UPDATE: (31 July
DEBT CRISIS - Western Australian activist/researcher David Keane has
released a breathtaking statistical paper which relates national debt to
gross domestic product (GDP) and reveals that the country is being rapidly
ruined by the Labor and Coalition economic policies which have failed to
address sustainability imperatives.
David's paper can be downloaded here in rich text format (RTF).
Globalisation convention planned for Perth
A ONE or two day convention is planned for Perth in late November to consider the issues arising from the substitution of corporate globalisation for democratic control.
Twenty-one people from a wide variety of organisations attended the inaugural planning meeting on July 24, and agreed by consensus to proceed with organising the convention to be held probably on the weekend of November 25/26 and to consist of a plenary session followed by separate workshops on related issues and then a joint session to draw conclusions and consider further action. The convention would cater to people familiar with globalisation-related issues and to people who sense that something is wrong and are seeking answers. The meeting decided to hold regular planning meetings and to continue to seek participants at the planning stage.
A couple of wins
As we were going to press it was announced in the news media that
- The Queensland branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union has warned the ALP that if the party does not drop commitments to free trade the union will target ALP candidates in the next election. (See Editorial, and also ABC AM transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/am/s156727.htm )
- The Australian and New Zealand Health Standards Council has determined that all genetically modified foodstuffs must be labelled to inform consumers. They have rejected the call by John Howard that a threshold of 1% should apply (More details below).
S11: STAND UP FOR GLOBAL JUSTICE
A reminder that the World Economic Forum will be holding a regional meeting in Melbourne on September 11 to plan further encroachments on democratic sovereignty.
Massive protests are expected in Melbourne, and parallel activity is being planned for Perth where a local S11 Alliance group has been formed and has already taken to the streets in protests against Citibank (see picture), Nike, Rio Tinto, McDonalds and other Trans-National Corporations (TNCs).
Planning meetings are on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, 7:30pm, at City Farm, Brown Street, East Perth. Contact Rodney at email@example.com or 9337 7217 if you have any questions, or just turn up.
Globalism and the role
of political parties
[Everything written here is the personal opinion of the editor]
THE AMWU challenge to Labor's free trade policies (see page 1) and storms of protest within the National Party and the Australian Democrats remind us that political parties are actual or potential arenas of dispute over which side they are to take in the struggle between supranational corporate business and the Australian people.
Party managements are vulnerable to pressure from within the party and from outside. The case is best presented in the form of a total picture rather than piecemeal, so that policy decisions (such as support for reversing the GST changes or for proper labelling of GM foods) are seen in context for what they are -- a strategic taking of sides.
National and international measures loosely grouped as "globalisation" (or "globalism" to distinguish them from such global trends as better communications) include
- Transfer of decision-making powers from elected national governments to unelected supranational bodies (e.g. Tasmanians having to ask WTO for permission to exclude dodgy salmon).
- A global "race to the bottom" in which trade is used to establish the worst labour, social and environmental standards as the "internationally competitive" norm.
- Casualisation of labour.
- Privatisation of public assets.
- De-industrialisation of many countries including Australia.
- Trade rather than principle and/or the national (community) interest to be the arbiter of foreign policy.
- Tax revenue base to shift focus from the foreign to the domestic and from the wealthy to the poor (hence the GST).
- Degraded social infrastructure (e.g. "welfare reform")
- Deregulation in order to facilitate socially damaging practices ("smaller government")
- Artificial promotion of competition leading to its opposite such as deregulated megamergers for example, or the dairy industry shakeout.
The presentation of these measures as being as inevitable as death and taxes is part of a giant con trick devised by those who gain from them. All the above measures require the people's consent and it is in the community's interest to withdraw that consent. This makes a suitable guiding principle for trade policy.
While it is desirable for measures to defend the conditions of the Australian people to receive international agreement, this cannot be allowed to limit sovereign decisions of elected Australian governments on rules governing Australia. To insist on prior international agreement (such as on tariff policy or imposition of Tobin taxes) is to make our people hostage to the world's most corrupt governments.
An important factor in trade policy is that world trade converts a vast quantity of fossil fuel into greenhouse gases in order to carry coals to Newcastle for no other purpose than to give transnational corporations the power and wealth that accrues from a trade-driven international race to the bottom.
Here is a suggested general trade policy statement to counterpose against the mishmash that political parties currently serve up:
The party supports measures to facilitate imports and exports which assist the people of Australia and its trading partners by fulfilling material needs which cannot readily be fulfilled from within the individual countries. However we support a policy of Australians working for Australians and oppose trading arrangements which limit the scope for Australia and other nations to support and improve democratic control, social welfare, working conditions and ecological capital.
