the misery and paranoia of the melbourne towers, continues

Melbourne public housing residents still outraged by Australian police lockdown
Eric Ludlow, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

Police enforcing the lockdown in Flemington on Monday Jul 6.
(Photo: Emel)

Two more residents of the Melbourne public housing towers on which the Victorian state Labor government imposed a “hard lockdown” last week have spoken out via the WSWS to express their anger and opposition to the police operation. On Saturday Jul 4, in mid-afternoon, Premier Daniel Andrews suddenly announced that the 3k residents of nine 20- to 30-storey towers in the inner-city suburbs of Flemington and North Melbourne would be confined by “detention orders” inside their cramped apartments. On the pretext of stopping the spread of COVID-19, 500 police officers surrounded the buildings and were deployed to guard every floor and stop residents leaving their flats. For days, working class residents, many of whom come from refugee and immigrant backgrounds, were starved of basic necessities and healthcare. Households with many children and/or elderly and vulnerable members were particularly affected. Only after a week, amid mounting outrage among the residents and throughout the working class, did Andrews announce the partial lifting of the restrictions on all but one of the towers. The residents of that block, 33 Alfred Street in North Melbourne, remain locked in their small poorly-ventilated flats.

Last Saturday, to add to the inhumanity of the police operation, wire fences were erected around that building, supposedly to permit the residents to exercise in what resembled a prison yard. Such was the disgust and anger among the residents and their supporters that the fences were removed early on Sunday morning, shortly after midnight. It is now clear that the Labor government’s operation was not only brutal. It failed to curb the spread of COVID-19 throughout the public housing estates. In fact, by detaining the residents inside their buildings, where social distancing was impossible, the government ensured that the contagion intensified. Entirely predictably, shared corridors, lifts, laundries and rubbish facilities, poor ventilation and plumbing have worsened the spread. By Sunday, 237 cases had been detected across the Flemington and North Melbourne estates, and another 28 cases had been confirmed among residents of public housing in nearby Carlton, another inner-city suburb. Health authorities say up to 25% of the 472 residents living in 33 Alfred Street itself may have been infected with the virus.

Emel is a Kurdish-Turkish immigrant and working-class mother of two young children. During her interview, conducted in Turkish, Emel told the WSWS that she received no official notification of the police lockdown of the Flemington flats where she lives. Emel expressed frustration at the long delay before any supplies were delivered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). She said:

Five minutes after I heard about the lockdown on the news, the building was surrounded by police. On the second day we received the first batch of food. I didn’t know it was coming. I heard about it on social media. The food was left on the ground floor. There are 180 families in our building and we don’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t. Everyone has to use the lifts to go down to pick up the food. This means the virus, in this small, crowded building, is going to spread. Many families had dietary requirements which were not considered. My family has gluten intolerance. We managed by avoiding the bread and other things, but some families have very serious diabetes concerns, and the food packets were not prepared with these in mind. These buildings aren’t fit for people to live in under normal circumstances, but under the conditions of the coronavirus and the lockdown, they have turned into hell. There is no clean air or sunlight. The rooms are small. The building is not clean. It is like a prison. We have had no health-care or social workers in our building. It took doctors until the Wednesday to test residents for COVID-19.

Why was there such a strong police blockade here? The first thing that came to my mind was that this was the Australian and Victorian governments showing through us that they were on track to becoming a police state. This is class war. They wouldn’t do this in a rich suburb like Toorak or Kew. This is a poor, migrant, refugee community. Our incomes are the lowest in the country. They want to make us look like trash. Many of us come from Africa, the Middle East and we know what police violence, police states and military states are. So many of my neighbours are asking me: ‘Why are the police here?’ This lockdown has nothing to do with a fight against the pandemic. This is not and cannot be the way to fight against the pandemic. The struggle against the pandemic has to be scientific and transparent. It cannot be done by sending 500 police here. It is done by sending healthcare workers, social workers, psychologists.

When the WSWS asked Emel what she thought about the spread of COVID-19 internationally, she denounced the governments’ back-to-work campaigns. She said:

In every country, they said to workers that they should self-isolate for 14 days. But then they sent all the workers back to work. Workers, who have to bring home the bread, are forced to go to work. This is true for Australia and everywhere in the world. The pandemic most affects the workers. We could shut down the whole world for a month, but we are not doing this, because the profit-hungry corporations will not allow it. For them, workers will go back to work, the virus will spread and people will die. They don’t care. They are now saying that the virus can stay in the air for longer and travel. Everything outside of what is essential for people to survive should be shut down. All of the lost jobs and incomes of the workers have to be compensated. Nowhere in the world has this happened and it won’t happen.

