Monday, December 19, 2016

Huggies workers strike against crap multinational

Nick G.

Just days after the historic win by CUB workers, another battle has flared up against Depression-style wage cuts.

Fifty-five CUB workers were laid off and then offered their old jobs back at what was effectively a 65% wage cut. For six heroic months, they stood their ground, daring to struggle and, consequently, daring to win – getting their jobs back at the previous wage rate.

Now it is the turn of 150 workers at the Ingleburn, Sydney, plant of US multinational Kimberley Clark, manufacturers of the infant nappy brand Huggies.

Kimberley Clark has introduced to enterprise agreement negotiations with the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union a demand that all new employees start at a rate which is 25% less than the current EA rate.

Workers reacted by declaring an indefinite strike against the company’s plan to create a two-tier workforce.

These tactics of corporate giants like CUB and Kimberley Clark are reminiscent of enforced wage cuts during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

They indicate that capitalism is on shaky ground, and that more and more employers are seeking to shore up their competitive spirit at the expense of Australia’s workers.

We should never overlook the fact that the ruling class continually discusses its tactics against the workers. They are discussed in boardrooms, in industrial relations clubs, in peak employer groups, inside right-wing free market think tanks, with the major mass media and with the leaders of both major political parties.

CUB and Kimberley Clark are the current kite flyers for the ruling class.  If they are defeated by the workers and the workers’ communities, then they move onto a new tactic. They hope giants like CUB and Kimberley Clark will ride out working class resistance, allow industrial precedents to be set and spread elsewhere to the benefit of the capitalist economy.

Workers instinctively know that an attack on one is an attack on all and want to close ranks for their mutual defence.

The Kimberley Clark workers are fighting for all workers.

As our revered, late Party comrade John Cummins stated with great clarity and simplicity, “If workers stand united, sooner or later their success is guaranteed”.

With fists raised in the air, Kimberley Clark workers are poised to do what their comrades at CUB did: struggle and win!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Decline in the Australian economy reflects the long term depression of capitalism globally

Max O.

The recently announced national account figures for the September quarter saw Australia's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) shrink by 0.5 per cent. This is the result of a fall in business investment (of 9.7 percent in the last 12 months), a collapse in effective demand, reduction in government spending and the decline in the building industry.

The annual growth rate fell from 3.1 to 1.8 percent, this at a time when official interests rates are at an all time low of 1.5 percent. Australian capitalism's economic slump is the result of the long term price deterioration in the country's dependency on exporting commodities.

After the last official recession in 1991 the Australian economy has contracted three more times - in 2000 when the GST was introduced, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the 2011 Queensland flood devastation. There is no end in sight for the current economic stagnation because investments by business continue to fall, creating a crisis of confidence in the stability of capitalism.

For Treasurer Morrison and business groups the solution is in the mantra of reducing company tax (from 30% to 25%) and government expenditure in the coming years. All this will achieve is a $50 billion tax reduction for corporations with no guarantee that this boost to their profits will revive investment and increase employment.

Contradicting this bourgeois economists then point out that household consumption has fallen since the beginning of this year in Australia and is the major worry for the faltering economy. Capitalist economies have depended on debt-driven household spending to power their growth. In the decade prior to the 2008 GFC household consumption grew 3.95 percent annually, then after the crash it fell to 2.5 percent.

The chances of the Turnball government turning around the budget deficit (currently at $40 billion) to a surplus, by 2021 are next to nil. The credit ratings agencies and finance capital are now threatening a down grade in Australia's triple A credit rating.

The day of reckoning demands that huge amounts of capital need to be destroyed

Eventually they will demand a day of reckoning and further austerity measures to be implemented of the severity that has been witnessed in Europe. Despite all the ingenious innovations and productive power of capitalism it has a feature that is its undoing: it suffers from recurring economic crises making it an inherently unstable system.  

The world economy is experiencing a long depression due to what Marx explained is the falling rate of profit and a colossal rise in debt. Presently capital is incapable of returning profit rates and has the problem of excess capacity, consequently it cannot get out of this depression. There are essentially two choices for a recovery from the present depression, either through the wiping out of useless investments and assets through bankruptcies, closing down of plants etc to restore the rate of profit which will entail a massive rise in unemployment and misery for those unemployed or by the overthrow of the capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist mode of production (which does not suffer from chronic depressions) whose purpose is to fulfil people's needs.

The current depression which occurred with the GFC in 2008 was detonated by the massive growth of fictitious capital that ultimately disintegrated when the ratio of household prices to household incomes could not sustain real value expansion. However this detonation was not the cause, it was the symptom of the overall cause of the crisis which is the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and accompanied by a crisis of overproduction.

