Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Victorious NSW Coalition finds ‘$4.5b budget black hole’ – an all-too familiar script

Shock horror! New NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell announces he's "discovered" a $4.5b budget "black hole" left by the former Keneally Labor government.

 

I was having a conversation about the likely outcome of the NSW elections on Radio Skidrow, a Sydney community radio station, just days before the March 26 election.

“We know what is going to happen after Barry O’Farrell wins the election, don’t we? He’ll wait a couple of weeks then he will announce that Labor has left the cupboard bare so they’ll have to bring in an emergency budget. Then there’ll be no more smiling, cuddly, “moderate” Barry. Out will come the big axe against public sectors jobs, public services… It is the standard incoming neoliberall government script.”

What I totally underestimated was how fast this script would be deployed.

Just a few hours after being sworn in by the Governor as the premier of NSW, O’Farrell announced that he had “discovered” (actually he got it from his first briefing by Treasury officials)a $4.5 billion “black hole” in the budget left by the former Keneally Labor government.

He accused the former government of ”cooking the books like never before” to hide the real budget situation, called for an emergency audit, and would not rule out public sector cuts after the results of the audit came in.

The alleged $4.5b budget black hole is actually the aggregate of new Treasury estimates of likely deficits over three financial years, 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. The biggest of these newly projected deficits was $2.4b for 2014-2015 but, by budgetary convention, projections this far ahead are considered to be beyond scope of the forward estimates.

So the new O’Farrell government hasn’t discovered an actually-existing budget “black hole” or deficit (though the Treasury’s projections do confirm the absolute irresponsibilty of the privatisation agenda shared by the ALP and the Coalition – the disappearance of income from privatised assets like electricity, the state lotteries, will contribute significantly a future public income shortfall).

What has become a standard incoming neoliberal government script demands the discovery of a shocking financial deficit which will then be used to justify cuts to jobs and social services, tax cuts and subsidies to big business to help them “get the economy going”.

Remember the then inconvenient advice to O’Farrell from the infamous former Victorian Liberal premier, Jeff Kennett a month before the NSW election:

”Go fast early on,” Kennett advised, according to a report in the February 24 Sydney Morning Herald.

”The most important issue is not to try and address one issue on its own and then move to the next. If you do that all of those who oppose you will coalesce around one issue… If you attack all areas of government at the same time, you break your forces and each then settle down to protect their particular patch. You divide your enemy – old military tactic.”

For the ordinary people all this means: Brace for pain and pray for some trickle down from the boost to corporate profits!

If we buy this stale script after four decades of economic rationalism/neoliberalism, the GFC, etc, we are real suckers!

But now is not the time to agonise. It is time to start organising the resistance to the O’Farrell government’s impending attacks on our jobs, social services and rights.

March 18, 2011

Japan: Let this be a call to act now

I am sure we all shared similar reactions to the earthquake-tsunami tragedy in Japan last week. First, we blinked at reports of an big earthquake. Perhaps for a moment our response was dulled by being worn down by the string of recent nearby disasters: Christchurch, the Queensland floods and cyclones. And anyway this was Japan, a rich country and probably the most earthquake-prepared country in the world.

Then came the images of the tsunami that followed. Too much like the work of some special effects wiz from Hollywood. The water seemed too powerful and entire towns and villages seemed to wash away too easily. But this time it was not special effects. It was real. Seeing is believing, they say, but it was hard to believe what we saw on our TV screeen. As was the mounting toll.

But then there was more horror as a nuclear disaster unfolded. Again Japan was a rich country and technologically one of the most advanced. Japan is the third largest nuclear power user in the world with 53 nuclear reactors that provide 34.5% of its power needs. Surely it would be prepared to deal with a nuclear disaster?

According to Biff Bradley, the director of risk assessment for the Nuclear Energy Institute, it’s almost impossible to try to rank the absolute safety risk of a plant, due to the number of variables that would be involved in any sort of direct comparison. But given that some fundamental risks are obvious and plant safety records are public, relative risks can be measured. For instance, nearly half of the 104 nuclear reactors operating in the United States are close to major fault lines, including the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants located near California’s San Andreas Fault. The Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York is less than two miles from the Pampano fault line, and sits within 50 miles of more than 17 million people.

All around the world, people have felt numbed with shock even as they watched the even more shocked and traumatised survivors pick helplessly at the rubble and mud that remains.

