helipad will be in the middle of the harbour, servicing up to eight flights an hour, it was revealed at an explosive meeting in North Sydney on Monday night.

The barge, which will carry two helipads, has already been approved by the state government and has a 12-month licence. It will be 37 metres long and 12 metres wide and be situated about 500 metres east of Fort Denison and 600 metres from the closest residence, the meeting heard.

Each helipad has the capability to service four ''quiet technology'' helicopters an hour, the owner of Newcastle Helicopters, James Guest, told the packed meeting at the North Sydney Council chambers.

But residents were irate. They demanded to be told why they had not been consulted and how it would affect their suburbs.

The mayor of North Sydney, Jilly Gibson, told the jeering audience she had only been informed of the plan three weeks ago, while many of the residents had only been told in recent days.There were calls for government inquiries and noise demonstrations, other residents saying the helipad would only service ''cashed-up clients of the casino'' and that ''it would destroy the livability of Sydney''.

One resident, Leigh Fincke, from Cremorne, asked what they could do to stop the helipad, saying the harbour had enough tourist attractions. Kirribilli resident John Molyneux, a former pilot, said it would be impossible to reduce the helicopter noise to an acceptable level.

Mr Guest said it was a ''very difficult'' meeting.

''We were expecting them to be angry but they were not taking on the factual information we were providing,'' he said.

Promoted as a tourism opportunity by the Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, the audacious idea has made it through several loopholes because the heliport sits on the water instead of land.

''These pontoons will be landing areas, not aerodromes, which is why they don't need approval,'' a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Peter Gibson, said.

The state government took two months to approve the heliport, after receiving the application from Newcastle Helicopters on September 11.

There are no limits on how many helicopters can fly in and out of the harbour every day, the Office of the Environment and Heritage confirmed.

Newcastle Helicopters says it wants to run as many as 20 flights a day and other operators will be using the heliport too.

The government has not prepared an environmental impact statement for the heliport despite concerns about noise and the impact on protected species around the harbour.

The government did not consult with any of the harbourside councils whose residents may be affected by helicopter noise.

Vic: Baillieu challenged on bans

The decision to ban Lend Lease from Victorian government work could end up in the courts, with senior lawyers saying the builder would have a serious legal claim, while unions have also flagged a challenge.

CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan attacked the decision and said it would reduce competition and was an attempt to appease right-wing forces in the Liberal Party.

He said the union was yet to see a decision from the Victorian government but would look at it ''with a view to ensuring the rights of our members are properly protected''.

Building unions believe the government's code is vulnerable to legal challenge. The state code allows the government to ban builders from bidding for government-funded work if they sign deals with unions that do not comply. The rules, which took effect from July, apply to deals signed in the private and public sectors.

The Lend Lease deal includes a number of likely breaches, including the flying of union flags, restrictions on outside labour and dictating the minimum pay rates of sub-contractors. Lend Lease subsidiaries such as Abigroup and Baulderstone could also be banned from July 1 next year.

Opposition spokesman for industrial relations, Tim Pallas, labelled the policy full of ''dross and irrelevance''. ''You don't get productivity when you don't have work, and this government has failed to provide employment opportunity by getting on with the job and providing the construction industry with the capacity to go about its business and build things,'' he said.

Corrs workplace relations group head Val Gostencnik said Lend Lease would have a ''seriously arguable'' case as it had signed a deal that is allowed under federal law. By the state refusing to engage it, that could be a breach of the Fair Work Act's general protections provisions.

University of Adelaide law expert Andrew Stewart has previously said the code could be vulnerable to challenge under the Fair Work Act.

Read more

Tas: Stand for the Tarkine

The Tarkine is an amazing wilderness area containing majestic ancient rainforest, outstanding Aboriginal heritage and crucial habitat for over 60 rare, threatened and endangered species – including the last remaining disease free strongholds for the Tasmanian devil.

But right now the Tarkine is under unprecedented threat from proposed Pilbara-style open cut mining. Despite months of attempts to secure negotiations on an compromise options, have been blocked by a Tasmanian Government unwilling to give any ground and the Tasmanian Minerals Council refusing to participate. And to add to this, the Commonwealth Government has removed national Heritage protections and handed the assessment process to the Tasmanian Government – who arguably have the worst record on compromising environmental assessments in the nation.

Unfortunately that leaves us nowhere to go but to launch a major public action campaign.

Fortunately, we know Australia is ready to stand loudly and strongly for the Tarkine.

We expect the first mine permits to be granted this summer, and so over the next few months we will be building the campaign momentum ready for an expected public action campaign reminicent of the Franklin River campaign.

Monday, December 17, 2012

MUA: Fremantle Port Authority dispute

The Fremantle Port Authority has rejected a last minute offer from the MUA to call off a strike due to commence at 5:30am on Monday 17 December.

After months of negotiations, Fremantle Port Authority workers are seeking assurance that any privatisation of port operations will not see the currently workforce sacked en mass.

