Sunday, October 30, 2016

NYT –Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.

About 20 years ago, the United States and Canada began introducing genetic modifications in agriculture. Europe did not embrace the technology, yet it achieved increases in yield and decreases in pesticide use on a par with, or even better than, the United States, where genetically modified crops are widely grown.

An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis. The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.

“These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.”

The industry is winning on both ends — because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half. The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each.


Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement seems doomed


Paul Malone SMH

In just about every country in the world ordinary people feel trade deals rip off their country. 

The belief is so strong in the United States that both presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have expressed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement signed between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.


Trump says the TPP is "another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country".

Just days after TPP negotiations concluded in October 2015, Clinton said from what she knew as of today "I am not in favour of what I have learnt about it."

She said she was trying to learn about the agreement but was worried about currency manipulation not being part of the deal and pharmaceutical companies getting more benefits than patients and consumers. 

"I don't believe it's going to meet the high bar I have set," she said.

The stance taken by both candidates immediately raises three questions: Will the TPP be ratified by the US Congress? Can the TPP be re-negotiated?  And is there any possibility of going ahead with the agreement without the US?

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo is "cautiously optimistic."

"I'm very hopeful that the lame duck session does afford the opportunity for the US Congress to ratify the TPP," he said earlier this month.

For this to happen President Obama would have to quickly find enough votes in congress to ratify the deal in the period between the November 8 elections and when the term of the newly elected congress and president take effect.

Despite Ciobo's optimism this is most unlikely.

Ciobo and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland have made it clear that there is no scope for re-negotiation.

It would seem, then, that the TPP is dead.

But there is another possibility – Clinton is elected and changes her mind about ratification.

(Trump is unpredictable but in the unlikely event that he wins there seems little chance that he would proceed with the TPP.)

It is worth observing Clinton has criticised the TPP provisions in relation to pharmaceuticals.  

When the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement was agreed in 2005, Australian critics argued its provisions benefited the big US pharmaceutical companies.

In the TPP negotiations, Australia won concessions, reducing from 12 years to eight years the data exclusivity period the big pharmaceutical companies wanted for patents.

The compromise was seen as a small victory for consumers, unlike the provision on copyright Australia agreed to in the Australia-US FTA.

To benefit among others the Disney film empire, which was due to see its Mickey Mouse rights expire, the Australia-US FTA included a provision to have copyright extended from 50 to 70 years.

Not only did Australia accept this clause in the US agreement, it pushed the US line in its negotiations with other countries in our region, such as Korea.

Since the Australia-US FTA was negotiated, trade between the two countries has grown considerably but the US remains the major beneficiary.

Over the last three years US exports of goods and services to Australia has been 2.3 times the size of ours to them.

In 2015 our exports to the US were worth $22.1 billion but we imported $48.1 billion, leaving a net deficit of $26 billion, up 10 per cent on the previous year.

Around the globe, a major concern with the so-called free-trade agreements is that they are not simply about trade. They also enshrine investment rights, impact on environmental standards, working conditions and even packaging and labelling.

Consumer organisation Choice and others argue that the Australian government should not ratify any international treaty containing an Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

The ISDS mechanism gives large corporations a means to challenge and overthrow government regulations requiring ingredient or country of origin labelling, or banning the importation of products that are dangerous.

Much of the criticism of the free-trade treaties is due to the fact not everyone benefits from the deals.

One-time presidential candidate Bernie Sanders put it bluntly when he said, "I do not believe in unfettered free trade. I believe in fair trade which works for the middle class and working families, not just large multinational corporations."

Purist economic theory proclaims the benefits of free flowing capital, labour and goods and services.

But the free flow of capital also enables the rampant tax evasion and avoidance exposed in a number of recent leaks, including the Panama Papers.

The economic theory might show that each and every country in a free-trade agreement benefits from the deal but ordinary people, who lose their jobs as a result, do not cheer when they hear that the rich elite in their country are the winners.

The theory also does not take account of the social impact of mass migration and the backlash that fuels support for Donald Trump and contributed to the Brexit vote.

Even in Australia, conservative economists who said during the mining boom that we should have greater wage flexibility to encourage labour flows have now lost their enthusiasm for migration.

Economist Judith Sloan, for example, who has presented the free trade case for years now, says the number of planned permanent immigrants is too high and should be scaled back immediately to closer to 100,000 a year.

So much for letting the market determine the allocation of resources.

For Clinton or Trump, the economic challenges are not simply how to maintain growth and negotiate new international trade treaties.

The new administration will also have to implement a new deal to better share the proceeds.

A pioneering redistribution involving increased taxation of the rich and a clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion is the win/win the United States and the world needs.

World Teachers’ Day: survey shows governments must address rising workloads

28 October 2016

On World Teachers’ Day the AEU has called on all governments to address the long-term effects of rising workloads on teachers by ensuring all schools have the resources they need.

The call has been prompted by the results of the AEU’s 2016 State of Our Schools survey of teachers which showed that 77 per cent of teachers believed their workload had increased in the last year alone, and 69 per cent said workloads were making it more difficult to retain staff.

The theme of the 2016 World Teachers’ Day is valuing teachers and improving their status, and if governments are serious about this they need to tackle the issue of workloads.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the survey results should be a warning to all governments to properly resource schools to reduce the stresses on teachers and school leaders.

“We are alarmed to see a big rise in the number of teachers raising concerns about workload in just one year. This is a strong indication that demands on teachers are reaching a critical point,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Our survey shows teachers are committed to the profession and the vast majority want to stay for the long term, but we are at risk of losing thousands of experienced, high-quality teachers who are facing increasing workloads and a lack of support.

“It is deeply frustrating for our committed and passionate teachers when they do not have the time do deal with paperwork, prepare lessons and give each student the attention they need.”

Key findings of the 2016 survey include:
  • 77% of teachers say their workload has increased in the last year, and just 2% say it has decreased.
  • 26% of teachers say they are working more than 55 hours per week (up from 23% in the 2015 survey) and another 45% say more than 45 hours (up from 42 per cent in the 2015 survey).
  • There has been significant growth in the number of teachers who believe it is getting more difficult to retain teachers: now up to 69% from 58% in 2015.
  • While only 17% of teachers are considering leaving the profession, this number has increased from 14% in 2015.
  • For these teachers workload is by far the biggest issue, with 74% saying it would be the most important factor in any decision to leave, up from 66% in 2015.
  • International evidence shows Australian teachers work longer hours and have bigger classes than the global average. Australia’s primary school classes average 23 students, compared with the OECD average of 21.
Australian teachers are also working in one of the most inequitable funded systems in the world – which increases the pressure on teachers in disadvantaged schools.

While Australia’s total spend on schooling is around the OECD average as a percentage of GDP (3.9% in 2013 compared to the average of 3.6%) a high proportion of this comes from private spending on education. Only 82% of schools funding comes from governments, compared to the OECD average of 91%.

“Rising workloads cannot be blamed solely on the greater expectations being placed on teachers, a more crowded curriculum or the complexities of the modern classroom,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“They are the result of a lack of resources in our school system which has come from a long-term underinvestment in schools and inequities in funding.

