australia

Growing opposition to Australian police lockdown of Melbourne public housing residents
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

There is mounting anger over the Victorian state Labor government’s decision to impose a “hard” police lockdown on some 3k residents in nine inner-city Melbourne public housing towers. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Saturday afternoon that the residents would not be permitted to leave their apartments for a minimum of five days and as long as two weeks. The unprecedented move, backed by the federal Liberal-National government, came as the state’s surge in coronavirus infections continued to spiral out of control. Community transmission appears to be rampant, with 191 new cases announced in Victoria today, the highest daily tally since the pandemic began in March. Some 69 residents of the Flemington and North Melbourne towers have tested positive for COVID-19, but health authorities have warned that as many as 300 or 10% may be infected already. Residents in the towers and working people more broadly have condemned the punitive, police-state measures to which the tenants have been subjected. The buildings have been flooded with 500 police officers, but tenants who are sick have not been evacuated and few health or cleaning measures have been put in place to prevent further transmission. The residents were given just half an hour’s notice of the lockdown, and some only found out from media reports or when dozens of police arrived.

A letter distributed by Victorian authorities in the towers yesterday revealed that the stay-at-home order came into effect at 3:30 pm on Saturday, some 30 minutes before it was publicly announced. Some residents have said officers were already in place before Andrews made the announcement. The police claimed not to know what was taking place, but said they had been instructed to prevent residents from leaving their buildings. In comments to the press and on social media, many tenants have spoken out about the lack of adequate services and food. Lucy, a single mother, is locked in a three-bedroom apartment with her seven children. Because there was no notice of the lockdown, she had limited supplies of meat, but no vegetables or milk. She was provided with a phone number to ask for supplies. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday:

I was waiting all day and all night and they came at midnight. I opened the door and it was one soup packet and five meat pies and that was it. It’s not enough for eight people in the house. I will give it to my kids and I’ll be left here starving myself.

Amr Osman, a young worker, began sharing his experiences on Twitter shortly after the lockdown was imposed. On Sunday, Osman wrote:

The decision to place food in foyers calls into question the stated purpose of the lockdown. It contradicts the Victorian government’s declaration that it is essential for residents to stay within their own apartments to prevent mass transmission in the crowded towers. Other residents said they only began to receive sufficient food on Monday, some 36 hours into the lockdown. This coincided with supplies being brought in by charity groups. In other words, it appears that the government had not secured sufficient foodstuffs for the residents, before forcing them to stay inside. Reports are continuing to emerge of Muslim residents being given pork products and of some food being out-of-date or nutritionally inadequate. Because it is a “hard lockdown,” friends and relatives have been unable to bring supplies to their loved ones. Community groups have been compelled to organise deliveries of culturally-appropriate foods, sourced from local restaurants. In at least some of the towers, food donations from mosques and other community organisations have been confiscated by the police. In an indication that the food supply remains perilous, journalists outside one tower block reported today that a resident began screaming that they were hungry and did not have enough to eat. Some have voiced fears about access to medication.

Janine Kelly, a 50-year-old in one of the Flemington buildings who suffers emphysema, told the Special Broadcasting Service that she had phoned a health department hotline on Sunday to ask for supplies of her medication. As of Monday night, she still had received no reply. She also had not been tested for COVID-19, despite being in an at-risk demographic. Others said they have not been able to get through to government hotlines. It was left to the residents themselves to translate information on the lockdown and necessary preventative measures into ten written languages and five oral dialects. There are growing concerns over the mental health consequences of the lockdown and the lack of information. The towers are home to some of the most vulnerable layers of the population, including refugees who have fled wars and oppression, non-English speaking migrants, and workers and young with complex addiction and psychological issues. Ahmed Dini, a 32-year-old who lives in one of the North Melbourne towers, told the ABC there was “no trust” between the authorities and the residents. Dini explained:

We should have seen buses and cars full of healthcare and mental health workers and social workers, not the police. We know some people who use drugs and substances and have been locked away and will go into withdrawal which could spark domestic violence. We need people to make mental health calls. We are asking for counsellors to share their numbers so people can call them directly. I’m scared the longer we go, the more problems we are going to have.

