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Issue No. 258 08 April 2005  

Be My Guest
Is anyone else confused about the current behaviour of our Prime Minister? In just a few short years heís transformed himself from National Door Bitch to Regional Street Spruiker.


Interview: [email protected]
Labor's Penny Wong has the job of getting more people into the workplace and keeping companies honest. In her spare time ....

Unions: State of the Union
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson unveils the annual survey of attitudes of workers to their jobs, thier lives and the union.

Industrial: Fashion Accessories
Jim Marr unpacks the unlikely claim of a suburban house to be considered the New Mecca of the New Right Ö

Legal: Leg Before Picket
Chris White looks at how the federal industrial changes will impact on the basic right to strike.

Politics: Business Welfare Brats
Neale Towart asks why the only form of legitmate welfare seems to be going to the top end of town.

Health: Cannabis Controversy
Zoe Reynolds looks at how drug and alcohol testing is leading to some addled outcomes.

Economics: Debt, Deficit, Downturn
As the indicators head south, Frank Stilwell wonders whether it is the way we do economics that is to blame.

History: Politics In The Pubs
Phil Doyle reports on the increasingly-popular Struggles, Scabs and Schooners day out.

Review: Three Bob's Worth
Doing their best Margaret and David, Tara de Boehmler and Tim Brunero have different takes on the new Australian flick Three Dollars.

Poetry: Do The Slowly Chokie
Workers Online bard David Peetz teaches how workers to dance to Howard's industrial laws.


 Cash Grab Targets Families

 Wattyl Lacks Colour

 Censors Ban Workers Online

 Stink Over Water

 Cole Slurs Slide

 Table Hands Stuffed

 Sweat Shop Taxes MLCís Patience

 Cops Strengthen Thin Blue Line

 Buses Drive Commuters Crazy

 Guards Win Rail War

 Building Families Pocket $15 Million

 Students Mark Lecturers

 Activistís Whatís On


The Soapbox
Notes From a Laneway
Mental Health Workers Alliance member Toby Raeburn shares a week on the frontline.

The Locker Room
War, Plus The Shooting
The Socceroos arenít their own worst enemy after all, or so says Phil Doyle

Life Imitates Art
The jokes have been around for some time about the economic rationalist's approach to the orchestra, writes Evan Jones.

The Westie Wing
Ian West takes the secret passage out of Macquarie Street to deliver his take on NSW Parliamentary Committees and other goings on.

 Out-of-sight, out-of-your-mind
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Be My Guest

Is anyone else confused about the current behaviour of our Prime Minister? In just a few short years heís transformed himself from National Door Bitch to Regional Street Spruiker.

There he is embracing the SBY - putting all that residual nastiness over East Timor to bed, salved no doubt by his generous contribution to Indonesia after the tsunami.

Here he is chatting amiably with the new Malaysian PM - nowhere near as recalcitrant as his predecessor, even if he stopped short of inviting him to his upcoming party.

As Paul Keating observed ruefully, the man who rode a populist wave by turning his back on Asia now appears to be discovering that we are part of the region.

And if the shift on neighbourly relations is startling, what of Howard's change of heart on asylum seekers, some of whom are even being let out from behind the razor wire - a position that Howard dismissed as being 'soft of terrorism' before his infamous Tampa poll victory?

What's going on? Has the man who turned xenophobia into a political art form discovered his caring side? Is he merely following the Bush doctrine Mk II of being nicer to those he has offended?

I think there's something deeper at play, something altogether more Australian - the noble art of covering one's own arse.

Because despite the economic indicators that are being pumped up by personal debt and unsustainable home prices, our economy is showing some signs of underlying weakness that is nobbling our long term growth prospects

The key is a shortfall in our labour supply - the result of a government that has given up on planning the economy or training the workforce in the mistaken belief that the market will get it right.

It hasn't because big business has been more interested in short term profits than long-term growth and now it needs a short-term fix.

The answer? Without a hint of irony, Howard is proposing the introduction of guest workers - a labour force who will be temporary residents with none of the rights of Australian citizens.

This guest worker base will inevitably be made up of workers from neighbouring nations, where even substandard wages and conditions would be considered attractive, nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, the same one's John Howard told us we shouldn't be a part of just a few years ago.

Others may be workers seeking employment in a freer society. Maybe they'll be the cousins of the poor unfortunates who were shipped off to Nauru rather than be given refuge within our borders.

Now the man who decides who comes into the county will decide a few more can - to get him out of the pickle he finds himself in.

The challenge for the labour movement will be to respond to guest workers in a manner which focuses on the real issue - the creation of a second class of worker that is neither good for the guest worker nor for the host.

Thanks to the Howard Government industrial 'reforms' these guest workers will be free to sign individual work contracts that will inevitably drive down wages and conditions for all workers.

The workers themselves will face an uncertain future, unable to establish any real ties in their new home and knowing they can be shipped back home at the government or their employer's whims.

As such, they are the Howard Government's ideal worker: disposable, invisible and highly unlikely to do anything as dangerous as joining a trade union.

More concerning still is the knowledge that where these arrangements have been implemented in other developed countries, they have led to a whole range of social problems, from racial ghettoes to resentment about the undercutting of wages by the guest workers.

These are the inevitable consequences of a policy based on the idea that living and working in a community is not sufficient to warrant citizenship - the ultimate in turning one worker against another.

At the end of the day, John Howard's treatment of asylum seekers and guest workers is entirely consistent - they are all pawns of political convenience - and no amount of photo-ops with foreign dignitaries will prove otherwise.

Peter Lewis



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