December 2011

The Indonesian state continues to murder on behalf of Australian companies.

The ABC reports that Arc Exploration had absolutely nothing to do with the shooting of eight protesters by Indonesian police in the Sumbawa town of Sape four days ago.

The ABC reports that Arc Exploration conducts “meetings with local people” and that “extensive consultation process with local community leaders and authorities” and that this “resulted in these parties confirming their support for [the company’s] activities”.

Hidup Biasa reports that after a five day occupation of the Port at Sape Indonesian Police opened fire on protesters killing eight and injuring hundreds.

The Port was occupied by villagers (and student supporters) opposing minging developments in Sumbawa, like this one near the town of Barawera.

Here is a photo of the proposed development. The development would involve digging out the green bit.

Two days after the Police killings, three hundred people gathered on the streets of Makassar to denounce the police brutality.

A police station, banks and advertising billboards were pelted with stones. Two people were arrested, two other arrests were foiled by the mass intervention of demonstrators. According to the awful google translation I am relying on:

Protesters claimed that what happened in Bima and elsewhere caused by the greed of capitalism to exploit the environment which then threaten people’s lives


A commenter on Indymedia notes that ANZ are a major investor in Arc Exploration, the same happy chaps who are major investors in Gunns and a key source of finance for the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill in Tasmania.

It’s all one struggle.

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It’s Christmas, a time when all of us wannabe commentators produce at least one predictable piece bemoaning the crass commercialization of Christmas.

These commentators assume that underneath the consumption is a meaningful cultural tradition worth saving. They assume that Christmas is merely debased by consumerism.

I call bullshit.

The modern Christmas is a modern invention, and commercialization is not it’s debasement, but it’s whole purpose.

In a recent comic, Randall Munroe noted that so much of the lyrical tradition we assume is a timeless part of Christmas, is in fact a product of 1950s America.

An 'American tradition' is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.

Randall Munroe theorises that a tradition is “anything that happened to a baby boomer twice”.

I would argue that these modern traditions are a product of what was happening in the most developed capitalist economy in the aftermath of the second world war.

The 1950s see the baby boom and the long post war boom in American economic growth. The industrial capacity utilized by the war could not simple lie idle, the pursuit of profit mandates that capital be reinvested. Without the war, a new market was required.

That market was domestic consumption.

American companies developed and sold all manner of goods to fill needs that the American working class never before knew they had. Marketing and mass media were the tools with which American business directly and indirectly created the new wants, the new needs, and the new culture, that we now identify as consumerism.

Those cultural traditions that supported consumption were emphasized. New cultural traditions were invented, existing traditions were transformed beyond recognition.

It was in this crucible that the modern Christmas was born. Christmas was re-written, it was transformed to serve the needs of a market predicated on selling ever more consumer goods to the working class.

Christmas today is little more than an amalgam of marketing strategies brought together under a faux cultural-religious brand. Any call to separate the tradition from the consumerism is now meaningless.

This piece was prompted by Ben Habib’s I’m Dreaming of a ‘Light’ Christmas.

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Previous issues: Police State Blues.

I have previously suggested that there is a dangerous confluence of interest between the Herald Sun newspaper, the Liberal Party, and the Victoria Police association.

The events of the second half of 2011 showed just what the relationship between these three groups means for politics in the State of Victoria.

The Herald Sun acted as the mouth piece for a campaign to replace Police Commissioner Simon Overland with a Police officer more favourable to the Police Association, Ken Jones. The Office of Police Integrity recomended that any federal media enquiry should investigate the role the newspaper played in this affair.

The Police Association traded a softer line in it’s pay negotiations for the government’s acceptance of it’s preffered candidate for Police Commissioner.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Police, Liberal MP and former Police Officer Bill Tilley, conspired with Tristain Weston, a staffer to the Police Minister and police officer Tristain Weston. The Office of Police Integrity recomended criminal charges.

The Police Minister Chris Ryan, and Junion minister Bill Tilley, gave conflicting evidence too the Office of Police Integrity over whether the Police Minister was briefed on the conspiracy. It seems increasingly probable that the Police Minister at least knew about and tacitly approved of the campaign for control of the police force being waged by his subordinates.

The Age offers the best coverage of October’s scandal, with this article in parlicular.

The extraordinary role of the Herald Sun in the scandal is brilliantly documented by Andrew Crook in this article for Crikey.

We counted 89 articles — including 15 front pages — that were critical of the chief commissioner. By contrast — except in tangential stories about “police command” — not one story could be found that cast a negative light on the paper’s charge Sir Ken Jones. Some celebrated policing generally but on the key leadership issue there was rarely any equivocation .

The Office of Police Integrity Report into the conspiracy can be read in full here.

October saw scandal, November and December have been about good old fashioned repression.

On October 20 Police smashed the Occupy Melbourne gathering at city square.

For the next two months, Police pursue the protesters from park to park, issuing them with notices against gathering, having “things”, and just generally trying to get them to go away.

The strategy is one that is suprisingly similar to the tactics Police have boasted they are applying to motocycle clubs. Continuious and unremitting harassment.

