The people are saying: 'Not in our name!'

Text of March 2014 Socialist Alliance broadsheet (download PDF here) Tens of thousands of people gathered at vigils around Australia over the weekend of February 22 to 23 to protest the brutal killing of asylum seeker Reza Berati inside the Manus Island detention camp in Papua New Guinea. The nightmare inflicted on asylum seekers has driven people of conscience into the streets in the biggest numbers seen for many years. They are saying “Not in our name!” This is a powerful expression of solidarity — the key to effective people’s resistance to the attacks on so many fronts by Tony Abbott’s Coalition government. The Abbott government has attacked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, public services and jobs, Medicare, trade unions, the Climate Commission, the Great Barrier Reef and has escalated the war on asylum seekers. Australia is now facing a jobs crisis. Qantas, GMH, Ford, Toyota and other companies are shedding thousands of jobs. Unemployment is rising and is much worse for young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Image removed. The Coalition government says “leave it to the market”, but we have seen what this has meant around the world — mass unemployment, endless wars, attacks on living standards and abandonment of any serious response to the climate change crisis. The gap between rich and poor is growing. The 85 richest people in the world now own as much as the 3.5 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population. “Leaving it to the market” means helping the super rich get even richer at the expense of the common good. It places their profits before the very survival of people and planet. It locks humanity into a spiral towards ecocide. It pits people against people as ruling elites resort to even more aggressive ‘divide and rule’ tactics, in order to hang on to their privilege. “Market solutions” are inflicting permanent war and destruction of livelihoods on billions of people, turning millions more each year into refugees and internally displaced people. Some of them are ending up detained indefinitely in Australian offshore immigration detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island. The Socialist Alliance argues that there is a different way. To solve society’s problems we need to break with the profits-first agenda shared by the Liberal-National and Labor parties alike. These solutions require the empowerment of people, and reversing the disastrous path of privatisation, which is destroying social services, our hard-won rights and our environment. Now is the time for trade unions, communities and the social movements to work together to organise nationwide community and industrial action against this agenda. The May federal budget will further escalate the attack on public health, educations, welfare, environment and social services. We need a campaign of industrial and community action to defend workers rights and resist the attacks on public services, jobs and the environment. Communities should continue to mobilise and link up with unions to defend our rights. Susan Price is a national co-convener

Refugees need solidarity not abuse

There is a moral and political crisis in Australia over the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, particularly those who come by boat. About 90% of boat arrivals are eventually found to be legitimate refugees, yet the government and corporate media continue to demonise and criminalise asylum-seekers. The numbers of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia is tiny compared to the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers who cross borders into many poor countries every day. The Australian government is ignoring its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and is now pressuring desperately poor Cambodia to take asylum seekers off its hands. The Australian government has spent billions to torture asylum seekers through indefinite detention. Those found to be refugees face an uncertain future on bridging visas or at the mercy of Temporary Protection Visas, which deny refugees any chance of permanent residency or being reunited with their families. Image removed. Reza Berati’s murder on Manus Island took place under the supervision of Australian prison contractors, including a former Sri Lankan army commander. PM Tony Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison should resign and be locked up for their crimes against asylum seekers. The deportation of asylum seekers must stop and all offshore and onshore detention centres must be closed. The money spent on security contracts can then be used to fly in desperate refugees from Indonesia and Malaysia who are risking their lives to get here by boat and be used to step up efforts to resettle refugees from UNHCR camps around the world. Australia must fully respect and implement its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. We need a foreign policy that puts people’s needs before corporate greed. A good example is what is being done in Latin America through the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a social and egalitarian alternative to free trade agreements.

Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people

Australia is one of the richest nations on earth because of the theft of the land and the resources of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who were the first people. Today people suffer Third World conditions and intense racism. In 2008, federal and state governments committed to close the gap on life expectancy by 2031, but today there is still a 10-year gap in life expectancy and no marked improvement to the gap in literacy. The jobs gap is growing. Cuts to federal programs and community-run services that accompanied the Northern Territory intervention have reduced employment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 53.8% (in 2008) to 47.8% today. Aboriginal communities suffer from high rates of curable diseases, such as trachoma and rheumatic heart disease. Suicide rates in Aboriginal communities are among the highest in the world. Image removed. Rates of Aboriginal imprisonment in Western Australia and the NT are higher than in South Africa during apartheid. Yet the Abbott government has announced $13.4 million in cuts to Aboriginal legal services over the next four years. Aboriginal adults are 14 times more likely to be jailed than other Australians. For Aboriginal minors the rate is 31 times and getting worse. Only 2% of the overall population, Aboriginal people make up just over a quarter of the total prisoner population in Australia, and rates for men and women have risen in the past year. Aboriginal deaths in custody average one a month, and this is likely to increase along with the rising imprisonment rate. Cutting legal aid will result in more Aboriginal people locked up and more deaths and suicides inside prisons. When Abbott announced the cuts to Aboriginal legal services, he announced a $2 million fund to help mining companies, pastoralists, commercial fishers and councils respond to Native Title claims. Abbott has also cut funding to some community-run early childhood education programs and withdrawn funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. The government has appointed a hand-picked National Indigenous Council that supports cuts to welfare and services. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has attacked the teaching of Aboriginal history in an attempt to whitewash the genocide that took place. Abbott’s proposed attacks against Medicare and the Disability Support Pension will disproportionately hurt Aboriginal people. To stop Abbott’s current plan of attack we need a strong campaign that involves Aboriginal people and their supporters. The historic 1966 Gurindji struggle that ended slave-like conditions in Wave Hill, and the campaign to stop a nuclear waste dump in Muckaty both show what is possible with union support for Aboriginal rights. Powerful alliances have been built between environmentalists and Aboriginal communities against coal seam gas in the Pilliga and in the Kimberley. Aboriginal culture is based on sharing customs and collectivism. This is in complete opposition to capitalism’s individualist, dog-eat-dog, consumerist model. To restore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination, to save the planet and to share the wealth, we need to extend democratic public ownership over strategic sectors of the economy. We need to create again a society based on sharing for the common good — democratic socialism. The Socialist Alliance supports: • Land rights and compensation for land taken.
• A treaty, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-governance, and the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to self-determination.
• An end to the NT intervention and its extension under Stronger Futures, and a reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.
• The right to bilingual and bi-cultural education and proper funding for Aboriginal health care, legal, housing, and other services.
• An end to black deaths in custody and full implementation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Let’s make poverty history — for real, this time

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report last year ranked Australia the wealthiest country in the world on the basis of median wealth per adult. Yet according to the Australian Council of Social Service’s Poverty In Australia Report released last year, one out of eight Australians are living in poverty. In government, both the ALP and Liberal/National parties have boosted the incomes of the rich. This is a crime in a country where the richest 20% already own two-thirds of the wealth and the poorest 20% are left to share just 1% of the wealth. Since 1975, more than $3.3 trillion (in today’s dollar terms) in wealth has been transferred from workers to capitalists. This is based on ABS figures that show that the profit share of total national income in Australia increased from 16.9% in 1975 to 26.8% in June 2013 while the wages share fell from 62.7% to 54.1%. Image removed. Their excuse? The budget deficit. But the Australian Institute found that the single biggest cause of the budget deficit were the income tax cuts of 2005-06 and 2011-12, which disproportionately benefited the richest 10%, and which robbed $169 billion from federal revenue. Add to this the $2.5 billion in subsidies to the private health insurance industry. Ending fossil fuel subsidies to the mining companies would save $14 billion over four years. And all this before seriously taxing the super profits of the mining companies and banks. To seriously make poverty history today we need a welfare system that gives access to a living income for all. This is totally affordable; all we require is the kind of government that puts the needs of people first.