Our hearts should be with those survivors struggling to find loved ones, to clear the mess and to begin rebuilding. But just as they have had to overcome a sinking into inertia that can come with shock, we must draw our lessons and start to act:

1. Show our solidarity and respond generously through the aid appeals.

2. Play our part to end the nuclear madness by ending our mining and export of uranium. Some of the exploding nuclear plants in Japan are fueled by uranium exported from Australia – more blood-stained corporate profit. Some of our politicians rushed to promise they won’t support nuclear power stations but there are others, from Labor and the Coalition camps, who until just the week before were championing that irresponsible course.

3. The Japan disaster was not a result of climate change but if we don’t address the climate change crisis terrible catastrophes on this scale (or greater) will become more common in the future we bequeath our children. Time is running out on this – we need to shift quickly to renewable energy sources not dangerous nuclear power.

Green Left Weekly is committed to such a course of action. If you want to support our work you can make a donation online today at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php.

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

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March 11, 2011

Imperialist vultures and Libya’s rebels

By Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff published in MRzine.

As Saif al-Islam, the billionaire son of Muammar Gaddafi who was the neo-liberal darling of Western governments until only recently, boasted in a March 10 interview with Reuters that forces loyal to his family were now on the offensive against rebel forces, NATO decided against military intervention – for the time being.

The Gaddafi regime’s military offensive seemed to have driven rebel forces from Az Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf by March 11 and there were reports of demoralisation in the rebel ranks.

However, France has become the first government to recognise the rebel Interim Transitional National Council set up in Benghazi on March 5 and the AFP newsagency reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also proposed “targeted air strikes” of Libya.

The Obama Administration has not recognised the rebel government but has promised to send an aid team to the rebel-held East of Libya and to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to meet with rebel leaders.

Possibly partly explaining the differences among the imperialist powers on how to intervene in Libya was an blunt assessment by US National Intelligence Director James Clapper that the better-equipped forces loyal to Gaddafi were likely to prevail in the long run against the rebels, who include enthusiastic but ill-trained civilians and dissident military units.

The Obama administration rushed to qualify this assessment as not taking into account political pressure on the Gaddafi regime but it is clear there is uncertainty in Washington about which side is likely to prevail in this conflict and what the character of any post-Gaddafi regime might be.

The seemingly greater enthusiasm for military intervention by the British and French governments, which have been leading Western government calls and preparations to implement a “no-fly zone” may also reflect those governments’ greater involvement in the training and arming of Gaddafi special forces.

There have been contradictory statements by various members of the  Benghazi-based Interim Transitional National Council on the question of foreign military intervention. Some, such as its chairperson Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil (former justice minister in the Gaddafi regime who defected to the rebels on February 21) have repeatedly called for the imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Libya. On the other hand, vice-chairperson Abdul Hafez Ghoga, a Benghazi-based human rights lawyer and community organiser, has made statements opposing Western military intervention. But in some of these statements he said that a United Nations-imposed “no-fly zone” would be acceptable.

The founding statement of the Interim Transitonal National Council end with this paragraph:

“Finally, even though the balance of power is uneven between the defenceless protestors and the tyrant regime’s mercenaries and private battalions, we will relay on the will of our people for a free and dignified existence. Furthermore, we request from the international community to fulfil its obligations to protect the Libyan people from any further genocide and crimes against humanity without any direct military intervention on Libya soil.”

This sums up a dilemma for left and progressive people who support the Libyan revolution against the Gaddafi regime but who also are deeply conscious of the ruthless and exploitative intentions of imperialist governments.

1. It is clear that the imperialists don’t support the democratic rights or freedom of the people of Libya. They want to be free to exploit Libya’s oil resources and they will deal with the devil to keep doing that. We saw how the Gaddafi regime was first isolated and attacked as a “rogue terrorist state” and then turned into the imperialists’ good ally against “Al Qaeda”. The imperialists’ real interests are clear.

2. At the same time it is also clear that while the rebellion has popular support, the Gaddafi regime still has a big military advantage. In these circumstances, it is not hard to understand the rebel’s desperate appeal for international help.

The Libyan rebels are a mixed force and the composition of the Interim Transitional National Council reflects this.

At this stage the rebel leaders getting the most publicity are those who once were in the Gaddafi regime. But there are other elements, including some from various Islamic opposition groups (which were bloodily suppressed by the Gaddafi regime), more secular elements, represenatives from various tribes (the Gaddafi regime kept alive and manipulated the tribal system to remain in power), some youth and even veterans of the Sepember 1, 1969 revolution who were subsequently repressed by Gaddafi. Unlike in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, here is no discernable leftist voice in this revolution.

