Thursday, February 20, 2020

Funding cut and 300 year wait shows government is only virtue signalling on wage theft

Written by: John G. on 21 February 2020 

Legislation to criminalise serious wage theft proposed by Attorney General Christian Porter late February, comes with almost no teeth. His talk of “heavy penalties” is stranded without enforcers.

With around 25 Fair Work Ombudsman field inspectors across the whole country, the legislation will be little more than a toothless tiger.

In Australia there’s 800,000 companies employing around 13 million workers.  Fair Work conducted just 2,800 audits of workplaces in 2018-19 and issued 247 compliance notices. That is just 0.35% of employers nationally in a year.

At that rate they would take 300 years to get to them all just once.

An army ready to go

The proposed criminalisation of serious wage theft is mere virtue signalling by the government, the creation of a hullaballoo about action where little would be achieved.

If the government wanted to change conditions around wage theft – and make it dangerous for employers to undertake – it would have to get many multiples of the number of inspectors into workplaces with the authority it proposes for Fair Work Ombudsman Inspectors.

Instead governments have cut the ombudsman’s funding nearly in half over the last decade to $126 million. 

An army of inspectors is readily available, ready to go, in the form of union organisers who used to have powers to inspect employment records, attend workplaces without notice, interview employees and find out what is happening. There are thousands across the country and their organisations are keen to enforce criminalising of wage theft.

Recent high-profile examples of wage theft involve employers understating hours worked, paying at lower wage classifications than the work employees do, overcharging visa workers for accommodation, transport, meals and so on, failing to train and upskill employees into higher paid positions as required in employment and visa conditions, and more.

Inspection to discover these rorts requires more than an audit of records. It needs inspection of worksites and interviews with employees in situations where they can be confident of protection. Many cases launched by the Ombudsman have been exposed through union action, even without the unions having powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Forget the window dressing!

Here it is in a nutshell. The government won’t provide anywhere near the numbers of workplace inspectors needed for the job. But unions have the inspectors – organisers – ready to go. Instead a federal administration under the thumb of U.S. imperialism is determined to nobble the power of employees collaborating in unions.

It deliberately leaves government no practical capacity to deal with such problems, however urgent action to stamp them out may be. All they are left with is empty virtue signalling. 

Christian Porter’s proposed window dressing would see employers who abide by Australia’s laws – and still exploit surplus value from their workers’ labour power – paying regulation wages (however poor they may be).

The corporate sharks would go on thieving wages as an effective business model with low risk of discovery, and opportunities to slip out the back way if exposed. In the process the sharks are able to undercut the somewhat reputable employers threatening their viability. 

Workers scorn the virtue signalling. Real power is in the demand for real criminalisation of wage theft, by empowering workers and unions to hit thieving employers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Australia, Indonesia and US control of the Indo-Pacific

Written by: (Contributed) on 19 February 2020 
The recent high-level diplomatic visit of President Joko Widodo to Australia has been accompanied by a Department of Defence media release about an upgrade and refurbishment of an airfield on Australia's Cocos/Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean (above), near Indonesia.

The Cocos/Keeling Islands facilities appear central to a longer-term US-led regional military plan pursued through Australia, as part of a wave of militarisation. The US-led military plan, however, rests upon foreign policy initiatives which have proved far from stable, raising questions about the changing nature of traditional hegemonic positions and viability of longer-term planning.

Diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia have tended to be strained for decades; while Australia has always regarded Indonesia as a close regional neighbour, the relationship has never been straightforward. Australia diplomacy toward Indonesia has often been critical, of perceived threats in the Sukarno period, repression at the time of Suharto and decades of stand-offs over East Timor.

In recent times, however, Australia has been keen to pursue stronger diplomatic relations with Jakarta as part of wider regional planning. It is therefore interesting to note the recent high-level diplomatic visit of President Joko Widodo to Canberra was referred to as a plan to 'concentrate on a joint future as anchors of economic, trade and security in the Indo-Pacific'. (1) The term Indo-Pacific was a recent US linguistic invention, where defence and security considerations and 'US interests' for the Indian Ocean were linked to those of the Pacific region.

