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Issue No. 267 10 June 2005  

Rivers of Gold
The latest catchphrase from the econmentariat seems to be ‘infrastructure’ – which I think refers to what we used to know as ‘public works’.


Interview: The Baby Drought
Social ethicist Leslie Cannold has delved into why women - and men - are having fewer children. And it all comes back to the workplace.

Industrial: Lies, AWAs and Statistics
David Peetz uncovers the truth behind the latest statistics on earnings under Australian Workplace Agreements.

Workplace: The Invisible Parents
Current government policies about work and family do not reflect the realities of either family life or the modern workplace. writes Don Edgar.

History: Bruce’s Big Blunder
The Big Fella, Jack Lang, gives an eyewitness account of the last time Conservatives tried to dismantle Australia’s industrial relations system.

Politics: All God's Children
The battle for morality is not confined to Australian polittics. Michael Walzer writes on the American perspective

Economics: Spun Out
The business groups are feeling cocky. The feds have announced their IR changes, business says they don't go far enough. What a surprise, writes Neale Towart

International: Shakey Trials
Lyndy McIntyre argues the New Zealnd IR experiment provides warnings - and hope - for the Australian union movement.

Legal: Civil Distrubance
Tom Roberts argues that there is more at stake than an attack on building workers in the looming legsilation.

Review: Crash Course In Racism
Paul Haggis flick Crash suggests that when cars collide the extent of people's prejudices are revealed sans the usual veil of political correctness, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: You're Fired
New laws will leave bosses holding the whip and workers with a Raw Hide, writes resident bard David Peetz


 Feds Wrong on Minimum Wage

 Dogs in Sheep’s Clothing

 Andrews Faces Probe

 NSW Packs IR Scrum

 China Syndrome

 Pirates Of The Canberrean

 Foxtel Scores Own Goal

 Killer Bosses on Notice

 Apprentices Spitting Chips

 Howard Chokes Working Women

 Vice Regal Notes

 Survey – Do it Now or Else

 Greens Join Fight

 Workers win repreive

 Activists Whats On!


The Locker Room
Ashes to Dust
In which Phil Doyle travels to distant lands in search of a meat pie, and prepares for the joys of sleep deprivation

The Westie Wing
Ian West lists the Top Ten reasons why workers in NSW can gain some solace from having the Labor Party sitting on the Treasury benches…

The Soapbox
Dear John
In response to this year’s Federal Budget, Bishop Kevin Manning wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard

 Secure Advice
 All The Way With The USA
 Expensive Door Charge
 Teen Years in Detention
 Court Cases are Media’s Drug
 Lang Is Right
 Legalising Unfairness
 Hertz Meenz Hurtz
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Rivers of Gold

The latest catchphrase from the econmentariat seems to be ‘infrastructure’ – which I think refers to what we used to know as ‘public works’.

That was the term we used when we elected governments to build us things - roads, railways, schools and hospitals, power grids, sewage and water - when we entrusted our tax dollars to leaders who would pool them for our common good.

Then the economists convinced us that 'public' and 'works' had become a contradiction in terms, that the real role of government was to reduce debt and balance their budgets, year after year after year.

Then these chooks came home to roost and things stopped working because governments had been too scared to invest in the future.

And those same snake oil salesman who'd convinced them to stop spending came back with a deal they could not refuse - let us do the spending for you!

This is the logic behind the solution to our 'infrastructure' crisis - the use of private capital to build, own and operate what were once public assets - in return for legally guaranteed dividends over many decades.

Officially, they are know as 'Public Private Partnerships' - the private sector raises capital to fund public projects to derive a profit: not exactly a licence to print money, but something very close.

The advent of PPPs has seen a seismic shift in politics - particularly at a state level.

At one time public works had become a beauty contest, where a whole range of worthy projects competed for limited public funds. Now governments have a different challenge, to choose which of a seemingly limitless series of proposals should be given the green light.

There are some clear attractions to PPPs within the current constraints of economic thinking, not least the ability to get on with much needed projects - now. But there are also questions.

First, what inducements and/or shortcuts are included to make a PPP attractive to the private sector?

The obvious sweetener is the decision to charge the public to use services that used to be free.

But there are more subtle inducements at play too.

Freeway contracts negotiated by the former Greiner Government, for example, included guarantees that competing public transport corridors would NEVER be built.

Secondly, there is the sneaking suspicion that the only business case for these PPPs is the ability of the government to commission work by low paid contract labour, rather than workers on public sector wages and conditions.

If, this argument goes, the only way to make a PPP profitable is by either charging the public more or cutting workers' wages, is there an overall public benefit from the exercise?

It is these concerns that are behind two of the really substantial policy debates at this weekend's ALP State Conference: the review of PPPs and a call for Labor Governments to demand firms tendering for contracts to offer their workers collective agreements.

This is the new political dynamic that has been imposed on us - if governments have access to these rivers of gold what conditions do they put on their flow?

Labor Governments must do more than just commission projects to keep executives living by the waterfront - they need to ensure that labour values are respected in the work that gets them there.

Maybe it will make the profit margins a little thinner and the bargains a little harder to strike - but standing up for the workers and taxpayers was never meant to be the easy option.

Peter Lewis



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