The Andrews Labor government has announced a $2 billion bid for the support of Victoria’s Police Association.

In a recent article on the so-called ‘Apex gang’, I noted that:

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

The bidding war has now well and truly begun, and it comes complete with thousands of new police, extended police powers, and billions of dollars in spending.

The entire ‘Law and Order’ package is rotten. There is no crime wave, the new powers are not necessary, and the entire thing is rooted in racism.

The premise, pushed by the Herald Sun, the Liberal Party and the Police Association of Victoria, is that Melbourne is in the grips of an unprecedented crime wave.

Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy has claimed that recent crime statistics are evidence of a “crime tsunami” and that he has “never felt more unsafe in my life”.

For over a year, Victoria’s tabloid newspaper and talkback radio stations have told us to fear a largely mythical ‘Apex gang’.

In reality the ‘Apex gang’ is part of a racist code used by the media to stigmatise young black men from migrant backgrounds. As Anthony Kelly (from the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre) put it in recent comments to the ABC:

“The Apex gang is a convenient code word; essentially it means ethnic or African crime — it’s a code word that can be used by a greater number of commentators, like a dog whistle”

The other common dog whistle used by the media, police and commentators in Victoria is the ever threatening “youth crime”.

When the Police Association’s Rod Iddles bemoans “youth crime and the Apex gang and all that” he’s not talking about drunk middle class white kids punching each other after getting pissed at some city nightclub.

No, he’s latching onto a racist media beat-up that demonizes migrant kids from an African background, who we’re told will jack your car, invade your home and beat your white kiddies for want of something better to do on a Saturday night!

Media, police and political commentators on “youth crime” pin the blame for Victoria’s “crime wave” on kids from migrant backgrounds, in particular the Sudanese community and the Pacific Islander community.

Matthew Guy exemplified this with his call for legislation that would allow the government to immediately deport young offenders.

Unfortunately for Matthew Guy’s racist ambitions, the overwhelming majority of people committing the offenses the media has labeled a “crime wave” were born in Australia, and the crime statistics that purportedly prove the existence of this terrifying crime wave actually show nothing of the sort.

There has been an increase in the rate of reported criminal offenses in Victoria over the past year, largely as a result of the increased reporting of family violence offenses.

“Youth crime” over the same period has actually declined as:

crimes committed by people aged between 15 and 19 fell by 5 per cent, and there was a decrease of 4 per cent in crimes committed by people aged under 25.

Related, the ABS records a steady decline in youth crime across Australia since 2009-10.

But of course, it pays not to place too much trust in official crime statistics. Victorian crime statistics are obtained from the Victoria Police LEAP database. The more people the police arrest, the more “crime” Victoria records.

In reality, the number of people Victoria Police arrest for various offenses has as much to do with levels of police resources (more police means more offenses are “detected”), changing police priorities (expect a “spike in crime” among any population Victoria Police decide to target) as well as changes in which behaviors our society criminalizes.

The increased rate of family violence offers is an illustrative example. No one seriously expects that Victorian men became 10% more violent towards women in the past year. Male violence against women is appalling and commonplace, but the change in “levels” of family violence recorded by the police has as much to do with new processes that have been adopted in order to force police to take family violence seriously.

Media reportage on the so-called crime wave has highlighted increases in the number of ‘carjackings’ and ‘home invasions’ (recorded by police as thefts where the owners were present), and often links these to increases in the number of assaults recorded.

But again, this is hardly a crime wave. The Herald Sun might breathlessly report that there has been an 80% increase in carjackings, but they are still talking about an increase of 76 offenses in a city of four million people.

The media’s tendency to link this to increased reports of assaults is also deceptive. In the past two years societies’ attitude to assault has changed as the media has pushed narratives around “coward punches” and “one hit kills”.

A great many assaults that would once have been passed off as part of the standard risk involved in a night’s drinking are now reported and prosecuted. Many others are connected with increased police measures targeting domestic violence. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hardly proof of a crime wave.

Melbourne is not in the grips of an “Apex crime wave” (as The Australian termed it in a recent racist beat up), but this hasn’t stopped the Andrews Labor government capitulating to the racist narrative pushed by the Police Association and the Murdoch press.

