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Issue No. 279 02 September 2005  

Middle Australia
The Prime Minister rarely responds directly to criticism, so when he rushed out a media release rebutting an ACIRRT analysis of wages data this week, it was clear that they had a hit a raw nerve.


Interview: Polar Eclipse
Academic David McKnight challenges some sacred cows in his new book "Beyond Left and Right".

Industrial: Wrong Turn
Radical labour reform is on the horizon but some workers, like Sydney bus driver Yvonne Carson, have seen it all before, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Star Support
It wasn't just families who backed workers' rights at The Last Weekend, but a bunch of musicians who set the tone, writes Chrissy Layton.

Workplace: Checked Out
Glenda Kwek asks you to consider the plight of the retail worker, and shares some of her experiences

Economics: Sold Out
The Future Fund and industrial relations reform are favourite projects of the PM and the Treasurer. Both are speculations on the future and the only guarantee with them is that you will be worse off, writes Neale Towart.

Politics: Green Banned
The impact of new building industry laws wonít be confined to one industry, writes CFMEU national secretary John Sutton.

History: Potted History
Lithgow is a place with a proud history as a union town. The origins of broader community solidarity lie in the early industrial development of the town and the development of unions. The Lithgow Pottery dispute of 1890 was a key event.

International: Curtain Call
The curtains have opened for East Timorís young theatre performers, thanks to a Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA project.

Review: Little Fish
At last! An Aussie film with substance, suspense and a serious dose of reality, writes Lucy Muirhead

Poetry: Slug A Worker
In a shock development, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, gave a ringing endorsement to the poetry pages of Workers Online, writes resident bard David Peetz.


 Trucks Run Down Mums

 Boom! Biff! Itís Howard Unplugged

 Fun Guy Spreads Fertiliser

 Doors Close on Battered Mums

 Bing Lee Peddles Rubbish

 Bless This Bus

 High Court: Ads Do Kremlin Proud

 Families Water Win

 Tesltra Cuts Get Poor Reception

 Vegetable Campaign Sprouts

 Check Work/Family Balance Here

 Tim Wins For Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA

 Activists Whatís On!


The Soapbox
Families First
New Senator Stephen Fielding turned a few heads with his Maiden Speech to Parliament.

The Locker Room
The New World Order
Phil Doyle declares himself unavailable for the fifth and deciding test.

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, reports from the NSW Government's Safety Summit

On The Bus
A bright orange bus travelling the state has become the focus of the campaign against federal IR changes. Nathan Brown was on board.

 Care Confusion
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Middle Australia

The Prime Minister rarely responds directly to criticism, so when he rushed out a media release rebutting an ACIRRT analysis of wages data this week, it was clear that they had a hit a raw nerve.

The ACIRRT study, commissioned by Unions NSW, scrutinised the PM's mantra that he had presided over a 14 per cent increase in real wages - one of his key weapons in reassuring the public that they have nothing to fear from his industrial relations agenda.

The PM tells us he is the 'best friend Australian workers have ever had' - contrasting this magic 14 per cent figure with a miserable 1.5 per cent increase under the Hawke-Keating Government - conveniently omitting the massive improvements in the social wage under the Accord including the nine per cent compulsory superannuation, which gives workers at least a fighting chance of retiring with some dignity.

So what was so radical about the ACIRRT analysis? Well, rather than taking the average wage increases of the workforce as a whole, ACIRRT went looking for the mid-point or median.

In simple terms, they took high paid CEOs and management out of the equation, diced the non-managerial workforce into decile bands and then looked at the mid-point in each of these bands.

And the findings? First, the minute you took managers out of the equation, the average increase in real wages since 1998 dropped to 3.6 per cent.

Within this non-managerial workforce, the benefits were concentrated in the top ten percent - where the average was 13 per cent; compared to the bottom two percentiles where the average came in at a shave over one per cent.

And the killer punch, each time you shaved the top ten percent off the sample, the graph looked the same - that is, within the bottom 90 per cent the top ten per cent thrive; within the bottom 80 per cent the top ten per cent thrive; and all the way down the income spectrum.

So the ACIRRT findings far from the PM's claims of universal prosperity, found entrenched disparity - with the benefits of economic change not being shared evenly across the workforce. It all comes down to finding the mid-point.

Of course, the national average will look good; there have been some massive, massive winners under Howard whose prosperity, if actually shared across the population, would give us all a better quality of life.

But the only place this wealth is shared is in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' survey of average earnings.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the real estate industry never publishes average prices, only medians - they know if the high fliers' homes (those same people who push up average wages) were factored into the equation buyers would be scared out of the market.

But back to Howard, at the least he has now engaged on the minimum wage data - a move that had our friends at ACIRRT rubbing their hands in anticipation this week.

If there is going to be a meaningful debate on the data, the first step is to make more information available. Under the Howard Government the ABS has stopped publishing a number of series, such as the analysis of wage movements under awards, EBAs and AWAs.

The second step is to accept that if we are really going to debate the impact of change on middle Australia we should shift to an analysis of the median, along with an analysis of income distribution - the so-called 90/10 split.

And finally, we should take the bosses out of the equation - you don't need a Marxist analysis to see that attempting to gauge the benefits of economic change for workers by looking at the pay packets of their employers is an absolute nonsense.

Peter Lewis



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