“The Gonski resources which are starting to be delivered are making a real difference but we need the full six years of funding to properly address the gaps in resources which have left disadvantaged students behind.

“If governments truly want to value teachers and improve the status of the profession, they will ensure teachers are supported in the classroom so that students can get the help they need.”

More Draconian Asylum Seeker Laws ?

The Federal Government will reportedly rush through laws that will ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from setting foot in Australia for life — even if they are genuine refugees.

News Limited is reporting that the ban will apply to any adult who has been sent to Manus Island or Nauru since July 19, 2013.

That was the day former prime minister Kevin Rudd proclaimed: “As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”

The report says Parliament will push through the new laws when MPs return to Canberra next week. The laws will even prevent those who have chosen to return to their home country since 2013 from obtaining a visa of any kind, even as a tourist.

The laws would not, however, apply to children who arrive by boat unaccompanied or with their parents.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the stricter guidelines were required because his figures suggested up to 14,000 asylum seekers were waiting to board boats in Indonesia.

“This is the next step in cleaning up Labor’s mess,’’ Dutton is quoted as telling News Limited’s Sunday newspapers.

“The government has consistently said no one who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will ever settle here. This puts into law that crucial aspect which has been central to stopping the boats and stopping deaths at sea.

“It sends a further clear and consistent message to people smugglers that the government’s resolve on protecting Australia’s borders is as strong as it has ever been.’’

The Government believes that linking the new laws to Mr Rudd’s declaration will force Labor to support the ban.

Mr Dutton described the laws as “critical to support key government border protection policies — Temporary Protection Visas, regional processing and boat turnbacks where safe to do so”.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

CFMEU – Black Armband Day - Thursday 3rd November


In the last three weeks, the Australian construction industry has been rocked by the deaths of five workers. It is proposed by the union that on Thursday the 3rd of November, construction workers come together on sites across the country and wear black arm bands as a sign of respect for those we’ve lost.

On Thursday October 6th at around 4 pm, two men were working in a confined excavation at Eagle Farm Racecourse in Queensland. They were installing tilt panels for a large drainage pit. There wasn’t any proper access or egress. They had to enter down an embankment to perform the task. The grossly inadequate bracing system being used failed. This caused the first panel weighing 10 tonnes to come tumbling down. The workers managed to scramble out of the way. Tragically within seconds, the second panel came down on top of them, crushing them to death. There wasn’t any adequate exclusion zone in their work area as a backup, and they had nowhere to go.

On Monday October 10th, while working on Finbar’s Concerto apartment project in Perth, 27 year old German backpacker Marianka Huemann was applying sealant to speed wall panels surrounding an air duct when she fell 13 floors to her death. She was working for a builder who repeatedly refused the CFMEU legal right of entry to inspect safety concerns and is well known for employing unskilled backpackers in high risk construction jobs. As if to add to the heartbreak, builder Gerry Hanssen sent a bizarre email to Marianka’s family following the incident which implied that it was her fault, and that she would be sorry for “letting everyone down”.

On Tuesday October 25th, working on the Porter St project in Ryde, 55 year old Iremar De Silva died when he fell approximately 3 meters from a formwork deck onto reo bars. The bars were appropriately capped, but the fall was enough to take his life. 28% of deaths in the industry are caused by falls from heights, and again in this case, there was no adequate edge protection.

On Wednesday October 26th while working on the ProBuild Melbourne Convention Centre expansion a 54 year old boilermaker was killed in a crushing incident while operating a knuckleboom. He leaves behind a wife and two adult children, both in the construction industry. At the time of the incident, he was working alone welding amongst steel frames. Workers and an OHS Rep were the first to attend the scene and made an extraordinary effort to rescue the crushed worker and begin first aid.

On Thursday 3/11/16 we will wear black armbands to remind us of those who have lost their lives at work recently. Every one of these deaths was preventable. We are reminded that our unity and solidarity as workers plays a big role in safety at work, and that we should always stand up and speak out when it’s not safe.

VIC – Come down on rogue developers like a ton of bricks

The Age Editorial 28 October 2016

"Wanton Destruction of a Heritage Site"
It took just a weekend for property developers to bulldoze the Corkman Irish Pub and erase 159 years of urban history from the streets of Carlton. It will rank as one of the most egregious acts of wanton destruction of a heritage site Melbourne has seen.

The pub's owners, Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri, had no building or planning permit to undertake the demolition work, while a City of Melbourne heritage overlay protected the site.  Even after the illegal demolition was undertaken, using a demolition company half owned by Mr Shaqiri, the developers then chose to dump toxic building waste and rubble – including uncovered asbestos – from the historic pub at a building site they owned in Cairnlea, close to the homes of neighbouring families.

The 159-year-old Carlton pub will have to be rebuilt, says Planning Minister Richard Wynne.
Our politicians have been bellicose in their condemnation, variously calling Mr Shaqiri and Mr Kutlesovski "rogues" and "cowboys" for their act of vandalism.

In the wake of threats from the state government and City of Melbourne to force them to rebuild the pub brick by brick, the men have now apologised and offered to put back what they demolished. It's a bizarre outcome, and it has to be asked whether or not another Irish theme pub is the best long-term use for the site.

A letter crafted by hired spin doctors and an offer to rebuild the pub doesn't absolve Mr Kutlesovski and Mr Shaqiri of their actions.

There is no question that the developers need to be brought to account and face the full legal consequences for their premeditated actions and defiance of the law. Unfortunately, as it stands, those punishments will be relatively insignificant.

The cost of the rebuild will be offset against the increased value of the land, which doubled when the heritage pub was demolished, and the ability to prepare the site for future development. 

The maximum penalties include $186,552 for breaking planning laws, $466,380 for illegal demolition and a potential fine of $750,000 for the illegal dumping of building materials and asbestos. But the reality is, should the matter go to court, maximum fines are rarely handed out.

In a recent case in NSW, property developer Bill Gertos was found to be personally liable for demolishing a heritage row of shopfronts in Sydney's inner west, in defiance of a heritage order. The potential fine was $1.1 million. The fine given by the court was $250,000. Mr Gertos didn't even bother showing up, with his lawyer telling the judge his client  "had another engagement".

When stacked up against the tens of millions of dollars on offer from developing such sites into apartment blocks, these paltry fines are considered merely a cost of doing business by developers, especially as no criminal conviction can be recorded.

This problem was highlighted in a recent review of the the Heritage Act, undertaken last year by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. It found there was strong support to "increase maximum penalties for unauthorised works and infringement notices". The report also noted that "Victoria's maximum penalty for unauthorised works to heritage places or objects is lower than most other Australian jurisdictions".

The Age welcomes the strong words taken by both the state government and the City of Melbourne over the Corkman demolition. But if we are to get rid of such rogue developers, we need more than just strong words. We need to speak the language property developers understand – money – and increase the fines for disregarding the law. Only then will we prevent such brazen acts of vandalism. 

This is especially crucial in the wake of a report by Acquisitions Performance Advisory earlier this year, which found that a record 800 heritage and "character" houses are being demolished each week in Australia, and Melbourne's inner suburbs are among the worst hit.

To put it in language Mr Shaqiri and Mr Kutlesovski and all property developers will understand, it's time to make them pay.