While addressing the Australian parliament, President Joko Widodo drew attention to joint security co-operation and intelligence-sharing and called for joint regional leaderships to act as anchors with specific reference to the South Pacific, a highly strategic sub-section of the wider region close to both Australia and Indonesia. (2)

In recent times the three main countries of the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, have all developed stronger links with China. The moves have been regarded by Australia as a direct threat to close regional military and security provision. The military plan, therefore, to develop the Lombrum naval base on Manus Island formed part of a concerted US-led initiative to draw PNG closer back into line with traditional US domination of the region. Far from being a small naval facility, the Lombrum base will 'be a leading regional naval base', used for 'hosting joint exercises'. (3)

There has also been little ambiguity about who has been pulling strings behind the scenes; the US has a naval attache based in their embassy in Port Moresby. It has also been noted that 'high-ranking US officials have been visiting the country'. (4)

The timing of the announcement that the Australian Department of Defence was allocating $184 million for an upgrade and refurbishment of their Cocos/Keeling Islands airfield facility can also be seen as part of the same regional military planning. The development of the airfield will begin mid-year and be specifically for use with new P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft, operational more than 2,000 kms from base facilities.

It is significant to note both the Lombrum naval base and the Cocos/Keeling Islands exist on the same arc from Pine Gap, Central Australia. The arc also swings leftwards through much of Indonesia and rightwards across other sensitive areas of the Pacific. (5) The so-called joint facilities at Pine Gap are directly linked to similar facilities on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and the Pentagon; they remain central to US-led global defence and security provision.

The military hardware based at Pine Gap and Diego Garcia has also been linked into other regional facilities in recent years.

During the Obama presidential period, for example, high-level diplomatic visits to countries across the region were accompanied by a re-opening of joint military facilities which the 'US military either abandoned or was evicted … decades ago'. (6) Changes to the US intelligence services also saw the transformation of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), with a further 1,600 'collectors' in various sensitive locations. (7) The new intelligence positions were directly linked to the US Department of Defence, and concerned primarily with assessments of regional balances of forces and threats to traditional hegemonic positions; military intelligence, historically, has had a separate identity to other branches of the intelligence services.

It is also interesting to note recent Australian Defence Department media releases and military exhibitions have all stressed the development of longer-range regional facilities, particularly in line with technological research. The regional matrix of joint military facilities clearly have strategic significance for the Pentagon and the countries they use as regional hubs for operations; a reference to 'planning for the future force to maximise the Australian Defence Force's ability to see deep into the Indo-Pacific region as an essential enabler for striking deep when necessary', leaves little to the imagination about the nature of US-led military planning and the role of Australia. (8)

The US, however, had to deal with numerous problems in the Indo-Pacific region; traditional alliances had become strained in recent times. China has become a dominant player across the region; they, in many ways, have won the regional diplomatic offensive in recent years; most countries regard their trade links with China as important. Countries have had little difficulty accommodating China with their own economic planning for mutual benefit.

The problem which has arisen for US-led regional military planning is that the foreign policy on which it has rested has had to deal with the rapidly changing balance of forces. The US can no longer rely upon traditional alliances and hegemonic positions; US foreign policy has entered a turbulent period, countries once regarded as compliant allies are now viewed with unease from Washington and the Pentagon. 

Two recent examples of the problem confronting US foreign policy include the Philippines and South Korea (ROK).

The recent case arising with the Philippines wanting to cease Visiting Forces Agreements with the US has upset traditional diplomatic relations. The Philippines remains central to the concept of 'US interests', but the country now has particularly strong links with China. Moves by President Duterte and his administration in Manila to sever the key security pact with the US has, therefore, sent shock waves into the heartlands of Canberra, which regard the decision as jeopardising US regional positions and strengthening the regional hand of China. (9)

The administration of President Moon Jae-in in the Blue House in the ROK wanting to have stronger links with North Korea (DPRK) and China and to re-open the Kaesong Trade Park in the north is yet another example of the same problem. The country has important US military facilities for rapid regional deployment with the Defence of Japan doctrine. The fact the US now appears to be considering moving part of the ROK military facilities to Guam, a US protectorate in Micronesia, is evidence of their questionable longer-term position on the Korean peninsula. 

