‘Gagging Bill’ passed by House of Lords

The Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill Act became law last week in a series of nail-bitingly close votes in the UK Parliament- in one case, a tie had to be broken with the Speaker voting with the Government. The controversial legislation, purportedly devised to restrict corporate influence on politicians, was condemned by charities, trade unions and pressure groups due to the tough restrictions imposed on “campaigning” activities before a General Election. The law now requires that any organisation spending more than £20,000 on any “political” campaigning- a very broad term indeed- will have to submit accounts to the Electoral Commission and remain within tight spending caps.

Keystone XL pipeline has no “significant” environmental impact

In a blow to green campaigners, the US State Department’s review of the environmental impacts of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline has found that it will have little effect on pollution or climate change. The report said that the controversial pipeline- which would carry oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta for processing in Texas- would not affect the rate of extraction of crude oil from the tar sands. However, it did recognise that tar sand extraction was one of the most carbon-intensive sources of the fuel. Review, or no review, over 80,000 Americans have pledged to take part in “civil disobedience” to block the project.

West Australia fights against “catch and kill” shark policy

On average, fewer than 6 people a year die from shark attacks around the world. That may be too many, but it is half the number that are killed by vending machines, and millionths of the figure caused by smoking. Such is the claim of protesters in West Australia, who have gathered in large beach protests against the state government’s “catch and kill” policy on sharks found within one mile of its coast. The policy was implemented in response to a fatal shark attack last year. So far, authorities are unmoved by heated demonstrations attended by thousands of West Australians.

Fifa demands update in Qatar labour conditions

The world football authorities increased pressure on the 2022 World Cup host nation, Qatar, as it gave the country two weeks to report on “specific steps” it had taken to improve the poor living and working conditions of migrant labourers on stadia that were uncovered in November. Qatar has a long track record of treating migrants from across south Asia badly, with few rights at work and blisteringly low levels of pay. The International Trade Union Confederation warned that 4,000 workers could die in the country if massive improvements were not made to the working conditions imposed on them by the oil-rich country.

Fiji bans officials from accepting cash gifts

In a measure welcomed by many as long overdue, Fiji’s civil service has informed its employees that they cannot accept monetary gifts from anyone, in their capacity as state employees. The Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Commission said “These are areas where it can compromise our positions and as such across the board, civil servants across the board are not to receive monetary gifts.” He added that officials were generously paid by international standards and so had no need to accept money other than their wages. In common with many Pacific island states, Fiji has had issues with public corruption in the past.

Court rules that transgender student did suffer discrimination

The supreme court of the New England US state of Maine has ruled that a 16-year-old transgender girl was the subject of discrimination when her school instructed her to use staff toilets rather than girls’ toilets at the school. The judgment was welcomed by transgender rights campaigners, who said that this represented a landmark in their campaign for legal equality. It was also welcomed by students of the school, who “stood up and cheered” upon learning of the ruling, according to the Guardian newspaper.