The government has announced “sweeping new measures” that promise to lock up more Victorian children and young people, longer. Due process will go out the window as new powers allow the police to forcefully obtain DNA samples from suspects without a warrant or court oversight. A two billion dollar spending spree will massively expand the police force, with thousands of new cops, a new helicopter and a bunch of new police stations.

The “Apex crime wave” may have been a myth, but the attacks on due process, the adoption of new authoritarian measures, and the growth of police power are very real. And they must be resisted.

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In regional New South Wales a group of anti-abortion protestors backed by the Catholic Church have set up a US-style “fake abortion clinic”. The so-called ‘Women’s Life Centre’ (WLC) is located in Albury and claims to offer “the information you need to know about abortion”.

The Catholic activists behind WLC run extensive advertisements in the local Fairfax owned newspaper, the Border Mail, where they seek out women “facing an unplanned pregnancy or worried that they may be pregnant”.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is modeled on the ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ popular among anti-abortion activists in the United States. These centres purport to offer free medical advice (although their Australian imitators are careful to avoid the word ‘medical’ for legal reasons), when in reality they offer a variety of deceptive practices intended to prevent women using effective emergency contraception or obtaining an abortion.

The establishment of the pseudo-clinic in Albury is part of a long running attack on women’s rights by Catholic fundamentalists in the NSW regional city. Albury is home to a branch of Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic, which has been under sustained attack by anti-abortion activists for approximately a decade.

In 2011 I was involved in a campaign to defend that clinic from a sustained campaign of harassment perpetrated by the so-called Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (HoGPI).

The FCC in Albury is the only dedicated fertility control clinic available to women in between Melbourne and Canberra. HoGPI are determined to discourage women accessing the clinic, and for approximately a decade they have staked-out the clinic whenever it has been open.

HoGPI’s self-described “prayer vigils” have included the surveillance and harassment women seeking to access fertility control.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ has been established by these same anti-abortion activists. The Director of the ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is Peta Evans, a spokesperson for the HoGPI campaign in Albury. The WLC’s domain name is registered to the ‘Trustee for the Catholic Parish of the Holy Spirit Lavington’.

Retired obstetrician and Albury based pro-choice campaigner, Dr Pieter Mourik, has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the WLC’s dubious “free pregnancy help”:

The Director of WLC is Mrs Peta Evans; her husband Dr Paul Evans, a general practitioner at The Gardens Medical Centre, is referred to for medical issues, despite the fact that Dr Evans has no specific women’s health qualifications. Dr Evans refuses to provide any contraception, other than “natural” as it is “against his strict religious beliefs”.

Volunteers at the WLC purport to offer counselling, pregnancy testing, education and “emotional support”. According to Dr Mourik:

The “volunteers” have no credentials (other than faith-based programs) to give emotional or medical advice …

They do not give unbiased advice, only anti-abortion rhetoric; their pamphlets are inaccurate and alarmist. The only “family planning” advice is “natural family planning”, which has a huge failure rate.

Prior to recent cuts at the Border Mail, the local paper provided extensive and rigorous coverage of the ongoing issue.

However, following significant staff cuts in 2015, the Fairfax owned paper has degenerated to the point where articles on important local issues read suspiciously like regurgitated press releases.

In a recent article, the Border Mail’s Jodie O’Sullivan explains how the ‘Women’s Life Centre pseudo-clinic is paired with a cafe, according to O’Sullivan it’s…

An unexpected oasis of loveliness tucked between a line of Lavington shops is serving up generous dollops of care with its coffee and cake.

At the ‘Esencia Cafe’ pregnant women can “listen to their baby’s heartbeat between coffee and cake … it’s beautiful”.

As Dr Pieter Mourik notes, in practice the “free ultrasounds” provided by these pseudo-clinics are intended to “[coerce] women to continue an unwanted pregnancy by increasing emotional distress”. It is the same reason that anti-abortion campaigners in the United States have campaigned for laws forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasounds and other invasive procedures.

Women’s rights are under attack in regional and rural Australia. In Albury alone there are GP’s refusing to prescribe effective contraception, and pharmacists refusing to supply it when it is prescribed.

Women seeking an abortion have to walk a gauntlet of religious protestors to access the only Fertility Control Clinic for three hundred kilometres, and this is assuming they went to the one that will actually perform an abortion, rather than the religious run guilt tripping look-a-like clinic.