90 companies accountable for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gases

Just 90 companies are accountable for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gases

Dan Drollette, Jr. is a science writer/editor and foreign correspondent who has filed stories from every continent except Antarctica.

There’s a tendency to think that when it comes to climate change, we’re all equally at fault—and if everyone is to blame, then no one is to blame. But now it’s possible to identify the contributions of individual companies, thanks to the work of researchers such as Richard Heede. What he found is revealing: A handful of companies bear a lot more responsibility for climate change than others, having pumped much more carbon into the atmosphere.

And Heede proved this by spending nearly 12 years collecting and analyzing data from a variety of publicly available sources, pinning down which companies have contributed what percentage of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution—and then named names. Sometimes working alone for long periods while squirreled away in a houseboat on San Francisco Bay, Heede laboriously put together a sort of enormous jigsaw puzzle of facts, painstakingly chasing down obscure skeins of data to come up with the big picture.

Some of the results were astonishing, such as that the number of companies responsible for the majority of the carbon in the atmosphere was so small that “[Y]ou could take all the decision-makers and CEOs of these companies and fit them on a couple of Greyhound buses.” He’s found that although there are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers around the world, just 90 entities are responsible for 63 percent of all the industrially produced carbon dioxide and methane being emitted into our atmosphere.

And nearly half of that carbon was pumped into our atmosphere in just the past 30 years.

Read more in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

… but I would say that there are actually more like 83 companies that are responsible for the bulk of climate change, plus seven countries for which we didn’t have any corporate data—for things such as Chinese, Polish, and North Korean coal production, for example. I called these companies and countries the “carbon majors” in my paper for Climactic Change. But our focus was really on the corporate sector, whether it be state-owned oil companies—such as those in Saudi Arabia, Norway, Venezuela, to name a few—or investor-owned companies.

I do this in part by drawing upon a corporate history we have built of fossil fuel production converted to carbon dioxide emissions by consumers who buy the products that ExxonMobil, Chevron, and everybody else distributes and markets.

Obviously, the focus was on oil, gas, and coal companies, but we also included six cement companies.

BAS: Cement companies?

Heede: Oh yes, definitely. Their emissions were certainly large enough to meet the minimum threshold to be included in our study, which was 8 million tons of carbon per year.

BAS: How do cement-makers pump carbon into the atmosphere?

Heede: In the industrial cement-making process, you heat calcium carbonate to make cement, which drives off carbon dioxide as an industrial waste product. And I’m only counting the carbon that is driven off in the cement-making process as an industrial waste product; that’s not including the considerable energy input it takes to get and keep the kilns hot enough to make cement, whether it be the burning of coal or tires or the use of electricity or what have you to create the heat.

The cement-making companies contribute a significant amount. I forget the exact ratio but it’s about a ton of CO2 for each ton of cement. And they’re making millions of tons of cement per year, so you’re obviously talking about cement-making companies producing millions of tons of carbon. Globally, the cement companies account for 3-to-4 percent of global industrial emissions.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sharon Burrow – Samsung attack on unions

The founder of Samsung once reportedly declared the company would "recognise trade unions over my dead body!" Now, leaked internal documents at Samsung reveal the extreme lengths the company will go to exert total control over workers’ lives – especially those who want to form a union.

The PowerPoint presentation – intended for the eyes of corporate bosses only – decrees specific "countermeasures" to be used to "dominate employees". And the language is shocking. The leaked material instructs managers to "isolate employees," "punish leaders," and "induce internal conflicts".


With a precariously-employed workforce, inhumane conditions are rife. According to China Labor Watch, employees at Samsung factories, some under-aged, suffer through 100 hours of forced overtime per month, unpaid work, standing for 11 to 12 hours, verbal and physical abuse, severe age and gender discrimination, lack of worker safety.... 

During a three-month period while the Samsung Galaxy tablet was being rushed out, one worker testified that she “slept about two or three hours a night”, and had to stop breastfeeding her three-month-old infant to keep up with schedule.

Samsung has a reputation for modern technology, but also a history of medieval conditions for the estimated 1,500,000 workers entrenched in a vast and shadowy web of subcontractors and subsidiaries that runs deep throughout the region. 

What's more, the Asia Resource Monitor Centre reports that Samsung's "no-union" policy affects the entire Asian electronics industry, "because Samsung Electronics intervenes actively to prevent the formation of unions at its suppliers".

Samsung is everywhere. If you have a smartphone – an Android or iPhone – there's a good chance that parts in your phone are produced on factory floors controlled by Samsung and its affiliated companies. Now it's up to all of us to tell Samsung enough is enough.


Thank you for all you do,
Sharan Burrow

Thursday, October 27, 2016

AMIEU – Thomas Foods Forced to Back Down After Calling Police on Union

Thomas Foods in Murray Bridge, South Australia have been forced into a humiliating backdown after calling the police on the AMIEU, only for the police to tell them the union had every right to be there.

The Murray Bridge site has two separate lunchrooms, both of which are regularly serviced by visiting AMIEU officials.

Last week however, Thomas Foods management decided, suddenly and with no explanation, that one of the two lunchrooms was off limits to to the AMIEU.

Needless to say, union officers ignored this unlawful order and moved into the lunchroom as normal.

A flustered Thomas Foods management then called the police to have these troublesome union officers ejected — only to be disappointed when the police pointed out the union was obeying the law and was entitled to speak to workers.

No price too high to pay to get rid of unions

This sort of behaviour isn’t new from employers, and it’s not even the first time Thomas Foods in Murray Bridge have tried it. Thomas Foods believes in the American model of food processing, where unions are the enemy, workers should be paid the minimum wage, and lunch breaks are a distant memory.

The story doesn’t end there: the AMIEU is now investigating whether or not Thomas Foods violated WHS requirements by bringing police onto the site without face covers, breathing masks or Q-fever vaccinations.

In their rush to have the union kicked out, it’s very likely that Thomas Foods exposed the police to unnecessary risk and the possibility of infection. Here’s a story about how one of our members almost lost her son to a sudden Q-fever attack – even though tests showed that he was vaccinated.

Q-fever is extremely serious, and can even be fatal. We would hope that Thomas Foods would think twice about exposing the police to something so deadly without proper protection, rather than just throwing safety concerns out the window when the nasty union shows up at the door.

Your rights are under attack

We will keep fighting every day for your right to a safe workplace and strong wages and conditions. But if the Liberals and their mates in big business “productivity commissions” have their way, you won’t be able to talk to your union for much longer.

The Turnbull Government has already announced that they are looking to make changes to further attack workers just like you, including cracking down on when unions are allowed on site to speak to members.

This will mean that if you are being bullied or harassed, or if you’re working in a dangerous or unsafe environment, you won’t be able to talk to anybody about it.

Working people need to stand together now more than ever. Stand up for yourself and for others like you by joining the union online now.

ACTU – Minister Cash fumbles IR Reform, appointments, legislative agenda.

Minister Cash fumbles IR Reform, appointments, legislative agenda.
26 October 2016

In the last 24 hours stories have emerged detailing the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash’s mishandling of flagship legislation, senior government appointments and debate of reforms that could help millions of Australians.