Some of the people that have defected from the Gaddafi regime have been the loudest voices from in the Council for a the UN to impose a “no-fly zone”. And some of these may come from the more neo-liberal wing of the Gaddafi regime (previously believed by Western governments to be headed by Gaddafi’s son, Saif.

Mahmoud Jibril, a member of the rebel Council, was decribed in a WikiLeak-ed secret US diplomatic cable from 2009 as “a serious interlocutor who ‘gets’ the US perspective”.

Ali Issawi, another Council member was described in another WikiLeak-ed US cable reported Issawi was also a member of a “shadow” committee set up in 2008 by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, which had been “charged with hammering out specifics” of a government reform program. According to the BBC: “Issawi has a PhD in privatisation from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, Romania. In 2005, he became director general of the Ownership Expansion Programme, a Libyan government fund encouraging privatisation, and founded the Centre for Export Development in 2006.”

The exiled opposition groups (monarchists and the once CIA-backed National Front for the Salvation of Libya) are said to have little support among Libya’s 6.5 million people.

“The current opposition movement in Libya is diverse and includes secular, nationalists, monarchists and Islamist elements,” according to Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London cited in a February 27 New York Times article. “I don’t think that any movement is in the position, in terms of resources and ideological power, to monopolise the political process.”

In an article in the New York Review of Books blog, Nicolas Pelham a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, described what he saw in opposition-run Benghazi:

“The east now has a National Transitional Council, which claims authority over the remnants of the armed forces and which is led by the former justice minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil. But many in the youth revolution consider the slight elderly former judge with an old-timer’s red felt hat too old-school. In the first days of their uprising, he was still in Gaddafi’s government; he defected on February 21, after protesting the colonel’s “excessive use of violence” against protesters. Aside from Abdul Jalil, all but six of the council’s members have refused to identify themselves for fear of reprisals and the council despite promises of transparency meets behind closed doors. Its first newspaper is as partisan and sycophantic as those it replaced.

“Supporters emphasise Abdul Jalil’s revolutionary credentials, but it is unclear whether he can fill the vacuum. Beyond the courthouse, government departments and schools have yet to open. And despite the council’s goading, many shops, police stations, and military bases remain shuttered, apparently because their proprietors are still hedging their bets. Though there has been little crime, frequent gunfire punctures Benghazi’s nights.”

Pelham says that secret units of Gaddafi supporters are blamed for this gunfire:

“Their fears are not unfounded. Though it has lost its buildings, Gaddafi’s internal security apparatus remains at least partially in place. Hotel receptionists subserviently field calls from a regime informer seeking information about al-Jazeera. Intruders broke into one of the very few European consulates still open here, stole its computers, and warned the consul, who had lived for two decades in the city, to flee…”

Back in Tripoli Gaddafi and his son Saif describe the situation in Benghazi as anarchy, with armed drugged youth firing the guns they’ve seized and crime rampant. Saif says he’s had phone calls from Benghazi residents appealing for Gaddafi’s forces to come and liberate them from this situation. But Pelham ppaints a different picture of the opposition in Libya’s East:

“To date, inclusiveness has been its hallmark. For such a violent revolutionary regime, revenge killings have been remarkably infrequent—at least for now. Young urban lawyers sit side-by-side with tribal elders and Islamists on the National Council. A non-Islamist lawyer serves as the council spokesman, and a staunch secularist is charged with running Benghazi’s education. The politicians have also consciously wooed the armed forces; youth protestors and the old border guards man their side of the border with Egypt together. Still, the armed forces will likely remain too fragile to safeguard the revolution during the transitional period. Tribal irregulars, not the army, recaptured the oil-rich town of Brega west of Benghazi. The army has also proved unable to ward off tribesmen raiding by the truckload huge armories of such heavy weapons as Sam-7s abandoned by the colonel’s militias.

“In cities across Libya, Islamist groups have proved more efficient at responding to the collapse of authority. While council members squabble for positions inside the courthouse, Islamist leaders escorted by followers with walkie-talkies emerge from their tents to mobilize the large crowds with sermons and open-air prayers in the square below. Mosques formerly required to close between prayer times are now open round the clock, and imams call for an armed jihad against Gaddafi in Friday sermons—where politics was previously banned. Salim Jaber, who heads the religious affairs office of the Benghazi council, has transferred responsibility for food distribution to Benghazi’s poor from the local markets to the mosques. Unlike in Egypt where the beltagiya, or street thugs,  rampaged for several days through downtown Cairo, religious injunctions against looting ensured that attacks quickly subsided. Mosques organised collections of local weapons. And sheikhs on Benghazi’s new Free Libya radio have called on their followers to take over the jobs left by departing migrant workers.”

