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December 2002   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Trade Secrets
Federal Labor’s trade spokesman Craig Emerson is on a mission to bring the shady world of trade talks into the open

Industrial: It’s About Overtime, Stupid
An overtime free-for-all is at the heart of Australia’s hours explosion and it's time to look at a cap on hours, reports Noel Hester from the ACTU’s Working Hours Summit.

Unions: Full Steam Ahead
After two weeks of rallies around the state, rural Rail Towns are making a stand for jobs and safety. Jim Marr reports.

Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Manly restaurateur, David Diamond, is a shoo-in for this month’s Bad Boss nomination, leaving Workers Online looking for a good employer who can undo some of his damage.

Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
Professor Frank Stilwell presented the big picture on debt policy at the Evatt Foundation’s Breakfast Seminar

History: Raking the Coals
Labour historians Rae Cooper and Greg Patmore explain why today’s organisers have much to learn from the lessons of the past.

History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
Rae Cooper tracks NSW union organising between 1900-1910 to argue that today’s activists should be looking closer to home for inspiration

History Special: Learning from the Past
Ray Markey looks at union membership growth in the 1880s & 1900s to argue that today’s unions must engage to grow.

History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Barbara Webster looks at Rockhampton between 1916 – 1957 to debunk the ‘dependence’ theory of trade union growth.

Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
Labour lawyer Jim Nolan looks at the challenge for the Left in the current geopolitical stand-off in the Middle East.

International: World War
Europe has suddenly come aflame with industrial action, Andrew Casey reports.

Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Neale Towart looks at the influence of German immigration on Australian industry policy in the post-war period.

Review: Jack High
Mick Molloy’s new flick Crackerjack tells the tale of a traditional bowling club struggling to stay afloat in an industry dominated by pokies, pokies and more pokies, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Culture: Duffy’s Song
Former Labor Council official Mark Duffy’s Sydney super band Sundial clocks in a bit of a corker.

Satire: A Nation of Sooks
The Strewth Institute's Tony Moore looks at the spate of defo suits and wonders if Australia has gone soft.

Poetry: Mr Flexibility
One of the key challenges facing unions, as the ACTU celebrates its 75th anniversary, is confronting the problems of increasing working hours and work intensity under the guise of "flexibility". Our resident bard, David Peetz, takes up that theme this week.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Economic Migrants
A man - a worker - risks death by machine gun to escape what he is told is a 'workers' state'. He flees East Berlin through a tunnel, dug beneath a cemetery.

Awards
And the Winner Is …
It’s that time of the year when we honour the best. In the past week, both the IR Writers fraternity and ACTU have got in the act with more to come.

The Locker Room
More Post-Colonial Madness
Phil Doyle joins the fools and Englishmen out in the midday sun, and finds that it all comes at a price.

Bosswatch
Call Waiting
The Howard Government backs off its plans to privatise the rest of Telstra under market pressure. But it’s nothing like the pressure that former HIH directors are under.

Month In Review
Way Down
As Elvis might have said, if he had had a longer-term perspective “ooh, what a month it was, it really was such a month …”

E D I T O R I A L

Lessons from History
History has a seemingly infinite capacity to create and debunk myths, as the latest offering from the Journal of Labour and Social History shows.

N E W S

 And On the Seventh Day – Satan Joins Union

 Security Masks Political Bans

 Members Offered Spotters' Fee

 Casuals Written Out of the Script

 New Mining Bully On the Block

 ACTU Examines The Cap Option On Hours

 No Sweetener for Diabetic Workers

 Pressure Goes on Apartheid Employers

 ASIC Turns Blind Eye on Dodgy Boss

 Family Test Case a Priority Campaign

 Echoes of Prestige Hit Home

 Brutal Bashing Sparks Prison Strike

 Minister Challenged by Cleaners

 ABC Journos Off The Air

 Union Says RSCPA "Kills"...

 Guards Demand Campus Security

 Uni Backs Down On Regional Review

 Peace Returns to US Docks

 Activists Notebook

L E T T E R S
 Oh Bugger Me!
 State Based Organising
 Gino on the Gong
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Satire

A Nation of Sooks

Extracted from Strewth

The Strewth Institute's Tony Moore looks at the spate of defo suits and wonders if Australia has gone soft.

