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Issue No. 296 24 February 2006  

Sad Sacks
It has been a sad spectacle watching a Labor Government run down public servants, as they have in NSW this week.


Interview: Court's in Session
As the silks line up to challenge WorkChoices, Jeff Shaw is fighting for his own legacy - the NSW IR system.

Industrial: Whose Choices?
The Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation has been dissected by lawyers and the commentariat; now it's the turn of political economists.

Politics: Peter's Principles
Forget John Howard. The force behind WorkChoices is Peter Costello. The Prime Minister-in-waiting has devoted a lifetime to undermining the security and living standards of Australian families, Jim Marr reports.

Environment: TINA or Greener?
What does the greenhouse effect and legislation to control workers have in common, asks Neale Towart

History: Its Not Just Handshakes and Aprons
Power. They have it, we want it. Friendly societies tried to keep it for working people, writes Neale Towart

International: US Locks out Jose' Bove
The US Government has refused to allow France's most famous farmer Jose Bove into the country to address a conference

Education: No AWA - No Job
The Howard Government has given the Australian community its first view of the future by forcing new staff at Ballarat University to sign an Australian Workplace Agreement if they want a job, writes Jenny Macklin.

Culture: Jesus was a Long-Grass Man
The writings of a Middle Eastern theologian may provide guidance to those grappling with indigenous issues, writes Graham Ring

Review: Charlie the Serf
Nathan Brown takes the sledgehammer (and sickle) to Mr Wonka's Chocolate Factory.


 Taskforce Shrugs Bashed Teen Worker

 Abattoir Blues

 Car Plant Puts Pedal to Metal

 Call Me Now: Rev Kev

 Fat Boss Sings

 Unions Back After This Break

 Public Cuts Must Be Last

 Apprentices Grow Up

 ‘Castle Win Keeps Trains On Track

 Chicken Worker Stuffed

 ‘Revolving Gangplank' at Sydney Ferries

 NSW Councils Short $21 billion

 Activists What's On!


The Soapbox
Hitler in Bowral
Political censorship has made its wasy to the sleepy Southern Highlands, wrties Rowan Cahill.

The Locker Room
No Laughing Matter
Phil Doyle tries to take Australian sportspeople seriously, and fails.

The Westie Wing
Ian West is mistakenly sent an advance copy of John Winston Howard’s Little Blue Book of Australian History…

 Lest We Forget
 For Whom the Toll Bells
 Unfinished Business
 Labor Sells Hydro
 Stop the Hordes
 Packer Whacker
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Sad Sacks

It has been a sad spectacle watching a Labor Government run down public servants, as they have in NSW this week.

These are the people who are meant to believe that the state is the solution, yet here they were carrying on as if the public service was the only thing standing between society and a healthy economy.

There were the 5,000 jobs that will be cut in a bid to plug a cyclical glitch in the budget; but that was not the worst of it; it was the way the government spun out all the clichés of bludging public sector workers as if the cuts were some kind of service to the public.

Some of these were opportunistic, others downright disingenuous; when the Daily Telegraph splashed on public sector stress leave, there was the new Treasurer, once a defender of workers rights, singing the tired old song of rorts. We've seen it before on the railways; soften up the public with allegations of rorts then send in the dogs. Peter Reith was good at it too!

Then they splash with their grand plan to end the 'unattached list', spruiking about public servants being paid to do nothing; without fessing up that the vast majority of the 0.01 per cent of public servants on the list are actually doing meaningful work in departments where their positions have been restructured out of existence.

And then there was the bizarre announcement of a two-week public service lock-down over Christmas, a proposition that could ensure that any festive emergency is dealt with via a recorded telephone message.

The enduring sadness came not from the search for efficiencies; of course the public's money should be used wisely, but in the way the government seemingly invited the debate about services to be dumbed down.

With the benefit of research over summer we can make a few observations about this tack: first, the cliches of lazy public servants doesn't wash with the public; secondly, they reject the notion that the private sector does these things better and thirdly, they will punish candidates who cut jobs at the ballot box.

And this is where this week's adventure gets even sadder; a Labor Government was actually giving up its natural political strength, the delivery of services, in order to attempt to compete with a right-wing party on the issue it can never win on, the economy.

This is a classic case study of the Fingerhut Principle of framing the debate (see editorial in issue # 272 that applies to political parties in all western democracies.

Conservative parties win elections when the debate is on national security or the economy; progressive parties win when the debate is rooted in services - education, health and the rights of ordinary working people.

Elections are not won on the relative merits of the policy positions on these issues; simply on the issue that is dominating a voters mind when they cast their vote.

No matter how many jobs Costa cuts; if voters are thinking about the economy next March, Labor will be in trouble; in contrast, if the sacking of 29,000 workers - cuts that will undermine public services - is front and centre, Labor should be popping the champers.

With the NSW industrial relations system up for grabs, the next state election is too important to sacrifice on the economic adventurism of a few Cabinet members. This is a time when we need a Labor government that has the courage to play to its strengths.

Here's hoping that this week's audit was the end of the job cutting madness; and that Labor realises that only a combination of defending workers rights and standing up for public services will be their ticket to electoral success.

Peter Lewis



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