Monday, February 27, 2023

China’s Twelve Proposals for Ending the Ukrainian Conflict


(Above: Civilian infrastructure bombed by Russians, Dnipro.  Photo source: Oksana Dutchak Facebook page)

Written by: Nick G. on 28 February 2023

Several days ago, on February 24, to coincide with the first anniversary of Russian imperialism’s invasion of Ukraine, China released a paper stating its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

In general, Australian mainstream media have dismissed the Chinese statement without making the full text available for public consideration. That includes the ABC as well as the privately-owned capitalist media.

The people can make their own judgement of the Chinese statement, the full text of which we publish below.

On March 15, 2022, just three weeks after the invasion, we printed an article under the heading “Self-interest will determine China’s position on war in Ukraine.” 

It is worth revisiting in order to contextualise China’s anniversary statement.

China is putting itself forward as a neutral observer of the conflict whose proposals hold the key to ending the violence.

It has a number of short-comings, principal among which is the failure to clearly identify Russian imperialism as the aggressor and to side with the Ukrainians who are fighting to drive an invading aggressor from their country.

But it also has some positives.  In its first point, it says that “The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” This favours the Ukrainian resistance for the act of invasion has undermined Ukrainian sovereignty.

In the second point, the Chinese say “The security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others.” This is a criticism of both the US-NATO’s threats to Russia via their eastwards expansion, and of Russia for asserting that its security required the invasion of Ukraine. 

In successive points, China calls for the ending of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks. Propositions such as these are likely to have wide appeal, although the Ukrainian resistance is likely to suspect talks that could require them to accept the Russian occupation of the Donbass. They key question here is respecting the right of all Ukrainians to self-determination.

Point eight takes issue with the threat to use nuclear weapons. Although there have been some politicians from the US-NATO bloc who have advocated this, the loudest threats have come from the Russian side. This includes Putin, his military partners and the assemblage of shock jock media identities who support Putin. To maintain the appearance of even-handedness, the Chinese statement also opposes the development and use of chemical and biological weapons, a statement directed at US companies which have established such facilities, banned in the US, in Ukraine.

In points eleven and twelve, the Chinese call for maintaining the “existing world economic system” and offer to play a part in Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction. Prior to the Russian invasion, Chinese businesses were doing very well in Ukraine, thank you very much, and Chinese imperialism is manoeuvring to restore its Belt and Road links into the Ukrainian economy.

Our view remains that China’s reaction to the Ukrainian war is driven by self-interest. 

The Chinese position should be made available. It has some good points as well as obvious shortcomings. Both arise from Chinese social-imperialism’s view of the long-term advantage it can gain from the proposals it has on offer.
Full text: China's Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis
Xinhua · | February 24, 2023

China released a paper stating its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis on Friday. The following is the full text.
China's Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis

. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. All parties should jointly uphold the basic norms governing international relations and defend international fairness and justice. Equal and uniform application of international law should be promoted, while double standards must be rejected.

2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality. The security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The security of a region should not be achieved by strengthening or expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly. There is no simple solution to a complex issue. All parties should, following the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and bearing in mind the long-term peace and stability of the world, help forge a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture. All parties should oppose the pursuit of one's own security at the cost of others' security, prevent bloc confrontation, and work together for peace and stability on the Eurasian Continent.

3. Ceasing hostilities. Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control. All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.

4. Resuming peace talks. Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported. The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.

5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis. All measures conducive to easing the humanitarian crisis must be encouraged and supported. Humanitarian operations should follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and humanitarian issues should not be politicized. The safety of civilians must be effectively protected, and humanitarian corridors should be set up for the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. Efforts are needed to increase humanitarian assistance to relevant areas, improve humanitarian conditions, and provide rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale. The UN should be supported in playing a coordinating role in channeling humanitarian aid to conflict zones.

6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). Parties to the conflict should strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict, and respect the basic rights of POWs. China supports the exchange of POWs between Russia and Ukraine, and calls on all parties to create more favorable conditions for this purpose.

7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe. China opposes armed attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities, and calls on all parties to comply with international law including the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and resolutely avoid man-made nuclear accidents. China supports the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities.

8. Reducing strategic risks. Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed. Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.

