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Vol. 75/No. 8      February 28, 2011

Australia cyclone hits
workers, farmers hard
SYDNEY, Australia—Cyclone Yasi, the most powerful cyclone to hit the north Queensland coast of Australia in living memory, has devastated working people there and beyond, leaving many homeless and without jobs.

The cyclone was the latest in a series of torrential rains that have hit eastern Australia since September, bringing massive damage to roads, rail, public utility infrastructure, and housing, along with the loss of farm, mining, and other production, as well as lost tourism revenue.

Labor prime minister Julia Gillard is proposing to fund reconstruction with A$3.8 billion in federal spending cuts and with a new tax, a "flood levy," on those earning more than A$50,000 annually. The minimum wage here is just under A$30,000. The Australian dollar is roughly equal to the U.S. dollar.

Cyclone Yasi hit after major flooding in Brisbane in mid-January, and after a deadly flash flood swept through Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane January 10. More than 80 towns in Queensland and almost 80 in Victoria are reported to have been affected by the floods in recent months. An "inland sea" some 56 miles long and 25 miles wide has formed near Swan Hill, a town in north Victoria.

The flood waters that have covered vast swathes of farmland across eastern Australia come after 10 years of drought, with many family farmers already facing ruin. As much as 60 percent of Australia's projected 28 million-ton wheat crop could be reduced to feed quality.

In the cyclone-hit town of Tully in north Queensland hundreds of banana farm workers have lost their jobs as well as their houses. The Australian reported that Harbinder and Rabinder Singh and their five-month-old son now share a two-bedroom home with nine other families. After two weeks of cleanup work they face the prospect of no work on the banana farms for 10 months.

The sugar mill in the town, which employs 200 workers, also suffered millions of dollars of damage.

Towns like Tully along the coast were left without power, water, and sewage systems. It is expected to take weeks or even months to restore services to thousands of houses.

At the center of the capitalists' concern is the impact of the flooding on Queensland open-cut coal mines. By mid-January some 50 of the 57 coal mines in the state were affected by the floods—either inundated or hit by damage to the road and rail networks. About 30 million tons of production have been lost. Cyclone Yasi shut the coal ports for up to a week.

The export of coal, iron, and other minerals, primarily to China, Japan, and South Korea, has buffered Australia's capitalists from the worst of the global financial crisis of recent years. Queensland's coal mines alone produce about 10 percent of Australia's exports.

Miners union spokesperson Jim Valery reported that many “casual workers” have been unable to find work with most mines not at full production. The “safety of the workers has to remain the highest priority," he warned, before operators “kick into production.”  
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