We have learnt that the minister has:

Quotes Attributable to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver:

“Minister Cash has shown remarkable incompetence in her handling of one of the two bills that triggered the recent election, and somehow managed to create a situation in which all unions, and many employer groups, will be in breach of the law and facing fines of between $90,000 and one million dollars for failing to report to a body that simply didn’t exist.”

“Shockingly, even bodies that have been disclosing more information than they will be required to under the new regulations could be facing huge fines, again because they did not disclose to a body that did not exist.”

“Given the scale of this mistake it is hard to believe that the minister has managed to do further damage to the reputation of her office by ignoring a huge range of incredibly important IR matters before her and her state counterparts by refusing to meet with them this year.”

“The provision of Domestic and Family Violence Leave at the federal level would be one of the most significant Industrial Relations reforms in recent history, several states are actively pushing for it and it is simply remarkable that the minister does not think this issue is worth her time.”

ACTU – Family Comes First


Even though we know that the best thing for babies is to have their parents at home with them during the early days, the Turnbull Government is once again pushing ahead with plans to cut the amount of paid time at home for new parents.  Tell Malcolm Turnbull that family comes first.

Making sure every new family can give a child a good start in life is something employers and the government need to provide, together.

Current parental leave arrangements enhance child and maternal wellbeing and support parents until they are ready to go back to work. It underpins whatever employees obtain by negotiation with employers.

Government funded paid parental leave was introduced as a universal program – to be available to all families in Australia. It must stay that way.

Let’s all send a strong message to Malcolm Turnbull by signing the petition. Once you’ve signed it, please spread the word in your networks and share the petition with family and friends.

In unity,

Ged Kearney
ACTU President
http://www.australianunions.org.au/ 

Performance Live – KateTempest

Supportive housing is cheaper than chronic homelessness

October 27, 2016
Cameron Parsell
Research Fellow, homelessness, social welfare, and poverty, The University of Queensland

It costs the state government more to keep a person chronically homeless than it costs to provide permanent supportive housing to end homelessness, our recent research shows.

Over a 12-month period, people who were chronically homeless used state government funded services that cost approximately A$48,217 each. Over another 12-month period in which they were tenants of permanent supportive housing, the same people used state government services that cost approximately A$35,117.

The significance of this cost difference is remarkable. Yes, people use A$13,100 less in government-funded services when securely housed compared to the services they used when they were chronically homeless. But, on top of that, the annual average of A$35,117 in services used by supportive housing tenants includes the A$14,329 cost of providing the housing and support.

These cost offsets are both compelling and robust. Rather than the sub-optimal approach of surveying people to estimate service use, our cost offsets of ending chronic homelessness are drawn from an analysis of linked government data.

We wanted to generate evidence that would convince not only international peer review journal editors, but that would convince government officials responsible for decisions about public spending. With informed and voluntary consent, we accessed and linked the service usage data from emergency department presentations, in-patients stays, mental health contact, ambulance use, court appearances, prison, probation, parole time, police arrests, victims of crime and police custody, and use of homeless accommodation services.

The technical process of obtaining and linking administrative data is simple; the administrative, legislative, and ethical processes are challenging. Nevertheless, with the backing and support of several key government representatives, we produced evidence that is unique in Australia.

We should end homelessness because housing exclusion is an injustice. Without access to affordable and secure housing, people are unable to live with dignity. Without housing in which they are safe and free, they lack the physical amenity to control their lives.

Homelessness is a material deprivation that subverts our capacity to be seen and categorised as a person distinct from what is lacking. But our moral and theoretical reasons for ending homelessness don’t cut it with many. We can talk about housing as a human right, and how homelessness should be ended because it is the right thing to do, but those with the power to end homelessness have so far been unable or unwilling to do so.

Hard evidence that shows how it costs the state less to end chronic homelessness than it does to perpetuate the cycle of homelessness can help bolster our moral arguments. Our research forces us to evaluate where we want to invest our public money.

If we continue with the social conditions that keep people chronically homeless, which often means living on the streets and moving in and out of insecure and informal accommodation, our taxes need to be directed toward hospital beds, ambulance rides, and a criminal justice system that spends time and resources responding to physical manifestations of poverty. If we keep people chronically homeless and living on the streets, it also means that activities of providing blankets, soup, and mobile washing and showering facilities somehow seem like reasonable things to do. They are not.

On the other hand, the evidence makes clear that we ought to redirect our money towards permanent supportive housing. Compared to the cost of providing emergency health and criminal services to people without housing, investing in permanent supportive housing constitutes a cost offset.

When we provide permanent supportive housing, not only do we realise whole of government cost offsets, but the way people live their lives changes demonstrably.

Our data show that when people are tenants of supportive housing, their low level criminal behaviour and reliance on crisis health and temporary accommodation services that characterised their lives while homeless reduces. 

For example, sustaining housing, compared to being homeless for a year, was associated with a 52% reduction in criminal offending, a 54% reduction in being a victim of crime, and 40% reduced time spent in police custody. Their use of short term crisis accommodation reduced by 99%; mental health service used declined by 65%.

When people have access to housing that is safe and affordable, they no longer have to live as patients, criminals, inmates, clients, and homeless people.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

More coal plants will deepen - not cut - poverty, researchers warn

By Laurie Goering

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -

Building just a third of planned new coal-fired power plants around the world would push hundreds of millions of people into poverty as it accelerates climate change past an agreed limit of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, development experts warn.

As pressure builds to phase out coal as a power source in favor of cleaner renewable energy, the coal industry has fought back, arguing that coal is the cheapest and most reliable way to bring power to millions without it.

In particular, "clean coal" technology offers emissions 25 to 40 percent lower than traditional coal plants, industry officials say.

But a report by a dozen poverty and development organizations - including the UK-based Overseas Development Institute and the Vasudha Foundation in New Delhi - suggests that falling prices for solar and wind power mean renewable energy is now the fastest and least expensive way to bring electricity to the world's poor.

In particular, off-grid and "distributed" renewable power - in which smaller-scale clean power systems are built close to areas of demand, avoiding the high cost of expanding national power grids - is "the cheapest and quickest way of reaching over two-thirds of those without electricity", the report said.

"There are myths that we're trying to pull up the ladder and deny developing countries the chance to develop the way we did," said Sarah Wykes, the lead analyst on climate change and energy issues for CAFOD, a Catholic international development charity.

"But you don't need these kinds of dirty fuels anymore for economic development. There are much better clean alternatives," said Wykes, one of the authors of the report, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Around the world, more than 2,400 coal power plants are now under construction or being planned, experts say. Two-thirds of those are in China and India - both countries already struggling with growing deaths from air pollution, the report noted.

Building even a third of those plants would push the world past the international goal agreed in Paris last December to hold world temperature increase to "well under" 2 degrees Celsius, the report said, worsening climate impacts from longer droughts and more severe storms to rising sea levels.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned if Asia goes ahead its planned coal plants, "I think we are finished. ... That would spell disaster for our planet."

One reason developing countries - and those who fund projects there - continue to look to coal to meet growing energy needs is that it's what they already know, Wykes said.