Will Tracey, Assistant WA State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia said: "There are no pay and conditions issues in this dispute. The only argument left is what happens if the government privatises. People with 20, 30, 40 years of service at the port deserve a fair go if Mr Buswell plans to sell.

“Troy Buswell has previously promised he won’t privatise, and this clause only matters if they privatise. The MUA has made fresh offers to the Port and State Government to resolve the dispute.

“We’ve promised to negotiate in good faith regarding redundancies in the case they privatise. We’ve offered to keep working and let Fair Work Australia, the independent umpire, decide.

“Troy Buswell has done everything he can to escalate this dispute to the point where we have no alternate but to strike to protect the jobs of workers," Mr Tracey said.

“Troy Buswell has done everything he can to create a dispute where there isn’t one. If Troy was concentrating on affairs of state, rather than his own affairs, this strike wouldn’t be happening.

"When we were in Fair Work Australia, the Government said they wouldn’t sign the agreement and refused to explain why. FWA Commissioner Cloghan was highly unimpressed by their behaviour and said the Government preferred to see this dispute governed by 'the law of the jungle' rather than through a calm arbitration process.

“The Barnett Government was happy to agree to this clause during negotiations with health workers but they refuse to apply the same job security to dock workers.

"Port workers are ready to sign the final deal - all conditions have been agreed to except the issue of security of employment in the case of privatisation.

"Here we are a week from Christmas and Mr Buswell is refusing to let these workers know that they will have a job to rely on - many of whom have served for decades at the port.

"Port workers have negotiated in good faith for months, delaying industrial action to allow Christmas presents to arrive. All we ask is that these workers can go home to their families this Christmas and say their jobs won't be lost under a privatised port.

“Troy Buswell is the only one who wants this strike, and the West Australian people should be asking him why."

Herald/Nielsen poll: Abbott still sliding south

The AWU slush fund attack appears to have backfired on the opposition, driving Tony Abbott's popularity to historic lows. But the Coalition would still easily win a federal election, according to the latest Herald/Nielsen poll.

The poll shows Labor holding, but not building on, its end-of-year political recovery - trailing the Coalition 52 per cent to 48 in two party-preferred terms.

Of the 75 per cent of voters who said they were aware of the AWU allegations about the conduct of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, when she was a lawyer 20 years ago, 64 per cent said they disapproved of the way Mr Abbott had handled the issue. This included 46 per cent of his Liberal National Party voters.

Tony Abbott's popularity among voters has fallen once again, with the AWU affair apparently backfiring on the opposition leader.

The ferocious end-of-year attack over the affair - in which the Coalition was unable to prove allegations of illegal behaviour by Ms Gillard but still demanded she resign - coincides with Mr Abbott's disapproval rate climbing to 63 per cent, a record for him and the second highest in Nielsen poll history.

After a year dominated by political scandal, Mr Abbott's approval rating fell 2 points to 34 per cent in the poll, taken from Thursday to Saturday, and his disapproval rating rose 3 points.
Ms Gillard now has a 10-point lead over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, with Ms Gillard preferred by 50 per cent of voters (down 1) and Mr Abbott by 40 per cent (down 2).

''His handling of the AWU matter has not helped his position and may be part of the reason his approval has further declined,'' said Nielsen director John Stirton.

Despite Mr Abbott's record unpopularity, the Coalition has 43 per cent of the primary vote - slightly lower than it polled in the 2010 election - and 51 per cent of the two party-preferred vote. It would win an election on a two party-preferred swing of about 2 per cent, based on preference flows at the 2010 election.

If preferences are instead calculated by how respondents say they will allocate them, the gap between the parties is narrower, with the Coalition on 51 per cent and Labor on 49.

Labor ends the year in an uncertain position. It has maintained its recovery from its disastrous midyear polls, with its primary vote now 35 per cent, up from the low of 26 per cent before the carbon tax was introduced in July. But it does not appear to be gaining momentum.

''Labor's holding its recovery, it's real, and there is no evidence here that it has reversed. But it has slowed, and it is too early to say whether it will continue,'' Mr Stirton said.

Read more

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Qld: Unions vow to continue fight

Despite the unsuccessful legal challenge Queensland's public servants will be fighting Campbell Newman's government's dangerous and extreme job cut agenda in 2013, the union of public sector workers said today.

“Today’s decision is disappointing but not unexpected in light of the High Court decision about bargaining in New South Wales earlier this week,” said Together Secretary Alex Scott.

“The final ruling on public servants’ rights at work will be made in the court of public opinion,” he said.

“We welcome an early decision in this matter as it removes the last obstacle of legal uncertainty which might have prevented the Commonwealth parliament considering a legislative response to Campbell Newman’s attacks on our hospitals and TAFE colleges.

"Over 25000 people have signed a petition calling for a Senate inquiry. Every day we see community support for public servants and public services growing. Queenslanders know that this government has gone too far with their radical ideological agenda.

“We will be redoubling our efforts to work with the community over the Christmas break to build more community pressure to ensure next year's Senate inquiry recommends a legislative response to Canberra's politicians,” Mr Scott said.

