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Issue No. 201 31 October 2003  
E D I T O R I A L

Criminal Logic
It has taken the tragic death of 16-year-old Joel Exner to focus public opinion on laws that allow an employer guilty of killing a worker to get off paying a measly $1800.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Rugby League Professionals Association president Tony Butterfield on his battle to deliver a collective agreement for NRL players.

Unions: National Focus
In this month’s national wrap: Noel Hester meets a heavy hitter talking up open source unionism, truckies front the suits at Boral’s AGM, tales of corporate bastardry and Medicare birthday revelry.

Industrial: Fools Gold
Unions have thrashed out a string of protocols with the NSW Labor Government. Some, now, are questioning whether they are worth the cheap, imported paper they are written on, reports Jim Marr.

Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
Byron Bay chicken boners have nominated thier boss for a Tony after seeing their entitlements plucked.

History: The Gong Show
In late September the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) celebrated 75 unbroken years championing the rights of workers in the coastal Illawarra region 80 kilometres south of Sydney, writes Rowan Cahill.

Politics: The Hawke Legacy
The election of the Hawke Labor government twenty years ago holds some salient lessons for today’s Labor Party, writes Troy Bramston.

International: Sick Nation
As Australia celebrates 20 years of Medicare’s universal health coverage the crisis facing American workers in need of medical care is a useful reminder of what we’ve got – and what we stand, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Closed Minds
Philip Mendes looks at the political influence of right-wing think tanks, their financial backing and asks why the left hasn’t been able to get its ideas out there.

Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
He's had relations, with girls from many nations... but Billy Bragg seems to like us Aussies as much or even more than any of the others, writes Pádraig Collins.

Poetry: One Size Fits All
There once was a man from the Lodge - Who tried hard, our poems, to dodge... Resident bard David Peetz is back!

N E W S

 It's Official - Life Worth $1800

 Bank Fesses-Up on Robbery

 Corrigan Straddles Robot

 Striking Guards Beat Chubb

 Killer Company Cuts And Runs

 Call Centre Loses Its Sensis

 Greens Set to Bowl Workers’ Homes

 The RSL With No Beer

 Law Rewritten To Get Workers’ Cash

 Pressures Lead To Truckie Deaths

 Soup Kitchen Signals Bleak Future For TAFE

 Art For Workers Sake

 Carr Sweeps Cleaners Off Their Feet

 Activists Notebook

C O L U M N S

Postcard
North By Northwest
Phil Doyle returns from up north, where he survived on nothing but goodwill, good people and a great big orange bus.

The Soapbox
The $140 Million Patriot
It would be hard to imagine a steeper slide from hero to zero than the experience of Richard Grasso, the now-deposed head of the New York Stock Exchange. writes Jim Stanford.

Media
Bush's Bad News Blues
The Bush Administration is cooking up a new campaign 'to shine light on progress made in Iraq', writes Bill Berkowitz.

The Locker Room
A Tale Of One City
Phil Doyle gazes into the crystal ball for signs of life, and finds that somewhere the horses are running in the wrong direction.

Culture
With Banners Furled
There is no better account of the glory that was the annual Labour Day marches than that given by Kylie Tennant in Foveaux, her fictional account of life in inner Sydney in 1912, the year she was born.

Politics
The Westie Wing
Our favourite Macquarie Street MP, Ian West MLC, reports on the world of NSW politics.

Postcard
The Cancun Wash-Up
The dramatic collapse of the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last month has been followed by a deafening quiet from Geneva, Brussels and Washington, writes Peter Murphy.

L E T T E R S
 Child Labor
 Industrial Manslaughter
 The Miracle Of Tom
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

Criminal Logic


It has taken the tragic death of 16-year-old Joel Exner to focus public opinion on laws that allow an employer guilty of killing a worker to get off paying a measly $1800.

That's right $1800: the amount the employer responsible for the death of another teenager, Dean McGoldrick, three years ago, has paid for sending him to his death.

That figure has exposed the problems in the current law - a system of fines that allows individuals to hide behind a corporations law that allows companies to dodge their debt by liquidating and rising like a Phoenix to continue business as usual.

It has also exposed a judiciary that sees nothing wrong with locking up drink-drivers who kill, but draws the line at company executives with QCs who say sorry.

And it has exposed a state bureaucracy in WorkCover that exhibits all the finesse, forethought and follow-through of a subbie who sends a teenager onto a roof without a harness.

In short it has exposed a vicious cycle of employers who cut corners, courts that see this as acceptable and government that is not prepared to take on the Top End of Town.

While 10,000 building workers have made a noise about this pathetic state of affairs outside NSW Parliament this week, the response from inside the gates has been a deafening silence.

The Minister for Industrial Relations (now, ironically, known as 'Commerce') has taken the Sir Humphrey option and ordered a number of reviews of the system, while the Premier has ruled out legislating to make industrial manslaughter a crime. As for the Opposition, what Opposition?

The resistance of the Carr Government to the simple proposition that employers must take personal responsibility for workplace deaths is bewildering, particularly when compared with its hairy-chested rhetoric on most other aspects of the criminal code.

There is no way you can legislate against genuine accidents but you can - and should - put in place penalties for conscious acts and omissions that lead to a person's death.

The Premier's argument that there is already a crime of manslaughter in the criminal code is disingenuous - police will attest to the fact that without a special crime that links criminal sanctions to the management of workers, there is no prospect of a successful employer prosecution.

Moreover, Bob Carr knows better than anyone else that the deterrent value of specific crimes and their vigorous enforcement do lead to behaviour change To use his own words, that's what 'zero tolerance' and 'carefully crafted laws' are designed to achieve.

Special laws on gangs, knifes, guns, sexual assault are all heralded from the rooftops, but when it comes to addressing behaviour that leads to a fatality every single week, this Law and Order Administration seems to have run out of steam.

There have been attempts to bring in similar laws in the past, the Victorian Upper House blocked such a package in the Bracks Goverment's first term, while the ACT Legislative Assembly is currently considering a similar proposition.

But to date they have all fallen over, because of a lack of political will, and the shrill influence of the business lobby.

Until politicians are prepared to apply the same laws to businessmen and company directors that they apply to teenage gangs, the carnage will continue, along with the feeling among many workers that there is no one in politics taking a stand on their behalf.

Because to argue that there should not be criminal sanctions for workplace deaths is to argue that workers are somehow worth less than other people. And that's an offensive argument, as offensive as $1800 for a life.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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