Create jobs by addressing climate crisis and community need

After Australia escaped — for a time — some of the worst effects of the global economic crisis, unemployment has started to rise once again. Australia’s latest official unemployment figures confirm that full-time jobs are being destroyed by the thousands. Qantas has announced it will axe up to 5000 jobs as part of its efforts to find $2 billion in savings and restore its profits. This follows hot on the heels of decisions by Toyota, General Motors Holden and Ford to cease production. SPC Ardmona’s cannery in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley will remain open for now after the Victorian government gave the company a $22 million bailout. But a host of other manufacturing companies, including Alcoa’s aluminium plant are shutting down or slashing their workforces. The official unemployment rate of 6% and rising is not as bad as in other parts of the world, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Youth unemployment is more than twice as high and Aboriginal unemployment is even higher and worsening. Full-time jobs are disappearing but the growth of part-time jobs is not making up for this. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in January, full-time employment dropped 7100 to 7,953,000 while part-time employment rose 3400 to 3,506,500. Last year, an ongoing study commissioned by the ACTU found that in Australia, only about 60% of workers are in full or ongoing part-time employment. That leaves about 40% in insecure work. And the insecurity is getting worse every day. Abbott and his neoconservative ministers are quick to lecture us that the solution is to leave it to “the market” and to “growing the economy”. The ALP only offers a few more subsidies to the bosses as a weak and ineffective tweak to basically the same policy of promoting corporate profit in the hope that some of the benefits trickle down to the rest of us. Image removed. However, the Australian economy has been growing for most of the past two decades and the results are greater job insecurity, loss of public services, massive subsidies to mining billionaires (even through a mining boom), growing threats to the environment and attacks on wages and conditions. When Qantas announced its job cuts and the car companies announced their industry shut downs, the Socialist Alliance proposed that Qantas be taken back into public ownership (renationalised), as a first step in the development of an integrated, sustainable public transport system. This should be linked to a huge expansion of the national railway network, with special priority given to the construction of a high speed rail system. The Socialist Alliance proposed the nationalisation of the vehicle manufacturing industry under workers’ and community control. This would allow the entire car industry to be re-tooled to make public transport vehicles, electric cars and the infrastructure needed for a rapid shift to renewable energy production. When SPC Ardmona threatened closure, we proposed taking the company into public hands, with a board of management elected from the Goulburn Valley community, together with strong participation by unions and workers and representation from local fruit-growers. Profits could then be shared between community interests and the public purse. Alternatives to ownership by the giant corporations should be developed, along with the kinds of co-operative models being practised in other countries, including in Venezuela, where the socialist government is promoting a widespread cooperative network, particularly in rural and regional areas. The complete failure of the market to begin the urgently needed transition to renewables, and its failure to meet people’s basic needs, means that a new kind of government, which puts the planet and people first, is needed. Many good and useful jobs can be created in such a transition. Work could be shared around by reducing the working week without loss in pay, given all the technological advancements and increases in productivity.

Defend and extend our public services

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) is a powerful right-wing lobby for big corporations, which has spearheaded the push for deregulation and privatisation in Australia for four decades. It has also led the war on trade unions and the promotion of individual contracts to replace collective bargaining. Last October, PM Tony Abbott set up an audit commission chaired by BCA president Tony Shepherd and with a secretariat led by Peter Crone, chief economist for the BCA. The audit is preparing a hit list of cuts to services for the May budget. But the softening up for the cuts has begun, with proposals to roll back Medicare and to retreat from the pre-election commitment to increase public education funding, as recommended in the Gonski report. Some of the first protests this year were in defence of Medicare and against the proposed introduction of a Medicare co-payment to visit a doctor. This proposal would be “the beginning of the end of Medicare” and “about creating a two-tier health system where if you are poor you die”, according to Doctors’ Reform Society’s Con Costa. The gap in educational outcomes between rich and poor students has widened over the past 12 years and the Gonski review correctly identified education-funding inequality as the key reason for this widening gap. It recommended a fairer funding model based on student need and disadvantage, as a means to close this gap. Image removed. Blaming a “low-grade politically correct” national curriculum foisted upon them by the “cultural left”, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is creating a smoke screen and gearing up for an attack on education and on teachers. Australia can afford universal, free and high-quality public health and education. The money is there, but billions are being squandered on subsidising private schools and private health insurance companies. Public housing is disappearing while private and community housing costs are spiralling. More than one in 10 Australian households and one in four households in the private rental market are in housing stress because they have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Liberal and Labor governments’ new home-buyer schemes and cuts to stamp duties have only added to the high cost of buying a home. The household debt to income ratio has increased five-fold over the past two decades. Average rents rose by 83.7% in the decade from 2000 to 2010, according to ABS calculations, and have continued to rise since. In the same decade, wages increased by only 34.8%. We need to liberate housing from the market and turn it into a social right through large-scale projects to build public housing and the introduction of rent capping in the private rental market. Public housing projects would create jobs and opportunities to build quality, creatively designed, energy efficient, appropriately located, affordable housing with a low carbon footprint.