Eddie Mabo's Dream for Murray Islands

In a historic and emotional ceremony, the Queensland government yesterday handed the century-old "reserve" title over Eddie Mabo's beloved Murray Islands - of Mer, Dauar and Waier - to the Meriam people.

For many of the 440 residents, the transfer from state to communal ownership of the islands, on the eastern edge of the Torres Strait, is as important as the High Court's Mabo decision proved to be for them and the wider indigenous community two decades ago. Malcolm Mabo, son of the campaigner, travelled back to Mer with his sister Betty to participate in the ceremony with the island's eight clans, whose ancient land inheritance custom is central to their culture and was decisive in securing the 1992 native title victory.

Betty had tears in her eyes as Malcolm said his father would have been "very pleased" with the Meriam people finally "getting their land back".

"Today is the realisation of Dad's dream. Native title was important for him and for all indigenous people because it recognised our traditional ties and custom, and gave the right to negotiate over use of the land. But this is about ownership, control over our lands, so that we can start to use land for enterprise, to develop an economic future. It is a stepping stone to autonomy, it is what Dad spoke about when we were kids, what he fought for in the courts," Malcolm said.

The Mabo decision - delivered five months after Mabo's death, at age 56 - overturned the concept of terra nullius and, for the first time, secured recognition of native title over the Murray Islands, paving the way for claims across the nation.

Despite the celebrated legal win, the Meriam people have since had less control over their lands than most other indigenous communities around the country.

Since 1912, the Meriam people have had to seek approval of a state departmental boss in Brisbane if they wanted to build anything - homes, toilet block - because the sub-tropical islands were among the few communities still set aside as "reserve" under trusteeship of the state.

Across Queensland, most communities exist under Deed of Grant in Trust, where the locally elected councils decide the use of the land. Now the Murray Islanders' registered native title body corporate - Mer Gedkem Le - owns the communal title and will make those decisions.

Doug Passi, chairman of the body corporate, who served as an interpreter during the decade-long fight, said there was no reason why a community that had had a "system in place" for thousands of years to handle disputes, should have to seek state approval to make a decision.

"We just want to run our own affairs," Mr Passi said after the ceremony, attended by several hundred locals and which ended with a performance by traditional dancers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mal Brough becomes Abbott's problem

Abbot and Brough
Mal Brough is Tony Abbott's Problem

Neil Mitchell Radio 3AW

The court has found that former minister Mal Brough was in the middle of setting up James Ashby the staffer to lay complaints of sexual harassment against Slipper for political mileage to help the liberal national coalition.

Now, I don't know if it is right. There is talk of an appeal but Tony Abbott needs to act regardless.

This doesn't save Peter Slipper.

He resigned because of some of the sleazy and disgusting comments he made about women in his text messages.

They still stand, he did that and was right to resign. But, he is not found to have sexually harassed Ashby and to an extent he is vindicated.

But he is also exposed as a grubby sort of bloke who should not be speaker.

But, Tony Abbott’s problem: Mal Brough is a key man.

Was he in it? Well, Abbott should find out. He should appoint party elders, whoever to investigate it and report whether Mal Brough acted improperly.

Whether he did set this up as a dirty political trick.

If he did, he should lose pre-selection. If he didn’t, get on with it.

This is a problem for Abbott and as I say I don’t know party rules allow it. But he should be seen leading strongly on this, he has gone after Julia Gillard for her credibility and integrity.

Now he faces a test himself. He must show that Brough has clean hands or dump him. Tony Abbott must lead here and lead strongly.

ABC News

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Tony Abbott and the opposition are rolling "in filth'' and must come clean over their role in the Peter Slipper affair.

In her first public comments about the failed sexual harassment case against the former speaker, Ms Gillard also called on LNP figure Mal Brough to front the press gallery at Parliament House in Canberra.

She accused Mr Abbott of using "weasel'' and "fudge'' words to hide his prior knowledge of the case against Mr Slipper.

"Mr Abbott has to extract himself and his political party from the filth they're rolling in,'' she told ABC radio on Friday.

"And the only way of doing that will be by coming clean.''

SBS News

In her first public comments since Justice Steven Rares rejected the case as abuse of process aimed at "pursuing a political attack against Mr Slipper" and named Mr Brough, Ms Gillard challenged Mr Abbott on Friday to explain himself.

Justic Rares said Mr Ashby had worked in "combination" with Mr Brough - a former Howard government minister - and another person when commencing the proceedings "in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough".

Speaking in London, Mr Abbott insisted he had no "specific knowledge" of Mr Ashby's claims until the news broke on April 21.

"Mr Abbott is using weasel words to avoid answering very simple questions," Ms Gillard told ABC radio on Friday.

"Mr Abbott ... now needs to come clean about the mess his political party is mired in following this adverse judgement from the Federal Court."

Ms Gillard said Mr Brough and any other coalition member with knowledge of the matter also needed to come forward.