9. Facilitating grain exports. All parties need to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the UN fully and effectively in a balanced manner, and support the UN in playing an important role in this regard. The cooperation initiative on global food security proposed by China provides a feasible solution to the global food crisis.

10. Stopping unilateral sanctions. Unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure cannot solve the issue; they only create new problems. China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and "long-arm jurisdiction" against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis and create conditions for developing countries to grow their economies and better the lives of their people.

11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable. All parties should earnestly maintain the existing world economic system and oppose using the world economy as a tool or weapon for political purposes. Joint efforts are needed to mitigate the spillovers of the crisis and prevent it from disrupting international cooperation in energy, finance, food trade and transportation and undermining the global economic recovery.

12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction. The international community needs to take measures to support post-conflict reconstruction in conflict zones. China stands ready to provide assistance and play a constructive role in this endeavor.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

“Soldiers trained to deal with protesters”

(Above: Soldiers vs "protesters".   Photo source Contact   Photo by  Bombardier Guy Sadler)

Written by: Nick G. on 27 February 2023

 The Australian Army continues to be trained for use against Australian citizens.

Last year we reported on the training exercises conducted by the 3rd Battalion (3RAR) in “population control and protection”. 

We explored in depth the history of the military application of population “protection” from its origin in the Spanish–Cuban Ten Years' War (1868-1878) through to the Army’s role in the racist NT Intervention.

We said that “increased focus on urban operations including population “protection” and control, should serve as a warning against complacency for Australians seeking changes of substance to the inequalities and injustices of capitalism, and the subordination of Australia to imperialist dictate and influence.”

We already have a highly militarised police force, like SA Police Security Response Section below. The training of the army in civilian control provides an extra layer of state machinery in ensuring that capitalism is protected from those it exploits and oppresses.  

The current exercise is reported in the privately published Contact military newsletter under the heading Soldiers train to deal with protesters. Again, it involved the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), with the support of the 1st Military Police Battalion (1MP), at a camp outside Townsville.

According to the report, the course focused on soldiers’ individual PPC training “while ensuring the ready battle group met the qualifications required of the ADF’s contingency operational response element.” 

It included “soldiers with shields, unruly role players and snapping canines”. The unruly role players created “a realistic scenario of aggressive protesters designed to push the soldiers’ endurance threshold”. 

“Infantry sections integrated closely with military police arrest teams, detainee processing capabilities, and military working dogs to enhance security and crowd dispersion.”

These are descriptions of the Australian “Defence” Force being trained to suppress Australian citizens engaged in the democratic right of protest in the streets. 

Forewarned is indeed forearmed. 

Shipbuilding Unions Demand Sovereign Build


Written by: (Contributed) on 25 February 2023

Leaderships of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Australian Workers Union, Communications, Electricians and Plumbers Union and Professionals Australia, their members and supporters held a rally outside the SA Premier's building in Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square) on Friday 24 February.

Leaders from all four Unions demanded that the federal Albanese Government take urgent action now to secure locally built navy vessels, particularly the next fleet of non-nuclear submarines.

They all emphasized the need for the "sovereign build" of non-nuclear submarines at the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) in Osborne, situated near Port Adelaide.

By "sovereign" they meant the alternative being considered - importing non-nuclear submarines form overseas, or no more non-nuclear submarines at all - would see an acceleration of the exodus of skilled workers from not only SA but Australia. "Sovereign" to the speakers at the rally meant "within Australian workers' interests".

All leaders of all four Unions said that federal government commitment to build navy vessels in SA would be a hollow commitment unless the government funded a naval technical college within the ASC precinct at Osborne. This was essential to provide training for the current generation of young people and future generations of young people.

If the federal government did not set up a naval college for skills development of young people now, there would be no manufacturing workforce to build any navy vessels in SA or Australia.

Little mention was made of the nuclear submarines being built, except that all speakers said that even if that occurred, it would not be for another 20 years or so. The positive side of the demand to continue with the building of conventional submarines is that it challenges the pro-nuclear powered subs of the AUKUS coalition; the downside is that both build options feed into the predatory imperialist agenda of the United States.

It was good to hear passionate Union leaders demand not only a "sovereign build" but also link this demand to creating the opportunity for local people to design and build and service vessels and to decrease reliance on temporary high skilled labour from overseas.

