November 2019 Guest Speaker, Greg Fry, “Framing the Pacific”

Greg has worked for many years on the Pacific, and his book, Framing the Islands: Power and Diplomatic Agency in Pacific Regionalism, was published earlier in the year by ANU Press (free download here).

Greg asked us to consider our Australian perspective and why we always get things wrong in our relationship with the countries of the Pacific.

How can we do better? Not by thinking of us all as a family, as the prime minister Scott Morrison has done. Australia in this scenario would be the bad brother of the Pacific.

Australia’s deep assumptions about the people of the Pacific parallel the way we have thought about aboriginal people in this country. We don’t really see them; we don’t expect them to have agency over their own lives.

A second preconception is that Australia has a natural right to lead in the region. The Pacific is seen as “our” backyard. And a third: we’re leading in the Pacific in a sort of deputy sheriff role for the USA.

Source: Center for Pacific Islands Studies:

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Union Organising in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Communities in North Queensland

A presentation by Bill Thompson to the Vintage Reds ACT on Tuesday 17 September 2019 at the Tradies Club, Dickson ACT 1

Bill acknowledged the Ngunnawal people, the custodians of this land and the land on which we met, and paid his respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past and present.

I was appointed as the North Queensland Organiser by the Municipal Officers Association (MOA), Queensland Branch, in July 1985. The union later to merged with others to form the Australian Services Union. My area of responsibility was the northern half of Queensland, or that area above a line drawn between Birdsville inland to Bowen on the coast.

It was a difficult time to be appointed, as the South East Queensland Electricity Board industrial dispute had been raging (and that is not too strong a word) for five months, and it was the year in which great changes were occurring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community councils, not the least in their governance. With the introduction of the Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT), a significant disruption in the administration of those councils had occurred.

Much of what follows is anecdotal and personal observations. But here I must digress.

Have you heard the joke about the bloke who went to the doctor – he had a monkey growing out of his head. Tell me said the doctor, “how did this begin?” Well, said the monkey, “it started with a spot on my bottom’. At the risk now of enraging the Queenslanders in the room, I need to set the political scene in Queensland in 1985.

“Rural, backward, racist, populist, authoritarian and corrupt”. So said Seymour Martin Lipset an American political scientist, who in the context of the USA said “every country has a South”. We in Australia have a North, in this case Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen Government, which had been in office since 1968. The definition suited Queensland to a ‘T’, as the Liberal-Country Party (later the Liberal National Party), well entrenched both politically and within that society, was resolutely opposed to change, unless it was to the detriment of its political enemies. Queensland was to prove the political monkey on the back (not the head) of the Australian body politic for decades. No doubt, a sentiment shared by Gough Whitlam. Continue reading

July 2019 Guest Speaker, Lara Watson

Lara acknowledged that we met on the country of the Ngunnawal and paid her respects to elders past and present. She herself is a Birri Gubba woman from central west Queensland.

Lara is the ACTU’s Indigenous Officer and has worked for two years with the ACTU’s First Nations Workers’ Alliance. She spoke about the federal government’s “Community Development Program” (CDP), a work-for-the-dole scheme which was launched by Tony Abbott in 2015. The CDP has its roots in the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, established in 2003, with similar programs running in remote communities since the 1970s.

The FNWA is an alliance of union members, trade unions and union-like organisations giving CDP people a voice. Lara reports the work of FNWA to the indigenous committee of the ACTU. So far it’s just her! She covers the whole country. She relies on national unions to get information out.

The CDP is the work-for-the-dole program which only operates in remote Indigenous communities, some regional towns with high Indigenous populations and is different from JobActive the work-for-the-dole program covering everywhere else. The CDP is a racist and disfunctional scheme. The worst aspect of it is the punitive measures in place for infractions of its rules. It features aggressive job provision services run by private Job Service Providers. 

Lara mentioned a case of a young bloke who was “breached” [i.e. in violation of the rules, so not paid] for eight weeks for refusing to operate a drop saw with no protective clothing or gear.  When you are breached for eight weeks you get no money coming, not even the social security payment that the rest of Australia can rely on if suddenly finding themselves out of work.

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June 2019 Guest Speaker, Meredith Burgmann

Jane introduced our speaker, Dr Meredith Burgmann, an academic, unionist and feminist, who spoke about the Springbok rugby tour of Australia in 1971. The talk focused on the tour in the context of sporting boycotts in Australia and globally.

Meredith gave an acknowledgement of country and paid her respects to elders.

We were happy to have in the audience veterans of the anti-apartheid movement as well as other contemporary actions such as the BLF’s Green Bans.

