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February 2004   

Interview: Trading in Principle
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, a key figure in the Labor movement, discusses the big issues - from Mark Latham to Pavlov�s Dogs.

Unions: While We Were Away
While Workers Online was washing sand from between its toes and enjoying an Indian summer at the cricket, there was a reality show chugging relentlessly away in the background, Jim Marr reports.

Politics: Follow the Leader
Worker�s Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALP�s Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
The CFMEU has come up with a killer nomination to kick off our 2004 hunt for Australia�s worst employer.

Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
British academic, Kevin Doogan, sets the record straight on casualisation and warns unionists about the dangers of scoring an own goal

History: Worker Control Harco Style
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys ask if it's worth rememberinng the 1971 Harco work-in.

Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
The 1998 maritime dispute threatened to tear many a family apart but Katherine Thomson's Harbour tells the tale of at least one that it brought back together - albeit reluctantly, writes Tara de Boehmler.


The Soapbox
Dog Whistlers, Spin Doctor and Us
John Menadue argues the "better angels" of the Australian character are having their wings ripped off by an ever-expanding group dedicating to keeping the public at arms length from our decision-makers.

Something Fishy In Laos
Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Magic Realism
Phil Doyle discovers that literature and sport may have more in common than you would think

The Westie Wing
Trickle, flood or drought? Workers friend Ian West, MLC, is wet, wet, wet on the issue of bilateral Free Trade.


All The Way With FTA?
Question marks over the bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement with the USA have only begun to scratch the surface.


 Rail Safety Back On Track

 Commuter Headaches Continue

 Ban "Ruthless" Operators - Judge

 Telstra Provokes Jobs Fight

 Taskforce Ignores Million Dollar Rorts

 Musos Tune-Up for Election Rock

 Chubby Fingers in Timorese Pockets

 Postal Workers Wrap Boss

 Aussie Sites Doing the Business

 Feds Abandon Aged

 TAFE Stands Over Poor Students

 Round the World on Aid

 Activists Notebook

 Reality TV
 TAFE Support
 State Of Confusion
 History Lesson
 Generation Angst
 Give Them A Medal
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Follow the Leader

Worker�s Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALP�s Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

The great gathering of the ALP tribes at the end of January featured everyone from Kevin Rudd to Kevin Reynolds discussing everything from the Western Sahara to Western Sydney.

Despite paranoia about shifting the show back to the mainland there weren't many demonstrators. A few greenies, the refugee advocates, some civil libertarians and bookshop owner Bob Gould. Thankfully the Right to Life people stayed at home.

There were more bemused tourists in the environs of Sydney's Darling Harbour Convention Centre than protesters, and most of the latter were ignored by the participants at any rate.

Inside, it's like a school re-union. The ALP hasn't held a real National Conference for three years so it is an opportunity for a lot of old hands to catch up. Many Hawke/Keating era ministers are there, looking old and gray.

Robert Ray has lost weight and Johnno Johnson is still buying his own ties, but there's little else of substance in the foyer. The atmosphere is akin to being at the interval of a theatre production (which isn't that far off the mark), still, it's a change from the claustrophobia of the last Hobart conference.

The theme is set by the federal leader's opening address. After all, this is the Mark Latham and Labor national conference. For a brief period your correspondent is transported back to the Blacktown Civic Centre in the 70s with talk of Australian independence, free books, ladders and teeth sounding very much like a campaign speech.

The Sydney Convention Centre is a cavernous place that must hold two or three thousand people - leaving a conference of 400 odd delegates and an equal number of Rabbit's friends and relations with a lot of empty space in the hall. This takes something away from the atmosphere and leaves affair a little flat at times.

With the mainstream media focusing on the big ticket items such as Latham's campaign speech, each other, speech drafts, shopping and anything else central to the lives of the out-of-touch, a lot of interesting ideas drift into the information ether.

Did you know that Howard got the money for his fridge magnets from funds earmarked for domestic violence prevention?

Highlights that go unreported include contributions from a handful of members that put Indigenous concerns at the centre of policies rather, instead of corralling them off to the side. For this we can primarily thank NSW MP Linda Burnley and her colleague from the Northern Territory, Marian Scrymgour.

At times we skirt the fringes of strange, as when Western Australian delegate Nuala Keating speaks during the culture debate of the disturbing effect Holly Valance has had on her child. Any party that's prepared to legislate against Holly Vallance has my vote.

This was always going to be a ceremonial love in with the real discussions done and dusted before delegates entered the hall. A number of speakers, mainly from the left, pointed out that the positions they were advocating on the floor of conference were far from their ideal. As Victorian delegate Peter Holding put it: "the left will settle for what it can get".

Naturally, it was most interesting when love went out the door. The Trade debate was the most obvious. Doug Cameron's swashbuckling speech prompted Bob Carr to suggest that he, and the ACTU by implication, were spouting the thoughts of some beloved leader from just north of Soeul. Carr, straight-faced, also argued that trade reform had been handled sensitively. Luckily this piece of tripe was followed by a great off the cuff speech from Sharan Burrow who called for a position that "talks about real people with a fair policy". Even so, Cameron's amendment never went to a show of hands, saving many from embarrassment.

The Refugee debate got a lot of media, but Labor For Refugees did themselves no favours by getting bogged in party process. It was revealing that the only speakers for the adopted policy were either premiers or shadow cabinet ministers.

The concept of a Conference Fringe was a GOOD IDEA, and allowed something like a debate to occur on some important issues. As usual these went largely unreported, but the LHMU put together an informative session on low paid workers; there was an interesting canvass of mental health; the defence industry had it's own function; young people doomed to spend their days in nursing homes had a platform. Hopefully, this facet will grow at future conferences.

By Saturday there was only so much that a non-player could put up with, and the conference fizzled out after a commitment for the Latham government to buy from union friendly firms.

Which is probably the best that the unions were ever going to get.

But, in the end, it was an election year conference and all the stage managed palaver couldn't dampen a genuinely upbeat mood. It was the public face of a united ALP that is committed to playing Follow The Leader as it was never much good at Simon Says.


*    See all the Conference palaver here

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