But the broad and evolving character of the opposition is also a cause for nervousness in imperialist power circles.

A February 27 article in the New York Times referred to this worry in Washington:

“The worst-case scenario should the rebellion topple [Gaddafi], and one that concerns American counterterrorism officials, is that of Afghanistan or Somalia — a failed state where Al Qaeda or other radical groups could exploit the chaos and operate with impunity.

“But there are others who could step into any vacuum, including Libya’s powerful tribes or a pluralist coalition of opposition forces that have secured the east of the country and are tightening their vise near the capital.”

“It is going to be a political vacuum,” the article quotes Lisa Anderson, the president of the American University in Cairo and a Libya expert. “I don’t think it is likely that people will want to put down their weapons and go back to being bureaucrats.”

The fear of the unpredictabilty of a post-Gaddafi regime also was expressed in a February 28 article in the US Foreign Affairs journal by Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation who recently returned from Libya:

“In the post-Gaddafi era, the recently defected tribal bulwarks of the ancien régime — the al-Magariha and the al-Warfalla — will play a critical role in lending legitimacy and unity to a new government. That said, the weakness and fragmentation of the military and the tempting availability of oil resources highlight the very real threat of tribal warlordism.

“Tribal clout, however, is tempered by other affiliations: a strong middle class and, increasingly, religion. Among Libya’s Islamists, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has long attracted the attention of the West because of its association with Al Qaeda. But after Gaddafi, the less visible, non-Salafi networks will matter more — namely, the Sufi orders and the Muslim Brotherhood. The revivalist Sanussiya Sufi order has featured prominently in the country’s collective memory. It provided the organizational base for the Libyan resistance to the Italian occupation and was the pillar of support for the monarchy under King Idris, who held sovereign power from 1951 until 1969.”

Gaddafi has tried to play to Western fears of Islamic terrorism as he tries to buy more time for his  embattled regime. In a long interview with France 24 TV, broadcast on March 8, Gaddafi compared his attacks on the Libyan rebels to Israel’s murderous military assaults on the Islamic “extremists” in Gaza.

“Even the Israelis in Gaza, when they moved into the Gaza strip, they moved in with tanks to fight such extremists.”

“It’s the same thing here! We have small armed groups who are fighting us. We did not use force from the outset… Armed units of the Libyan army have had to fight small armed Al Qaeda bands. That is what’s happened.”

In the same interview he boasted that his regime stops “millions of black Africans” from going to Europe.

“There are millions of black Africans who could immigrate via the Mediterranean and head Italy or France, and Libya plays a crucial role in the Mediterranean in terms of stopping that,” Gaddafi said.

Gaddafi has played this racist card before:

“We don’t know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans,” the Libyan leader told a Rome meeting last year which was attended by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.

“We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.”

The imperialists are worried about the broader revolt across north Africa and the Arab world — which is shaking pro-Western dictatorships. A rebel victory in Libya would give greater confidence to mass revolts against imperialist-backed regimes elsewhere in the region.

The West has been pushed onto the back foot. There is a potential an opportunity to take back the initiative — and the banner of “democracy” — by means of a military intervention in Libya.

On the other hand, if Gaddfi looks as though he has the power to crush this revolt, Western governments — whose biggest concern is a stable, pro-West regime — may be willing to let this play out.

Either way, the Arab revolts are mass movements that have popular self-determination as a key driving force. The bloody catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq are a testimony to the emptiness of Western promises to bring “democracy” from outside.

The revolution is the people of Libya’s to make.

 

Mixed messages from Libyan opposition: Placard at Benghazi appeals for international assistance in removing Gaddafi regime.

Younger members of the Libyan opposition are more against foreign military intervention.

March 10, 2011

Pauline Hanson: She’s baaack!

Pauline Hanson was mobbed by a fawning big business media at the ballot draw for the NSW Legislative Council. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Pauline Hanson got the fawning attention of the big business media at the March 10 ballot draw for the NSW Legislative Council elections. But she was nearly upstaged by independent nudist candidate Stuart Baanstra who stripped to his g-string during the draw!

Australia’s most famous racist one-time MP is heading a no-name team for the state’s upper house in the March 26 NSW elections. It wasn’t long ago that she announced that she had had enough of Australia and was emigrating to Britain. But then she changed her mind and apparently she now lives near Nelson’s Bay just north of Newcastle. She announced her candidacy just a couple of days before the close of nominations, securing some free political advertising by making headlines for simply returning to the fray.