The WSWS spoke over Reddit with a first-year university student who wished to remain anonymous. His family fled war-torn Somalia and lives in one of the North Melbourne flats. He said:

We learned of the lockdown via text message. It wasn’t announced before the police arrived. No prior notice at all, so you could imagine the shock of people running low on supplies. The DHHS provided us with one sachet of culturally inappropriate food for my family of 9. It came on the second day at 11pm. It was thrown onto the floor. There was no health-care or social workers’ presence or communication. It was hard for us not to feel like caged dogs.

When asked about the confirmed cases in the buildings, the student said:

It is quite appalling that those tested positive aren’t being removed to a different area. Instead they go back to pressing the buttons of lifts and touching common areas. I’m not surprised that almost 100 cases in the last few days have been found so far in just the towers alone. I believe that the towers were targeted for a police crackdown because they are in a much poorer area and lots of us are immigrants.

Limited lockdowns fail to halt Australia’s COVID-19 surge
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

Australia’s COVID-19 resurgence over the past fortnight has refuted the claims of Labor and Liberal-National governments alike that they could contain coronavirus outbreaks by imposing localised restrictions, while pushing ahead with a pro-business “reopening of the economy.” Since May, operating via a bipartisan “national cabinet,” the federal, state and territory governments have lifted measures aimed at limiting the spread of the pandemic. This has included resuming classroom teaching in schools, reopening retail businesses, easing restrictions on gatherings and driving workers back to their places of employment. PM Scott Morrison and the state and territory leaders explicitly rejected any strategy of eliminating COVID-19 transmission, because the measures required would have too great an impact on corporate profit. Instead, they said it would be possible to create a “COVID Safe” economy, with the virus kept at low levels through expanded testing, contact tracing and localised lockdowns. Two months after the lifting of lockdown measures began, this strategy, dictated by the interests of big business rather than the health of ordinary people, is resulting in higher rates of infection than at the beginning of the pandemic, increasing hospitalisations and deaths.

In Melbourne, the Victorian capital, transmission is spiralling out of control. Cases are emerging throughout the city, in regional areas across Victoria and elsewhere in Australia. This morning, Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews announced 177 new cases in the state, following 274 on Sunday. Over the past four days, 956 infections have been reported in Victoria, the largest spike yet in Australia. While case numbers are, as yet, lower than in the global epicentres of the pandemic, including Pindostan, India and Brazil, the same tendencies are evident: The government and business “reopening” is causing a disaster. The vast majority of Victorian cases over the past week have been the result of community transmission, rather than returned overseas travelers, signalling widespread circulation of the virus. The health authorities have described most of those cases as “under investigation,” meaning that the transmission source is unknown. This also indicates a breakdown of contact-tracing. Melbourne’s clusters have emerged at major centres of infection internationally, such as warehouses, abattoirs, schools and high-density, low-income housing. Some two dozen health workers have contracted the virus, amid ongoing shortages of protective equipment and crowded waiting rooms. COVID-19 hospitalisations in Melbourne have risen from fewer than 20 at the beginning of this month, to 72. Doctors are warning there is no capacity in the health system to cope with a further surge.

After daily case numbers in Melbourne returned to double-digits on Jun 15, the Andrews government rejected calls for the reintroduction of restrictions. This was in line with the national “reopening” program that produced the further easing of restrictions in Victoria on Jun 1. Only on Jul 1, more than two weeks after the spike began, did Andrews announce a limited lockdown covering 11 Melbourne postcodes deemed coronavirus “hotspots.” Residents were advised, however, to continue going to work, schools and other places of study. That measure failed to contain the spread. Rapid transmission occurred outside the initial lockdown zone, including in public housing towers in the inner-city suburbs of North Melbourne and Flemington. On Jul 4, Andrews announced an unprecedented “hard lockdown” of nine of the public housing towers. Without any warning, hundreds of police descended upon almost 3k residents, telling them they could not leave their cramped apartments for at least five days. This effective house arrest was carried out in the most punitive manner, with the government displaying complete indifference to the welfare of the vulnerable residents. For days, many were not provided with adequate food, while their requests for hand sanitiser and protective equipment were rebuffed. Five days later, the Victorian government lifted the hard lockdown at all but one of the towers. When it began, fewer than 50 tenants were infected. By yesterday, that number had soared to 237. Criminally, residents infected with COVID-19 were not evacuated from the towers, nor were those most susceptible to the virus. Combined with the lack of services, this appeared to transform the overcrowded towers into virus incubators.