Central to the Union leaders demands for an on-site technical college was the demand to increase apprenticeships related to a sovereign build.

The speaker from the Electricians Union also made the point that it was not just a matter of skilled work opportunities for locals at the shipbuilding works at Osborne. It was also about providing young workers with skills that were transferable to other industries which benefitted not only themselves but society as a whole.

While not stated explicitly, the theme of the speeches, "sovereign build" also was a reminder of the past experience of the car industry's demise in SA in particular. While that industry provided thousands of good paying jobs over many decades, the key decision-makers in its future were multinational corporations who organized their production according to their global strategic profit-making needs.

In the case of the development of navy vessels of all types for the defense of the continent of Australia (rather than the war interests of a big power), the ownership of the shipbuilding needs to be in Australian government hands, not those of multinational corporations. On this front there is work to be done to give more security to the idea of "sovereign build".

For example, half the ASC is now leased to Britain’s BAE for decades to come and BAE is in charge of surface vessel construction and maintenance such as for frigates and possibly  destroyers down the track!

Friday, February 24, 2023

National Anti-AUKUS rallies held.

(Above: Outside Albanese's office; Below: Outside Wong's office)

The Australian Anti-AUKUS Coalition yesterday held rallies outside Federal Labor government MPs’ electorate offices.

These included the offices of the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Minister for Defence Richard Marles, and Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy.

Nick Deane, from Marrickville Peace Group, told a crowd outside the Prime Ministers’ office in Sydney that the real emergency — the climate — was being ignored in favour of a new arms race in preparation for a war on China.

A letter opposing the march to war was delivered to the PM’s office.

Sydney Anti-AUKUS Alliance, Wollongong Against War and Nukes, Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition, Independent and Peaceful Australia Network and Medical Association for the Prevention of War supported the protest.

In Adelaide, more than 30 people braved near 40-degree heat to rally outside Penny Wong’s office in Adelaide’s Chinatown district.

Some had attended a rally by the Australian Shipbuilding Federation of Unions at nearby Tantarnyangga (Victoria Square)  where the focus was on the demand for jobs to maintain the existing conventional submarine fleet until the nuclear-powered subs became available. Nevertheless, some of those appreciated the presence of anti-AUKUS placards, and an AMWU member later joined us at our rally.

A Chinese language version of our leaflet was distributed, and a copy of a letter from Nonuclearsubssa was taken to Penny Wong’s office and received by the staff. 

Russian imperialists – out of Ukraine!

 Written by: Central Committee, CPA (M-L) on 24 February 2023

(An abridged version of this statement was distributed at a Ukrainian community rally yesterday)

Twelve months ago today, Russian imperialism committed an unforgivable act of aggression against Ukraine.

According to Putin, the aggression was to be a “special military operation”, implying a quick and limited action.

Instead, the invasion met resistance and the “special military operation” became an all-out war that has lasted for a year.

We know Putin’s justifications for his aggression. 