The Liberal leader is standing by Mr Brough, who worked alongside Mr Abbott in the last coalition government, saying he has been transparent about his role in the Ashby case.

Ms Gillard said Mr Brough had been "anything but transparent" and had used the case to try to change the balance of power in federal parliament.

But one senior Liberal figure believes Mr Brough has questions to answer.

Asked on Sky on Thursday night whether Mr Brough was "damaged politically", Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos said, "He's got some questions to answer."

Education Minister Peter Garrett told reporters in Sydney shadow attorney general George Brandis had "serious questions to answer" in relation to the matter.

"The person who now has to answer serious questions is the shadow attorney general, Senator Brandis," Mr Garrett said.

"He was the one that made a call in this case when he shouldn't have. He's the one who needs to answer the questions now because it's clearly been an abuse of process and the court has found accordingly."

Qld. Nurses : Enough is Enough


CFMEU: Sydney crane checks

Last month's near disaster involving a burning, collapsing crane on Broadway has resulted in suspect cranes across Sydney being shut down until thorough independent inspections are carried out.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) state secretary Brian Parker, who described the November 27 accident as a "major embarrassment", said he was waiting for answers after a roundtable discussion with WorkCover about plans to improve safety regulations.

"We put a document on the table that stated clearly the safest steps for the checking of cranes going right through to inspection of the tensions on to the initial commissioning of the cranes," Mr Parker said.

"We had a meeting with members of the construction industry where our proposals for safety inspections every 12 months with a rego-like sticker on approval by an independent engineer were endorsed by the majority of the room.

"We are not going to sit around on our hands and wait for it and we expect virtually every crane in the Sydney CBD to be shut down and inspected by independent engineers.

"Self regulations have gone too far and accidents like the one at UTS are an example."

Since Mr Parker's call to action all four of the cranes at the Central Park development in Chippendale were shut down and independently inspected. Three have since been reactivated.

A WorkCover spokesman said third-party checks on cranes was an option.

"During the meeting it was agreed that crane operators as a priority must undertake fire prevention and control measures, and review their evacuation procedures and systems," the spokesman said.

"The Industry Plant Consultative Committee was also tasked with reviewing existing risk control advice and industry practice, including independent crane pre-assembly and pre-use inspection systems. The Committee will meet later this month to discuss these issues as well as the possible third party verification of cranes in NSW.

"The outcomes of the Roundtable are designed to secure the safety and security of workers and the public in relation to use of tower cranes at construction sites."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

80% say mining companies should employ locals first

4 in 5 say mining companies should employ locals first
Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mine rejected as model

An overwhelming majority of Australians believe mining companies should be required to prove they have thoroughly explored options to employ Australians before being permitted to import temporary foreign workers, independent national polling commissioned by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union shows.

 80% agree that mining companies should have to prove that they have thoroughly searched for Australian workers before being permitted to import temporary foreign workers (against 6% who disagree)

56% of Australians disapprove of the EMA that allows the Roy Hill iron ore project to import 1,715 temporary foreign workers (against 14% who approve)

70% of Australians agree that a tripartite committee - consisting of regulators, employers and unions – should oversee all EMAs (against 8% who disagree)

 CFMEU Construction National Secretary, Dave Noonan said the results demonstrate the depth of the public feeling on the issue.

 “Four in five Australians want employers to prove they have looked for local workers before being granted permission to bring over guest labour,” Mr Noonan said.

 “These numbers show us that a significant majority are opposed to the deal granted to Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill and want much stronger controls and regulation on the use of imported labour.

 “Ms Rinehart may dream of a ‘Wild North’ in which mining magnates can fly in exploitable temporary foreign workers at will, but the overwhelming majority of Australians are simply not buying it. They want strict controls on EMAs and independent oversight.

 “70 per cent of Australians want to see a tripartite committee – consisting of regulators, employers and unions – to oversee EMAs. The Government must take heed.  Despite some aggressive spruiking from the powerful few who want to further weaken restrictions on guest workers, the overwhelming majority of Australians want them tightened.

 “There are still astounding profits being generated by the Australian mining and mine construction sector. Those who are profiting from the nation’s natural resources have a responsibility to assist in training and employing Australians. These results only add to the impetus of our ‘Let’s spread it around’ campaign. We are determined to see ordinary Australians share in the benefits of the mining boom.

Poll details
The poll was conducted by independent research firm Your Source, and used a demographically controlled sample of 1,021 Australians.
(Polling conducted between 20/11/12 and 25/11/12)


Solar partnership with United States

The Federal Government has announced an $83 million solar research program in partnership with the United States.

The eight-year project will bring together six Australian universities, the CSIRO and the US department of energy.

Its aim is to create new technology that will reduce the cost of solar power.

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says it is the biggest solar energy research investment in Australia's history.

"The funding will see the establishment of two strategic research initiatives, the $33m US-Australia Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics and the $35m Australian Thermal Research Initiative," Mr Ferguson said.

"These initiatives will accelerate solar technology development faster than either country could do working alone."

