australia & new zealand

Australian police confine Melbourne public housing residents indoors after COVID-19 outbreak
Patrick O’Connor, WSWS, Jul 6 2020

One of the locked-down Flemington
housing commission apartment blocks

About 3k public housing residents in Melbourne, Australia’s epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, have been forcibly confined inside their homes. The Victorian state Labor government of Premier Daniel Andrews announced at 4 pm on Saturday that the mandatory lockdown, to last at least five and as many as fourteen days, was effective immediately. Nine high- and medium-rise public housing towers, in the inner-city suburbs of Flemington and North Melbourne, have been classified as “detention locations,” with all residents subject to the extraordinary quarantine measure. Among the residents are the most vulnerable and oppressed members of society, including refugees, domestic violence survivors and people with drug and alcohol or mental health issues. Many arrived home on Saturday evening, after going shopping or visiting friends, to be confronted by dozens of police. Only residents were permitted to enter the buildings, and no-one is allowed to leave. Around 500 rotating police surround the public housing estates, with officers stationed on every floor of each building to prevent residents from stepping outside their apartments.

Public health officials recommended the public housing estates be quarantined after multiple outbreaks in the densely populated and dilapidated towers. There are 53 confirmed cases, but hundreds more people are believed to have been exposed. The state Labor government opted for a police operation instead of having medical staff, social workers and people in the community lead the necessary preventive measures. This threatens to inflict serious trauma on many people who have sought asylum in Australia after fleeing countries where they were subjected to police violence and arbitrarily detained. In addition, young people in the estates of African background are the victims of Victorian Police racism and harassment. The mass media and the government periodically whips up racist campaigns against them, most notoriously the recent so-called “African gangs” press provocation.

Line of dark police vehicles outside Flemington flats

Many residents are angry at being targeted. One man, of North African origin who did want to be identified, told the WSWS yesterday that he has been living on the Flemington estate for 20 years. He estimated that his high rise was now surrounded by 100–130 police, along with two or three police buses and many police cars. He noted the difference between treatment of public housing residents, compared with neighbouring, non-public housing residents. He explained:

Everyone is saying that this should have been dealt with as a social security issue, with support for the population here. It is quite appalling. Police rocked up at 4 pm and told everyone to go home, and that they would have to remain locked up. People were scared. There is a history of police brutality here. For the first day we were just told by police to stay in our units. It would have been much better if there had been interpreters and people to assist with mental health issues. Most people were in the dark about what was happening and they were worried about groceries and food. Some people have casual jobs and were worried about their employment. Near to us, about 200m away, are the ALT Towers that are 25 or 30 storeys high. These are privately-owned, but nothing has happened there even though we go to the same park as the people who live there.

The state government’s measures against the public housing residents, endorsed by the federal Liberal-National government of PM Scott Morrison, in another display of COVID-19 bipartisanship, represent a class response. No other group of people have been targeted in a comparable manner, certainly not the upper-middle-class layers in the wealthiest suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, who were initially the most affected by coronavirus after returning from their holidays in Eurostan & Pindostan. The state government has promised various support measures for the quarantined public housing residents, but the initial provisions are inadequate. People in the towers have posted photographs on social media of the first food boxes provided, which included some basic provisions like rice and cereal but omitted others, such as milk and bread, and did not have any culturally specific foodstuffs. Financial support is minimal. Rents have been suspended, and there are “hardship payments” of $750 for those without paid work and $1.5k for those unable to go to work.

Photograph of police below Flemington flats

In contrast to the official response, ordinary working people have extended enormous support for the locked-down public housing residents. A fund-raising appeal organised by Trades Hall received $286k in a little over 24 hours, more than the target amount. The coronavirus public housing outbreak should have been anticipated, but few preventive measures were taken by the authorities. Residents have reported that as COVID-19 infections spiked upward in recent weeks, the only additional measure was the placement of a bottle of hand sanitiser on each ground floor. In at least one high-rise, this reportedly ran dry within a week and was not refilled.

