Between October 28-30, 2011, politicians and businesspeople from 54 Commonwealth nations will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at the Perth Convention Centre. The recently formed CHOGM Action Network (CAN) is calling for a peaceful protest march on CHOGM on the morning of October 28, the Queen’s Birthday public holiday.
According to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s website, the Commonwealth is “a voluntary association of 54 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development”. The Commonwealth “believes that the best democracies are achieved through partnerships – of governments, business, and civil society.”
But the reality could not be more different. The most powerful Commonwealth nation – Britain – is cutting education, health and pensions at home, while pursuing wars abroad. Today nearly 10,000 British occupation troops are stationed in Afghanistan and, since March 19, British bombers have pounded Libya with Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of $1 million each).
Britain’s Commonwealth allies, Australia and Canada, are also key partners of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, with Australia contributing 1500 and Canada nearly 3000 troops. The Australian government, while preparing to slash spending on health, welfare and education in the May budget, boosted military spending to $25.7 billion this year ($70 million per day).
CHOGM has, since its inception in 1971, and especially since the formation of the Commonwealth Business Council in 1997, pursued a corporate free trade agenda. Commonwealth nations make up 40 percent of countries locked into the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), the current trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). With developing nations forced to follow the dictates of the WTO and International Monetary Fund (IMF), farmers, workers and the poor are denied access to essentials such as seed and medicine by the patents of rich and powerful corporations. And speculation on food prices, since the global financial crisis, is leaving millions hungry.
While Australia, Canada and Britain’s combined gross domestic product of $4.4 trillion accounts for more than 40 percent of the Commonwealth’s combined GDP, most of the Commonwealth’s 2 billion peoples live in poverty. According to World Bank data, 427 million people in India, and 80 million people in Bangladesh, live on less that US$1.25 a day. In the Commonwealth’s newest member states poverty rates are even higher: 74.7% of Mozambicans, and 76.6% of Rwandans, live on less than US$1.25 a day.
While the Commonwealth’s biggest per capita polluter – Australia – avoids real action on climate change, the Commonwealth’s Pacific island nation states, Kiribati and Nauru, and millions in flood-prone Bangladesh, face devastation from rising sea levels.
The Commonwealth Business Forum, to be held in Perth leading up to CHOGM, will be a fair for Australia’s biggest mining companies – BHP Billiton and ERA – to push the export of uranium on developing countries, even after the disaster of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown.
Meanwhile, the Australian government remains committed to its policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers, fleeing conflicts the Australian government has contributed to, such as the war in Afghanistan. And Australia’s indigenous peoples continue to be denied justice.
Today, 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, indigenous Australians – while only 2 percent of the population – make up 25 percent of the nation’s prison population. Aboriginal elders have to date been denied any opportunity to address CHOGM on the issues of indigenous incarceration, land rights and compensation for the stolen generation.
Here in Western Australia, the state government is using CHOGM as a pretext to attack civil liberties. Draconian measures will give police powers to search people indiscriminately and read or view personal information on any device that members of the public may be carrying. WA Police Minister Rob Johnson has announced measures that will force homeless people to vacate the Perth CBD during CHOGM. When questioned, Johnson told state parliament, “Well, they would have to sleep somewhere else for the night, won’t they? I’ll give them a tent and a cushion – what a stupid question.”
The peoples of the Commonwealth deserve better.
Join the United March on CHOGM: another world is possible!9am Friday October 28 2011, Forrest Place, Perth
For more info, visit www.chogmprotest.org