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Issue No. 215 02 April 2004  

Something Smells
There is something just a little too cute about the NSW government’s discovery of a budget crisis on the eve of public sector wage talks.


Interview: Terror Australis
The Howard Government has just discovered the nation's ports are a terrorist target. The International Transport Federation's Dean Summers has been warning them for years.

Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Hidden in the Australian Workers Union Sydney office is a mild-mannered industrial officer who once strutted the international cricket stage, writes Jim Marr.

Industrial: The Hell of Troy
On the basis of a couple of hours in the witness box, Building Industry Royal Commissioner Terence Cole described Troy Stratti as "credible". Six men who, together, have known the company director for the best part of 50 years beg to differ.

Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Traditional unions are rediscovering the power of grassroots organising. Paddy Gorman reports from the coal face.

Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
Evan Jones argues that economic policy making has been narrowed and rendered mechanistic and antiseptic.

History: Vicious Old Lady
Despite its Liberal leanings, the Sydney Morning Herald has never been shy of bashing unions, writes Neale Towart.

International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Thailand must end its crackdown on Burmese fleeing rights abuses in their military-ruled homeland, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Review: War Unfogged
Want to go to war but not sure where to start? Look no further than Errol Morris' latest doco-drama for the definitive 11-step lesson plan, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: TAFE
A TAFE student struggling under the weight of fees shares his wordly wisdom


 Gong Points Death Bone at Iemma

 Strip – Howard’s Order to Shoppies

 Workers Victory - We’re Legal!

 Compo Family Exiled to Peru

 Patrick Faces Million Dollar Fines

 Water Quality in Budget Back-Wash

 Feds Dodge Death

 Hard Men Melt Away

 Three Cheers for 36-Hour Week

 Dili Death "Down to Dollars"

 Builder Pleads Guilty

 Maternity Plan: Hard Labor?

 Life – Cambodia’s Grand Raffle

 Thumbs Up for Union Code

 Activists What’s On!


A Voice for Peace
Palestinian trade union leader calls on militants to lay down their arms while the ICFTU protests harassment of Palestinian union leader.

The Soapbox
The Double Standard Bearers
Nicholas Way argues that when it comes to collective action, the Howard Government has different views depending on whether you are a unionist or a small business.

The Locker Room
The Fine Print
While the result mightn’t be everything, it does make the back of the newspaper more interesting, as Phil Doyle reports.

The Westie Wing
Ian West crunches the numbers in Macquarie Street and finds virtue in deficit.

 War And Peace
 Getting Away With Murder
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Something Smells

There is something just a little too cute about the NSW government’s discovery of a budget crisis on the eve of public sector wage talks.

The Premier has been softening us up for a horror mini budget: the saturation TV adverts adding to the millions that he says the Grants Committee has stolen from us.

Strategic leaks have set the scene for new taxes, cuts to 'non-essential' resources and a renunciation of the government's long-term commitment to No Forced Redundancies - all in the name of this fiscal crisis.

In the crisis he will call on his loyal public servants to do the same job with less, working longer hours with fewer resources to serve a public that expects more and more from a system that operates on less and less.

And when the time comes for public sector pay negotiations to recompense for this extra pressure? Well, the fiscal crisis means the cupboard will be bare.

It is true that test cases by the nurses and teachers have placed extra pressure on Treasurer Michael Egan's most recent budget surplus.

It is true that the formula for allocating Commonwealth funds discriminates against Australia's most populous state.

But it is also true that the Carr Government has been reaping the windfall through stamp duty of one of the most sustained property booms in history.

The reality is that budget projections are exercises in soothsaying - they are based on a whole series of variables that change over time. Tweak a few levers and a deficit appears, tweak them back in 12 months and things will be rosy again. Governments do it all the time.

Is this too cynical? Would a Treasurer with a surplus fetish really go ton these lengths to keep the public sector wages bill down?

We would love to know what is really behind the need for a mini-budget, but no-one form Macquarie Street wants to talk.

Here are some of the questions we believe need to be answered before the min-budget if the government is serious about keeping tis faith with the union movement:

- what assumptions have changed to create the deficit - ie where has all the money gone?

- what percentage of total government income is the $365 million that the Grants Commission has taken from NSW?

- what impact will the shortfall have on the government's pay offer?

And a couple of supplementaries:

- Why is the NSW Government briefing its lawyers to oppose the union submission in the Secure Employment Test Case?

- Is it because the NSW Government is one of the largest employers of casual labour in the state?

- Does the 'budget crisis' mean that this spread of tenuous employment will continue to spread in the public sector as departments try to maintain service levels while meeting Treasury's labour freeze.

Until the government answers these questions and gives us a coherent picture of the state of the NSW economy, public sector workers are entitled to be cynical about this current crisis.

Peter Lewis



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