There are numerous other examples across the region where US-led military positions rest upon allies whose governments may change, subsequently altering policies. The recent switch of diplomatic positions from Taiwan to Beijing by the Solomon Islands, likewise, has had far-reaching implications for the US and Canberra; Taiwan is increasingly being forced out of regional diplomacy.

In response to this changing regional balance of forces, US imperialism now appears to buttress its traditional position in the South Pacific to include stronger relations between Australia and Indonesia. As is common with neo-colonial relations the moves have also coincided with the announcement that a South Pacific trade pact has been fast-tracked and will be finalised before the end of the year. (10) 

It is also highly significant to note the longer-term planning of the whole venture; the recent high-level diplomacy between Australia and Indonesia, for example, was accompanied by a statement stressing the defence and security provision included 'the vision, in the medium-term to the middle of this decade and in the long-term to 2050'. (11) The time-span was not idle pontification: the period in question is likely to be marred by hostilities; by the middle of this decade China is set to equal the US in economic terms on present-day projections, by 2050 it will be likely to have completely displaced the former world leader.

Before Australia gets drawn into regional hostilities by following US-led military planning:

                                            We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Much-needed maturity and reassurance, Australian, 11 February 2020.

2.     Ibid.

3.     Lombrum naval base upgrade, Post Courier (PNG), 14 March 2019.

4.     Ibid.

5.     Peters Projection, Map of the World, Actual Size, Scale 1: 1,230,000,000.

6.     US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012, and, US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014.

7.     Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.

8.     A gap to close in next-generation defence, Avalon 2019 Special Report, The Australian, 26 February 2019.    

9.     Editorial, Duterte risks regional stability, Australian, 17 February 2020.

10.   Push to quicken deal on South Pacific trade, The Weekend Australian, 15-16 February 2020.

11.   Australian, op.cit., 11 February 2020.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Coronavirus Consequences Widespread and Highlight Need for Independent Australia

Written by: Ned K. on 17 February 2020 


The Coronavirus issue is now well beyond an issue created by the 24-hour news cycle of mainstream media and "grabs' on social media.
For the Chinese people, especially in Wuhan and Hubei province it must be a terrifying situationfwith the death toll and rising numbers of people with the virus. Now the virus has even killed health professionals working in the hospitals to save the lives of those people struck down by the virus. Now Europe reports the first death there due to Coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation now release statements warning of the Coronavirus becoming a worldwide epidemic with no vaccine on the horizon for possibly up to 18 months.
The Chinese Government went in to economic shutdown mode closing factories and turning away importers of a wide range of products and services. Millions of workers in China told to stay at home.
Imperialism has developed in a way that China has become "the workshop of the world" and when China shuts up shop so to speak the consequences are widespread.
This is particularly the case in relation to Australia. In the period 1970 to 2010 one government after another became the executive committee for imperialism's global plans to turn Australia in to a receiver rather than a producer of manufactured goods. During this period the Australian economy became reliant on exports of minerals and other natural resources, agricultural products. Most of these products such as iron ore, liquid natural gas, coal and grapes in the form of wine built up a heavy reliance on China as their export destination.
Added to this was tertiary education and tourism, both named as "export industries" even though the "product" in the form of overseas students and tourists from overseas come here!
In return Australia became flooded with imported manufactured goods of almost every consumer item you can imagine and most of these were and still are manufactured in China. Even what is still manufactured here is often reliant on crucial parts that are manufactured overseas and in China in particular.
The Coronavirus outbreak has exposed the fragility of the imperialist world economy and how quickly this economic and political domination by imperialist powers can ruin the lives of people all over the globe, Australia in particular.
One only has to read the capitalist press financial papers to see this.
Foe example article sin the weekend Financial Review of 15-16 February reveal the following impact of the Coronavirus:
* Tertiary education sector: For each 10% reduction in overseas students from China, 7,500 jobs in Australian universities and related services are lost. There are 105,833 overseas students from China in the big 8 universities who are current visa holders. The exorbitant fees they pay to study here amounts to $2.18 billion per year. The total number of overseas students from China is 165000. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak and government policies at home and in China most of these students will not arrive in Australia at least until the second semester and maybe beyond that depending on what happens with the Coronavirus.
*Last week China's biggest importer of LNG, China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced it would no longer take delivery of contracted cargoes.
* The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade has been offering "force majeure" certificates to companies based in China. Forced majeure is legal recognition that a company cannot meet its obligations because of circumstances beyond its control.
* Major companies including Rio Tinto, Blackmores, Cochlear and the tourism retail and Casino sectors have already claimed slowdowns which will result in loss of jobs in Australia.
* The $45 billion cruise industry is being hit as its various corporations cancel bookings by people even remotely connected to China for fear of a Coronavirus on one of their cruise liners.
Independence In An Interconnected World
Imperialism has developed in a way to make small economies like Australia extremely vulnerable when there is a major event in another country in the world, particularly China.
While imperialism exists in the world it is imperative that countries like Australia become independent economically, politically and militarily from the big imperialist powers. The Coronavirus highlights the insecurity for the people of Australia in having such a lopsided economic base and high dependency on China, a new imperialist power, economically.
insecurity extends to Australia's political and military dependence on China's main rival, US imperialism.
One day when all countries are socialist countries and imperialism has ceased to exist there will still be the possibility of viruses for which there is no initial vaccine and control. In such cases, the region of the outbreak may well be quarantined as is the case in Hubei province. However, with each country ruled by the workers with more balanced economies of those countries and each country giving a helping hand to the country effected by the virus outbreak, the impact of the virus will be minimal and more easily overcome for the benefit of all humanity.


