Monday, April 30, 2012

Turnbull puts the heat on Abbott

Vanguard May 2012 p. 4
Bill F.

Malcolm Turnbull has been hoisting up a few flags recently, just to remind his parliamentary mates that he can generate wider appeal (and more votes) than the more openly reactionary Tony Abbott.

Looking at the real possibility of a Coalition win at the next Federal election, there is some fear in those circles that Abbott could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

While the Gillard government is on the nose, Abbott’s head-kicking style and negativity are also wearing thin.

Turnbull senses this and is putting forward a different position to the Abbott line, one that seems more reasonable and intelligent.

His interview in The Monthly magazine is a sign that sections of the ruling class feel smarter tactics are required to maintain the illusion of democracy, and for imperialism to continue its divide and rule over the Australian people.

For example, unlike Abbott, Turnbull accepts the overwhelming evidence of climate warming. Not only this, he rejects the notion of falling into line with US climate policy. “... the Americans are in a period of dysfunctionality on this … the Chinese are very alert to it and are introducing an emissions trading scheme. It’s a trial and it’s got a very small price, but the Chinese do take it seriously... I think we are more likely to see leadership out of China than America.”

In fact, Turnbull broke from the accepted Coalition line on Iraq. “The argument for saying it was a mistake and misconceived is a very powerful one … There are plenty of people on both sides of politics in the US who take that view.”

Leaving both Abbott and Gillard stuck in the quagmire, Turnbull has also broken ranks on Afghanistan, saying there was little hope of “what many in the West think of as victory”.

On these issues Turnbull appears to be more in touch with the attitudes of the Australian people than most of the Labor and Coalition parliamentary crew. However, it is really just a case of another ego-driven politician giving the ruling class another option.

Foreign land purchases causing concern

Vanguard May 2012 p. 4
Duncan B.

There is continuing concern that vast areas of Australian farm land are being purchased by overseas
The Macquarie Group is believed to have purchased two grain properties in NSW and WA worth a combined $40 million.

Macquarie is already one of Australia’s largest landholders, operating more than 3 million hectares of land.

The chief executive of Ausbuy attacked regulators for sitting on their hands while Australian farmland is snapped up by overseas investors.

“It’s like with the managed investment schemes or private equity groups; we don’t really know who they (Macquarie Group) represent,” she said.

We can see why there is a scramble by governments and investors to acquire farming land, when we consider that the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. On the other hand, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that the amount of arable land per person (that is the amount of land capable of producing crops per person) has fallen from about 0.45 hectares in 1960 to 0.25 hectares in 2010. It will likely fall to below 0.20 hectares by 2050.

The agribusiness sector will become increasingly more profitable, and we will see more land purchases and takeovers, such as Glencore’s buy-out of grain handler Viterra.

Wave of corporate takeovers building

Vanguard May 2012 p. 4
Jim H.

Taking advantage of the bad economic climate faced by many Australian businesses, overseas monopolies are moving in to grab what they can.

Private equity (take-over of shares) has suddenly jumped. Currently on the table are deals worth over $1.5 billion.

This is set to grow substantially in the near future.

For example, clothing and homeware wholesaler Pacific Brands soared almost 15% after US-based private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts moved in with an unsolicited $600 million takeover bid.

Pacific  Brands, which owns Bonds, King Gee and Sheridan brands, suffered a $132 million loss in 2011. It has lost about half of its share value over the last 12 months. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, if successful, will pick up ownership at a bargain basement price.

According to some analysts, David Jones and Qantas are particularly vulnerable to takeover. Last month, Anglo-South African brewer SABMiller moved on Fosters. Arnott’s, Speedo and the Nine Network have also fallen into foreign hands.

These are just a few examples.

Sometimes the takeovers involve companies that are already wholly or partly foreign owned. Whichever the case is, the trend shows that the ownership of the Australian economy is falling into fewer hands. And an increasing proportion of these hands are in Washington primarily and London secondly.

Investigation of the ownership structure of the Australian economy to date has revealed that many of the biggest companies operating in Australia have a decisive portion of their shares already owned by a small group.