"Development finance staff have expertise in fossil fuels and lack skills in renewable," she said. "There's a lack of internal incentives, human capacity and the right policy frameworks."

The coal industry also is a powerful and established lobbying group, she said, with workers who are fighting for their jobs and who would need retraining to take jobs in the emerging renewable energy industry, she said.

But a number of developing countries - including Rwanda and Ethiopia in Africa - have already chosen to invest heavily in renewable energy as their path to development, she said. Nicaragua, in central America, aims to get 95 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2017, she said.

But for more developing countries to chose clean power, richer nations need to provide finance and technology to help them, and big development banks and funds - including the Green Climate Fund - need to commit to not financing coal projects, the report said.

Rich countries also need to lead the way by rapidly reducing their own use of coal power and scaling up renewable energy, the authors said.

"Coal undermines both climate and development goals, while clean energy supports them," said Ilmi Granoff, one of the paper's authors and a climate and energy researcher at the Overseas Development Institute.

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Ros Russell:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)




AEU – VET FEE-HELP rorts show why governments must stop funding for-profit providers

24 October 2016

Shocking new evidence of rorting and waste among for-profit private vocational training companies is more evidence to ban them from government funding and to properly fund TAFEs, the AEU said today.

The Federal Government’s analysis of the flawed VET FEE-HELP loans scheme showed that private for-profit companies are charging higher fees than TAFEs, have lower completion rates and are abusing the scheme through multiple enrolments.

AEU TAFE Secretary Pat Forward said the Federal Government’s decision to shut down VET FEE-HELP did not go far enough, and no for-profit provider should be eligible for any future loans scheme.

“Policy makers need to realise that any scheme that allows for-profit providers to access government funds will be abused.

“How much more evidence do we need that allowing for-profit providers to access government loans is an invitation to them to fleece taxpayers?

“Their business models and big profit margins are built on charging big dollars for low-value courses. Attempts to cap costs will simply see them drive quality down even further.”

“The funding which is going to for-profit should go to TAFEs which have a strong record of delivering high quality courses. All government should ensure that at least 70 per cent of all VET funding was reserved for TAFEs, to give them the certainty they needed.

The analysis released by the Federal Government today showed that some for-profit providers had completion rates of less than 2%, yet still received over $100 million in government subsidies through VET FEE-HELP.

The data also shows the dramatic difference in fees between public TAFEs and private colleges accessing the loans scheme. For example, a diploma of early childhood education cost an average $15,158 at a private college in 2015, for example, compared to $4378 at TAFE.

“Huge damage has already been done to TAFEs by reducing their funding and forcing them to compete with these shonky operators who are not interested in student welfare or quality,” Ms Forward said.

“The Federal Government has already recognised the quality of TAFEs by making them automatically eligible for its new loans scheme. So why not increase funding to the part of the VET sector which is working the way it should?” Ms Forward said.

“The flawed VET FEE-HELP scheme went hand in hand with cuts to government funding for TAFEs.

“With VET FEE-HELP gone we need state and federal governments to restore funding to TAFEs to ensure Australians have access to quality vocational training.”

Australia anti-coal activists face funding scrutiny

Australia is considering stripping environmental groups of the right to challenge big projects in court following revelations that “foreign funds” supported a campaign against developing one of the world’s biggest coal mines.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Monday he would reassess whether there is enough support in parliament to pass laws targeting activist groups, an idea first proposed last year.

“People are entitled to bring their cases before the courts but there is no doubt that there have been very systematic, very well­funded campaigns against major projects,” Mr Turnbull said.

Hacked emails of John Podesta, campaign chairman for US presidential contender Hillary Clinton, released by WikiLeaks show that the Sunrise Project, an environmental group that has campaigned  against a A$16.5bn coal project in Queensland proposed by India’s Adani Group, received funding from the US­ based Sandler Foundation.
                                             
Sunrise has supported several Queensland groups that have launched a series of legal challenges to Adani’s proposed coal project that have held it up for several years.

The battle between Adani and environmental groups is on the frontline of a global battle  between mining monopolies and environmentalists over the future of coal — one of the cheapest sources of energy but a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Foreign funding of NGOs is not illegal in Australia but it has drawn the ire of the Liberal­National coalition, which has prioritised the economy over conservation.

In an email to the Sandler Foundation, John Hepburn, Sunrise executive director, revealed the group had sought advice on how it could “avoid disclosure, challenge and limit disclosure” of its funders shortly before it was due to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating campaigners.

“I have no concerns whatsoever about our compliance with our charitable obligations but I do have concerns about the potential PR impact of disclosure of both our funding and grantees — should that eventuate,” he wrote in an email on May 25 2015.

Mr Hepburn wrote about a proposal by the government to strip environmental groups of their charitable status, saying it “wasn’t surprising but is very ugly”.

“The mining companies seem to own the Liberals, and they play very dirty,” he added.

The disclosures by WikiLeaks prompted the Minerals Council of Australia to claim on Monday that “progressive” moneyed interests in the US were covertly funding anti­coal activists.

“This episode should prompt a rethink of the oversight of environmental groups that operate as charities and that have tax­deductible recipient status,” said Brendan Pearson, MCA chief executive.

Mr Hepburn told the Financial Times  he could not disclose the value of Sunrise’s overseas funding for privacy reasons. He said mining companies, which were 80 per cent foreign­owned, had far too much influence over the Australian government and regularly bullied environmental campaigners and their donors.

“It’s an absurd situation,” he said. “Campaign groups take cases to protect the environment under existing laws, while the mining lobby uses its power to change the law.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

Turnbull plan attacks parental leave

The Turnbull government has been warned it will face a "massive backlash" from pregnant women if it pushes ahead with a planned crackdown on paid parental leave "double dipping" that could start as early as January. 

Labor is calling on the Senate crossbench to block the move, which could affect up to 80,000 new mothers a year.

The government last week introduced proposed legislation to tighten access to the government's paid leave scheme for parents who are also accessing paid leave from their employer.

If passed by Parliament, the change could come into effect as early as January 1, meaning women who are pregnant now could miss out on government benefits.

"This is a direct attack on paid parental leave, a direct attack on those mothers who are trying to combine their work and family responsibilities, and will leave thousands and thousands of new mothers in this country worse off," opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said on Sunday.
She said there were between 40,000 and 50,000 women already pregnant who would be left up to $12,000 worse off.

Jo Briskey, executive director of advocacy group The Parenthood, said: "It is simply unbelievable that Mr Turnbull would say to thousands of pregnant women across the country, some with only two months to go until they give birth, that you now need to throw your maternity leave plans out the window.

"Mr Turnbull needs to make amends for this disastrous decision and pull his PPL legislation because there's no way he's going to withstand a massive public backlash led by thousands of pregnant women."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was "out of touch" for seeking to cut back on paid parental leave while pursuing tax cuts for big businesses.

"Why should nurses, or shop assistants or other people who have forgone pay rises in lieu of getting a paid parental benefit now be slugged because they've negotiated these conditions and not get the minimum paid parental leave?" Mr Shorten said.

"Labor will never vote to punish ordinary people."

GetUp ! – Win in High Court case against the Border Force Act.