Hanson may be just doing yet another tired re-run but is her return part of a new attempt by the far right to get a stronger hearing in Australian politics?

Possibly more significant than Hanson’s come back is an attempt by conservative forces to try and replicate in Australia the US Tea Party movement. This is a movement, headed by right-wing politicians and media shock-jocks, that has been mobilising significant numbers of people in the US around a populist and racist mish-mash of issues and conspiracy theories. Their supporters have turned up with guns to some of their mobilisations.

Apparently Liberal federal opposition leader Tony Abbott has given this project the nod and 2GB Radio shock-jocks Alan Jones and Chris Smith are calling for a “people’s revolt” against the preposterous idea that carbon pollution is causing a climate change crisis. They are calling for a big rally in Canberra on March 23 but a smaller test climate change deniers’ rally will take place in Melbourne before.

While the reactionary US Tea Party movement has Fox News and Glenn Beck as agitators, here we have the likes of 2GB, Alan Jones and Chris Smith.

Last August, a website called the T.E.A. Party in Australia was launched by a David Goodridge. T.E.A stands for Taxed Enough Already, the website explained.

Then in October, Liberal Party’s Senator Cory Bernardi helped establish Conservative Action Network, or CANdo, as a “Facebook for conservatives” according to a March 5 report by Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Already counter-obilisations are being planned in Australia but we need to learn an important lesson from the rise of the Tea Party movement in the US. It has arisen not only because of the agitation of rightwing politicians and media shock-jocks but it is also a direct result of the betrayals of the Obama Administration.

Ordinary people US are suffering the pain of a deep post Global Financial Crisis recession even though the economists have declared the recession over and Wall Street bankers and speculators are back to rewarding themselves with obscene bonuses.

Suffering working people in the US have seen how the Obama administration was quick to blow trillions of dollars to save the bankers from a crisis wrought out of their own greed. It has been estimated that 26.1 million people are either unemployed or underemployed while a record 43.6 million now live in poverty in the richest country in the world.

The rise of the Tea Party movement in the US is a result of the failure of many left and progressive activists to take an independent political stand from the Democratic Party, a longstanding alternative party for the big capitalists in the US. It is a product of deep legitimacy crisis for the two-parties-of-capitalism system in the US.

We need to think seriously about this as the Greens and a section of the environment movement are being tempted to support the federal Labor government’s latest version of a big business friendly pollution trading scheme. If ordinary people, many of whom are wondering how come they are not feeling the benefits of the mining boom, are made to pay higher bills only to see big polluting companies get away with billions of dollars more in government subsidies (already estimated at $12 billion a year), it will be a lot harder to mobilise a real people’s power challenge to the powerful vested interests that are blocking Australia’s transition to a sustainable and equitable future.

We need to build progressive political movements that are independent of the parties that have been revealed to systematically serve the interests of big business.

Green Left Weekly is committed to building independent progressive political movements. If you want to support our work you can make a donation online today at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php.

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

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Nudist rights independent Stuart Baanstra competed with Hanson for media attention by stripping to his g-string. Photo by Peter Boyle.

March 8, 2011

Interview with Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson (right), next to Dick Whitehead, marching at in the Sydney 2010 May Day march.

Andrew Ferguson, former NSW Secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), recently retired from that position and became Australian Labor Party’s NSW Legislative Council ticket. Ferguson, who identifies as a socialist, is likely to get the sixth position on the ticket. The top two spots on the ticket will go to NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal and Planning Minister Tony Kelly, both from the ALP Right faction. Peter Boyle interviewed Ferguson for Green Left Weekly.

* * *

After many years as a trade union leader you have decided to stand on the Labor Legislative Council ticket in the March 26 NSW elections. Why are you doing this? And what do you ask of socialists and other progressives in this election?

Andrew Ferguson: I worked for the CFMEU for more then 30 years. I have felt privileged organising and campaigning for the rights of construction workers. However, I was committed to generational change in the union to ensure the growth of the union and its officials. We now have a new Secretary, Mal Tulloch, who is indigenous and who will continue progressive leadership of the union into the future. We also now have an additional Assistant Secretary, Rebel Hanlon, who is in his thirties and is also committed to the Left. The transition in leadership has allowed me to consider a new political challenge. I want to be a progressive MP, representing working people. I welcome the opportunity to be a fighter, both inside and outside of the Parliament for workers’ rights and social justice.