A partial lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne came into effect last Friday, as transmission rates grew outside the initial “hotspots.” As with the limited measures imposed in March-April, the lockdown will not impact on most businesses, especially large corporations. Workplaces posing a high risk of transmission, including factories and construction sites, will remain open, despite clusters being detected at Woolworths and Coles supermarket warehouses, two Melbourne abattoirs and in fast food and retail outlets. Schools are reopening today for the beginning of term three with a reduced student cohort. Year 10, 11 and 12 students will return to classrooms, along with students at specialised schools. The resumption, supported by the education unions, is occurring in the face of widespread opposition from teachers and principals, and despite infections forcing the temporary closure of more than 30 schools in recent weeks. The state Labor government is pressing ahead, even though its own medical experts have admitted higher student-to-student transmission than previously acknowledged, with the older cohort that is returning the most likely to spread the virus. Teachers, including those whose students are staying home, are being forced to attend schools, placing their health and lives at risk. The Melbourne lockdown has not halted the spread of the virus throughout Victoria. Cases have been confirmed in regional and rural areas, including Geelong, Bendigo, South Gippsland and Shepparton. The Australian Medical Association warned yesterday that these outbreaks could grow rapidly, with limited testing in the affected regions.

A border closure between Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) has not succeeded in preventing the virus spreading to other states either. The shutdown, enforced by hundreds of police and soldiers, has created a crisis in border towns. Thousands of people, however, have been granted exemptions. Yesterday, NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose Liberal-National government has lifted most coronavirus restrictions, warned that NSW was at a “crossroads.” An outbreak at a pub in Casula, a working-class suburb in south-western Sydney, has resulted in 21 infections so far. More than 1k people who visited the hotel have been asked to self-isolate. No new cases have been reported in the state of Queensland, but its Labor government opened it to interstate travel last week in a bid to resume profits in the lucrative tourist industry, creating the conditions for a further expansion of the outbreak. Government leaders insisted at a national cabinet meeting last Friday that they will proceed with the reopening, regardless of the consequences. The ruling class interests dictating this response found voice today in the Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper. Its lead article said:

Business leaders say Australia cannot afford more hard lockdowns and are urging national cabinet to provide policy certainty and maintain momentum in reopening the economy.

The Australian’s editorial advocated the same localised measures that have failed to contain the Victorian outbreak. Citing Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox, it declared:

Despite our best efforts, periodic pop-ups of COVID-19 will continue, but we “can’t keep taking a sledgehammer to our economy time and time again and expect businesses to survive.”

What is being promoted is a variant of the “herd immunity” policy that has led to mass deaths internationally. Ordinary people must “live with the virus,” workers must be forced into workplaces so they can be exploited and public health measures must be curtailed, all so that corporate profits can be revived. This demonstrates again that the fight against the pandemic is inseparable from a struggle by the working class against capitalism and its subordination of every aspect of social and economic life to the dictates of the financial oligarchy.

Special Forces commander admits Australian troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan
Jason Quill, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

An Australian light armored vehicle in Afghanistan

Special Forces commander Adam Findlay told a secret military briefing in early March at Perth’s Campbell barracks that “some elite soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan.” Findlay blamed the atrocities on “poor moral leadership up the chain of command” of the Special Air Services (SAS), according to leaked information published by Nine Entertainment’s “60 Minutes” television program and Melbourne’s Age newspaper. Findlay claimed that only a few officers and soldiers were involved. He said a “small number of commissioned officers had allowed a culture where abhorrent conduct was permitted” and “a handful of experienced soldiers including patrol commanders and deputy patrol commanders, who typically led five-man SAS teams on missions, had also enabled this culture to exist.” The briefing was given to dozens of current SAS soldiers, who were told that these “war crimes may have been covered up.” Findlay said:

Australia’s special forces will take a decade to recover from the long-running investigation.