Others pointed to the repressive character of the massive police mobilisation. Tekeste Hailu, a 27-year-old who lives with his elderly grandmother, told the ABC that people in the towers were scared of the police. Hailu noted that many residents, including himself, are of African descent. The police have been at the forefront of a years-long witch-hunt by the political and media establishment, falsely demonising African youth as “gang members,” and routinely harassing them. Hailu said:

Especially with what’s happening in the current situation with the police and the African background, all the youths are very terrified of the police. Now they’re coming around, getting them to be under a lockdown, it’s obviously going to trigger a lot of trauma. The residents would have been willing to stay at home and be tested, instead of just bombarding us with 500 police at once and locking us down. There was no time to have air or anything, the basic human rights. No food, no nothing, they just sent us to lockdown.

The dangers of a state crackdown were underscored yesterday when a 32-year-old man attempted to flee one of the Flemington blocks. He was arrested and has been charged with assaulting police, resisting arrest and violating health orders. The lockdown reveals the class character of the official response to the pandemic. Over the past month, restrictions have been prematurely lifted to ensure the profits of big business. Now that government policies have resulted in a surge of infections, the most vulnerable sections of the working class are being subjected to police-state measures. The poor conditions in the apartments, are an indictment of successive Liberal-National and Labor governments. They have deliberately run down existing public housing blocks and failed to build new stocks. This is part of a broader austerity offensive to cut social spending and restructure society to boost corporate profit.

Thousands more jobs destroyed in Australia
Terry Cook, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

With major corporate players like Qantas in the lead, employers across Australia are using the COVID-19 pandemic to restructure their operations, including by shedding thousands of jobs and cutting wages and conditions. An estimated 69k people returned to work in May as the result of the reckless drive by the federal and state governments to lift public health restrictions vital to preventing the spread of the virus. Even so, unemployment remains at levels not seen since the 1930s Great Depression. According to a May jobs survey by market research agency Roy Morgan, 1.37m people were unemployed, 10.3% of the workforce, and an additional 1.22m, or 9.2%, were under-employed. In one of the most ruthless examples of corporate restructuring, Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, announced at the end of last month that it will shed 6k jobs. It maintained the stand-down of 15k other workers that it imposed in March, even after pocketing its share of a $715m government handout to the aviation industry.Making clear the company’s intent to offload the crisis onto workers, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told the media his plan was to “right-size our workforce, our fleet, our capital spending for a world that has less flying for an extended period.” This was aimed at “delivering ongoing savings” of $15b over three years and then $1b annually after 2023. Qantas’s low-cost carrier Jetstar has cut 370 jobs, including 200 at the regional Newcastle airport, and closed its maintenance base there.

An unspecified number of jobs will be axed from Virgin Australia, Qantas’ main competitor. If it succeeds in taking over the airline, the private equity firm Bain Capital plans to ditch Virgin’s full-service operation and abandon numbers of routes. Virgin’s low-cost carrier Tigerair will be terminated, ending the jobs of 220 pilots and 180 cabin crew. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data has revealed the biggest-ever recorded collapse of job vacancies. They fell by 43% in the three months to May, surpassing the previous 27% record drop in the three months to Nov 1990. According to job search agency Indeed.com, there were around 12 people looking for work for every job vacancy. Given the ongoing mass sackings, this ratio is set to worsen. Over the three months to May, 68.3k jobs were shed across the manufacturing sector, taking the number down to 852.8k, the lowest level since 1984. Deloitte Access Economics estimates that up to 60% of jobs have been lost in the accommodation, food, arts and recreation industries, and forecasts the sectors will not recover before the end of 2025. It also predicts that one in five specialty retail stores could be closed by 2024.