Doctors4Refugees and Fitzroy Legal Service have announced a major win in their High Court case against the Border Force Act. 

In a huge backdown, the Turnbull Government has dropped the gag rule that stopped doctors and health professionals speaking out against the child abuse, sexual abuse and medical negligence they witness on Nauru and Manus Island.

This is incredible news for medical staff – and it happened thanks to the donations of GetUp members like you, and with the support of the Grata Fund, a new legal fund initiated by GetUp to hold power to account in our courts.

It's a massive win. But it's also a cowardly legal manoeuvre. The government left the gag rule in place for all other potential whistleblowers, like teachers and social workers, just because they weren't part of the case. 

By removing the Border Force Act gag rule from just a fraction of the carers who could speak out, Minister Dutton hopes he can still hide incidents of abuse and mistreatment from public view. That's at the core of the government's strategy to keep people in detention and get away with abuse.

But some brave people are still risking two years in jail just for speaking up – and every time they do, we'll be there to support them.

Just last week, through ABC's Four Corners and an Amnesty International report,9 teachers and service workers spoke out about incidents and conditions of abuse on Nauru.

It's appalling that they are still at risk of prosecution. But the backdown in the case of medical staff means the government fears gagging whistleblowers is not just immoral and undemocratic – it could be unconstitutional. 

It's yet more proof that we're on the right side of history – and we have to keep up the fight.

So take a moment to celebrate the progress we've made together, and then get ready for round two, because we need to double down on this success. 

Melbourne – Historic 159 year old pub illegally bulldozed

Building unions have slapped a construction ban on the site of a historic Carlton pub demolished illegally on the weekend.

And they say the company that purchased the Corkman Irish Pub for $4.76 million last year should be forced to surrender the land to Melbourne City Council.


The Corkman Irish Pub opposite Melbourne University's law building has been demolished after being sold to a local developer for $1.56 million above its reserve in 2014.

The 159-year-old pub, formerly known as the Carlton Inn, was knocked down without a demolition or planning permit – sparking five separate government investigations into what laws may have been broken.

The pub, which had a heritage overlay, was already at the centre of a police arson investigation over a fire that broke out there the week before.

The site is owned by developers Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri, who are building apartment projects all over Melbourne.

The pub was demolished by Shaq Demolition and Excavation, which is half owned by Mr Shaqiri, who holds valid demolition and building licences.

Goulburn Base Hospital Privatisation Backdown

Minister Skinner announced in Parliament that Goulburn Hospital would not progress to a public-private partnership. 

“Goulburn will not be progressed as there was not sufficient interest received to give the NSW Government confidence that better outcomes could be achieved,” Ms Skinner said. 

The State Government has allocated $120 million for the work’s first stage.

Health Infrastructure NSW has planned a four-stage re-development with later work heavily dependent on funding. It is not clear how this will be raised.

A party including the Goulburn Health Hub had lodged an Expression of Interest to incorporate some aspects at the Bradfordville project.

A surprised Goulburn and District Unions president Anna Crawford-Wurth said it was “a great outcome.” 

“Hopefully they're sincere in this. The people have spoken and the people didn’t want it. It’s amazing that the community has spoken – it wouldn’t have happened if the community had not rallied,” she said. 

“The other areas are still rallying and the unions are behind them, but this is the outcome we were hoping for and we are surprised it has come so soon. I thought we would have a bigger fight on our hands.”

CFMEU – Collapse of Bob Day’s company highlights serious problem in construction industry

The collapse of Bob Day’s company, Home Australia, shines a light on what is a serious and common problem in the construction industry, according to the CFMEU.

CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said that companies going into liquidation is an ever increasing feature of the construction industry with devastating consequences for small businesses, workers, families and the community.

“One in five insolvencies in Australia are in the construction industry. 

“Following a Senate Inquiry into this issue last year, the Education and Employment Committee made a raft of recommendations to protect small business and workers -  that do not appear to be on the Turnbull Government’s agenda.

“Instead they are fixated on industrial relations and going after workers, rather than address the systemic issues that wreak havoc on the community and the economy.”

Mr Noonan pointed to the collapse of Tagara in Bob Day’s home state of South Australia earlier this year as a case in point.

“The collapse of Tagara left 700 small businesses out of pocket to the tune of $27 million. 
“Tagara director Tullio Tagliaferri was actually the president of the South Australian Master Builders Association at the time. 

“Construction companies routinely break the law in this country and get away with it,” he said.

“Yet Bob Day supported bringing back the ABCC that punishes unions and workers rather than deal with more profound and pressing issues that require a major legislative overhaul.”

Staggering Cost Gap Between Private Vocational Trainers and TAFE

Private vocational trainers are charging students – and the taxpayers who give them loans – almost three times as much as TAFE and other public educators.

In Tasmania they are charging 10 times as much, with the average student borrowing $32,981, compared with Tafe fees of just $3470.

The education minister, Simon Birmingham, says the new figures his department released on Monday highlight the “staggering” gap between what providers have been charging for courses and what a Tafe would charge.

“The 2015 data is littered with even more examples of rorting and shonky behaviour from some providers who continue to take advantage of students and taxpayers and tarnish the reputation of the vocational education and training sector,” he says.

Federal government loans to vocational students have blown out from $325m in 2012 to $2.9bn in 2015. The new figures show that, at the same time, enrolments grew from 57,400 in 2012 to 320,400 in 2015.

More than half of vocational students reported they were unemployed or not seeking a job when they signed up for their course. And nearly four in five said they were studying either to get a job or for job-related reasons such as improving their skills.

Here we have evidence of the madness of the Liberal Party's long running attempts to undermine and sell off TAFE and provide slush funding instead into their corrupt private system. Why is the minister feigning surprise ? 

Sydney – Anti-Conscription Centenary Friday 28 October

FRIDAY 28th October FORUM
12noon - 5pm
Gumbramorra Hall Addison Rd Community Centre

A range of speakers will address the themes The Defeat of the 1916 & 1917 Conscription Refer- endums in Australia, Anti-Conscription Movements, the Moratorium and Vietnam Veterans in Australian History. Guests include Dr Drew Cottle, Dr Mark Gregory, Colleen Burke, Dr Rowan Cahill, Hall Greenland, Meredith Burgmann, Graeme Dunstan, Micheal Matteson, Peter Galvin and Mike Scrase.

HONOUR ROLL FOR PEACE

Addison Rd Community Centre

A dedication and opening ceremony with Dr Helen Caldicott.
Poems by Jenni Nixon.

Standing at the gates to the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, a former military depot and site of anti-conscription and anti-war activity, the Honour Roll for Peace will record the names of people from Sydney and beyond who have resisted war or sought the just and peaceful resolution of conflicts at home and overseas.

AGENT ORANGE BENEFIT CONCERT
7:30pm - 10pm
Gumbramorra Hall Addison Rd Community Centre

Tix at the door $30/$20/$10 Denis Kevans Memorial Event. Featuring:

Songs from the 60s by the Hippy Trippy Band Songwriter Denis Aubrey
Folkies Sonia Bennett, Margaret Walters, Jason & Chloe Roweth Poets Simon Lentham, Greg North, Maurie Mulhearn, The Solidarity Choir, Murat Kucukarslan, Turkish baglama player with a song from Gallipoli ... and more 

Sydney – Is Public Science being Destroyed in Australia?