The South African Nationalist party adopted apartheid in its successful election campaign in 1948. Post-war Australia was an extremely conservative place, and the common line was that white South Africans were some kind of necessary bulwark against communism. In those days the Australian parliament didn’t discuss foreign affairs much. Meredith found only Gough Whitlam and Barry Cohen to be exceptions to this rule.

In the union movement, the seamen and waterside workers traditionally had international connections, of course. During this period they boycotted South African ships and refused to load cargos.

The first anti-apartheid group in Australia was the South Africa Defence and Aid Fund, a lawyers’ group (see John Myrtle’s essay at Students also demonstrated sporadically against South African apartheid. The rise of the New Left and student activism, during the Vietnam war, led to involvement in other issues including apartheid.

Sydney’s Stop the Tours campaign began in 1969: Denis Freney, Meredith, and Peter MacGregor were all involved. Sekai Holland was another member (a Zimbabwean who later returned to Zimbabwe and opposed the Mugabe government). That year the Springbok rugby team toured the UK, which gave Meredith’s group some lead time for a campaign to replicate in Australia the very successful opposition to the tour which anti-apartheid groups in the UK had organised. The longer plan was to have the 1971 South African cricket tour called off (which they achieved). Continue reading

May 2019 Speaker, Greg McConville; & Harry Wall

Jane welcomed Greg McConville from the United Firefighters’ Union (ACT Branch) to the May meeting.

Greg discussed the current dispute between the union and the ACT Labor Government. The issue concerns overtime payments to firefighters who worked consecutive shifts without an 8-hour break in between as required. ACT Fire and Rescue doesn’t have enough firefighters to fill a safe roster. They need more to cover those who are injured, sick, on leave, or in training.

The UFU is also proposing an updated skills training regime, better and earlier health interventions (globally, only firefighters have won pre-emptive rights in workers’ compensation: any ACT firefighter who is diagnosed with cancer is presumed to have got it through their work); as well as a number of other extra items in the enterprise agreement – many of which would save money, such as lowering workers comp premiums.

Firefighters in the ACT were offered a 10% pay rise, but rejected it, believing that the money should be invested instead in community safety.

Earlier Jane welcomed Harry Wall to the meeting, for an overview of the election result and the Vintage Reds’ volunteer effort in Gilmore. Harry is the ACTU manager of the Change the Rules campaign in Gilmore. He thanked the VRs for their work in the electorate.

The ACTU concentrated on ten seats, but only Gilmore was won, by the ALP. Its candidate, Fiona Phillips, had been door-knocking and working across the electorate for four years. The ALP primary vote dropped there by under 2%; the Mundine (Liberal) primary vote held in some areas such as Berry, but the conservative vote was split by the independent candidate, Grant Schultz, and the Nationals. Harry had looked at the numbers in individual booths across Gilmore and reckons that the Vintage Reds’ work contributed to the win.

April 2019 Guest Speaker, Frances Crimmins

Our April speaker was Frances Crimmins, CEO of YWCA in Canberra, on “The role of social support“.

Frances is the former Chair of the ACT Ministerial Advisory Committee for Women, and former Board Director of No Sweat Fashion. In 2015, she received an Edna Ryan Award for advancing the status of women in the ACT. She also attended the Commission for the Status of Women in New York in 2017 and 2018.

Frances paid her respects to aboriginal elders and acknowledged that the land we met on always had been, and always would be, aboriginal land, having never been surrendered.

Her talk was on advocacy and how the Y tries to fill service gaps in the community. Last year they launched “advocacy priorities”. Their “Leading the change” campaign has four aims: gender responsive government; equality in the workplace; a life free from violence; and housing security. This year is the 70th anniversity of the YWCA. Their vision: “Girls and women thriving”.

The YWCA feels that the ACT should lead the way nationally in the well-being of women. The ACT’s Office for Women was originally part of Rosemary Follett’s office but now sits in the Community Services Directorate. It is underfunded, and there needs to be a women’s statement reinstated in the ACT budget.

Frances described the structural inequality that leads to older women’s over-representation in homelessness. This has been coming for years. The YWCA now works in housing as a “registered community housing provider”.

Shortly after her presentation to our meeting, Frances wrote a piece on this topic which is available online:

…For YWCA Canberra, addressing older women’s homelessness & housing crisis has been a longstanding policy priority. As a registered community housing provider, YWCA Canberra has been providing affordable housing & supportive tenancy services for women & families in Canberra for 60 years. And we are evolving our services to better meet the needs of this growing cohort. 

Rentwell is the first charitable property management service in the ACT to provide affordable rental accommodation to Canberrans on low incomes.  As a philanthropic model, Rentwell also provides those who own investment properties the opportunity to change someone’s life in a tangible way.  …

Frances Crimmins [photo credit:]

March 2019 Guest Speaker, Harry Wall

Jane welcomed Harry Wall to the meeting.