NATO had repeatedly broken assurances given to Russia that it would not expand eastwards after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. 
Under the guise of targeting Iran, the US had deployed missiles in countries that bordered Russia. 
Ukrainian authorities had rejected secession by Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donetsk region and used military force to prevent their secession. 
A well-organised neo-Nazi movement had been present at the 2014 Maidan revolt and was prominent in parts of the Ukrainian military forces. The US helped direct the revolt. (1)
These were things that Putin could have fought diplomatically and politically in various international forums including the United Nations. He could have used UN Responsibility to Protect (R2P) protocols of the UN to defend ethnic Russians in Ukraine from what he alleged were crimes of genocide. (2)
Putin’s dream of a gas-led Russian economic recovery
He also needed to thwart Ukrainian President Zelensky’s relentless campaign against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. 
Prior to this pipeline coming into operation, Russian gas had been piped across Ukraine, earning that country $2 billion a year in transit fees from Russia’s Gazprom. 
The US had placed sanctions on Nord Stream 2 to support Ukraine, but later lifted them after protests from Germany. Nord Stream 2 promised to double the quantity of Russian gas delivered to Germany; Putin aimed to defeat Ukraine quickly, so that he could not only sell natural gas safely and monopolise the European energy market, but also re-establish the “glory” of imperial Russia in the international community and maintain its identity as an imperialist country.
Unable to win a quick victory, the Russian ruling class has tried to destroy the resistance of the Ukrainians by targeting civilian centres such as residential complexes, school and hospitals. It attacks energy and water supplies as part of its war on the people. These are crimes for which Putin must pay.
US dream of a war-led and gas-led economic recovery
The other imperialist bloc, headed by the US, provides enough weaponry to Ukraine to enable it to withstand Russia’s aggression. Whether it will supply enough for it to win remains to be seen – the longer the war draws out, the greater the profits to be made by US and other Western arms manufacturers. US imperialism is fighting the Russians by proxy – using Ukrainians to avoid the disaster of having another endless stream of US body bags coming home to grieving parents.
Respected US investigative journalist Seymour Hersch has provided evidence of US responsibility for the undersea explosions that tore apart the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. With little sense of irony, the online Markets Insider reported on August 14 2022 “Energy traders are making a killing exporting US natural gas to Europe as prices soar - with some single shipments bringing in $200 million.”  It reported that the US was sending 60% of its natural gas exports to Europe – up from less than 20% a year ago. 
On December 20, 2022 Reuters reported that “…the United States will remain the primary supplier of LNG to Europe for at least 2023. This will likely generate even greater revenue for U.S exporters after a record 2022, which totaled $35 billion through September, compared to $8.3 billion over the same period in 2021, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows.”
In this conflict, there is no “good” imperialism – neither Russian nor Western.
Ukraine needs to defeat the tiger that has burst in through the front door, while keeping out the wolves that lurk around the back door.
We hope that the Ukrainian working class will establish its leadership in the resistance and guarantee Ukrainian independence through a socialist state. Our comrades in Ukraine, including the Koordinazionnyj Sowjet Rabotschewo Dvizhenija (Coordination Council of the Workers Class Movement), Ukraine face not only an invasion by Russia but an assault by Zelensky on trade unions, socialists, communists and even liberal democrats via political party bans. 
Nothing is more precious in this war than the aim of Ukrainian independence and freedom and self-determination for all of its peoples.
Ukraine for the Ukrainians, not for the Russians, and not for the US and NATO.
(1) See the transcript of the notorious Victoria Nuland -Geoffrey Pratt phone call where Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State directs when and how moves should be made against the elected Yanukovych government, and says in relation to European Union diplomatic moves, “Fuck the EU”. (Ukraine crisis: Transcript of leaked Nuland-Pyatt call - BBC News )
(2) There is reliable evidence that diplomatic negotiations that had been occurring between Ukraine and Russia were sabotaged by US state actors. 

Mparntwe Alice Springs, what’s the real emergency?


Above: Mparntwe   Photo source: Bob Caddell    Creative Commons Flickr

Written by: Lindy Nolan on 22 February 2023

When Arrernte, Luritja, Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara and the other Peoples of Mparntwe hear the word “emergency”, they know they’re the ones branded with it. 

Earlier this month the overwhelmingly non-Indigenous residents at a 3000 strong Alice Springs’ protest meeting called for just that – emergency action, more police and a reimposition of the NT Intervention. It was in Arrernte country, but Arrernte did not feel welcome.

In 2014, now deceased Anmatyerre Elder Rosalie Kunoth Monks told Australia, “I am not the problem!” Then, quietly speaking one of her three languages, she showed her Peoples’ strength, beauty, Law and culture. 

Now an article in The Saturday Paper, originally titled Children of the Intervention, Gurnaikurnai Wotjobaluk journalist Ben Abbatangelo gives voice to  those central desert Peoples who have yet again been blamed.

He writes, “Analysed through the all-too-familiar prism of difference and otherness, this desert town has been depicted as a war zone and its people as alien-like problems that need to be solved. … Those who know the least have been provided with megaphones to say the most, which is why fiction continues to pass as fact and facts as fables.

Of the so-called out-of-control young people, Abbatangelo says, “Dispossession and displacement lives within each of these kids. Most adolescents at the centre of the firestorm are also the grandchildren of the Stolen Generations and the great-grandchildren of those who were herded onto missions or massacred,”

Aranda woman and Ntaria/Hermannsburg community organiser Que Nakamarra Kenny told him, “What’s clear is that no one cares more about Aboriginal people than Aboriginal people themselves. We’re at the tail end of the Northern Territory Intervention and these children are a product of that. They are the children of the Intervention who have grown up watching their parents be demonised and rejected.”