US-Australian Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics director Martin Green told Radio National this morning that Australia was leading the world in development of cheaper, better photovoltaics, the technology used in most solar panels.

"Australia is essentially providing the technology that has driven down the price of solar dramatically in the past four years," he said.

"We will be looking at ways at taking (photovoltaic) efficiency well beyond 25 per cent, perhaps to something like 40 per cent."

The project will also research solar-thermal power, which involves using mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays to boil water for turbines.

CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre manager Wes Stein says Australian research is creating better storage for solar-thermal power and smaller-scale technologies, which are driving down the cost.

"I would see solar-thermal being one of the lowest-cost forms of clean energy in the world in about 10 years' time," he said.

However, Beyond Zero Emissions executive director Matthew Wright says the project needs to look at real-world applications to compete with other clean energy leaders, including China.

"While we are busy with a bunch of nerds in the lab, (China) has got their nerds in the lab complemented by real commercial deployment, and that's how you advance an industry and create a renewable sector," he said.

UK: Finucane cover up continues

A UK government report on collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane which published its findings today was branded a sham and a whitewash by his widow.

Mr Finucane was shot 14 times by loyalist paramilitaries in his home in 1989 just weeks after former Home Office minister Douglas Hogg claimed in the Commons that he had been briefed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that some Northern Ireland solicitors were "unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA."

The murder has long been regarded as one of the most infamous of the Troubles and one of the clearest examples of security force collusion.

The Finucane family have demanded a full independent inquiry into the killing.

But the coalition reneged on a pledge by the previous administration and commissioned a review of the evidence by Sir Desmond de Silva QC instead - the report of which was published today.

Following the publication Prime Minister David Cameron rejected calls for an inquiry yet again, despite saying that Mr de Silva had presented evidence of "shocking" levels of collusion.

Mr Cameron said the report clearly showed that British state agents had "actively furthered and facilitated the murder."

But the report stopped short of laying any blame at the government's door and said that there was "no over-arching conspiracy."

Mr Finucane's widow Geraldine, who was injured in the attack, told a London press conference: "This report is not the truth."

Slipper Court Decision - "A Planned Attack"

THE sexual harassment case against Peter Slipper by his one-time aide James Ashby was a planned attack carried out with the intention of severely damaging the former Speaker's reputation, and enhancing Mr Ashby's own career, a judge has found.

In dismissing the case as an abuse of the judicial process, Justice Steven Rares said it was a political attack devised by Mr Ashby in combination with fellow Slipper aide Karen Doane and with the assistance of the former minister Mal Brough and Mr Ashby's solicitor, Michael Harmer.

Mr Ashby had claimed he was the target of ''unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature'' while working as Mr Slipper's aide and media adviser between January and March this year.

Justice Rares found that while some of Mr Slipper's actions, such as text messages suggesting they might have a ''closer relationship'' could be considered harassment, Mr Ashby did not experience them in this way.

He referred to a series of text message exchanges that Mr Ashby had with friends before commencing court proceedings, which he found were notably lacking in ''any complaint by him of feeling sexually harassed''.''Rather, they read as if the participants were discussing the political ramifications of Mr Ashby revealing material that was sexually and politically embarrassing and that would compromise Mr Slipper and his position as Speaker,'' Justice Rares said.

He also referred to a series of admonishing text messages Mr Ashby sent to Mr Slipper, which appeared to debunk the claim the adviser was unable to stand up to his boss because of a ''significant power imbalance''.

By March 29, Justice Rares said, Mr Ashby and Ms Doane had decided the former would make allegations of sexual harassment in legal proceedings against Mr Slipper and would assist Mr Brough and the News Ltd journalist Steve Lewis to ''damage Mr Slipper in the public eye and political arena with any information they could find''.

At the same time, Ms Doane and Mr Ashby had begun talking to Mr Brough about new job opportunities they believed would open up to them following the LNPs resounding victory in the Queensland election.

Justice Rares found that on April 20, Mr Harmer, of Harmers Workplace Lawyers, filed an originating application on his client's behalf that contained irrelevant and spurious allegations, the sole purpose of which was to damage Mr Slipper politically.

This included allegations that Mr Slipper had engaged in criminal activity by giving three blank Cabcharge vouchers to the ''driver of a vehicle'', and allegations that he sexually harassed a junior worker in 2003.

''The makers of the Cabcharge allegations were anxious to wound but afraid to strike,'' Justice Rares said.
''Importantly, by filing the originating application in the Court, Mr Ashby, Mr Harmer and Harmers made the allegations it contained under absolute privilege.
''The purpose that Mr Ashby and Mr Harmer had in including them in the originating application was to further damage Mr Slipper in the public eye and politically.''

The inclusion of these irrelevant allegations was central to Justice Rares' determination that the case as a whole was an abuse of process because they demonstrated that Mr Ashby and his solicitors had filed the claim with an improper purpose.

He dismissed the sexual harassment claim and ordered Mr Ashby to pay his opponent's legal costs.

