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Issue #1505      15 June 2011


Strong arm of the ruling class

The front page of last Friday’s Age (10-06-2011) described Victoria’s new armour-clad, police SWAT squad as the “Strong arm of the law”. Its formation is in fact one in a series of extremely backward and anti-democratic moves by the state Coalition government as it exercises the strong arm of the capitalist, ruling class. Victorian premier Ted Baillieu is a member of one the richest Australian dynasties and is not short of a dollar!

After its election in December 2010, the Baillieu government wasted no time in winding back the clock on the human and other democratic rights of working people. Baillieu’s hatred of trade unions is no secret. Chief Commissioner of Police, Simon Overland, portrayed the new heavily armed, shield-wielding riot squad as being set up to deal with the likes of drunken teenagers and rowdy football crowds. The truth is that they are there to wield the strong arm of the capitalist class against protestors, trade union pickets and any other actions that threaten their profit-churning and exploitation of workers. At the same time the Victorian Police have dumped their multicultural advisory unit.

In line with its zero tolerance and “lock ‘em up” mentality, the government plans to impose statutory, minimum two-year sentences for certain violent offences that cause serious injury. Again, it is not just about drunk, partying youth, but would apply to picket lines and demonstrations. The penalties would apply to adults and juveniles aged 16 or 17, regardless of the circumstances – a recipe to create hardened criminals rather than address the causes of the offences. Two new super prisons (run by the private sector) are planned to meet an estimated 45 percent increase in the number of male prisoners and 60 percent for females by 2020.

The government also has other plans to attack wages and working conditions such as cutting the minimum shift to 90 minutes and reneging on its pre-election equal pay commitment.

It is going to take a strong, united movement of the trade unions, left and progressive political parties, and other democratic and progressive forces to break the strong arm of the ruling class. The longer the struggle is delayed, the more repressive and difficult will be the conditions of the struggle.

Cruel trade

The federal government has been forced to temporarily ban live cattle exports to Indonesia because of the horrific cruelty to animals in Indonesian slaughter-houses. The ban followed the ABC’s Four Corners program with its graphic imagery of barbaric torturing and slaughtering of the animals. Understandably, the public was shocked and demanded action.

The industry was thrown into chaos as producers had to deal with thousands of heads of cattle already in transit to ports. It is believed about 10,000-13,000 people were affected in Australia – primary producers, truckies, etc. Primary producers and consumers are the ones that are carrying the burden of irresponsible management of live cattle exports.

The government has appointed Bill Farmer, a former diplomat and ambassador to Indonesia from 2005-2010, to carry out a review into Australia’s live export trade. Given the urgent nature of the situation, an interim report is due by July 29 and the final report is scheduled for the end of August. The government is under considerable pressure in Australia and internationally to demonstrate that the $320 million export trade with Indonesia is cleaned up.

Many questions have already been raised about the role of Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and the way it conducts business. Cattle producers want to know what their levies are spent on and who will compensate them for loss of income. There are comparisons between the MLA and the corrupt behaviour of the Wheat Board which also caused embarrassment to the government when it paid bribes and broke trade sanctions against Iraq.

What is happening with the live cattle exports is just another example of a deregulated, market-driven, profit-making capitalist mode of production. It is a systemic problem. If it means cruelty to animals – so be it until exposed. If it means exporting jobs to other countries where labour is cheaper – it will be done. The problem of live animal exports is much bigger than just their slaughter in Indonesia. It remains to be seen whether Farmer tinkers at the edges to ease public angst and appease Indonesian customers, or seriously addresses the whole issue including the cruelty associated with sea transportation and Australian jobs.

Next article – The human face of solidarity

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