In the history of modern capitalism there have been three depressions. It is important here to make the distinction between recurring recessions or slumps from depressions. 

The first being the Long Depression of 1873-97, the second being the Great Depression of 1929-39, and now arguably the third of 2008-? These depressions all began with major slumps: 1873-6 slump started off the Long Depression; 1929-32 slump started off the Great Depression; and the 2008-9 for the current depression.

Depressions are the result of a combination of descending phases in the cycles of capitalism. Each depression occurs when the cycles of technological innovation have reached their completion and flooded the economy. It occurs when commodity prices and world production slide downwards, going from inflation to deflation. It occurs when the cycle of infrastructure investment and construction has declined. It occurs when the rate of profit falls together with excess capacity of production. The combination of these diverse cycles has a pattern of happening once every seventy years.

Each depression never recovers from the economic devastation it causes

Whilst in each of the 1873-97 Long Depression and the 1929-39 Great depression there were both economic decline and some growth, the recovery was never enough to nullify the devastation of the early slump, and further slumps ensued.

In all likelihood the world is in the early stages of a third depression. Predictions are that it will be a long depression and more difficult than a great depression.  

As Marx said many years ago the problem of capital is with capital itself. Capitalism may well emerge out of its long depression, however the time of its approaching historical extinction is getting closer.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Welcome the liberation of Aleppo

Nick G.

The significance of the liberation of Aleppo cannot be underestimated.

It is a major blow for US imperialism’s plans for a “New Middle East”, a Middle East of US client states working in concert to protect US global interests and to shore up the faltering US economy.

Six years ago, a movement for political reform and working class rights developed as Syrian people confronted the Assad government’s deregulation of some key economic areas.

The US saw the opportunity for a Libyan-style regime change, and encouraged armed terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to infiltrate the people’s mass movement and turn it from a focus on changing government policy to one of overthrowing the government.

US imperialism supplied weapons to anti-Assad terrorists, in some cases directly, and in other cases to so-called “moderate rebels” who then defected, one after another, with their US weapons to the terrorists.

The US strategy was born of a profound weakness of its ability to continue waging war against peoples and governments willing to defend their sovereignty and independence.

Speaking yesterday, Obama decried the fact that there had been “no public appetite” for a large-scale US military invasion of Syria and that it was “going to be impossible to do this on the cheap”.

Instead, the US had to rely on the only force potentially capable of toppling Assad -  the vicious assassins flying the flag of the Islamic State.

US disinformation on Syria

What it could not control on the ground, the US made sure to control in the realm of public opinion, with a mass media prepared to lend the righteous word “rebels” to the armed fanatics fighting the Syrian Army, and to always describe as “civilians” the casualties amongst the terrorists.

The anti-Assad paradigm framing the bourgeois media’s reporting of events in Syria has Assad as the evil tyrant bent on waging war on his own people and gassing and massacring civilians by the thousands, while the terrorists are “moderates” and “rebels” brought into the conflict as a consequence of the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on a popular movement.

Thus, the chieftain of US imperialism, Barack Obama, is able to keep a straight face as he tells a news conference: "The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. This blood and these atrocities are on their hands."

So thorough is the US control of international news media that quite a few progressive and humanitarian peoples and organisations are decrying what they are told is Assad’s latest crime – defeating the terrorists who are committing every possible real crime to intimidate government supporters and bring Assad down.

This even extends to some on the so-called “Left”, mainly some of the Trotskyite groups such as those associated with the International Socialist Organisation. In its paper the Socialist Worker, the ISO bemoans the liberation of Aleppo, describing it as a “reconquering” by “ Bashar al-Assad's regime, Russian air power and Iranian-backed Shia death squads”.

In their inverted world-view where black is white and wrong is right, the ISO maintains that Aleppo had been “liberated by the Syrian Revolution” rather than seized by IS and al-Nusra (recently rebadged as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), and that its liberation from these terrorists is a setback for “the revolution from below”.

Syrian Communists welcome the liberation of Aleppo and the defeat of US-backed terrorists

In direct contrast to the bourgeois and ISO media war on Assad is the view of the Syrian Communist Party (Unified).  In a statement released on December 7, the Party said:

As is well known, our party, along with other progressive and patriotic parties of Syria, is struggling against what is nowadays considered one of most barbarous imperialist aggressions of the period since World War Two, a struggle against the most extremist and fundamentalist radical movements of this century like al-Nusra Front, ISIS and al-Qaeda which have been condemned internationally.

This struggle is the practical embodiment of confrontation against the imperialist projects of domination in the world and in the region – the U.S. drive to create the so-called “New Middle East.”