Abbotangelo then reports on a 300-strong meeting of First Peoples’ leaders from across the region. It’s a must read.

Healthy homelands

The Intervention has been an increasing disaster for 16 years. 

Its aim was to force First Peoples off homelands, sometimes called outstations, and into towns, ensuring land was free for mining and drilling. Now we see the results in Mparntwe Alice Springs. 

All research shows homelands are healthy for kids. Before the “Emergency” Intervention many young people were immersed in language. Law showed them who they were and where they stood. They helped create their own healthy diets with fresh bush foods. Homelands were often alcohol free. Towns were usually the opposite. 

Overnight, homelands were starved of funding. 

All the evidence shows that alongside land, language is the heart of culture and education. Yolngu Law Man (and now NT parliamentarian) Yingiya Mark Guyula has been outspoken against the ‘Four Hours English Only’ program imposed on teachers and children each morning, destroying strong bilingual programs. It’s a crime against both young and old.

And into towns
BasicsCards controlled how welfare payments were spent. The cards were forced on First Peoples, based only on where they lived. 

In The Intervention, an Anthology (edited Heiss and Scott), Djiniyini Gondarra says the Arnhem Land Progress Association, had successfully run not for profit stores for 40 years, with 300 local people employed. But Centrelink banned BasicsCards use in the stores. 

Post Intervention, shopping in Mgarparu, for example, meant chartering a $560 return flight to Elcho Island, rather than a walk to its award-winning store.
People, including young people poured into towns like Alice, causing chronic overcrowding, severing links to country. Lands were emptied of youth.

Gurindji worker Peter Inverway said of the cards, “It's like in the old days, before our walk-off, when the station workers were just paid in rations.” 
BasicsCards – for 20,000 First Peoples only – weren’t abolished when the Intervention ended. 

Where’s the money?
In 2007, Aboriginal run community organisations and councils were replaced by white run shire councils. Employment disappeared, replaced by CDP slave labour. People went hungry. Contractors accidentally cut off one community’s water supply for many weeks. 

Police stations took $100 million of the construction budget. No one knows what happened to the $672 million for housing. 

John Pilger revealed that in 2012 Olga Havnen, NT Co-ordinator-General of Remote Services, “was sacked when she revealed that almost $80m was spent on the surveillance and removal of Aboriginal children compared with only $500,000 on supporting the same impoverished families.”

And on it goes.

Unanswered questions

Labor’s ten-year extension of the Intervention was cynically called ‘Stronger Futures’.

Alice Springs Mayor Matt Patterson, the non-Indigenous meeting’s key spokesperson, welcomed the current NT and federal governments’ work to reintroduce the Stronger Futures laws especially in town camps. 

Despite many extra police in town, he said he wanted more.  

But how many of the non-Indigenous population at the meeting had protested against humiliating apartheid BasicsCard lines outside supermarkets? Had any worked to support justice reinvestment or argued against ten-year olds being jailed? Had they put their hands in their pockets to assist families supported by the Strong Grandmothers of the Central Desert night patrol before its suspension? Or many other things they could have done to assist First Peoples? Perhaps some had. Or were those emergencies okay?

Or what about Media Watch host Paul Barry, who said he’d watched the video of the whole meeting, that everything was fine, and reprimanded First Peoples’ ABC journalist Carly Williams for not giving so-called balance? Williams dared to give air time to the small number who walked out. A non-Indigenous friend in her 80s, mostly spent in Mparntwe, didn’t go to the meeting, because she knew it would distress her. But Barry knows better, eh?

What brings any young person to recklessly risk themselves and others? Are they or their families the problem, yet again? 

Who benefits most?
Who wouldn’t be angry with whitefellas who’ve ignored the catastrophe imposed on them by the Intervention, making money from “services” to communities that those communities used to provide themselves? Or worse, growing relatively wealthy working for pastoral, mining or fracking industries on First Peoples’ lands.

Despite appearances, racism is only part of the cause for the suffering of the First Peoples for whom Mpartnwe is home. 

Racism is a ruling class weapon to divide and conquer. It’s the opposite to First Peoples’ millennia of community. 

Who benefits most? It’s corporations that seamlessly inherited the colonialist legacy.