Free trade, fair trade, protection and a fair go
The following letter from StopMAI (WA) activist Graham Baker, Vice-President of the Hospital Salaried Officers' Association of WA, appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 7 July 00. Graham's target, Mr Lyndon Rowe, is the executive director of Western Australia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.]
LYNDON Rowe ("Protectionism belies 'fair go' ", AFR Letters, 4 July) makes a common mistake amongst the "Free" trade lobby when he equates the fair trade movement with the protectionist movement.
"Free" trade as promoted by Mr Rowe and his cronies means trade without any constraints. It means "Free" trade where there is no rule of law because the WTO can thumb its collective noses at any law - local, state, national and, most importantly, international. It means "Free" trade where those who stand to benefit can vary the "trade rules" to suit their own ends and then sit in judgement in their own interests in the WTO's dispute settlement procedures. Mr Rowe's version of "Free" trade is a playing field on jacks where the strong can unlevel the playing field at their own whim. It means "free" trade where contracts are at the mercy of cartels that freely control key markets.
Protectionism is about distorting the playing field unilaterally either by setting up tariff walls, quota systems, or by other means such as demanding imports meet higher standards than local business. Yet Mr Rowe advocates that other nations be allowed to distort markets by not meeting international standards. In fact, Mr Rowe's "free trade" is a form of protectionism.
Fair trade is about trade on a truly level playing field. A level playing field where distortion is corrected by removing hills to fill valleys.Fair trade means that corrective measures would be applied on a multilateral basis for breaching international standards on trade, labour, human rights, children's' rights and environmental standards.
Penalties for breaching standards
For instance, a company that was exploiting child labour could be tried in a recognised court, found guilty, and fined. It could then be subject to fine recovery against its assets and its subsidiaries in any countries that the court ordered, for example, Australia, France, Canada and the USA. Alternatively a court could order an enforceable garnishee order be served on credit card companies and banks to intercept global money flows.
Further, fair trading means that tariffs and other financial benefits are collected for distribution back to the injured parties either directly or via partner NGOs. A tariff imposed and retained in Australia may not help fight global poverty and exploitation but a tariff redistributed back to injured parties in the country of origin of goods does fight poverty and exploitation.
For example, an NGO could use tariff funds for schooling child labourers, compensation could be paid directly to victims of industrial accidents where there had been no workers' compensation, or fines could be used to clean up and repair rivers damaged by spills from inadequate tailings dams.
Australian business will be ill served if representatives, such as Mr Rowe, cannot see that fair trade is about ensuring a level playing field without the distortions that result from a narrow focus on trade rules at the expense of other international standards.
World counter to Davos grabfest
A WORLD Social Forum (WSF) has been established as an international arena for organising against neoliberal policies and for building economic alternatives that prioritise social justice.
It will take place every year in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, during the same period as the World Economic Forum, which happens in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January.
Since 1971, the corporations' World Economic Forum has played a key role in formulating neoliberal policies throughout the world.
The World Social Forum is seen as a new opportunity toward the construction of an international counter-power. For this reason, the StopMAI (WA) Coalition has become affiliated with WSF.
To get involved or to request further information, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org or the Editor of Citizens' Voice.
MONSANTO IS CHANGING ITS TACK
FACED with a world consumer backlash, Monsanto, the biotech giant, is now easing itself out of gene tinkering and seeking instead to grab control of the thirstiest countries' water supplies. The first of the following two reports is excerpted from the newsletter of the GM testing company Genetic ID ( http://www.genetic-id.com/about/index.htm ) and the second is from an article by Vandana Shiva in the independent Canadian on-line daily newspaper Flipside ( http://www.flipside.org/ ).
1. Genetic ID: Monsanto reining in GM mission
Now that Monsanto has merged with the pharmaceutical firm Pharmacia & Upjohn, a number of Wall Street analysts have been considering its future.
A Business Week report said the Monsanto will have a considerably more modest vision, and it must still convince Wall Street and the public that agricultural biotechnology has a future.
The biotech industry has united to fund a $50 million advertising campaign to prevent the backlash against GM agriculture spreading to North America. Observers are still monitoring resistance to GMOs in Europe.
Of particular concern is whether Brazil will lift its ban on the commercial planting of GMOs. According to Monsanto's competitors such as Aventis Crop Science, if Brazil does not approve the crops, it will be a devastating setback for the entire agricultural biotech industry.
While there are other large markets such as China and India, Aventis CEO Alain Godard said their weaker patent-protection rules could limit profits. Monsanto, for one, is now redefining its mission in an attempt to deliver a return to investors.