Job cuts are deepening across most sectors. In March, the Star Entertainment Group stood down 8.1k workers after closing its food, beverage, conferencing and gaming facilities. Travel agent Flight Centre confirmed it will cut 1.5k jobs and close 428 of its 944 stores by the end of July as part of a move to cut its base monthly costs to $65m. Up to 70% of the company’s 10k Australian staff members already have been stood down or made redundant since the outbreak of COVID-19. Rival agency Helloworld announced in March it will make 275 staff redundant and temporarily stand down 1.3k more workers, even after confirming it has “significant” cash reserves. Insurer Allianz Partners Australia will withdraw from the offline travel insurance market, shedding 45 jobs. Deloitte Australia, one of the country’s big four professional services firms, is sacking 700 professional staff from its 10k-strong Australian workforce. While reporting a 10% growth in revenue for the financial year, the company announced in April an 8% reduction in annualised pay for the majority of its staff. Other cuts across this sector include KPMG Australia, which shed 200 staff in April and then implemented a 20% pay cut over four months, beginning in May. PwC Australia revealed in late June that it will cut 400 staff from its 8k-strong workforce, mainly from the consultancy and financial advisory division.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, is axing 250 jobs due to a $41m budget shortfall resulting from federal government budget cuts. News Corp is cutting 100 jobs across its metropolitan newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and the Australian. The Seven Network cancelled its current affairs program Sunday Night, ending an 11-year run and culling around 38 reporters, producers and editors. Foxtel will eliminate 70 positions across its marketing and creative divisions, in a second round of job cuts this year. In the energy and mining sector, Woodside Energy announced 500 job cuts at its gas plant operations at Karratha in Western Australia amid falling gas prices. Chevron is preparing to shed 600 jobs at its Western Australia gas projects. Around 400 jobs will be axed by mining giant BHP Billiton as part of the 3.4k to be cut, mainly in its coal and nickel operations. The company announced in January that it was eliminating 6k jobs as part of a global downsizing. CBG Resources’ will cut 70 jobs at the Rasp Mine in Broken Hill and Origin Energy will sack around 140 workers at its Adelaide call centre.

Thousands of workers have been stood down and jobs permanently cut across the retail sector, which had already seen scores of store closures and redundancies prior to the pandemic. Last month, Woolworths announced it will automate operations at warehouses in Sydney and Melbourne, eliminating 1.5k jobs by 2025. Also in June, Wesfarmers flagged the closure of some 167 of its Target stores, cutting up to 1.3k positions over the next 12 months. Department store chain Myer will shed 90 head office jobs. Uber will slash 100 jobs from its Australian operations as part of the shedding of 3.7k positions globally. In May Luv-a-Duck cut 61 jobs at its Nhill processing plant in north-west Victoria. Hundreds of jobs are being destroyed at universities, including 145 at Charles Sturt. The University of Wollongong has stated it will axe between 150 and 300 staff, while Central Queensland University announced it would cut 99 jobs, on top of 197 voluntary redundancies. The National Gallery of Australia will sack 30 to 40 workers, accounting for 12% of its staff, as part of an “operational restructure” due to a reported $3.6m funding shortfall. Up to 40 jobs will be axed from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation energy team, including key scientists, engineers and researchers.

Australian court rejects Murdoch appeal against Geoffrey Rush defamation verdict
Linda Tenenbaum, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Last Thursday, a Full Bench of the Federal Court in Sydney rejected legal appeals by Rupert Murdoch’s Nationwide News, publisher of the Daily Telegraph, to overturn a prior court judgment that the Sydney tabloid had defamed internationally-acclaimed Australian actor Geoffrey Rush. The articles were authored by the newspaper’s celebrity gossip columnist Jonathan Moran. In a detailed 169-page ruling, three Federal Court Justices, Jacqueline Gleeson, Richard White and Michael Wheelahan, unanimously endorsed Judge Michael Wigney’s earlier 2019 verdict that Rush had been defamed on several counts. The full bench approved the previous $2.9m in damages awarded to Rush, the largest to an individual in Australian legal history, arguing:

The final sum was not manifestly excessive, having regard to the extremely serious nature of the imputations that were conveyed by the publications. The damages were a combination of the personal hurt and injury (Rush) suffered due to the articles, the work he lost before the trial due to the articles, and future work he would lose due to the articles, and then interest.