What do you see as the three most important political issues in this election and what is your position on them?

Inevitably, I am focused on workers’ rights. If the Liberal-National Party Coalition become the government, there will be an unprecedented attack on the public sector and its workforce. I have recently been elected as Honorary Vice-President of the CFMEU and will be in a unique position to not just, if elected, liaise with the trade union movement and speak in the Parliament, but organise outside the parliament a mass protest campaign. There is a real prospect that they will also attack the rights of injured workers. There have already been discussions with employer groups to abolish workers’ compensation insurance coverage for workers travelling to and from work. These are important fights for the rights of workers that need to be won.

Secondly I have a big interest in fighting to improve the quality of life of working people in Sydney. I was attracted to radical politics by the interventions and green bans of the BLF under the leadership of Jack Mundey and Joe Owens in the 1970s. These struggles were important in not just defending parkland, bushland and heritage, but in empowering people to have a greater say in their local community. A real democracy is not where people have the opportunity to vote every 4 years for politicians to make decisions, but where people have power in their community. I have a post-graduate degree in town planning and want to see development that satisfies human needs, not the interests of the corporate sector. A significant part of this agenda is campaigning for a major expansion of public transport.

Finally, I am committed to affordable housing. The cost of living in Sydney is unsustainable. There are large sections of the workforce that spend 15-25 hours a week just travelling to and from their workplace. We need affordable housing, not just on the periphery of Sydney, but across Sydney, close to work to minimise travel time for workers. Often the workforce in our hospitals and catering and cleaning workers and nurses are unable to live near where they work and are being forced to commute long distances. Public housing must be an important component of the strategy to make housing in Sydney more affordable.

Many people, among them trade unionists and leftists have been dismayed at the performance of the NSW ALP government, particularly on issues like electricity privatisation. What would you say to them?

There was a major fight inside the ALP over the issue of electricity privatisation. Many rank and file members and trade union affiliates were opposed to privatisation. This opposition prevented the government privatising the generation and distribution of electricity. This was an important victory. Unfortunately there was not sufficient strength to stop the privatisation of the retail component of the NSW electricity industry. However, the opposition to privatisation, both inside the Labor party and more broadly in the community, made privatisation of other assets, e.g. Sydney Ferries more difficult. There is a real challenge for progressives inside the ALP to work closely with community organisations and the trade union movement to work harder to defend public assets and services.

What are your views on the challenge of addressing climate change?

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Unrestricted greenhouse emissions represent a threat to human civilisation and cannot be ignored. The introduction of a carbon tax is a central part of the strategy to tackle climate change along with substantial investment in solar and other alternate energies. However, I intend, if elected, to not abandon the workers I represent and will ensure that they do not pay in loss of jobs and income for a crisis created by corporate greed.

The results of the last federal election, and opinion polls in the lead up to the NSW elections, suggest that the ALP is losing significant votes to the Greens. What is your comment on the rise of the Greens?

The NSW Greens have capitalised from the movement to the right by the ALP. The abandonment of traditional Labor politics, e.g. opposition to privatisation, allowed the Greens to present themselves as the defender of public assets. The Greens are displaying great arrogance in their decision not to preference Labor, including in the NSW Upper House. There is a real danger that this decision may well result in the Liberals, Shooters and Christian Right controlling both houses of the Parliament. The decision also jeopardises my election to the NSW Parliament. The Greens acknowledge I have an outstanding track record and commitment to workers’ rights and social justice, but the refusal to preference means I will be denied vital Green preferences.

If you are elected to parliament with the help socialists and other progressives, despite your views and principles, won’t you be forced to toe the Labor line on political votes on issues such as privatisation, workers’ rights, social justice and the environment?

I have no fear of being forced to ‘toe the line’. I have an uncompromising commitment to workers’ rights and social justice. I am presently the Vice-President of the ALP in NSW. I have been outspoken on issues important to the constituencies I represent. I have led rallies for industrial manslaughter laws in NSW and opposed cuts to benefits to injured workers. I remain Vice-President of the CFMEU in NSW and would not abandon rank and file workers who support my election. I appeal to supporters of Green Left Weekly to vote for me ahead of the NSW Greens. My track record in support of union rights’, social justice and international solidarity places me in a position to be a strong voice for the Left in the NSW Parliament. I intend, if elected, to work in co-operation with a cross section of progressive social and political organisations and migrant communities for a progressive agenda for NSW.

March 4, 2011

Murdoch’s empire gets bigger

Rupert Murdoch, global media emperor.

Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire just got bigger after the British government approved Murdoch taking control of the British satellite pay-TV group BSkyB. Not even evidence raised in the British parliament of minions of his notorious News of the World hacking into the telephone of politicians and other prominent figures (including members of the British royal family!) slowed down this latest takeover.

Perhaps these dirty trick are part of the reason why the British government approved Murdoch’s BSkyB bid – he’s got so much dirt on them they are terrified of offending the emperor!

If it isn’t the dirt files that worry them it’s the power of mass brainwashing that Murdoch wields through Fox News and the many rabidly conservative newspapers and TV stations he runs.

According to a report in the March 4 British Independent, a leaked memo from British Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband’s media guru, Tom Baldwin, “argued that Labour should not go out of its way to antagonise Murdoch”.

It has become common for the leaders of the major parties in Britain to seek audiences with Emperor Murdoch (who is a regular White House guest) before they go to elections.

“Tony Blair and Gordon Brown went out of their way to do so. In the mid- 1990s, Blair flew to Australia partly to reassure Murdoch that he had no plans to change the rules on media ownership”, noted the same report in the Independent.

We’ve seen Australian politicians do the same. Before he won the 2007 election former Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd visited Murdoch in his New York headquarters.

Last October Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott had audiences with Murdoch.

As the world cheers the deposing of one despotic regime after another by the wave of people’s power uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, let’s not forget the money tyrants that rule the world from the West. They need toppling too.

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Former Australian Labor leader Kevin Rudd visiting Rupert Murdoch in 2007.

March 1, 2011

Libya: Western powers are no saviours

Rebel forces in Benghazi hoist banner opposing foreign interference.

(Story still under development)

As soon as significant oil reserves were discovered in Libya in 1959, the Western powers moved in to grab the lionshare. The British propped up a corrupt monarchy with arms supplies and the US maintained a giant military base in the country. When the 1969 nationalist revolution led by Muammar Gaddafi and other junior military officers nationalised the oil holdings of Esso (now Exxon), Shell, and Ente Nazionale Idrocarbuno (ENI), the US government contemplated military intervention but pulled back on the advice of the oil companies who preferred to cut a deal. Following another round of oil nationalisations in the 1980s, the Reagan administration in the US imposed economic sanctions and bombed Libya. Then in the early 2000s the Gaddafi regime made peace with the Western powers. Western oil companies greedily rushed back in as did their arms dealers.

And now these same Western powers want to pose as the saviours of the Libyan people, trying to rob them of victory in a new revolution for democracy.

No thanks, say some of Libya’s new revolutionaries, according to a March 1 Agence France-Presse report:

“The Iraqi example scares everyone in the Arab world,” said Abeir Imneina, a professor of political sciences at the university of Benghazi.

“We know very well what happened in Iraq, which is in the throes of instability. Following in those footsteps is not appealing at all,” she said. “We don’t want the Americans to come and then to have to regret (the end of the rule of) Gaddafi,” she added.

The national fibre appears strong in Libya, where on Sunday Gaddafi opponents announced the creation of “national councils” in all freed cities, that would serve as the “face of Libya in the transitional period.”

In a clear signal of their intentions, the revolution’s spokesman said Libya’s people would liberate cities across the oil rich North African nation and leave the task of freeing the capital Tripoli to the army. The anti regime protesters are “counting on the army to liberate Tripoli,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoqa.

But “the people of Libya will liberate their (other) cities.”

Ghoqa also rejected the need for “any foreign intervention or military operation.”

…Fethi Terbil, a lawyer whose arrest earlier this month triggered the revolt for change in Libya, said anti regime activists need “intelligence” information but nothing else that would undermine sovereignty. “We would accept a no-fly zone but not economic sanctions that would penalise the people. We want intelligence but nothing that would undermine our air, land or maritime sovereignty,” he told reporters on Saturday.

For Imneina “there is a very strong feeling of nationalism in Libya.” “There is also the feeling that this is our revolution and that it is up to us forge ahead,” she said. “The Tunisians and the Egyptians were successful in their revolutions,” which toppled the long-serving autocratic leaders in those countries, “and this provoked jealousy” among the Libyans, she said. “My students ask me: ‘Why them and not us’,” she added.

According to a March 1 Reuters report, “Western powers have plentiful military resources at their disposal if they want to bring Muammar Gaddafi down, but overt action is unlikely unless there is a dramatic worsening of the turmoil in Libya.”

The Italian port of Naples, 900 km (540 miles) from Tripoli by sea, is home to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and NATO has an anti-terrorist task force on permanent patrol in the Mediterranean.