The inquiry was overseen by NSW Supreme Court Justice Maj-Gen (Res) Paul Brereton. The judge is due to release the findings of his four-year inquiry to the military chiefs and Liberal-National government in the coming weeks. The Special Forces commander also revealed for the first time that the inquiry itself did not originate from concerns in the upper echelons but from SAS soldiers writing letters to the top brass about misconduct. This had forced Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell to call for inquiries to “examine our soul, because it wasn’t right.” The comments are the first direct admission by someone of such high rank of the cover-up culture that has been fostered in the armed forces. However, Findlay, who himself served in Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor, did not make these admissions for the purpose of exposing the criminal conduct, much less to clarify why it occurred. In fact, the commander said:

It’s unfair that the misconduct of a few soldiers who served in Afghanistan had damaged the reputation of the majority of the SAS who had done nothing wrong.

Such attempts to attribute war crimes to supposed “bad apples” are a diversion. The systematic unlawful killings and other abuses, as well as the protracted cover-ups, are the inevitable product of the types of brutal, neo-colonial invasions and occupations mounted by Pindostan & its vassals to attempt to secure control over the strategic and resource-rich Middle East and Central Asia region. The Special Forces have been on the front-line of these operations precisely because their members are trained and conditioned to kill anyone regarded as an enemy, that is, most of the population. Findlay’s purpose was to warn the military and political establishment of the likely backlash when some of these revelations are made public, while proposing tactical measures to try to repair the tattered reputation of the armed forces at home and abroad. While saying that those identified as “perjurers,” who lied under oath out of a “misguided loyalty,” should be “removed from the SAS at a minimum,” Findlay insisted:

We have to rehabilitate the reputation and the capabilities and everything of this command … we can’t wallow in it.

This is necessary, according to Findlay, to resolve an “issue of trust” between the Special Forces, which comprise the SAS and the Commandos, and the Australian people and the wider military. In his closed-door inquiry, Brereton has reportedly conducted over 250 interviews and looked into at least 55 alleged war crimes incidents between 2005 and 2016. Findlay said Brereton was compiling “a raft of findings” but his inquiry had taken four years because “a number” of new whistleblowers had recently emerged. The “60 Minutes” segment featured an interview with one such whistleblower, former medic and SAS member, Dusty Miller, who was allegedly involved in the killing of Afghan farmer and father of seven, Haji Sardar, in the southern Afghanistan village of Sarkum during Mar 2012. Miller was put in charge of treating Haji Sardar, who had a gunshot wound through his thigh, although he was not suspected to be with the Taliban. It was an uncomplicated medical procedure. When Miller said, “this guy is going to survive,” a senior SAS soldier ordered him to hand over the injured farmer. Miller said:

At the time, I thought it was very, very strange. I’m wondering why. But probably in the back of my mind, I knew exactly what was going on. A few minutes later, that same person, the senior operator came back to me and said, “Hey, Kilo, that guy didn’t make it.”

Miller reported the farmer’s death as soon as he returned to base, but said his senior regimental medical officer brushed off his concerns. Miller said:

I assumed that he was killed, basically. He didn’t die of his wounds, I can promise you that.

In March this year, Miller made contact with the farmer’s family via Skype to beg for their forgiveness, saying:

I wanted to tell them that I was sorry for what happened to their father and that I should have done more.

PM Scott Morrison refused to comment on the revelations, saying he had “no intention of involving himself in an independent process.” But his government is prosecuting former military lawyer David McBride, who faces a closed-door trial for allegedly leaking classified material to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) documenting at least 10 possible war crimes. The Federal Police also raided the ABC headquarters, and ABC journalist Dan Oakes could still be prosecuted as well. Far from curbing the Special Forces, Morrison’s government is boosting them, as its Labor Party predecessors did. Last August, Morrison announced extra funding of $3b over 20 years, including $500m over the next four years, to upgrade the Special Forces’ weapons and resources. The move is part of intensifying preparations for war. Australian governments have relied almost totally on the Special Forces for every military intervention since the Vietnam War. These units also could be deployed internally, with “shoot to kill” powers, to put down civil unrest under the expanded military call-out laws introduced in 2018. New powers were created for the government or the chief of the armed forces to call out troops to put down “domestic violence.”

2 Comments

  1. PB
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    The exponential growth in numbers and seemingly random distribution of infections in Melbourne would almost lead one to believe that a new strain of the disease has been seeded into the population.

  2. PB
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Looking like Sydney as well now.

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