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands others have been wounded, and thousands of families were forced to migrate to more peaceful areas inside and outside Syria. The damages are countless, thousands of workshops and factories of middle and small industries have been destroyed as well as many large industrial structures, infrastructure, schools and hospitals. Archaeological treasures and ancient cities have been crushed. Syrian oil and other wealth of the Syrian people are being stolen and smuggled to Turkey whose regime is allied with terrorist organizations. The value of these damages is estimated at around 200 billion dollars.

The Syrian people, along with the government, Syrian army and progressive political forces of the country, has been bravely resisting this aggression since its beginning in 2011.
Terrorists who fulfill this attack on Syria have come from more than 80 countries, supported by the imperial powers of the world and their allies.

The Party asked the international community to acknowledge the following facts:

1. It is not acceptable to put the offender and the victim on an equal footing.

2. International law does not allow any county to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country, which is what the terrorists and their supporters do in Syria. Demanding President Assad step down is an affair to be decided only by the Syrian people.

3. The aggressors are the only side who carry the full responsibility for the losses and damages in the country.

4. The aggression against Syria is going along with mass media/imperialist campaign, on which billions of dollars are spent by the USA and Saudi Arabia. Through this media facts about events in the country are falsified and this information is spread around the world.

5. Iraq is also under the same aggression and the Iraqi people are resisting it. It is the duty of all progressive forces of the world to supported the brave resistance of the Iraqi and Syrian peoples against the international terrorist aggressors.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Comrade Frank Mulheron

Francis Edward Mulheron, known to all his friends as Frank, was born on the 19th March 1938, the second oldest of six children. He died on the 23rd November 2016.

His father was a railway worker and his mother was a home maker and talented pianist. Frank was very musical so presumably he inherited this talent from his mother.  The family lived at Moree and then later moved to Sydney. 

When Frank left home, he moved to a small family cottage in Moonan Flat, east of Scone and one of the smallest villages in the Upper Hunter Region. Driving to Frank’s Moonan Flat home was a wonderful experience as one passed a mini rain forest, then over a rickety, wooden bridge, with a combined shop that was a General Store, Post Office & Pub. Moonan Flat, in the late twentieth century, comprised only a couple of hundred residents including some race horse owners and other millionaires, of which, Frank was keen to tell you, he was not one.

Indeed, far from being a millionaire, Frank became a security guard for Telstra, which job he held for 23 years, after which he was given a not-so-golden handshake. Frank was broad-shouldered, heavy and tall so his appearance would have been quite intimidating to anyone with an idea of robbing the premises. Frank was actually a pussycat, a true gentle man, but he was quite capable of defending himself for all that.

I first met Frank in the middle 1970s: he was around 37 at the time, and I was around 33. Frank & I soon found we shared an abhorrence of foreign control & ownership of Australian resources and a heartfelt desire to work for an Australia that could stand on its own feet, and would serve the ordinary working people not the mighty American dollar. 

Together we started a bush band, Eureka Rebels, which at its peak had 12 members. The band had all sorts of instruments including a wash board, a lagerphone, a few guitars, a xylophone, a piano accordion and even a Chinese Urhu, a two-stringed predecessor of the violin. Frank was the lead singer. 

Frank had a beautifully modulated, resonant tenor-to-baritone voice, and an excellent sense of rhythm. His dulcet tones held the band together as he boomed out the words of Australian folk songs and songs of struggle from the Builders Labourer’s Songbook. And he simultaneously played the tea-chest bass, which he made from a tea-chest acquired in Haymarket, a piece of string and a piece of pliable wood.

I was a member of the Chinese Youth League and the Australia China Friendship Society, both of which Frank also later joined. We were both interested in China, not only because of its long history, culture and traditions but even more because under the leadership of Mao Zedong, it was starting along the socialist path to build a new society.

The Chinese Youth League was to perform a 1977 anniversary concert at the Conservatorium of Music. Before we knew it, Eureka Rebels and the Chinese Youth League choir joined forces to practise Australian folk songs in English and Chinese Revolutionary songs in Chinese.  Later that year our hard work culminated in a performance before a packed house including Al Grasby, the then Minister for Immigration.

Frank joined several organisations that worked for a more self-reliant and fairer Australia, including the Campaign Against Foreign Military Bases in Australia, Australian Independence Movement (AIM), Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee and Citizens for Democracy. The latter promoted the concept of an Australian republic, but unlike Malcolm Turnbull’s outfit, comprised mainly working class folk and students, not the super-wealthy.

The Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee worked to end the commonly-occurring deaths of Aboriginal men and women in gaol due to neglect and murder by gaol warders, staff and police officers. This committee was founded by Arthur & Leila Murray, whose son, Eddie, had been murdered in the Balmain Police Station. He often visited Aboriginal prisoners in gaol. The Committee’s work improved conditions for many, both black & white. Until he left Sydney in his later years, Frank continued his work for Aboriginal peoples in Indigenous Social Justice Action, alongside renowned Wiradjuri leader, Ray Jackson, who died in 2015. There is still much unfinished business.

2SER-FM, the Sydney Educational Radio station, had started broadcasting in the early 1970s. In the later seventies, Frank and I, both of whom had been working as unpaid volunteers there, applied for and were awarded two one-hour radio programmes “Australian Independence” and “China Today”.  When Frank did the announcing, I would look after the programming controls and vice versa. 

“China Today” was run on behalf of the Australia China Friendship Society, and in it, Frank and I talked about New China and played Chinese folk music whilst “Australian Independence” played Australian folk and rebel songs and put forward AIM’s goal for genuine Australian sovereignty and freedom from US hegemony. At that time, Frank also wrote the popular AIM song Betty Windsor, which targeted links between British royalty and mining multinationals. Frank’s dedication, thoughtfulness and vocal clarity, helped to make our two radio programmes a success.

Frank wasn’t university educated. Instead he was self-educated through the school of hard knocks. He was well-read and for many years sent many short articles and clippings from the daily papers together with his analytical comments for most issues of Vanguard.

Frank was a very compassionate person, exemplified not only in his political work but also in his family relations. He had a strong sense of justice and injustice. When his nephew, Vince, was accused of patricide, Frank left no stone unturned and spent a lot of money to ensure Vince was not thrown to the dogs but given genuine justice and a fair hearing.

In the last years of his life, Frank was diagnosed with dementia, moved into BaptistCare Mid Richmond Centre at Coraki, and had the support of a wonderful companion, who sold her home and moved to Coraki to be near him.

Frank was a communist and a patriot. He was a valued member of the NSW branch of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist). 

All who knew Frank were enriched. He was honest, forthright, good humoured and compassionate, a person of value and with values, diligent and determined as a bulldog. He was proud to have kept away from alcohol & smoking.

His was a full life well-lived and dedicated to helping friends & family and the great cause of Australian independence and socialism, with the goal of communism always in his mind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Another year, another corporate tax evasion scandal

Nick G.

New information released by the Australian Tax Office shows that some of the biggest foreign and local companies paid no tax in Australia last year.

To be included in the list, public and foreign-owned companies must have had an annual income in excess of $100m, while locally-owned entities had to have had an income in excess of $200m.

This excludes from public scrutiny a vast number of companies, many of whom also paid no tax.

Out of more than 1900 public, foreign and locally-owned entities in the high-income brackets, 670 (more than one third) paid no tax.

Cross-checking between companies in the “A” alphabetic section of the 2013-14 and 2014-5 lists from the ATO reveals that of the 92 companies that paid no tax last year, 59 or 64% of them had paid no tax the year before either.

They include AZSA Holdings Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based coal mining services company that operates as a subsidiary of the giant Glencore plc., an Anglo-Swiss corporation.

In 2013-14, AZSA’s income was $3.774bn.  It paid no tax.  In 2014-15, its income was $3.59bn.  It paid no tax.

Its parent company, Glencore, operating here as Glencore Australian Investment Holding Co. Ltd. earned $1.074bn in 2013-14 and $1.481bn in 2014-15 and paid no tax either year.

Operating as Glencore Investment Pty. Ltd. it earned $4.611bn in 2013-14 and $4.968bn in 2014-15 and paid no tax either year.

Last year it also operated as Glencore Investment Holdings Australia Ltd. and earned $7.787bn on which it paid zero tax.

The US giant ExxonMobil Australia Ltd. is another that has paid no tax in either year.  In 2013-14 it earned $9.617bn whilst last year at earned $8.464bn.

ExxonMobil’s chairperson Rex Tillerson has just been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be his Secretary of State.  Asked about the nomination, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC’s AM program that “there are many Australians who have worked with him in Exxon Mobil.

“Of course Exxon Mobil have investments in Australia, in the Bass Strait, in the Gorgon Field in north-west Australia. They are the major investor in PNG in the LNG PNG project. So he knows Australia and PNG and our region well and we will seek to engage with him should he be the nominee and confirmed by the Senate for secretary of state.”

She made no mention of “engaging” with him on the question of his ripping the economic guts out of our country and refusing to pay tax here.

Meanwhile, and despite ludicrous claims to be cracking down on multinational tax evasion, senior Government Ministers tried to divert attention from the issue by claiming that 35000 Australians had turned down job offers to stay on “generous taxpayer-funded welfare payments”.