Read more 

In May, Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr came under fire for suggesting Mr Ashby was "more rehearsed than a kabuki actor". Today he has described that as a "modest understatement".

"This has been a conspiracy, it has been a set up, and as the judge found, it was all directed at changing the government of Australia," he told ABC Radio National.

And he said one of the disappointing outcomes of the court case had been that it has created the wrong impression of valid sexual harassment claims.

"To take an issue that can be traumatic for people in a workplace relationship is reckless," he said.

"By undermining that, it has done great harm, and I think the Government's got to seriously consider what it does now in response to that savage finding by the judge in this case.

"Tony Abbott has got a great deal of explaining to do about the level of Coalition leadership involvement in what the judge found was a cynical political exercise to change the government of Australia."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Goreng Goreng v Santos

Santos GLNG employs thousands of workers at its massive gas project on Curtis Island but local Goreng Goreng elder Malcolm Walker says Goreng Goreng people are being overlooked for jobs and training.

"We signed a deal with Santos, Santos [has] given us a commitment for 300 people on the island - we're still waiting," he said.
"What they're doing is bringing in outsiders and putting them on their books saying they're honouring the deals they've signed with us.

Mr Walker says the company failed to properly advise the Indigenous community while negotiating a land use agreement.

"We were never given the advice as to what they were doing - I mean the whole terms" he said.
"Up to this point we've got no engagement - I think it's about them getting away from their responsibilities as corporate citizens."

He says the community has raised the issue with the companies.

"I've been speaking with Petronas [a Santos GLNG shareholder] and every time you take it up the line about benefits or opportunities they say, 'well this is not our position, our position is here that's Santos' responsibility'," he said.
"It's just the old passing the buck."

Union backing

The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) and 17 of its affiliates are backing the Indigenous community.
It has agreed to assist the Goreng Goreng community during future negotiations and yesterday signed a 'social compact' with the group.
QCU spokesman Ron Monaghan says large companies are neglecting their obligations.
"It is increasingly obvious that companies enjoying the benefits of Australia's rich regional natural resources are doing very little to advance the opportunities for the traditional owners" he said.
Electrical Trades Union representative Craig Giddins says the agreement will result in stronger agreements.
"It means union expertise, influence and knowledge will be a key component in Aboriginal Australians' dealings with large and powerful commercial entities and government organisations," he said.

GFC shows - Bosses can't run the show

Rhiannon Carter, Strategic Research Officer at the ACTU, writes

The one thing that I have noticed from the crises that have befallen the global economy and many domestic economies around the world in recent years is the welcome absence of rhetoric around greedy or out-of-control unions being to blame. At the height of the crisis it was the big end of town facing the heat and the blame.

The blame for the spectacular failure of the market in the United States, in Britain, in Europe and elsewhere cannot and should not be placed at the feet of labour and its representatives. It was not unions standing in the way of business that pushed the United States to the fiscal cliff it now is precariously perched at.

The reason for this is not necessarily good news for unions: the decline in union density and power has meant that the voices and views of labour have become increasingly marginalised.

But this dark cloud has a potential silver lining. It shows that the instability of the market, the crisis that has occurred is not the fault of workers or unions. It has predominately been the fault of business leaders, regulators and perhaps even the system they have created. Those at the top have been the ones causing problems for those at the bottom – not the other way around.

These events should spark reflection in those commentators who insist so fervently that unions were the cause of economic woes in the 1970s and 1980s, that greedy workers and unions with too much power were the ones constraining business and governments from making sound economic decisions. Given the current state of affairs in the global economy, it should make us question that logic, perhaps if that blame has been placed elsewhere we wouldn’t be in this current mess.

Given this situation it is to my dismay when I see in the media today the return of rhetoric claiming that it is unions and ordinary working people that are a threat.

Workers and unions did not cause the Global Financial Crisis and any attempt to try to push anti-union, anti-worker measures now linking them to the fallout from the crisis is false and self-serving on the behalf of conservatives. The claims led by the ACTU for a pay rise for the lowest paid workers every year is met with cries of dismay from many sections of the business community, it seems commentators are quick to forget it was the highest paid that helped to throw global economies into crisis.

Somehow the focus is shifting - now paying enough to the more than 1.4 million workers who are Award-reliant to enable them to keep up with inflation is a central threat to our economy. Not the financial institutions that recklessly invested money that required bailing out, not businesses who found the money to reward their executives with obscene amounts of money in pay and bonuses and even more in golden handshakes when they were ousted from their positions when stock prices faltered and they were laying off staff.

It is the same when the issue of insecure work is discussed; again the business lobby and conservative elements are trying to characterise the attempt to ensure that all workers have access to secure jobs as greedy unions trying to destroy flexibility and productivity.

If the Global Financial Crisis has taught us anything it should be that unions are not the problem, nor are workers. And more to the point they have never been the problem, this rhetoric should not be making a return to our national discussion, while criticisms of the real perpetrators fades. Asking for decent jobs and wages, asking for a measure of stability and security does not and has never been the root of economic upheaval or fiscal meltdown.

