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May 2003   

Interview: Staying Alive
CPSU national secretary Adrian O'Connell talks about the fight to keep the public service - and the union movement - alive.

Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Wollongong workers on poverty-level wages are losing up to $5000 for taking toilet breaks, according to the union representing staff at a Stellar call centre.

Industrial: Last Drinks
Jim Marr looks at the human cost of the decision to close Sydney’s Carlton United Brewery

National Focus: Around the States
If Tampa told us that John Howard circa 2003 is the same spotted rabid dog from 1987, this week’s assault on Medicare confirms it reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Politics: Radical Surgery
Workers are vitally interested in Medicare, not least because they traded away wage rises to get it. Now, Jim Marr writes, the Coalition Government is tearing apart the 20-year-old social contract on which it was founded.

Education: The Price of Missing Out
University students and their families will pay more for their education following the May Budget, writes Tony Brown.

Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
Love is wonderful the second time around, goes the famous torch song. But is the same true for legislation? Asks Ashley Crossland

History: Massive Attack
Labour historian Dr Lucy Taksa remembers the general strike of 1917 to put the recent anti-war marches into perspective

Culture: What's Right
Neale Towart looks at a new book that looks at the failings of the Left, while reasserting the liberal project

Review: If He Should Fall
Jim Marr caught Irish folk-rock-punk legend Shane MacGowan at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. He was surprised but not disappointed.

Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Through a distortion in the time-space continuum, we have found a recording showing how people a few years into the future will deal with health care.

Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to monitor the Iraqi economy to ensure that the reintroduction of looting into the economy conforms with free-market theory.


The Soapbox
What May Day Means to Me
Reader Marlene McAlear penned this tribue to May Day and worker solidarity.

The Toast
Labor Council secretary John Robertson's toast to the annual May Day dinner in Sydney.

The Locker Room
The Numbers Game
In life there is lies, damned lies and sporting statistics, says Phil Doyle - but who’s counting.

Brukman Evicted
ZNet's Marie Trigona reports from the streets of Argentina in the rundown to last week's presidential election.

The Costs of Excess
Some tall business poppies had their heads lopped this week as the laws of economic gravity applied their always chaotic theory.


Solidarity Forever
Another May Day, another year gone, another year to look back on our history and celebrate the past and talk about how we can make our movement strong again.


 Mystery Men Behind Pan Bungle

 Charities Brace for Medicare Backlash

 Court Throws Out Cole Prosecutions

 Child Actor Dodges Broken Voice

 Rio Tinto: $40 Million for Boss, Eviction for Workers

 Child Care for Oldies Too

 Winning Poster Shouts at Freeloaders

 May Day Tragedy Claims Union Lives

 Westfield Cleaners to Down Mops

 Question Marks Over Nursing Home

 Burn Payout Highlights Compo Fears

 Costa Blows Whistle on Canberra Raid

 Hoops Bet on National Body

 Tear Us Down, Buttercup

 Activist Notebook

 Is Labor History?
 Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
 War and Peace
 A Strange Light
 A Little History
 Does It Have To Be?
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If At First You Don't Succeed

Love is wonderful the second time around, goes the famous torch song. But is the same true for legislation? Asks Ashley Crossland

Last month, with all eyes trained on Iraq, the federal Attorney General, Daryl Wiliams, introduced into parliament legislation that would - according to its preamble - "rename, refocus and restructure" - the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

'Refocus' and 'restructure' are apparently polite terms for a practice long outlawed by the catholic church, because buried none too deeply in the legislation's text is a provision which, according to human rights organisations, would bring an end to commission's independent role in litigation.

The Howard government hopes that in the future "the Commission may only intervene in [court] proceedings where the AG approves the intervention." The AG would not need any particular reason for saying no to the Commission, although the bill envisages the AG might say no where "a person" had already intervened on the Commonwealth's behalf. A person like...Daryl Williams!

HREOC has intervened in several high profile cases in recent years, and each time questioned whether the Australian government is breaching treaties which are the bedrock of the international human rights system. The commission did not persuade the court in the Tampa case, but they did succeed in others, including a case about the government's refusal to deliver lawyers' letters to asylum seekers in the Port Hedland detention centre.

More recently, the Commission went head to head with Mr Williams in the Family Court over the a transexual's right to have their marriage recognised. The Commission's arguments won the day. If the law was amended, would the AG let the Commission intervene against him? I'd rather be a snowball in hell.

But if the 'veto clause' just seems a sour-graped pay-back for the Commission's recent pesky interventions, think again. The government has tried it on before, way back in 1998. When the 1998 bill went to a government-dominated Senate Committee, some then moderate liberals - including Marise Payne and Helen Coonan - embarrassed Williams by slamming the veto clause (along with much else in the bill). Labor and the Democrats were against it too. It was never going to get through.

In 2003 nothing much has changed. Maybe the moderates are less moderate, but neither Labor nor the Democrats have indicated a approach. Which raises the question: why have another go?

Even if the veto power can't be passed, the bill sends a strong message. We're watching you. We don't forget.

On the other hand, for the people at HREOC there was probably never any confusion over what the government feels about them. Budget papers reveal that in 1995-6 HREOC's budget was $22 million (CPI adjusted). Now it's $11.1 million. Human rights are a great place to make savings.

Ashley Crossland is a former journalist and law lecturer


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