********

Australia is sinking into a sewer of suing. Sooks are using courts to impose their childish desire for a risk-free world. Defamation suits are on the rise with authors, publishers and journos being hauled into court for ill-judged words. And goaded on by Howard's censors, the wowsers are on the offensive, finding offence in any movie or book that is a bit black or blue. The frenzy of lawsuits has left a huge rise in public and professional indemnity insurance in its wake. Soon only Harry M. Miller and Michael Edgely will be able to afford the premiums and it will be goodbye to cheesy parades, sports carnivals and a free swim at the local beach. And if the absurd strictness of our defamation laws continues, only big media barons like Packer and Murdoch will be able to afford to tell it like it is (ha ha). No one is willing to take a risk any more. Strewth! reckons Australians are turning into greedy wimps. If our boys were landing at Gallipoli in 2002 they would run home to Mum and sue the Turks for rosemary stains on their dungarees.

Defo remains a profitable way for the rich and famous to remain, well, rich and famous. Remember Andrew Ettinghausen earning a cool $100,000 on appeal when he took offence at a shower shot in HQ magazine? ET's shadowy donger was too much for him to bear. Would a factory worker's severed finger be worth as much as this photo-shy member? 60 Minutes' Richard Carleton has taken Media Watch to court for alleging he was a bit of a bowerbird with other people's stories. Malcolm Turnbull is suing the Fin Review because journalist Andrew Main described him as "part polymath, part sociopath".Naughty boy! And let's not forget the Hindmarsh Bridge developers who dragged the Green Left Weekly and Conservation Council into court and won.

Now ordinary folk are getting into the act too. A chalkie goaded the NSW Education Department into taking legal action against students who played loose with his personal life in a satirical review. Two teenagers featured in Dennis O'Rourke's doco about Cunnamulla objected to their portrayal and have naturally reached for a lawyer. Then there's the professional victims. The bloke who sued a State education department because he was bullied while at school. The guy who almost pulled off a six-figure sum for copping the strap. The woman who sued a tobacco company for pushing cigarettes on her without warning about the health risks.

The opinion has clearly formed in the breast of our judges that Australians can no longer be expected to exercise common sense. In May, a boy hurt in a stone throwing fight while wagging school sued the NSW Education Department and was awarded $221,079 after a judge ruled that Epping Boys High had failed to adequately supervise students during recess. What about the old adage 'boys will be boys'? How about the woman who is suing a supermarket because she tripped over a stacked wire shopping basket? In the same spirit is the drinker who sued a pub for getting glass in his foot when he had bare feet. And what about the dangers of combining grog and meat? In the so-called Chop-suing incident, a patron of the Jannali Inn is suing the licensee and another patron who was silly enough to strap pork chops to his feet and go for a cruise (as you do after a few beers). The litigious drinker slid on the greasy slick and went arse over head - sounds like someone else was wearing the wobbly boots. And most recently there was the unfortunate bloke who accidentally dived into a sand bar at Bondi Beach and successfully sued Waverley Council for neglect of duty of care. Panicked by the enormous payout, councils threatened to close beaches for fear of the escalating indemnity costs. There was a time when we thought well of men and women who gave up their spare time to keep an eye on swimmers while engaging in a bit of briny biffo and some Speedo crack work. But who'd be a lifesaver these days?

There is a world of difference between shonky negligence and the risks that go hand in hand with normal living. Do we actually believe that the world can be rid of dangers? Nature is scary and deserves respect. The sea should not be taken lightly. When you leap into the water you take an acceptable risk with rips, bluebottles, sharks and, sadly, sand bars. Smoking kills, or so the packet says. Most drugs involve risk of disease, death or foolish behaviour, and it's the risk that makes them fun. Childbirth too is a risky business. Only a century ago many women died in labour, and some still do. Sometimes things happen which are just bad luck. What's happened to common sense? To crave a safe world where others look after you and take the blame is infantile.

Australia is undergoing a mass wimp out. Remember that wet Liberal cry baby Christopher Pine, who went dobbing when a couple of Labor hard men tried to go him in a Canberra pub. But the rot set in when those two prize sooks, Abbott and Costello, took such offence at Bob Ellis's untrue remark about student spin the bottle and toy boy campus politics that they actually had the book pulped and sued the publisher. "Liar, liar pants on fire," they whined, all the way to the bank.