This pubic attack on and humiliation of unemployed and under-employed Australians shows just where the loyalties of these political leeches lie.

And unless we simply want to shrug our shoulders every time the ATO rolls out its list of rich tax avoiders, unless we are happy to see our schools and hospitals not being built for lack of corporate tax payments, we must get organised in our unions and communities to really “Make the Rich Pay!”

Working class struggle wins the battle against giant multinational brewery

Alice M.

Savouring their sweet victory and proudly chanting, “The workers united will never be defeated”, the courageous Carlton United Brewery maintenance workers, surrounded by cheering and clapping union and community supporters, walked back to work through the CUB factory gates (Melbourne), having won back their original wages and conditions after 180 days of resilient struggle.

The CUB maintenance workers’ six month fight with the world’s biggest multinational brewing monopoly, Ab InBev, is no mean achievement. It takes place at a time of intense assault by global capital on the working class around the world. The CUB55’s “Battle of the Breweries” struggle succeeded in pushing back the multinational’s attack against brewery workers in Australia.

The struggle of united and determined CUB workers, the union movement and the wider community is a victory for the entire working class in Australia and a blow to big business. It sent ripples of nervousness through the Boardrooms of many big business and multinational corporations scheming to widen attacks on the working class through contracting and casualisation.

For more than six months, the CUB55 maintenance workers were sitting it out, with their supporters, at the unions and community picket outside the CUB brewery gates in Melbourne.  Preparations were made to be there for Christmas, and dig in for as long as it took to get their jobs back on their original wages and conditions.  They refused to accept the 65% wage cut; and they refused to walk away, find another job and allow the multinational to implement its anti-worker and anti-union plans to hire new casual workers on less pay, and casualise the entire brewery workforce.

The CUB55 workers knew that this fight was much bigger than the protection of brewery workers’ wages and conditions.  They knew this was an important struggle for all workers in Australia that needed to push back the big business and multinational tactics of contracting and casualisation.  They stood their ground and persisted to fight the biggest global multinational brewing monopoly to protect the hard won wages and conditions of all workers in Australia.  They knew that the outcome of this struggle would have ramifications for the working class in Australia. The resilience of CUB55 workers, their wide support in the union movement and in the community has forced AB InBev to pull back. 

When AB InBev gobbled up the previous multinational owners of CUB, SAB Miller, it didn’t count on the fierce resistance by the organised working class in Australia and the wide public outrage at the treatment of workers by a foreign multinational. It was the determination and unflinching resilience of the CUB55 and the union movement and the wide public support that forced AB InBev to retreat.

Union EBA protects brewery workers’ original wages and conditions

The CUB55 maintenance workers’ original wages and conditions are protected in the new 3 year EBA.  The new EBA applies to any labour contractor or sub-contractor during the life of the agreement – including changes in contractors.  

The CUB brand’s dominant position in the Australian market was the main attraction for AB InBev, the biggest global beer monopoly, in its takeover of CUB.  Ironically, it was also the popularity and loyalty of working people in Australia to the local CUB brand and the rights of brewery workers that helped the CUB55 succeed in the fight against the multinational.

The loyalty of the people to the local working people’s iconic Australian beer brand, protection of local jobs and the manufacturing industry in this country, worked against the multinational’s schemes.  It showed where the workers’ and unions’ real strength in struggle can be found.

AB InBev’s alternative of scaling down its production of beer in Australia, or closing down in the face of strong workers’ and  union resistance and importing beer from low cost countries, would have been strongly and widely resisted and was no longer an option for the world’s biggest brewing multinational.

The CUB55 victory is gloriously celebrated by many workers. The repeated experience and history of working class struggle shows that workers’ hard won gains are only temporary and big business constantly plans new tactics to come back and take away any gains made by workers.  This is capitalism, and the struggle between labour and capital never ceases. 

It is inherent to capitalism to relentlessly push down wages and conditions to maximise bigger profits.  And it is only working class struggle and resistance that can win concessions from capital and defend hard won gains.  The CUB55 struggle shows the huge capacity and potential of the working class and its allies in the wider community to unite and mobilise against multinational corporations’ attacks on workers’ rights, and to defend local jobs and local industries.

It shows the huge potential of a great united movement in the struggle for anti-imperialist independence and a socialist Australia where the working class will run this country for working people, not the multinational corporations.

Extend the victory of the resilient CUB55 workers and their supporters - Kick out the greedy multinational corporations from Australia!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gina Rinehart wins battle Rinehart wins battle for Kidman empire

Duncan B.

Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart has emerged victorious in the take-over battle for the Kidman and Co land and cattle empire.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has approved a bid by Outback Beef to purchase the Kidman group. Outback Beef is 67% owned by Rinehart’s Hancock Beef, and 33% by a Chinese company, Shanghai CRED.

Founded in 1886 by the legendary Sidney Kidman, the Kidman group is Australia’s largest private landholder. It controls 100,000 square kilometres of pastoral leases-about 1.3% of Australia’s total land area and 2.5% of the country’s agricultural land.  Kidman has 185,000 head of cattle in Western Australia, the “Top End” and South Australia.

Morrison rejected a bid by a Chinese group on national security grounds, while Gina  Rinehart’s $386.5 million bid put an end to the hopes of another consortium made up of four of Australia’s wealthiest farming families to win control of Kidman.

The combination of Kidman’s operations with her other operations will make Rinehart’s company one of the top three beef producers in Australia with a combined herd of about 300,000 cattle.
Gina Rinehart had already been busy buying other cattle properties as well as Kidman. In July she purchased two properties in the Northern Territory totalling 550,000 hectares to add to her properties in WA, QLD and NSW.

Shanghai CRED has been busy itself in its own right, recently buying four stations in WA’s Goldfields region , on top of other stations purchased in the Goldfields region and the Kimberley region of WA.

Another mining magnate getting into cattle farming in a big way is Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Mining. Since 2009, he has been buying cattle properties in Western Australia, making a total of 10,000 square kilometres. He also owns meat processor Harvey Beef, which is Western Australia’s biggest beef exporter.

It appears that Rinehart and Forrest are seeking to hedge their bets against any downturns in their mining operations by moving into cattle farming.

Multi-billion dollar takeover has farmers worried

Australian farmers have expressed concern at a proposed $US66 billion takeover of the US crop seeds giant Monsanto by the German chemical giant Bayer. The merger will give the new company control over about a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supplies.

Monsanto is the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds and also produces the weed-killing herbicide Roundup. Monsanto’s sales totalled $US15 billion last year, while Bayer’s sales were $69.7 billion.

In the last 12 months other major agribusiness companies have announced mergers, with Dow Chemical and DuPont merging and China’s ChemChina moving to buy the Swiss agrochemical and seed company Syngenta.

Farmers are worried that these mergers and take-overs in the agribusiness area will lead to reduced competition, price gouging and less innovation and research.

Victorian dairy farmers making negative incomes

Cuts to the price of milk and poor seasonal conditions have led to Victorian milk farmers experiencing negative incomes in 2015-16. On average, net farm income fell from $135,000 in 2014-15 to minus $41,000 in 2015-16.

In South western Victoria average net farm income fell from $149,000 in 2014-15 to minus $71,000 in 2015-16. Other regions fared worse. In northern Victoria average net farm income fell from $142,000 to minus $36,000. In Gippsland, average farm income fell from $114,000 to minus $16,000.

Dairy farmers were hit with drought conditions and higher prices for fodder and water on top of the price cuts announced by Murray Goulburn and other milk processors.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Betrayal and collaboration as multinationals plunder natural gas reserves

Bill F.

Multinational companies are making gigantic super-profits from the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), yet have paid little taxes or royalties to Australian governments. Meanwhile, the people face cut-backs in government services, a virtual wage freeze and ever higher utility bills.

By 2020 Australia will become the world’s biggest exporter of LNG, overtaking Qatar. But unlike Qatar, Australia will have little to show for the plunder of its enormous energy reserves.

From its production of 100 billion cubic metres of LNG, Qatar currently picks up $26.6 billion in royalties. For a similar amount of gas, the Treasury estimates the Australian government will get a miserable $800 million! This massive betrayal of Australia’s national interests demonstrates the abject collaboration of the local ruling class with the corporate beneficiaries of imperialism.

Two recent reports, an investigation by Fairfax Media, and a report by the Auditor-General, have thoroughly exposed the extent of this rip-off.

The Fairfax Media report on the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT)

The Fairfax report investigated the application of the PRRT by the federal government on the oil and gas industry. This sector is dominated by multinational ventures off the Western Australia coast and coal seam gas (fracking) in Queensland and NSW. It uncovered the shameful information that just 8 out of 149 resource projects paid any PRRT in the year 2014-15, in spite of collective revenues in excess of $25 billion!

The PRRT is structured to tax only “super-profits” and is not a royalty based on the amount of oil or gas extracted. Companies can then write off their exploration and construction costs to reduce the amount of tax due and carry forward this credit for years to come. According to the Tax Office figure obtained by Fairfax Media, these tax credits are now worth $187 billion.
Gorgon, off the Western Australia coast, is the largest LNG plant in the world and is owned by US multinational Chevron. Last year the Federal Court of Australia had to chase this profit-bloated company for a piddling $300 million in tax avoidance.

