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Issue No. 210 27 February 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

Rock Of Ages
The Howard Government’s response to Australia’s aging population - to make them work longer and harder – is a small minded response to a mind-blowing problem, a perversion of the discipline of demography.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Trading in Principle
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, a key figure in the Labor movement, discusses the big issues - from Mark Latham to Pavlov’s Dogs.

Unions: While We Were Away
While Workers Online was washing sand from between its toes and enjoying an Indian summer at the cricket, there was a reality show chugging relentlessly away in the background, Jim Marr reports.

Politics: Follow the Leader
Worker’s Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALP’s Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
The CFMEU has come up with a killer nomination to kick off our 2004 hunt for Australia’s worst employer.

Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
British academic, Kevin Doogan, sets the record straight on casualisation and warns unionists about the dangers of scoring an own goal

History: Worker Control Harco Style
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys ask if it's worth rememberinng the 1971 Harco work-in.

Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
The 1998 maritime dispute threatened to tear many a family apart but Katherine Thomson's Harbour tells the tale of at least one that it brought back together - albeit reluctantly, writes Tara de Boehmler.

N E W S

 Siren Sounds on Asbestos "Scam"

 Youngsters Taken For A Ride

 Costello Necks Young and Old

 CFMEU Backs Redfern Jobs

 Della to Save Christmas?

 Time for Global Zone Out

 Equant's Pyramid Jobs Scheme

 Unions at Unis

 A Bridge Too Far

 Men Score Mat Leave

 Strikes Rock TAFE, Unis

 Health Maters To The Barricades

 Prison Officers Strike Back

 Activists Notebook

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Dog Whistlers, Spin Doctor and Us
John Menadue argues the "better angels" of the Australian character are having their wings ripped off by an ever-expanding group dedicating to keeping the public at arms length from our decision-makers.

Postcard
Something Fishy In Laos
Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Sport
Magic Realism
Phil Doyle discovers that literature and sport may have more in common than you would think

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Trickle, flood or drought? Workers friend Ian West, MLC, is wet, wet, wet on the issue of bilateral Free Trade.

L E T T E R S
 We Make Mistakes
 Taking The Piss
 Dear Mark
 Tom Goes Off I
 Tom Goes Off II
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

Rock Of Ages


The Howard Government’s response to Australia’s aging population - to make them work longer and harder – is a small minded response to a mind-blowing problem, a perversion of the discipline of demography.

Faced with an issue two generations in the making - the size and longevity of our Baby Boomer population base - the government has offered us nothing more than a quick fix, a means of shifting the aging population into a different column on the national balance sheet.

There is no argument that the superannuation system - the enduring legacy of the Accord years - is a national asset that should be freed up to maximise its utility to those who contribute during their working lives.

But allowing people to access their super while still working is nothing more than a tool to soften the impact of this demographic shift, not a solution in itself.

That requires real vision, such as shown in the rejected and recently released Cabinet paper prepared by the government's own inter-generational task force - a document that tried to grasp the reasons Australia population was not replenishing itself.

The reason it hit the dust bin was that it recognised that to expand our population base, we need to make it easier to have families - things like paid maternity leave, child care and reasonable working hours.

The Howard Government regards these types of measures as anathema - intervention in the labour market, the sort of system those pesky unions promote and which, in the Holy Grail of conservative thought stifles 'flexibility' and managerial prerogative.

Howard is blinded by his own small view of the world: these are not work issues, but life issues and the stress and demands, including the unpaid overtime we are all expected to work in the course of holding down an average job, all feed into our declining birth rate.

In this deregulated, casual, contract driven world of work, who has time for a relationship, let alone a family? It is not about linking work and family. It is about recognising they are intertwined.

And so Protestant work ethic becomes the only solution to the fact that fewer of us can pursue the Catholic family ethic.

Of course, the other solution is increased immigration, but the deep-seated racial insecurity that the PM tapped so cynically at the last election precludes him from going down this alternate path.

So we are left with this tinkering of superannuation laws, wrapped up as a vision - a vision that will not even tackle the real super issues of adequacy of contribution, taxability of retirement income and the exorbitant creaming that most funds indulge in through fees and charges.

While the PM will bang on about respecting older people and tapping into their wisdom (code for the claims of one older Australian, perchance?) one wonders to what degree the message 'keep working' will resonate with those who have put in for 40 years and reckon they've earned a breather.

As the old jingle went, if the Answer is Liberal, then it must be a stupid bloody question.

Peter Lewis


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