This was a green light to the rich and defamous to scour books for something that might give them offence. Publishers across the country took out professional indemnity insurance, hired lawyers and dropped contentious yarns. But there's nothing wrong with a bit of offence and Strewth! salutes writers, journos, and film-makers prepared to risk offending.

If ever we needed a bill of rights guaranteeing freedom of speech it's now. A coalition of sooks and wowsers has been on a banning spree. Salo, Baisé Moi, Internet porn, violent erotica. Adult media consumption is being dictated by what is suitable for children. Politicians wave the scissors around at the behest of self-appointed community groups who are more representative of Salem or the Vatican than middle Australia. In a bid to outcensor his front bench colleagues, the pusillanimous Brendan Nelson tried to chop-out Chopper Read, demanding that the Queensland Premier ban the book Hooky the Cripple* from schools. The Coalition Government even tried to ram through parliament the power to ban any political organisation it deems to be provoking terrorism. But it's not just the right. Too many chardonnay socialists who don't give a toss about polluting chimneys in Port Kembla run gasping every time an old digger lights up a ciggie in a pub. Fundamentalist feminists have railed against images they claim demean women. Now smarmy school marmy Victorian Labor Minister Mary Delahunty wants to save us all from those cheeky Windsor Smith shoe ads by banning 'sexist' billboards.

Worst of all there is an epidemic of victim-hood. Some are born that way and others are made but usually the ailment or grievance is worn as a badge of identity, and is used to excuse the victim from responsible behaviour. Kids with attention deficit syndrome who can't be disciplined, adults abused as kids who blame every misfortune of life on childhood suffering, divorced men, victims of crime, gambling addicts, problem drinkers, etc. Climb the 12 steps to sainthood, start a self-help group or a witch-hunt to get the perpetrators. Listen: Shit happens. Get over it. And if you must get even, don't be greedy.

When Robert Hughes decried America's 'Culture of Complaint' he was quick to point out that back home in Oz his countrymen and women weren't given to whinging. We took the crunchy with the smooth and gave as good as we got. But now even cranky, crippled old Bob is being dragged back into the dock for speaking his mind too freely in the land of the unfree. What's gone wrong?

Look no further than our pollies and their economic nostrums. Bob Carr's attack on workers comp, and Peter Costello's cuts to pensioners' medicine and disabilities benefits will leave a lot of people with fair dinkum injuries little choice. Governments have been whittling away the social safety net for years, and with it reasonable protection for people. At the same time, the top end of town consistently avoids taking financial responsibility for its fuck-ups, as can be seen by the enormous payouts to the departing executives of under-performing companies.

If you're stuffed and can't get a modest bit of compo, why not look elsewhere for some dough ... and maybe a bit of vengeance. Many of the so-called diseases and injuries that are being treated with life-long drug prescriptions and legal action would be better solved at their root cause, like some decent health and safety in the workplace. With all the mean politics around can we wonder that the people are fighting back with lawyers? Rather than insist on our rights as citizens, we pursue a grudge as a victim. It's an American-style response to American-style public squalor amidst conspicuous private wealth.

It's as if Howard's mean economic rationalist dogma has turned us all into envious victims. In the old days Australians drew strength in adversity from their mates through collective action like strikes, but now they are diminished as isolated victims, reaching in desperation for the doctor and the lawyer. When juries award huge payouts they're fighting back for the little guy against what they see as the big guys, but more often than not they just slug another little bloke who is prepared to have a go and live a bit dangerously. We only hear about the big payouts and celebrity trials. For every million dollar judgement, how many injured parties limp away with nothing but costs? Wedge politics has turned us against each other and the new blood sport is being played out in the arena of the courts. Howard has made us all hopeless and we don't have enough hope to share round any more.

by Tony Moore from the new Strewth #9 Big Sooks Issue www.strewth.org.au

* I admit to publishing Hooky the Cripple, and engaging in the dodgy practice of product placement. Now I've mentioned it twice!

For a great rogue's gallery of Australia's premier suers (of the rich and defamous variety) check out the Crikey website at www.crikey.com.au


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*    Visit the Strewth Institute



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