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July 2003   

Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
One the movement’s great characters, Public Service Association general secretary Maurie O’Sullivan, is calling it a day. He looks back on his career with Workers Online.

Industrial: Just Doing It
Sportswear giant, Nike, is the first company to sign off on an agreement that purports to protect Australian clothing workers, wherever they labour, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
For a 23-year-old woman who has never worked in the trade, recruiting young construction apprentices into the union has its challenges, reports Carly Knowles.

Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Mal Cochrane came to the smoke as part of an Aboriginal avalanche that redefined the face of Rugby League. Today, he serves his community through the trade union movement.

Bad Boss: In the Pooh
What do you give a boss who makes his workers labour in raw sewage? A nomination for the Tonys.

Unions: National Focus
In the national wrap Noel Hester finds a Victorian Misso delo who is redistributing lucre from Eddie McGuire into workers’ theatre, South Australian unions taking that Let’s Get Real stuff seriously, an American unionist fronts up at a distinguished ‘meeting of the brains’ in Adelaide and a look at the line up for ACTU Congress.

Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Dick Bryan wonders if we can be insured against pop economists promising financial nirvana as well as financial market instability.

Technology: Dean for President
Paul Smith looks at how the internet is helping one Democrat candidate to the front of the primary pack

International: Rangoon Rumble
Union Aid Abroad's Marj O'Callaghan looks at Australia's weak response to developments in Burma.

Education: Blackboard Jungle
Lifelong learning shouldn’t mean cutting jobs, but that's exactly what the Carr Government is proposing, argues Tony Brown

Review: From Weakness to Strength
Labor Council crime-fighter Chris Christodoulou catches up with his boyhood hero, the Incredible Hulk

Poetry: Downsized
Resident bard David Peetz pens the song the Industrial Relations Commission needed to hear


The Soapbox
Cleaning Up
Rabbi Laurie Coskey from San Diego adds her voice to the global campaign for just for cleaners in Westfield malls.

The Locker Room
The Name In The Game
In an age of the sportsperson as celebrity it seems that names are overtaking the games, writes Phil Doyle.

The Beach
Southern Thailand’s terrorist activities: facts or fiction asks HT Lee


A Recipe for Conflict
Without making any excuses, Tony Abbott’s hand wringing at this week’s airing of a secret video of picket line violence was a bit like watching Don King condemn boxing.


 Aussie Workers Cradle-Snatched

 Morris McMahon Workers Say Thanks

 Violence: Emerson Fingers Abbott

 Cowboys Face Contracts Ban

 TUTA Rises From the Ashes

 Teased Teachers Fight Back

 Labor Fails TAFE Test

 Coke Called on to Stop the Rot

 Bridgestone Drops Doughnut on Workers

 AIRC Locked in Dark Ages

 Maternity Breakthrough in Hotels

 Labour Rights: Even Bush is Better!

 Long Winter for Seasonal Workers

 Activist Notebook

 A Tribute to Brian Miller
 Orange Peel
 After the Accident
 Cuba - the Debate Continues
 Old Ted
 Greetings from Japan
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Making the Hard Yards

By Jim Marr

Mal Cochrane came to the smoke as part of an Aboriginal avalanche that redefined the face of Rugby League. Today, he serves his community through the trade union movement.


Three years back home, near Taree, changed Mal Cochrane's view of the world and where he fitted in.

He returned to the mid-north coast in 1997 with a police badge, a grand final winner's medal and Rothmans Medal in his kit, a wife on his arm and young children in tow. The kid from Purfleet Mission had been to the big city and kicked plenty of goals.

But co-ordinating a juvenile justice program, put together by Taree-based Tom Powell was, to put it mildly, an eye-opener.

"It was interesting, yeah," Cochrane drawls. "It was very challenging but, in a lot of cases, also very rewarding.

"Those three years changed my attitude. I found I wasn't looking at things from a policeman's point of view any more."

When he returned to the city Cochrane handed in his badge and applied for a position with the PSA. In 2001 he was confirmed as the union's Aboriginal Liason Officer, dealing with workplace problems facing Indegenous workers around the state and, perhaps more importantly, ensuring they felt comfortable contributing to the organisation.

In his view, it is an opportunity to work on his community's positives, rather than constantly battling negatives, and that's something he is passionate about.

Cochrane linked with a group of like-minded activists in Sydney - NSW Labor Council's Adam Kerslake, Les Tobler of the CFMEU, the ASU's Kevin Tory, Charlene Emzin Boyd from the Teachers Federation and Diat Callope of the IEU - Aboriginals committed to seeing their people play bigger union roles.

They supported one another in NSW and are all active on the ACTU's Indigenous Committee.

Kerslake explains their rationale like this: "Unions are natural allies of Aboriginal people but, for a whole lot of historical reasons, the partnership hasn't been as strong as it should have been.

"To cement the alliance we need to see Aboriginals playing greater roles in their unions and unions encouraging them to do it."

That, he says, is Cochrane's strength. The former Manly hooker is a natural leader.

For his part, Cochrane is enthusiastic about the PSA, the support and encouragment he gets to carry out that mission. With the Teachers Federation having set the original benchmark, he would like to see other unions recognising, encouraging and employing Aboriginal members.

"It's not about separatism," he says, "it's about recognising cultural differences and addressing them so everyone benefits.

"A lot of our people feel more comfortable discussing their issues with a fellow Aboriginal, at least in the first instance. Affiliation with unions goes back a long, long way with our people. There is a perception that trade unions are there to fight for people's rights and Aboriginal people understand that concept, absolutely."

So, what happens in practice?

Cochrane has set about electing Aboriginal delegates, sometimes alongside existing representatives as well as on jobs where there hasn't been an elected union presence. Interestingly, in the latter case, more and more, he says, general members are approaching Aboriginal delegates with their concerns.

He is in the process of helping put together a steering committee across the Department of Education and Training that will raise issues of importance to its Aboriginal members.

He finds the same issues raising their heads, department by department, agency by agency. Harrassment, discrimination, lack of career paths, and limited access to training still blight Indigenous advance.

Old attitudes, it seems, die hard.

"Look, things are improving," Cochrane says, "but it is happening too slowly. If there was a better understanding of Indigenous people we would all benefit.

"I've been around and I can tell you that Aboriginal people are skillful, knowledgeable and resilient but that is not always the way everyone sees us."

Away from work he is CEO of the Australian Indigenous Rugby League. Last year it sent an under-21 team on a six-match tour of Britain and, subsequently, at least two members have been signed to NRL contracts.

The venture came to fruition, he says proudly, "thanks largely to the support of Maurie O'Sullivan and the PSA".

Cochrane also maintains football contacts as a member of the NRL's judiciary where he sits, often enough, alongside longtime friend and 1987 grand final winning team-mate, Darrell Williams.

He was a member of the panel that sent down John Hopoate for the sensational anal probes that rocked the game and brought international notoriety.

Cochrane copped plenty of lip during his footy career, some of it none-too subtle. While not condoning inappropirate coments, he adopted the old 'what's said on the field, stays on the field" response.

He identifies two responses to the racism which confronts many Aboriginal people - one confrontational, the other educational.

"Most times I choose the educational approach because, at least, it leaves the other person with something to think about," he says.

Which is all well and good but, at the end of the day, how do you convince unions they will benefit from creating and resourcing positions for people like Mal Cochrane?

Well, PSA figures show that since they put dollars where their bicultural mouths were, Aboriginal membership has steadily climbed.


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