‘It’s a devastating area’: how Melbourne lost its last refuge for the vulnerable

In the city’s western suburbs, lines of rough sleepers and the hidden homeless wait to be linked with housing support

The western suburbs were once Melbourne’s last bastion of affordability. A refuge for the city’s vulnerable, where the unemployed and lowest-paid could still put a roof over their head.

Now, each morning, lines of rough sleepers and the hidden homeless spill out the doors of local access centres, waiting to be triaged and linked with housing support.

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‘It’s torturing us’: refugee family split between Sydney and Nauru desperate to reunite

A Hazara family is divided three ways, with no chance in sight of being together

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“At the beginning they said we’ll transfer you to Darwin and if your treatment takes longer, we’ll bring all your children,” says Nasreen. “But they lied, and when I realised they lied I was crying and screaming.”

Nasreen sits in a beige recliner at the edge of her tidy kitchen in Sydney. Her small body is covered with a blanket, her face framed with a scarf. She cries, covering her face with her hands, as she recalls fleeing Afghanistan with her children to follow her husband to Australia, ending up in Nauru and then Sydney – separated from a son and a daughter.

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Generation Y keeping up on income but fewer able to afford a home

Report finds declining rates of home ownership among young and higher overall debt

Australians in their late 20s have experienced world-beating income growth but fallen behind on wealth as older generations amass massive property and superannuation wealth.

Those are the findings of a study of economic inequality by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, released on Friday.

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Josh Frydenberg makes last-minute pitch to states to back Neg

Energy minister urges support as deputy PM says he won’t support ‘unrealistic targets’ on emissions in transport sector

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The federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg has urged his state and territory counterparts to get behind the national energy guarantee as one of his cabinet colleagues has publicly dismissed the need to curb emissions in the transport sector.

With states and territories set to push the Neg through to the next stage of detailed work when energy ministers meet on Friday, the Nationals leader and transport minister Michael McCormack complicated the issue by declaring he would not support “unrealistic [emissions reduction] targets that are going to force people off the roads”.

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Redirect funds from failed ‘clean coal’ project, environmentalists say

Campaigners say $90m should be used instead to help Latrobe Valley transition away from brown coal

A $90m fund set aside for failed “clean coal” projects in the Latrobe Valley should be spent on helping the region transition away from reliance on coal, Environment Victoria has said.

The Victorian government said this week that the Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program (ALDP) would be shut down after its third and final project to find a low-emissions use for the valley’s enormous brown coal store was declared unsuccessful.

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Google’s Grasshopper app teaches you how to code

Google's incubator for employees' "20 percent time" side projects, Area 120, typically produces fun things like an app to make YouTube more social and expanding Smart Replies. Now the workshop has released an app to help beginners learn to code in Ja…

Activist With ALS Spearheads Campaign to Punish Lawmakers Who Voted for Tax Law

Democratic activist Ady Barkan made national headlines late last year when he confronted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on an airplane about his support for the GOP tax bill. Building on that momentum, Barkan this month launched a “Be a Hero” campaign to target lawmakers who voted for the tax law.

The phrase “Be a Hero” refers to Barkan’s exchange with Flake last year. “You can be an American hero. You really could — if the votes match the speech,” Barkan told Flake, who later went on to join almost every Republican in Congress in voting for the tax law.

The campaign will involve using digital persuasion ads and get-out-the-vote efforts to vote out incumbents who supported the tax law. Barkan and his team are still developing their strategy, but they plan to focus on congressional races in eight districts around the country. They will be campaigning in Arizona, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Barkan was in Arizona this week to kick off the campaign, conducting a test run in the 8th Congressional District, where there will be a special election on April 24 to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in December, a few weeks before the tax bill was passed.

The Republican in that race, Debbie Lesko, obviously did not vote for the tax law as she did not serve in Congress at the time, but she does support it. “[President Donald Trump] cut taxes, which boosted the economy, helped businesses, helped individuals keep more money in their pocket, and also a lot of these businesses are now giving their employees raises and bonuses,” she said in a recent debate on an Arizona news channel.

Barkan spoke to The Intercept in the middle of a day canvassing under the Arizona sun. He explained that “Be a Hero” will focus on stories and narratives, not fact sheets and figures.

“I’m a policy wonk. I’m a lawyer and that’s how I began to approach my career in progressive politics. But the truth is that people make decisions based on narratives and stories … because that’s what sticks with us and not dry statistics or white papers,” he said. “We’re trying to use my story and the stories of other people to highlight how this tax bill harms working- and middle-class families who need health care and need some more money in their pocket at the end of the month for the benefit of the millionaires and billionaires who funded Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump’s campaign.”

Barkan was referencing the fact that he has Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, which makes the new law’s ramifications personal. Within the span of a few years, he will be paralyzed and need to rely on technology to communicate with eye movements. Until then, he’ll need a ventilator to breathe, a food tube, and nursing care. All of that requires the federal government’s disability program, which some fear might be slashed as a result of increasing deficits under the new tax bill. Indeed, Office of Management and Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney has said that he could do just that. In an interview he gave last year, Mulvaney singled out the Social Security Disability Insurance program for criticism, saying that “it grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program, and we want to try and fix that.”

Winnie Wong, a Bernie Sanders campaign alum who is serving as a principal in the project, told The Intercept that Barkan wants to focus his remaining energy on organizing against the tax law. “He’s insisting on nonstop, in-your-face organizing,” she said. “There’s no going back to the old Ady. It’s just a matter of how much he can do between now and November, which we think is a lot.”

Wong, who teamed up with Barkan during a series of protests during which they were both arrested in Washington, D.C., last year, plans to accompany him to a number of districts where there are expected to be competitive elections this year.

Liz Jaff, a progressive consultant who filmed the initial exchange between Barkan and Flake, is also a principal on the project. She said she was amazed by the civil but firm dialogue between the senator and Barkan, and she wanted to keep working with him against the tax law.

“I’ve never really seen somebody talk to a senator that way, where it wasn’t angry, it wasn’t offensive, but it was very honest, and he didn’t back down,” she said. “Normally people will say, ‘Why are you voting for this tax bill?’ He’ll give a little political answer and you’ll go, ‘Oh, OK, fine, thanks.’ Or you’ll see people saying, ‘Go to hell’ or getting very angry. And Ady is like, ‘I’m dying and this is how it’s going to impact me.’”

Jaff believes that Barkan’s human story moved people during the tax bill debate and can continue to move people now.

“To be honest, something that’s really been lacking is … humanizing what the tax law really meant because it’s so obtuse for many people,” she said. She noted that after the video featuring Flake and Barkan was published, a number of self-identified Republicans reached out and told her they now agreed with her about the legislation’s flaws.

By choosing to travel the country for activism despite his illness, Barkan is hoping to encourage others to follow suit.

“I’m trying to show people that making sacrifices on behalf of what you believe in can be a joyous and fulfilling and liberating experience,” he said. “It’s much more fun to go out in the streets and go canvassing door to door than it is to sit on your sofa and watch TV. And you’ll find it much more fulfilling, and so I want to encourage everybody to join me in the streets this year.”

Top photo: Ady Barkan, center, who lives with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, delivers remarks during a rally organized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 19, 2017.

The post Activist With ALS Spearheads Campaign to Punish Lawmakers Who Voted for Tax Law appeared first on The Intercept.