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Issue No. 263 13 May 2005  

A Fistful of Dollars
And so the great political debate of our time has become who gets the money and how quickly they can pocket it – the Howard Government’s latest application of the base art of wedge politics.


Interview: Fortress NSW
NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca on how to win the battle for workers rights - and save the state system.

Unions: Fashions Afield
With new anti-sweatshop creations being paraded at this year's Australian Fashion Week, is equity the new black and are sweatshops the new fur? asks Tara de Boehmler.

Industrial: Pay Dirt
John Burgess argues that the flow-on effect from changing the minimum wage could be more than we bargained for.

Politics: Infrastructure Blues
With much attention given belatedly to the shortage of infrastructure, little attention has been given to the structure of infrastructure, writes Evan Jones

History: Big Day Out
Neale Towart looks back on the events that created the May Day heritage.

International: Making History
Hundreds of aid organisations, charities, trade unions and religious groups have formed a global alliance called “ Make Poverty History”.

Economics: The Fear Factor
The solution to skill shortages is intelligent planning, argues John Spoehr

Review: The Robots Revolt
New kids flick Robot uses our electronic friends to teach audiences that inbuilt obsolescence is just a state of mind, writes Tara de Boehmler

Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The idea of a corporations power that could cure any ill has inspired our resident bard, David Peetz, to verse.


 Bikies Needle Heroines

 Bosses Play China Card

 Giant Collapses on Ankle

 NAB Cuts More Than Jobs

 Left Footers Kick Back

 Oh Brother, Tim Plays House

 WA on the Block

 Patrick Fails to Hide Asbestos

 Budget Hits Civil Rights

 Combet Launches Shark Attack

 Childcare Wage Grows Up

 US To Drain More Aussie Brains

 Dictators Beg Eric To Stop


The Soapbox
May Spray
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson delivered the annual May Day Toast - and warned it is no time to be comfortable and relaxed.

The Locker Room
A Rucking Good Time
Phil Doyle reveals many things, some of them useful

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, is back to regale us with inside goss and intrigue from the Bearpit.

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A Fistful of Dollars

And so the great political debate of our time has become who gets the money and how quickly they can pocket it – the Howard Government’s latest application of the base art of wedge politics.

After the Treasurer's dream budget and Labor's muddle-headed response we have the depressing prospect of a prolonged battle over tax cuts as a low-rent substitute for genuine economic debate.

Yes, the economy is going well; yes there is a healthy surplus, and both Liberal and the former Labor governments can take some credit; and, yes, we will all take a tax cut if it is on offer.

But there's something missing in this budget; and it's something that has been missing from our political debate for some time - an economic plan.

A plan to deal with a health system fraying at the edges, that can not deal with the demands at present, let alone the rising pressures of an aging population.

A plan for more money for schools so that all young Australians have a chance in life and alleviate the skills crisis.

And a plan for the great national building projects that would give our economy the ability to break the tyranny of distance; a plan to support the manufacturing industries that would allow us to be more than an extractive economy.

There's no plan in this budget; just a fistful of dollars - targeted at middle and high income earners over the battlers; and the promise of industrial relations reforms that will make their wages and conditions all the more tenuous in the months to come.

To his credit, Kim Beazley made some of these points in his budget reply - but it all got drowned out when he was coaxed into Costello's tax cut corner.

A regular finding of our polling of working people is that money isn't everything - if they had the choice of better conditions, more interesting work, greater respect over a pay rise, they'd take the intangibles.

But - and here is the sting in the tail that Howard and Costello are tapping into - absent any faith that these things will be forthcoming, they'll take the dollars.

By destroying faith in the political system, the Howard Government has succeeded in making personal recompense the only test of government.

It has been the Howard approach for the past nine years - deliver personal dollars to targeted groups, rather than supporting broader initiatives that deliver more, though less tangibly, for all.

It is depressing, it is draining of the spirit and it represents a fundamental challenge to progressive parties, whose whole agenda relies on a public striving for better.

But we have to accept this is where we are at right now and the question is where can Labor take it from here?

Kim Beazley is right to expose the tax cuts as being skewed to the haves over the have-nots, but he is wrong to make it his battleground.

The debate around economics should not be about who can manage the economy - any half competent government can do that.

It should be about who the economy is delivering for - and this entails more than just reeling off the indicators, saying the word 'economy' three times a day and expecting that this will position you as the better manager.

In this frame it is Howard who gets wedged - because he is managing the economy for the top end of town - look at the growing gap between wage and profit share; look at the largesse the managers extract from the system; look at the looming attacks on rights of working people.

There is a story to be written by the ALP, but it requires the courage to move off the government's playing field - let the tax cuts through, but explain why they are a short-term fix and a squandering of the hard yards of economic reform.

And start doing it now; because when John Howard controls the Senate it will only be the skill of the Opposition's politics that will have any impact on the shape of policy over the next three years. If the past week is anything to go by, we should be very, very afraid.

Peter Lewis



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