The change that is occurring is that this small group is becoming smaller, and those who are left are consolidating their position over the whole Australian economy. Through this Australia is becoming more dependent on foreign investment. A higher portion of the profi ts are heading overseas. The Australian people have less control over Australia’s future development.

From the viewpoint of most people, this is an unsatisfactory situation.

It is imperative that the demand for Australian control over Australia is raised at every opportunity. Certainly, it is important to work together with those who seek to encourage Australians to buy Australian-made products.

But within this, there can and must be a discussion around how to best unite different forces around the struggle for national independence.

There must also be discussion around the nature of an economic and political system that will both uphold Australia’s independence and serve the interests of the majority.

Corruption and commercial espionage

Vanguard May 2012 p. 7
Jim H.

(Above: Can't see, can't hear, can't speak)

Last year, after the News of the World scandal erupted, media baron Rupert Murdoch declared that phone hacking did not happen in his Australian businesses.

The News of the World revelations resulted in closure of the paper and enormous damage to News Corporation’s reputation. Recent revelations about pay TV corruption may actually destroy the Murdoch

Recently, the Australian FinancialReview (AFR), published by Fairfax Media, revealed the results of a four-year investigation into News Corporation’s subsidiary News Datacom Systems (NDS), established in Israel in 1988.
It was run by Reuver Hasak, former director of Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic security service.

Within NDS there is a secretive unit known as Operational Security, made up of former police and intelligence personnel. Operational Security was formed to prevent fraud within News Corporation’s ranks, to identify anyone making pirate smart cards and to take legal action against them.

NDS carried out a labyrinthine series of global double deals, to severely damage News Corporation’s rivals in the battle for pay TV control.

The Australian Financial Review claims that it now has access to a large cache of NDS documents that were in the possession of former London Metropolitan Police commander Ray Adams.

The Australian Financial Review claims that “NDS encouraged and facilitated piracy by hackers not only

Murdoch is a friend of Gina Rinehart. It is likely that Rinehart’s move into Fairfax is at least partly motivated by a wish to gain influence over and silence an important Murdock rival in Australia.

It is inconceivable that Murdoch and his people have not been up to the same tricks in Australia. It should be blown out into the open. It is important to demand that the Australian government take action.

It must never be forgotten that Murdoch style underhanded tactics are part and parcel of the normal operations of capitalism.

The more examples that are brought out to the light of day, the clearer will be seen the true nature of this rotten system.
of its competitors but also of companies such as Foxtel, to whom NDS provided TV smartcards. The [email] documents show NDS sabotaged business rivals, fabricated legal actions and obtained telephone records illegally.”

Farmers to lead big anti-CSG rally on May 1

Vanguard May 2012 p. 8
Jim H.

(Left, Rural communities mobilise against coal seam gas projects in NSW)

A farmer-led coalition that involves stop coal and coal seam gas (CSG) groups, online protest group GetUp!, a peak wine industry body, a thoroughbred association, and even the Country Women’s Association, will coordinate a mass protest at NSW parliament on May 1.

The Barry O’Farrell coalition government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy fails to meet a pre-election promise to protect key land and water resources from the coal and CSG industries. In fact, the draft policy fails to rule out 1 inch of NSW to coal and CSG interests.

(Above: 2011 rally against coal seam gas in St Peters, a Sydney surburb 4kms from the CBD)

“Protecting our precious land and water is an issue which affects everyone in NSW. The seriousness of this issue is refl ected in the diverse backgrounds of those prepared to march shoulder to shoulder to Parliament House on 1May,” said NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson on April 3.

She continued, “In the past 10 years, we have seen an unprecedented escalation of mining and coal seam gas activity across the state”, which “threaten the long-term sustainability of our land, water, environment and the future of other vital industries and regional communities.

(Above: Newton, Sydney coal seam gas protest, 2011)

“Communities everywhere understand this issue is too important to let the government back away from its commitment. They won’t let that happen.”