The threat of mass infection within the flats is largely due to there being communal laundries, narrow walkways and an absence of staircases, with only two lifts in the largest buildings. Breakdowns periodically leave only one working lift, making social distancing impossible. The situation has been exacerbated by the deterioration of the flats themselves, the outcome of years of deliberate neglect by successive Labor and Liberal state governments. Many of the homes are grossly overcrowded, due to the inadequate provision of public housing. In Victoria, 80k people are on the waiting list for public housing accommodation. Many of the high-rise apartments have leaking water, mould problems and other infrastructure issues, yet the necessary maintenance investments are not committed.

There is no doubt that the government would like to demolish the towers and sell the land to corporate property developers, as it has already at numerous smaller public housing unit blocks. The Flemington and North Melbourne high-rise apartments are on prime inner-city real estate, comprising a significant portion of the $21b worth of public housing stock controlled by the state government. The wider coronavirus infection surge continues. Twelve postcodes in Melbourne’s northern and western working-class suburbs are in lockdown, with residents only permitted to leave their homes for specific reasons while remaining in the restricted zone, such as purchasing groceries, exercising and caring for family members. Police are patrolling these zones and questioning people entering and leaving.

Police pulling over motorists attempting to leave locked down postcode zone in Melbourne

The Australian Medical Association yesterday called for a “pause” in the lifting of restrictions across the country. There is little chance of this public health warning being heeded. In April, the “national cabinet” of the prime minister and state premiers rejected a proposal by medical scientists and epidemiologists to eradicate coronavirus infections by maintaining national lockdown measures until late June. Instead, in what amounted to a social crime against the working class, the cabinet opted to allow a supposedly manageable level of COVID-19. In order to reopen the economy as fast as possible and allow big business to generate maximum profits, restrictions were prematurely lifted in May. The NYT global map of coronavirus “hot spots,” defined as the rate of new cases emerging in the last fortnight, now has Australia in the “red zone” category, alongside just six other countries (Croatia, Paraguay, Palestine, Namibia, Botswana and Kazakhstan). Today authorities in Victoria announced the state’s worst ever daily infection increase, with 127 new cases. It was also reported that a 90-year-old man died overnight from COVID-19, and that the Victoria–New South Wales border will be closed from midnight tomorrow. Morrison, backed by the Labor Party, has made clear that there will be no return to wider lockdown measures. This is in line with the moves by the Trump administration in Pindostan, the Johnson government in Britain and multiple other governments internationally to permit COVID-19 to rip through working-class communities while corporate operations continue with minimal disruption.

Australian Labor Party vote falls further in by-election
Mike Head, WSWS, Jul 6 2020

Despite the crisis of the ruling Liberal-National Coalition amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the vote for the opposition Australian Labor Party fell further last Saturday in a federal by-election. With vote-counting still continuing, it appears that Labor will barely hold the semi-rural seat of Eden-Monaro by few hundred votes, having suffered a 3.2% loss in its primary vote, down to 35.9%. That was on top of a nearly 3% fall in last year’s federal election, when Labor’s national vote dropped to a century low of 33%. The biggest swings against Labor occurred in Queanbeyan, a largely working-class city neighbouring Canberra, the national capital. Labor’s vote fell by up to 10% in polling stations across Queanbeyan, which is home to many service and trades workers employed in Canberra. Labor’s continued loss of votes among working people follows its further shift to the right to adopt even more explicit pro-business policies after last year’s federal election debacle. Labor formed a de facto partnership with the Liberal-National government in last summer’s bushfire catastrophe. That virtual coalition has continued throughout the economic breakdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the bushfire disaster, Labor leader Anthony Albanese repeatedly refused to criticise the government’s indifferent response to the immense social suffering caused and its refusal to address the underlying global warming that helped fuel the unprecedented infernos. Then, as soon as the COVID-19 emergency struck, the federal, state and territory Labor leaders formed a wartime-like “national cabinet” with PM Scott Morrison to run the country. Throughout the by-election campaign, apart from feigning concern for bushfire victims, many of whom remain destitute and without replacement homes, Labor’s pitch to voters was little different to that of the Liberal-National Coalition. Labor has given the government bipartisan backing throughout the pandemic, including its multi-billion dollar handouts to business and its profit-driven rush to prematurely “reopen” the economy despite the danger of fresh COVID-19 outbreaks, as is now occurring in Melbourne. Eden-Monaro, with 110k voters, covers a wide area of southern New South Wales (NSW), surrounding the Australian Capital Territory, with Queanbeyan its biggest population centre. If Labor retains the seat, it will be only with the second vote preferences from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, a right-wing rural populist party, which picked up 5.5% of the vote. Labor also gained an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the preferences from the vote for the rural-based Nationals, who ran against their coalition partners, the Liberal Party. Labor’s poor showing was accentuated by the fact, that on average, federal by-elections produce swings of around 4% against the incumbent government. No federal government has picked up a seat in a by-election since 1920. Voters traditionally use by-elections to attempt to voice their hostility to the political establishment.