Often the corporate hands behind the attacks on First Peoples are hidden. Sometimes, like in Alice Springs now, they foster underlying racial superiority myths to protect mega profits. Some like WA’s Twiggy Forrest say all Aboriginal Peoples need are jobs, not land. Other monopoly capitalist leaders instead welcome selected Blackfellas into their lower ranks through the Business Council’s Supply Nation project. 

Whatever the approach, the aim is to suppress and divide First Peoples.

Allies and enemies
Before the Intervention, through their own ceaseless struggle and determination to survive and thrive, First Peoples managed to gain some control of their own lands and lives. They were supported by allies across the lands alerted to the shocking conditions they’d lived under. 

Commenting on the current situation, Human Rights Commissioner, Bunuba woman June Oscar said, “Arrernte people, Warlpiri people and peoples from across the Northern Territory have fought tirelessly for decades through their community-controlled organisations for a sustained long-term holistic approach to investing in communities, culture, services and infrastructure.”

That’s the immediate way forward. Collective empowerment not imprisonment. 

First Peoples are not the problem. Colonialism was. Now the problem is monopoly capitalism. 

First Peoples will continue to stand up to those ignorant individuals and groups who blame them. 

But they will also create many allies, because beneath the surface our biggest enemies are the same. 

“Fresh food people” and a rotten deal.


Written by: Nick G. on 20 February 2023

Australian Woolworths supermarket chain has recently launched the second in its Bricks series of Lego-like shopping rewards.

Spend $30 at Woolworths and you will be offered one packet of the toys.

The toys are a crass commercial ploy to enthuse young children about the Woolworths shopping experience.

Like competitor Coles which ran a similar promotion some time back, offering miniaturized models of commodities sold in its stores, Woolworths promotes its own items for sale. In the picture of the hand-held items is a miniaturized packet of Woolworths Beanettes.

Woolworths claims to be promoting not its consumer goods, but “learning about where food comes from through play and creativity.”

No matter how much is tries to pass of its consumer grooming of young children as “education”, the fact remains that it is baiting its hooks with dangerous playthings. The “food items” are generally around 1-2 cm long, easily swallowable by young children. The fact that they represent “foods” may well encourage this.

Their legal team has tried to deflect criticism – and possible legal action – by labelling the packages as for Ages 5+, with a Choking Hazard Warning Sign that says “Not for children under 3 years”.

But how many five year-olds with younger siblings will understand the consequences of leaving these items laying around the house? 

The promotional items are branded as being “made from 100% recycled material” and recyclable packaging, and even carry a GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia) red tick of approval.

For the sake of trying to groom young kids as Woolworths consumers (and through them, encourage parents and grandparents to shop at Woolworths stores), Woolworths is pumping more and more plastics into the environment. It is doubtful that many parents will read the fine print on the packaging that acknowledges this problem by telling them that “To recycle your Woolworths Bricks, simply return your bricks to any participating Woolworths store”.
Woolworths is one of two giant monopolies which make their money at the expense of those with the least power in the food supply chain – farmers and consumers.

In 2019, the NSW Farmers Federation reported:

AUSTRALIA has the most concentrated supermarket sector in the world, with a 70% market share for Coles and Woolworths, and 90% market share in the hands of just four supermarkets. It means Australian farmers are exposed to highly concentrated domestic markets with these powerful supermarkets and processors. 

Having to deal with large organisations with significant market and bargaining power has meant farmers’ margins have been squeezed, often to below the cost of production. Supermarkets have introduced private labels and exclusive supply chains, entrenching their power and reducing competition.

Their complaints, and others from around Australia led the federal government to announce a voluntary code of conduct for the supermarket sector in 2021.

Despite the code, the ABC reported on December 11 2021 that “An independent review of how the big supermarkets treat their suppliers has found that many are too afraid to complain.  Suppliers have accused the supermarkets of cancelling contracts, moving products to the bottom shelf and making payments late if suppliers ask for a price rise or make a complaint.”

The Financial Review reported on June 22, 2022:

A host of food industry and farmer organisations representing $220 billion in sales has met with officials from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to air concerns that soaring inflation and the market clout of Coles and Woolworths could result in an increasing corporatisation of the food supply chain.