On December 3 the protesters decided to mock the Police:

Being Police, they responded to being mocked in the usual way:

It’s been a scary few months to live in the state of Victoria. Police powers continue to grow at an alarming rate, the new government seems intent end the “touchy feely crap” pioneered by former commissioned Christine Nixon. Everything from equipment, to uniform and even the grooming standard is being “toughened”.

Meanwhile there seems little hope of reform in light of October’s scandal. The Liberal government needs the vote of every former Police officer who now holds a seat in Parliament, and they’re sure as hell not about to do anything to alienate their allies in the Herald Sun.

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In response to legal threats and intimidation, Victorian nurses have ended their campaign of limited industrial action in favour of “negotiation” and “rallies”. They have in effect surrendered their only effective weapons in the campaign for just pay and conditions in favour of a slow and strangling defeat.

The trap of “negotiation”

There is a pervasive myth about negotiation as a process. The myth is that in a negotiation two sides sit down “on the basis of equality and talk through and resolve the differences that produced the conflict between them” (1).

There is a fundamental difference between Nurses and the government that cannot simply be ‘resolved’. The government wants nurses to work for the least pay possible, and safety be damned. They still want some kind of hospital system, but they don’t want to pay for it.

Nurses need decent pay, and nurse-patient ratios that preserve a safe working environment, and patient safety.

The reality is that the content of any negotiated settlement will not reflect the supposed merits of each position, rather it will reflect what power each group can bring to bear (1).

By abandoning bed closures, go slows and selective work bans, nurses are abandoning what power they were able to bring to bear on the government.

Successful Industrial Action

The most successful industrial action is that which most comprehensively disrupts the core business of a given enterprise. In evaluating tactics, nurses have to ask, “what is the core business of a hospital?”

The state government wants there to be some kind of hospital system. Selective work bans, bed closures and go slows place a degree of pressure on the hospital system, but they do not fundamentally disrupt anything.

The disruption of a work ban pales in comparison to the day to day disruptions the hospital system is experiencing as a result of under funding and under staffing. The state government has tolerated, and in fact seems intent to exacerbate these disruptions through this negotiating process. Even if the state government had not been able to utilize the union busting power of Fair Work Australia, I suspect the state government would have been prepared to wear the continued pressure of work bans through the negotiating period.

Clearly the provision of adequate safe and professional hospital services is not in fact the core business of the hospital system.

I would suggest that the core business of the hospital system is actually obtaining funding. In the hospital, this is achieved through the processing of Medicare and private health insurance claims.

The state government wants the semblance of a hospital system (broadly the business sector needs a health care system that ensure workers aren’t unproductive for too long), but it would like other people and other levels of government to pay for it.

If nurses were able to interrupt the processing of payments, pressure would quickly accumulative on the state treasury.

Nurses’ Achilles Heels (2)

Nurses can’t disrupt the process of payments in hospitals. Administrative staff are in a different union. This points to a key weakness of labour organising in hospitals.

Nurses are in a different union to administrative staff, cleaning staff in are yet another union, and doctors and allied health staff are divided into a plethora of different professional associations.

Successful industrial action in the hospital sector requires that all these groups be united . When nurses are under attack, there should be bed closures, a ban on the processing of health insurance claims, and the cessation cleaning in non essential areas. When administrative staff or cleaners are under attack, the remedy should be exactly the same.

There is another fundamental weakness that nurses and other hospital staff have to recognise and deal with. Compassion. The state and hospital administration have long abused the compassion of hospital employees to further their attacks.

Nurses are told they must be dedicated, and think of the safety of the public first! Effective industrial action is condemned for putting lives at risk. But ineffective industrial action puts lives at risk in the long term. Stretched nurse-patient ratios have already put lives at risk, and the state governments proposed changes will simply kill more people.

As nurses are paid less, the profession will be deskilled, and the long term effect will be to create a massively inferior second tier public health system.

The long term goal of the state is to transfer the cost of our health system onto the working class. By running down the public system, more people turn to the private system, and eventually we are left with the barbarity of an American style user pays system.

Failure to take effective industrial action will be far more deadly than a few bed closures.

Responding to attacks

Nurses and the ANF are increasingly cowed by threats of civil and criminal legal action. In the 2011 campaign so far, the ANF has responded to threats with backdowns. The bed closures campaign has been replaced with an ineffective public rally campaign.

The idea of rallying on your lunch break is a farce, nurses could protest on their lunch breaks for a hundred years and cause no disruption to the core business of the hospital system, returning to work after an hour only to witness the continued erosion of patient safety and their working conditions.

The only effective response to attack is escalation. It is the state and administrators who must be forced into back downs. When administrators take names, walk out. When legal action is taken against the central union, localise.


The union bureaucracy is a weakness. The state can threaten to jail or fine the unions leaders, seize or freeze its funds and ultimately de-register it.

There is a distinct difference of interest between the unions leaders and the unions members. The members seek only to win. The leaders, having made a career out of union leadership, value the continuation of the union structure over victory.

The union leadership can be pressured to sell out by threats that rank and file members would otherwise brush off.

The answer is to establish local strike committees. If the state threatens to freeze union funds, control funds locally. If the state threatens to jail or fine key leaders, set-up local organising structures that can be sustained even if the central organisation is under pressure.