At the same time, the result was no comfort to Morrison’s government. The Liberal Party vote rose by 1.3% to 38.3%, despite the phony promotion of Morrison by the corporate media as a strong and popular figure in handling the COVID-19 crisis. Morrison is widely despised for his contemptuous response to the bushfires that ravaged last parts of the electorate. The rifts in the Coalition was underscored by the fact that the NSW state leader of the Nationals advocated allocating second preferences to Labor rather than the Liberals. The instability wracking the political establishment was highlighted by the precipitous fall in the vote for the third main party, the Greens. It gained just 5.6 percent of the vote, down 3.2% from last year’s federal election. It was a rejection of the “green new deal,” that is boosting supposedly environmentally-friendly big business, championed by Adam Bandt, who was installed as Greens leader in February. Labor claimed victory in Eden-Monaro last night without waiting for the Liberals to concede defeat. Despite Labor’s loss of votes, Albanese proclaimed it an “extraordinary” and “very favourable” result. He was particularly anxious to boast of a win to stave off rumoured challenges to his leadership from within Labor, whose shrinking membership is wracked by factional infighting. Labor cynically sought to exploit the suffering left by the bushfires by convincing a local shire mayor, Kristy McBain, to rejoin the party to become its candidate. McBain had received favourable media coverage during the fires, which caused widespread damage in the shire, centred on the rural town of Bega. These areas saw some substantial shifts to Labor, without which the party would have lost the seat. The largest swing of any polling station in the electorate was in McBain’s home town of Merimbula, where the central booth delivered a 16.3% rise.

Albanese and other Labor leaders sought to dismiss Labor’s loss of votes to the departure of Mike Kelly, a “popular” member of parliament, a hollow assertion that was echoed throughout the corporate media. In fact McBain, a former lawyer, typifies Labor’s upper-middle-class base, just as her predecessor in the seat, Kelly, epitomises the party’s deep entrenchment within the pro-Pindo military and intelligence apparatus. Kelly, a junior minister in the last Labor government of 2007–13, resigned from parliament on Apr 30, citing health and personal issues. Just 10 days later, he confirmed:

I’ve taken up a job offer with Palantir Technologies.

Palantir is a large Pentagon-connected private Pindo software company that supplies data analysis and surveillance technology to military, intelligence and police agencies. Palantir’s equipment is used among other things to monitor immigrants, operate spy drones and conduct operations against WikiLeaks, whose imprisoned founder Julian Assange published documents exposing the war crimes, mass surveillance and conspiracies of Pindostan & its vassals. Kelly was recruited by Labor as a “star” candidate in 2007 after commanding the Army Legal Services and playing a key role in the Pindo occupation of Iraq. Kelly was a regular visitor to the Abu Ghraib prison where detainees were tortured. He was one of the Australian military lawyers advising Pindo forces on “interrogation” techniques, and drafting replies to the Red Cross justifying violations of the Geneva Conventions against torture and abuse of prisoners. Albanese, who was elected Labor leader unopposed after last year’s disastrous election loss to the widely-hated Morrison government, has made it clear that, regardless of the Eden-Monaro outcome, Labor will not change its pro-business policies. Asked on Nine Network’s “Today” TV show this morning if Labor’s vote drop meant its policies “just don’t have enough cut-through,” Albanese dismissed the suggestion. He again attributed the result to the loss of Kelly, hailing him as “a hero who had worn our uniform in the Defence Forces that served in the parliament.” Now Labor had “found a champion” in McBain and this was “a very good result for Labor.”

