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Issue No. 293 20 December 2005  
E D I T O R I A L

Waves of Destruction
2005 was the year book-ended by two waves of destruction - the first causing untold suffering across the Indian Ocean; the second reawakening our darker angels on beaches closer to home.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Back to the Future
James Gallaway collars Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, on threats, challenges and opportunities.

Unions: A Real Page Turner
Jim Marr glances through Workers Online’s 2005 news stories and finds there is more one way to skin a Rat

Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
Rachael Osman-Chin profiles a white collar union that is having some almighty blues.

International: Around The World In 365 Days
It was a year of online activism, as LabourStart's Eric Lee reports

Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Jim Marr tackles a champion.

Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
The Your Rights At Work campaign has been a big part of this year and, as Phil Doyle reports, it is making a difference.

Politics: The Year That Was
Frank Stillwell looks at year that saw the politics of fear; and finds many reasons to be very afraid.

Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Evan Jones asks if the Neo Liberals are taking us back to the future

Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Nathan Brown ignores Oasis and decides to look back in anger after all

Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Nathan Brown digs through his voluminous dirt files and comes up with the top 10 grubs of the year.

Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
James Gallaway on the Way, the Truth and life according to Brian.

N E W S

 Melbourne Burns AWAs

 Corporates Defend Costello

 Speaker Won't Talk

 Bank Pays on Dodgy Contracts

 Plan to Save Jobs

 Harper's Bizarre Excuse for Failure

 It's Not Fair: Business

 Workers Walk As Warnings Wiped

 Teenager Hit With Shrapnel

 Pay Day “Unlawful”

 Tassie Rail Win

 Professionals Fear for Their Kids

 Boss Pings Rorters Charter

 New Ways to Take a Share

 An Hour of Need

 Boeing Steals Christmas

 Trouble at the Mill

 Activists What's On

C O L U M N S

Predictions
The Crystal Ball
Workers Online consults a raft of leading psychics to find out what readers can look forward to in 2006.

The Soapbox
The Things People Say
It was a year of quotable quotes, reports Phil Doyle.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Ian West checks the rear vision mirror on 2005, and plants his foot down

The Locker Room
The 2005 Workers Online Sports Awards
After years of being overlooked by selectors at club, representative and national levels, Phil Doyle and Jim Marr, agreed to hand out our 2005 sports gongs.

Postcard
Postcard from East Timor
In East Timor entertainment also spreads an important message into the community

L E T T E R S
 Pension Pinching
 Free to Rat
 Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
 Proportion, Not Distortion
 Corp That!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Letters to the Editor

Proportion, Not Distortion


Last week's Editorial makes some very valid observations about the decline of our parliamentary democracy. It correctly observes that the power of executive government in our constitutional framework is at its zenith. Equally it points out that the nominal separation of powers between legislature and a responsible executive government have been rendered inoperative by the rigidities of party disciple.

Unfortunately the editor's prescription for this malady is for the parties to abandon the discipline of the whip on all occasions except for confidence votes. This would be a serious error for any party committed to reform. Party discipline is the critical link of accountability between a party's election commitments and what it does in government. We may not like what Howard is doing but the vast majority of this reform agenda has been coalition policy for a long time. Any vaguely politically aware person has known that the Coalition has wanted to do some really nasty stuff on the IR front. The critical factor is that up until now they have lacked the numbers to do it.

The cruel irony is that it was the emergence of the Labor Party on the national political stage that led to the adoption of rigid party discipline. Labor introduced of the union principle of solidarity to parliamentary processes through the instruments of the pledge and the binding caucus. Our conservative opponents were forced to respond with their own tightened discipline. And so we find ourselves in our current predicament.

The Editor holds up the individual freedom of members of the US congress as a model to be emulated. In this system party policy is meaningless and the self-interest of representatives is the key determinate of their voting patterns. That is why money rules in this system and that would be no different here. In the US the Labor movement have been trying to repeal their equivalent of the Workplace Relations Act since 1947. This is despite their so-called friends - the Democratic Party - having a nominal congressional majority for most of the preceding half century. The Labor movement has simply not been able to outbid corporate America to buy back a majority on this issue in the congress. Give me the Australian system any day!

If we are looking for possible ways to strengthen the role of the parliament over the executive then perhaps a better model lies across the Tasman. The New Zealand system of proportional voting (Mixed Member Proportional - MMP) has done just that. Before MMP New Zealand probably had the strongest form of executive government among western democracies. With no upper house and no written constitution a government with control of the numbers in the parliament could do pretty much what it liked. And they did! That's how they got Rogernomics and the Employment Contracts Act. But the change to the electoral system has rendered that style of government impossible now. The executive has to negotiate its entire legislative agenda through a parliament where it lacks a guaranteed majority. The Executive is truly held accountable to the parliament!

Admittedly coalition government has its down sides. Critics of proportional electoral systems often point to post war Italy and the instability of its governments. But other more stable democracies, like post war Germany and Sweden, have operated under PR without this instability. Arguably the key element of stable parliamentary democracies is not the method of election but a nation's history and political culture.

A future Labor government committed to restoring the integrity of our parliamentary system should give serious consideration to changing the way our lower house is elected. What might be lost in stability would be gained in accountability and the strengthening of parliament as the central institution in our democracy.

Anthony D'Adam


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