Thurs 27 October

Politics in the Pub at the Harold Park Hotel, 
Thursday evening, 6.30pm – 8.15pm
Cnr Ross St and Wigram Rd, Glebe


Is Public Science being Destroyed in Australia?

Speakers:

Dr Michael Borgas, President, CSIRO Staff Association

Dr Yalchin Oytam, supporter, Friends of CSIRO



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Yes Magazine on Corporations

This column is the second part of a series. To read Part One, click here
In Part One, I argued that a healthy society requires that governments be accountable to the people for the well-being of all, and that corporations be accountable to democratic governments.
Last week, Bayer, a transnational drug and pesticide company, secured funding for its $66 billion offer to acquire Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of agricultural seeds. This follows the announced $130 billion merger of chemical giants Dow and DuPont, and ChemChina’s proposed $43 billion purchase of the seed and pesticide firm Syngenta.
Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, and Syngenta are five of the world’s six biggest pesticide and seed corporations. There are claims, which I find credible, that the “Big 6” and their products bear major responsibility for pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and are implicated in impoverishment of small farmers, collapse of honeybee colonies, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility—all serious attacks on the common good. And similar consolidation continues in most every sector of the economy.
As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.
We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations. Nor was the corporate takeover a response to public need.
We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations.
The subversion began with the recolonization of developing countries, which I witnessed firsthand while living and working as a development professional in Asia from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. For years, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and national foreign assistance programs had been luring former colonies into funding development projects with debt payable in foreign currency. They could repay only by selling their national assets and the fruits of their labor to foreign corporations.
It became evident in the early 1980s that most borrowing countries could not repay their debts and fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to their own citizens. The World Bank and IMF stepped in as international debt collectors with a corporatist agenda that forced debtor nations to:
1. Slash public expenditures for health and education to provide tax breaks and subsidies to foreign investors;
2. Put public assets and services, including communications, power, and water, up for sale to foreign corporations;
3. Eliminate restrictions on foreign ownership, imports, banks and financial institutions, cross-border financial flows, and the extraction and export of natural resources; and
4. Roll back protections for unions, workers, public health and safety, and the environment.
Emboldened by this success, the corporatists globalized their agenda in the 1990s through international agreements like NAFTA and international organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO). Step by step, they co-opted politicians and reduced the ability of governments of all countries—creditors and debtors, rich and poor, large and small—to protect and advance community social and environmental interests if doing so might reduce the anticipated profits of a transnational corporation.
In the United States, as corporate profits soared, working people became mired in unpayable mortgage, credit card, and student debt. It grew harder to find a meaningful and secure job at a living wage. Young people gave up expecting they would have better lives than their parents. And we experienced a host of environmental consequences ranging from violent weather events to contamination of drinking water.
There are no simple solutions to this distortion of priorities and its devastating social and environmental consequences. It will require a major restructuring of both governmental and corporate institutions to strengthen democracy and subordinate corporate power to people power. I’ll spell out key elements of a policy agenda in Part Three of this series.

Friday, October 21, 2016

ACTU – Investor-State Arbitration Subverts Democracy – Danger of TTP Exposed

17 October 2016

Civil society groups worldwide that have allied with Salvadoran communities and organisations working on mining and environmental issues reacted to today’s decision by the controversial International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on the seven-year old case of Pac Rim Cayman vs. El Salvador, stating that “there are no winners” in this case.  On Friday, October 14, the tribunal announced their decision that Pac Rim’s lawsuit was without merit and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $250 million that it sought.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman LLC brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the World Bank Group’s arbitration venue, ICSID.  The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company failed to meet key regulatory requirements.

“The fact that Pac Rim – now OceanaGold – could sue El Salvador when it has never had a license to operate, is an abuse of process,” says Manuel PĂ©rez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies. “That these suits take place far from any transparent, independent court system demonstrates why we are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so called free trade agreements.”

This case is part of what led the Government of El Salvador to decide not to issue new mining permits.  That decision has widespread support in El Salvador; a recent poll of the University of Central America (UCA) indicates that 79.5% of Salvadorans are against any gold mining.

The civil society groups from the four countries, which came together in 2009 as International Allies, praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed the mining company and have rallied the Salvadoran public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the mining company.  They expressed disgust that El Salvador had to pay over $12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license.

“Irrevocable damage has already been done to communities in El Salvador,” says the Salvadoran Roundtable against Metallic Mining (La Mesa).  “Pac Rim's presence in El Salvador has fomented local conflict, which has led to threats, attacks, and assassinations. We want OceanaGold, and all the misery it has caused, out of El Salvador, and for the government to enact a prohibition on any metal mining."

“By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favor corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world,” says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water.”

"This is one of now far too many examples of Canadian mining companies making use of international arbitration to bully governments when their mine projects lack community consent and have not met legal or regulatory requirements. In contrast, communities have no effective means to hold these same companies to account for the systematic and serious harms resulting from their operations", says Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

“What we have now is a clear example of what is wrong with investor-state-dispute-settlement clauses, whether they are inserted in domestic laws or bilateral or multilateral investment agreements. El Salvador’s experience confirms the threats to human rights and the environment that occur when corporations bring a suit to tribunals like ICSID,” explained Robin Broad, professor at the American University.

"A mining company that calls itself responsible should not be using mechanisms like ICSID to force governments to do its bidding.  Countries like El Salvador have a right to say no to mining without fear of a massive lawsuit", said Keith Slack of Oxfam America.

"At a time of water scarcity, it is unconscionable for the global trade and investment regime to deny governments of water-stressed countries like El Salvador the policy space to protect local watersheds and ensure the realiastion of the human right to water," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“It was morally reprehensible for Oceana Gold to demand $250 million USD from the Salvadoran people. This is a staggering amount for a cash-strapped country that could be much better used for education, health care, or other social services. This amount would fund the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador for more than one decade. The legal costs alone are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people,” says Emeritus Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne, Australia.

“Let us be clear: El Salvador has lost a lot during all this arbitration. El Salvador had to pay more than $12 million, just to defend itself. These legal costs are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people. At a minimum, OceanaGold should reimburse El Salvador for the costs of this suit, which never should have taken place. And it should also be responsible for the social and environmental damage left in its wake,” says Alexis Stoumbelis of CISPES.

“This is a yet another case of corporate power being exercised against a democratic Government decision. If Australia ratifies the TTP there will be more of this to come” said Ged Kearney President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“ISDS is part of a trade model that puts the needs of corporations before the needs of workers and the planet. The Salvadoran government did what a responsive democratic system is supposed to do: it listened to the desires and priorities of its constituents and acted accordingly” said Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

ETU – NSW at risk of power failure similar to South Australia due to massive staffing cuts

Posted on 29-9-2016


The axing of more than 2,600 front-line power workers since 2012 has left NSW at risk of falling victim to similar chaos to that experienced in South Australia during the past 24 hours, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

The union said cuts overseen by the state and federal governments over the past four years had drastically reduced the number of skilled workers available to respond to major incidents, natural disasters and wild weather, leaving the public at risk of lengthy power outages.