Now more than ever, town’s like Albury need strong campaigns in defence of women’s rights. If you are in New South Wales I would recommend checking out Children by Choice and the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign.

The Fake Abortion Clinics of America

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This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
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The Greens have announced a push to introduce a 20% tax on “all water-based beverages with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml”.

The LNP have said they will oppose any bill to implement a sugar tax in Australia, however the idea is gaining ground abroad.

Britain’s Conservative government have passed legislation for a sugar tax, to commence in 2018, and Mexico adopted a sugar tax in 2014.

The Grattan Institute released a report yesterday touting the potential for a sugar tax to raise $500 million whilst tackling obesity.

The sugar tax is a terrible proposal.

All consumption taxes are inherently regressive, a sugar tax would be especially so.

A consumption tax on something that people consume “equally” will account for a higher percentage of your income the lower your income is.

A sugar tax is even more regressive because people with lower incomes are more likely to consume soft drinks. The wealthiest are less likely to get their caffeine from Coca-Cola.

The $500 million that the Grattan Institute and The Greens propose to raise from a sugar tax will come disproportionately from the pockets of the working poor.

The Greens’ embrace of a sugar tax demonstrates their weakness when it comes to class issues. A sugar tax is a measure that essentially blames poor people for consuming soft drinks, whilst ignoring the fact that it is massively profitable soft drink manufacturers who produce and aggressively market these unhealthy products.

If soft drinks are a public health risk then it is soft drink manufacturers who should be penalized. The working poor hammer caffeine and sugar all day long because they are essential (if destructive) tools for getting through long days doing garbage low paid work.

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The Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, lives in a fantasy world where jobs grow on trees and where the unemployed are to blame for unemployment.

In a speech to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) National Conference, Christian Porter claimed there was no shortage of jobs in Australia, and that instead the Centrelink “compliance regime is failing miserably”.

The Social Services Minister believes that “there’s going to be 115,000 jobs created over the next several years” in the care sector, and thus:

“I just don’t put my hands up and say there aren’t enough jobs. I just don’t think that that’s statistically the case.”

Well it is statistically the case and Christian Porter fails at basic maths.

The ABS reports that there are 708,600 people unemployed in Australia as of October 2016.

Official unemployment figures massively underestimate the true scope of the employment problem. The rate of underemployment (where people have some work but need more) sits at around 8.5%, or a further 1 million people.

The most recent report on advertised job vacancies estimates there are 175,300 advertised job vacancies.

Christian Porter reckons there is no shortage of jobs when approximately ten people compete for every advertised vacancy. If Porter’s hypothesized 115,000 new jobs “over the next several years” materialized tomorrow, there would still be approximately 9 people competing for every advertised vacancy.

Bur rather than an employment problem, Christian Porter reckons there is a “compliance” problem. At the ACOSS national conference Porter raged that a reported 3000 people on some form of welfare turned down a job in the past year.

There are 854 665 people currently claiming either Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance. 1 in 284 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance turned down a job.

And what kinds of jobs would you turn down when the dole is well below the poverty line? I can think of a few.

A female friend reports being offered a hospitality job at a venue with a less than desirable reputation.

I asked if I would get sexually assaulted. they said: well, it’s not ideal, but it’s not rape.

I wouldn’t take that job. My friend is in dire financial straights, so she submitted an application anyway.

This is what the government means when they talk about “compliance”.

The welfare system is designed to discipline the working class. The payments are at poverty levels and the process of claiming is both punitive and humiliating so that when you are offered a minimum wage job with the likelihood that you will be “groped and fondled a bit”, you will apply.

I don’t actually think that Christian Porter is delusional or bad at basic maths. The government attacks welfare claimants because they want to force unemployed Australians to take any job, in any conditions, at any rate of pay.

The government blames job seekers for being unemployed (calling unemployed workers job snobs, dole bludgers, etc etc) in order to justify worsening poverty payments and increasingly punitive measures, which in turn are intended to drive down the cost of labor for capital.

Despite poverty payments and the punishment regime embedded in the welfare system, 3000 people on welfare refused a job last year. I shudder to think how bad those jobs must have been.

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