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Issue No. 289 11 November 2005  

The Great Repression
In a rare outbreak of candour in Federal Parliament this week we have seen the Prime Minister admit the five-day week is going out the door and his leader of business, Tony Abbott, blow kisses across the House.


Interview: Public Defender
The CPSU's Stephen Jones has confronted the Howard Government's IR agenda at close quarters.

Legal: Craig's Story
An inquest in western NSW is a cautionary tale of the use of AWAs, writes Ian Latham

Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
The WorkChoice legislation sends Australia down the wrong economic road by smashing the instittutions that have made it strong, argues Greg Combet.

Industrial: WhatChoice?
The Howard Government has shown itself to be the master of illusion, writes Dr Anthony Forsyth

Politics: Queue Jumping
The changes to industrial laws, betray a new vision of Australian society, writes James Gallaway.

History: Iron Heel
Conservative governments using laws to take away basic civil rights. It's nothing new, writes Rowan Cahill

Economics: Waging War
When was the last time you heard an Australian politician talk about incomes policy, asks Matt Thistlethwaite

International: Under Pressure
The push for UN intervention in Burma is intensifying, following a report by Vaclav Havel and Bishop Desmond Tutu into slave labour.

Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
More and more people are meeting Billy, the hero of page 15 of the WorkChoices booklet, including our resident bard, David Peetz

Review: A Pertinent Proposition
Nick Cave's "Australian western" touches on some themes still relevant today, Julianne Taverner writes.


 Nobody Expects the Construction Inquisition

 Howard in Redundancy Raid

 States Sidestep Wage Hurdle

 Catholics Bless Day of Action

 PacNat Bids to Railroad Future

 Feds Authorise Invasion

 Howard Censors Workers

 Sol Plays Dumb Card

 Boycott Hangs Over Hardie

 Directile Dysfunction

 Pirates Face Kofi Break

 Miners Don’t Dig Safety Levy

 Keep the Spirit Alive

 Activist's What's On!


The Soapbox
Men and Women of Australia
What makes a perfect speech? Michael Fullilove has scoured Australian history to find out.

The Locker Room
The Hungry Years
Phil Doyle gets the feeling we’ve been here before

From Little Things
Paul Kelly's song about the battle for land rights misses one important character, writes Graham Ring

The Westie Wing
Ian West takes a look at Public Private Partnerships, and wonders if we should all just drink rum…

 Just AWBul
 Convict Costello
 We're Just Serfin'
 Take Warning
 Smells Familiar
 Howard's Gas
 Andrews' Operandi
 To the Shredder
 Stop Violence
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The Great Repression

In a rare outbreak of candour in Federal Parliament this week we have seen the Prime Minister admit the five-day week is going out the door and his leader of business, Tony Abbott, blow kisses across the House.

The first statement is a concession that the accusations of a union 'scare campaign' over the changes are baseless; the second shows the arrogance of a government now exercising power without limits.

Under the cover of more than 1,000 pages of legislation and regulations is an agenda to criminalise industrial relations as we know it - with fines and even jail for officials and rank and file members prepared to assert their rights.

Let's be clear: we are currently witnessing the most brazen political power play since the 1975 Dismissal - only this time it is not a government being put to the knife but an institution that has been part of Australian life since before Federation.

We have seen the excesses of this approach in the building industry, where this week workers have been interrogated by government agents, without access to their chosen lawyer, with the threat of jail if they refuse to disclose what was said at a union meeting.

We also have the alarming situation where building workers who do not get a signed note from their employer are facing massive personal fines for attending the National Day of Community Action against the IR changes.

These laws have already passed through the Federal Parliament with little public debate and no real scrutiny of their purported justification of addressing 'corruption and thuggery' in the building industry. After all, building workers aren't cuddly and their plight doesn't seem to concern the commentariat as much as the plight of refugees or indigines.

The WorkChoices legislation carries the rest of the Australian workforce down this path, every crevasse of industrial and organising activity has severe legal restrictions and tough penalties for those who step across the new legal lines.

From entering the workplace, to framing agreements, to taking industrial action the laws are highly prescriptive, with regulations framed by the same corporate lawyers who will brief Australia's biggest companies as they begin to make hay with their new found powers..

The government accuses the union movement of crying wolf, but when union leaders are taking steps to divest themselves of their assets and seriously contemplating periods in jail, you get the feeling that we are entering a new era.

The question we must ask is: how have we allowed the situation to come to this? Are we so open to abuse to our leaders that they can just take away basic rights; or has the climate of terror reduced our threshold for individual freedom.

The joke is that this legislation has been presented under the pretence of deregulation ; it would be more accurate to describe it as a massive regulation of the labour market to prevent collective activity.

To call this legislation 'extreme' merely places it in its international context; but it is 'repression' that is at its heart; the repression of the rights of workers to bargain for decent wages and conditions in order to serve two converging ideological imperatives - the triumph of the free market over workers and the more crass mission of the Liberals to dismantle their opponent's institutional base.

The danger for the Howard Government is that the reality of workers and their elected leaders in jail could become the icon for a government that is out of control. That and the Mad Monk's air-kisses.

Peter Lewis



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