||Issue No. 295||17 February 2006|
Interview: Court's in Session
Industrial: Whose Choices?
Politics: Peter's Principles
Environment: TINA or Greener?
History: Its Not Just Handshakes and Aprons
International: US Locks out Jose' Bove
Education: No AWA - No Job
Culture: Jesus was a Long-Grass Man
Review: Charlie the Serf
The Locker Room
The Black GST
The current outbreak of stories about the importation of low paid foreign workers, be they Croat car makers, Vietnamese bakers or Japanese jockeys are no coincidence; they are the product of a conscious government policy justified by the ubiquitous 'skills crisis'.
This wave is about to gain further momentum: further loosening of visa requirements are set to be approved by the Federal Parliament, while the PM and (sadly) Labor Premiers last week signed off on a regime that will offshore skills accreditation, a potentially fatal wound to our trade apprentice regime.
The whole story illustrates the vicious cycle that emerges when one hands the national interest over to big business.
First the training of young Australians is halted as the public sector is privatised; the new corporations floated and the investment in young workers for the future deemed unviable in the short-term business model that defines economic success.
Then big business cries 'crisis' - they can not be expected to train young workers - that's the role of the government's who sold them the asset; and anyway there are far too many 'rigidities' in our training regime.
So the clamour begins to grow for 'freeing up' immigration; address the 'crisis' by scouring the globe for workers from societies with a lower standard off living, who are so desperate for economic security that they will travel around the world for a better paying job.
And then the final gambit; destroy the award system and hack at the minimum wage so that these new workers, to fill the jobs that Australians are no longer trained to do, need not cost as much as the local workforce.
These are arguments that the union movement and, hopefully, the ALP will prosecute vigorously, although with more thought, compassion and nuance than the Hanson juggernaut.
There are dangers, none the least that these questions of economic rationalism are side-tracked into a cheap form of economic nationalism, one step away from the racism that trivialised the quite reasonable request Pauline posed in the mid-90s. Please explain. Please explain because we can't understand; what's the logic behind this? Who wins? Who loses? What's the game plan?
To avoid this, today's debate around guest workers and skilled migration should be premised on the following three principles.
First, no individual is to blame for leaving their home and family in order to get a better life; indeed there is much to be admired in the sacrifice involved in moving to an unknown land, often alone, without the security of citizenship.
Second, this is not a debate about 'protection' of privilege - it is about respecting the working rights that have been fought for by our forebears and being curious about the interests of those who would tear them up and flush them down the toilet.
Third, the end game has to be Australia's long term national interest; and that means the opportunities we are creating for the next generation; who need to aspire to more than a spot on a reality TV show in a country that has more going for it than a resources dump for China.
If we off-shore our apprenticeships, undercut our lowest paid and outsource our national soul to the lowest global bidder are we building a stronger economy or letting the white ants loose?
Yes, the debate is a delicate one and the dangers of isolationism and xenophobia must always be in our consideration; but if we do not resolve these issues now, within the framework laid out above, I fear the demons the PM has so skilfully brewed and then uncorked in the past will be at his disposal again.
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