While the United States currently has no aircraft carrier in the immediate region, it and NATO could use a wide range of air bases in Europe, including in Italy, Cyprus and Malta, as well as another major naval base in Portugal.

NATO also has the theoretical capability of deploying 25,000 ground troops at short notice.

“There is no question of the capability to perform such operations,” said Shashank Joshi, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.

“Compared with say Iraq, we are talking about a very specific area and incredible legions of resources to draw from.

“The Mediterranean is an ideal platform — the southern plank of Europe essentially serves as a giant aircraft carrier, so in that respect things are reasonably straightforward,” he said, adding that Libyan air defences were fairly poor.

A report in the Toronto Star encountered similar anti-intervention sentiments on a journey through rebel-held parts of Libya:

There is concern also about U.S. military assets mustering off Libya’s northern coast, and worries both in Washington and here that any U.S.-led effort to tip the Libyan standoff in favour of the rebels could backfire.

American intervention, if it were ever to involve actual boots on the ground, could sully the sanctity of a Libya’s do-it-yourself revolution and, in a worst-case scenario, inadvertently embroil the U.S. in a third Mideast conflict, even as it moves to extract itself from two it can ill-afford.

“Help is good. But help in order for us to finish the revolution ourselves. Nobody wants foreign soldiers,” said Mustapha Muttardi, a frontline Benghazi activist who has doubled as one of the revolt’s key digital engineers, gathering and uploading dozens of gigabytes of incriminating footage to social networking sites for all the world to see.

“It feels damn good. We can barely contain our excitement. But we need to complete it on our own terms, until everything Gadhafi holds is taken back for the people.”

So far the only people from the rebel side who have been quoted encouraging Western military intervention of some form are a couple of former Gaddafi regime officials who defected to the new revolution. However, the New York Times reports that the rebel’s revolutionary committees are still discussing this question.

Perhaps the loud noise about Western military intervention is designed to pressure the rump of the Gaddafi regime into minimising its resistance. Libyans are no strangers to Western gunboat (or warplane) diplomacy. It is a regularly used weapon of the richest and most powerful states.

Key figures are still not certain that military intervention would suit the West’s imperial interest. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has urged caution as has former Pentagon and US State Department official Kori Schake (now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point):

… we ought to be very cautious about actually using American military force to affect the rebellion in Libya, for four reasons.

First, it is difficult to see what practical measures, short of removing Colonel Gaddafi ourselves or sending military teams into Libya to assist rebel forces, would affect the fight. Defection of military units and tribes seems to have given rebels the necessary weapons; most of the fighting is urban operations not much involving air power.

Second, we have not had an ambassador in Libya for months, and we have evacuated our diplomats; we ought not overestimate how much we understand what is occurring in the country or the shape Libya’s rebellion will take. Arming rebels or undertaking military operations on their behalf makes us parties to the conflict, the inchoate nature of Libya’s rebels argues for caution.

Third, debate over the Security Council resolution suggests it is unlikely the Chinese and Russians would authorize the use of force (they had to be assured the resolution that passed would not), and NATO would not be an alternative without a U.N. mandate. Countries in the region are not likely to be supportive. While international pressure seems to be having little effect on Colonel Qaddafi, international institutions and support are central to the Obama administration’s approach. Military force would have to be a unilateral or by coalition of the willing, which is at odds with the White House’s political strategy.

Fourth, military force is sticky — once the president commits American military forces to involvement, even tangentially, he commits the nation. It is difficult to disengage if the limited force committed doesn’t achieve the president’s objectives, as President Bill Clinton learned in both Somalia and Kosovo, and President George W. Bush realized, leading him to authorize a surge of forces in Iraq in 2006. While symbolic strikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s palaces or no-flight zones would be a show of force, they raise the question of how far we are willing to go to achieve our objectives.

Whatever they finally decide, with the price of oil shooting up, the Western powers are most concerned about protecting the oil installations in Libya. Their belated concern for the plight of Libya’s people and the poor guest workers from around the world trapped in Libya on on its borders (most of the rich Western guest workers have been got out) is a pretence.

Libyans will remember that just yesterday these same Western powers were arming and training the Gaddafi regime’s special forces and police.

The Western powers only want Libya’s oil. And perhaps a restored US military base or two?

20th Fighter-Bomber Wing F-100 at Wheelus AB, Libya. Source: Wikipedia.

Blair and Gaddafi doing their infamous 'deal in the desert' in 2007, which involved British training and advising Libyan special forces.