Vigils in New Zealand demand freedom for Julian Assange
WSWS, Jul 6 2020

Free Assange vigil in Wellington

Supporters of Julian Assange attended vigils in Wellington and Auckland on Jul 2-3. The events called by Free Assange NZ were part of global protests marking the WikiLeaks founder’s 49th birthday, his second spent in horrific conditions in London’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison. Candles4Assange, a network of protest groups, announced that events were held in at least 30 cities across 16 countries, including Australia, Germany, Britain, Pindostan, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. The UK government is seeking to hand Assange over to Pindostan to be imprisoned for the rest of his life. The courageous publisher and journalist has been persecuted over the past decade by successive Pindo governments and their allies, including Britain and Australia, for revealing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal surveillance by the CIA, and Faschingstein’s anti-democratic machinations throughout the world. In Wellington, Free Assange NZ organiser Alex Hills declared at Thursday’s rally outside parliament:

How many birthdays is this man going to be locked up for just reporting war crimes? No other media organisation have the same record as WikiLeaks for revealing the truth.

A second vigil the following day in Cuba Street was addressed by Tom Peters from the SEG (NZ). He referred to the recent letter by 200 doctors in support of Assange, published in the leading medical journal, the Lancet, “once again denouncing the treatment of Assange as torture, sanctioned by the British government.” Assange is being kept in virtual isolation and is in a severe physical and psychological condition. He suffers from a respiratory illness that makes him particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, which has spread in British prisons. Peters said:

Doctors for Assange denounced the UK, Australian and Pindo governments, which have all collaborated in the attempt to railroad Assange into a Pindo prison. The ongoing extradition case is a politically-motivated show trial. It is an attempt to abolish the right of any journalist to publish true information about the illegal activities of governments and their military and intelligence agencies. The decade-long efforts to silence Assange and shut down WikiLeaks have set a precedent for increasingly violent and unrestrained attacks on journalists, including during the recent protests against police killings in Pindostan. Every government, including New Zealand, is responding to the social crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic by attacking democratic rights, strengthening the police and intelligence agencies, strengthening the military, and censoring the internet and intimidating journalists. The Ardern government, has remained silent on the persecution of Assange because of its alliance with Pindo imperialism. New Zealand soldiers were involved in the Iraq and Afghan wars, and they too were exposed by WikiLeaks. The government is determined to prevent any repeat of such exposures, as it prepares to join future wars by spending billions of dollars on military upgrades. The fight to free Assange is not a single issue campaign, it is intimately connected to the struggles of working people and young people against war, against inequality and the brutality of the state.

The WSWS spoke with some of those attending the vigil.

Hassan

Hassan said:

I put himself in the shoes of the victims of atrocities that have happened in the past, that are happening now around the world and will happen in future if we don’t do something. Julian Assange is someone who is helping these victims. He’s trying to raise awareness so that this stops, and if we don’t do anything then we are accomplices to the perpetrators of these crimes. That’s why I’m here: to do something. WikiLeaks exposed crimes that we do hear in the news from some reporters, but what WikiLeaks did was to show tangible proof of what’s happening, based on which people should go to jail, and that’s not happening. While Assange is jailed, the perpetrators are being promoted. It’s inhuman. And Pindostan is calling on other countries to apply democracy when it itself is violating that daily.

Kay

Kay said:

Assange is in prison because he showed war crimes. They don’t want us to know how many millions of people have been killed in these wars. Directly, through the bombing attacks and invasions, and then years after, through the destruction of infrastructure. Countries devastated by war are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. How can you socially distance in Gaza and in refugee camps? All the lies about Russia paying the Taliban are a diversion from the crimes of Pindo forces who are still occupying Afghanistan. Russia’s not fighting in Afghanistan, it’s just ludicrous. Assange is still in prison despite other non-violent prisoners being released as an emergency public health measure to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. It shows how vicious the system is in Britain. Look at Chelsea Manning. She was prepared to go to prison twice, and she wasn’t going to say anything, because whatever she would say would be used against Julian Assange. What huge courage and stamina! Very few people could put up with two rounds of imprisonment.

One Comment

  1. PB
    Posted July 7, 2020 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    The situation in Melbourne is spiralling into insanity. You would think at the rate things there have escalated that there had been a controlled release of fresh virus. We all know the anonymous yet ever-present “They” would never do such a thing….

    At this point its been spun as a failure of hotel quarantine management (certainly true) but the wave of spread leaves this an incomplete explanation.

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