It is in local organisation that nurses can build the links that will empower all workers in hospitals. Local strike committees should embrace all workers in a hospital, and should fight, with all measures at the disposal of all staff, any time any group of staff come under attack.


Victoria’s nurses can win, but the current tactics of the ANF are fundamentally weak, bordering on an outright surrender.

In order to win, nurses have to be prepared to embrace effective tactics. This would mean defying threats by the state and hospital administrators, and being prepared to take action that disrupts the core business of hospitals.

If nurses are able to act in conjunction with other hospital staff, they will be many times more effective.

The ANF will sell nurses out before it agrees to tactics that threaten it’s institutional interests, nurses need to recognise this, and an effective response to neutralise this threat would be the establishment of local strike committees.

Community solidarity is also important, but token rallies and the wearing of red t-shirts are no substitute for industrial action. If anything, nurses should seek to mobilise the community in supporting ‘illegal’ industrial action. “Fair Work Australia” be damned, lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Ultimately the real question for Victoria’s nurses is, how much do you really want to win? Once you know the answer to that question, let the appropriate tactics follow.


1. Gene Sharpe, From Dictatorship to Democracy, fourth edition, 2010.

2. Thanks to Kay Bennett for her invaluable input in this section. There is much more I could have included about the core ethics of nursing and it’s relationship to industrial action, I’ll try and get Kay to write something about that some time.

Further Reading

Liz Ross, Dedication Doesn’t Pay the Rent: The 1986 Victorian nurses’ strike.

ANF Vic Campaign Website, Respect Our Work.


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Stephen Luntz in the December issue of Australiasian Science describes recent research by David Lindenmayer on the relationship between logging, fire and change in temperate forests. Unfortunately the Australiasian Science article is trapped behind a paywall, but Luntz summarizes on his blog, here.

Temperate forests can be divided into two sorts, there are those that are fire tolerant, and those that are not. – Stephen Luntz

Fire tolerant species have evolved to create a more fire prone environment. Fire destroys non fire tolerant trees, and the fire tolerant trees then colonize in the aftermath.

In contrast the non fire tolerant species have evolved to avoid the creation of fire prone situations, and large masses of these species can actually act as fire buffers.

This analysis of the relation between fire and fire tolerant species is hardly new. What is, is Lindenmayer analysis of the role of logging in the process of creating a “landscape trap”.

The interacting effects of wildfire, logging, and the combination of wildfire and logging (i.e., salvage logging) are creating a previously unrecognized landscape trap in which the disturbance dynamics of “trapped” mountain ash forest landscapes are markedly different from those before European settlement. The core process underlying this landscape trap is a positive feedback loop between fire frequency/severity and a reduction in forest age at the stand and landscape levels, leading to an increased risk for dense young regenerating stands repeatedly reburning before they reach a more mature state. The landscape trap will potentially create irreversible changes in disturbance dynamics, forest cover, landscape pattern, and vegetation structure, and thereby lead to a major regime shift or alternative state. – Lindenmayer et al, 2011.

Lindenmayer goes on to describe the development of a Landscape Trap in Victoria’s mountain ash forests. Mountain ash forests like those in the Alpine National Park, near where I live. Mountain ash forests that have been severely burnt twice in the past decade.

Lindenmayer makes a number of suggestions for avoiding an irreversible change in the landscape. Most importantly concern logging, but of particular interest to me (I’ll explain why in a second) is this:

Given the extent of recently burned forest in Victoria, a third important strategy to reduce the risks for development of a landscape trap is to try to limit the amount of future fire. Although mountain ash trees are dependent on fire to promote regeneration, fires have been extensive in the past 25–100 y; another fire in the coming 20 y within currently young regenerating stands is likely to lead to a major regime shift.mountain ash forests is a significant challenge.

Broad-area prescribed burning is not a viable management option because high levels of moisture in the vegetation and large quantities of biomass make planned fires extremely difficult to control. However, prescribed burning as part of a regime of fire can be an appropriate management option in drier forest types that are adjacent to mountain ash forests. Carefully applied strategic burning in such drier environments may help to reduce the extent of spatial contagion in wildfire that occurs in these areas and, in turn, reduce the risk for adjacent stands of mountain ash forest being burned. – Lindenmayer et al, 2011

I grew up on a small farmlet in North East Victoria. We raised some cattle and for a short while, attempted market gardening.

Managing the fire risk of the adjacent bush land was a prominent concern for us in the lead up to each summer. We did this with yearly back burning.

It is now pretty clear that this was a mistake.

Over ten years we saw the immediate landscape change, and eventually decided to abandon the practice.

In the aftermath of the 2009 bush fires, there was a massive public clamour in rural communities for the regular burning of practically everything. In the autumn and spring that followed I saw how on private land and along roadsides of the community I grew up in, every that would burn was burnt.

I fear that the net effect of these attitudes to fire prevention among land holders could be to trade the long term possibility of a less fire prone landscape for the short term security of dust and ash.

I recommend reading the rest of Luntz’s article here, and if you have the time, Lindenmayer’s article in PNAS here.


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