The Food Industry Alliance has been established to try to convince policymakers and regulators that more needs to be done to ensure that smaller, independent operators, including farmers, local butchers and greengrocers, food distributors and independent supermarket retailers, have a level playing field as cost inputs jump.

The Australian Tax Office’s 2020-21 Corporate Report of Entity Tax Information revealed that Woolworths had revenue of $49,832,631,285 with a calculated taxable income of $2,496,780,963 (ie 1/19th of its revenue), of which it actually paid $636,499,375 (or 1/78th of its revenue). 

This is the company that was fined a million dollars for breaching spam laws in excess of 5 million times and failing to unsubscribe customers from their mailing lists when requested to do so.

This is the company that was forced to admit in 2019 to having not paid millions of dollars to its employees.

If Woolworths was really interested in promoting an understanding of where food comes from, a better alternative might be a game of snakes and ladders in which Woolies’ profits are the up ladders, and farmers and growers, transport drivers, warehouse workers, supermarket employees and consumers are all sliding down the snakes.

And it could be made from non-swallowable recyclable materials with a GECA red tick of approval.


Book Review: Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Written by: Peter Curtis on 19 February 2023

Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. 

Gabor Maté. Vermillion, 2019. ISBN 9781785042218. 

Gabor Maté is a medical practitioner and therapist whose book Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder is a refreshing and revelatory read about understanding the challenges of what is commonly labeled as a ‘disorder’. Every teacher should read it. We would agree that ‘managing behaviours’ which disrupt and threaten the purpose of teaching and learning because of a student’s inability to self-regulate and exercise control are among our foremost challenges. ‘Behaviours’ is a polite way to say what many outside our profession would call appalling. 

An enlightened view understands that any behaviour, be it conscious or involuntary, is a form of communication, expressive of a desire or need. However, we are encouraged to believe that perplexing, and disruptive, troubling habits, like so much else, can be managed with a pill. The challenges for those suffering, and for their carers  and teachers, can be overpowering. No surprise therefore, that AD(H)D, oppositional defiance disorder, and other associated behaviours, or comorbidities, receive the most attention in school settings. 

Born a Jew in NAZI-occupied Hungary, Gabor Maté, as an adult, discovers that he too has ADD which, he explains, helped him a great deal in understanding his own triggers and patterns of behaviour and the impact that they have on those around him. His three offspring also have ADD. Proof of a genetic inheritance? He does not deny that there is a biological propensity or predisposition which heightens our sensitivity to the environmental factors that impact on us and which subsequently trigger our physiological and psychological reactions. An analogy is some people’s sensitivity to plants and foods resulting in allergies, whereas AD(H)D is a somatic and psychological reaction to external stimuli which results in sensory overload which then creates the neurological and chemical changes that occur in our nervous system. 

The neurobiological and psycho-medical terms used to define AD(H)D as a disease rather than an impairment are impugned by Maté. Explanations crafted for popularisation so often explain away the mostly undesirable human traits as our genetic inheritance. The misunderstandings and suffering that are thereby produced turns us all into the victims of a pathology over which we have no control. Mass myopia affecting children in parts of Asia, for example, has nothing to do with genes but everything to do with very little outdoor play. Perhaps too, genetic explanations are clung to because parents who are already stressed-out and time-poor, can reduce their feelings of guilt.

Maté insists rightly that we must turn our attention to the environmental conditions in which we are immersed rather than look for the answers in our genes alone. The medicalised view is a narrow one, he argues, and it is this “genetic fundamentalism” that dominates our outlook and explanations for such ‘disorders.’ Our lives are a tangle of demands from family, at work or school. Under these pressures, we make myriad adaptations so to better meet the daily expectations made of us to consume, to conform and to contribute our labour. 

There is dis-order, that is, an absence of order, which can be detrimental to daily living and to personal and professional relationships. Intentionally or otherwise, genetic determinism discourages us from giving full attention to the socio-economic forces that destabilise us. Big pharma is a maleficent contributor, actively researching and marketing individualised pill-popping solutions for everything. Shoving these solutions down our throats discourages us from appreciating more exactly how our lives are socially produced and conditioned. 