Climate change emergency: There is no Planet B

Before it was abolished by the Abbott government, the Climate Commission warned that this is the “critical decade” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the climate science, business-as-usual, “leave it to the market” politics cannot solve this emergency. We need to look at radical measures. There is already way too much carbon in the atmosphere to guarantee a safe future. We already risk crossing various “tipping points” that would bring average temperatures to levels that have not existed for millions of years. Most species would die out. Large-scale farming would be difficult or impossible. As we confront global warming, the existence of our civilisation, and perhaps of the human species itself, is at stake. There is no Planet B. Most of Australia’s fossil fuel reserves — coal, oil and gas — must stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Yet the Abbott government has given the go ahead to building the world’s biggest coal port in central Queensland which endangers the UN World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and allow the expansion of coal mining that could double Australia’s coal exports in the next decade. The Abbott government wants to cut Australia’s modest Renewable Energy Target, which aims to have 20% of Australia’s energy produced from renewables by 2020. But we need a target to power Australia with 100% renewable energy within 10 years. Image removed. No new coalmines or coal-fired power stations should be approved. Government should develop a plan to phase out existing coal and gas exports, and close down fossil fuel power stations. Communities affected by the transition must be guaranteed replacement jobs and retraining on full pay. Governments should and can build big solar thermal plants and wind farms now, and upgrade the national energy grid to make it compatible with large-scale renewable energy. The funds can be found from ending all government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry — which add up to more than $10 billion each year. If Australia’s energy sector is put back into public hands and under democratic community and workers’ control, we stand a fighting chance of making this transition. A massive program of changing Australia’s energy infrastructure will create thousands of green jobs and boost Australia’s manufacturing industry. Public transport should be massively expanded and made free, frequent and accessible. The Socialist Alliance stands for greater public subsidies for carbon-neutral organic farming and an end to the logging of native forests, which are crucial carbon sinks. If the mining and banking sectors were nationalised, hundreds of billions of dollars in profit now siphoned off by billionaires could be used to pay for the emergency measures the climate crisis demands. We cannot rely on capitalist, market solutions to the climate crisis. The Labor/Greens carbon price and emissions trading schemes will not reduce emissions. These crisis-prone market schemes subsidise the biggest polluters, while actually delaying the big structural changes we need to make now. The Socialist Alliance calls on the Greens to end support for emissions trading and instead to help to build the campaigns for an emergency transition to a zero-carbon Australia.

Gender equality: Why aren’t we there yet?

In 21st century Australia we have not achieved gender equality. The wage gap between women and men is increasing, the numbers of women in poverty is growing, women’s reproductive rights are under attack, violence against women is on the increase, there is no marriage equality for LGBTIQ people and gender discrimination is rife. Why aren’t we there yet? Why does the conservative right appear to have so much say in the policies of Liberal and Labor governments alike? The answer is that in a world where the gap between the wealth of the ruling elite and the rest of us gets bigger by the day, their governments need to rely on backward and bigoted institutions to divide and rule, and to keep us disarmed and distracted from the real causes of the problems we face. Conservative church leaders and reactionary media barons work together to police and propagate so-called “traditional” gender roles and stereotypes and to impose on families the role of unpaid social service provider. These institutions systematically promote sexism and violence against women. Image removed. Unpaid care in Australia was estimated in 2009-10 to be worth 50.6% of GDP and six times the size of the paid care sector. Women did 66% of unpaid care work even though the proportion of women in the paid workforce had risen to 65% from 48% in 1992. The wage gap between women and men is now larger than it was 20 years ago and has risen from about 15% in 2004 to 17.5% last year. When Liberal and Labor governments are forced to explain why they refuse to allow equal marriage rights they all recite the same reactionary mantra: “Marriage is between a man and woman.” Governments for the corporate rich have a big stake in maintaining gender inequality because it helps the rich get richer and stay in power. The Socialist Alliance fights for liberation from corporate rule and so campaigns actively for gender rights, including: • Full wage equality for women
• An end to violence against women
• Full reproductive rights, including free and universal access to abortion
• Immediate legal recognition of full marriage equality

Workers’ rights are civil rights

The Abbott government’s attempts to use allegations of criminality in the building and construction industry to launch a full-scale attack on the union movement have profound strategic implications for all the movements seeking to defend social gains, democratic rights and to protect the environment. A significantly weakened trade union movement will leave all the progressive social movements more vulnerable and make it easier for the corporate rich to have their way. The attack on penalty rates is just a part of this. The Abbott government is seeking to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a secret police force in the construction industry and to use a Royal Commission to be held into the union movement to help justify its attacks on workers’ rights. This is part of a broader attack on our civil liberties which includes Victoria’s anti-picket laws and the Queensland government’s anti-association laws. Civil liberties groups have warned that the real target of the latter is much broader than "bikies", and could include protesters at the upcoming G20 summit in Brisbane, or unions. It is no coincidence that this attack on the union movement is coming at a time when the federal government is also attacking workers, the poor, those on welfare, refugees, universal health care and weakening environmental protections. The government is also calling on businesses to put the squeeze on workers’ wages and conditions, making workers pay for the impacts of globalisation and the global financial crisis. By trying to criminalise the union movement, the government hopes to undermine a potentially powerful social force — a force that will be crucial in the fight ahead. The best protection against misconduct, corruption and criminality in the union movement is not government interference, but unions that are truly democratic, with officials properly accountable to the membership and subject to recall and sanction. Download a PDF of this Socialist Alliance broadsheet here
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