The Auditor-General’s report on royalty payments

The report revealed that the whole structure of the royalty system is a rort which allows the oil and gas monopolies to use slick accounting to claim massive deductions, while the government regulators turn a blind eye.

Auditor-General Grant Hehir investigated the royalty payments from the North West Shelf, jointly owned by Woodside, Shell, Chevron and BHP Billiton. This crew had racked up $5 billion worth of tax deductions in just 18 months! And a few more interesting facts finally came out:

  • The ‘self-assessed’ royalty payments had not been audited for 17 years!
  • A gas meter to measure gas output and the royalties owing was broken five years ago!
  • The Royalty Schedule was 10 years out of date!
  • The Western Australian government hired Ernst & Young to check the royalty deductions in 2014, never mind the inconvenient fact that the same firm is official auditor for North West Shelf!  
Wishy washy governments

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, one of the few in parliament with the guts to call out the truth, made a positive statement that reflects the disgust and anger of the working people when these rorts are uncovered. "They have been trying to penny-pinch from backpackers and some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, and yet they have been blind to potentially multi-billion-dollar rorts from massive multinational corporations.

"It looks like Australians might be being fleeced for hundreds of millions in dollars in oil and gas royalties because Liberal and Labor Governments have either been asleep at the wheel for the last two decades, or they don't see tackling their big corporate backers as a priority.

"These aren't your traditional tax avoidance issues that Parliament has been looking at over recent years. This is about successive Australian governments not even checking if billions of dollars in tax deductions were allowable under law. This is about a government department not even testing the meters on the oil and gas wells to see if they were working."

On the home front

While the gigantic gas tankers cart Australian LNG across the world, the domestic market is starved of cheap gas. Working people are told that “we have to” pay ever-increasing international prices for the domestic gas we use for heating and cooking. Why, if the country has such abundant supplies? Answer – to boost the profits of the greedy multinationals who couldn’t give a stuff for people in Australia.

And it is not only the workers who will cop it. Small manufacturing business and commercial bakeries are already feeling the pinch.

For example, Victoria Wool Processors in Melbourne's western suburbs are unable to finalise a new source of natural gas to heat and process their annual 12,000 tonnes of wool.  General Manager David Richie stated, "Australia has just become the biggest exporter of gas in the world. If you believe in manufacturing, this needs to be sorted out quickly... Gas is obviously widely used in industry and it's critical for the plastics and chemicals industry, the paper industry, fertilisers, the production of a host of products." He pointed out that 40 jobs at his plant were immediately at stake unless a more rational system was introduced.

The “Last One” ceremony

Another icon of Australian manufacturing bit the dust on the 29th November when the last Holden car rolled off the production line at Fisherman’s Bend. And the last 175 workers got their reward for loyalty and years of hard work – a free lunch, a polo shirt, a yearbook and a group photograph – and the sack!

Imperialism – expose it, resist it, defeat it!

This is the future imperialist domination has for Australia – grab the resources, grind down the working class, dismantle the skills and industries and drag us into endless dirty wars! The corporate bandits are supported and encouraged by a miserable gang of local politicians, bank and finance bosses, media lackeys and shadowy ‘think-tanks’, all backed up by the armed state apparatus. 

This not a future the Australian people want. They want to control the destiny of their own country, to apply its natural resources in sensible and planned way to benefit the people, to roll back climate change and repair environmental damage, not make it worse. They want viable, stable jobs that produce useful products and services, not just holes in the ground and short-term contracts. This can only happen in an independent Australia republic when the key industries are owned and controlled by the working people.

Nationalise the power industry!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Put More Pork on Your Fork

Pat F. 

The Victorian Government has announced an “unprecedented” increase in police funding, personnel, and resources. The police force will become the largest it has ever been. It will consume the largest budget it has ever had. 

The justification for this extra-ordinary expenditure, and for the required diversion of resources from other areas, is claimed to be the need to improve personal safety for people living in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and nearby areas. There is mention of domestic violence and drugs, which are a problem throughout Victoria, and Australia. So why is the focus on the outer suburbs of Melbourne?

There is no mention of the problem of tax avoidance by international corporations. No allocation of resources to collecting outstanding tax owed by internet companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. No resources to stop tax avoidance through transfer pricing by companies like Coca Cola. No effort to pull back the subsidies paid to Ford, GMH, Toyota, etc now that they have decided to cease the activities in Australia which attracted the subsidies. No funds allocated to compelling privatised electricity supply companies to pay their court approved tax bills; instead the ATO recently settled with Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, owner of the SA Power Networks for only $800,000 of a tax debt of $8m, according to Four Corners. And of course no allocation of resources to hit the biggest drug dealers (CUB) and gambling gangs (Packer). And there is no halt to the employment policies which cause the incomes of workers to crash. 