Absence of a grounded critical view will mean that we fail to face-up to our challenges and responsibilities as adults and carers. It is easier to dismiss nuanced questions and to seek solutions to complex social and family dynamics if troubling behaviour is a consequence of each individual’s biological make-up. While the ‘c’ word, ‘capitalism’, is never stated, Maté condemns the culture it produces as a causal factor mostly because of the deleterious effect it has on our familial relationships, but also, on all our lives. He is right to do so. He describes the social roots of AD(H)D as one consequence of “this most frenetic of cultures.” 

AD(H)D as a phenomenon needs qualification: the label does not describe what is actually happening; why is there is an inability to give attention to something? The ‘deficit’ is in the label because it mistakes the outward sign for the symptom. Safety and security are paramount for anyone to thrive, but for children particularly. From a child’s point of view, the deprivation of an emotionally secure environment provides a causal connection to reactive behaviours. Maté believes a more accurate description would be an “attunement deficit,” which is “the quintessential component” of the attachment process between children and those who are in the parenting role. 

Self-regulation and control are not endowed, or magically bestowed upon us. Like speech, they are developmental processes which occur not only within our immediate family but from anti-social media. While such an observation may seem obvious, we need to inoculate ourselves by repeating it to absorb its truth. Maté makes the point that if we neglect to understand and articulate how our social relationships contribute to the AD(H)D origins then we will fail when exploring the possibilities for healing. Our struggles for social justice must engage too with these insights with all the urgency that mental health and social wellbeing demand. 

The cultural revolution being materialised by digital technology depletes focused attention in us all while depriving us of the mental space to daydream. Immersed as we are in a bath of online hyper-activity, we are creating a culture of distraction and information overload. Just how digital technology and virtual worlds are changing our brains and personal relationships is complex. However, sufficient evidence has been accrued to sound the alarm on the deleterious effects of dopamine-producing hyper-stimulation on executive function. 

The harm is especially evident when screentime dominates over human interactions and physical play in the early years of life. Maryanne Wolf, a neuroscientist and reading development expert, and author of Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world, calls this destructive cycle of treating the problem with the cause, the “dopamine lollipop.” Linda Stone, a high-tech consultant and past executive with Apple and Microsoft, coined the term continuous partial attention. This is a permanent state of crisis, compromising our ability to reflect, make decisions, and to think while being sold on ‘multi-tasking.’ We need to be alert to what digital technologies are disrupting or diminishing. As teachers, we witness daily the incapacity for the kind of sustained focus required for reading, studying a painting, or metacognitive thinking, be it for pleasure or otherwise.

Behaviour is a reaction to some provocation, although it can become habituated, but it does not occur outside of inter-personal or social relationships: “The situationality of AD(H)D reflects the input of the emotions, which play a powerful role in attention”. An underlying anxiety is common to these clusters of so-named disorders, with autism, AD(H)D, oppositional defiance and obsessive compulsion the common examples. When regarding childhood and adolescent behaviour, we must investigate what is occurring relationally and to their families. While such difficult and destructive behaviours are emotionally demanding, and time consuming, there is hope for healing.   

Adult attunement, an essential aspect of parental/carer attachment, is critical to reducing anxiety and the behaviours that are consequently produced. The deficit is not only the inability to give sustained attention to something, a sign, but equally the absence of positive attention given to the sufferer. Their emotional needs are not being met sufficiently for them to feel safe and secure in their relationships. For instance, a baby’s healthy development is inordinately dependent upon regular eye contact with their attentive adult. If a carer’s attention is regularly consumed by their own screentime, we must expect a consequential deficit in the infant.

What is being asked of us who have the power and responsibility to change the terms of these relationships, and then, how do we engage? We must examine our own behaviours to gain insights into what we are doing that is a catalyst for undesirable reactions. Those with these disorders are likely to have a diet of negative emotional reactions to their behaviours from their parents and carers. Negative reactions are expressions of our frustration, exasperation, and anger, which are delivered as commands and punishments. 

It is a repetitive and counter-productive cycle. There has to be a circuit breaker. Over half of Mate’s book is dedicated to discussing what can be done to meet these emotional and psychological demands. His reflections contribute to our understanding of what should to be done to assist young people and adults when they are learning how to improve their self-regulation and control. Our hope-filled purpose is to mitigate what indeed are anti-social behaviours, not only in their effects but also in their causes.

Peter Curtis is an educator in the ACT public school system. He has worked in early childhood and primary school settings for more than twenty years. He is currently working in a high school.