First People’s cultural burning vs.climate change deniers

Written by: Louisa L. on 16 February 2020
Above: NOT a photo from the recent fire season. From a Rolling Stone article about frack fires

How does a climate change denialist group aligned with U.S. counterparts  and the Shooters Party  become “A Proud Supporter of Indigenous Burning Practices”? 

The so-called Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA) has for years promoted climate change denialist and scientist David Packham.  Packham developed and promotes ‘aerial ignition burns’ to reduce fuel load, literally firebombing areas from the air.

Packham is a Murdoch media regular with Sky, Herald Sun, The Australian, plus spots on the ABC, SBS and numerous online sites. In 2013, some of his work was reviewed in Quadrant by a likeminded fire activist from WA, where Packham’s method was most used. Quadrant, with CIA links going back decades, has published several Packham articles. 

He is also a key stakeholder in Firestick Estate Inc. The name appropriates a First Peoples’ term, “firestick”, to promote the opposite to the gentle, labour-intensive cultural burning practises of First Peoples.

Knowledge holders

Firesticks Alliance builds on the burning practice of late Kuku Thaypan Elders, Dr George and Dr Musgrave.  A leading Firesticks practitioner, Victor Stephensen, criticises aerial ignition, which he describes as “flying in and dropping bombs”. 

Even the less extreme “hazard reduction burns” used by both the Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) come in for criticism by Stephensen. Fire scientists also point out the limitations of such burns. 

Stephensen speaks of past “fire knowledge holders” needed at every cultural burn. “That’s where we need to be again. We need these knowledge holders working with the mainstream and with the rural fire service,” he says. 

Learning goes both ways. Uncle Vic Sharmen, a Shoalhaven elder and former NPWS chief ranger with a degree in environmental science, says cultural burning is enriched by connection to western science.  He clearly didn’t mean the climate change denialism of David Packham. 

Like many of us, Victor Stephensen worries each time summer approaches.

But this year, unlike previous ones, had an impossibly narrow window for burning - given the lack of cultural burning for 230 years - because climate change made it hotter and drier, as 22 former fire chiefs stated. This has been canvassed in numerous places, but last December an ABC Fact Check, entitled  Are hazard reduction burns effective in reducing bushfires? The answer is complicated, comprehensively cut through the muck and lies. 


This brings us back to our original question. Why are climate change denialists and minimisers allegedly supporting “Indigenous burning practices”?
Divide and conquer remains a key colonialist and imperialist strategy.

 “The Biggest Estate on Earth” by Bill Gammage, brought to a wider audience the fire management tools that many First Peoples already understood – and in some places still practised – as their heritage. This audience eventually included far right climate denialists and minimisers, intent particularly on opening national parks to corporate exploitation.