Harry outlined the work of the Change the Rules Campaign and the imperative to vote the Coalition Government out of office in the upcoming Federal elections.

The Gilmore electorate is the focus of the efforts of VR members. This electorate is quite elongated, running from Kiama to Tuross Heads. Overall, the campaign goes back to 2007 when the ALP failed to follow up on the unions’ “Your rights at work” campaign.

The campaign aims to change public opinion on penalty rates; stress job security and the impact of the next generation of workers not being able to retire; and ensure that the campaign will not stop on election day.

The campaign is focusing its efforts in a handful of marginal seats. In New South Wales, these are Gilmore, Robertson and Flynn.

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February 2019 Guest Speaker, Ben Hillman

We welcomed Ben Hillman for a talk on “The Trouble in China’s West

Ben works at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, on institutional change. He specialises in Chinese and ethnic policies, China’s efforts to build a national identity out of empire, and how to integrate ethnic communities.

There have been reports in the press on the response by the Chinese Communist Party to Muslims, especially the largest group in China, the Uighurs in Xinjiang, in the country’s north-west. Reports have focused on efforts to forcibly assimilate Uighurs by coercive mechanisms such as internment in camps which hold upwards of a million Uighurs. The government has used the term “re-education” and “vocational training”, to legitimize the camps.

This belongs in the wider historical context of Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” project of 2012. There are two concrete targets for this “great rejuvenation”. One is to become a modern and wealthy society by 2021, the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the CCP. The second is to become a “developed” nation by 2049. Thus, the vision is of a country “restored” to an international status which it lost as a result of Western imperialism. Continue reading

November 2018 Guest Speaker, John Rodriguez

We welcomed John Rodriguez to talk on “Living under Franco“. John spoke of his childhood in Spain and the impact on his family and community of the Franco dictatorship.

Just by chance, today is the 43rd anniversary of Franco’s death. In Spain there was a vote in the Congress to remove his body from “El Valle de los Caidos”, the valley of the fallen. Franco did not die in the Civil War (1936-39), which this valley commemorates. His family want to rebury him in a cathedral in central Madrid, a request the Spanish government has rejected. While this stand-off continues, he lies still where he was first buried.

John reminded us that on the first Sunday of December from noon onwards, there is a picnic at Lennox Gardens to pay homage to Australians who fought in the Spanish Civil War. All are welcome to attend, and the Spanish community cooks paella.

[Lennox Gardens memorial plaque photo: Wikimedia Commons]

John spoke about his childhood in Malaga, on the south coast of Spain. Fear controlled their lives, fear of the authorities, fear that the neighbours might report the family to the authorities. His father was a Republican, and they were not religious, so there was also the fear that the local priest might report them.

John was from quite a poor family. He had 2 brothers and 3 sisters. His brother Alfonso made a transistor radio for the family so they could listen to music and official government news. They could also tune in to alternative radio stations (the Resistance) and find out what the Government was doing. The sound of trumpets was used to mask the sounds of people being beaten and tortured by the Guardia Civil, and he knew people who died at their hands.

At the age of 5 John went to school and was beaten on the first day – he had not asked permission to enter the classroom!

His father died when he was only 7 years old. He resisted the priest’s attempt to give him extreme unction, and the family had to make up a story to cover for this.

In 1961 Franco visited Malaga and John was lined up with the other students to see him, but the cars had darkened windows, and he never actually saw him. John left school at 12, but later was enrolled in a school that taught him English and French, after which he got a job in the Moro olive oil company which his father had worked for. At 17 he moved to Barcelona, and because he claimed he was an electrician, he got a job in a workshop. When they found out that he wasn’t an electrician, he was given a job in charge of the workshop. He moved back to Malaga, and eventually migrated to Australia.

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October 2018 Guest Speaker, Graham Farquhar

We welcomed Dr Graham Farquhar, the ACT and Australian Senior Citizen of the Year. He spoke on the topic, “From Burnie and Ballet to the ANU”, covering early influences in his life.

Graham is a plant scientist, and works on the sustainable physiology of plants, “bioelectricity” in plants, and stomatal physiology. His work has led him to look at the impact of climate change and the capacity of plants to evolve and adapt. [Photo: ANU]

Graham was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2015 and the Kyoto Prize for science in 2017. This Japanese prize is designed to honour those fields which are not covered by the Nobel committee’s prizes.

Graham has also studied classical ballet and was instrumental in establishing the Canberra Dance Theatre, a community-based organisation.

Graham gave a hugely entertaining talk, accepted his Vintage Red mug graciously, and joined us for lunch afterwards.