In addition to NSW Farmers, the rally is supported by the Caroona Coal Action Group, the Country Women’s Association, the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association, the Lock the Gate Alliance, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the Southern
Highlands Coal Action Group, GetUp!, Stop CSG Sydney, Stop CSG Illawarra and other groups.

The May 1 “Protect our land and water rally” starts at noon at Martin Place, between Philip and Elizabeth Streets, for a 12:30pm march on parliament. NSW Farmers is also urging residents to lodge a submission with the government on the draft land use policy before the May 3 close of submissions.

This is a great development that all Australians should support.

It is the type of action that can develop closer relationships between city and country, as well as developing the strength of the forces opposing those who will stop at nothing to rape the land for a few dollars.

(Above: Brisbane rally last year against coal seam gas mining)

Resistance to supermarket giants developing

Vanguard May 2012 p. 8
Duncan B.

 (Above and below: farmers' markets in Collingwood and North Melbourne)

Resistance is developing to the predatory activities of the two giant Australian supermarket companies, Coles and Woolworths.

At its recent annual conference, the WA Farmers’ Federation passed a motion to boycott Coles and all Wesfarmers (Coles’ parent company) subsidiaries, including Wesfarmer’s chemical, fertiliser and insurance companies.

The WA Farmers’ Dairy Council spokesman said an 8% reduction in milk production had resulted from Coles predatory pricing and cost the industry $25 million.

Consumers are turning more and more to farmers’ markets to obtain fresh produce directly from the growers. The number of farmers’ markets more than doubled between 2004 and 2011 from 70 to 152, accounting for 7% of Australia’s fresh food market.

Farmers are also setting up local-produce-only retail stores, using the internet to facilitate direct dealing between food producers and consumers, and establishing regional food hubs to bring produce from regional farmers to city consumers.

At present, these innovations pose only a small challenge to the giants, but public support could give them something to think about.

One food hub spokesman said that Coles is trying to reduce the number of suppliers from 500 to 20, forcing farmers to try and buy one another out.

Coles and Woolworths also dominate liquor retailing in Australia. Woolworths has 1300 outlets generating $5.9 billion annual revenue. Coles has 794 outlets for estimated revenue of $2.5 billion to $3 billion. The wholesaler Metcash is third, with 15,000 outlets for $2.3 billion revenue.

This domination means that the family-owned independent neighbourhood bottle shops are facing extinction. Many of them have to resort to buying their stocks from shops such as Dan Murphy’s as they cannot match the big boys on price. The loss of small liquor shops would make it harder for small wineries to build up their brand
as they cannot compete for space on the shelves of the giants.

Recently, two independent liquor store groups, Independent Liquor Group and Southern Liquor Group announced a merger that will create a network of 1600 outlets for $340 million annual revenue. This is chickenfeed compared to Coles and Woolworths, but means that the giants won’t have it all their own way and opens up more choices for suppliers.

Coles and Woolworths are leaning even harder on their suppliers to reduce prices. Even large companies such as Fosters, Heinz and Coca Cola are feeling the pressure and are complaining bitterly.

The likely result of Coles’ and Woolworths’ pressure on suppliers will be that more small food processors will be forced out of business when they can’t meet the giant’s demands for lower prices.

The price war between the supermarket giants is being blamed as one of the factors behind Metcash’s decision to close 15 Campbell’s Cash and Carry branches (which supply milk bars and small convenience stores) and get rid of 478 staff.


For further information on opposition to the duopolies, this time by Australian-owned independent grocers, see the Fightback magazine:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

US imperialism despised and isolated in South America

Vanguard May 2012 p. 5
Bill F.

(Above: "I don't think they like us anymore....")

The recent meeting of the Organisation of American States in Cartagena, Colombia, did not go well for the manager of US imperialism, President Obama.

In spite of appeals from many of the 33 countries present, the United States and Canada refused to drop their veto on the attendance of Cuba at future meetings.