2. Vandana Shiva: Now they're after the water
For years now, Monsanto has been buying up seed, plant and biotech companies in order to establish control over the world's food.According to Mr Robert Farley of Monsanto, "what you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain.
Since water is as central to food production as seed is, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to establish its control over water. During 1999, Monsanto plans to launch a new water business, starting with India and Mexico, since both these countries are facing water shortages."
By 2010 about 2.5 billion people in the world are projected to lack access to safe drinking water. Control over this scarce and vital resource will, of course, be a source of guaranteed profits.
Another new business that Monsanto is starting -- in Asia -- is aquaculture. Industrial aquaculture has been established to be highly non-sustainable.
Attempts are being made by the World Bank to privatise water resources and establish trade in water rights. A Monsanto strategy paper states "We are particularly enthusiastic about the potential of partnering with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank to joint venture project in developing markets."
Monsanto's water and aquaculture businesses, like its seed business, aim at controlling the vital resources necessary for survival, converting them into a market and using public finances to underwrite the investments. A more efficient conversion of public goods into private profit would be difficult to find.
Tasmania bans GM plants as pests
The Tasmanian Government is to classify GM crops as a pest species, bringing it into further constitutional conflict with Canberra.
The Independent (London) reports that the Tasmanian Government has forbidden importation GM crops under its quarantine laws and put a one-year ban on trials except under pollen-proofed covers.
This clashes with legislation introduced into the national parliament enabling GM foods to be grown in Australia as GM cotton is already.
It was Tasmania that stood up to the WTO to block import to the State of unsafe Canadian salmon.
Insurers wary of GM products
AUSTRALIA'S leading insurance body has warned Parliament that farmers, manufacturers and retailers are not likely to be able to obtain liability insurance.
According to a report by Geoff Strong of The Independent (London), the Insurance Council of Australia had stated in a submission to a House of Representatives committee report on gene technology that the unforeseen risks are likely to be too high for the industry.
The council's executive director, Robert Drummond, likened the risks to those involving asbestos, where companies faced huge claims from people with asbestos-related diseases 20 to 30 years after exposure.
The committee recommended greater information about GM field trials to be made public.
A briefing paper presented to Parliament this week has stated that the first federal statutory body authorised to approve the introduction of genetically modified organisms, the proposed Gene Technology Regulator, will have similar powers to the Australian Federal Police.
At present the Interim Office of Gene Technology Regulator relies on the "goodwill" of companies that are under no legal obligation to comply with recommendations of the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee.
AUSTRALIAN-NZ FOOD LABELLING DECISION
New Zealand Consumer Affairs Minister Phillida Bunkle has hailed the decision by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFC) for mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients as a victory for consumers.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction but I believe work still needs to be done to address other consumer concerns around GE foods.
"Consumers have told me they want to know if the food they buy has been subjected to genetic modification at any point in the food chain process even if the end product doesn't have detectable levels of GE ingredients.
"Many consumers don't support genetic engineering in food for cultural, ethical or environmental reasons. The proposed standard is cutting edge in global terms, but I still hope the world moves towards labelling based on process not just content."
The Minister has asked her officials to at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to keep a close eye on international developments in this area.
Already there are promises to dump the cost of the analysis and labelling on to consumers, even though the damage that makes it necessary was done by transnational biotechnology corporations.
Why not label CLEAN food?
Here's a suggestion placed on the international MAI-Not internet newsgroup by participant Isabel Foot:
"Instead of labelling genetically modified food, how about labelling food which is not genetically modified? This approach could reduce the ability of the food monopolists to delay, delay implementation, while they continue to spread their dangerous technology, and frustrate the wishes of most of us to demonstrate our preference.
"This was suggested to me by a wise woman, who is not on the net.
"All the best - Isabel"
Remember "The Fly"?
There's a GM myth to the effect that genetic engineers are doing no more than farmers have done for centuries with crossbreeding.
In fact, nature ensures that only closely related species can crossbreed. Genetic engineering cuts across that natural caution. Once, the idea of implanting blowfly genes into a man was the stuff of science horror fiction (remember the film "The Fly"?). Who, back then, would have thought that less than two decades later companies would be implanting spider genes in goats, toad genes in potatoes, fish genes in strawberries, and ramming the products down our throats? Literally! It is even reported that scorpion genes have been introduced into the DNA of a virus for release in the UK as a pesticide (Paper on this technique by Professor Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario is available from Citizens' Voice on request).
Win for AFTINET
Public Inquiry into the WTO!
SUBMISSIONS from AFTINET and others to the Federal Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties have resulted in the decision of the committee to conduct a public inquiry into Australia's relationship with the WTO.