So why is the focus on the outer suburbs of Melbourne?

Because these are the working class areas where unemployment will be highest; where mortgages will be unpayable; where repossessions will become endemic; where working hours will be most reduced; where rising motor fuel prices will have most impact; where the misallocation of education resources away from state owned schools to private schools will be most disastrous; where youth unemployment will become an epidemic. 

These are the areas in which the anger and resistance of workers will be greatest. 

These are the areas in which workers without an articulate working class party will vent their justified anger in ways which will be expensive in casualties, and collateral damage to those who are not the real enemy. 

These are the areas which without a strong working class party will have no voice and no strategy. Without the Party working diligently within the suburbs, in the places where workers can still congregate, there will be opportunity for Judas goats like Trump, Hanson, and especially Shorten, to blame religious and ethnic differences, for the necessary outcomes of imperialism and capitalism. 

The rich in Australia are terrified of working class rebellion. They know that their situation is tenuous as imperialist powers squabble, compete and prepare for war with each other. They know that if the organised working class rebels, the rich cannot win. And that is why the police force is being reinforced, not just in suburban Melbourne, but wherever workers gather throughout Australia. And that is why the Party must urgently re-double its efforts to organise the working class, and those other non-working class elements which can be united against the hard core of US Imperialists in Australia. 

The police forces are the agents of the state. They are the enforcers of the state. They maintain the so-called “law and order” of the state which enables capitalism and imperialism to crush working class revolt, and continue their exploitation and destruction of Australia.

The police claim to be protecting the people from criminals, but the real criminals are the rich who sack workers, pay no tax, and force the people of the world into wage slavery.

As a draft resister comrade from the 70s once said, “Do not believe them when they say you never had it so good; for if you do, they will be completely in charge, in their marble palaces and granite banks, from which they rule the people of the world.”  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Portland Alcoa – smelter shut-down puts jobs on the line

Bill F.

Alcoa’s Portland aluminium smelter is operating at just over 25% capacity and is unlikely to return to full production for six months, if at all. Up to 2,500 jobs in the Western Victorian town of Portland (population 10,000) are at risk.

While this latest crisis has been caused by an electricity transmission failure, it highlights the fragility of infrastructure and jobs when critical resources are entrusted to profit-hungry multinationals.

The high voltage transmission company, AusNet Services, (previously SP AusNet of Black Saturday bushfires fame) has as major stakeholders, Singapore Power and the State Grid Corporation of China. Alcoa’s aluminium smelter churns out 300,000 tonnes a year and consumes more than 20% of the total electricity generated in Victoria. 

When the electricity supply failed for more than five hours, the main aluminium smelter potline was shut down, leaving the molten metal to solidify. The damage will take months to repair. While the second potline is able to function, it is restricted to half capacity.

This crisis is taking place at a time when there is less demand for aluminium and prices are weak. On top of this, Alcoa has been trying to negotiate cheaper electricity costs with AGL Loy Yang after the Victorian Labor government refused to continue 20 years of outrageously generous power subsidies worth $130 million a year.

Workers worried for their job security can expect little sympathy or loyalty from multinational Alcoa, which has threatened to close the smelting plant before. (See MV Portland crew and MUA fight for all workers )

The company had already closed its other smelter at Point Henry near Geelong because it was “uneconomic” – in other words, they had cheaper labour and newer technology elsewhere in the world.
So maybe the power failure comes at a convenient time for this multinational?

Nor will this Christmas be so merry for the many thousands of Victorian workers facing unemployment with the shutdown of Hazelwood brown coal fired power station, and the closure of the Ford, Holden and Toyota car factories. These are the benefits of imperialist ‘globalisation’ which imposes de-industrialisation on subordinate countries and poverty wages on the workers still exploitable enough to have a job.   

And the New Year will not be so happy for the hundreds of thousands of working families just about to be hit with savage domestic electricity price rises, courtesy of monopoly retailers AGL Energy, Energy Australia and Origin Energy.

This sorry situation can only get worse until the working people decide to take on the foreign monopolies and boardroom fat-cats and their agents and apologists. All they care for is profits, and issues of community safety, clean energy and stopping climate change are all down the list. 

The seizure and nationalisation of key industries and resources such as electricity generation and distribution would be a good start to a revolutionary re-structure of Australian society on socialist lines that would benefit the working people, not just generate wealth for a few.

Nationalise the power industry!