Ecuador and Nicaragua had already boycotted this year’s meeting over Cuba, and were joined by Bolivia, Venezuela and several others in declaring they will not attend next year without Cuba’s admission. Even host President Santos of Colombia, a close ally of US imperialism, said that Cuba needs to be included next year. “The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective.”
Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper were further exposed by their refusal to discuss Argentina’s claim against Britain for the Malvinas Islands (Faulklands). A furious President of Argentina, Cristina Nestor, walked out in disgust, followed by Evo Morales of Bolivia. Any chances of a ‘unifying’ final declaration also went out the door.

Adding to Obama’s discomfort came the news of US Secret Service and military personnel cavorting with prostitutes in a nearby luxury hotel.

Extracts from Cuban statement

A statement released by the government of Cuba put the isolation of US imperialism in perspective.

“The unitary and solid stand adopted by Our America on the blockade, the exclusion of Cuba and the Malvinas Islands was truly impressive. The resolve and dignity upheld by the President of Argentina in her strong defense of these causes were indicative.

“We felt proud when the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, expressed with serene dignity, in front of Obama, that the Greater Homeland can only be treated as an equal and reaffirmed the common position in support of Argentina and Cuba.

 “The United States never wanted to discuss the terrible consequences of neoliberalism for Latin America and the Caribbean; or the situation of immigrants in the United States and Europe, who are separated from their families, cruelly deported or murdered at walls like the one that has been built along the Río Bravo. The U.S. government never agreed to talk about the poor either, who account for half of humanity.

“The novelty at the Cartagena meeting was that many of the governments, with natural differences and different approaches, demanded an alternative model that gives priority to solidarity and complementarity over competition based on selfishness; guarantees a harmonious relationship with nature rather than the plundering of natural resources or frenzied consumption. They called for the protection of cultural diversity as opposed to the imposition of values and lifestyles that are alien to our peoples. They asked for the consolidation of peace and rejected wars and militarization.

“They launched an appeal to recover the human condition in our societies and build a world that promotes respect for the plurality of ideas and models; the democratic participation of society in government affairs, including consultation about economic and monetary policies; the battle against illiteracy, infant and maternal mortality and curable diseases. They called for greater access to both free and truthful information and potable water. They recognized the existence of social exclusion and the fact that human rights are to be exercised by all and should not be used as a political weapon by the powerful.

“This time, the United States government was forced to listen, not to an almost unique voice as had been the case for decades or to a slender minority as occurred until very recently. Now it was the majority of peoples which expressed itself at the Summit to promote this indispensable debate either through their Presidents and Heads of Delegations or through the stand adopted by those who did not attend. The Summit was censored because the empire listens with deaf ears.”

For further information, see Extractive Capitalism and the Divisions in the Latin American Progressive Camp by Prof. James Petras

Regulators struggle to control speculative capital

Vanguard May 2012 p. 4
Nick G.

Australia’s financial markets are relatively small-scale compared to those in the City of London, in New York and other centres of imperialist finance capital.
However, they are subject to the same pressures as all financial markets – instability and chaos driven by the forces of speculative capital.
Marx was well aware of the phenomenon of speculation – the purchase of an asset at a cheap price in the hope of being able to sell it as quickly as possible for a gain.
The highest form of speculation is pure arbitrage: simultaneously buying and selling a financial asset without that asset being put to any productive use.
The electronic age has enabled arbitrage to occur in nanoseconds as computerised programs use intricate algorithms to search the markets for “buy-low sell-high” opportunities.
It has been the task of neo-liberalism to deregulate financial markets and the barriers to the free flow of speculative capital around and through national boundaries.
To increase opportunities for speculative profit ever-larger amounts of capital are deployed to utilise ever-smaller margins between purchase and sale prices.
Two years ago, high frequency trading (HFT) accounted for a mere 4% of the turnover on the Australian Stock Exchange.  Today the figure fluctuates between 15 and 25%, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review  (30/3/12). 
The rapid growth of HFT has sections of the finance capitalists worried. 
What is of particular concern are the “dark pools” where shares are traded between investors away from the scrutiny of other players on the stock exchange.
Here, prices can be artificially pumped up or deflated at the whim of HFT investors with potentially ruinous consequences -  so-called “flash crashes” – for mainstream investors.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission regulates financial markets in this country, but is at a loss as to how to deal with the expansion of HFT and the existence of “dark pools”.
While you and I put in the hard yards at work to try and make ends meet, and suffer the many regulations preventing us from exercising the right to strike, it is heartening to know that somewhere out in the ether another killing has been made in the deregulated world of imperialist finance capital.