AFTINET is the Australian Fair Trade and Investment, to which STOP-MAI (WA) is affiliated. Its URL is http://www.eisa.net.au/~mevans/aftinet/ . Public submissions will be invited from the end of August. The inquiry will conduct public hearings and is expected to run until the end of the year.
The terms of reference will enable AFTINET organisations to voice many of their concerns and include:
- the transparency and accountability of WTO operations and decision-making,
- opportunities for community involvement in developing Australia's policy on the WTO,
- effectiveness of and access to WTO dispute settlement procedures,
- the relationship between WTO agreements and UN agreements on environment,
- human rights and labour standards,
- the extent to which social, cultural and environmental considerations influence WTO priorities and decision-making
- the extent to which the Australian community has benefited from participation in the WTO.
AFTINET can make a submission which can be circulated for endorsements. Member organisations should also make submissions if possible with emphasis on their particular areas of interest. This is a great opportunity to educate politicians and broaden the public and media debate about the WTO.
Public support for the WTO is exceedingly narrow in the UK and there appears no reason to believe it would be much different in Australia. In February this year the British Ecologist Magazine commissioned the MORI company to do an opinion poll of a representative sample of adults on trade and TNCs. The poll found overwhelming support for the right of governments to regulate trade and TNCs in the public interest.
The poll found that only 12% supported the principle advocated by the WTO of "national treatment" for TNCs which forbids governments from having policies which favour local companies over TNCs. Furthermore, 90% supported the right of national governments to regulate TNC conduct on the environment, employment conditions and human health standards, and 89% supported the right of governments to restrict the import of goods which may be damaging to human health.
ACTU gets tough on trade policy
THE ACTU has adopted a trade policy which is far more critical and broad-ranging than that of the Labor Party.
It notes the growth of international coalitions of unions, non-government organisations and progressive churches expressing widespread community discontent with international trade institutions, contributing to the defeat of the MAI in the OECD and the failure of the Seattle WTO meeting.
The policy re-asserts the importance of UN and ILO conventions on human rights and workers' rights in the context of the pressures of global economic competition. It supports the concept of fair trade which means changes to the current trade environment to enable progress for all countries in terms of employment growth, social protections, core labour standards, a sustainable environment and adherence to human rights and democratic values.
The ACTU supports restructuring of the WTO and other international trade and financial institutions to achieve these objectives. This would require full transparency and openness, involvement of representatives of civil society and the development of policies to ensure the reduction of developmental inequalities, improvement of the environment, and improvements in labour standards and gender imbalances.
Opposes restrictive treaties
The policy opposes treaties on investment like the MAI which remove government powers to regulate foreign investment . The policy also resolves to oppose any treaty on trade in services which restricts government funding of public services, removes regulation to restrict foreign ownership in telecommunications or financial institutions, or removes regulation which ensures Australian content in film and television.
The policy supports Tobin tax on international currency trading activity to inhibit speculative capital flows which can destabilise economies.
The policy also supports international campaigns to monitor and publicise the activities of transnational corporations like Rio Tinto, and proposals for regulation of corporations through national and international agreements and codes to ensure conformity to labour and environmental standards.
On tariffs, the policy supports a freeze on the current levels of Australian tariffs, which are already below the levels of Australia's major trading partners. The policy also states the ACTU "will monitor the developments in the debate on social tariffs and effective linkages between trade and social policies." The concept of social tariffs means tariffs on products from countries whose governments do not enforce basic human and labour rights and environment regulation.
Barrier Reef for sale?
The following is based on an article mailed to Citizens' Voice by MR TONY PITT, editor of the National Interest Newspaper in Maryborough, Queensland. Mr Pitt can be reached on 07 4122 1412, Mbl 0407 379 880, email email@example.com
There is a threat to do a debt-for-equity swap which would mean the Barrier Reef and/or the Daintree Tropical Rain Forest and/or Fraser Island would become the property of the lMF/World Bank.
Details are in a May 23 media statement by Queensland Senator Len Harris, and a copy can be obtained by contacting him on 07 3202 2300 or fax 07 3202 2199.
Senator Harris states: "These vast tracts of North Queensland are in the process of being officially valued by none other than the chairman of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, Tor Hundloe, in conjunction with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund"
1994 privatisation bid
In 1994 there was a conference held on Fraser Island to privatise our national parks (Source: Maryborough Chronicle 25/6/94). The excuse was that the private sector could fund park management provided there was a return on the investment.
Mr Pitt asks: Do you think they will leave the timber on Fraser Island uncut? Will they leave the mineral sands lie there? Will they ignore the oil reserves under the Reef?.. . . The Amazon forests didn't last long after the financiers got control of them.
Mr Pitt is urging all to check the facts and spread the warning.
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