If anything worker power and unions can be a positive force in economies, ensuring that people are paid enough to live and spend, to keep workplaces and bosses accountable for their actions, assisting in educating workers and creating a positive and productive work environment.

We gave bosses a chance to run the show. It didn’t work out so well, perhaps it’s time we gave workers a chance.

Nurses Union tackles radio hoax

New South Wales Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) letter to 2DayFM:

While I appreciate that your station may well consider this incident a successful coup in terms of its news and entertainment value, and quite aside from the fact that your own Code of Practice requires that an identifiable person should not be broadcast without their permission, I would like to draw your attention to the very serious professional consequences such a stunt would have had for a nurse or midwife in the Australian context.

As regulated health professionals, Australian nurses and midwives must comply with strict professional and legal obligations in terms of patient privacy. While the nature and extent of the nurse's culpability in this situation is not clear, in the NSW context she could potentially have to respond to three separate disciplinary processes, including those conducted by her employer and other inquiries conducted by the regulating authority and the Health Care Complaints Commission.

In our role as industrial and professional representatives for NSW nurses and midwives, we deal with these processes everyday and I can assure you that they are stressful and deeply traumatic experiences for many nurses and midwives, regardless of the level of wrongdoing or the nature of the precipitating incident.

In the future I urge you to consider the personal toll such a prank could exact from a professional caregiver such as one of my members. Also, I hope I will be able to reassure my members that your station has undertaken to never again attempt to jeopardise their professional standing by perpetrating such a deception against another hardworking nurse or midwife.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association has enjoyed a very productive relationship with your company and in particular your news rooms, a large number of members also listen to your broadcasts and we trust that we will continue these positive relationships.

AMWU: Supermarkets and Rosella

AMWU Secretary Tim Ayres writes:

This barbecue season, spare a thought for your tomato sauce. Western Sydney workers who produce the Rosella brand tomato sauce got the fright of their lives when they turned up for work last week.

Receivers had moved in. They had no idea whether they'd have jobs as of the end of the day, let alone by Christmas.

When we turned up, one worker was physically sick. He had a family, he'd been made redundant before and he didn't want it to happen again.

Thankfully, it looks as though the Rosella workers will make it through, at least in the short term, as receivers work towards selling the business as a going concern.

Do we want a future where we don't have the manufacturing capacity to make our own tomato sauce using Australian-grown tomatoes and safe processing techniques? Where we rely on imported, tomato-free "ketchup"?

Or do we want a future where Australian workers produce quality food products for our own tables as well as exporting to the booming Asian market?

Australian food manufacturing is under enormous pressure from cheaper imported food products, from the high Australian dollar and from the two major supermarkets who use their market share - as much as 80 per cent of the grocery market, up from 50 per cent in the 1990s - to squeeze maximum profits from every link in the food distribution chain. NSW has shed thousands of food processing jobs over the past decade as manufacturers buckle under these pressures.

Losing food production facilities like canneries doesn't only hit jobs on the factory floor, often in regional communities, it's a blow to local food growers who lose an important market.

There are no quick fixes. We need consumers to actively seek out quality Australian-made products, or risk not having them available in future. But we shouldn't expect consumers alone to bear the cost of supporting a homegrown food industry.

We need action to curtail the supermarkets, who use their market dominance to aggressively undermine our favourite brands with cut-price private label brands.

"Home brand" products produced for the supermarkets whose market share has risen from 15 per cent to 25 per cent of supermarket sales over the last 10 years are increasingly imported. Supermarket private label brands are more than twice as likely to be made from imported produce as market-leading brands. There is a direct correlation between the increase in private label share of supermarket sales and increasing food imports.

We need a vision for a vibrant food manufacturing industry in Australia, led by government and supported by smart policy.

These should include clearer country-of-origin labelling laws so Australians can make informed choices about buying Australian; co-investment in innovation and research and development; and applying the same quality and testing standards to imported food as to food grown and processed in Australia - currently not the case.

Australia also needs to sustain and build its manufacturing industries and food is a critical part of that mix. If we put our minds to it, we can be a high-tech, high-quality food processing hub for the growing domestic market and Asian markets.

And Rosella, once it emerges from the turbulent weeks ahead, is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities.

Rosella has a range of products, including soups, curries and chutneys, and an impressive, modern processing facility in western Sydney that it would be a tragedy to lose. Rosella is about much more than nostalgia for a brand of tomato sauce.

It's about whether we're willing to step up to the challenges of building modern, sustainable manufacturing industries to propel our economy into the future.

Kyoto extension not enough

A last-minute extension of the 1997 Kyoto agreement - which limits richer countries' gas emissions and had been due to expire at the end of this year - was agreed in a 36-hour final session at the end of the two-week conference.

The US rejected the agreement in 1997 and Russia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have all refused to sign up to the extension, so the new pact only covers about 15 per cent of global emissions.