IMF holds fears for capitalism’s existence

Vanguard May 2012 p. 3
Max O.

Recently the heads of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have become particularly nervous over the enduring economic crisis and have depicted it with the euphemism of ‘fragile’.

Christine Lagarde (above), head of the IMF, wants to increase funding for the IMF because it fears that a further outbreak of the financial crisis will leave this body short of emergency cash. She has laid out five “dark clouds”:  high unemployment, slow growth, hasty deleveraging by banks, strains in the Euro Zone and higher oil prices.

This has become a repeated ritual, where the IMF asks for cash from the member countries, particularly the Group of 20 (G20), and these contributions are organised into quick dispersing loans. It is essentially a safety net for the credit of banks whereby the IMF lends more money to potentially defaulting countries to enable them to carry out their repayments back to the banks. These loans are not invested in production and employment to create real economic activity. It is a circular process; the money goes back to the creditors.

Austerity - a trigger for further collapse
The process will not pull the world out of the economic crisis. In fact it is going to make matters worse! The IMF cannot be the solution to this crisis.

The onslaught of the debt crisis in the 1980’s through the application of the IMF’s so-called structural adjustment programs, which are in effect austerity measures imposed on developing and economically weaker countries, has contributed to this crisis over a longer period.

The application of these austerity measures are in fact the trigger for further collapse, bankruptcy and unemployment. The austerity solutions are not tackling the broader structural causes of what constitutes the most serious economic crisis in world history. It is far larger than what the economic commentators in the media describe as a “double dip recession”.

Prime Minister Gillard dutifully pledged a doubling of Australia's support to the IMF from $3.3 billion to $6.6 billion, when she met with the G20 leaders in France last November. She pointed out the money would be available, and “if that is drawn down upon, it’s a loan, it’s an asset on our balance sheets. It’s a loan on which interest is paid.” Gillard argued “It’s about jobs. If the global economy doesn’t work the way it should, if we don’t stabilise it and get it back on a path of growth, then that will cost jobs.”

True to her form Gillard is telling a huge lie of what global capitalism is actually doing!  We see the grotesque situation of where money from the public purse goes to the IMF, who loan it to countries at interest and from these countries it goes to the creditor banks. In effect it is a transfer from the public purse to the creditor banks, which are private banking institutions.

The failings of capitalism
Capitalism has enormously expanded the productive capacity of human society very quickly. However the laws of capitalist competition also have a negative side, which overshadow any advantages that capitalism might have to offer.

(The heroic Greek people, above, resisting so-called "austerity" measures.)

Capitalism is a contradictory system for it needs to lower the cost of wages and benefits of working people as much as possible, while producing and selling more and more goods at increasingly lower costs. The impoverishment of workers, who are unable to buy these goods, results in a crisis of overproduction.

Australia and other countries are presently witnessing bankruptcies and closure of businesses, massive redundancies and attempts to reduce wages for those still in work. This economic contraction aggravates the crisis still further.

The current financial meltdown was set off by banks who, needing to invest their surplus capital, invent all sorts of credit scams so they could lend money to impoverished working people who had little hope of  repaying their debts. This scheme allowed people to keep spending and so disguised the overproduction crisis for years, but now that the scam has collapsed, the crisis is worse than ever.

It comes as no surprise that capitalism has outlived its usefulness. The longer it continues, the more ordinary people will suffer. Those who profit from the system go to great lengths to convince the working people that there is nothing wrong with capitalism. The economic crisis they argue is only caused by the greed of a few reckless individuals!