ETU assistant secretary Dave McKinley said the number of front-line power workers across NSW had shrunk by a quarter since 2012, leaving the state increasingly vulnerable to the kind of extreme weather event that struck South Australia.

“What has occurred in South Australia in the past 24 hours could easily happen in NSW,” Mr McKinley said.

“While it is impossible to prevent network damage caused by wild winds and extreme weather, the ability to restore power for consumers is dependent on having the skilled workers available to respond.

“In NSW, we have seen more than a quarter of the entire workforce slashed in the last four years, including 1,385 workers at Ausgrid, 446 from Endeavour Energy, and 800 from Essential Energy.

“When the next disaster inevitably hits, this loss of skilled workers will have a devastating effect on response times and the speed at which power can be reconnected, particularly in the event of a state-wide natural disaster.

“The situation had been exacerbated by the NSW Government’s decision to respond to a recent ruling by the Federal Government’s energy regulator by further slashing the number of front-line power workers.

“The people of NSW have been hung out to dry by the NSW Government, with these massive cuts inevitably going to lead to major disruptions when future disasters strike.”

Mr McKinley said the union was urging NSW power companies to send immediate assistance to South Australia, in the form of workers and specialist equipment.

“Right now, our focusing needs to be on helping the people of South Australia by diverting all available resources and skilled labour to assist with restoring electricity services,” he said.

“The union is calling on the NSW distribution and transmission network companies to provide urgent assistance to our neighbours in their time of need.

“We are also urging them to take a good hard look at the resources they have available moving forward so they can ensure they have the skilled workers and specialist equipment needed to respond to similar events when they occur in NSW.

Important Anti-WestCONnex win

BY WENDY BACON


Anti-WestCONnex campaigners scored a win last week when Westconnex postponed its plans to knock down scores of trees and begin road widening for the New M5 along Euston Road, Alexandria.

If completed, these plans will dramatically impact on Sydney Park, removing its Eastern boundary, hundreds of trees and pouring 63,000 more cars a day along its borders and into already congested local roads.

“This is a huge win for the community given WestCONnex told residents these works would last for up to eight weeks,” said WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) spokesperson Janet Dandy-Ward. The work only continued for 6 days instead of 8 weeks which was to be immediately followed by road widening works.

While work has been stopped before, this is the first time that Westconnex has actually been forced back as it pursues its relentless passage across Sydney with consturction for the M4 East and the New M5 tollways.

As a result of the reprieve on the northern end of the Park, campaigners have moved their 24 hour a day protest camp to the other end of Sydney Park where demolitions across a large swathe of St Peters are planned to begin before the end of the year. Buildings slated for demolition include a state significant industrial warehouse and scores of sound homes including a row of heritage terraces and an original brick carter’s cottage with stables.

As City Hub   goes to press, campaigners are holding a vigil outside what was the home of Shelley Jensen. Ms Jensen, a woman in her early sixties, has lived in and owned one of the heritage homes opposite Sydney Park for 16 years. RMS has taken over her three bedroom home and forced her to move to two months temporary accommodation in a one room apartment. The $960,000 RMS paid her for the property will not allow her to live anywhere in inner Sydney. She described the process through which she has lost her ‘anchor’ as ‘terrifying’.

Several other forcibly acquired St Peters owners and tenants are also being evicted and placed in temporary accommodation while two others are still refusing to move. One of these is Shelley’s neighbour Richard Capuano who has refused requests to move this week. He is one of a number of residents and business owners who have taken their claims to the NSW Land and Environment Court on the basis of unfair RMS valuations.

These events are political dynamite for Premier Mike Baird who this week promised a ‘fairer go’ in the future for home owners. This ‘fairer go’ includes a pitiful extra $50,000 compensation for hundreds of homeowners whose homes were acquired for up to half a million below market value. The government also finally released the “Russell Report’ which had been kept secret for 2 years. The report documented unfair forced acquisition processes and recommended reform.

Mr Capuano told the Sydney Morning Herald that the changes were ‘insulting’ and demanded a full review into the acquisition process for WestConnex and for “residents to be recompensed for what they were cheated out of”.

Local Greens MP and WestCONnex spokesperson Jenny Leong welcomed reform but described the changes as a ‘bandaid’ solution.  “Community pressure on the Baird Government has forced it to respond to a multitude of serious and legitimate concerns” but “bandaids won’t make this project work for the people of NSW. The whole WestConnex project is deeply flawed and I’m calling again for an urgent inquiry. We need to rethink the whole thing right now.”

In the aftermath of the aborted work on Euston Road, the NSW Planning Department is investigating a number of complaints that the construction consortium, which is led by CIMIC (previously called Leightons) breached conditions during its work last week before it packed up and left.

Under planning approval conditions, Westconnex is required to do a ‘Tree Report’ to justify damaging or potentially damaging any tree during construction. Although these arborists’ reports  tend to simply justify what Westconnex wants to do anyway, they are an essential step in the planning chain. Westconnex did not publish a tree report before it set up its construction compound on Euston Rd.

The City of Sydney, which is strongly opposed to Westconnex, complained to the NSW Planning Department about the missing report. A report was filed but initially was not considered adequate. It was eventually only given conditional approval more than two weeks later.

“We know from the tree report WestCONnex finally submitted for the site that they planned to destroy over 160 trees there before moving on to road widening works. But thanks to the constant vigilance of the community, they only destroyed two substantial trees – and completed just a few days’ work.”

Even those two trees were only destroyed after more than 25 campaigners lay on the road in front of a truck before being dragged away by riot police. Work was then stopped again after residents reported a nest which was housing live birds in a tree that was about to be chopped down.

As well as blockading the site, residents reported breaches of planning conditions to Westconnex and the NSW Planning Department. Westconnex has denied breaching any conditions.

In a letter responding to a Westconnex Action Group complaint, the Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) the publicly owned private company that is in charge of the tollways, claimed that it had not actually begun work before a tree report had been approved. City Hub   however took a photo of excavation equipment working on site before NSW Planning had its conditional approval for limited tree destruction.This has been forwarded to the Department of Planning.

Westconnex can also only work within land it lawfully controls. On Tuesday, City of Sydney staff visited the site and observed that Westconnex was working on land inside the park. This incident was reported to the Planning Department. In a letter to Westconnex Action Group member Rhea Liebmann this week, Westconnex stated that fences were only placed on City of Sydney land for public safety during tree destruction. However City Hub   has also seen photos taken three days after the tree destruction that show a fence well inside the Sydney Park boundary. On the same day, workers were observed shifting fences while they were working.

More than 100 campaigners have been rostered to maintain the protest camp which has now relocated with City of Sydney support to near the wetland on the South East corner of the site. This corner will be chopped off if the road goes ahead.  The temporary reprieve gives the campaign space and time to ramp up its campaign to protect the park while its focuses on the impending destruction in St Peters.

“We know Mike Baird’s prepared to reverse his decisions to save his political career. We urge him to rethink WestCONnex before he’s remembered as the Premier who ruined Sydney,” said WAG spokesperson Janet Ms Dandy-Ward.