The two-decade-old climate change talks will now turn their attention to agreeing a wider-ranging treaty to take effect in 2020.

Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said the failure to agree any meaningful action to slash emissions left the world "teetering on the edge of catastrophic climate change."

He said: "Rarely has so little been achieved by so many powerful people gathered together in one place.

"Wealthy nations must shoulder the blame - they've put their short-term interests ahead of the well-being of billions of people around the globe."

And Mr Atkins warned that if climate change is left unchecked it "will cause economic mayhem that will dwarf our current financial difficulties."

Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo (pictured) agreed, branding the rate of progress "glacial."

He said European governments had lost credibility on climate change after refusing to significantly cut emissions.

And he accused the US delegation of "blocking progress on nearly every front."

But there was one small ray of hope for environmentally stricken states - rich countries agreed to provide aid for "loss and damage from climate change."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Egypt constitution crisis

President Mohammed Morsi has raised the possibility of delaying a constitutional referendum set for December 15 after tens of thousands of Egyptians protested outside the presidential palace.

Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki said Dr Morsi was willing to delay the referendum subject to conditions, including that the opposition agreed to talks and would not go to the courts seeking further delay.

Dr Morsi has also postponed the start of early voting on the constitution, signalling an attempt by his government to back down and give room for negotiations.

Opposition protesters streamed in separate marches towards the palace on Friday, breaking through barbed wire barricades to reach its walls, shouting, ''Leave, leave'', even though Dr Morsi does not live in the building.

The announcement on Friday that early voting would be postponed until December 12 came a day after Dr Morsi appealed for dialogue. He has so far made no concrete concessions to defuse the crisis.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday said the constitution included ''very worrying omissions and ambiguities'' that could mean it would be weaker than the 1971 constitution which it was to replace.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Egypt court reverses Kamal Abbas' sentence


The same court which earlier this year sentenced in absentia Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of Egypt's Center for Trade Union and Worker's Services (CTUWS) to six months imprisonment for "insulting a public officer" during the 2011 International Labour Conference in Geneva, dismissed the charges and threw out the sentence on November 25.

As the IUF put it, "The absurd sentence was based on an incident at the June 2011 International Labour Conference in Geneva, which Abbas attended as a guest of the International Trade Union Confederation. Abbas interrupted Ismael Fahmy, representing the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, when he claimed in his speech that the ETUF represented Egyptian workers."

The CTUWS has thanked all those who supported the international defense campaign and has reaffirmed its commitment to the struggle for independent trade unions in Egypt.

The LabourStart campaign demanding that the charges be dropped ended in June with nearly 7,500 messages sent to the Egyptian authorities.

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Eric Lee

Friday, December 07, 2012

ACOSS welcomes COAG’s energy price plan

ACOSS has welcomed today’s COAG agreement on tackling rising energy prices, including better resourcing of the Australian Energy Regulator, and a stronger consumer voice to challenge decisions in the energy market.

“We now call on Governments to take swift action to turn this in-principle agreement into real action to address electricity prices,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Goldie,

“Consumers have been hurt by rapid price rises over recent years, and it’s pretty clear that our current system isn’t working. Action is now needed to bring consumer interests front and centre in all energy market processes.

COAG has agreed to the formation of two new consumer bodies – a Consumer Challenge Panel, located in the Australian Energy Regulator, and a separate national advocacy body for energy consumers.

“ACOSS welcomes this recognition that consumers need a stronger voice in how decisions are made in our energy market. However, while we’re pleased to see a consumer challenge panel entrenched within the Australian Energy Regulator, we regard it as crucial that COAG move quickly to establish a stable, independent consumer body to ensure that consumer interests are represented across all areas of the energy market, not just on decisions made by the Regulator.

“The reality is that energy businesses already have a powerful voice in the system – a national consumer advocacy body can balance that voice and contribute to more responsible, effective, sustainable and fair energy markets, and ensure that consumers aren’t being short-changed, for example by  unnecessary spending on poles and wires.

“ACOSS also strongly supports increasing the Australian Energy Regulator’s funding and stronger rules to reduce ‘gold plating’ of electricity networks. The Regulator is the key controller of network prices, and it is important that it have the strongest rules and sufficient staffing to prevent the explosion in network expenditure seen in recent years.

"While we agree that time-of-use pricing strategies can lead to cost savings for many consumers, not all consumers are going to be winners. Therefore, it's important to ensure that low income households are sufficiently protected and are also given every opportunity to participate.

"The introduction of cost-reflective pricing is a massive change for consumers in terms of how they manage their energy use.  A change of this magnitude must be accompanied by a comprehensive consumer information and education campaign, funded by governments. Such a campaign will need to target vulnerable consumers.  A national consumer advocacy body can monitor the impacts of these changes, and make sure that Governments are adequately protecting and informing consumers.’

“The telecommunications industry has its own, independent consumer advocacy centre – it is about time that energy consumers received representation as well.

“We’re looking forward to working with all Governments on this important reform process,” Dr Goldie said.