The financial crisis was not caused by workers, for they in fact create ample wealth for everybody to be able to live well. If there’s no profit to be made, capitalism refuses to produce and distribute goods that are needed for the general welfare of society. The only solution is for the working class to step forward and take over the means of production.

APY Lands People are sick of seagulls….

Vanguard May 2012 p. 2
Nick G.

Nick G
The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara  (APY) Lands is a large area of over 102,000 square kilometres in the far North-West of South Australia.
Approximately 2,500 Anangu (Aboriginal people) live on the lands.
Housing is over-crowded, health and education levels are low and food prices in community-run stores are often double those in other parts of the state.
One Aboriginal leader, who works closely with South Australian unions, expressed forcefully the bitterness of people unsettled by a continuing colonialist mindset.
“There is no question, as I see it, that the ongoing interventionist colonial agenda of 1788 currently pursued with gusto by Protector Macklin, Governor Gillard, Captain Abbott and the Rum Corps is creeping its way over the Lands and the economic weapon of starvation is being put to effective use. “
APY Land Rights Act vs “disturbance from others”
Anangu were given some measure of control over their affairs with the formation of the APY Lands through the APY Land Rights Act of 1981. 
An elected local council operates over the area but it is based on European governance models and the last elections saw fewer candidates and a fall-off in votes cast.
Traditional authority is still exercised in APY communities by elders who are the custodians of law and culture. 
(Amata, above, one of the remote communities just inside the SA-NT border, almost due south from Uluru)

Problems on the Lands are a convenient political football for the politicians down south.  Every now and then a scheme is devised away from the Lands and imposed on the communities but with little effect.
In 1984, the High Court of Australia described the Act as: ‘a special measure for the purpose of adjusting the law of the State to grant legal recognition and protection of the claims of the Anunga [sic] Pitjantjatjara to the traditional homelands on which they live and as the legal means by which present and future generations may take up and rebuild their relationship with their country in accordance with tradition, free of disturbance from others’.
In fact, the “disturbance from others” is constantly visited upon the Anangu.
 “We don’t want them seagulls,” said one elder.  “Them white ones that just fly in, shit on us and then fly off again”.
“Co-production” aims to cut costs
The latest proposal, written in Adelaide, picks up on the jargon of “co-production” in the delivery of public services.  The idea is that both parties, the providers of services as well as the recipients, are equal partners in defining the nature of the service and how and by whom it is delivered.
As a theory, “co-production” is fine, and there have been some good examples in Indigenous communities like Newcastle’s Birra-Li Birthing Service, established in 2000.
In a 2009 evaluation of the Birra-Li Birthing Service, its authors point out that “policy making and planning must always include Aboriginal representation from the outset”.
But that is not happening with the current plans to re-jig service delivery on the Lands.
Plans are being drawn up that reflect another of “co-production’s” aims: cost cutting.  This is achieved, according to a study of “co-production of public services” from the University of Birmingham, “by making the user do more for themselves” and by involving the so-called “third sector” (voluntary organisations).
Then there is “centralisation of services” as has occurred under the racist Intervention in the Northern Territory. This amounts to de-funding homelands under the guise of facilitating better access to schools for children.
There is talk, for example, of merging the half a dozen or so schools scattered throughout the Lands into one super school - and this in an area equivalent to that which would include all the country between Adelaide and Mount Gambier as well as the Riverland!
However, there has been no mention to date of reintroducing bilingual education or of structuring school term times around Anangu timelines.  Those initiatives might be culturally respectful but they might also cost money, so it is better not to consult genuinely with the Anangu communities.
FACSIA is slithering its way around communities cherry picking comments that will support them (divide and conquer) with their agenda in spite of being told time and time again that if they want to talk with people they do so in open forums at Umuwa. 
Accountable to whom?
Government bureaucrats have the choice of writing policies on the Lands with Anangu representation from the start, or writing them in Adelaide where the dread hand of State Treasury rests heavily on the shoulder.
This is not good enough.  It is not culturally respectful.  It is not accountable to the Anangu. It will not improve conditions on the Lands.
Watch out for seagulls overhead….