A tiny handful of First Peoples are captive to the most aggressive section of U.S imperialism.

An attack from this source recently targeted the Aboriginality of Bruce Pascoe, who built on Gammage’s work in his bestseller Dark Emu. Pascoe is no climate change denier or friend of corporations.

The timing - just before flooding rains were predicted to extinguish most fires and wider analysis of causes increased - was no accident. Nor was its amplification across the media.

As the cultural burning story took hold, it aimed to undermine Pascoe’s ability to intervene against the avalanche of simplistic distortion surrounding its practice.

Murdoch’s mantra against “morons”

Several other captives are would-be parliamentarians, prominently and repeatedly featured in Murdoch publications and broadcasts. Despite this massive promotion, they failed to gains seats in the landslide Coalition federal election victory. Although they have some supporters, overwhelmingly First Peoples organised against them.

Add to this mix a dying fossil fuel industry determined to dress up its deathly image with First Peoples’ credibility. Climate change deniers seized on Gammage’s work.

Last November “Indigenous burning practices can help fight the bushfires” - by one of those receiving the Murdoch star treatment - appeared in the Daily Telegraph and was recycled by the VFFA. 

This media personality minimises climate change, the possible role for renewable energy, and Australia’s contribution to emissions. 

He chants Murdoch’s mantra against ‘Greenies and Lefties’ – an ‘elite’ who “carp on about climate change” (Daily Telegraph 8/8/19). He suggests nuclear energy as an instant fix, unlike what he describes as the prohibitively “long term goal” of renewables. 

Andrew Bolt – suddenly a new-born embracer of human made climate change – loves to quote this man’s support for Adani and the coal seam gas industry, which like nuclear energy – ‘our’ man alleges - is “safe”. Any “moron” (Bolt’s descriptor) opposing those industries is practising “Green Sabotage”. 

Just add 900 gas wells

Well, these “morons” and “saboteurs” include plenty of First Peoples. For years they’ve fought nuclear waste dumps on Country, most notably at Muckaty in the NT.  And an anti-fracking backlash is building in the Northern Territory, led by First Peoples. 

Even as the bushfires were burning, PM Scummo, with support from NSW Premier Berejiklian, was announcing that $2 billion in joint government grants may come to Santos’s plan to build 900 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga on Gamilaraay land. 
Above: Gamilaraay man and anti-fracking activist, Nathan Leslie, speaking at a 2018 forum

Gamilaraay men, Nathan Leslie and Paul Spearim, locked on in protest against fracking on their Country, as did a group of young farmers.  The brilliant doco, Sacrifice Zone, details the extraordinary strength and breadth of anti-fracking forces in the proposed Narrabri gas field, as well as its dangers – including bushfires. 

Coal seam gas is highly flammable. Try typing “fracking well fires” into a search engine, click “images”, and take your pick of the shocking array of fires and stories.

Bolt’s “morons” know the Gosper Mountain mega blaze ignited two fires in coal seams near Lithgow  this fire season. And they know much more. 

According to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration there were 285 “significant incidents” involving the gas industry in the U.S. in 2018 – many of them fires and explosions. 

A sovereign right

Cultural burning is a sovereign right for First Peoples, like learning or re-learning Language. These growing movements link young with elders in an unbreakable bond. Both come from Lore which comes from Country.

This respectful relationship is a world away from the simplistic slogans of fuel load reduction as the be all and end all, of climate denial, of logging and hard hooved stock in national parks, of more dams and all the other Murdoch shock jock mumbo jumbo. No doubt such enemies of the people will seek to co-opt or profit from them.

Cultural burning is immensely powerful for First Peoples and for the future of what we now call Australia. It’s no quick fix. It can only be fully exercised when First Peoples have economic control over their Countries and their lives. Its effective practice relies on land rights. Colonialism and imperialism will never allow this. Their systems have proved it since the invasion began in 1788.

First Peoples and the working class lead the struggles to rid this continent and its islands from the brutal vestiges of colonialism and from the jackboot of U.S. imperialism.

Explosive wildfire does not discriminate as it destroys. First Peoples and Australian working people, rural and city dwellers alike, are affected by the bushfires.

Unity is the only way forward.