The full bench also suggested that Justice Wigney may have underestimated the impact of the Telegraph’s defamatory article on the award-winning actor’s income. During the previous defamation case, Nationwide News attempted to defend its defamatory articles by claiming that Rush had behaved “inappropriately” towards Eryn Jean Norvill in a 2015–16 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear. This allegedly included making groping actions with his hands over her body when she lay “dead” on the stage as Cordelia; making comments to her containing sexual innuendo; touching her back lightly; tracing his finger above her right breast, and making lewd gestures towards her with his hands and face. Justice Wigney had declared that, on the balance of probabilities, none of these was proven to be true. This was endorsed by the full bench who supported Wigney’s assessment that Norvill’s evidence was not reliable. the full bench said:

Like the Judge, we consider that Ms Norvill’s contemporaneous conduct did give cause to question the reliability of her account of the incidents on which the appellants rely.

The judges pointed out that although lawyers for Nationwide had challenged Wigney’s conclusion that Norvill was an “unreliable witness,” they did not challenge the findings that Rush was a “credible witness.” Nor did they contest that the evidence given by Neil Armfield, who directed King Lear, along with actors Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday, and other cast members, was “honest and reliable.” They wrote:

The Full Court did not consider that his Honour erred in his ultimate conclusion concerning Ms Norvill’s credit. It did not accept that the Judge had overlooked difficulties which Ms Norvill may have experienced in giving evidence as a person complaining of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Last week’s unanimous Federal Court verdict is both a powerful confirmation of Rush’s determination to challenge this scurrilous attack on his reputation, and another blow against the #MeToo movement and its assault on basic legal rights. Its rebuttal of all of the grounds of Nationwide News’ appeal follows last year’s defeat of a false #MeToo-inspired rape charge against veteran TV and movie actor John Jarratt.

The bogus allegation that Jarratt had raped a woman more than 40 years ago in 1976, when he was 23, was given front-page treatment in the Daily Telegraph in mid-Nov 2017. These articles, which were also written by Jonathan Moran, were published before the allegations were even given to the police, and prior to any official announcement of an investigation. The rape charge was unanimously rejected in a five-day trial last year by a jury of five men and seven women. Proven innocent, Jarratt launched two separate defamation cases against the Daily Telegraph, the first over its Nov 2017 story and another over its reportage of the trial outcome, before settling out of court for undisclosed sums. Likewise, the allegations against Rush’s “inappropriate behaviour” in King Lear were demonstrably false. The Daily Telegraph simply seized on an entirely unproven claim which had been privately communicated by Norvill to an STC colleague, and luridly promoted it in two editions of its tabloid newspaper, along with a widely-circulated billboard poster, both published in 2017.

Devastated by the negative publicity directed against him, generated by the Murdoch newspapers, and its impact upon his family and career, Rush took the courageous decision to sue the Daily Telegraph. Launching his action at the Melbourne city offices of his legal team in Dec 2017, Rush read a carefully prepared statement, soon after the King Lear smear campaign had begun. he declared:

The situation is intolerable, and I must now seek vindication of my good name through the courts. The Daily Telegraph has made false, pejorative and demeaning claims, splattering them with unrelenting bombast on its front pages. This has created irreparable damage to my reputation, has been extremely hurtful to my wife, my daughter and my son, and to my extended family as well as to many colleagues in the film, television and theatre industry.

Rush’s decision to sue the Daily Telegraph and expose the bogus allegations, like that of Jarratt, was both courageous and correct. While the case has delivered an important blow against the anti-democratic #MeToo movement and its selfish middle-class concerns, the attacks on the presumption of innocence, due process and other basic legal rights continue. The NYT and other media warriors for #MeToo continue their persecution and demonisation of those they have decided to “take down.” Last week’s Full Court decision does not prevent the Daily Telegraph seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court. According to media reports, the defamation case, including legal costs and the payout to Rush, will cost Nationwide News about $6m. The Murdoch media has deep pockets and may well pursue an appeal as part of the agenda of the ruling class to eviscerate basic democratic rights, as it carries out ongoing attacks on the social conditions of the working class.

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